Amid the $US4 billion 1MDB corruption scandal surrounding Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government, the need for a strong opposition to contest the next general election, which could take place as soon as March, is incontrovertible. It remains to be seen, however, whether that can be achieved by the previously inconceivable alliance formed between 92-year-old former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his one-time deputy Anwar Ibrahim, who is serving a second prison term on trumped up sodomy charges.
Dr Mahathir stepped down in 2003 after 22 years of authoritarian rule as leader of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has ruled Malaysia exclusively since 1957. UMNO is now led by Mr Najib. Mr Anwar was Dr Mahathir’s Deputy when they fell out 20 years ago. Mr Anwar was then targeted ruthlessly with the dubious allegations that saw him jailed.
Yet the two men — Dr Mahathir at the same age Robert Mugabe was when he was deposed, and Mr Anwar from his prison cell — have cobbled together an unlikely arrangement aimed at prising UMNO from its 60-year domination of Malaysia. That nation’s stability is of immense importance to our region, which is why Australia has close defence and security ties with it. Dr Mahathir will lead the campaign of the fractious Pakatan Harapan, Malaysia’s main opposition coalition. Should he win, he will seek a royal pardon to allow Mr Anwar to take over as prime minister.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, a hard-headed and controversial political warhorse, leads the Malaysian Opposition for GE-14 to end UMNO’s 60 year race-based politics in an uphill battle to win over the Muslim-Malay support.
An opposition under the leadership of a hard-headed, controversial warhorse such as Dr Mahathir (as recently as May he insisted the US and Israel were responsible for 9/11) faces an uphill battle against Mr Najib’s UMNO. Polls show race-based politics still reflect overwhelming support in the Muslim-Malay community for UMNO.
But Dr Mahathir and Mr Anwar deserve credit for seeking to bring Mr Najib and UMNO to book for the 1MDB and other scandals that have damaged Malaysia’s standing in the world. The corruption surrounding the 1MDB scandal must be front and centre in the election race.