Ninety-two-year-old Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad’s resounding victory in the recent polls in Malaysia, after remaining in political wilderness for so long, assumes huge political significance not only for Malaysia but entire South East Asia. With the latest development, Mahathir has become the oldest head of state in the world and this is no mean achievement.
When Mahathir was ruling Malaysia in the 1990s, the country saw rapid improvement in almost all spheres. More importantly, practising liberal Islam, Malaysia was able to check radicalisation at a time when neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines etc were struck by ultra-Islamisation.
At a time when neighbouring Thailand was hit by violent terror attacks, Malaysia flourished economically.
People, especially the detractors of Mahathir, had written him off for good yet he bounced back with a thumping win and the development surely has some reasons to call for a thorough audit of his return to power.
United Malay Nationalist Organisation (UMNO), of which Mahathir was a founder member, elected the nonagenarian despite his age. This is being seen as a way to get Malaysia back to being a progressive country, which has of late seen several economic reverses.
It is now evident that people were really keen to end an era of corruption, politics of vendetta and nepotism.
Long before the elections date, the voters had made up their minds to choose Mahathir. The country’s middle-class, comprising mostly Chinese and people of Indian origin, had made up their minds that a robust economic revival was the need of the hour and Najib Razak was no more capable of doing the job.
Razak is embroiled in a multi-billion dollar corruption case that has hit the reputation of the country. Similarly, the country’s bureaucracy is mired in corruption and oligarchy.
Mahathir has made it amply clear that he is neither interested in power nor position but only in radical change. He himself claims to be a temporary occupant of the seat until a full pardon is formally announced for political adversary Anwar Ibrahim.
Notably, the elections saw a high voter turnout of over 82 per cent. This again is a testimony of a push for change. People travelled across from far-flung areas to their registered voting locations to cast their votes. They looked determined to oust the previous regime run by Barisan Nasional (BN) decimating it for good.
Experts on Malaysian internal affairs reckon that Mahathir would come down heavily on his immediate predecessor Razak and also hold to account those responsible for rampant corruption. There is a kind of fear currently prevailing among the corrupt polity and bureaucracy that a surgical cleansing is underway and many heads are likely to roll.
Here, it is also pertinent to state that Mahathir’s record of governance during his earlier term from 1981-2003, was completely result-oriented where economic modernisation was more than visible. His political perceptions have always been innovative and so are his ways to administer with an iron hand.
He differs with the concept of democracy as perceived by the western countries. Time and again, Mahathir had gone on record clarifying that South East Asian nations need a different sort of democratic process to govern in order to tackle the malaise of corruption.
He probably believes in a kind of benevolent despotism to address the issues of corruption. It is, therefore, very likely that Malaysia may see Mahathir unleashing tougher measures to govern to see the desired results.
As a “no-nonsense” political leader from Asia, he always talked to China from a position of strength. Also, in 1970 itself he had charged the ethnic Chinese with trying to eclipse the Malay economy. With his ascent to power, we may now expect Mahathir to deal with China strictly. ASEAN would also expect to see and benefit from the statesmanship and visionary ideals of Mahathir.
India enjoys good relations with Malaysia. During Najib Razak’s to India in 2017, business deals worth $36 billion were undertaken. As many as 31 memorandums of understanding were signed. Earlier, Malaysia had supported India vis-a-vis ASEAN. Trade and cultural relations between the two countries have been robust since the 1950’s.
It is hoped that the rhythm of the bilateral relations will be maintained with renewed vigour under Mahathir.