Like a mad uncle coming down from the attic wielding a cane to sort out noisy children, Mahathir Mohamad has once again stormed Malaysian politics. At 92, the coalition he led, Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), achieved a stunning victory against the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN).
The May 9 election threw up many firsts. At 92, Mahathir is the oldest politician to be elected and to rule a country. Despite his good health, age is definitely not in his favor. Further, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition had won every election since the country gained independence from British colonialism in 1957 unless this upset.
The major component of that coalition was the United Malay National Organization (UMNO). The ousted prime minister, Najib Razak, a one-time protégé of Mahathir had led the coalition since Mahathir resigned in 2003.
Most observers had predicted a slim margin of victory for the ruling Barisan Nasional but it seemed resentment against Najib had grown so strong that it swept him from power.
At the root lies a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal at 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The state investment arm that Najib created and oversaw is currently at the center of ongoing international embezzlement probes.
The ousted prime minister is also accused of embezzlement of some $700 million that the Saudi regime gave him. This money is unaccounted for but is believed to be payment to Najib to declare Shias as ‘kafirs’ (nastaghfirullah). To his lasting shame, Najib took the bribe and indulged in this destructive policy.
There is also a third party, the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), the Islamic Party of Malaysia. It ran independent of BN and Harapan. Defying ‘expert’ projections, it not only retained control of its stronghold in Kelantan, where it has ruled for nearly three decades, but it also took control of Terengganu from BN.
The other factor in Malaysian politics is that of Anwar Ibrahim who is currently in jail. He was a one-time favorite and expected to take over from Mahathir but the two had a falling out in 1998. He led huge protests against Mahathir and would have unseated the long-serving prime minister but for another political twist.
Two years later, Anwar was charged with sodomy, a ludicrous charge yet this was Mahathir’s way of discrediting and damaging Anwar’s reputation in a traditionally Islamic society. He was sentenced to nine years in jail.
In 2004 this conviction was overturned. Out of prison, Anwar energized the opposition and led it to unprecedented gains in the 2008 and 2013 general elections. These, however, were not enough to defeat the ruling BN coalition, now led by Najib.
His acquittal was overturned a year later as he was preparing to fight a state election he seemed likely to win. Anwar ended up back in jail where he is still languishing.
As Najib became mired in scandals, Malaysia’s politics took another twist. Mahathir Mohamad announced he was going to be running for the top office again.
Obviously, he could not do so from the BN platform where Najib was ensconced. Turning to the opposition, they accepted Mahathir’s bid on condition if he would agree to secure a royal pardon for Anwar in the event of victory.
Mahathir not only agreed, he also pledged to hand the prime minister’s post to Anwar within two years.
Following Harapan’s stunning victory and Mahathir sworn in as prime minister on May 10, he said the king had indicated a pardon for Anwar Ibrahim.
Wan Azizah, Anwar’s wife, said this could occur within the next few days. While he may secure his release, Anwar still has to go through the process of getting elected to parliament before becoming the prime minister.
Will there be another twist in his long-running saga of misfortunes? Only time will tell but for now the people of Malaysia can heave a huge sigh of relief at seeing the end of corruption-ridden rule of Najib Razak.