Malaysia - Rise to power



After seven years of private medical practice, Mahathir saw his political career launched on a high and rapidly rising trajectory by not only winning a seat in the House of Representatives as the UMNO candidate from Kota Setar Selatan, but also being elected by his peers to the elite Supreme Council, the policymaking group of UMNO. He soon gained national and international attention by leading a small, radically nationalistic movement to take greater economic and political power away from the wealthy Chinese minority and give it to the relatively poor Malay majority of the population. He strongly criticized his party for not addressing this problem and wrote a book entitled The Malay Dilemma (1969), in which he called for greater Malay cultural awareness, strength, and unity. Because these were radical views in early 1969, the UMNO leadership banned his book and expelled him from the party.

In May 1969, ethnic riots rocked Kuala Lumpur and saw hundreds of Chinese killed by Malay mobs. For the next few years, while Mahathir was a chief administrator for the University of Malaya, the ruling Barisan coalition suspended parliamentary rule and instituted radical economic and political reform programs, much like those Mahathir had called for in his book, to lessen racial strife. The result was the 1971 New Economic Policy that saw the establishment of a national trust and a series of laws intended to promote government investment in Bumiputra (literally, "sons of the soil"—that is, Malay and other native ethnic groups) enterprises. The main goal was to have the Bumiputra increase their ownership of the nation's total commercial and industrial activities from the four percent they owned in 1970 to thirty percent in 1990.

Not surprisingly, Mahathir was brought back into UMNO and its Supreme Council in 1972. He was named a senator in 1973 and a year later was elected to the House. Back on the fast track to political success, he was soon made minister of education and in 1976 was elected by the party to the deputy premiership in the government of prime minister Hussein Onn, a position from which the premiership was just a matter of time.

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