Pieces of Mahathir’s coalition are falling apart, likely due to his obsession with political trial of Najib vs his total failure to deliver on his electoral promises.
After 60 years leading the country, Barisan Nasional (BN) – the National Front coalition lost the general election to a newly-formed opposition party Pakatan Harapan (PH) – Alliance of Hope led by former (and longest reigning) Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. PH declared it will stop the current regime from failure to guarantee the welfare of common Malaysians, regardless of race or religion. PH further promised to cleanse Malaysia of corruption, facilitating enjoyed by all. Specifically, PH promised to fulfil ten specific items in its first 100 days in power – only two of which were fulfilled: erasing the tax for Goods and Services, and stabilizing the price of . Maha thir returned to politics with a bang, promising Malaysians a country that is ethical, pluralistic, economically growing, and free of corruption. That is why we was so successful at ousting the ruling BN.
Almost a year after winning the election, Mahathir kept many draconian laws, tweaking them rather than abolishing them to better suite his political needs, which resulted in decreasing public support. Polls show that the Malaysian public is less and less trusting of PH and Mahathir. After the election, Mahathir enjoyed 83% approval ratings, which decreased to roughly 70% after . A 2019 survey fo und that Mahathir’s approval rating had fallen to slightly . This de cline can be attributed to shattered dreams of a better government, one that alleviates the burden of an oppressive regime.
The Malaysian government enjoys a firm grip over its populous, facilitated by laws and policies that enable arbitrary seizing of civil liberties. In 2012, Malaysian government extended police authority under SOSMA (Special Offences Special Measures Act) to include police authority to extend arbitrary detentions to 28 days before filing charges while suspending detainees’ access to family and lawyer for 48 hours. Under SOSMA, police detained human rights activist and Member of Malaysian Parliament Maria Chin Abdullah in 2016 for 11 days. In 2015, police used SOSMA to detain former Batu Kawan Umno deputy chief Khairuddin Abu Hassan and his lawyer Matthias Chang after court ordered the former’s release. The National Security Council (NSC) Act of 2015 grants the Prime Minister authority to declare a state of emergency, suspending rule of law to permit arrests and evacuations (through lethal force if needed) in designated areas known as security areas. Similarly, the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (POTA) allows authorities to extend detention to 21, 38, and even 60 days with minimum reasoning, making a mockery out of internationally accepted Habeas Corpus laws (which guarantee the rights of a detainee to be brought to a judge to present the legal grounds for said detention). More severely, Malaysia did not ratify any agreement to include protections against enforced disappearance, which is the secret abduction of an individual the government deems as a threat – without confirming the individual’s whereabouts. Between 2015-2017 there had been at least four disappearances of individuals suspected to being orchestrated by the government.
The NSC’s violation of human rights had been a focal point for political discussions in Malaysia, having the newly-elected opposition party promise to abolish it. Despite said promises, Mahathir recognized the strength of governing under the NSC, which caused him to change his mind after being elected. Now, rather than revoking the law, Mahathir plans on revising it. Mahathir’s revisions expand the rights a PM can violate under the NSC to include the unlimited collection of data from the Malaysian population. The NSC would be authorized to “request from any individual or entity … any information or intelligence in his or its possession” – punishable by imprisonment or heavy fines as a criminal offense. Pakatan Harapan, the newly-elected opposition party led by Mahathir that promised to abolish NSC, SOSMA, POTA, and other controversial acts and laws, declared that the suspensions of said laws was “limited to incidents that threaten national security, public order, and race relations,” allowing the government to persist its arbitrary use of human-rights-violating draconian laws to justify Mahathir’s oppression.
But the oppressive regime was only one of two reasons Mahathir was able to win the election – the other reason being the promise to end Najib’s corrupt administration. What started as a partnership of two ideological friends ended with the division of a country to two contrasting sides. The catalyst for the division can be attributed to the 1MDB scandal in which former PM Najib is suspected of channeling millions of dollars to his personal bank accounts from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-run strategic development company. 1MDB was designed by Najib with the declared goal of promoting national unity, ethnic harmony, and . These were the same ideas Mahathir used to convince the Malaysian public to vote for him. Mahathir used the scandal to paint Najib’s Malaysia as uber corrupt – which he would ostensibly correct.
The relationship between Najib and Mahathir started as a very warm friendship – regardless of titles. Najib claimed he hosted Mahathir for dinner many times, after which they would retire to Najib’s study to talk. Najib says that Mahathir grew weary of his friendship with Najib after Najib refused to fulfil all of Mahathir’s requested favored which, according to Najib required the abuse of the . Moreover, Najib claims Mahathir persistently tried to direct Najib’s decisions in government. For example, according to Najib, Mahathir “told him to sell a jet aircraft because it was too ostentatious and advised him to set up a ‘council of elders’ with .” Allegedly, Mahathir used the 1MDB scandal to oust Najib. “It was a hate campaign,” Najib said, “They came up with very scurrilous allegations to defame me and the government. Unfortunately, after a period of time, it changed .” Mahathir publicly placed complete responsibility for the scandal in the hands of Najib, painting him as corrupt and corrupting Malaysia. Nevertheless, the same Malaysia exists. And, in retrospect it is easy to see how it was a corrupt Malaysia that Mahathir himself established. Najib argues that Mahathir built corrupt Malaysia and forever felt like its guardian angel, pulling strings even when out of office. Mahathir “knew everything about the system so he operated from within and from without, so that had a distinct advantage,” said .
Almost a year after his reelection, Mahathir is still running a corrupt country whose citizens’ hopes for an ethical government seem to die down together with Mahathir’s intentions of cleansing the system of corruption. Declining public support of Mahathir is the product of the populace’s disappointment of empty promises. “After a while, it is no longer enough to charge former government leaders with cases of corruption, because so long as there is no marked improvement (concerning economic livelihood) on the ground, the restlessness will continue,” says Rafizi Ramli, a . Rafizi brings up t he point that the Malaysian public is discontent not with the current state of the government, but with the current leadership’s lack of will or plan to change it. Mahathir himself confessed, “actually we did not expect to win, we made a thick manifesto with all kinds of .” Mahathir seem to have gotten caught ill-prepared for governance, perpetuating a corrupt system he helped put in place, backing down on promises he made in order to get elected – challenging public confidence in According to The Economist, Mahathir is reluctant to alleviate the racial division in the country or to hand over power to liberal counterparts, which is why he is perpetuating Najib’s corrupt
Regardless of his reasons, Mahathir fulfilled only two of the 10 promises he made and tweaked existing oppressive laws to allow him full control of Malaysian citizens and the economy. Malaysians are starting to realize Mahathir’s return to politics was not about bettering Malaysia as much as it was for personal reasons. Wanting power again or just a personal vendetta against a former mentee, Mahathir did not run for Malaysians. Disillusioned citizens lose faith in Mahathir, PH, and the government in general. They knew that Najib was not good for them, and they thought Mahathir would be their savior. Faced with the truth, Malaysians are starting to shout that Mahathir is more of the same.