Malaysia’s political earthquake

Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad (Shutterstock)

A comment by Uwe Fischer |

It’s almost ironic: responsible for Malaysia’s most important political course-setting during the post-Mahathir era is precisely this Mahathir, who is being celebrated like a pop star in Malaysia and is addressed simply Dr M by everyone.

For the first time since the declaration of independence over 60 years ago, the Malaysian people have voted its government out of office and now have the Prime Minister, who once stood for this very coalition government for longer than anyone else. But the truth is that no one else in Malaysia could have caused this political earthquake. The Malaysians are tolerant, and the now-ousted Najib would very likely have been victorious again if he hadn’t had to face Dr M of all people as his opponent. All attempts to discredit him not only failed but ultimately turned against Najib.

Not that Najib was particularly popular; he was considered corrupt, accused of having stuffed billions of taxpayers’ money in his own pocket; many Malaysians were ashamed to be represented by him before the eyes of the world, especially since the affair made international headlines. Despite Najib’s efforts to stop the ever louder accusations against him by locking up critics, restricting press freedom and even taking out the chief prosecutor investigating him, he could not get rid of the image of the greedy liar. The grassroots movement “Bersih” (Malaysian for “clean”) did not hesitate to accuse Najib and demand his resignation.

So now the 61-year-old uninterrupted rule of the Barisan National, the government coalition hitherto considered inviolable, has been broken. The 92-year-old Dr M will have to do a lot, expectations are high, all hopes of the disappointed Malaysians rest on his shoulders. The promised withdrawal of the hated 6 percent consumption tax, which Najib had introduced in order to fill the bleak state coffers, seems to be one of the easier exercises in comparison. It will be much more challenging to implement political hygiene measures; to restore the independence of the judiciary and, above all, to clarify the whereabouts of the Billions of Ringgit that have disappeared. It will be interesting to see whether the investigation against Najib will be resumed.

And Anwar Ibrahim, the real opposition leader and once vice-premier minister, who is still imprisoned on charges of sodomy, will also demand justice (not only) on his own behalf. After all, his release seems imminent; it is quite possible that the judges, who have put him behind bars for many years because of their apparently politically motivated verdict, will soon be sitting in the dock themselves.

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