Literary town

Kate Mayberry

Photo: Kenny Loh

On the eve of Malaysia’s May election, Bernice Chauly finally sat down to watch Mahathir Mohamad deliver a campaign speech.

Over the previous fortnight, the former strongman turned leader of the sometimes fractious opposition coalition had been criss-crossing the country — from the northern state of Kedah one moment, to Johor in the south the next — regaling enthusiastic crowds with tales of a ruling party so corrupted by power that it had brought the country to its knees.

Yet Mahathir was also the man many held responsible for Malaysia’s predicament, the man who as prime minister from 1981 to 2003 had brought rapid economic development, but also undermined the country’s democratic institutions and jailed opponents, most famously of all his former deputy and protégé, Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar had apparently made peace with the man who twenty years earlier had sacked him, accused him of sodomy, and sent him to jail, but many of those who had rallied to the cause were struggling to understand it all.

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