From Malaysian Maverick to Malaysian Nemesis

Partyforumseasia: In December 2009 the late Barry Wain published a critical biography of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003. The book, titled Malaysian Maverick, made waves because it highlighted a number of less successful projects which cost his country several billions, but it did not really damage the politician. Mahathir can be described as the political animal par excellence, turning 90 coming July and remarkably alert and interventionist. According to Wikipedia his political career spans over “almost 40 years”. That is slightly understated, because he entered UMNO in 1964 and is still today a force to be reckoned with in the party. The black and white photo shows him in 1965, the colored one in 2015, a span of 50 years.

Mahathir 1965Mahathir now

1965                                             2015

In contrast to his colleague from Singapore, the late Lee Kuan Yew, who prepared his succession successfully while still maintaining political influence mostly from behind the scene after his voluntary retirement, Mahathir is more than unhappy and dissatisfied with the prime ministers after him. In 2006 he replaced his handpicked successor Abdullah Badawi with the similarly handpicked Najib Razak who he tries to topple these days by all means with interviews, press statements and his blog, but also with a considerable support within the party. His arguments hit at shortcomings of the Najib administration, starting from the bad election results in 2013 when the UMNO-led ruling coalition lost the majority of the popular vote for the first time but survived due to the highly gerrymandered first-past-the-post system, to the 42 billion Ringgit (nearly 12 billion US$) debt of a new “sovereign wealth fund” called 1MDB, whose board of advisors is chaired by Najib Razak. The prime minister tries to play down the accusations and manages to show support from the party leadership, but the media are speculating about his defeat in this showdown for months already.

The drama of elder statesmen clinging to power and influence by trying to change the constitution is common all over the world, but Mahathir, a trained medical doctor whose political manoeuvres were proverbially surgical in his hay days, may win at the end. Many Malaysians, not only in the opposition, are fed up with the rampant political corruption in the country.

At the end Najib may be comforted by his predecessor Abdullah Badawi like in this party convention snapshot:  Abdullah Najib

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