A night of stark contrasts in Malaysia’s rough-and-tumble politics
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A night of stark contrasts in Malaysia’s rough-and-tumble politics

IT was a night to be remembered for many Malaysians who toppled a party that ruled for 61 years.

The events leading up to Wednesday evening was dramatic enough for an analyst with the BBC to call the removal of the Barisan Nasional coalition, led by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, as a plot worthy of Shakespeare.

A rousing homecoming

In one corner of the expansive Klang Valley, staunch supporters came out in numbers to greet Anwar Ibrahim, whose four-year prison sentence was shortened earlier in the day, to witness what was thought to have been a very unlikely scenario the week before.

At least 10,000 people showed up at Padang Timur, Petaling Jaya, a middle-class township in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, to hear Anwar’s first public address in three years since he was granted an unconditional royal pardon for his second sodomy conviction earlier in the day.

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Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, who was granted a royal pardon, speaks to supporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 16, 2018. Source: Reuters

Hundreds of thousands of more spectators watched the televised half-hour speech from the comfort of their homes.

SEE ALSO: Malaysia’s ex-PM Najib could be charged soon – Dr Mahathir 

“For three years, I took an unpaid vacation. I am thankful to all of you because I am a free man today,” Anwar said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Last week, the BN-led government fell to the Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of hope) opposition pact in a historic victory.

The drastic shift came as a surprise to many pundits who predicted an easy win for Najib, who has been embroiled in a corruption scandal over the past couple of years.

The opposition’s victory spearheaded by Najib’s former mentor, 92-year-old statesman Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who teamed up with former foe Anwar to retake the country’s administration, had dealt an epic blow to the BN regime.

Anwar-Ibrahim

Malaysian former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim walks out of a hospital in Kuala Lumpur on May 16, 2018. Source: Emma Richards

Both Anwar and Dr Mahathir had a history spanning more than three decades. In the 90s, Anwar was tipped to be Dr. Mahathir’s successor when the latter was on his first stint as prime minister but a fallout saw Anwar head to prison on sodomy and corruption charges.

Anwar, who inspired the formation of the People’s Justice Party (PKR) was released from prison in 2004 when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took the helm but was again sent behind bars on a second sodomy charge while under the Najib administration.

But the acrimony Anwar once had for Dr Mahathir was cast aside due to the unified need to remove Najib over the latest corruption scandal.

While the victory over Najib paves way for Anwar to become prime minister, the 70-year-old says he backs Dr Mahathir’s current leadership, which is aided by Anwar’s wife Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

“We must give space and support to Mahathir and Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as deputy prime minister, to run the show.”

Police raid five Najib-lined properties

Over in Taman Duta, a posh Kuala Lumpur suburb, police conducted searches through the night and into the Thursday morning at the family home where Najib stays and four other properties linked to him.

A lawyer for Najib said police seized handbags and a few other personal items from Najib’s home in connection with a money-laundering probe, according to Reuters.

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Police arrive at former prime minister Najib Razak’s residence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 16, 2018. Source: Reuters

A multibillion-dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), which was founded by Najib, is being investigated by police in at least six countries, including the United States. Najib denies any wrongdoing.

SEE ALSO: Malaysian opposition icon Anwar released from prison   

Amar Singh, the director of police commercial crime investigations, told Reuters that five places linked to Najib were being searched, including the family home in an upmarket Kuala Lumpur district.

Searches were also conducted at the prime minister’s office, the official residence and two places linked to Najib’s family in a luxury Kuala Lumpur condominium.

The search at the family home was continuing nearly 12 hours after a dozen armed policemen first entered the premises.

The police started the search after Najib returned home from prayers at a mosque to mark the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“The search is supposed to be under the money laundering act … they found nothing incriminating,” Najib’s lawyer Harpal Singh Grewal told reporters who were camped outside the house.

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Ousted Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 12, 2018. Source: Reuters

He said police took away some personal possessions including a couple of handbags. “Nothing serious. About two, three boxes” of them, Grewal said.

A source close to Najib said the former prime minister should have been treated with more respect, according to MalaysiaKini.

“This is uncalled for. Why couldn’t they conduct the search earlier? He has to prepare for Sahur (pre-fasting meal) soon,” he added.

With additional reporting by Reuters