KUALA LUMPUR — At an age when most people would either be dead or coming up on three decades’ retired, Mahathir Mohamad shows no signs of slowing down in his second coming as Malaysia’s prime minister. It has been a hectic year-and-a-bit back in office for the world’s oldest head of government, who turns 94 today. From renegotiating multi-billion-dollar railway construction deals with China to lambasting the European Union over proposed curbs on palm oil imports, he has arguably been as dynamic as any leader living. Making regular public appearances and often giving lengthy speeches – hands on podium and his back goalpost-straight throughout – Mahathir is, as he put it in March, “in a hurry”. “I realise I don’t have much time,” he explained. It’s not just Mahathir’s prodigious age that has the clock ticking. After he led the Pakatan Harapan (PH, Alliance of Hope) coalition to a historic first-ever opposition win in Malaysia’s parliamentary elections last year, the idea was that Mahathir – the country’s longest-ruling leader by dint of his first 1981-2003 tenure – would step down after a year or two in favour of former protégé-turned-nemesis-turned-ally Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party), the biggest party in the PH alliance.
JAKARTA — In contrast to Malaysia’s electoral earthquake in May, which resulted in the first opposition win since independence, last Sunday’s elections in Cambodia produced a predictable landslide victory for Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985. His Cambodian People’s Party claims to have won all 125 seats available, prompting Mu Sochea, an exiled opposition leader, to tell media in Jakarta that election day “marked the death of democracy in Cambodia.” The view from Malaysia: “Millions of Cambodians were denied a genuine choice, as the CPP’s victory was guaranteed even before the first ballot was cast,” said Charles Santiago, a member of the Democratic Action Party, which is now part of the new Mahathir Mohamad-led governing coalition, in a statement released on Monday.
JAKARTA – A businessman alleged to have aided Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak siphon millions from a state development fund has fled the country as an Interpol warrant was issued for his arrest. Mr Najib, who has pleaded not guilty to three counts of criminal breach of trust and one of abuse of power, is alleged to been involved in the laundering of millions from the state fund he established – 1MDB. Malaysian authorities said that Jho Low, a financier who US prosecutors claim was a central figure in the looting of the fund, had fled the country.
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia’s opposition and its 92-year-old autocrat-turned-reformer prevailed in Wednesday’s election, upsetting the coalition that has ruled the country for the last six decades. Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, won 113 seats in the country’s parliament — one more than needed to form a government and dislodge Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been in office since 2009 and whose Barisan Nasional, or National Front, has held power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. By 10 p.m. Wednesday, thousands of opposition supporters had poured into the streets of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and other cities in anticipation of a formal announcement of victory. “We have in fact achieved a substantial majority,” Mahathir Mohamad, the former prime minister who became a front man for the opposition, said at a news conference at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. “I hope tomorrow we will have a swearing in of the prime minister.”
KAMPUNG BUKIT, KEDAH, MALAYSIA — With police investigating him under Malaysia’s new anti-“fake news” law, Mahathir Mohamad, the nearly 93-year-old former prime minister turned opposition frontman, says his country faces its dirtiest election on Wednesday. The governing coalition “will cheat like mad, they will steal votes, but still I think we can win,” Mahathir said in an interview with The Times, stepping off a makeshift stage and into a nearby BMW waiting to take him to yet another campaign rally. Defying his age, Mahathir had just wrapped up a half-hour stump speech in this farming area about a 20-mile drive from Aloh Setar, the capital of Kedah state, his home base. Kedah has typically been a government stronghold, although the green flags of Malaysia’s Islamist party also flutter along its roadsides. Mahathir wants to swing the state, and enough rural Muslim Malays across the country, to his four-party opposition grouping known as the Alliance of Hope.
KUALA LUMPUR — Denying Mahathir permission to meet Anwar was another reminder of what the opposition sees as a rigged status quo. “We have been governed by an autocratic and unfair system for many years,” said Nurul Izzah Anwar, who pointed out that Prime Minister Najib Razak was allowed meet her father. During the last elections held in 2013, the opposition coalition — then known as the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) — won 52% of the popular vote but gerrymandered rural constituencies meant they finished with only 40% of seats. If Mahathir does somehow replace Najib, he will be world’s oldest head of government. Although he has no problem speaking at a podium or walking the streets meeting supporters – in age terms it would be like Americans electing George Bush Senior in 2016. It is not just Mahathir’s age that make him a surprise choice. An authoritarian prime minister from 1981 to 2003, he implemented many of the rules that will make it difficult for him to return to office.
YANGON — A Feb. 3 report by the U.N. Human Rights Council featured harrowing accounts by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh of army abuses in northern Rakhine, including the gang rape of women and murder of children. In response to the report, Myanmar’s government, which is led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, initially softened its prior outright denials of military abuse and promised to investigate the allegations. But on Feb. 7, it said it needed more information from the U.N. Naypyitaw’s earlier denials had prompted criticism from around the world. On Jan. 20, Yanghee Lee, the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar, said: “For the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.”
JAKARTA — Nearly three years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean, Australia, China and Malaysia on Tuesday called off the underwater search, saying “no new information has been discovered” to solve what has become one of aviation’s greatest mysteries. A review of the plane’s likely trajectory as well as new information about ocean currents led experts to conclude that the aircraft might have crashed into the Indian Ocean north of the search zone, and that crews should have been hunting in a 15,000-square-mile zone to the north. The Australian government rejected that recommendation, saying the findings were not precise enough to warrant moving the search. Australia, China and Malaysia, which have funded the search, said last year that the operation would be called off once all of the 46,000-mile zone had been investigated. “It is obvious that the search should be to the north,” Ghislain Wattrelos, a 52-year-old Frenchman whose wife and two children were aboard the aircraft, said in an interview.
KUALA LUMPUR – The rally was a show of strength by Najib’s opponents but looked unlikely to shake his hold on power, which has weakened amid allegations that around $700 million in public money was deposited into bank accounts in his name. The scandal over a state development fund Najib set up in 2009 has drawn the attention of law enforcement agencies from around the world. The Justice Department alleged in July that “an international conspiracy” helped siphon $3.5 billion from the fund, known as 1MDB. Some of the money is alleged to have been used to set up a Hollywood production company led by Najib’s stepson that made, among other films, “The Wolf of Wall Street” – a story of financial corruption. Najib, who was in Peru on an official visit, has said he never took money “for personal gain” and called the deposits a donation from Saudi Arabia that he mostly repaid. The corruption scandal has gripped a country that has otherwise been a bulwark of political stability in Southeast Asia, long embraced by the West for its moderate brand of Islam. Stung by the criticism, Najib has recently played up Malaysia’s growing ties with China and castigated Western powers for interfering in former colonies. In recent months, as calls for his resignation have grown louder, several leading opposition politicians have been charged or jailed on a variety of offenses including sedition and breaches of communications laws. Among those facing prison was Rafizi Ramli, an opposition parliamentarian who joined the demonstration, saying Najib “will try to cling to power because [otherwise] he will go to jail.”
JAKARTA — With investigations ongoing in several countries into the international financial activities of scandal-plagued state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak slammed “foreign intervention” as a threat to stability in peaceful Muslim-majority countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. “We have seen the devastating results of foreign intervention in the Muslim world, often based on incomplete, wrong or partisan information,” Najib said, citing the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the Arab Spring a decade later, a series of anti-government uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Tunisia, some of which had U.S. support. Najib has been under pressure over allegations that around $731 million received from 2011 to 2013 was diverted from 1MDB into his personal bank account in 2013 — a charge that Najib has denied, saying the money came from an unnamed Saudi Arabian donor.