CARTOON: Captain Democracy Flies to Malaysia's Rescue

Why you need to know

Will time and its emissary, Mahathir Mohamad, heal Malaysia's wounds?

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Malaysia is still reeling from the historic victory of 92-year-old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in Wednesday's GE14 general election, which saw voters turn out in unprecedented numbers to give the blue finger to the scandal-plagued incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Voters in Malaysia dip their fingers in indelible colored ink at polling stations to ensure they cannot vote more than once.

Mahathir defied age, history and extensive gerrymandering – and by some accounts his own conscience – to become the first opposition leader to unseat the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which had held power since 1974, and in so doing become the seventh prime minister of Malaysia.

In a fiercely fought campaign, Mahathir put to bed suggestions that he was too old to command the overwhelming popular support necessary to shift BN from its traditional strongholds, notably by manning the podium for extended periods and delivering a rousing series of speeches that enthralled social media. He is now the world's oldest national leader.

Yet the feeling is that for many Malaysians, Mahathir is the lesser of two evils, their votes a protest against Najib more than a ringing endorsement of the former national leader's own candidacy. That skepticism is rooted in Mahathir's record as Prime Minister between 1981 and 2003, when he fought tooth and claw to hold onto power, overseeing a tenure that The Economist called "consistently authoritarian and abrasive."

That tenacious appetite to secure his rule saw a younger Mahathir turn turn against the judiciary, banish opponents and allies to jail, ban public protest and issue a raft of laws aimed at repressing freedom of speech.

Can a man with such a checkered past heal Malaysia's deep divisions? Early indications are encouraging, with Mahathir confirming a full pardon for the man he helped incarcerate on sodomy charges, his former protege Anwar Ibrahim.

In this, as with all things, time will friend or end.

Read Next: MALAYSIA: Najib Concedes Defeat, Mahathir Vows 'Rule of Law'

Editor: David Green

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