World’s oldest man in power: What do the Malaysians expect from Mahathir Mohamad?

On May 10th, Mahathir Mohamad, 92, sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh prime minister and became the world’s oldest sitting man in power.

With Pakatan Harapan’s success in the election, Malaysia for the first time since its independence will be ruled by a non-Barisan Nasional prime minister in the next five years.

Barisan Nasional, found in 1973 as a coalition of right-wing parties from its predecessor United Malays National Organisation, had dominated Malaysia’s politics since 1957. All surveys and opinion polls carried out before the election predicted Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional success. However, Pakatan Harapan’s win in the 14th Malaysian election shocked everyone, including Malaysian pundits and other political observers.

Who is Mahathir and how he won the election?

Mahathir Mohamad is not only the oldest sitting man in power, he is also the longest-serving prime minister of Malaysia who remained in office for 22 years between 1981 and 2003.

Mahathir is the founding leader of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party) and Chairman of Pakatan Harapan since July 2017.

In July 2017, Mahathir brought four political groups to create Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) in order to bring down Najib Razak from power, release Pakatan Harapan’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim from jail, and hand over the power to Ibrahim if successful in the election.

On 9 May 2018, Mahathir brought a landslide victory to his newly established Pakatan Harapan against his long-ruling rival and mentee Najib Abdul Razak by winning 121 parliamentary seats out of 222 in the lower house.

Why has the power to be handed over to Anwar Ibrahim?

The transfer of power to Anwar Ibrahim within two years is part of the deal.

Pakatan Harapan is Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat’s successor and Mahathir could not have a chance to win the election without the support of Anwar Ibrahim and his wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Before the election, Pakatan Harapan was not even a registered coalition and Mahathir used the logo of Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party to enter in the election.

Pakatan Harapan became a registered coalition only after the election on May 16th, 2018.

Who is Anwar Ibrahim?

Anwar Ibrahim is the most powerful and controversial politician in Malaysia.

Anwar Ibrahim had been sent to jail three times with sentences of 11 years in his name. In 1998, when serving as deputy prime minister, Anwar was ousted from the office by prime minister Mahathir Mohamad over alleged cronyism and economic crisis. However, the most humiliating exercise against Anwar was sodomy charge with his speechwriter and wife’s driver which as result Ibrahim was found guilty in 2000 and sentenced to fifteen years in jail.

In 2004, the sodomy verdict was overturned and Anwar was freed with millions of ringgits in compensation. However, Anwar was banned from politics until 2008.

In July 2008, Anwar was arrested again for sodomising his aide but the charge was cleared in 2012. In the 2013 general election, Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition obtained 51.4 percent of the popular vote but did not succeed to change Barisan Nasional’s regime due to heavy malapportionment in some constituencies

In 2015, Anwar’s 2012 sodomy acquittal reversed and Najib Razak sent him to jail for the third time.

Najib Razak and 1MDB corruption scandal

Najib Razak is son of Abdul Razak Hussein, Malaysia’s second prime minister, and nephew of Hussein Onn, Mahathir’s mentor and Malaysia’s third prime minister. He served as the sixth prime minister of Malaysia for nine years from 2009 to 2018.

Soon after winning the election in 2009, Najib initiated the 1Malaysia Development Berhad to boost Malaysia economy through strategic investments. However, the state-owned 1MDB missed paying $11 billion it owed to the banks. In 2015, the Wall Street Journal revealed traces of $700 million transferred from 1MDB fund to prime minister Najib’s personal bank account. Though Malaysian Attorney General found Najib innocent, anti-Najib protests continued and 1MDB scandal became at forefront of Pakatan Harapan’s campaign during the 2018 general election.

In addition to the 1MDB corruption scandal, bribery in the purchase of two submarines from France, the sentencing of opposition Rafizi Ramli for disclosure of Auditor General’s report on 1MBD corruption scandal, and the murder of Deputy Public Prosecutor, Anthony Kevin Morais, are additional allegations against Najib Razak who is currently under police investigation. 

What do the Malaysians expect from Mahathir?

Mahathir, as promised during the election, has to bring down the cost of living in Malaysia, strengthen the Ringgit (Malaysian currency), increase the number of jobs, especially youths, increase the minimum wages, abolish the good and services tax, reintroduce fuel subsidies, tackle the widespread corruptions in the country, and most importantly to decide the future of Najib Razak and his involvement in the 1MDB corruption.

Within his first week, Mahathir attained royal pardon and released Anwar Ibrahim from jail, sacked Razak’s 17,000 political appointees, ceased Razak’s 1MDB program, appointed himself as minister of education, and imprisoned two Malaysians because of their insulting posts on Facebook.

Mahathir’s tenure will come to an end soon but the old man has already made a legacy by bringing down the longest-ruling Barisan Nasional from power.


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