Epic change & upheaval - Looking back: Events that shaped the year

2. 1MDB scandal rocks Malaysian politics

Mr Najib (right) sacked deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin for raising uncomfortable questions.
Mr Najib (right) sacked deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin for raising uncomfortable questions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

2015 was a year of tragedies, disasters and terror. Some, like the quake in Nepal, were over almost instantly while others, like the European migrant crisis and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, were dramas that unfolded daily. But there were also uplifting moments, such as the Myanmar general election and the Paris climate deal.

The year in Malaysia started with the debt struggles of state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) and how it got into the mess in the first place. And the same questions remain as the year draws to a close.

The 1MDB, which is owned by the Finance Ministry, was set up by Prime Minister Najib Razak in 2009 and he heads its board of advisers.

In July, Datuk Seri Najib was confronted with another scandal when some US$680 million (S$961 million) in cash was discovered in his bank accounts by investigators probing 1MDB. The Malaysian government says it is working hard to erase 1MDB's debts. And Mr Najib has pointed to unnamed donors from the Middle East for the huge cash injection, adding they did not expect anything in return.

The ruling party, Umno, was roiled by the twin scandals, which led Mr Najib to sack deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin for raising uncomfortable questions.

Electoral reform group Bersih held a mass street rally in August, with former premier Mahathir Mohamad turning up at the rally as part of his push to oust Mr Najib.

Though Umno was weakened by the infighting, the opposition failed to take advantage as it, too, was preoccupied with internal strife.

In February, Anwar Ibrahim, who had kept the tripartite Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition alliance together, was jailed again after being found guilty on a sodomy charge.

In June, the post of president in opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) was contested for the first time. Party president Abdul Hadi Awang and his team of conservatives won the biennial elections. The losing group left to form Parti Amanah Negara.

PAS' push to bring Islamic criminal law, hudud, to the centre of Malaysian politics soured ties with Chinese-led Democratic Action Party and led to the break-up of PR.

Malaysian consumers were hit hard on two fronts - surging prices after a 6 per cent goods and services tax took effect in April, and the steep slide of the ringgit.

Reme Ahmad

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline '1MDB scandal rocks Malaysian politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe