JULY 14 — Should we raise the retirement age? The question bedevils various modern societies.
As people live longer and as the cost of retirement rises, should people continue working beyond their 60s? (Most countries set the retirement age between 60-67.)
But then should people really have to work into old age? Do people really have the will or capability to stay in employment when they pass their late 60s?
And then you have Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Born in 1925, he celebrated his 94th birthday last Wednesday.
To put this in some context, the first talking movie ie movies with a soundtrack, as opposed to silent films, came out in 1926!
While there are millions of nonagenarians in the world, Tun M is leading a nation. A complex, multi-ethnic, economically sophisticated, politically difficult nation at that.
Unlike Queen Elizabeth (who at 93 is his junior), he is no figurehead. He has to actively steer the economy, manage coalition partners, guide policy, answer the press and the public.
Having served as premier for 22 years between 1981–2003, he returned to the top post in 2018 with a popular mandate to put Malaysia back on track after years of economic stagnation and allegations of rampant corruption under the rule of Najib Razak.
His original peers from the era of South-east Asian strongmen — Lee Kuan Yew, Suharto, Ferdinand Marcos — have left power and also this world.
But a man once criticised for being authoritarian and intolerant has returned to power as a champion of democracy and pluralism.
It’s hard to really comprehend what this extraordinary premiership means. His prickly relationship with the Western powers and the global media means he doesn’t receive the global attention and focus he should.
But the reality is Tun M is a phenomenon, a living legend — a walking, talking, ruling miracle. This is true regardless of one’s take on his politics.
The oldest leader in the world and among the oldest in history (his only historical rival is Malawi’s Hastings Banda).
His very existence raises questions about ageing and human capability. As a physical specimen still campaigning, still quipping, fighting and leading at his advanced age Tun M is as remarkable as the world’s leading athletes.
The Roger Federer of his world.
A legend in his own time, what his final political legacy will be remains unclear.
He can steer the country to new heights — in terms of economics and governance — and cement his status among the great leaders of the last hundred years.
But there’s still room for things to go wrong. Whatever the ultimate verdict may be, amazingly the outcome is still largely in his own hands.
A man who has seen and done so much still has more history to make.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.