Political Earthquake As Malaysians Vote To Change Government

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In the past two years of electoral upsets – Brexit, Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron – the election of 92-year-old Mahathir bin Mohamad as prime minister of Malaysia and the world's oldest premier after last holding the office from 1981 to 2003, is an Asian political earthquake. Not only has the nonagenarian pulled off a remarkable comeback, he has done it by pulling together a coalition of four disparate parties – one of which is led by his rival and once-and-future successor Anwar Ibrahim, who is in jail for sodomy. In doing so he defeated Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Barisan Nasional alliance, which has held power since Malaysian independence in 1957.

That Dr Mahathir managed this upset is partly testament to being a known quantity against the gross corruption of Mr Razak – who in 2013 had $700 million in unexplained cash transferred into his account from the Saudi royal family via a debt-ridden government investment fund 1MDB. On Thursday, Mr Razak refused to concede defeat, calling on the King to declare the government.

Dr Mahathir's multi-party, multi-ethnic coalition sits in stark contrast to some of the anti-democratic regression of neighbours such as Thailand and Cambodia. His alliance with Mr Anwar is remarkable. The two former political allies were enthusiastic supporters of bumiputra policies that effectively discriminated in favour of ethnic Malays at the expense of Malaysian Chinese and Indian minorities. These groups routinely voted for the opposition. In order to win the election, Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar had to win votes from non-bumiputras and detach conservative rural Malays, sickened by the corruption, from the United Malays National Organisation. It's an unlikely coalition given the then prime minister and deputy fell out over Malaysia's response to the Asian financial crisis in 1997 before Mr Anwar was jailed for sodomy.

It's now up to Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar – due out of prison in June – to make the coalition work and restore trust in Malaysia's shaken institutions. Even with the return of the old strongman – who former Australian prime minister Paul Keating famously called a "recalcitrant" for not attending the 1993 APEC Summit – a healthy Malaysian democracy at the heart of the Association of South-East Asian Nations is an important counterweight to China's influence in the region.

Source : http://www.afr.com/opinion/editorials/dr-mahathirs-malaysian-political-earthquake-good-for-the-region-20180510-h0zwyf

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