Defying all the odds, Malaysia’s longest serving PM, and the world’s oldest, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, led his coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), to win Malaysia’s 14th General Election, with a clear majority.
This was a ground breaking moment. There was no doubt about the result. The only doubt was the amount of cheating, and manufactured obstacles to voting, that Mahathir’s rival, the former Malaysian PM, Najib Abdul Razak, was prepared to undertake. Even in the closing hours of GE-14, offers of money, and goods, were being used, to induce voters to vote for Umno-Baru.
Malaysia’s greatest tactician had already declared Thursday and Friday to be public holidays, should they win GE-14. Malaysians revelled in the news, businessmen shook their heads at the disruption to work, whilst many said that Malaysians deserved a holiday for getting rid of Umno/Umno-Baru after 61 years of mis-rule.
Meanwhile, the main thrust of the holidays was lost on all. In the world of electoral deceit, it is “No money, no talk”. With the banks shut, no financial transactions could be made, and Najib could not buy the voters, and induce them to swop parties.
The banking issue is the least of Najib’s problems. The party was set on destroying PH, and failed to hold internal elections for five years, nor audit their accounts. It would appear that Umno-Baru has been hoist by its own petard.
The ruling party had been in government, albeit under various names, like The Alliance, ever since independence. The factor that allowed victory, in the previous elections was a majority Malay electorate. The outcome of this GE-14, is perceived to be a Malaysian tsunami.
The turning point, was the attempts by the Election Commission (EC) and the Registrar of Societies (ROS) to derail Mahathir. Malaysians, from all walks of life, even those working and living overseas, responded to Mahathir’s call to return and vote his party to victory.
They did, and the rest is history. Some people flew, from Australia, England and Canada, just to exercise their right to vote. Few had trust in the EC’s postal ballots.
Bumpy Road to Success
The road to Mahathir’s success in leading Malaysia again, has not been an easy one. Many people are aware that he is the father of “affirmative action” Malaysia, but they are also mindful that he is the father of modern Malaysia.
A humbled Dr Mahathir often apologised, during the campaign trail, for the wrongs he had committed in office; such as ruling with an iron fist, who became known as a dictator. He claimed that he did not think the police would be armed, when they arrested Anwar, his former deputy.
Under normal circumstances, the people would have heckled such a speaker, but this is no ordinary man, and no ordinary moment. Mahathir’s public apology greatly enhanced his stature. His promise to seek a royal pardon for the jailed Anwar, pleased them. Mahathir’s hustings were attended by thousands of Malaysians.
He joked that he had never seen such a multiracial crowd at his talks, even at the height of his powers in the 80s and 90s. A sign of the new Malaysia perhaps.
He had a gruelling schedule, and was often the last speaker, late at night. He spoke in the hot sun, and in the rain. Many people feared that he was jeopardising his health. He popped up in villages. His dedication and commitment was incomparable.
Mahathir is aware that the backbone of Najib’s support, are the rural heartlands. Coincidentally, these areas have not waivered in their support for Mahathir. The Malays, especially in the FELDA settlements, have been stung by Najib’s risky stock market foray with Felda Global Ventures, but when Najib made his personal criticisms, calling Mahathir “old”, and a “puppet of the DAP”, the people lost all respect for Najib.
The attempt to stop Mahathir from flying to Langkawi, and the alleged sabotage of his aeroplane, incensed Malaysians. People who were monitoring voter sentiments on the ground, said that another crucial tipping point, was the massive spike in Malay support, when the EC censored photos of Mahathir.
Even as Mahathir announced the unofficial results, in the early hours of the morning, on the day after the election, the Election Commission (EC), still refused to declare PH as the winner. Worse was to follow. In some electorates, the EC officials refused to sign-off “Form 14”, and declare the official winners.
Furious with the EC stance, Mahathir held a press conference.
When asked about the possibility that Najib would declare emergency rule, Mahathir prevailed upon the police and the armed forces to allow democracy to take its course. He reminded them of their professionalism and he related the fate of the former Philippines President, Ferdinand Marcos, who was supported by the army and police, but abandoned, when he ordered the assassination of his arch rival, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.
If this was a subtle warning to the armed forces, they took the hint.
Mahathir has often repeated, that Malaysians are not violent people. For decades, the ruling Umno-Baru party has used the threat, that if Umno-Baru did not have a mandate to rule, the Opposition, in particular the Democratic Action Party (DAP), would make Malaysia a Christian-dominated, Chinese-controlled country.
The spectre of the bloody 13 May, when bloodshed and riots, marred the aftermath of the 3rd Malaysian general election has often worked as a ploy to manipulate voting; but not this time.
When Najib mooted the National Security Council II bill, in 2016, there were fears that he was planning to stay in power indefinitely, if he were to think that he would lose the election, and felt the need to invoke Emergency Rule, as his father did, in 1969.
In the run-up to GE-14, various threats have been made against retired civil servants. The Teluk Intan MP, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, warned retirees to remain loyal to Umno-Baru, because it was the party which gave them their jobs and pensions. Elsewhere, civil servants were given various financial inducements to vote for Najib. Non civil servants, fumed that taxpayer’s money was used to bribe the civil servants.
Then, in February, the Minister of Defence, Hishammuddin Hussein, made a major mistake. He claimed that the National Patriots Association (Patriot), the organisation of veterans and retired police offers, was trying to influence the minds of army, navy and air force members to go against the government.
Hishammuddin criticised the “politics of hatred”, but the Patriot group, angered by his remarks went public in their condemnation of Hishammuddin and Najib’s government which protects corrupt and evil leaders.
Last March, at an armed forces dinner, the heads of the armed forces, pledged their allegiance to Najib and the ruling party. When Malaysians vented their outrage, the Armed Forces Chief, Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor, backtracked.
Najib desperate to the very end
On the morning of 10 May, the day after voting, there were reports that Najib was allegedly trying to buy-off some PH winners, and upset the election results.
Unwisely, Najib told reporters that as no one party had a clear majority, it was left to the King to decide the new PM. That remark only caused rising anger in the nation and constitutional law experts were quick to dismiss Najib.
Mahathir told reporters that the new government should have been sworn in that morning.
No-one could find an explanation for the delay, but a diplomatic and magnanimous Mahathir said that they could attribute the delay to him, for waking-up late, and that everyone was tired from voting on the previous day. The real reason was more simple.
Astute Malaysians were aware that Mahathir is not held in high regard by the nine royal households.
The King, who is also the Sultan of Kelantan, had revoked Mahathir’s Datukship in February. How could he, having humiliated Mahathir, and his wife, now invite him to lead Malaysia as the country’s seventh PM?
Perhaps, said one critic, the King has issues with the swearing-in ceremony.
The whole nation had waited 61 years to get rid of Umno-Baru. Mahathir had to reject his old party and come out of retirement. Mahathir may have been patient, but the rakyat was beginning to simmer, again.
After much delay, Dr Mahathir was finally sworn in as Malaysian’s 7th PM and Malaysia is once again on track to regaining its rightful place in the world.