- The political landscape in Malaysia is virtually unrecognisable from just a few months ago.
- Former prime minister Mohamad Mahathir unseated his protege Najib Razak on behalf of imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, in a country where the government had never lost power.
- Najib has now been arrested in a corruption investigation.
A lot has changed in Malaysian politics in the last two months.
Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir, who is 92, beat his former protege Najib Razak at the ballot box in May. He then released opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who had been sentenced to jail under both prime ministers.
Mahathir also kickstarted an investigation into alleged corruption by Najib – related to billions of missing dollars from state investment fund 1MDB, some of which was reportedly found in the former prime minister’s personal bank accounts – which on Tuesday resulted in Najib’s arrest.
The sheer scale of political drama in a country that had never before had a change of power is summed up by this tweet from journalist Erin Cook:
Imagine someone telling you a year ago Mahathir would be PM, Anwar would be pardoned and Najib would be heading for the slammer
— Erin Cook (@imerincook) July 3, 2018
Before this year, Malaysia had never seen a change of power from the governing coalition to any opposition party in all the years since its 1957 independence.
But the change seen over the last year is all the more extraordinary for the complicated connections between the three political players.
Mahathir previously served as Malaysia’s prime minister for more than two decades and, during in 1998, fired deputy prime minister Anwar. He also oversaw Anwar’s first sodomy and corruption conviction.
Mahathir handed power to Najib in the early 2000s, and he too oversaw a sodomy conviction for Anwar, who was fast becoming the country’s most popular opposition leader. It was widely seen as a politically-motivated charge.
But after Najib became plagued with 1MDB financial scandals and his popularity plummeted, Anwar agreed to work with Mahathir to unseat the prime minister. Their plan worked: Mahathir led the opposition to victory and pardoned Anwar, who is expected to eventually replace his former nemesis.
As for Najib, he will be officially charged with crimes reportedly linked to 1MDB on Tuesday.
Euan Graham, the director of the Lowy Institute’s international security program, previously told Busniess Insider the whole political saga is “cinematic melodrama.”
“The human element shows through very clearly. You have Anwar in his last gasp politically having held out, incarcerated by his nemesis Najib who now has now found himself in the unforeseen position of being the politically vanquished,” Graham said. “And who delivers the death blow but Mahathir himself.”
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