The Singapore meeting starting Monday – the second Asean summit this year – will be Mahathir’s first since he stunned Asia by defeating his protégé Najib Razak in May elections to reoccupy the political hot seat he held from 1981 to 2003. Diplomatic observers are hoping the firebrand nonagenarian, a self-professed regionalist, will inject some vigour into the bloc…And with Asean nations facing rising pressure to take sides in the escalating US-China rivalry, some insiders in the grouping are hoping for lessons from the elder statesman on how to balance the two powers without being dragged into their respective orbits.
With his shock victory in Malaysia’s election, Mahathir Mohamad has pulled off a political second act that few expected, joining the select ranks of politicians who have revived their careers. The 92-year-old former strongman ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for more than two decades before stepping down, but returned to political life to challenge his own former party, snatching a surprise win in Wednesday’s poll.
That Malaysia is in a funk is hardly in doubt. Najib’s rule has been marred by accusations of cronyism, most obviously the farrago over sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, in which $4.5 billion is alleged to have been siphoned off by managers and associates, according to a U.S. Justice Department probe. The prime minister denies wrongdoing.
Malaysia’s governing coalition won a tight national election on Sunday to extend its 56-year rule, fending off an opposition alliance that pledged to clean up politics and end race-based policies in Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy.