As results poured in from polling stations around Malaysia on the night of May 9, with one parliamentary seat after another falling to the opposition, a stunned Prime Minister Najib Razak stared defeat in the face.
There was no hiding the fact: the Najib-led Barisan Nasional coalition that had run Malaysia for the six decades since its independence from Britain, had lost the election.
Voter anger over a goods and services tax, as well as allegations of corruption that had swirled for years around Najib’s government, and the apparently lavish lifestyle of his wife, had finally taken its toll.
A consultant who was in Najib’s office as the reality of the defeat sank in said the prime minister was stunned. “When he knew that the numbers were not on his side, Najib broke down,” he said.
Explaining Najib’s shock on election night, one political strategist with ties to the now-defeated government said it was not unusual for him to be out of the loop when there were unwelcome developments.
“Najib lives in a bubble,” he said. His advisers “don’t accept others’ views,” he added. “They don’t listen to bad news.”
Najib’s remove, and the disarray in his camp during the campaign and the election, was pieced together from interviews with about a dozen political operatives and members of the ruling coalition and the opposition.