With general elections coming later this year in Malaysia, politicians are campaigning aggressively to see whether the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan can topple the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has dominated the political scene for decades.
Its current leader, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, has been in power since 2009. One could argue it is in his blood – his father, Abdul Razak Hussein, was Malaysia’s second prime minister, and his uncle, Hussein Onn was the third.
Nottingham University educated Najib followed in their footsteps at an early age, taking his father’s place in parliament after his sudden death in 1976. At just 23 years old, he was the youngest member of parliament in the country’s history.
His sudden entrance into politics marked the start of a long and illustrious career. In 1978, he was appointed the Deputy Minister of Energy, Telecommunications and Post, and from there went on to hold numerous other position within the Government including Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Minister for Defence and Minister for Education.
In 2004, he was elevated to the position of Deputy Prime Minister under Abdullah Badawi.
In the 2008 general election, however, the BN coalition suffered at the polls, losing its two-thirds majority in parliament for the first time since 1969. The coalition managed to maintain its grip on power, but Abdullah decided to step down the following year, making way for Najib to assume the role of prime minister.
Since then, he has introduced a number of initiatives and reforms to help guide Malaysia forward, including the 1Malaysia initiative, which emphasises national and ethnic unity, and the New Economic Model, which aims to transform Malaysia into a developed nation by 2020.
Najib’s career in politics has not been without its share of bumps in the road. He led the BN coalition to its worst-ever showing in the 2013 election, losing the popular vote to the opposition for the first time.
Then, in 2015, Najib faced perhaps the biggest blow to his political career when allegations surfaced that he had syphoned $700 million from troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) into his personal bank accounts.
News of the scandal triggered a storm of criticism among Malaysians and led to protests. Many urged him to resign, with his former boss Mahathir leading the charge.
Najib fought back fiercely, vehemently denying the allegations and hitting back with his own claim that Mahathir had launched a smear campaign against him.
He refused to resign and cracked down on reporting of the incident. His deputy, who was critical of his handling of the affair, and the attorney-general investigating the case were both removed from their positions, according to the Star newspaper.
Najib was eventually declared not guilty, the money in his account allegedly a personal donation from the Saudi royal family.
Despite the hard blow to his reputation, many observers still feel that BN are likely to win this year’s election.