“An autocratic politician emerges from retirement at age 92 to defeat his handpicked but appallingly corrupt successor, and to clear the way for a former deputy he had imprisoned on trumped-up charges. It’s an unlikely plot for a political thriller, but that’s what is happening in Malaysia. And if things play out according to Mahathir Mohamad’s plan, the situation could represent a rare, if curious, victory for democracy in a part of the world where the trend has been in the opposite direction.
Mr. Mahathir, the nonagenarian, dominated Malaysian politics as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, guiding the country through rapid modernization and economic expansion. He also ran the nation with an iron fist, and among his victims was his charismatic protégé, deputy and presumed heir, Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 1998 on sham charges of sodomy and corruption. Instead, Mr. Mahathir was followed in office by two handpicked successors.
The second of these, Najib Razak, stands accused of staggering corruption. The American Justice Department, which has been investigating the theft of Malaysian public funds because they were laundered through the United States, says at least $3.5 billion was stolen under Mr. Najib, with $731 million ending up in his personal account.”