KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Two weeks ago, Malaysian Najib Razak was extremely confident of being elected Prime Minister for a third term. Instead, he lost an indelible election in a dizzying political drama, and got into an increasingly dire shame, while Malaysians are being praised for bringing democratic values against their global withdrawal.
In a series of humiliations, the patrician and luxury-loving Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor were forbidden to leave the country; Truckloads of luggage stashed with cash and valuables and hundreds of expensive designer bags were confiscated from her home and other possessions; and the anti-corruption police questioned Najib for hours this week about a billion-dollar corruption scandal around his clock.
After 60 years of uninterrupted rule on the National Front, many Malaysians are optimistic that they will usher in an era of reform that reflects democracy's transformation of its huge neighbor Indonesia two decades earlier. The difference, they hope, is that it will continue to be done without burning their multi-ethnic country in flames. A group of progressive Southeast Asian legislators has celebrated Najib's defeat as a "bright spot in the dark ages" of burgeoning authoritarianism across the region.
The elections on May 9, the Najib and his government, despite an electoral system developed in their favor, cast a "quiet, dignified, but defining revolution at the ballot box," said Malaysian rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan. "Malaysia has now set the gold standard in Southeast Asia to bring peace even through a flawed process," said Sreenevasan, who was named a reform panel by the new government.
Najib's fall was largely due to the return of Mahathir Mohamad, who was Prime Minister for 22 years until 2003. Spurred on by anger at the alleged plundering of the state-owned investment fund 1
Since being sworn in as the seventh Prime Minister of Malaysia and the oldest leader in the world at the age of ninety-two, Mahathir has not wasted time building his government over the country's financial problems. Former enemies he had once detained were called to the Cabinet, including the first ethnic Chinese to hold the post of the powerful Treasury for 44 years. Malaysia also has its first Deputy Prime Minister
Mahathir made possible a royal pardon that released the reformist icon Anwar Ibrahim, who was arrested in 2015 in a Najib-imposed conspiracy to crush his opposition alliance. Anwar, now Prime Minister, was released by Mahathir in 1998 after a power struggle and imprisoned for sodomy and corruption. The two men reconciled in 2016, united by their determination to expel Najib.
Mahathir said it would take him one to two years to restore order before he gave Anwar power.
The top priority is uncovering the 1MDB scandal
Najib launched the fund when he took power in 2009 but accumulated billions in debt. US investigators say $ 4.5 billion have been stolen by his staff and washed by 1MDB, some of which have landed in Najib's bank account and $ 27.3 million of which was used to buy a rare pink diamond necklace for his wife.
A former Attorney General and senior Antim officials, who were about to face Najib in 2015 before being released and escaped for fear of arrest, were returned to help with the investigation. A 1MDB panel has been set up to work with foreign countries to recover the washed billions.
The new Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said on Tuesday that Najib's government had carried out a "deception" on 1MDB and also misrepresented the finances situation in front of Parliament. On the same day, the official of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which had previously investigated the 1MDB, gave a shocking account of how the probe was oppressed by intimidation during Najib rule.
"Malaysia will likely be one of the few Southeast Asian nations to be a former prime minister in prison," said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at John Cabot University in Rome, who was in Kuala Lumpur to watch the polls.
Najib "made the mistake of thinking that it was about him and not held for office," she said. Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada was arrested in 2007 for corruption.
While the 1MDB crisis will employ officials, there are other concerns about Mahathir and the new government.
Closer examination of election results showed many ethnic concessions The Malay majority still did not support Mahathir's alliance.
The conservative pan-Malaysian Islamic Party made great strides in gaining control over two main rural northeastern Malay states. Together with the National Front, they have 43 percent of seats in parliament.
This could be troublesome for the Mahathir government in trying to repress a decades-old policy of positive action that favors Malaysians in government contracts, businesses, jobs, and education
The program is credited with driving millions of Malays out of poverty liberate and create an urban middle class of the ethnic group that makes up two-thirds of the 31 million Malaysians. But it is also blamed for racial segregation between Malays and minority Chinese and Indians, who have long complained of government discrimination.
Many ethnic minorities have left Malaysia over the years in search of better opportunities, but the election has revived a sense of nationalism, social media flooded the Malays, who acclaim Mahathir as "heroes" and are proud to be part of a " reborn Malaysia ".
Anwar, a Malayan, told the Associated Press in an interview after his release that race-based policies should be discarded in favor of a benefit program that will help all the poor, regardless of race.
Once electoral euphoria fades, he said the government must prove that there will be more freedom, good governance and a better life for all Malaysians. 19659003] "Conservative forces are still strong," said Welsh, a Southeast Asian expert and election observer. "Mahathir has taken important steps so far to demonstrate a reform orientation, and the Malaysians are very hopeful that they will continue to lead, and their use of nationalism is important in overcoming more dividing currents."