Mahathir Mohamad, the 97-year-old elder statesman of Malaysian politics, filed his candidacy on Saturday as campaigning for the upcoming general elections began.
The prime minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, called for elections 10 months ahead of schedule, hoping to win a stronger mandate for his party and stabilise the rocky political landscape that has plagued the country over the past four years.
A Guinness World Record holder for being the “world’s oldest current prime minister” when he became premier for the second time in 2018, Mahathir will stand again to defend his parliamentary seat in the island of Langkawi on the 19 November vote.
Mahathir was greeted by dozens of supporters waving the flags of his Homeland Fighters’ party as he arrived at a local government office in Kuah, the island’s main town, to register his candidacy.
Ismail, of the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, have also filed their candidacies elsewhere in the country.
Anwar urged voters to come out in big numbers, as fears circulated that torrential rain during the monsoon season could dampen turnout.
In Langkawi, Mahathir told reporters that he stood a “good chance” of winning and laughed off suggestions he should retire.
“I’m still standing around and talking to you, I think making reasonable answers,” he said.
Mahathir, who first served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, came out of retirement to lead the opposition Pact of Hope alliance in the 2018 general elections.
The reformist alliance won a stunning victory over then-incumbent Najib Razak, who was later convicted of corruption linked to the 1MDB state fund financial scandal and is now serving a 12-year jail sentence.
Mahathir became prime minister again just two months shy of his 93rd birthday, but his government collapsed in less than two years due to infighting.
He has warned that Najib Razak would be freed if the jailed politician’s allies in UMNO win, signalling that corruption will be a key issue at the polls.
He also offered to become prime minister a third time.
While Mahathir is expected to win easily in Langkawi, aiming for the premiership a third time would be tough, an analyst said.
At least four blocs – including the one he leads – are vying for a majority in the 222-seat lower house of parliament, making it a tight contest.
The 21 million voters also include more than six million new registrants, many of them young, who came on board after electoral reforms.
“Mahathir’s time has passed,” Bridget Welsh of the University of Nottingham Malaysia told AFP.
“He was given a second chance and bungled it. His chances this time to run as prime minister are extremely slim.”