Malaysia’s Game of Thrones

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Malaysia’s Game of Thrones

Untangling the political machinations that collapsed the Alliance of Hope from within.

Malaysia’s Game of Thrones

A protester wearing a skeleton face mask holds a cut-out of politician Muhyiddin Yassin during a demonstration after Muhyiddin was appointed as the new prime minister in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Feb. 29, 2020.

Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Thian

Just around two years ago, Malaysia was at a very different historical moment.

Fresh from a gruelling campaign during the 14th General Elections on May 9, Malaysians were glued to social media and news channels awaiting the elections results. There was a palpable sense of change in the air, despite almost all polls and political experts predicting another repeat win by the then-incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

With hopes of increasing support from rural Malays, the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) uniting the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), and the National Trust Party (Amanah) had reluctantly accepted the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) into its coalition.

Bersatu was founded in 2016 by Mahathir Mohamad, along with Muhyiddin Yassin and other former leaders from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

Well-known as a political chameleon, Mahathir has decades of experience in and out of government, including as a long-time prime minister for UMNO. His re-entrance into politics was vengeance against Najib Razak’s administration, which Mahathir deemed as a vehicle for cronyism and corruption.

Few guessed that the Alliance, led by Mahathir, would land a sucker punch against the mighty BN, which had all the political machinery and money oiling the elections campaign machine.

But then-Prime Minister Najib Razak and his extravagant wife, Rosmah Mansor, were out of touch with sentiments on the ground. They were caught “unaware” of the pent-up anger among Malaysians over the massive and now famous 1MDB corruption scandal.

The historic win by the Alliance in 2018 led to the formation of a government that reflected the multicultural fabric of Malaysian society. For many Malaysians, the win was akin to former U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 “Yes, We Can!” election victory.

The Alliance kickstarted their governance with a bang – from electing the oldest prime minister in the world, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, to appointing the youngest minister in Malaysia, 26-year-old Syed Saddiq. Women and ethnic minorities were also front and center in the new administration.

The Alliance promised a government that was based on the rule of law and free from corruption. As a result, several high-profile leaders from UMNO and other BN components were investigated and charged under the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), including former leader Najib and his wife.

However, the victory parade was short-lived.