Malaysia’s 92-year-old former leader, Mahathir Mohamad, who spearheaded the opposition’s defeat of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in the country’s 14th general election, has just been sworn in as the new prime minister.
The outgoing prime minister Najib Razak, who had been in power since April 2009, conceded defeat this morning. It is the first time since Malaysia gained its independence from Britain in 1957 that the ruling coalition has lost an election.
In his speech, Najib said he accepted the verdict of the people, but that the king, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, would decide which party would form a government as no one party had won a simple majority.
Huge crowds gathered outside the National Palace (Istana Negara) this evening, waving flags and chanting “Reformasi” as they waited for the news that Mahathir was finally being sworn in, then watched the swearing-in ceremony on their phones.
It was an extremely moving moment, seeing such a momentous change for Malaysia finally becoming a reality.
Winning GE14 is an extraordinary victory for an opposition that has faced cheating and gerrymandering by BN, a dissolution order against Mahathir’s party, and a refusal by the Registrar of Societies to register the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), which had to campaign under the logo of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party, or PKR).
It is particularly telling that Najib has been brought down by his former mentor. It is Mahathir’s vigour and charisma, and his appeal to Malay voters, that ensured the opposition victory in GE14.
There is euphoria in Malaysia about the result of GE14. People are stunned that the decades of authoritarian and corrupt rule are finally over. Malaysians took to the streets in the early hours of this morning to celebrate, and social media have been awash with the twists and turns of a story that would make a fascinating film script.
After more than 24 hours of excitement and exhaustion since the polls closed at 5 p.m. yesterday (Wednesday), there have been numerous calls for calm and patience, and rumours of under-the-table dirty tricks that might wrest victory out of the opposition’s hands at the last minute. Now, however, a new era for Malaysia has finally begun.
It was 4.40 a.m. when the Election Commission announced the final results, then there was much debate about whether Mahathir could become prime minister, given that PH was not officially registered as a coalition and that PKR had won 104 votes, too few to form a government by itself.
In his speech conceding defeat, Najib said he accept the verdict of the people, but that the king would decide who would form a government as no one party had won a simple majority.
The Bersih 2.0 Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections points out that the reason the PH coalition is “informal” is that the Registrar of Societies refused to register it. This, Bersih said, was “an abuse of power”.
Mahathir, who pledges an end to the kleptocracy that has marked BN rule, was given an audience with the king this afternoon at the National Palace. He was accompanied by four other leaders of PH, including Wan Azizah Wan Ismail who is president of PKR and wife of the jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
As the head of PKR, Wan Azizah (pictured left) was able to ask the king to accept the opposition’s choice of Mahathir as prime minister. She will be deputy PM.
According to official results announced today, the opposition won a total of 113 seats in parliament – one more than is required for a simple majority. Of these, 104 were won by PKR and nine by the Democratic Action Party.
With the eight parliamentary seats won by PH’s ally Parti Warisan Sabah (the Sabah Heritage Party), Pakatan Harapan has a “substantial majority”, Mahathir told reporters in the early hours of this morning.
The PKR re-formed into PH in 2015, grouping together with the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Parti Pribumi Bersatu, or PPBM), led by Mahathir, the Democratic Action Party, and the Islamic National Trust Party (Parti Amanah Negara or PAN).
The Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, and Amanah president Mohamad Sabu were with Mahathir at the meeting with the king this afternoon.
Barisan Nasional won 79 of the 222 parliamentary seats being contested in GE14 and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia,or PAS), which cut its ties with the rest of the opposition in 2015, won a total of 18 parliamentary seats.
Malaysia now has its youngest MP, 22-year-old independent P. Prabakaran, who contested the Batu seat when the long-standing MP Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, was disqualified.
The opposition has pledged to repeal the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that the previous government introduced in April 2015, and has led to significant price increases.
Mahathir has also vowed to investigate the financial scandal over the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and bring missing funds back to Malaysia.
Najib is accused of siphoning off huge amounts of public money for his own use, but denies all wrongdoing.
It is alleged that, between 2009 and 2015, more than $4.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB was misappropriated by high-level officials of the fund and their associates.
Mahathir points out that the 1MDB scandal is being investigated in many countries including Singapore, Switzerland and the United States, but not in Malaysia.
“We will abolish the term ‘cash is king’,” he said in a press conference tonight, during which he assured business people that the country was now in expert hands financially.
There was no cause for any devaluation of the ringgit, Mahathir said. “We want to make the ringgit stable.”
He said that “oppressive and unfair” laws, such as the “fake news” legislation that was rushed through parliament before the election, would be abolished. The new government would examine the politically motivated charges levelled against members of what was the opposition, and look into the many wrongdoings of those previously in power.
“We are particularly keen to ensure that the constitution is upheld and that the laws of the country are what will guide us through our administration,” he said.
Mahathir talked about looking forward, saying PH had work to do for the future of the country, and emphasised the importance of global friendship.
In spite of a gruelling period of campaigning and the stresses of the past 24 hours, Mahathir remains in extraordinarily fine form. He is known for his wit, and there was a great deal of humour during tonight’s speech. After asking journalists to put their questions in a very orderly fashion, he said – to rousing cheers and applause – that they should remember that he was previously a dictator.
Mahathir and Anwar
Mahathir, whose previous tenure as prime minister lasted from 1981 to 2003, is Malaysia’s seventh prime minister and is the world’s oldest head of government. He has said that he will hand over the position to Anwar Ibrahim, who is due to be released from prison on June 8. If Anwar receives a royal pardon, he will be able to contest a by-election.
Anwar, who served as Mahathir’s deputy from 1993 to 1998, was sacked and arrested during Mahathir’s tenure (in September 1998), and was subsequently charged with corruption for allegedly interfering with police investigations into claims of sexual misconduct made against him.
He is now serving a five-year jail sentence on a sodomy charge. He says the case against him was fabricated by his political enemies and the verdict has been strongly criticised both locally and internationally.
Anwar and Mahathir have now buried their differences and are working together as allies.
There were many opposition supporters who were unhappy about the former UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) authoritarian leading their campaign in GE14. Mahathir was in power during the infamous Operation Lalang crackdown (know as Ops Lalang) in 1987. More than 100 activists, politicians, and academics were arrested under the now-repealed Internal Security Act (ISA) that year. However, those doubts dissipated as it became clear that Mahathir was the person who could finally unseat Najib.
Mahathir resigned from UMNO in February 2016, saying he could not be a member of a party that was “dedicated to supporting Najib, to protecting Najib, to upholding whatever it is that he does, including some of the wrong things that he has done.” It was the second time he had quit the party. The first time was in May 2008. (He rejoined UMNO in April 2009.) He had previously been expelled from UMNO for criticising the party leadership after the 1969 riots and was readmitted in 1972.
Anwar (pictured left) said his family were initially wary of Mahathir, but they chose to place the interests of the nation first.
“Mahathir has proven his determination to the cause, accepted his past limitations, apologised, and sacrificed his time and energy for the people and country.
“He has patiently faced UMNO and BN’s insults and focused on strengthening the Harapan machinery.”
BN losses and gains
The transport minister in the previous government, Liow Tiong Lai, who is president of the Malaysian Chinese Association, lost his Bentong parliamentary seat to PKR’s Wong Tack in GE14.
The former health minister S. Subramaniam, who is president of the Malaysian Indian Congress, which is also in the BN coalition, lost his Segamat seat in Johor to PKR’s R. Santhara Kumar. Four deputy ministers also lost their seats.
Johor, Negeri Sembilan, and Melaka were all formerly BN states, but are now under PH control.
In voting for the sixty state assembly seats in Sabah on the island of Borneo, there were several recounts. At the final count, BN won 29 seats, followed by Parti Warisan Sabah with 21,the DAP with six seats, PKR with two, and Solidariti Tanah Airku also with two.
Parti Solidariti Tanah Airku’s decision to form an alliance with BN has enabled the BN coalition to form the state government in Sabah with a simple majority. There were reports of rioting in the capital of Sabah, Kota Kinabalu.
‘Sea change to correct previous excesses’
The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia, SUHAKAM, said it joined the people of Malaysia “in celebrating the joyous conclusion of the 14th general election”.
The chairman of SUHAKAM, Razali Ismail, said in a letter published in Malaysiakini that the expressed will and sovereignty of the people had been translated through a democratic process with the choice of elected representatives who would now make up parliament, the government, and the cabinet of Malaysia.
“SUHAKAM regards this as a sea change that will correct previous excesses owing to lapses in governance, that have impacted on the rule of law.”
The commission said it hoped for an early formation of the government in order for the latter “to proceed to move away from the past and fulfil the promises of governance and incorruptibility”.
SUHAKAM congratulated Mahathir on his election victory and said it hoped that he would appoint a capable cabinet “to deal with national needs and international demands, not purely on political party calculations”.
Malaysia, SUHAKAM said, “has not had altogether an illustrious set of ministers that meet the criteria of fit for purpose and SUHAKAM looks for improvement”.
At GE14, the people had underscored that governance could not any longer be elitist oriented, but must include multiple stakeholders, SUHAKAM said.
“SUHAKAM proposes to examine the shortcomings and discrepancies of GE14, particularly the narrow and rigid control of the Election Commission which itself must be revamped, in keeping with what other democratic countries have done.”
There were hundreds of Tweets this evening congratulating Mahathir and expressing people’s joy at the opposition victory and their pride in being Malaysian.
This one summed up what many Malaysians are thinking tonight: “Together we’ve made history. We’ve shown that no matter what they throw at us, the RAKYAT [the people] will always prevail!
“This is not only a victory for #PakatanHarapan, but also a display of the power of the PEOPLE who stood united this #GE14 putting aside our differences.”
Hope for “empathetic engagement” about MH370
K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board the missing Malaysia aiurlineMH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, wrote in a post on Facebook about his wish for the new government to bring a more humane approach in its dealings with families and accord Voice370 the status it merits as the association representing the families of passengers on board MH370.
“I expect that the government will adopt a more proactive, consultative stance vis-à-vis the families, be accessible, and communicate more regularly with families. In good time, it will be a fine gesture if the government owns up to mistakes made.”
As members of the opposition, many of those who will now be in government have been sympathetic to the MH370 families’ concerns, Narendran says, and they have repeatedly demonstrated their solidarity. “I expect that this will continue.”
Narendran said he would like to see the new government making public as much information as it can without compromising the continuing investigation into the plane’s disappearance.
“It is my hope that the past government’s habit of dealing with MH370 families at arm’s length will be replaced by a more welcoming and empathetic engagement.”
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Mahathir has announced that the king is willing to pardon Anwar Ibrahim immediately.
This eye-opening letter was posted on Instagram and Facebook by Azrene Ahmad, the eldest daughter of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor. I am publishing it in full, with no edits, other than for spelling and some capitalisation.
“Today marks the end of an era of tyranny that many have prayed for. I grew up looking up to these two individuals, loving them, respecting them. There was a time when I would have walked through the fires of hell and back for them. As I grew older, I saw the selfishness and greed of one above all else. I experienced firsthand emotional, physical and mental abuse at the hands of the one on the left. I witnessed firsthand the same abuse she caused onto the one on the right. I witnessed many trespasses, deals and handshakes these two made for the benefit of power and to fuel their appetite for greed. I witnessed the side deals made behind the back of the one on the right. The amount of money in briefcases exchanging hands and being spent like water not for the benefit of the rakyat but to be spent like water on jewels, bribery of officials and used in the pursuit of gaining more power. Shamans, witch doctors, aesthetic doctors and the like walking the pathways of my home for one reason or another but mostly to bring to heel and gain dominion over their peers and over their family members, even to cause harm on those who were audacious enough to cross them. The numerous offshore accounts opened to launder money out of the country for their personal spending. The steel safes full of jewels, precious stones and cash amassed. Being made a cash mule or even crystal shoes mule carrying these quietly into and out of the country was no fun either, let me tell you. The countless attempts to sell me into marriage to the highest bidder or even persons with the highest position that will be able to help them gain political and social advantage. The greed, avarice and pride that grew with each step that was gained closer to the top position. Nothing could stop their reign of terror and yet i stayed out of loyalty and duty. When this terror was then focused on me and became too unbearable a burden to carry, I decided to leave. Thus began my self imposed exile from this unfortunate family.
When I married the man of my choosing after exhausting all ways of trying to convince them to release me from my bond, my new family unit was harassed and exposed to countless cruel, intolerable, degrading treatment at the hands of one Rosmah Mansor and her collaborators. Unchecked, she engaged different government machinery, civil servants, media and members of Parliament to harass the family. Too many other creative methods were used to terrorise us and shut all ways of providing for the family and our children.
Throughout all of this and despite numerous attempts to seek help from the Prime Minister it was all to no avail. In fact, he covered his wife’s tracks instead. The one person who could have helped, refused to do so and turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Too scared of his bed partner to exercise any semblance of mercy. Just as he was too scared to stand up for the rights of the people when he realised something malignant had creeped into 1MDB but instead this family resorted to committing the disgustingly treasonous act of stealing from their people billions of dollars which they proceeded to use not just as their personal coffers to the detriment of the people but to bribe, extort, silence, maime and kill.
The day I left home, I left you a warning. That one who has been elected into office has powers only at the will of the people. They are there to serve the people, not the other way round. There will come a reckoning when the people will punish you for your trespasses on them. There will come a day when God will punish you for your trespasses the very people you swore to protect.
Today, my message to the both of you, to any siblings I have related by their blood who partook in this affair, to the eager collaborators and conspirators who sold out your people and the innocent for cash is this: You reap what you sow, not a penny less and not a penny more. God has answered the rakyat’s prayers. God has answered my family’s prayers. You have finally been summarily removed. As a blood relative to this family, I pray that you will use this experience and time to repent and return to the right path. Allahuakbar, May He have mercy on your black souls. Only He has the power to forgive the lot of you.”
This article was updated on 11/05/2018.