Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution

June 11, 2018

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution that brought Najib’s Political Demise

by Joseph Chinyong Liow ()


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Malaysia’s  Hibiscus Revolution started in  November, 2007

Read : http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/malaysias-hibiscus-revolution/article2227370.ece

Dark clouds have gathered over Malaysia as a crisis deepens. Two weeks ago, the country witnessed a massive street protest – dubbed Bersih (lit: “clean”) – organized by a network of civil society groups agitating for electoral reform. This was in fact the fourth iteration of the Bersih protests (Bersih also mobilized in 2007, 2011, and 2012), and managed to draw tens of thousands of participants (the exact number varies depending on who you ask). On this occasion, the protest was a culmination of widespread popular indignation at a scandal involving 1MDB, a government-owned strategic investment firm that accrued losses amounting to approximately USD10 billion over a short period of time, and the controversial “donation” of USD700 million funneled to the ruling party through the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.


All this is taking place against an inauspicious backdrop of sluggish economic growth, the depreciation of the Malaysian currency, and several exposes on the extravagant lifestyle of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

How consequential was Bersih?

Image result for Nik Nazmi and Din Merican at Bersih 1.0

Read: https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/category/ge13/page/9/

When Bersih first mobilized in 2007, it managed to harness a flood of dissatisfaction in opposition to the government of Abdullah Badawi, and contributed to major opposition political gains at the general election of 2008.

The second and third protests have also been credited as contributing factors to further opposition inroads at the 2013 polls. Assessments of the latest iteration of Bersih however, have been more equivocal. On the one hand, Bersih 4.0 indicated that the movement can still draw huge crowds and give voice to popular discontent, which continues to grow. On the other hand, analysts have called attention in particular to the comparatively weak turnout of ethnic Malays at Bersih 4.0 compared to the previous protests. This is a crucial consideration that merits elaboration if Bersih is to be assessed as an instrument for change.

Given how Malaysian politics continues to set great store by ethnic identity, the support of the Malay majority demographic is integral for any social and political change to take place. By virtue of affirmative action, ethnic Malays are privileged recipients of scholarships and public sector jobs. Therein lies the problem for any social movement agitating for change. Years of conditioning through policy and propaganda have created a heavy reliance on the state, which in essence means UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), the dominant party in the ruling coalition which Prime Minister Najib helms as party president. While it is difficult to say conclusively that this explains the tepid reaction of ethnic Malays during the Bersih protests, it is not far-fetched to hypothesize that at least a contributing factor was the fear among recipients of scholarships and public sector employees that their benefits might be jeopardized (For example, I know that scholarship holders were sent letters “dissuading” them from participating in “political activities.”).

Ultimately though, the most telling feature of the event may not have been the dearth of ethnic Malays but the presence of one particular Malay leader – Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s nonagenarian former Prime Minister and unlikely Bersih participant.

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad–Malaysia’s Uber-Politician

Hitherto a supporter of Prime Minister Najib, Mahathir has grown increasingly unhappy with the Prime Minister’s policies. According to Mahathir himself, attempts had been made to share his reservations with Najib in private, but they were rebuffed. Going by this account, it is not surprising that Najib’s alleged snub prompted private reservations to crescendo into harsh public criticism.

By the middle of 2014, Mahathir had assumed the role of Malaysia’s conscience to become one of the loudest critics of Najib. Asked to explain his criticisms, Mahathir reportedly responded: “I have no choice but to withdraw my support. This (referring to the act of privately reaching out to Najib) has not been effective so I have to criticize. Many policies, approaches, and actions taken by the government under Najib have destroyed interracial ties, the economy, and the country’s finances.”[1]

Today, it is Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister who was in office from 1981 to 2003, who is leading the charge to discredit Najib and have him removed from office for malfeasance. What explains Mahathir’s singleness of purpose to have Najib removed from power? Part of the answer may lie in Mahathir’s own record of political quarrels.

What lies beneath Mahathir’s attacks?

Mahathir is no stranger to bitter and bloody personal political battles. His interventions in Malaysian politics throughout his career in office are legion (and many Malaysians might also say, legendary). Longtime Malaysia watchers and critics have assailed Mahathir for his autocratic streak evident, for example, in how he emaciated the Judiciary by contriving to have supreme court judges (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation against them.

Mahathir was no less ruthless within UMNO, where he brooked no opposition. The history of political contests in UMNO has his fingerprints all over it. In 1969, it was his provocations as a contumacious back bencher that precipitated the resignation of the respected founding prime minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. In 1987, Mahathir weathered a challenge to his leadership of UMNO mounted by political rivals (the then Deputy Prime Minister, Musa Hitam, and Minister for International Trade, Razaleigh Hamzah), turned the tables on them, and had them exiled into political wilderness.

In 1998, Mahathir successfully fended off the ambitious Anwar Ibrahim by sacking him, and later having him arrested, charged, and eventually convicted for corruption and sodomy. Even when not directly involved, he was never content to be a bystander, choosing instead to either instigate or leverage power plays. In 1978, he played no small part in nudging Sulaiman Palestin to challenge then incumbent Hussein Onn for party presidency (a move that many Malaysian analysts agree signaled the beginning of the end for Hussein’s political career even though he managed to fend off Sulaiman’s challenge). In 1993, Mahathir did little to prop his then deputy, Ghafar Baba, who was crumbling under the challenge of a charismatic Malay nationalist and rising star by the name of Anwar Ibrahim. It was Mahathir’s machinations in 2008 that forced Abdullah Badawi, his handpicked successor no less, to resign a year later.

All said, Mahathir had accomplished the signal feat of being involved in some way or other in almost every political crisis that has beset UMNO since 1969. Several observations can be drawn from this record to explain Mahathir’s present behavior. First, Mahathir has long been possessed of a drive to be at the center of power in UMNO and Malaysian politics. Second, he is also in possession of an acute survival instinct that has enabled the über-politician to see off a string of challengers and ensured his political survival at the helm for 22 years. Finally, one can also plausibly surmise that at the core of his recent interventions is the desire – not unlike others who have held any high office for 22 years – to protect his legacy. Therein lie the rub, for it is not difficult to imagine that Mahathir might have deemed his legacy challenged by Anwar in 1998, ignored by Abdullah Badawi in 2008, and now, disregarded by Najib.

Will Najib survive?

A crucial factor that plays in this unfolding drama between two of Malaysia’s political heaveyweights – and which cannot be over-emphasized – is the fact that power in Malaysia ultimately lies in UMNO itself, sclerotic though the party may have become. It is on this score that Najib remains formidable, even for the likes of Mahathir.

Unlike Anwar, who was only a Deputy President when he launched his abortive attempt to challenge Mahathir in 1998 (for which he paid a heavy political and personal price), Najib enjoys the advantage of incumbency. Unlike Abdullah Badawi, who chose to remain quiescent when stridently attacked latterly by Mahathir, Najib has used the powers of incumbency adroitly to head off any potential challenge and tighten his grip on the party. He has done so by out-maneuvering pretenders (he removed his Deputy Prime Minister), sidelining opponents, and co-opting potential dissenters into his Cabinet. These divide-and-rule measures closely approximate what Mahathir himself had used to devastating effect when he was in power. For good measure, Najib has lifted a few additional moves from Mahathir’s own playbook: he has neutralized legal institutions, hunted down whistle blowers, brought security agencies to heel, and shut down newspapers and periodicals that have criticized him. Najib’s consolidation of power has been aided by the fact that there is at present no alternative leader within UMNO around whom a sufficiently extensive patronage network has been created. It bears repeating that the arid reality of Malaysian politics is that power still lies within UMNO, so he who controls the party controls Malaysia. On that score, even if Najib’s credibility is eroding in the eyes of the Malaysian populace, within UMNO his position does not appear to have weakened, nor does he seem to be buckling under pressure.

There are no signs that the enmity between the current and former Prime Ministers of Malaysia will abate anytime soon. Given the stakes, the depths to which ill-will between both parties now run, and how far the boundaries have already been pushed, the rancor is likely to intensify. Mahathir still commands a following especially online where his studied blog musings on www.chedet.cc, a key vehicle for his unrelenting assaults on Najib’s credibility, remain popular grist for the ever-churning Malaysian rumor mill. In response, Najib has defiantly circled the wagons and tightened his grip on levers of power. While Mahathir is unlikely to relent, the reality is that the avenues available to him to ramp up pressure on Najib are disappearing fast. A recent UMNO Supreme Council meeting that was expected to witness a further culling of Najib’s detractors and Mahathir’s sympathizers turned out to be a non-event and an endorsement of the status quo. In the final analysis then, it is difficult to see Mahathir ultimately prevailing over Najib, let alone bend the sitting prime minister and party president to his will.

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Former Brookings Expert.Dean and Professor of Comparative and International Politics – S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

[1] “Dr. Mahathir Withdraws Support for Najib Government,” The Malaysian Insider, August 18, 2014. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/dr-mahathir-withdraws-support-for-najib-government.


GE-14:-Malaysia’s political transformation(s): Dr. Welsh’s preliminary reflections

May 24, 2018

GE-14:-Malaysia’s political transformation(s): Dr. Welsh’s preliminary reflections


GE-14: Is a ‘Malay tsunami’ on the horizon?

May 9, 2018

Today, Malaysians Go to the Polls to elect a New Government

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GE-14 : Is a ‘Malay tsunami’ on the horizon?

ANU experts assess the likelihood of the Pakatan Harapan coalition finally making inroads into the UMNO heartland.

As a student of Indonesian politics—who maintains an interest, but no particular expertise, in Malaysian affairs—it seems to me there’s one simple and compelling argument for why Barisan Nasional (BN) will win today’s election: namely, that elections in Malaysia just aren’t a fair contest, and aren’t meant to be.

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Three Issues dominate Malaysia’s GE-14–Corruption, The Economy and Race and Religion

The government owns or controls most of the mainstream media, it has access to a bigger pool of campaign funds and state resources, it restricts and even jails opposition candidates from running for office. Gerrymandering and malapportionment create almost-insurmountable obstacles for opposition parties, even before you get to other Electoral Commission funny business.

So it’s hard to disagree with the assessments of political scientists like Meredith Weiss (a regular contributor to New Mandala), who wrote in 2011 that Malaysian elections “serve more to legitimate the existing government’s continued rule than to offer a chance to change the government.” Lee Morgenbesser argues that elections under the auspices of authoritarian regimes like Najib Razak’s merely reinforce authoritarianism, rather than democracy. Elections are a means for BN to distribute goodies to its base and gain a fine-grained measure of its popular support, while allowing for the controlled and ritualised display of opposition that allow opponents to blow off steam—and indulge in the fantasy that they might one day actually win—without really threatening the government’s hold on power.

So why, despite the cards being comprehensively stacked in Najib’s favour, does the result of Wednesday’s election still feel so uncertain for experienced Malaysia-watchers?

It was this tension, between acknowledgement of the immense barriers to change in Malaysia and anxiety about what exactly lies on store on Wednesday, that animated a public discussion on GE-14 held by the ANU Malaysia Institute in Canberra on Monday 7 May, which featured ANU Malaysia experts John Funston, Amrita Malhi and Ross Tapsell in conversation with Diana Anuar.

Image result for Malaysia  Vote for Change 2018Dr. Mahathir Mohamad–Malaysia’s Man of the Hour


One thing the panelists agreed upon was that predicting the outcome of the election was difficult, for a few reasons. The first is Malaysia’s electoral system: it’s well known that the country’s single-member electoral districts are so malapportioned and gerrymandered so as to give an outsize voice to rural mostly Malay-majority seats, as well as to the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.

That means that national-level opinion polls aren’t a very useful tool for predicting the outcome of the election. What’s important is not how many people vote for BN or Pakatan Harapan, but who and where. BN won only 47% of the popular vote at GE13 in 2013 yet retained a comfortable parliamentary majority (it being theoretically possibly to form government in Malaysia with less than a fifth of the popular vote.)

The big question this election, then, is whether the emergence of Mahathir Mohamad as the figurehead of the Pakatan coalition will boost the opposition’s changes in the Malay heartland areas that are most overrepresented in parliament. Malaysian politicos are calling this scenario the “Malay tsunami”, and in John Funston’s analysis, “if [it] does emerge, that could well sweep away the efforts of the Electoral Commission to provide the government with a majority”.

That’s certainly a big “if”. To be sure, Funston says, “there’s never [before] been an alignment of Malay groups such as [now exist in the Pakatan coalition]”. Mahathir, he said, “has been at his charismatic best” on the campaign trail, reminding rural voters about the corruption allegations dogging Najib and controversies such as the Felda Global Ventures saga.

But it would be foolish to underestimate the pull of Barisan’s powers of patronage among its base, and to overestimate the effect of corruption scandals to divert their loyalty towards the opposition. ANU’s Amrita Malhi observed that discussions with opposition insiders revealed that “they found that the 1MDB scandal didn’t work with a lot of people,” who didn’t connect lurid tales of multi billion-dollar corruption cases to their own day-to-day experiences. Instead, “[the opposition] decided to just link it to cost of living pressures”.

Keeping in mind the usual caveats about the reliability of polls in Malaysia, recent surveys from the Merdeka Center do suggest that the “Malay tsunami” won’t be big enough to get Pakatan over the line. Ross Tapsell’s observation from the Malay heartland state of Kedah was that “ethnic Malay voters have more choice in this election. And coupled with smartphones allowing for more personal interaction with individual parties and candidates, the local candidate is crucial.” His sense was that PAS voters will stick with the party, which left the opposition coalition to compete in GE14 as an “independent” entity—though in reality, it’s now seen as effectively UMNO-aligned.

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UMNO Kleptocracy vs Pakatan Harapan Democracy

The anti-status quo mood being sensed by many observers is certainly there. But in the absence of publicly available seat-by-seat opinion polling that’s required to reliably predict the outcome, even the best analysts are reliant on educated guesswork about how popular sentiment will translate into voting behaviour. Attendance at opposition rallies and ceramah do suggest an upswell in enthusiasm for regime change, even in areas where BN has long dominated. Whether that represents an intensification of support for the opposition, or that they’re winning over formerly pro-BN or disengaged voters, will only be known later tonight. Large attendance at rallies has not always been a reliable indicator of the vote—as we learned at GE13.

Nevertheless, when the audience pressed our panel of experts to have a punt on what Wednesday’s result would be, a few scenarios were floated.

John Funston thought that the most probably outcome was a win for Barisan but with a reduced majority. Even that result would, he said, lead to significant changes within UMNO; “if there’s a weak victory for Najib, all sorts of possibilities emerge”. Amrita Malhi agreed, noting that in a recent interview with Bloomberg, Najib said that he wasn’t expecting a landslide in his favour. “If he’s saying it’s going to be like that, then that’s as good a prediction as any.”

If we take a long view, though, the significance of GE-14 won’t necessarily be determined by who wins. Rather, it will be a milestone on a path towards considerable different outcomes for Malaysia.

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PAS’ Hudud Advocate and President Abdul Hadi Awang in league with UMNO’s Najib Razak

For John Funston, the election is not just a contest between two party coalitions but “also a contest over what type of state Malaysia is going to be: an Islamic one, or a secular–liberal one.” The spectre of an UMNO–PAS governing alliance after GE14 only adds to worries about the acceleration of the Islamisation of Malaysia’s legal system—something, he notes, that UMNO has already come to endorse “to shore up [Najib’s] support” with the PAS leaders and supporters, who are now untethered from the opposition alliance.

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Amrita Malhi speculated on the longer term endurance and evolution of the electoral authoritarian political model. For a long time, she says, the system has been “working the way it’s supposed to”, containing the level of competition to deliver regular victories and legitimacy for BN. But “the system has reached its limit in terms of its capacity to contain the level of competition that’s increased since [the 2008 election]”.

For me that raises the question: if even unfair elections can’t deliver the legitimation and stability that Malaysia’s hegemonic party needs, what methods of continuing their rule do they turn to next? No matter what happens today, this will be a milestone election for one reason or another—and not necessarily in a good way.

Keep to date with analysis and observations of the results as they come in at New Mandala’s election night live blog, which begins at 5:00pm MYT/7:00pm AEST on 9 May.



GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak

May 9, 2018

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Today, MAY 9, 2018, is Polling Day in Malaysia. Voters must go out early to respective polling stations. Don’t forget to bring your identity cards and check the electoral register to verify that your name is in the register. Vote carefully since a spoilt vote favours UMNO-BN. Unlike the writer of this article below, S Thayaparan who is “angry”, you can remain cool and calm. Just get even by voting for the alternative Pakatan Harapan led by  Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in large numbers.–Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

GE-14: Get even today and throw out the corrupt UMNO Hegemon, Najib Razak

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

– Howard Beale, ‘Network’ (1976)

COMMENT | It is the eve of this great election. ‘Great’ to me is an ominous word. So much hope has been put in this election by folks who want change. I do not fear the Umno state. What I fear is that the hope of change is but an illusion. That the people who claim to lead for change will not transform this country before it slips into the delusional dreams of Islamic extremism.

Image result for najib razak and rosmah mansorNow it is the time to take this toxic couple out of Seri Perdana


What I do know is that if we do not take this first step, we are really screwed. A first step that we have never been in a position to take and if we do not, we would have lost the single best chance to change this country. If we do not finally have a two-party system, then we will only be able to watch as our country slips further down the dark path of totalitarianism. You think it’s bad now, wait and see.

For the record, my definition of a two-party system is a system where two coalitions have had a chance to govern the country. We have never had this. Yes, the opposition has made gains and is a credible threat to the Umno/BN establishment but we have only known UMNO rule and whatever permutations of it since Independence.

I know this man. A “pakar” Malay officer who worked his way up, as we say. He revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and was a lifelong member of PAS, even back in the day. We reconnected in the heady days when PAS took to the streets after the ejection of then Deputy Premier Anwar Ibrahim from Umno paradise.

He still referred to me as “Tuan” and it was the happiest day of his life when PAS formally joined Pakatan Rakyat. With the passing of Tok Guru and the fragmentation of PAS, he quit the party. His family and most of his friends joined him.

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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohamed Ali–Malaysia’s  Couple of the Moment with Decades of Public Service.

Then former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad made his play with the opposition. This old sailor who had left PAS and was thinking of sitting out in this election was suddenly stirred. He can’t explain it. He knows for a long time that Mahathir was the “mahafiraun”. It was what PAS had taught him.

However, these days he sees PAS cuddling up with UMNO and he hears how Mahathir wants to correct his mistakes that he made when he was with UMNO. He sees Tok Guru’s family “manipulated” by UMNO. He sees mothers turning against sons. He sees an old adversary not allowed to visit the grave of a religious scholar who once led the way. This old sailor is angry.

Now, of course, most of them (like my sailor friend) are retired but when they hear the call by their old Prime Minister, they understand that UMNO is not to be trusted. They tell their friends and families. They make it known by going to ceramahs. They donate to the cause, even though they do not have much.

These are not the service personnel – the high-ranking officers who got fat from the gravy train. These are the men and women who served on the ground. Who understood that the state security apparatus was a branch of government and that there were some honour and dignity in serving.

He has repented, my old colleague says to me. “Soon, there will be many in PAS, who may have to repent as well.”

Anyone who has read my articles will know that my issue with PAS is not their Islamism. My issue with PAS is their Umnoism. My friend will not join any political party, but he will vote Pakatan Harapan in this election. From now on, I am independent, he says.

Your choice

Now, of course, the “choices” in this election may seem identical but eventually, these will be refined or redefined. The first step is understanding that you have a choice. This is what UMNO fears. This is what the former Umno prime minister is banking on – that people will take that leap of faith. That the Malay community realises that they have a choice. And because the Malay politics is defined by Malay institutions, he wisely chooses to directly appeal to those institutions.

Will things change? Who knows? I do know that after decades of being ruled by Umno, things have to change. I do know that after decades of being told by successive UMNO potentates that they are the only ones who can rule this country, that things have to change. I do know that after decades of UMNO rule, our country is heading down a dark path and it’s not because of the corruption or the systemic discrimination but because the underlying policies of Umno – using religion – has opened the majority to influences from the outside that would bring ruination to this country.

Could the opposition bring this change? I have no idea. I only know that we cannot carry on this way. We cannot carry on believing that this country is doing well when there are no political voices to dissent against the hegemon in Putrajaya. I know that if politicians think that it is their birthright to rule this country in perpetuity that this will only lead to sorrow.

I know that if politicians continue to think that they are not accountable to the people, they will continue suppressing voices of dissent. The UMNO regime is doing everything in its power to stack the deck. They are doing everything in their power to ensure a victory that they do not deserve. This is politics, they say, so what has “deserve” got to do with it.

Fair enough, but every time the establishment does something like this, they make people angry. I am not talking about the vitriol that some opposition supporters display online. I am talking about the real-world anger that could manifest in so many ways.

In a Muslim-majority country, this is especially dangerous. I am on record as saying that the greatest danger to this country is the National Security Council Act. There is a reason for this obnoxious law. But I think that the state security apparatus understand that their role is to facilitate a smooth transition of power and not hamper it.

All I know is this. After decades of rule by a single party, watching the corruption, the bigotry and smug assurance of rule, I am mad as hell and I am not going to take this anymore.

We can worry about how we are going to reform the system later. We can worry about how we are going to reform the institutions later. We first need to take the first step with people who say they are interested in doing those things and have never – well, the majority of them – had the opportunity to govern this country.

If the opposition carries out even a quarter of what they promise, that would be something that the country desperately needs.Are you as mad as hell and not going to take this anymore?

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia’s Ruling Party Sacks Defectors as Election Fight Heats Up

May 6, 2018


Malaysia’s Ruling Party Sacks Defectors as Election Fight Heats Up

Prime Minister Najib Razak is fighting to stay in power, dogged by the continuing 1MDB scandal

By Yantoultra Ngui


Malaysia’s ruling party said on Saturday that it expelled two of its best-known members and began investigating a third for backing the opposition in Wednesday’s Wednesday’s national election, a fresh sign that Prime Minister Najib Razak might be facing a tougher-than-expected battle to stay in power.

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Former UMNO Ministers–Daim Zainuddin, Rafidah Aziz and Rais Yatim

The two politicians expelled from the United Malays National Organization or UMNO, Daim Zainuddin and Rafidah Aziz, as well as Rais Yatim, who is under investigation, are closely associated with Mahathir Mohamad. The former prime minister came out of retirement to lead an opposition coalition that aims to unseat Mr. Najib, his former protégé.

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Now 92, Dr. Mahathir has blasted Mr. Najib for his management of the country, and particularly his handling of state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MDB. Dr. Mahathir and many others accuse Mr. Najib of skimming hundreds of millions of dollars from the debt-laden fund, which is the subject of several international investigations. Mr. Najib and 1MDB deny any wrongdoing.

 Dr. Mahathir’s emergence at the head of the opposition has reinvigorated that movement and put UMNO on the defensive. Opinion polls suggest, however, that the party will be able to form a government, even if it loses the popular vote, as did in 2013.

Mr. Daim, Ms. Rafidah and Mr. Rais, all former ministers, have been openly critical of Mr. Najib in the election run-up and joined Dr. Mahathir at a huge rally Friday. Ms. Rafidah, who was Malaysia’s emblematic trade minister under Dr. Mahathir’s long premiership, urged the crowd to give him a “new contract.” She and Messrs. Daim and Rais didn’t respond to requests for comment Saturday.

UMNO officials said Saturday that they would take action against members breaking ranks, but the defections underscore divisions in the party feeding into uncertainty in formerly rock-solid strongholds. It comes at a time of increasing authoritarianism in Southeast Asia amid challenges on trade and security as the U.S. and China contest for influence in the strategically important region.

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A prime example is on Sabah, an oil-and-gas-rich state on the northern tip of Borneo island on the South China Sea, lying near the troubled southern Philippines. Islamic militants from the Philippines have occasionally staged attacks in Sabah or tried to use it as a safe rear area.

The state delivers the third-most seats in Parliament and has long resembled a “fixed deposit,” as Mr. Najib put it, of support for the Front. In 2013, 22 of its 25 seats went to the governing coalition. Parliament has a total of 222 seats.

This time, the opposition in Sabah is being led by a former UMNO Vice President, Shafie Apdal, who quit the party in 2016 after Mr. Najib suspended him for being critical of the 1MDB scandals. Mr. Shafie later formed an opposition party in Sabah with opposition lawmaker Darell Leiking.

The opposition rallies in Sabah are heavily attended, including with younger voters who have increasingly been deserting UMNO. Supporters say they are looking for more autonomy for the state.

“I thank God I left UMNO. It was divine intervention,” Mr. Shafie said in an interview. “I have been observing the body language of people. It is very positive for us as the numbers coming out are very good.”

UMNO has been at the center of every Malaysian government since 1957, but it lost the popular vote in the 2013 elections to a resurgent opposition and allied parties in the long-ruling National Front coalition were reduced to insignificance. As the 1MDB scandal gained steam in recent years, Mr. Najib purged challengers and opponents.

James Chin, a Malaysian academic who heads the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, said that the most recent defection of former UMNO ministers who served under Dr. Mahathir showed that “more and more senior UMNO people are willing to challenge Najib at the polls.”

“On the other hand, the fact that all these people were in Mahathir’s cabinet gives the impression that May 9 is a fight between the old UMNO elite and the new UMNO elite,” Mr. Chin said.

—James Hookway contributed to this article.

Write to Yantoultra Ngui at yantoultra.ngui@wsj.com

Dr. Mahathir is our Man of the Hour–May 9, 2018

May 6, 2018

GE-14 is only 72 Hours away. Fellow Malaysians go out in large numbers to vote Pakatan and Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and make a real difference without Caretaker Najib and Barisan Nasional. Unfortunately I cannot vote since my name is no longer in the electoral role (since GE-13). –Din Merican

The Shifting Political Wind 

by Dr. M. Bakri  Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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This Wednesday, May 9, 2018, election day, voters will have a chance to be predators and rid Malaysia of her weak and desperate leaders. Go for the jugular and grab Najib by the neck and decapitate UMNO. It is time for Malaysia to have strong, competent, and confident leaders with integrity. Elect Mahathir and his coalition.– Dr.M. Bakri Musa


In the animal world, once you are perceived as being weak or desperate, your predator would pounce on you fast and without mercy. This is also true if not more so in the animalistic world of politics.

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Reject this Crook on May 9, 2018

Najib’s political desperation was evident long before he dissolved Parliament. There was the fast passage of the Fake News Act, the blatant and obscene gerrymandering exercises, and last but most despicable of all, his making the Police and Armed Services chiefs pledge allegiance to him instead of king and country, as they were sworn to do upon taking office. Najib hoped those antics would strengthen his position ahead of the election.

The low was on nomination day when Mahathir was prevented to fly to Langkawi to file his papers. His pilot said that the plane was not safe. Mahathir charged sabotage. Najib did not factor in the kindness of others, or that he could not control everyone and everything. Mahathir found another plane. That sabotage attempt was not only pathetic but also dangerous. We are talking about lives endangered here, that of the pilot and his passengers.

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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is our Man of the Hour. He deserves your Vote

Najib threatened to charge Mahathir under the new Fake News Act. Mahathir ignored him and kept repeating the serious charge. Najib’s threat was but an empty one, his impotence exposed for all to see. Or may be that Mahathir’s charge of sabotage was not fake news after all.

The top military commander also retracted his misplaced allegiance to Najib after Mahathir sent him and his fellow commanders an open letter reminding them of their oath of office. A few days later the Naval Chief issued an unprecedented command to his sailors. They were free to vote for whichever candidate and party they choose. He assured them that their votes would remain secret. He was widely lauded for his brave action.

Brave is not too a strong a word here. After all this is Malaysia. The fact that he had to issue that command in the first place speaks volumes of the country’s democratic processes. The Police Chief too followed suit and issued a similar statement.

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Mahathir’s open letter was more powerful than whatever Prime Minister Najib may have said earlier to his Police and military chiefs. Or those chiefs had put their wet fingers in the air and felt that the wind was changing direction.

Najib’s most comical act of desperation was having his Elections Commission (EC) issue a directive to tear down Mahathir’s pictures on election billboards! It was a sorry sight to have those otherwise unemployable young Malays in their EC uniforms climbing the scaffoldings to tear down those giant posters. In the end, unable to complete their task fast enough, they resorted to just cutting out Mahathir’s face. Then still not fast enough, they just pasted on blank sheets to cover his face. Pathetic!

The order was given out so hastily and without much thought that, conspicuous by its absence, I did not see those workers wearing any safety harness when they were climbing those billboards. Their supervisors were either irresponsible or too dumb not to think of their workers’ safety. They considered their workers’ lives cheap.


Realizing that the 1MDB scandal was a major issue, Najib sent the company’s CEO to campaign for him, a PR man – and not a very good one at that – masquerading as chief executive. The poor man bitterly complained that no one came out to hear him. Touching! He would have been better off and more persuasive had he simply released 1MDB’s audited financials, standard for all companies. He could not; the company had none. That’s the crux of 1MDB’s problem. It does not take a CPA or MBA to figure that out, and fast. Any CEO who does not grasp that on his first day at work is not chief executive material but an expensive hired hand.

Long before Najib announced the election he had his Registrar of Societies, a mousy Malay lady, her impressive title notwithstanding, deny the registration of Mahathir’s party. As such its candidates, Mahathir included, could not use the party’s name or symbol. For added measure and not satisfied with just tearing down Mahathir’s pictures, EC directed that Mahathir could not campaign beyond his constituency as he is not head of a registered national party. He blithely ignored that and stormed the country, taking his campaign right to Putrajaya and Pekan, Najib’s home town, and drawing huge crowds.

Mahathir’s flouting EC’s directives again exposed Najib’s impotence. Most heartening of all, despite his 92 years of age and recent frequent attacks of bronchitis, Mahathir had no difficulty delivering his pungent messages. And they resonated with the electorate. The campaign invigorated him; a patriot on his mission to save his country.

What a contrast to Najib; he was inarticulate, stumbled over his words, and could hardly wipe off the saliva drooling from his lips. A thief caught with the loot and a chicken.

This Wednesday, May 9, 2018, election day, voters will have a chance to be predators and rid Malaysia of her weak and desperate leaders. Go for the jugular and grab Najib by the neck and decapitate UMNO. It is time for Malaysia to have strong, competent, and confident leaders with integrity. Elect Mahathir and his coalition.