Malaysia’s 93-year-old ex-PM gatecrashes forum, stuns ‘ageist’ critics
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Malaysia’s 93-year-old ex-PM gatecrashes forum, stuns ‘ageist’ critics

FOR over an hour, Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM) professor Kamarul Zaman Yusoff did not hold back at an forum assessing 93-year-old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s ability to become Prime Minister, until the subject of his verbal onslaught casually walked in the half-empty hall.

“There is a forum on whether Tun M (Mahathir’s moniker) is too old to be PM. I’m here guys. Say it to my face,” Dr. Mahathir said on Twitter in a posting that carried a photo of him seated in the front row.

The surprise appearance caught members of the audience and organisers off guard, leaving the controversial UUM lecturer and political analyst visibly stunned in the awkward encounter.

The forum, organised by local newspaper Sinar Harian, included a psychologist and a fitness consultant who were among the small group of panelists.

Prior to Dr. Mahathir’s unexpected arrival, Kamarul provided a laundry list of why the opposition leader is not fit to run office, but the critical tone changed when the man walked in the room to a standing ovation by the audience.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia’s former premier Dr Mahathir could be world’s oldest PM

When Dr. Mahathir took his seat alongside his wife Siti Hasmah Ali, the visibly shaken Kamarul said “I am still okay (to go on with the talk).

The panelists and audience members also posed questions to Dr Mahathir about his plans in politics, according to Free Malaysia Today.

The veteran leader, who was the country’s prime minister for 22 years, said he did not intend to run office again. “But we noticed that the crowds came when I turned up for rallies, one time in Kelantan, 12,000 people turned up.”

He said his experience leading the country was perhaps the main reason why he was the chosen candidate in the opposition bloc.

“So I didn’t change my mind but I just responded to the demands of the other coalition parties.”

Dr. Mahathir was the fourth prime minister of Malaysia who reigned between 1981 to 2003. After retiring, Dr. Mahathir played a supporting role as a statesman who backed the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the lynchpin party of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

However, the leader was also one of the main figures behind the removal of his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2008.

When Najib Razak entered office in 2008, Mahathir backed the serving prime minister for several years until Najib’s government was tainted by scandals, particularly over a state-run investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The scandal has brought unprecedented shifts in political forces in Malaysia, where the rule of a party that has held power since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957 could be under threat.

After the forum, Kamarul Zaman hit back at those who claimed he was intimidated by Dr. Mahathir.

According to Malaysiakini, Kamarul Zaman claimed that it was Dr. Mahathir who should have been braver.

SEE ALSO: At 92, Malaysia’s ex-PM debuts on Instagram

“There are widespread allegations on social media accompanied by photos which portrayed me as being meek by his side, as though I had peed myself in fear as soon as Mahathir arrived at the forum. This is untrue.

“I had hoped for a question from the audience that would have allowed me to criticise Mahathir to his face; unfortunately, the opportunity for the audience to speak was closed in a manner that I was told was unfair.”