A Political Comeback at 93

October 2, 2018

A Political Comeback at 93

Malaysia’s Prime Minister discusses his alliance with a man he once jailed, his trouble with the Chinese, and his country’s system of racial preferences.


By  Tunku Varadarajan

New York

Image result for Dr. Mahathir in New York

Dr Mahathir with Dr.Fareed Zakaria after the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York.

Even in a city swarming with statesmen and panjandrums from every nook of the globe—all gathered here for the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly—Mahathir Mohamad stands out as exceptional. That he is the world’s oldest head of government is almost prosaic compared with the magnitude and audacity of his political reinvention. After 15 years out of power, he’s back as Prime Minister of Malaysia for a second time. Now he is ruling in a courteous (and remarkable) coalition with a man he once sent to prison for sodomy and abuse of power on charges widely accepted to have been trumped up and politically motivated.

Illustration: Ken Fallin A Political Comeback at 93

The wily Dr. Mahathir—he’s a physician—may be 93, but he insists in conversation that that’s merely his “chronological age—biological age is quite different.” He seems perhaps a decade younger. “I’m still myself,” he says, “still able to function.” He returned to office in a cathartic May election, which swept out incumbent Najib Razak, regarded by many, including the U.S. Justice Department, as exceptionally corrupt. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Dr. Mahathir is contrite about the autocratic way in which his critics believe he governed from 1981 to 2003, he does have a few regrets.

“There were criticisms against the time when I was Prime Minister for 22 years,” he says in his suite at the Plaza Hotel, “and I find some of the criticisms are worth looking into.” Now, he adds, “I have the benefit of all this experience, 15 years working with the opposition.” But “I will do things only slightly differently. Otherwise, a lot of the old policies and strategies are still relevant today.”

Dr. Mahathir admits that “one of the things that they criticized me about was that I had cronies, and that I helped my cronies.” He argues that criticism is unfair, that those people received his favor “because they were able to do things. I tend to support people who are capable, who have shown some achievements.” This results-oriented approach to doing business, he believes, was misunderstood. “But now, since I am [governing] with the people who used to criticize me, I want to show them that I’m not what they think I am.”

Those new partners include Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party, or PKR, which has 47 seats in Malaysia’s 222-member Parliament—the most of any party. Mr. Anwar was Dr. Mahathir’s protégé and Malaysia’s finance minister, but the two fell out acridly in 1998. The following year Mr. Anwar was tried, convicted and imprisoned.

Dr. Mahathir leads the Alliance of Hope coalition, of which Mr. Anwar’s PKR is the spearhead. The prime minister’s party, Bersatu, has only 13 of the coalition’s 113 parliamentary seats. Dr. Mahathir’s status as the foremost politician of modern Malaysia might have made him the obvious choice to lead the coalition into elections. Yet he did so also because Mr. Anwar was still in prison—on a second iteration of the sodomy charges for which he was first jailed by Dr. Mahathir in 1999.

The coalition campaigned on the understanding that Dr. Mahathir would be prime minister for two years, after which he would cede office to Mr. Anwar. It was also understood that the latter would receive a pardon and be released from prison—as he was. Will Dr. Mahathir stick to the promise of a transition of power to Mr. Anwar? “Well, there have been a lot of people who mention two years,” he says, “but I am supposed to be the interim prime minister. It may be two years, it may be one year. . . . It may be three years. I wouldn’t know.”

Pressed to clarify, he remains cryptic: “I didn’t know what to say, but I believe that after two years he will take over.”

Does Dr. Mahathir regret the legal action against Mr. Anwar in the late 1990s? “Well, I don’t know about regretting,” he responds, “but at that time, it was done by a court of law. The trial lasted nine months. All kinds of evidence was produced, and the court decided. It’s not me! So people will blame me for that, but I don’t interfere with the courts.” His critics, he says, “want to take a political view” of Mr. Anwar’s imprisonment. “I was not the best-liked leader in the Western world, because I’m critical about other wrongdoings elsewhere”—he was famously outspoken against Israel—“so the moment they find reason to blame me, they will.”

Dr. Mahathir suggests he could have resorted to Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, “which allowed the government to detain a person without trial. I didn’t do that. He went to the courts.” Asked if Mr. Anwar’s succession would be good for Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir says, “well, that is what the people want. It’s not a question of what I like. If the people want that, they will have it.”

How does Mr. Anwar feel about his erstwhile jailer? “He seems to be quite nice,” Dr. Mahathir says. “He sees me; we talk to each other. We didn’t discuss about old things, because we decided that those things are the past, and we can’t look at the past. We have to look ahead.” As for the sodomy law, Dr. Mahathir says his government will not repeal it. “We are a Muslim nation, and we do not tolerate sodomy. The rest of the world may tolerate it, but we cannot. That is against our religion.”

Dr. Mahathir doesn’t like the way radical Islam is commonly described in the West. “In Malaysia, we believe that what we practice is Islamic fundamentalism. If you go according to the teachings of Islam, you will be able to set up a good society, a good government. You will not be oppressive.” What the West calls Islamist fundamentalism, he says, “is a deviation from the teachings of Islam. It’s not Islam at all. We have some people [in Malaysia] who are attracted to these deviations, but we have been able to argue against them. And by and large, the people support us.” He alludes to his recent criticism of a Shariah court in the Malaysian state of Terengganu, which ordered the caning of a lesbian couple.

“It’s not a moderate position,” he says of his own disapproval of the court, “it’s an Islamic position. I mean, in Islam there is tolerance. We have to be merciful and compassionate. There are other forms of punishment. It’s not necessary to cane these people, so we objected to that. It gives a very bad impression of Islam.” He has said the two women should have had to undergo counseling, not caning.

Another contentious facet of modern Malaysia is its entrenched system of racial preferences. Ethnic Malays—the Sons of the Soil, in local parlance—receive notable advantages over citizens of Chinese and Indian origin in jobs and educational opportunities. Will the New Mahathir, as Malaysians now describe him, reset his country toward a goal of equality and genuine pluralism? Will the idea of Malay dominance diminish?

“There is no Malay dominance,” Dr. Mahathir says quickly, before launching into an explanation of how he sees his country’s political demography: “The problem is we have three major communities, and the wealth of the country is not evenly distributed between the three. So we have to correct that.” If not, he continues, there will be “tension” as a result of the “big disparity” between rich and poor. And if “the rich belong to one race and the poor belong to another race, then the potential for tension and conflict will be much greater.”

“The rich” are Malaysia’s Chinese, and to a lesser extent its Indians; the poor are the Malays. “What we did was to favor the poorer people, so as to be able to catch up with the rich. That is affirmative action. Naturally, affirmative action means that you have to discriminate against one group in favor of the other. If you don’t do that, there can never be any changes in the disparities.”

He intends, however, to effect one change. Dr. Mahathir plans to crack down on the widespread practice whereby Malay beneficiaries resell to businessmen of other races contracts they’ve been awarded based on affirmative action. “We have to make sure that if we give a contract to the deprived community, then they cannot sell or transfer the contract to anybody else. If they do, then the contract becomes invalid.”

Dr. Mahathir says he also is determined to address the more profound issues of corruption that bedevil his country. These include the relentless prosecution of his predecessor, Mr. Najib, who stands accused of gargantuan theft from a state-owned fund known as 1MDB.

“I believe that if the leader is not corrupt, then the level of corruption will not be very high,” Dr. Mahathir says. “What happened was that the Prime Minister himself was totally corrupt, openly corrupt, and because of that, corruption spread throughout the whole government machinery and the business community.” There will be no amnesty deal with Mr. Najib, Dr. Mahathir insists: “He claims he can explain everything, that he didn’t take the money. And that is up to the judge, to evaluate his defense against the prosecutor’s evidence.”

A legacy of the Najib years is a series of contracts with China, which critics and economists believe will leave Malaysia deeply indebted. Dr. Mahathir has put most of these projects, worth around $22 billion in total, on hold. On a visit to Beijing in August, he startled his hosts by speaking of a “new version of colonialism”—an allusion to China’s galloping economic expansion. In New York, Dr. Mahathir says that “the press put those words into my mouth, I didn’t say that”—even as there are YouTube clips online that show him uttering those words in the presence of an open-mouthed Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier.

In what appears to be a quibble over words, Dr. Mahathir insists that he meant “neocolonialism,” in the sense that “Sukarno said after independence.” (Sukarno was Indonesia’s president from 1945-67.) Dr. Mahathir says that “any attempt to gain control of our country is a form of colonialism. So we do not want that. I wasn’t specifically saying [it] about China.” He adds that “it is the duty of an independent country to retain its independence by whatever means possible.”

The Chinese projects “involve huge borrowings, and we cannot repay that money,” he says. “So the best thing to do is to drop the project. But of course we have made agreements with them. If, unilaterally, we drop the project, we have to pay compensation, so instead we proposed a postponement, or a reduction in the scale.” The Chinese “haven’t said no, so far. They are listening to what we are proposing.”

His own relationship with the giant neighbor to Malaysia’s north isn’t Dr. Mahathir’s only worry. He doesn’t like the growing hostility between the U.S. and China. “Confrontation, I think, isn’t going to be good for anyone,” he muses, referring to the presence of U.S. warships in the South China Sea. “It’s far better to talk and discuss things, rather than to send battleships to show your dislike for whatever move that the countries there make.”

Donald Trump appears to disconcert Dr. Mahathir, who laughs nervously when asked about the American President. “We cannot make out what the presidency is like, because he changes his mind sometimes three times in one day. It’s very unsettling, because how do you deal with a person who is not consistent? This is our worry.”

Image result for Najib and TRump

Malaysia’s previous Prime Minister, says Dr. Mahathir, “tried to bribe” President Trump “by offering to buy aircraft and all that. He actually said he wanted to help the economy of the United States. Malaysia is a small country. We can’t help people.”

Mr. Varadarajan is executive editor at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

Appeared in the September 29, 2018, print edition.

The Malaysian Election Tsumami: What Happens Next?

June 11, 2018

The Malaysian Election Tsumami: What Happens Next?

The CSIS Southeast Asia Program is pleased to present “The Malaysian Election Tsunami: What Happens Next?” a panel discussion featuring Dr. Meredith L. Weiss and Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun. They will discuss the outcomes of 14th Malaysian general election, and what the election means for the state of democracy in Malaysia and the region. Dr. Meredith L. Weiss is professor of political science and director of International Programs at the State University of New York at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy. She has published widely on political mobilization and contention, the politics of identity and development, and electoral politics in Southeast Asia, with particular focus on Malaysia and Singapore. Her books include Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow (2011) and Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia (2006), as well as a number of edited volumes, most recently, Political Participation in Asia: Defining and Deploying Political Space (with Eva Hansson, 2018). Her articles appear in Asian Survey, Critical Asian Studies, Democratization, Journal of Contemporary Asia, Journal of Democracy, New Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, and other journals. A forthcoming book explores the resilience of electoral-authoritarian politics in Malaysia and Singapore; other current projects include a collaborative study of “money politics” in Southeast Asia and a co-edited volume on Malaysia’s 2018 general elections.

Ambassador Joseph Y. Yun served as the U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia from 2013 to 2016. He has also served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Mr. Yun’s other overseas postings include the Republic of Korea, Thailand, France, Indonesia and Hong Kong. He most recently served as U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy from 2016 to 2018. He currently serves as senior advisor at The Asia Group and as senior adviser to the Asia Program at the United States Institute of Peace. This event was made possible through general support to CSIS.


Mahathir 2.0 Diplomacy

June 2, 2018


Mahathir 2.0 Diplomacy–Madhater?

Image result for Dr Mahathir and PM Lee Hsien Loong

COMMENT | Many Malaysians seem puzzled by repeat-Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent exercise in what’s known as “megaphone diplomacy”, his very public and provocative statement in an interview with the Financial Times that Malaysians’ ridding themselves of the BN regime for the first time in the nation’s history may inspire Singaporeans to do likewise after nearly 60 unbroken years of government by the People’s Action Party (PAP).

“I think the people of Singapore, like the people in Malaysia, must be tired of having the same government, the same party since independence,” Malaysiakini quoted Mahathir as remarking, much to the mystification of most, if not all of us.

I must confess that I haven’t been a mega-fan of Mahathir in the past. But recalling that I’ve made fun of him as ‘Mahahahathir’ a few times, I have to admit now that the joke’s entirely on me.

And as for my occasionally calling him Madhathir, now that he’s demonstrated enough smarts as to lead the opposition to a stunning victory over the seemingly-unbeatable UMNO-BN robber-regime, I have to concede that if he’s crazy then he’s crazy like a fox.

However, having said all that, there’s no denying that he’s always seemed to have a bee in his bonnet, if not a bat in his belfry, about Singapore.

There are plenty of possible reasons for this, two of the most obvious being a natural species rivalry between himself as the Malaysian Tiger and Lee Kuan Yew (photo) as the Singapore Lion, or envy of the tremendous success of the ‘little red dot’ despite its lack of land, sand, water and other natural resources compared with much bigger and more bountiful but much more corrupt and less prosperous Malaysia.

Image result for high-speed rail link with Singapore


But this recent piece of apparently highly undiplomatic megaphone diplomacy that Mahathir has directed at the city-state seems more specifically motivated by his decision to scrap the projected high-speed rail link with Singapore.

Presumably on the grounds that this was just another of the wildly-overpriced rent-seeking projects devised by the Najib Abdul Razak-headed former UMNO-BN regime for the enrichment of its members and cronies, rather than for the benefit of the Malaysian people.

Remember Jack Abramoff?

But it inevitably causes some of us to recall the howls of protest by Mahathir way back when his first hand-picked successor as Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, cancelled Mahathir’s proposed “crooked bridge” link between Malaysia and Singapore.

Not that I’m suggesting that there’s necessarily any resemblance between the crooked-bridge and possibly crooked high-speed rail projects, but at least on a superficial level, there appears to be an element of inconsistency in Mahathir’s attitude towards them.

Just as there does in his approach to the US and the rest of “the West”, with which he routinely conducted a campaign of megaphone diplomacy during his first term as Prime Minister.

A duplicitous campaign of megaphone diplomacy, or in other words megaphoney diplomacy as it turned out, as in the same period of time his administration allegedly paid more than a million dollars to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was later convicted of corruption, for arranging a meeting for Mahathir with the US President at the time, George W Bush (photo).

But the fact that he recently submitted to an interview with the Voice of America seems to indicate that he has less appetite for megaphoney diplomacy with the US these days.

And in any event, there’s very little possibility that he or anybody else could trump the current US President in the megaphoney department.

Except, of course, for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is clearly using his yapping lapdog, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, to demonstrate to the world that the megaphoney Trump is all bark and no bite.

But that’s another story, except, of course, for the fact that the planned venue for the so-called “summit” that Trump, the leader of the richest and most militarily powerful nation on earth, has apparently allowed himself to be faked into with Kim, leader of China’s pathetic little no-account client country, happens to be Singapore.

A situation over which Mahathir surely won’t be shedding any Mahatears, as it promises to provide him with a golden opportunity to enjoy practising his diplomacy skills, both megaphone or megaphoney, on Singapore, the US and North Korea all at once.

DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist.

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

When will messy 1MDN Scandal end and Justice done?

May 28, 2018

When will  messy 1MDN Scandal end and Justice done?

By Tashny Sukumaran


Image result for najib and rosmah asleep

Rosmah Mansor and Najib Razak are being pursued by a new Sheriff in town

The 1MDB scandal had haunted the administration of Najib Razak after first coming to light in 2015. Now there is a new sheriff in town, the public is on the edge of its seat as it watches the wheels of justice begin to turn.

The late night raid is not a new phenomenon in Malaysian politics. It happened in 1998 to then Deputy Prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. But while that raid stoked the fires of the Reformasi movement, the recent Police lockdown of embattled former Prime Minister Najib Razak’s house saw the electorate rejoicing.

The Police began searching all of Najib’s properties last week as part of an investigation into the 1MDB financial scandal which has haunted the former Prime Minister since 2015. Investigators in several countries have alleged US$4.5 billion was stolen from the state investment fund that was set up by Najib himself in 2009.

From Malaysia’s ‘first lady’ to ‘bag lady’: why Rosmah Mansor’s vast collection of Hermes Birkins caused a social media storm

During the election that removed Najib and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, 1MDB was a major talking point for the newly installed Pakatan Harapan government. It hammered the issue when canvassing in a country where cost of living is a big concern for many.

The scandal first came to light when reports emerged that investigators had traced US$680 million from the fund sent to Najib’s private account. Cash from the fund was meant to be spent on infrastructure ventures, but mounting evidence suggested money was being siphoned off for political and personal purposes, including allegedly into Najib and his family’s coffers.

As Prime Minister, Najib agreed to cooperate with an investigation – but only after sacking the Attorney Ggeneral, Abdul Gani Patail. He was subsequently cleared of all wrongdoing, with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) claiming the funds he received came from Arab benefactors.

In 2016 and 2017, the US justice department filed a series of forfeiture suits to seize assets valued at US$1.7 billion – including yachts, Picassos, luxury homes, jewellery, a private jet and cash set aside to produce Hollywood films.

Malaysian PM Mahathir begins big government clean up, but is his ruling coalition in a mess?

Malaysian financier Jho Low – known for trying to woo Paris Hilton and giving lingerie model Miranda Kerr extravagant jewellery – was ordered to turn over one such asset, the US$250 million superyacht Equanimity, to the US authorities two weeks ago.

Justice department documents say officials managing 1MDB embezzled and laundered US$4.5 billion between 2009 and 2014. The money trail crosses about 10 countries and several offshore accounts in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands. Besides Low, the lawsuits named Riza Aziz – Najib’s stepson – and “Malaysian Official 1” or MO1, which is widely believed to be Najib. And now the fund is saddled with billions of US dollars of debt – taken on via bonds sold by Goldman Sachs, the principal on which will be due in 2022.


Justice department documents say officials managing 1MDB embezzled and laundered US$4.5 billion between 2009 and 2014. The money trail crosses about 10 countries and several offshore accounts in Switzerland and the British Virgin Islands. Besides Low, the lawsuits named Riza Aziz – Najib’s stepson – and “Malaysian Official 1” or MO1, which is widely believed to be Najib. And now the fund is saddled with billions of US dollars of debt – taken on via bonds sold by Goldman Sachs, the principal on which will be due in 2022.

Breaking Barisan Nasional’s 60-year grip on Malaysia was the easy part. Here’s Mahathir’s real challenge

Malaysia boleh: Mahathir’s return to power is more than a palace coup. It is a new era of hope

The political backlash, although not immediate, has gathered its own momentum: members of Najib’s own party began filing police reports, his detractors, including Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, formed a new political party helmed by former and current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and the Barisan Nasional coalition was toppled after 61 years in power.

Pakatan Harapan is pursuing those responsible, now with the full force of government behind them.

Shocked and Awed

The Malaysian public has been stunned by revelation after revelation, beginning with the raids of Najib’s residences, which led the confiscation of 284 boxes of luxury handbags, massive amounts of jewellery, and stacks of cash totalling US$28.6 million – which Najib dismissed as campaign donations.

With all the heat coming down on the former prime minister, Najib has asked for witness protection, saying he was the target of death threats from foreigners linked to 1MDB. Following the raids, Najib was questioned for several hours by the MACC, while the newly minted finance minister, Lim Guan Eng, told reporters that the fund’s directors had confirmed its insolvency and inability to pay its debts.


The big reveal of this week though was not just that 1MDB has been gutted, but that the previous government had used the country’s main sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Holdings, and the central bank to pay off 1MDB debt – meaning the infestation had spread across the system, potentially contaminating these other pillars of the Malaysian economy.

In a strongly worded statement Lim called 1MDB Director Arul Kanda “utterly dishonest and untrustworthy, and instructed the legal advisers to the Ministry of Finance to review his position as the president of 1MDB”.

Kanda reiterated claims to This Week in Asia that Lim had cast him in a bad light, but refused to comment further.

James Chin, the Director of Asia Institute Tasmania think tank, said 1MDB was now being clearly presented to the Malaysian public as “a scam”. He noted that the ramifications of the meltdown would probably affect all large government projects and government-linked companies.

1MDB vs 38 Oxley Road: why Malaysia envies Singapore

“In terms of impact, this whole mess reaffirms what we know already: there is monkey business at the top of the [Barisan Nasional] food chain. The only difference is the scale, which we won’t know until the final audit. Mainly however, the layer of governance in federal and state projects and borrowings will be more closely studied by the markets, which is a good thing.”

A task force set up by Mahathir soon after he was elected to investigate 1MDB and reclaim its assets met US justice department and FBI officials on Thursday. The task force said US officials revealed that their requests from the past two years for the MACC and the attorney general’s office to cooperate in their investigation had been ignored.

The Singaporean Commercial Affairs Department and the Monetary Authority of Singapore said they were prepared to help Malaysian authorities with the investigation. The authority has fined eight banks and shut down Swiss private banks BSI and Falcon in Singapore, jailing several, after its own probe into 1MDB.

Meanwhile, Xavier Justo, a Swiss citizen who first blew the whistle on alleged impropriety at the fund, told Malaysian newspaper The Star that he would testify in any 1MDB-related trial.

Najib, who is banned from leaving Malaysia, has stoked public anger through a series of mistimed statements, including describing himself as unemployed despite still drawing a salary as a Member of Parliament. He also complained about Police helping themselves to chocolates in his fridge during the raid, and accusing Mahathir of only telling “half the story”.

How will Najib’s golfing buddy Trump treat Malaysia’s 1MDB probe?

“Words said and allegations made while in the opposition carry a very different weight now that you are in power and holding the positions of the finance minister or the prime minister,” he said, accusing the new government of slander.

Lim retaliated by detailing how the new government had discovered federal debt had reached US$250 billion; a combination of official debt, government guarantees for entities unable to service debts, and lease payments for projects such as roads and schools.

Mahathir also remained undeterred, saying he would not strike a deal under any circumstances with Najib, his former protégé turned rival.

And while Najib enjoys immunity as a former head of state, Mahathir can revoke it at any time, said lawyer Surendra Ananth, co-chair of the Malaysian Bar Constitutional Law Committee.

“State immunity is not personal. It is enjoyed by the state,” he said. “Such immunity, being enjoyed by the state, can be waived anytime.”

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said pursuing justice over the 1MDB financial scandal was Pakatan Harapan living up to its election pledge. “Individuals and companies that benefited from 1MDB funds could be raided too. It is going to be a long-haul process and require a lot of manpower from MACC.”

Malaysia’s leader is eyeing a rigged reelection–The Washington Post

May 8, 2018

Malaysia’s leader is eyeing a rigged reelection. Trump will probably congratulate him.

President Trump with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in Washington in September 2017. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER Najib Razak has some problems that might seem familiar to some in Washington. He gained office despite losing the popular vote. He has been unable to shake investigations on corruption charges despite firing a top law-enforcement official. His party has splintered over his leadership. Now, on May 9, he must face voters again.

Mr. Najib’s solution? Launch a campaign under the slogan “Make my country great.” Redraw election districts so they are heavily tilted toward his party’s candidates. Adopt a budget-busting policy of handing out cash to likely supporters. Last but not least: Pass a new law banning “fake news,” and use it to silence critical media and to threaten the arrest of the opposition’s leader.

Image result for mahathir mohamad

The betting in Kuala Lumpur is that all this will lead to Mr. Najib’s claiming a new mandate after Wednesday’s vote. President Trump, who favored the Malaysian leader with a White House visit last year, is unlikely to raise objections. That’s unfortunate, as Mr.­ Najib’s corrupt and increasingly authoritarian rule is leading his nation away from the United States.

Among those investigating Mr. Najib’s corruption is the U.S. Justice Department, which has alleged that the prime minister and close associates diverted $4.5 billion from a government investment fund. Justice is seeking to seize $1.7 billion in assets connected to the fraud and alleges that $730 million of the funds were deposited in bank accounts controlled by Mr. Najib. The Prime Minister denies wrongdoing but fired the Malaysian Attorney General who was investigating the charges.

Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the coalition that outpolled the ruling party in the 2013 election, meanwhile was jailed on trumped-up sodomy charges. Still very popular, Mr. Anwar will not be released until after the election. But his party has formed an unlikely alliance with Mr. Najib’s predecessor as Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, who broke with Mr. Najib following the corruption allegations.

Not content with gerrymandered districts — which, according to one calculation, could allow the ruling party to win a parliamentary majority with as little as 16 percent of the vote — the government has hounded the opposition with dirty tricks. New regulations effectively banned local candidates from using Mr. Mahathir’s name on posters or campaigning with him. His party was suspended for allegedly failing to file paperwork. Authorities are now threatening to prosecute Mr. Mahathir under the fake-news law.

A win by Mr. Najib will do more than reward his ugly tactics. It will likely increase Malaysia’s internal polarization: The Prime Minister has catered to Malay nationalism with xenophobic slogans and attacks on Christians and ethnic Chinese. It will propel Malaysia closer to China, which is happy to tolerate Mr. Najib’s authoritarianism and has taken advantage of Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from a trans-Pacific trade treaty that would have bound the United States closer to Malaysia. A president pursuing U.S. interests would be seeking to isolate Mr. Najib. Instead, if he pulls off his rigged reelection, Mr. Najib can probably count on Mr. Trump’s congratulations.

The Sins of Najib Razak

January 4, 2018

The Sins of Najib Razak

Image result for Trum[p and Najib razakMalaysia’s Kleptocrat shakes hand with America’s Super Mario at The White House last year

In a year that had its fair share of symbolic moments, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took home a fistful of trophies.

One prize was his cameo meeting in September with US President Donald Trump at the White House, which counts as a juicy political point for the coming general election.

 Najib brought “strong value propositions” for Trump in the form of a multi-billion dollar commitment to buy Boeing jets, an offer to push AirAsia to buy General Electric engines and a pledge to increase investments in American infrastructure.

With this gesture “to strengthen the US economy”, the premier secured numerous pay-offs, including blunting the barbs of his critics on the US Justice Department’s investigation into the troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

Though there was some collateral damage from the trip, the net gain from an electoral viewpoint would be in the PM’s favour, although Najib did remark that his comments on helping the US were misconstrued.

The tacit endorsement which Najib has earned from his meeting with the US leader would play well in rural electioneering, especially since his Washington trip was followed immediately by another photo op with British premier Theresa May.

On the home turf, Najib raised his score as the commander-in-chief of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition through a number of moves that served to blindside the opposition parties or at least, put them on the back foot.

In early April, the government made the unprecedented move of clearing the parliamentary order paper of its business to make way for a Private Member’s Bill.

Image result for Hadi Awang and Najib Razak

The next day, PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabled a motion to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, seeking to grant the Syariah Court powers to impose stiffer penalties on all crimes except those with the death sentence.

The enhancement of the Syariah Courts’ powers, a prize long sought by PAS but hitherto beyond its parliamentary reach, is the clearest indication to date of the coming together of the Islamist party with Umno in an electoral alliance, despite their long history of political enmity.

The shifting alignment only reflects the growing importance of religion as a cement to hold together the fractured Malay voter base.

Another aspect of this theme is the hosting of the King Salman Centre for International Peace at the Islamic Science University of Malaysia, following Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Malaysia in March.

Not only does this move strengthen Najib’s legitimacy as a leader among Muslims, but it also burnishes his credentials as a key ally in the global fight against terrorism.

All this would go some way towards mitigating the damage that his one-time mentor turned nemesis, the tenacious former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has been inflicting on his image since the elder leader joined forces with the opposition parties.


Among the list of sins that is being laid at Najib’s feet is the view that he has sold out the country’s strategic interests to obtain a funding lifeline from China. The East Coast Rail Link, among a laundry list of infrastructure projects, has been singled out for particular criticism. The PM’s team has worked hard at fending off these claims, and Najib has retorted that he would never sell Malaysia’s sovereignty.

Helping to contain Mahathir’s virulent campaign to unseat Najib, the quick-acting Royal Commission of Inquiry into Bank Negara’s foreign exchange losses in the 1990s has shifted some attention away from his litany against the PM to the debacle that took place under Mahathir’s watch.

While the inquiry report is being challenged by Mahathir, it continues to have life enough to give Najib and his team ammunition for their battle with detractors.

Even if the electorate were unimpressed by their leaders’ quarrels over past and present scandals, they would likely be motivated by the long list of benefits that Najib announced in his budget for next year.

From a reduction in income tax rates to easier hiring of domestic help and discounts on study loan repayments, to name a few, the message that Najib has sought to convey to voters is that his government is listening to their needs.

In keeping with this softer touch, Najib paid a courtesy call on de facto Pakatan Harapan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when the jailed opposition leader was in hospital for an operation on his shoulder joint in November.

If nothing else, the gesture would sit well with voters who see it as a sympathetic or even magnanimous act by the nation’s leader.

That’s a good feeling to ride, going into perhaps the toughest election challenge that the BN has faced in decades.

Image result for Mahathir takes on Najib razak


But still, for Najib, the coast is not as clear as he would wish it to be. He has to face the increasing number of voters unhappy with the rising cost of living, the never-ending problems with FELDA and its companies (whose settlements in the Malay heartland form the core support of UMNO and the issue of 1MDB that will not easily fade from the scrutiny of international media. Also, the emergence of new politics in Sabah and Sarawak, for which the political mantra — Sabah for Sabahans and Sarawak for Sarawakians — could sway both sides of the political divide.

– http://www.theedgemarkets.com