The end of an era is upon us: Unable to secure enough seats to declare victory, Barisan Nasional, the only party to have ruled Malaysia since the country’s inception, conceded defeat this morning.
It was a sad sight to see for a party that had become widely known for its unbridled smugness: Najib, downcast, his voice no longer seemed to possess the self-assured cool built up after countless poker-faced denials.
He was flanked by Deputy Prime Minister Hamidi — his eyes lowered, perhaps thinking about how he’ll have to return all that PM-labeled stationary he had made — and Defense Minister Hishamuddin looking … well, looking not all that bad for a man who only narrowly escaped defeat in his own Johor constituency.
So where did it go wrong for these almighty, powerful men, who sat above the rule of law so comfortably that they seemed, until now, untouchable?
We here at Coconuts KL are here to highlight for you how, in hindsight, these guys actually never had a chance.
Somebody pass us a towel, we’re about to spill some tea.
One key reason for the BN’s demise — and the one highlighted most frequently by international news outlets — was the prime minister’s unavoidable, inescapable 1MDB associations.
Yes, that 1MDB, the sovereign wealth fund that, according to the US Department of Justice, was allegedly plundered by the former PM and his cronies, was tied to luxury properties around the world, super yachts, extravagant jewelry gifts to the PM’s wife, and to model Miranda Kerr, the financing of Hollywood film The Wolf of Wall Street, and even a bloody Picasso painting to its star Leonardo DiCaprio.
A seamy affair, indeed, and one that the former PM tried desperately to quash. The disappearance of more than US$2 billion from the fund, the appearance of hundreds of millions in his private account, an investigation that spanned more than 10 countries – did it spell the end of BN two years ago when news of it first hit?
Probably not. But when you’re swimming neck-deep in a swamp, there are countless ways to drown.
Dead bodies have an odd way of coming back to haunt you, and the drama that surrounded both the mysterious deaths of Mongolian model/translator Altantunya, and anti-corruption prosecutor Kevin Morais, were two headlines that spanned Najib’s tenure.
While those cases likely played only a small role in the public’s perception of the ruling coalition, they were significant enough to have voters question what “really” happened.
From Al-Jazeera’s in-depth story of Altantuya’s dealings with Malaysian figures, to the Sarawak Report’s claims that it was Morais who drew up the list of charges against Najib for 1MDB — and while no one is saying that ANYONE in BN had a part to play in this — they’re not the kind of vibes you want in your party, you know wha’ I mean?
Besides, there were a lot more important face palm moments that marked the lead-up to the election.
Laws drawn up at the 11th-hour before the election was called reeked of desperation. There were anti-“fake news” laws that understandably appeared to many as vehicles to quash dissent — or those lingering questions about 1MDB.
How about the national gerrymandering? A last-ditch attempt to ensure that key jurisdictions now had substantial numbers of the ruling party’s traditional voting base. You could smell the lack of confidence. It seeped across the room and hit your nostrils with a stinging effect.
Or maybe BN’s loss can simply be chalked up to their members’ casual ineptitude. Dinosaur politicians from bygone eras being asked to play a young wo/man’s game.
Leading up to the election, it was those in the government’s ranks who seemed incapable of understanding the many ways they’d open themselves up to public derision and ridicule.
Who could forget when Deputy Home Affairs Minister Nur Jazlan publicly decided that Cathay Pacific’s offer of free re-booking fees for Malaysians who needed to change flights in order to vote, equaled a conspiracy theory?
Faster than Trump on a Twitter binge, he claimed that this was all part of some elaborate plan to initiate “regime change.” Like Cathay has nothing better to do?
It left a funny taste in the public’s mouth: Why would someone be so worried about the democratic process that they, as a politician, should be familiar with?
Even the night before the vote, he was still tweeting away, trying to be the Debbie Downer of the internet by claiming that not many people were coming to vote according to his “sources.” Was he delighting in this? Showboating?
It seemed like the sad words of a kid who didn’t get invited to the party, making himself feel better. Turns out people did turn out to vote, they just didn’t vote for him: He lost his constituency.
Then there were the ministers that Najib could not contain, like his tourism chief, who declared Malaysia’s richest man, who happens to be a geriatric in his twilight years, a “tranny”. At a press conference. While wearing Ray-Bans.
Where had the respect gone? It seemed like BN wasn’t even respecting themselves at this point.
There was certainly a lack of deference for the voters. Instead of dedicating their tenure to the betterment of Malaysia’s citizens, it seemed like they were relying on quick fixes in the lead-up to election to make voters forget the spiraling cost of living.
There was the civil servant pay hike and sundry goodies, the promises of three-month civil servant bonuses, two extra days holiday, and finally, the night before ballots were cast, a pathetic hail Mary aimed at youth voters: No income tax for anyone under 26.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but these proved far too little, far too late. Ironically, stagnant salaries, especially among fresh grads, has meant that professional salaries are often not even high enough to warrant tax.
BN didn’t seem to understand the common man’s struggle, nor the fact that the internet meant the common man was well-aware of the relatively luxurious lives that their elected officials were leading.
Who can forget that time when after countless citizens lamented the increasing price of goods, our PM responded that the price of kangkung was lower than ever! Kangkung is a green that has weed-like growth on the side of the road.
A “let them eat cake” moment if there ever was one, one only exacerbated when the PM declared himself a man who preferred quinoa over rice. For most Malaysians, the imported plant native to the Andes was above and beyond their budgets. Yes, they still could not eat cake.
Mahathir quickly seized the opportunity, telling followers he didn’t know what quinoa was, he only ate rice.
Could it be that despite his nonagenarian status, a man whose birth came only shortly after the first commercial car went into production, was just a thousand times better at communicating with the youth than BN?
Mahathir’s wit, mischievous humor and quick tongue were never far from the headlines since officially cutting ties with Umno and BN back in 2016.
Who could forget the man who gate-crashed a panel discussion devoted to pondering whether he was too old to lead a nation by walking through the doors and telling the panelists: “Say it to my face.” The crowds stood up in applause.
It’s the kind of fodder the internet lives for. It is something we wouldn’t put past Cardi B on an episode of Wendy Williams, and yet Mahathir did it with such ease and humility that we sat back in awe and laughed.
Last night, while Najib was in de facto hiding, absent from public view, and from our collective futures, Mahathir appeared at 3am. Sharp as ever, he told waiting reporters: “Yes, I’m still alive,” joking with them as the results trickled in.
He was a man of the people once again because he understood how people spoke now, something that neither Najib, nor his social media team ever seemed to grasp.
Even their digs seemed to miss the point: Taking aim at Mahathir’s age, the PM showed off his Apple watch – declaring that he walked far more steps than “some opposition leaders.”
Sir, one of those leaders is currently in jail, and the other is 93. One would hope you walk a few more steps than they do.
So will BN get the memo, and change with the times? Is it time to cut their losses and drop Najib? Will they open themselves up to greater transparency, and shed the kleptocratic image they’ve come to be synonymous with? Will they just shell out for a better social media team next time?
Only time will tell, but it will sure as hell be an interesting trip.