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Najib's downfall is a bitter victory for Malaysia's stifled satirist



KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Long before voters rejected him as prime minister in this year's parliamentary elections, a caricature of Najib Razak as a circus clown had become a symbol of resistance among Malaysians disgusted by the corruption scandal.

FILE PHOTO: A student activist is holding a poster of Fahmi Reza's caricature of Najib Razak during a protest to demand the arrest of "Malaysian Official 1
" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on August 27, 2016. REUTERS / Edgar Su / File Photo

The picture was the brainchild of graphic designer and street artist Fahmi Reza, one of several political satirists faced with fines, legal action, and prison sentences for work that has left the Najib-led government almost 10 years old long mocked.

Fahmi had hoped that his clown would lay the foundation for a future generation to push for change, and he was stunned by the election on May 9 as voters ruled the political coalition that ruled that Southeast Asian nation to expel for six decades.

"I was completely shocked that it happened that the regime is finally gone … I did not expect it to happen in my life," he said.

Najib has been persecuted since 2015 by a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal over 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund he founded.

The overthrown Prime Minister has denied any wrongdoing.

But since his fall, his home and other possessions associated with him have been raided by the police, who have stashed a lot of cash, jewelery and designer handbags. The anti-graft commission questioned him twice, and he and his wife were forbidden to leave the country.

Fahmi, under the direction of Najib, said "life was hell" for him, especially after he released the Clown Face in 2016, earning him a 30,000 ringgit ($ 7,500) fine and a month in jail.

See also: "Truthfulness of power does not make the Malaysian media easy"

A cartoonable woman

Caricaturist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, who has been arrested several times and charged with various crimes, including incitement to sedition, executed one Much of his work on Najib's wife.

Rosmah Mansor was a widely recognized figure, elegantly dressed with a mane of neatly combed black hair, long popular contempt for her lavish lifestyle.

"I already miss Rosmah because she gave me so much material to draw," said the cartoonist, popularly known as Zunar. "I do not miss the husband so much, but the woman, with the ring, her hair, the 1200 ringgit ($ 300) salon bill … I think she's very cartoonable."

Zunar said many Malaysians see the downfall of Najib as a "second merdeka," or independence, but added that he will continue to call the government, now headed by Mahathir Mohamad, if it fails to uphold the reform does justice.

Mahathir, 92, retired to overthrow Najib in the election. As Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, he was known for his strong rule, which was intolerant of dissent.

Fahmi said he felt "free" after the election, but also worried about the return of Mahathir because he had targeted him in the past. He said he already feels warmth from Mahathir supporters who have no memory of his iron fist.

After the image of Najib as a clown, Fahmi Mahathir also portrayed himself as a clown, for years of autocratic rule and alleged nepotism during his last reign between 1981 and 2003.

"The hatred I got was crazy," said Fahmi. "The backlash, especially on Twitter, I think of the younger generation that is currently hero worship for Mahathir."


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