Malaysia's new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad isn't a new face for journalists in the country. Many of them would have covered him during the 22 years that he was previously prime minister, from 1981 to 2003 - and it wasn't easy for them.

In his first stint as prime minister, Mahathir shut down newspapers, passed repressive media laws and called up editors to advise them on their coverage.

By the end of his time in power, he had been branded an "enemy of the press" by the Committee to Protect Journalists. With his return to office, however, at age 93, he appears to have changed his tune.

For many, Mahathir's return to politics looked like a u-turn. He left his own party to join the opposition, partnering with former enemies, in order to run against Najib Razak, who was actually Mahathir's protege back in the day.

You have to understand that Mahathir is a dictator. And we don't change dictators and dictators don't change.

Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, cartoonist known as Zunar

Mahathir ran his election campaign on a sort of mea culpa, releasing a video in which he admits to a young girl that he was returning to politics to rebuild the country "perhaps because of mistakes I myself made in the past and because of the current situation."

Latheefa Koya, executive director of Lawyers for Liberty, is cautiously optimistic about Mahathir's new direction.

"He'd got hit himself directly by police, by the media or the lack of having access to the media or not being able to express himself without being threatened," said Koya. "So of course Mahathir had to openly say that 'I regret and yes I made mistakes and he's always started off by saying, my biggest mistake is in putting Najib as prime minister or making Najib prime minister.'"

In the lead up to the election in May, Najib was extremely unpopular because in 2015, he was found to have been at the centre of a global corruption scandal involving the state development fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad - known as 1MDB.

Under Najib's watch, the fund lost $4.5bn through shell companies and opaque transactions that spread across 10 countries.

Last week, after months of investigation, Najib was arrested and charged in connection with a deposit of more than $600m that was traced back to 1MDB.

The 1MDB scandal made Najib paranoid about the media. He passed the Anti-Fake News Act in a bid to control social media commentary and he used the Sedition Act to prosecute five times more frequently than during the first 50 years of the law's existence.

Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, was at the receiving end of this paranoia. We visited him in his small office in east Kuala Lumpur.

His walls are still lined with sketches of the corrupt Najib and his wife Rosmah. Previously, when Najib was prime minister, Zunar would frequently need to change his office location to avoid raids but he says he doesn't need to worry any more.

Since taking office, Mahathir has taken steps to undo some of Najib's media wrongs.

The new government has abolished the Anti-Fake News Act, unblocked news sites and Zunar's nine sedition charges have been dropped for which he says, "thank you very much for that but I think this is still not enough ... You have to understand that Mahathir is a dictator. And we don't change dictators and dictators don't change."

Contributors
Kee Thuan Chye - author and former New Straits Times journalist
Zunar (Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque) - cartoonist
Steven Gan - editor in chief, Malaysiakini
Abdul Kadir Jasin - special adviser to Mahathir Mohamad
Latheefa Koya - executive director, Lawyers For Liberty

Source: Al Jazeera