Stunning fall of Malaysia’s Najib ushers in hopes of reform
KUALA LUMPUR - Associated Press
Two weeks ago, Najib Razak was supremely confident of being elected Malaysia’s prime minister for a third term. Instead, in a dizzying political drama, he lost an unlosable election and spiraled into ever-deepening disgrace while Malaysians are being feted for advancing democratic values against their global retreat.
In a series of humiliations, the patrician and luxury-loving Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor were banned from leaving the country; truckloads of luggage stashed with cash and valuables as well as hundreds of expensive designer bags were seized from their home and other properties; and anti-corruption police questioned Najib for hours this week about a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal on his watch.
After 60 years of uninterrupted rule by the National Front party, many Malaysians are optimistic they are ushering in an era of reform that echoes the democratic transformation of giant neighbor Indonesia two decades earlier. The difference, they hope, is that it will continue to be accomplished without setting their multiethnic country in flames. A grouping of progressive Southeast Asian lawmakers has hailed Najib’s defeat as a “bright spot amid dark times” of rising authoritarianism across the region.
The May 9 election that turfed Najib and his government despite an electoral system heavily engineered in their favor was a “quiet, dignified but defining revolution at the ballot box,” said Malaysian rights activist and lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan.
“Malaysia has now set the gold standard in Southeast Asia for bringing change peacefully even through a flawed process,” said Sreenevasan, who has been appointed to a reform panel by the new government.
Najib’s ouster was in large part made possible by the return to politics of Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister for 22 years until 2003.
Spurred by anger over the alleged looting of state investment fund 1MDB by associates of Najib, the 92-year-old Mahathir emerged from retirement and joined with former political enemies to campaign against the ruling coalition.
Despite Mahathir being mocked by Najib for his old age and authoritarian record, his reputation as a statesman who transformed a Southeast Asian backwater into a modern economy helped soothe voters’ fears of possible chaos under a new government. Many
Malaysians have been haunted for decades by racial riots in 1969 that killed more than 200 people.