Another national election has produced yet another unexpected outcome. This time it was Mahathir Mohamad’s stunning upset victory over Prime Minister Najib Razak—which ended 60 years of rule by the National Front party—that caught many observers of Asian politics off guard.
But Malaysia’s 14th general election results should come as no surprise. This latest event is affirmation, yet again, of the convergence of powerful forces that are sweeping the world: digital disruption and its economic and social consequences; a middle-class backlash against entrenched and corrupt elites; and, like it or not, the growing influence of China.
How is this playing out in Malaysia and beyond?
Among other things, Mahathir has said he would repeal Malaysia’s hugely unpopular General Services Tax (GST) of 6% and re-examine Malaysia’s big infrastructure projects—including the proposed Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail link. He’s said that he wouldn’t seek “revenge” against Najib, but rather, that he would “restore the rule of law to Malaysia.” For many, this could be interpreted as a return to heavy-handed, authoritarian governance.
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