Malaysia and a 92 year old Prime Minister

May 14, 2018 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

Reuters photo



Tom Arms



If you want proof of your unpopularity then run for prime minister against a 92-year-old in an election where you hand out cash-stuffed envelopes; imprison your main opponent on a trumped-up charge of sodomy; pass laws to muzzle the press; gerrymander constituency boundaries; operate fake voters’ lists… and still lose.


That is the not so sad fate of the now former prime minister of Malaysia Najib Razak, who this week was replaced by his 92-year-old mentor and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.


It was not something that Mahathir Mohamad planned when he retired from politics 15 years ago after serving as prime minister from 1981 to 2003. He dreamed of sunset years tending his garden and making emeritus-like pronouncements from his comfortable study. The cut and thrust of daily politics was left to his protégé Najib Razak.


But Razak let him down badly. He set up a state investment fund called 1MDB with taxpayers’ money and – according to investigators in the US, Europe and Singapore – siphoned off hundreds of millions – perhaps billions – of dollars for his own use. So far, investigators have found $680 million in Razak’s personal account. The now former prime minister said it was from a Saudi royal and was earmarked for political rather than personal use.  He refused to name the generous Saudi.


All efforts to launch a proper investigation in Malaysia were blocked by Razak’s Barisan Nasional Party which has been in power since independence from Britain in 1957.


Barisan Nasional was also Mahathir Mohamad’s party. But he had had enough. He abandoned the Barisan Nasional and backed opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Anwar Ibrahim and his Pakatan Harapan coalition. Razak responded by throwing Anwar Ibrahim into prison on a trumped-up charge of sodomy.


He then used his position to push through a law outlawing “fake news” which was effectively defined as anything with which the government disagreed. This included any suggestions that the prime minister had embezzled money from the 1MDB.


With Ibrahim in prison and the press muzzled, it seemed as if Najib Razak would sail back into office. But he had not counted on the determination of his old mentor. Mahathir Mohamad’s exalted senior statesmen position in Malay society meant that he was possibly the only one who could campaign against his old protégé without fear of imprisonment. The 92-year-old abandoned his garden and with Ibrahim’s family beside him, criss-crossed the country in a whirlwind campaign which would have left a man half his age gasping for breath.


How could you not vote for such determination? And they did. The Pakatan Harapan coalition won 121 of parliament’s 222 seats compared to 79 for the Barisan Nasional Party.


The bloodbath did not end there – Najib also saw several members of his Cabinet, ministers and deputy ministers, defeated at the polls, and crashed out of eight of the battles for control of 12 state legislatures contested in the election.


One of Mahathir Mohamad’s first acts will be to release Anwar Ibrahim from prison. He will probably also step aside for the opposition leader and return to his gardening.


As for Najib Razak? His political career is over and his former mentor – 92-year-old out of retirement Mahathir Mohamad – has told him that he will face corruption charges.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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