Mahathir's Momentous Win

Photo Source: The Guardian

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Up Front

In the 2018 Malaysian national election, something historic happened. It seemed, that Malaysians wanted a change, and they wanted it badly.

The new Prime Minister Muhammad Mahathir will become the world’s oldest leader, as a 92-year-old nonagenarian, leading the Pakatan Harapan, ‘Alliance of Hope’. Mahathir, once, had been Najib Razak’s mentor.

After the election result, the world of Prime Minister Najib Razak fell apart, in the decisive number game.

After the result, he simply went into tears, as he was unable to form the government. The government of his political party was perhaps the only government Malaysians had ever known.

People were seen numbered in hundreds, on the streets, where they watched live televised election results.

Since 2008, the opposition managed to win state elections and controlled two wealthiest states, but they never won a national election. In this election, the opposition changed their destiny.

The persistent democratisation of Najib Razak had suddenly turned authoritarian and corrupt.

Najib felled this emotional impact, simply because, for years, he was made to believe by his supporters that there was only him who they could look up to. The ‘Barisan National’ (BN), led by ‘United Malays National Organisation’ (UNMN) had lost at both representative places, the federal and state levels.

Often seen playing golf with American Presidents and enjoying a warm relationship with his Chinese counterparts, he finally had to bid goodbye to his decade-old rule. His party often received financial incentives from oil-rich oligarchs and other social quarters of rich businessmen.

But this time around, Najib and BN movement leaders blamed the Chinese for provoking political interventions and called the election as ‘tsunami Cina’.

At the same time, China is Malaysia’s largest investor, with investments in East Coast Railway Links Project and other infrastructure development projects such as Forest City in Johor, a special economic zone, as big as the Hong Kong city.

In perceptions of Mahathir, he doesn’t find Johor based Forest City project beneficial for the country. He calls these projects as deliberately putting their country land for sale.

He even thinks that the investors won't share the losses if the project fails economically. His policy on foreign investments, especially those coming from China, would be a thing to watch for, perhaps due to his leftist stance. All these new economic policies coming up might cause some fluctuations in the economy.

Regional commentators in Malaysia believe that holding the election in mid-week did not help Barisan National supporters, as most of the working class voters did not have time to go to the polling booths in the office hours.

There is this sudden change of perception amidst the Malaysians, who mostly were ruled over by a hybrid of Malay nationalism, economic liberalism and conservatism.  

In the past, common Malaysians used the term ‘Malaysia Boleh’ or ‘Malaysia Can’ as a national slogan, that reflected their pride, where their country was bestowed with a ‘developed’ status.

After economic problems started developing, common Malaysians, as a discontentment from the grassroots level, used the same terms to mock their political leaders.

This form of government, unflinching towards their ethnonationalism, due to strategic political alliances, had been there for six decades, since the colonial British left the Malaysian peninsula. It reflected that Malays have an ugly record for voting on racial lines.

Muhammad Mahathir pledged support from his protégé, Anwar Ibrahim, who had been jailed for quite a while. To topple Najib, both joined hands and ended their disagreements.

This political coalition, it seemed, came at a right time because nearly all Malaysians have been irate with their public expenditure policies, rising cost of living and Najib’s 2015 multibillion-dollar bribery scandal, where $700 million of the fund went into his personal account.

Mahathir has promised to review foreign investment policies and undue certain tax on service and goods. He is adamant to act against the policies of the previous regime, which includes reviewing the bribery scandal and bringing the funds back into the country.

He has even promised reforms related to human rights, freedom of religion and belief. It is, perhaps because, since three decades, there has been a crackdown on cartoonists, journalists, politicians. 

Malaysia has been ranked as one of the most corrupt nations in the world.

In this process of reform, civic organisations are not behind either. ‘Global Bersih’, an organisation of Malaysian expats from the United States, UK, Europe, Australia regularly protest, and call for the international government to intervene in their country’s problems.

However, apart from Mahathir’s promise of a ‘multi-ethnic’ nation, his plan for introducing fuel subsidies needs a careful evaluation because it might affect the fiscal competitiveness of the Malaysian economy. His policies including putting an end to goods and services tax would be credit negative for the Malaysian economy rating.

If we look into the success factor of Najib Razak’s regime, his vote bank had been mainly consisting of ethnic Malays, who benefited from certain government contracts, subsidised housing and university admission guarantees.

What worked for Mahathir this time around, had been the urban vote and political alliances with ethnic Chinese and Indian communities, who have always rejected a ‘second-class status' inside the country.


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