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From Tunku to Muhyiddin – Malaysian prime ministers by the numbers

From Tunku Abdul Rahman to Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, how well do you know about Malaysia’s past and present prime ministers? We list them down by easy-to-understand numbers and the significance of each. Let’s get started. 

The shortest tenure in office  

1 year and 168 days as Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin tendered his resignation on 16 August 2021 and was appointed as the caretaker prime minister until a new prime minister is appointed. Muhyiddin presided much of the national response towards containing and managing the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic and the wider social-economical reverberation and devastation.  

His administration came into power after a controversy that saw the collapse of the previous administration headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The latter was in his second tenure as Malaysia’s prime minister for a total of 1 year and 290 days prior to his own resignation. Muhyiddin was the ally turned foe.  

Malaysian King Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Al-Haj
Malaysian King Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Al-Haj flanked by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

The current King, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Al-Haj, has twice received the resignation of a prime minister in his reign beginning 11 January 2019. 

The longest tenure in office 

The erstwhile briefest prime minister in the country’s history, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, also had the honour of being the longest-serving prime minister. In his first term, Mahathir clocked in 22 years and 106 days prior to the transfer of power to his successor Tun Abdullah Badawi. In his second term, Mahathir was at the time the oldest-serving state leader at 92 years old and 304 days when he took office.

The first prime minister to resign 

Though it may seem a rarity, the resignation of a prime minister happened more times than you think. The founding father of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, witnessed the country’s transformation from a British colony to an independent state known as Malaya to the present-day Malaysia. He was the country’s first-ever prime minister, from 31 August 1957 till 22 September 1970. His resignation paved the way for the ascension of the country’s second prime minister Tun Razak Hussein. 

5 years is the mode and median for the tenure of a prime minister 

While the respective tenure of the current caretaker prime minister and his predecessor was cut short approaching two years in office, of 8 prime ministers, 3 were in office for 5 years (excluding those into their sixth year and staying beyond). Razak was in power for 5 years and 114 days. Debilitated by leukaemia, a secret he kept till 1969, he died in office on 14 January 1976.  

His successor Tun Hussein Onn was the country’s third prime minister for 5 years and 182 days. He was Razak’s deputy and took over the premiership on 15 January 1976. His own ailing health, having undergone a coronary bypass surgery in early 1981, however, also saw him relinquish his position to Mahathir and settle for a tranquil retirement on 16 July 1981. 

The premiership of Abdullah Badawi spanned 31 October 2003 and 3 April 2009, counting 5 years and 154 days. His tenure was cut short having overseen a diminishing support in the 2008 general election where his coalition lost two-thirds majority they had enjoyed in preceding years and 5 states to the opposition pact. He resigned on 2 April 2009 with Datuk Seri Najib Razak, the eldest son of Razak, assuming prime minister. Najib would stay in office for 9 years and 36 days and be dogged by multiple scandals. 

The first prime minister convicted of corruption 

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP)

The coalition of which Najib chaired didn’t clinch a majority of votes in the 2018 general election required for them to hang on to power they had enjoyed since independence – the first time in the country’s history. A travel ban was subsequently imposed on him, while Najib vowed to ensure a smooth transfer of power. With evidence of corruption mounting, criminal proceedings were opened against Najib for alleged criminal breach of trust.  

Najib was convicted by the high court for abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering in relation to SRC International on 28 July 2020. The court meted out 12 years of imprisonment for abuse of power, and 10 years for each of six counts of money laundering and breach of trust, according to the BBC. The sentences are to be run concurrently and will be suspended pending appeal. 

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Hero and feature images by Mohd Rasfan/AFP

Justin Ng
Digital Content Director, Kuala Lumpur
Often think of myself as a journalist and so I delve deeper into a range of topics. Talk to me about current affairs, watches, travel, drinks, new experiences and more importantly, the business, economics and dynamics behind it.