Pots of brushes litter the desk of Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, a Malaysian political cartoonist better known as Zunar. Drawings of which he is especially proud decorate the blue walls of his studio in Kuala Lumpur. Several satirise Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister, Najib Razak, who was booted from office more than a year ago, along with his big-haired wife, Rosmah Mansor. Such cartoons drew the ire of Mr Najib’s government. Zunar was charged with multiple offences under illiberal laws on publishing and sedition. The surprise victory in last year’s elections of a reformist coalition, Pakatan Harapan (ph), brought his legal troubles to an end. But although ph has stopped persecuting journalists, it has not, as it promised, done away with the instruments of repression. “All the laws that the government used against me before still exist,” he grumbles.
Dismantling the oppressive systems put in place by the United Malays National Organisation (umno), the party that ruled Malaysia for more than six decades, was never going to be quick or easy. Under Mr Najib and, to a lesser extent, his predecessors, the press was cowed, the electoral system was rigged, the judiciary and bureaucracy were pliant and critics, whether within or outside the government, were harassed or imprisoned, often on trumped-up charges. Officials who complained about corruption at 1mdb, a state investment vehicle from which $4.5bn disappeared on Mr Najib’s watch, lost their jobs. Those charged with investigating the affair say they feared for their lives.