The last few days have seen some extremely abrupt and dramatic changes in Malaysia’s political arena. The electoral victory of Mahathir Mohamad, release of victorious opposition alliance’s icon, Anwar Ibrahim, from jail, and the start of massive investigations into the corruption scandal of former premier Najib Razak have literally put the already volatile Malaysian politics into a new phase of swift twists and turns. It is certainly a stunning comeback. Mahathir, previously Prime Minister between 1981 and 2003, has returned as the head of an opposition coalition with a big bang. He defeated his former protégé Najib Razak last week and effectively put a full stop to six decades of one-party rule in the country. The unlikely alliance of Mahathir and Anwar has been one of the many unusual aspects of this election. When Mahathir was prime minister the first time round, Anwar was his protégé and deputy, tipped for the top job until Mahathir thought he was growing out of his boots and becoming too powerful. After a prosecution for corruption and sodomy that was widely perceived to be politically motivated and fabricated, Anwar was jailed in 1999. However, this year, in the bid to get rid of Najib Razak, who is accused in a $3.2bn corruption scandal, Mahathir joined the opposition. He agreed to run as its leader, get a royal pardon for Anwar (who was again behind bars since 2013on a second charge of sodomy) and then make way for him to become prime minister in next one to two years. Mahathir Mohamad is generally labelled, and rightly so, as the main architect of a new and modern Malaysia. He spearheaded the transition of Malaysia from an underdeveloped country to a developing nation that became a regional leader in a short time. During his tenure of more than two decades, Malaysia saw drastic growth in infrastructure and economy and became a role model for neighbouring countries. When Mahathir left the political arena in 2002 and sought retirement from active politics, Malaysia was moving in the right direction with regard to its economic strategic plan. However, things started heating up when Najib Razak took over charge as prime minster in 2009 and corruption charges against him and his team started making rounds in the media — particularly after the surfacing of the 1MDB scandal in 2015. The blatant and chronic corruption among the ruling elite was the prime reason that forced Mahathir to return to politics after 15 years. Mahathir took a stand once again, this time not through a handpicked proxy — as he has in the past — but by entering the arena himself. He registered a new political party Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and joined the new opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope), which was founded as a coalition of left leaning and centre parties. Political analysts expected Najib Razak to use his influence and resources to win the elections with an aggressive campaign, and manipulation. As per many voting advocacy surveys published during the pre-election days. Most young voters only know Mahathir as the “father of modernisation”, who brought a diversified and high-tech manufacturing base to an economy that had long relied on plantations and mining. Analysts were not expecting Mahathir to pull young voters to his side — young voters than account for around 40 percent of the vote bank. Moreover, during the campaign, the imbalance in resources was very much evident on the streets littered with BN banners and full-page advertisements in the print media. The blue colour of Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was everywhere, with big smiling portraits of Najib. He had the support of a well-oiled campaign machinery, including foreign advisors. Such was Najib’s aura of financial invincibility that even analysts who spotted a rising opposition tide feared he would still manage to win the race by inducing defections and stuffing ballot boxes. At the same time, Mahathir had to struggle to shed his past image as a dictator, who had sacked dissenting judges, censored inconvenient journalists, imprisoned his political opponents and dismissed various human rights issues during his two decades of premiership. Mahathir was known for his sceptical view of human rights. His rule saw the infamous 1987 Ops Lalang, where police cracked down on activists, politicians and students, and newspapers had their publishing licences revoked. He bullied the states that stepped out of line such as withholding oil royalties from the state of Terengganu when residents elected an opposition party to government. He approved construction of the Bakun Dam in Sarawak, a project which displaced several thousand indigenous people. The speed with which he dealt with detractors earned him the moniker ‘mahafiraun’. Against this backdrop, the analysts were sceptical about his success to have a second crack at the job. However, Mahathir, being the most experienced veteran politician there, played his cards very well to steal the victory. Mahathir has changed, but he needs to accommodate his biggest coalition partner for a smooth run until the time he hands over the reins of power to Anwar His campaign’s focus was Najib’s corruption, and made 1MDB the focus of his campaign. The 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) is a government-run strategic development company. The Malaysian government fund was set up and overseen by Najib, and was the source of embezzlement worth $3.2bn. Najib was accused of using this money on a global spending spree of mammoth, indulgent proportions. It was further alleged that $681m of the money was channelled to Najib’s own bank account, funding his wife’s multimillion-pound jewellery habit. Mahathir used this 1MDB scandal very effectively to lure a support from the voters. Now that Mahathir has sworn in as the world’s oldest prime minister and Anwar Ibrahim has been released from prison, the optimistic version of the story goes like this: Mahathir’s return to power will herald the beginning of new phase where justice will be executed and corrupt officials will be subjected to the rigorous accountability. Anwar will then replace Mahathir within two years, fulfilling the pre-poll accord between the two. Then Anwar, being a highly competent and reformist political leader, will steer Malaysia towards the economic revival. But pragmatically speaking, things will not be as rosy as being seen by some quarters. The very first question is about the mutual relationship between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has had a topsy-turvy relationship with his protégé-turned-rival-turned-ally, despite being coalition partner with Anwar, has to make many changes in his leadership style to keep the coalition intact. His dictatorial instinct may hamper the smooth running of the government. Even in the very first month of taking charge as Prime Minister, Mahathir has enraged his coalition allies by making unilateral announcements about the structure of the cabinet. The senior leaders of Anwar’s PKR expressed reservations over the one-sided decisions taken by Mahathir. Despite being the head of coalition, Mahathir has very weak numerical strength in the parliament. He will have to make many changes in his working style in handling the government affairs, while keeping a smooth working relationship with Anwar, who must have been eager to take the charge of affairs. “Mahathir has proven his tenacity, accepted his past limitations, apologised and sacrificed his time and energy to raise the dignity of the people,” Anwar wrote recently while telling his supporters to calm down and give Mahathir a chance. Yes, Mahathir has changed, but he needs to accommodate his biggest coalition partner for a smooth run until the time he hands over the reins of power to Anwar. The writer is an acdamic Published in Daily Times, June 14th 2018.