Malaysia’s Mahathir at age 92 is a booster shot if you’re feeling old

Yonden Lhatoo writes an ode to old age, inspired by Mahathir Mohamad’s stunning return to power in his sprightly 90s as Malaysia’s prime minister 

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 5:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2018, 10:39pm

“Yes, yes, I am still alive,” the world’s oldest elected leader announced to the howling media pack assembled in the Malaysian capital very early on Thursday morning for a news conference on his stunning political comeback.

It was 3am, and God knows how long Mahathir Mohamad had been up and about after a hectic day as the nation voted in a highly charged general election that would see him unseat scandal-ridden Najib Razak as prime minister.

All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at age 92, Mahathir didn’t miss a beat as he answered probing questions about his shock victory over an opponent nearly three decades his junior, displaying his trademark lucidity, gravitas and wit, all of which have evidently withstood the ravages of time.

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It was the same when, after an equally frantic day that saw his swearing-in delayed, sparking rampant speculation that Najib might sabotage the transition of power, Mahathir held a third news conference late at night. 

He remained standing for the entire session, seemingly on steroids compared with his younger, seated colleagues, and was once again at his dry-humoured and sarcastic best. 

Whatever concerns may linger about Mahathir’s authoritarian streak and corruption allegations stemming from his previous 22-year stint as prime minister, what’s not to admire about his explosive comeback after 15 years in retirement.

He’s no superman, mind you, having undergone two bouts of coronary bypass surgery, but he keeps fit by following a simple daily regimen: no smoking, no drinking and no overeating. A bit of exercise and reading also helps, apparently.

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Let that be an inspiration to all retirees the world over. And a lesson to all ageist employers who perpetuate the fallacy that people suddenly stop functioning at full capacity upon hitting the age of 60. In fact, let it be a booster shot for anyone who is feeling old and incapable because society says so.

If Mahathir keeps his word and relinquishes power in a couple of years to his former deputy and protégé, Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s next leader will be a comparatively youthful septuagenarian. 

Look around the world. US President Donald Trump is only 71. He’s probably not a follower of Mahathir’s “no overeating” philosophy and he reportedly shuns exercise in the belief that it will deplete a finite amount of energy stored in his body. 

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Whatever the real state of his health may be, he’s running the most powerful country on the planet in his 70s. Age is really just a number.

China’s recent constitutional changes have paved the way for President Xi Jinping, who is a sprightly 63 now, to rule for a third term and possibly beyond. Maybe he’ll still be at it in his 90s.

Here in Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor turns a maidenly 61 this weekend.

And who says veteran politician Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee missed her last shot at the top job in the 2016 election because she will be too old for the next one in 2022? She’s only 67, for crying out loud.

Then there’s Tung Chee-hwa, the city’s first post-colonial leader, who stepped down in the middle of his second term as chief executive in 2005 citing health reasons. Well, at a spry 80 now, he’s still going strong as both an active elder statesman on the national level and an influential figure on the local political scene. Age is no barrier.

Which is why I’m kind of disappointed that Hong Kong’s own “Superman”, tycoon Li Ka-shing, threw in the towel and retired this week. The man is not even 90 yet, come on.

As the great American writer, Mark Twain, once said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” 

I don’t know about you all, but I feel incredibly young these days, thanks to Mahathir and company.


Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post