(born Dec. 20, 1925, Alor Setar, Kedah, Malay states) Malaysian politician, prime minister (1981–2003). The son of a schoolmaster, Mahathir studied medicine and worked as a government medical officer before entering parliament in 1964, where he became a forceful advocate of policies to ensure economic success for ethnic Malays. Once prime minister, he was reelected repeatedly; under his leadership Malaysia achieved one of the most prosperous economies in Southeast Asia, rising literacy rates, and increased life expectancies. An economic downturn in the late 1990s precipitated a split between Mahathir and his deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, whom Mahathir dismissed in 1998; opposition to this action and other policies was suppressed. Following the September 11 attacks of 2001 in the U.S., he offered his support in the global war against terrorism, but he opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and was noted for his frequent criticisms of the West.
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