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Mahathir's grandfather had come from Indian Subcontinent and married a Malay woman in Malaysia.
Mahathir's non-Malay ancestry, which he largely kept quiet during his political career, is a feature shared by Malaysia's six prime ministers.
During Mahathir's first tenure as prime minister, Malaysia experienced a period of rapid modernization and economic growth, and his government initiated a series of bold infrastructure projects.
For Mahathir this was a significant enough slight to delay his entry into national politics in protest. In the following general election in 1964, he was elected as the federal parliamentarian for the Alor Setar-based seat of Kota Setar Selatan.
He was the town's first Malay doctor, and a successful one.
He built a large house, invested in various businesses, and employed a Chinese man to chauffeur him in his Pontiac Catalina (most chauffeurs at the time were Malay).
He served one term before losing his seat, subsequently falling out with Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman and being expelled from UMNO.
When Abdul Rahman resigned, Mahathir re-entered UMNO and parliament, and was promoted to the Cabinet. In 1981, he was sworn in as prime minister after the resignation of his predecessor, Hussein Onn.On 9 September 2016, the Malaysian United Indigenous Party was officially registered as a political party, with Mahathir as chairman.