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The decisive election defeat of Prime Minister Najib Razak's government on 9 May ended 61 years of rule by the National Front coalition and has left Malaysia and the region stunned. Najib's fall has brought about the historic first transition of power in Malaysia since Malaya's independence from Britain in 1957. It follows disenchantment over a massive corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund, and rising living costs triggered by the deeply unpopular imposition last year of a goods and services tax.
The "people's tsunami" victory of the four-party Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) coalition has seen the remarkable political comeback of feisty Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 92, who is now the world's oldest prime minister, and Malaysia's seventh since independence.
Malaysia has witnessed an almost Shakespearean political drama since the Asian financial collapse of 1997 and Mahathir's retirement in October 2003. He had been the country's fourth and longest-serving prime minister since entering office in 1981, and headed the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling National Front coalition.
After Mahathir's relations with his former protégé Najib soured in recent years, Mahathir defected from UMNO to campaign for Pakatan Harapan. The main issue was the massive 1MDB scandal, in which Najib is deeply implicated. Mahathir has indicated that Najib, who resigned on May 12 as president of UMNO and chairman of the National Front, will be investigated for corruption. The ousted prime minister and his wife have already been banned from leaving the country.
Mahathir named his first cabinet appointments over the weekend, and has promised to eventually stand aside and be replaced as prime minister by his former deputy, the imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim, with whom he recently reconciled to fight the May 9 election after the bitterest of falling outs in recent decades.
Anwar was deputy prime minister from 1993 until 1998, when he was dramatically sacked by Mahathir. Anwar then launched the Reformasi (Reform) movement but in 1999 was jailed for sodomy. He was released from prison in 2004, and returned to parliament as leader of the opposition in 2008. The National Front was shaken by the general election in 2013, in which the opposition won the popular vote, and in 2014 Anwar was again jailed for sodomy. Anwar has always maintained that the sodomy charges against him were politically motivated.
Among the issues to be explored by the FCCT panel will be the dynamic between Mahathir and Anwar, and among the four young and inexperienced parties that comprise Pakatan Harapan; the implications of the election defeat for UMNO and the National Front, which evidently underestimated the impact of the 1MDB imbroglio on the Malay heartland; and the .
Bridget Welsh, a US specialist in Malaysian politics, is Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome, a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University, a Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center in Jakarta, and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. Her most recent book, published in 2016, was presciently titled The End of UMNO: Essays on Malaysia's Dominant Party. She also edited Reflections: The Mahathir Years (2004) and Awakening: Abdullah Badawi's Years in Malaysia (2013).
Phil Robertson, deputy director of US-based Human Rights Watch in Asia, who has analysed Malaysia over a seven-year period and launched five reports on the situation in the country.
Jonathan Head, the BBC's Southeast Asia correspondent, who covered the historic election on the ground in Kuala Lumpur.
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