A victory for Malaysia | Daily News

A victory for Malaysia

In what has been described a stunning electoral achievement, Malaysia’s political patriarch Dr Mahathir Mohamad has become the world’s oldest sitting Prime Minister after defeating Najib Razak in a fiercely contested election that put an end to the ruling coalition’s six-decade hold on power.

Mahathir’s shock victory has engulfed Malaysia in a state of euphoria. Najib had initially been expected to win easily, but the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) opposition coalition led by Mahathir raised issues such as corruption and the rising cost of living which resonated with the voting masses in both urban and rural areas.

The win indicates a mood for change, following the “Malay tsunami” in which many ethnic Malay voted for the opposition for the first time. In fact, the opposition took many states that were considered Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) strongholds such as Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan. Another significant feature was the higher participation of youth, who mobilized social media to swing the vote in Mahathir’s favour.

Mahathir, 92, who was Prime Minister between 1981 and 2003, has been credited with developing Malaysia to its present status and is often compared with the incomparable Lee Kuan Yew, who was instrumental in turning neighbouring Singapore from a sleepy backwater to a world financial powerhouse in a few decades. Mahathir, who still looks youthful despite his advancing years is seen as a stabilising factor and an experienced statesman in a region susceptible to economic volatility and political tensions.

Mahathir’s massive win marks the end of a nine-year stint for Najib, who came to power in 2009 and whose reputation was tarnished by the 1MDB corruption scandal in which a staggering US$2.6 billion was embezzled from a Government fund he was overseeing. Investigators believe that nearly US$ 700 million from that fund could have ended up in his personal bank account.

Mahathir’s selection as opposition leader had made this a somewhat unusual election because he played a key role in selecting his then protégé Najib as prime minister in 2009. The relationship was strained in 2015 after Najib was implicated in the 1MDB scandal, and later Mahathir announced he was forming his own political party (Bersatu) and joining the opposition coalition.

But further change is in the air as Mahathir has said he will only be Prime Minister for two years, and then will cede power to Anwar Ibrahim, once Mahathir’s protégé, but currently in jail serving a second sentence for sodomy. They had since joined hands and Ibrahim is likely to receive a Royal Pardon that will enable him to take up active politics again.

Mahathir faces many challenges in the next few years and has rightly identified the economy as his number one priority. Malaysia’s economy is enjoying a strong rebound at the moment, with growth surging to 5.9% last year and forecast by the Malaysian Central Bank to reach 6% in 2018. The Ringgit is the best-performing currency in emerging Asia this year, strengthening 2.5% against the US Dollar. Most of that recovery has come on the back of a pick-up in global trade and rising domestic demand. However, it remains to be seen how Mahathir’s more populist pledges such as abolishing the Goods and Services Tax (a move which is said to cost the economy more than US$ 100 billion) will impact on the economy. He has also promised a return to fuel subsides, which is likely to put further pressure on the economy.

Mahathir will also want to raise Malaysia’s profile on the international diplomatic stage. At the moment neighbouring Singapore has become a more prominent player on the world stage – in fact, the upcoming historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un will be held in the tiny city state. Singapore and Malaysia themselves remain great friends – Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was the first world leader to congratulate Mahathir on his victory. Mahathir will also seek to eradicate corruption from the political landscape, which has cost the country in terms of investment and development.

Sri Lanka has a great friend in Mahathir. Malaysia under Mahathir’s rule was the first country to ban the LTTE, long before India and Sri Lanka did so. Malaysia has always stood by Sri Lanka at international human rights forums and voiced its support. The two countries, which celebrated 60 years of formal diplomatic relations last year, have vowed to enhance trade, tourism and diplomatic ties. Malaysian companies are among the leading investors in Sri Lanka. Bilateral trade amounts to nearly US$ 1 billion, but there is plenty of scope for expansion. There is no doubt that under Mahathir’s new rule, ties between the two countries will flourish even more strongly. Likewise, Mahathir will seek to improve ties with all friendly nations.

Malaysians have voted to charter a new course in their journey towards becoming Asia’s next Japan or South Korea under the steady guiding hand of a senior statesman. It will no doubt be a convergence of hope and faith that has the potential to take Malaysia to even greater heights.


 

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