Malaysians have elected a 92 year old opposition politician to lead them. Mahathir Mohamad defeated his one time protege and incumbent prime minister, Najib Razak.
Razak’s defeat was largely delivered by a corruption scandal that dominated his second term as prime minister.
Razak’s administration struggled to shake off claims that he was involved in a campaign to plunder state investment fund 1MDB, slammed by the US as “kleptocracy at its worst”.
Previously, 94 year old Robert Mugabe was the oldest elected head of state in the world. Mugabe was ousted last year in a de factor coup by Zimbawe’s miltary forces.
Mahathir is a veteran in Malaysian politics, who came out of retirement and defected to the opposition, pledging to make Razak account for the missing state revenue.
His decisive and historic win has ousted the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has been in power since independence in 1957.
The coalition of opposition parties led by Mahathir Mohamad won 121 seats, including those of a small allied party in Sabah State (Borneo), out of 222 to be filled in Parliament, the absolute majority to form a government.
Mahathir was prime minister, at the head of the BN coalition, for 22 years, from 1981 until he stepped down in 2003.
Mahathir also took advantage of the inflated living costs affecting the rural heartlands of the Muslim Malays, who make up some 60 percent of the multi-ethnic country’s population.
He succeeded in luring away Malays from Najib, chipping away at a support base that his government had nurtured with an official affirmative action programme and racially-charged rhetoric.
Mahathir who was sworn in today told journalists after his victory that he would ‘restore the rule of law’.
The 1MDB scandal
Najib, the son of a Malaysian founding father, presented himself as a reformer when he came to power in 2009.
But soon after winning a second term in 2013, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a fund launched by Najib to promote economic development, slid into a massive debt hole and allegations surfaced that money was missing.
The story exploded in 2015 when The Wall Street Journal published documents allegedly showing that the premier received $681 million in payments to his personal bank accounts.
Najib and 1MDB have consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Since then, there has been a steady drip of allegations. The US Department of Justice launched civil lawsuits seeking to seize $1.7 billion in assets allegedly bought with money looted from 1MDB, from real estate to artworks.