Before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad returned as the Prime Minister of Malaysia for the second time in 2018, he was already the longest serving premier in the country, with a record of 22 years.
Throughout his first premiership, he went through five general elections, six cabinet formations and multiple cabinet reshuffles.
In his first tenure that lasted more than two decades, Tun Mahathir had four different deputy ministers.
They are Tun Musa Hitam (1981-1986), Tun Abdul Ghafar Baba (1986-1993), Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (1993-1998) and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (199-2003).
Out of the four, only one had succeeded to become Tun Mahathir’s successor. It is none other than Malaysia’ fifth Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became Prime Minister in 2003 when Mahathir announced his retirement before the end of his fifth term as state leader.
In the 2004 general election, under the leadership of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Barisan Nasional (BN) managed to secure 198 out of 218 parliamentary seats.
However, BN’s popularity suffered a massive decline in the subsequent general election in 2008. Following that, Tun Mahathir pressured Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to resign, which the latter did in 2009.
It ended Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s premiership prematurely and Datuk Seri Najib Razak became his successor.
During BN’s era, being the deputy president equated to being the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.
Mahathir’s first Deputy Prime Minister was Musa Hitam, who secured the position by winning the UMNO deputy presidency against Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
However, during the split of UMNO in 1987, the relationship between Tun Mahathir and Musa Hitam drifted apart.
Musa Hitam teamed up with his former rival Tengku Razaleigh in an attempt to overthrow Tun Mahathir from leading UMNO but failed. Then, Tun Mahathir had a new number two who was Abdul Ghafar Baba.
During the 1987 UMNO leadership election, Ghafar Baba won the UMNO deputy presidency against Musa Hitam with a majority of only 40 votes.
It was a close fight like the battle between Mahathir and Tengku Razaleigh, which the former emerged victorious with a majority win of only 43 votes.
Nevertheless, Ghafar Baba’s reign as the nation’s number two was snatched by Anwar Ibrahim in 1993. At the time, Anwar challenged Ghafar Baba for the UMNO deputy president position during the party election and won. Hence, a cabinet reshuffle was conducted, and Anwar was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.
Following that was Anwar’s imprisonment on sodomy charges and the 1998 Reformasi Movement, which paved the way for Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to be the nation’s number two.
Regardless, things are different after Pakatan Harapan become the government in 2018. Being a deputy president in a party does not guarantee the Deputy Prime Minister position.
One also does not need to be the president of a political party to become the Prime Minister. Mahathir is the chairman of PPBM, not the president.