“Yes, yes, I am still alive,” Mahathir Mohammad, the oldest Prime Minister in the world, wryly quipped at a news conference when his jubilant supporters were chanting slogans after their “Tun M’s” elections victory. A 92-year-old man, in the middle of the night after days of election campaigns all across the country, proved once again that age is just a number. Not only that he defeated Najib Razak in elections, he defeated a political establishment that has been ruling Malaysia since its independence in 1957. He defeated the very political party he belonged to during his time as the fourth prime minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003.
His election victory against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) had been projected in the media as ‘unprecedented’, ‘unexpected’, ‘upset’ and etc. An election victory for BN in Malaysia had been so ‘predictable’ that Najib Razak, in spite of his scandalous impression, was expected to secure his third term in the office as Prime Minister. With the main opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in prison, the fourteenth parliamentary elections (GE14) of Malaysia were predicted to be a One-man show until Dr. Mahathir’s entry into the race.
When the opposition announced Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as their leader, Najib Razak had many troubles looming but losing an election. Defeating the ruling establishment in Malaysia, even for a charismatic leader like Mahathir Mohamad was projected as unexpected. But it is Mahathir Mohamad who uses the word ‘guts’ often and claims to have it. The 92-year-old man proved his guts by orchestrating a landslide victory over a party that had been ruling Malaysia for more than six decades. The opposition Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), under the leadership of the former arch-enemy, won 121 seats out of 222 parliamentary seats, while the Barisan Nasional (BN) netted only 79 seats.
Najib Razak Out
Najib Razak took hours to address the press after his crushing defeat in the fourteenth national elections. He tried to keep calm in the press conference but in vain as he was oozing tension and disappointment. He accepted BN’s defeat but appeared defiant about Mahathir Mohamad’s victory. “Since there is not one single party that has gained a simple majority, the Agong [king] will make his decision on who will be the prime minister,” Mr. Razak said in the press conference. Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, however, announced Pakatan Harapan’s victory long before the official announcement. “The reality is that we received a majority long before the official announcement,” Mr. Mahathir told the press and warned Najib Razak not to defy the will of people. Mr. Razak did no ‘hanky-panky’ as Mahathir Mohamad feared and Malaysia witnessed a smooth transition of power.
This election defeat has severely damaged Najib Razak’s political career if is not already over. Mr. Najib has been dogged by corruption allegations over $4.5 bn missing from Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) because at least 10 countries are investigating the 1MDB corruption allegations. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak was accused of pocketing $700 million from the 1MDB funds. The U.S. Justice Department said Najib’s wife Rosmah used $30 million from the 1MDB to buy jewelry. Now, after the election defeat, Mr. Najib may possibly find more investigations looming. Although the triumphant Mahathir Mohamad said he is not seeking revenge, but he also said that he is seeking to “restore the rule of law.”
What to Expect Next?
Malaysia is happy after Pakatan Harapan has won and formed a new government under Dr. Mahathir’s leadership. The Malaysians, tired of violations of freedom of expression, leadership’s involvement in corruption, GST taxes, and high costs of living, have successfully catalyzed the “Malay tsunami” by electing Pakatan Harapan. “You know the mess the country is in and we need to attend to this mess as soon as possible,” Mahathir told the press on Thursday. “The rule of law will be fully implemented. And if the law says that Najib has done something wrong, then he will have to face the consequence.”
The New York Time’s Richard C. Paddock described the ouster of BN government as ‘striking’ in a region “where autocratic government, arbitrary killings, imprisonment and media crackdowns have become common.” Mr. Paddock quoted Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism’s Cynthia Gabriel as saying: “There is a lot of work to be done to undo the years of unbridled power. But for now, the power has been returned to the Malaysian people, as we have ushered in a two-party system.”
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad introduced himself as a ‘transitional figure’ who will put the Malaysian institutions back in place and prepare the ground for Anwar Ibrahim. “The biggest mistake that I have made in my life is choosing Najib,” the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad apologized to a crowd during his election campaigns. He wanted a chance so that he could “fix this mistake.” Now, his voters can say: “The chance has been given.”
Apart from ‘fixing mistakes’ and standing out as a ‘transitional figure’, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is also expected to study the Chinese influence in Malaysia. However, despite his concern about the Malaysian debt to China, Mahathir Mohamad has no problem with the Chinese Belt and Road program as he personally encouraged the Chinese President Xi Jinping about the construction of rail lines.
Dr. Mahathir earned a reputation as an autocrat during his time as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. In 1998, many reports in the world media about Dr. Mahathir’s authoritarian style damaged his fame. On September 24, 1998, The Economist Published a report titled “No room for rivals in Mahathir’s Malaysia,” after he arrested Anwar Ibrahim and cracked down on protesters. He also complicated Malaysia’s diplomatic relations with the U.S., Britain, and Australia.
This opportunity, again as the seventh Prime Minister, could help Malaysia’s Tun M to undo whatever he regrets doing during final years of his time as the fourth Prime Minister. The world will closely monitor the oldest leader’s new promises.