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May 17, 2018

Malaysian politics


May 17, 2018

The recent elections in Malaysia have led to the second coming of Mahathir Mohamad, the father of modern Malaysia, at the age of 92. This time he has risen as an opposition candidate against his own corrupt former protégé Najib Razak. Mahathir’s second act gives him a chance to correct many of his own wrongs – but the ironies are stark. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Mahathir’s political party, had ruled Malaysia for the last 61 years. Mahathir has now defeated his own party by joining the coalition of opposition parties that were once formed to oppose Mahathir’s own autocratic rule. Whether it will be a case of too little, too late to save Mahathir’s legacy and – more importantly – bring some much-needed change to Malaysia remains to be seen. What can Mahathir bring to a system he created himself? Perhaps there was no one else that could have accomplished this task. For all his authoritarian tendencies, Mahathir remains a widely respected figure in the country’s politics.

Najib has various allegations of corruption stacked against him; and has proven to have had over $681 million dollars in his personal bank accounts, which he claims are a gift from a Saudi royal. Mahathir has promised that Najib will be tried. The story doesn’t end here, though. Mahathir has promised that he has only taken power to hand it over to a former protégé Anwar Ibrahim, whom Mahathir had jailed on trumped-up charges. Mahathir has also promised to change laws designed to ensure that journalists cannot report corruption. This is a moment of hope that comes with many contradictions. The ruling coalition was unable to secure the popular vote in the 2013 election and responded by jailing Ibrahim, then leader of the opposition, over flimsy charges. If anything, change should have come under Ibrahim. As time would have it, Mahathir has a chance to correct the wrongs he committed himself. The first two steps are positive. There are signs that Najib will not be spared a corruption investigation. And Anwar Ibrahim has been released from prison after a royal pardon. His wife has been appointed deputy prime minister as he contemplates what he wants to do next. But the real question is whether Mahathir will give up his office in two years as promised. There are signs of optimism but only when this symbolic gesture is complete can we say that hope has returned to Malaysia.

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