Friday 11 May 2018

Malaysia General Election 2018: Mahathir Mohamad sworn in as country's 7th Prime Minister

New government will be business-friendly, says Mahathir after delayed ceremony
By Shannon Teoh, Malaysia Bureau Chief and Trinna Leong, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was sworn in as Malaysia's seventh Prime Minister last night, hours after former premier Najib Razak said that he accepted the will of the people that handed Barisan Nasional (BN) a shock defeat which ended the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.

Following a series of press conferences in which he asserted that his Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition clearly won Wednesday's vote and agreed to back him as Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir was granted an audience with the King, Sultan Muhammad V, at 5pm.

But it would be five hours before he was officially declared Prime Minister, as he had to wait while leaders of the four parties in his coalition were interviewed by the King. The latter then invited the 92-year-old to form the next government and add to his 22 years of experience leading the country.

PH and its ally Parti Warisan Sabah won 121 seats in the 222-seat federal Parliament in the keenly contested May 9 general election, while BN secured 79 seats, in results that were ready by the wee hours of yesterday morning.

The palace received the official results from the Election Commission at 2.45pm yesterday.

However, the lag raised questions among the public, and on social media, prompting the Comptroller of the Royal Household Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz to say in a statement last night: "Istana Negara strongly refutes any allegation that His Majesty... delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister."

"His Majesty looks forward to working with Tun Dr Mahathir and his administration for the betterment of our nation and all its people," the statement added.

Confusion had erupted after messages went viral about a 9.30am swearing-in, which the palace had to deny. Later, it was expected that Dr Mahathir, now the world's oldest head of government, would be sworn in during his 5pm audience, which instead ended up being a test of his control of Parliament.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference after the ceremony, Dr Mahathir said the delay was "unavoidable because of certain official processes which we have to go through". "I would like to thank the people who supported us," he said.

He also gave the assurance that his administration would be business-friendly. "Malaysia has been a trading nation. You don't quarrel with your market," he said.

Having defeated the long-ruling BN, which he headed until 2003, and then left in 2016 after calling for Datuk Seri Najib's ouster over the scandal at state-owned fund 1MDB, Dr Mahathir had earlier asked to be sworn in "as soon as possible" after his PH crossed the threshold of a simple majority of 112 seats by early yesterday morning.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted a congratulatory message on Facebook shortly after Dr Mahathir took his oath of office, saying he wished him and his team every success, and hoped "to catch up with him in person soon".

"Malaysia is a vital partner of Singapore, and our peoples share strong and deep bonds. I look forward to working with Tun Mahathir and the new government to enhance our cooperation. We can do much more together," he said.

Singapore's Foreign Ministry noted that the people of Malaysia have given the new government a clear mandate to lead the country. "We have had close relations and extensive cooperation with successive Malaysian governments, including the government of Tun Mahathir when he was previously prime minister," it said.

Mr Najib told reporters at the Umno headquarters yesterday: "I accept the verdict of the people, and BN is committed to respecting the principles of parliamentary democracy." But he stopped short of conceding defeat.

After Dr Mahathir was sworn in, Mr Najib said on Twitter that he had sent his congratulations to his successor. "I am prepared to help in a smooth transition of power," he added.

Singapore looks forward to equally constructive relationship with next Malaysian leadership: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
By Chia Yan Min, Economics Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

Singapore looks forward to developing "an equally constructive relationship" with the next Malaysian leadership, and to work with it to take bilateral ties forward, benefiting both Singaporeans and Malaysians, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The Republic has enjoyed good relations and close cooperation with its neighbour for many years, with successive Malaysian leaders, PM Lee said in a Facebook post yesterday morning.

"While Malaysian politics are for Malaysians to decide, Singapore wishes Malaysia all the best in its political development," he said.

Also posting on Facebook, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong saluted Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad "for his indomitable will and energy to right what he thinks is wrong with his country".

He added: "Watching Mahathir fight Malaysian GE14 reminds me of Lee Kuan Yew, who famously said, 'Even from my sick bed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel something is going wrong, I will get up.' "

Led by Dr Mahathir, opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH) won a surprise election victory this week over incumbent Barisan Nasional, headed by Datuk Seri Najib Razak, bringing the coalition's 61-year rule to an end.

"Many Singaporeans would have followed the news about the Malaysian election yesterday," noted PM Lee.

"It is clear that the outcome represents a major change in Malaysian politics. We are now awaiting the formation of a new government."

He added: "We are following the situation closely. As Malaysia's closest neighbour, we have a vested interest in Malaysia's stability and prosperity."

As for whether the historic election result will have any impact on bilateral relations, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said it is still "early days" to assess what it means for major joint projects such as the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail.

Construction of Singapore's end of the project is expected to start next year, following the inking of a pact in 2016. The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore express service is slated to start by 2026.

Dr Mahathir had said previously that PH will review several "un-necessary" mega projects if it comes to power.

Mr Chan said on the sidelines of an event yesterday: "We have a longstanding and broad-ranging relationship with the Malaysians, and we expect the government of the day to continue to advance this relationship to the mutual benefit of both countries."

Earlier in the morning, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam wrote on Facebook that the result represents "a clear vote for change in Malaysia".

"And it was across the board - Malays, Chinese, Indians and even the Dayaks in Sarawak. Wish Malaysia well, and hope we continue to work together for mutual good of our people."

Also posting on the social media platform were Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.

Dr Balakrishnan said that Singapore, as Malaysia's closest neighbour, has "a vested interest in Malaysia's stability and prosperity". "We will work with the next Malaysian government to take our bilateral ties forward to benefit both our peoples."

Mr Tan added: "Our Malaysian friends have made their choice and spoken out decisively. Congratulations!"

How power changed hands in 24 hrs
Barisan Nasional was staring at defeat soon after 10pm on Wednesday, but a tense 24 hours would ensue before Malaysia's new Prime Minister was sworn at 10pm last night. This is an account of the eventful day.
By Leslie Lopez, Regional Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

The drama that played out on television screens, which ended with 92-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad being sworn in as Malaysia's new Prime Minister around 10pm yesterday, made for gripping viewing.

But far more tense and suspenseful was the theatre that unfolded behind the scenes.

It involved, The Straits Times has learnt, the interpretation of a tricky constitutional clause, the offer of premiership being made to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) chief Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and the intervention of three top government officials who went to see the King to persuade him that the post of prime minister should be offered to Dr Mahathir.

All this while rumours swirled that the palace was delaying the appointment of Dr Mahathir to the post - rumours that the King came out to deny.

Malaysia's handover of power, from the Barisan Nasional (BN) alliance that has ruled it since independence to the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, saw many twists.

By 10.30pm on Wednesday, the writing was on the wall. Malaysia's BN coalition government led by Datuk Seri Najib Razak was staring at a historic electoral defeat, with its bigwigs falling like tenpins.

Datuk Johari Abdul Ghani, then Second Finance Minister and a key Najib lieutenant, was trounced in the Titiwangsa parliamentary seat, an ethnic Malay-dominated urban stronghold of Umno in the capital Kuala Lumpur that it had been confident of winning.

In the Najib camp, panic was spreading fast. "It is very close and the people should only consider what the EC (Election Commission) declares as official (results)," one close adviser to Mr Najib told ST, adding that "other options" were being looked into.

But the EC, which had been accused of pandering to every whim of Umno and the BN in the run-up to the country's most competitive polls, was surprisingly silent.

Meanwhile, tension was building up in the opposition camp headed by Dr Mahathir, ensconced in a large function room of the recently completed Sheraton Hotel on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.


The EC's refusal to validate results at several polling stations prompted Dr Mahathir to raise the ante by declaring that the opposition had won.

Relying on a screenshot from a digital board at the highly classified security operations room of the national police, which kept real-time updates of the electoral counts, Dr Mahathir told Malaysians before a nationally televised press conference just after midnight that his opposition alliance had secured more than a simple majority in the 222-member Parliament to form the next government.

The screenshot of the digital board, which was spread over WhatsApp, showed that his coalition had swept 127 parliamentary seats and 282 state assembly seats, with the BN trailing in its wake with 86 seats and 193 seats, respectively.

Dr Mahathir's claims of victory effectively pushed Malaysia into uncharted waters.

The BN, and its predecessor, has been the only governing alliance that Malaysia has known since independence in 1957 - with no history of handing over power to a different political party at the national level.

In the hours to follow, several of the country's largely ceremonial but highly influential royal households would spurn Dr Mahathir as the opposition's candidate for premiership. He would also be forced to stare down threats of a possible declaration of emergency, and the risk of cracks appearing in his fragile coalition as Mr Najib claimed that the election had produced a hung Parliament.

In the end, the strong-willed leader would prevail and leave Malaysia's King with little choice but to swear him in as the leader of Malaysia's new government in a simple ceremony at the National Palace that began at 9.30pm yesterday, making him the world's oldest serving prime minister.

Despite the electoral win, the offer to form the next government did not come Dr Mahathir's way easily. A post-election drama - pieced together from the accounts of several players directly involved in it - played out behind the scenes, underscoring the complexity of Malaysia's multi-ethnic politics and the many challenges the country's new government is set to face.

Last night's political impasse began with rumours that the embattled Najib administration was considering suspending the electoral process and declaring a state of emergency.

While talk of an emergency would later be proven unfounded, it was enough to force the country's royal households to intervene in the unfolding political cliffhanger.


The ST has learnt that the country's urbane deputy king, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of the Perak royal household, ordered the chief of police to maintain order and ensure that the outcome of the polls was respected.

Sultan Nazrin then conferred with his brother ruler, Sultan Muhammad V of the Kelantan royal household, who is also Malaysia's current King, seeking his intervention in the unfolding crisis.

Palace edicts were quickly issued to the EC not to hold back on declaring the results and to jump-start the process for any handover of power.

At the time, unofficial results revealed that the Mahathir-led PH coalition, comprising four parties, had won enough seats to make up a simple majority in Parliament.

But unlike the BN, which is officially recognised as a coalition, the opposition line-up has yet to be formally registered.

That had led the candidates from three members of the opposition alliance - Dr Mahathir's newly established Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara - to contest under the banner of PKR.

The electoral gambit to contest as a single party clearly worked, with the alliance securing control of 104 seats in Parliament under the PKR ticket, and its allies in Sabah and Sarawak capturing another 17 to give it the simple majority needed.

But the one-banner strategy also raised several prickly legal and constitutional issues.

Malaysia's Constitution states that the leader from the party with the most seats won in Parliament would be invited by the King to be appointed as prime minister to pave the way for the formation of a government that may require a working relationship with other parties.

By virtue of that provision in the Constitution, Sultan Muhammad V invited Datuk Seri Wan Azizah for an audience at around 3am yesterday morning and, according to people close to the situation, the King stated that he could not accept Dr Mahathir's nomination as the candidate for premier because he was not the leader of the dominant party in Parliament.


Dr Wan Azizah was told that it would be more acceptable if she was presented as the candidate for the premiership.

No one slept much that night, certainly not Dr Mahathir who told a press conference yesterday afternoon: "I was very sleepy this morning. I got up late. Lots of people got up late."

The stalemate with the palace had not been resolved when he spoke. It had deepened at around 10am, when the EC broke its silence and provided an updated set of results, declaring that no single party had secured a clear majority to lead.

Mr Najib latched on to the EC announcement to declare that his BN accepted the verdict of the people but the elections had produced a hung Parliament. This triggered speculation that the BN would attempt to entice opposition candidates to cross over to its side and bolster its numbers.

Against this uncertain backdrop, Dr Mahathir appeared shortly afterwards, in a nationally televised press conference, to declare that all the elected candidates from the opposition coalition had unanimously agreed to nominate him as their prime ministerial candidate.

The letter supporting his candidature was handed over to the palace at 1.38pm. At 2.45pm, the EC handed the official results to the King.

But there was one more card to play.

To strengthen Dr Mahathir's case, the PH leadership also persuaded three top officials to meet the King and offer their reading of the situation. They comprised the Chief Secretary of Government, Tan Sri Ali Hamsa, who heads the civil service, Inspector-General of Police Fuzi Harun and a senior member of the armed forces.

In their audience with Sultan Muhammad V at around 3pm yesterday, the three top government officials impressed upon the King that any delay in the swearing-in of Dr Mahathir would have potential repercussions for the national security situation, people close to the matter said.

After this meeting, the palace asked to see Dr Mahathir along with other coalition leaders at 5pm.

Dr Mahathir did not attend the meeting, but Dr Wan Azizah, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Mr Lim Guan Eng and Mr Mohamad Sabu met the King and confirmed that they supported Dr Mahathir as prime minister.

This sealed the deal and just before 10pm, Dr Mahathir was officially sworn in as Malaysia's Prime Minister again.

But the long gap between the time he staked his claim to the post and his swearing-in drew an explanation from the palace, which said: "Istana Negara strongly refutes any allegation that... Sultan Muhammad V delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister."

The long drama drew to a close.

Mahathir: Urgent need to fix 'mess' in country
He calls on Malaysia's King to install him promptly, as there is 'a lot of work to be done'
By Trinna Leong, Malaysia Correspondent In Petaling Jaya, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

Malaysia's new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was finally sworn in yesterday, after he held a press conference to urge the King to immediately appoint a premier to form a new government.

"There is a lot of work to be done... we need to attend to this mess as soon as possible, and that means today. We expect today I will be sworn in as PM," said the 92-year-old former premier, who is known for not mincing his words.

He used some sharp digs and blunt talk to nudge the King to swear him in. The palace had earlier said that a new prime minister would not be taking an oath of office yesterday, despite Tun Dr Mahathir's coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) achieving a simple majority in Parliament to defeat Barisan Nasional (BN) and end the Umno-led pact's six decades in power.

Dr Mahathir said he had the support of 135 MPs, far surpassing the 112 needed for a simple majority. PH, he said, had won a clear majority and was entitled to form the government.

He told the press conference that all four parties in the coalition have "written to the King, asking for a ceremony to swear in the seventh prime minister to take place now".

He said that allies such as former Umno vice-president Shafie Apdal's Warisan in Sabah have "all signed the same declaration that they support" him as the new prime minister. A public petition calling on the Conference of Rulers to endorse the PH government was also circulated on social media, garnering nearly 65,000 signatures as at noon yesterday.

Displaying his trademark biting humour, Dr Mahathir told the room that the prime minister candidate chosen by PH "as you may have heard, is Dr Mahathir Mohamad".

When the audience laughed and applauded, he quipped, referring to the delay in swearing him in as premier: "You are all clapping. The King is not required to clap, he is required to sign."

But savvy Dr Mahathir refused to be drawn on the nature of his relationship with the ruler, Sultan Muhammad V, merely saying: "I don't know about (him) not liking me. I am a very nice person. I have the support of the majority of the Members of Parliament. That is what the provision of the Constitution says. It doesn't say, 'I like you, I don't like you, I love you'," he said.

Dr Mahathir also said his new government would study "all the things that were done by the previous government", including agreements entered into with China. While he supported Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, he said Malaysia will study and renegotiate the terms of some of its deals with Beijing, if needed.

"We have no problem with that (BRI), except of course we would not like to see too many warships in this area because (a) warship attracts other warships," he said.

He also reiterated his concerns about money borrowed by the BN government, including for the East Coast Rail Link project. "It's a great burden to the country," he said.

Asked about these comments at a regular press briefing in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China highly values its ties with Malaysia, which have benefited both their peoples, and "this deserves to be cherished and maintained by both sides".

He added: "Dr Mahathir is a senior politician. He has made important contributions to the development of Sino-Malaysian ties."

Dr Mahathir also said his government would cancel the unpopular goods and services tax.

Later, when posing for photographs, he remarked sarcastically: "My face is no longer haram (forbidden in Islam). So, you don't have to tear out my face from pictures."

He was referring to new rules during the recent election campaign which barred his face from appearing in publicity materials.

"I am not saying anything against the government, you know. By the way, at this moment, there is no government," he added.

Najib says he accepts verdict of the people
By Nadirah H. Rodzi, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

In his first appearance since his party's shock loss, former prime minister Najib Razak said yesterday morning that the King would determine who the next prime minister would be because no single party has a simple majority.

"According to the Constitution, it will be based on who has the confidence of the majority in the Dewan Rakyat," he told a press conference.

"We trust the wisdom of the King to make the best choice," he said, in an indication that he was stopping short of conceding power.

The Election Commission's official results tally early yesterday morning showed that Pakatan Harapan (PH) and its allies had surpassed the 112 seats required to gain control of the 222-seat Parliament, with its haul of 121 seats.

PH's member parties contested the election under the Parti Keadilan Rakyat logo, winning 104 seats.

But PH member Democratic Action Party used its own logo in Sabah and Sarawak, winning nine seats, and Parti Warisan Sabah, which has said it will support PH, won eight seats.

Datuk Seri Najib's Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 79 seats, a far cry from the 133 seats it garnered in the last election in 2013.

PH leader Mahathir Mohamad, 92, claimed victory early yesterday morning.

In an eight-minute address in Malay later yesterday, Mr Najib said he accepted the verdict of the people and that BN is committed to respecting the principles of parliamentary democracy.

The 65-year-old BN chairman made his sombre statement at Umno headquarters in Putra World Trade Centre, flanked by party leaders including Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and Mr Khairy Jamaluddin.

Mr Najib said he was committed to ensuring the best decision in the interests of the people and the country.

"Malaysia is a special country, I and my colleagues feel honoured to have led the country. I want to thank my colleagues in BN again, and their families for their support for BN," he said in a quivering voice.

He began his statement by noting that there was no cheating by BN during the general election, contrary to "defamatory and seditious statements" saying likewise.

"There was no cheating by Barisan Nasional members," he said.

There had also been rumours on Wednesday night that the National Security Council had met and was going to declare a state of emergency.

"That was another lie, there was no such meeting," he said.

He also noted that since he took the helm in 2009, his government had tried its best to ensure people's quality of life and the future of the next generation.

"Poverty levels are their lowest, we have world-class infrastructure and the economy has grown to a level we can be proud of, as verified by IMF (International Monetary Fund) and World Bank," he said.

"We did our best, but I admit there were some imperfections, but our priority has always been to ensure the security and prosperity of Malaysians.

"Now, the rakyat (people) will wait and see if the promises by (Pakatan Harapan) that were made in their manifesto and speeches are kept," said Mr Najib.

Despite the poor showing by BN, Mr Najib said the 79 seats won were a mandate of "great responsibility".

"We will carry out our responsibilities so that the rakyat can trust Barisan more in the future," he said.

Media dynamics may change with new government
By Reme Ahmad, South-east Asia Editor, The Straits Times, 11 May 2018

The election win of Pakatan Harapan (PH) could directly impact Malaysia's mainstream media outlets, which have for decades given friendly coverage of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.

After months of attacking PH and its leaders in the run-up to Wednesday's general election, mainstream newspapers and television adopted a more factual tone as it became clear that BN had lost badly.

"PKR pact claims victory" and "Pakatan claims victory" were the front-page headlines of two Umno-owned newspapers - the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia and the New Straits Times - respectively. The two newspapers also ran a photo of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and other PH leaders.

The Star newspaper, which is owned by BN component party the Malaysian Chinese Association, headlined its report "Dr M to be sworn in".

Prior to this, mainstream media had studiously avoided using a picture of Dr Mahathir. Utusan Malaysia and TV3, also controlled by Umno, had sought to portray the four-party PH as being led by someone other than the 92-year-old, who is the pact's official leader.

Photos of Parti Keadilan Rakyat's president, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, or Mr Lim Kit Siang from the Chinese-majority Democratic Action Party (DAP) were used instead.

This apparent fear of getting voters excited by a photo of Dr Mahathir also affected the Election Commission, which banned his image on election posters, except in Langkawi, where he contested.

The Malay newspapers dutifully trotted out the "Chinese bogeyman" - vote for PH, and you are actually voting for the DAP.

In their coverage of Dr Mahathir, his age was always given as 93. This was meant to subtly reference him to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who was ousted last year at age 93, after 37 years in power.

Just on Monday, then Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi took a dig at Dr Mahathir, saying he should be taking care of his grandchildren instead.

For the record, Dr Mahathir will turn 93 only on July 10.

It remains unclear whether the media would be adopting a more friendly tone towards PH and its leaders from now on.

The dynamics between the mainstream media and BN, which still controls the main media outlets, will be closely watched as well.

"I think it will take time for them (the media) to adjust," said Dr Felix Tan, associate lecturer at SIM Global Education. "At the end of the day, if they want to be trusted by the people, they should be factual in their reports."

Najib Razak quits as chief of BN and Umno, banned from travel
By Trinna Leong and Nadirah H. Rodzi, Malaysia Correspondents In Kuala Lumpur, The Sunday Times, 13 May 2018

Former Malaysian premier Najib Razak yesterday quit as head of the country's largest party Umno, just hours after he was put on an immigration blacklist that barred him from leaving the country.

His resignation from Umno, and from the chairmanship of Barisan Nasional - the coalition that Umno leads - was to be expected after BN suffered a massive election defeat on Wednesday. Being grounded, however, was largely due to his nemesis and new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"It's true, I prevented Najib from leaving the country," Tun Dr Mahathir said yesterday. He explained that Datuk Seri Najib was prevented from going abroad because "there's sufficient evidence that certain things done by the former PM" require an investigation.

Mr Najib has been linked to the money-laundering allegations surrounding state fund 1MDB after RM2.6 billion (S$880 million) was found in his personal accounts.

He has said the funds were a donation from the Saudi royal family and been cleared by Malaysian authorities of any wrongdoing. Said Dr Mahathir: "We have to act quickly because we don't want the problem of extradition with other countries."

Dr Mahathir was speaking at a press conference to name three senior figures to the Cabinet. Democratic Action Party chief and outgoing Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng will be Finance Minister, Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu will be Defence Minister, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia president Muhyiddin Yassin, Home Affairs Minister.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin was Mr Najib's former deputy who was sacked when he spoke out on 1MDB.

Notably absent was Deputy PM and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) leader Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. Hours later, it emerged all was not well at the consensus-ruled Pakatan Harapan coalition. PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli wrote on his blog that discussions are still ongoing and the naming of the ministers was not final until agreed upon by all four parties in the PH coalition.

He added that Dr Mahathir would discuss the appointments with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the jailed de facto leader of PKR who is due to be given a royal pardon by the King and released on Tuesday.

Dr Mahathir has promised to hand over the PM position to Mr Anwar once he is eligible to contest in a by-election and becomes an MP.

In stark contrast to Mr Anwar's impending return, Mr Najib's political future looked bleak.

The embattled former premier told a press conference yesterday: "Umno and BN were defeated badly so I, as Umno president and BN chairman, will step down." He said former deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi will take over as BN chairman and Umno president, while former defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein will take on the duties of deputy Umno president and deputy BN chairman.

The press conference capped a dramatic day for Mr Najib. A flight manifest on social media showed he and his wife Rosmah Mansor were planning to travel to Indonesia, prompting dozens of journalists and an angry mob to gather at Subang Airport early in the morning.

But before the couple could get on the private flight scheduled to depart at 10am, the travel ban was issued.

Dr Mahathir made clear he would keep up the pressure. Last night, Reuters reported that Malaysian police had raided apartments linked to Mr Najib's family.



All foreign projects, including KL-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR), to be reviewed
By Rachel Au-Yong, Housing Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 13 May 2018

The new Malaysian government will review all foreign contracts and projects, including the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail (HSR) project and those under China's Belt and Road Initiative, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday.

"With regard to all those contracts, we will review them to see how they favour us," he added at a press conference.

Following the shock win of opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan led by Tun Dr Mahathir, there has been uncertainty over mega infrastructure projects like the HSR.

The HSR deal was inked in December 2016 with the Najib administration, and the 350km rail was expected to begin operations in 2026.

But Dr Mahathir has opposed the HSR before, citing the debt Malaysia would have to take on. "We have to know whether we really need this HSR or not," he told The Sunday Times in January last year.

During this year's election campaign, he also pledged to review all mega projects sanctioned by Barisan Nasional under former PM Najib Razak, saying that some of them might be cancelled as they were wasteful and unnecessary.

Still, Dr Mahathir seemed cautiously optimistic about the HSR's potential benefits last year.

He also opened the door to expanding the HSR to "go to Penang or even the Thai border".

Analysts have said that the fate of the HSR is still uncertain - the deadline for the primary tender was pushed back from June to December following requests from bidders, but the election results may delay this further.

Even so, Dr Mahathir said yesterday that despite the review, Malaysia would "maintain friendly relations with all countries".

Last Thursday, Singapore's Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said it is still "early days" to assess what the Mahathir team's win will mean for major projects such as the HSR.


PM Lee Hsien Loong meets Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya on 19 May 2018
PM Lee hopes Singapore, Malaysia can build on progress made in meeting with PM Mahathir
They hope to build on existing cooperation & PM invites Malaysian premier to visit Singapore and hopes regular leaders' retreats will continue
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor, The Sunday Times, 20 May 2018

Singapore and Malaysia have made a lot of progress in bilateral cooperation over the years, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hopes both neighbours can continue to work together and build on what they have achieved.

He was speaking to Singapore reporters in Putrajaya yesterday after what he described as a warm and fruitful meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"We have cooperation projects. We have issues from time to time which we have to deal with, but we have made a lot of progress with the cooperation - and we hope to continue to make further progress and build on what we have achieved in the past," Mr Lee told reporters.

"I think he shares that hope," he said of Tun Dr Mahathir.

It was the first meeting between both leaders since Dr Mahathir became Malaysia's seventh prime minister, after the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition he leads won the May 9 general election, the first time the Umno-led Barisan Nasional has lost power.

PM Lee said they did not discuss any substantive bilateral issues, and his visit "was really a courtesy call for me to send him my greetings and good wishes, and to express hope that we will be able to work together on many things between Singapore and Malaysia".

He added: "We had an exchange of views - what was on his mind, what was on mine, and I think it was a warm, fruitful meeting from that point of view."

Dr Mahathir's Facebook page said that they spoke for 30 minutes about the bilateral relationship.

In a Facebook post, PM Lee said: "We had a good chat about the Singapore-Malaysia relationship, which is deep, multi-faceted, and close. Dr Mahathir and I both shared our thoughts on how we can strengthen our ties."

He also told reporters he had invited Dr Mahathir to visit Singapore as prime minister, and expressed hope that they would be able to continue having regular retreats that the PMs of Singapore and Malaysia have taken turns to host each year.

In fact, the first such leaders' retreat involved Dr Mahathir - who was Malaysia's fourth premier from 1981 to 2003 - and former PM Goh Chok Tong, in 1994. And it was held in Langkawi, which is Dr Mahathir's constituency today.

"I hope that after he has settled some of his domestic priorities, which he has many, he will be able to follow it up," PM Lee said, adding that he also looked forward to receiving Dr Mahathir in Singapore at the Asean Summit in November.

Asked if the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail project, which Dr Mahathir had said he would review, was raised, PM Lee said they did not discuss the issue.

The meeting with Dr Mahathir was held at the Perdana Leadership Foundation, where he is honorary president. It was started in 2003 for the study of Malaysian leadership.

The PMs were accompanied by their wives, Mrs Lee and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Malaysia's Foreign Ministry secretary-general Ramlan Ibrahim. PM Lee and Mrs Lee also met PH de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife, Deputy Prime Minister and Women and Family Development Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

Anwar Ibrahim and his wife, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail meet PM Lee, affirm strong relations
PM Lee also invites Malaysian leader to Singapore for some time out
By Zakir Hussain, Foreign Editor In Putrajaya, The Sunday Times, 20 May 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday offered to host Pakatan Harapan (PH) de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim at an institute or think-tank in Singapore for a while.

And Datuk Seri Anwar has said he would consider it, PM Lee told Singapore reporters.

Mr Anwar and his wife, Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women and Family Development, called on PM Lee and Mrs Lee at the Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya yesterday afternoon, following PM Lee's call on Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

"Mr Anwar is an old friend," PM Lee said in a Facebook post. "It has been more than 20 years since I last met him, back when we were both DPMs. It was good to catch up with him and Dr Wan Azizah again."

PM Lee was deputy prime minister from 1990 to 2004, and Mr Anwar from 1993 to 1998. But Mr Anwar was sacked from Cabinet in 1998 by Tun Dr Mahathir and later charged with abuse of power and sodomy, which he maintains was politically motivated.

After PH's electoral victory, Malaysia's King, Sultan Muhammad V, granted Mr Anwar a full pardon last Wednesday. Dr Mahathir has also promised to step down as prime minister in two years' time to make way for Mr Anwar.

But Mr Anwar has said he will not serve in the new government for now, as he needs "time and space" to rest with his family, and to travel abroad to fulfil teaching and speaking engagements.

PM Lee told reporters: "If he wants time to reflect, to write, perhaps to detach himself a little bit for a while, we welcome him to Singapore. Come to one of our institutes and write a book. He said he would consider that."

Mr Anwar told reporters separately that it was "a real pleasure" to meet PM Lee after all this while.

"Essentially, we believe in stronger bilateral relations with Singapore. That's the view PM Mahathir also stressed," he said.

Dr Wan Azizah added that it was a very good meeting, saying: "We so want to increase and have better bilateral relations, as neighbours and in the region."

PM Lee told Singapore reporters that both he and Mr Anwar used to exchange visits, and that their last visit was in 1995, when Mr Lee was in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Mr Anwar's home state.

"We had a general conversation on how he saw developments in Malaysia, his views of what has been happening and what his plans were," PM Lee said. "The main thing was to re-establish the personal link I had with him."


* Anwar Ibrahim storms to victory in Port Dickson by-election, wins 72% of vote
He cements position as Malaysia's next PM, storming to victory in seven-cornered fight
By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent In Port Dickson, The Sunday Times, 14 Oct 2018

Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim stormed to victory in the Port Dickson by-election yesterday, garnering 72 per cent of the vote and cementing his position as the country's next prime minister.

The de facto leader of ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) also proved his mettle by winning with a majority of 23,560 votes, exceeding that of previous MP Danyal Balagopal Abdullah, who had won the parliamentary seat in the May general election by a margin of 17,710 votes.

"This victory is an important milestone and a vote of confidence for the Pakatan Harapan government and the reform agenda and the Prime Minister personally," said Datuk Seri Anwar at a press conference after the results were announced last night.

The 71-year-old former deputy prime minister said he would be sworn in tomorrow, bringing him a step closer to fulfilling the agreement by PH to eventually make him Malaysia's eighth prime minister.

Professor James Chin, a political analyst at the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute, said: "Anwar will be entering Parliament with his reputation as PM-in-waiting intact. He will be seen as a heavyweight and will be on track to take over from Tun Mahathir in two years' time."

Voting got off to a damp, sluggish start yesterday morning, with the light drizzle keeping constituents home and away from the 32 polling centres in the district.

Attendance picked up in the afternoon and the Election Commission said 58.2 per cent of the 68,317 eligible voters had cast their votes yesterday.

This was the highest turnout for a by-election since the May election, but still fell short of the 70 per cent target hoped for by Mr Anwar's supporters. Voter fatigue and disenchantment were partly to blame.

Mr Batumalai Ranggasamy, 46, a maintenance technician, had travelled from Klang, Selangor, yesterday to cast his vote.

"You can see the polling centre is quite empty this time because people don't like this by-election (being held), and the government spending money on it," he said, referring to the estimated cost of RM3.6 million (S$1.2 million). "If you are already in power, spend money on poor people, not this."

Mr Anwar could not stand for election in May because he was in prison. He received a royal pardon after PH won federal power, allowing him to contest the Port Dickson seat that was vacated specially for him by Datuk Danyal last month.

The constituency is considered a stronghold for PH as Parti Keadilan Rakyat, which Mr Anwar leads, won it comfortably in the last three general elections.

Yesterday's seven-cornered fight saw Mr Anwar's main rivals - former air force officer Mohd Nazari Mokhtar of Parti Islam SeMalaysia and former Umno vice-president Isa Samad, who was Negeri Sembilan's menteri besar for 22 years - trail far behind, collecting only 7,456 and 4,230 votes respectively.

Tan Sri Isa and the remaining independent candidates will lose their deposits after failing to secure at least one-eighth of the votes cast. They are Mr Anwar's former aide Saiful Bukhari Azlan, who lodged the sodomy complaint that landed Mr Anwar in jail in 2015, Ms Lau Seck Yan, Mr Stevie Chan Keng Leong and Mr Kan Chee Yuen.

After the results were announced, Ms Lau said she hoped "PD will be transformed as promised in so many ways", using the common moniker for the seaside town.

Many hope that with Mr Anwar as their MP and future prime minister, proper development will finally reach Port Dickson. "It is good that Anwar Ibrahim wins as he is from the ruling government, so he would have the funds to develop PD. That is what everyone in PD wants," said Ms Laili Sulaiman, 54, who owns a shop selling scarves.

** Malaysian PM-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim sworn in as Port Dickson MP on 15 Oct 2018
Back as MP, Anwar says he's in no hurry to become Prime Minister
He says that PM Mahathir should be given 'space and latitude' to run country
By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 16 Oct 2018

Former Malaysian deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as a federal lawmaker yesterday, and indicated that he was not in any hurry to take over from Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Datuk Seri Anwar, 71, was sworn in two days after a thumping victory in the Port Dickson by-election, clearing another hurdle in his path to becoming Malaysia's eighth prime minister as part of a succession plan agreed upon by the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition.

Wearing a black Malay baju and songkok (headdress), Mr Anwar was sworn in on the first day of the second session of Parliament under the five-month-old PH administration.

Asked by reporters whether Tun Dr Mahathir, 93, had indicated a timeline for him to take over as prime minister, Mr Anwar said: "No, I don't think that is an issue as far as I am concerned."

He added: "Let him have the space and latitude to continue unaffected by the constraints of time or pressure. That is very important."

Dr Mahathir quit Umno in 2016 and went on to work with the opposition, including Mr Anwar, whom he had sacked in 1998. They eventually came up with a power-sharing arrangement should they win the elections.

Leaders of PH had agreed before the May General Election that Dr Mahathir would lead South-east Asia's fourth-biggest economy for two years should the alliance win federal power, and then pass the premiership to Mr Anwar.

Dr Mahathir was asked after the swearing-in whether he was happy that Mr Anwar was an MP again. He said: "Of course I am happy. He is from the same (PH) party."

Mr Anwar told reporters: "I have said to Prime Minister Mahathir that I will only support and give my contribution through Parliament and parliamentary reforms, but of course I will interact with the ministers and MPs; that is part of the job of a Member of Parliament."

Questions about the succession plan are often presented to the two Malaysian political giants, as some have raised doubts that Dr Mahathir would indeed pass the baton to Mr Anwar, seen as the "prime minister in waiting". Mr Anwar was deputy prime minister in 1998 when Dr Mahathir sacked him.

Asked if he would take up any Cabinet position, Mr Anwar replied: "No. I stand by my earlier decision. I don't intend to serve in any position, and I am happy with this position." His wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Anwar's return as an MP is his third, in a tumultuous two decades that saw him jailed twice over two sodomy-linked cases. He was last imprisoned in 2015 and was released in May after a full royal pardon from the Malaysian King on May 16, a week after PH won the general election.

Political analyst James Chin of the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute did not foresee any problems with Mr Anwar working with his former foe. "They know if they don't handle the political relationship properly, it will be a one-term PH government," he said.

"Mahathir knows this is the only opportunity to recast himself as the man who saves Malaysia. Anwar knows this is the only opportunity for him to be PM. So, both will hold off fighting to meet each other's needs."

The PH government in the current Parliament session plans to carry out several reforms that it had promised in its election manifesto. These include a move to abolish the death penalty and a motion for MPs to declare their assets.


Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail scrapped, says Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad

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