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Mahathir's wife Siti Hasmah has mixed feelings about his return to politics, but will stand by her man

LANGKAWI — Wearing a red baju kurung — the traditional attire for Malay women — with a turquoise scarf slung over her shoulders, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali appeared poised and polished.

Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali and her husband, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, at their villa in Langkawi on Monday (May 7).

Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali and her husband, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, at their villa in Langkawi on Monday (May 7).

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LANGKAWI — Wearing a red baju kurung — the traditional attire for Malay women — with a turquoise scarf slung over her shoulders, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali appeared poised and polished.

But exhaustion could be seen seeping through the eyes of the 91-year-old, who is the wife of Malaysia's former prime minister-turned-opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad.

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When asked how she is feeling after nine days of accompanying her husband, as he campaigns throughout the country, she quipped: "Surviving."

An interview with TODAY was initially scheduled at 3pm on Monday (May 7) at her villa at the luxury resort Ombak Villa on the tourist island of Langkawi, but she decided to postpone it to 6pm as she wanted to take a two-hour nap.

But the interview started almost 40 minutes later as she was still having afternoon tea with Dr Mahathir.

She had a hectic schedule earlier in the day. It included jumping on a boat to visit residents on Pulau Tuba, the only inhabited island among those scattered near the main island of Langkawi, a 20-minute boat ride away.

After her husband stepped down from his premiership that lasted 22 years in 2003, Dr Siti Hasmah thought that they could "retire peacefully" and spend more time with her seven children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Dr Siti Hasmah is fondly called "Tok" by her grandchildren, while they refer to Dr Mahathir as "Tok Det".

But that retirement was interrupted in 2017, when Dr Mahathir, at the age of 92, decided to make a comeback to politics in a bid to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak by setting up Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM).

A year earlier, Dr Mahathir had left the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the country's ruling party that he had been part of for seven decades.

In a shocking twist, Dr Mahathir also reconciled with his protege-turned-political foe and leader of the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), Anwar Ibrahim.

Commenting on her husband's return to politics, Dr Siti Hasmah told TODAY: "Happy or sad? It's a mix. I have mixed feelings about this."

"I can't deny, that at first, I was very disappointed because I thought we would have a good retirement period. But now that he is back in politics, I have to support him and look after him."

Dr Siti Hasmah said she cannot hold her husband back from wanting to return to politics and lead the people. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

With that, Dr Siti Hasmah too has been thrust back into the spotlight.

Since her husband said that "it is his duty to go back into politics and lead the people", she relented, adding that she "cannot hold him back".

"To tell you the truth, he never tells me anything. Whether he was to resign from his political position, or if he wanted to get into it again, he never tells me," she said.

"So I just take it that when he is attending this meeting, that meeting, invited by various people, then I know that he is going back into politics."

During walkabouts, Dr Siti Hasmah could be seen a few steps behind her husband.

"My role is to be just his wife," she said. "You just have to be your own, don't compete with your husband but just to follow him and support him.

"You know where you should be with him because, traditionally, our Asian culture is to see the wife beside the husband."

The couple married in 1956, after they met as medical students at what was then known as King Edward VII College of Medicine in Singapore.

In her memoir titled "My Name is Hasmah" that was published in 2016, she described Dr Mahathir as her "hero" who helped her with her studies, as she struggled with Physics and Chemistry.

Upon graduation, the Selangor-born Dr Siti Hasmah became the first woman to be appointed a medical officer in the government service in Kedah, her husband's hometown.

Musically inclined, having been known to play the piano and violin, Dr Siti Hasmah shared the secret to their 62 years of marriage, saying that key ingredients are "love and fresh air".

For a couple in their 90s, both husband and wife appeared to be in good health. Dr Siti Hasmah only said that they "take good care of their diet".

During the interview, her husband was sitting a few steps away in the living room, which has a view of the Strait of Malacca. He occasionally glanced at his wife and then looked down at what appeared to be his speech for his rally – or what Malaysians call ceramah – later that evening.

Soon, Dr Mahathir – who was dressed in his red PPBM uniform – said out loud: "We're late."

They had to go to the Taman Nilam mosque, which is more than half an hour away from the resort.

Quickly standing up, and putting her scarf over her head as she rushed to the door, aided by her granddaughter, Dr Siti Hasmah was soon out of sight.

"I have to just be with him and go along with him," she said just before the interview ended.

"And I know that whatever help I could give him – not politically – but the support to be behind him and to see that he is in good condition, is what I am doing right now."

Dr Siti Hasmah and Dr Mahathir leaving their villa in Langkawi for the mosque on May 7. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

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