Still outspoken: Former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad talks to journalists at his residence on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Photo: AFP
When Mahathir Mohamad stepped down after 22 years as Malaysia's longest-serving prime minister in 2003, he promised not to interfere in government affairs or politics.
''No, I have already made it very clear that when I leave I will leave completely,'' he said.
But 10 years later, as Malaysia prepares for its most closely fought election - announced on Wednesday for May 5 - the abrasive and outspoken 86-year-old has been criss-crossing the country as if he was still in power, launching tirades at opposition contenders and meddling in the fractured coalition that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957.
Dr Mahathir, a one-time Third World champion, Islamic spokesman and fierce critic of the West, has put Prime Minister Najib Razak on notice that if he does badly in the election he will lose the prime ministership in an internal party coup, ruling party sources say.
As Mr Najib has introduced reforms to contain a growing clamour for greater accountability and democracy, Dr Mahathir has been urging a return to his authoritarian-style rule under which security forces routinely locked up government critics.
''We have now abolished the ISA [Internal Security Act] on the grounds that it is not right to detain a person without trial … this is an injustice and violation of human rights,'' Dr Mahathir wrote in his blog, adding that the United States killed anyone it designated an enemy in its war against terrorism.
''I wonder what Malaysians who object to detention without trial think of execution without trial,'' he said.
As Mr Najib attempted to calm voters in the key state of Sabah following an incursion by a group of armed Filipinos in February, Dr Mahathir flew in to declare that vast water villages where wooden houses are connected by rickety gangways are a dangerous anachronism that should be demolished.
Referring to more than 800,000 Filipinos who live in the state, Dr Mahathir declared that ''non-citizens'' should be deported, accusing them of co-operating with terrorists and hiding weapons. There are few issues Dr Mahathir does not speak out on. ''Europeans do not want to admit that they are poor, that Humpty-Dumpty has fallen off the wall,'' he wrote in a blog last month.
Charismatic opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is one of his favourite targets, warning voters his former deputy will organise street protests that will destabilise the country when he faces certain defeat at Malaysia's 13th election.
''This is the way of Anwar,'' Dr Mahathir said of the man who spent six years in jail on dubious charges after the two men had a spectacular falling out. ''If he cannot get what he wants, he will prevent others from getting it.''
Mr Anwar said in February he no longer responded to Dr Mahathir's vilification. ''It will be just fine when there is a chance to counter Mahathir's arguments in a free national media, because now it's all one-way,'' he said.
During his time in power, Dr Mahathir took rigid control of the media, which still refuses to publish criticism of the ruling party.
But as the internet has emerged as an important forum and government scandals previously not aired are being openly debated, Dr Mahathir is crying foul.
He complained that hackers had tampered with his blog at least five times so that people could not access it.
''Effectively I was silenced,'' he said.
Malaysia's 13 million voters face a stark choice at the election between the ruling party that has brought decades of strong economic growth or a new era of sweeping change under Mr Anwar's three-party alliance.