Bridget Welsh is Associate Professor at John Cabot University, a Senior Research Associate at NTU, a Senior Associate Fellow THC and a University Fellow of CDU. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia. She is committed to engagement, fostering mutual understanding and empowerment.

‘New’ or ‘old’ Sabah in New Malaysia?

Taken from malaysiakini.com On the streets of Kota Kinabalu, there is open delight of the appointment of one of their own, Richard Malanjum, as the new chief justice. Across the diverse multiethnic mosaic of the state, many respond with the phrase “I feel Malaysian.” Given the continued resentments of unfairness of the federal government that percolate, these sentiments highlight that inclusiveness and appointments based on merit do resonate, much more than the handful of narrow-minded, peninsula-based views featured in the media. Sabahans, in their open and optimistic style, celebrate the successes of their own across communities, as arguably the silent majority in the country does as a whole. The question of the federal-state relationship and treatment of different ethnic communities were very much at the heart of why Sabah voted for Parti Warisan Sabah and Pakatan Harapan parties – and why they not only were critical for the coalition to form the numbers for their majority sworn into Parliament yesterday, but why there is a new Warisan coalition government in the state. While acknowledging it is still early days, this article focuses on whether there are signs of change in Sabah, and suggests that the ‘old’ Sabah will constrain the...

‘New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated

Taken from Nikkei Asian Review Over two months after Mahathir Mohamad’s election in Malaysia, the political reverberations for Singapore show no signs of fading. The new Malaysian prime minister’s reviews of the key water-supply deal with Singapore and of the planned costly high-speed rail link from Kuala Lumpur to the city-state are only visible signs of a different — and more charged — Singapore-Malaysia relationship. The key problem for Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party (PAP) is that developments north of the Johor-Singapore Causeway have exposed vulnerabilities at home. The PAP has become the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia, and it no longer has undemocratic immediate neighbors. Mahathir’s Pakatan victory mirrors the PAP’s worst fear: its own possible defeat. Worse yet, some of the factors that contributed to the loss of Barisan Nasional (National Front) are also present in Singapore. The first is the challenge of leadership renewal. Over the past three years, the PAP has been locked in a battle over who should succeed Lee, 66, as prime minister, with the fourth generation (4G) leaders on display. Among the leading contenders are Chan Chun Sing, the minister for trade and industry and former army chief, Finance Minister Heng...

Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’

Taken from malaysiakini.com Today marks two months since the May elections, coming after a dramatic week of appointments, an arrest, and a nauseating court gag order. These headlines mark the arrival of important changes taking place in Malaysia, in governance and in the adoption of new political positions. Key is whether actors in their new roles are genuinely willing to engage in departures from the past. In looking at two important developments this week – the new cabinet and the first major response of Umno as a political opposition – Malaysia’s past offers important insights to the development ahead. Newbie cabinet Malaysia’s new cabinet makes history not only for the fact that it is comprised of new faces from a new coalition, but it is made up of a record number of professionals and non-scandal tainted individuals. This combination of talent and fresh eyes offers great promise, and over the past week since the new ministers and deputy ministers took up their appointments, there has been a variety of positive messages sent from open tender to much-needed reviews of contracts. The appointees are taking their tasks seriously, and while there are steep learning curves ahead, the resolve shown reinforces the...

Thwarted revolt in Umno

Taken from malaysiakini.com The results of the Umno polls are in and the internal pressures for meaningful reform have been thwarted. It would appear that the election of Najib Razak’s proxy Ahmad Zahid Hamidi as president has prevented the party from bringing about needed changes from within. A closer look at the election campaign and results, however, shows that Umno is seriously divided, and there is in fact an ongoing revolt within the party that is far from over. Najib pity party The struggle between “old” politics – money, warlord pressure, insularity, entitlement, racial rhetoric and unquestioned loyalty to the leader – and “new” politics – ideas and policies, more national and substantive engagement on issues and with communities, and greater empowerment of the grassroots – played itself out in the party campaign. The dominant narrative of the party election was one of reform. History was made with a televised public debate, brought about by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s challenge to his competitors, and there was an unprecedented level of competition for leadership positions. Unlike the hotly-contested 1987 party election, the 2018 Umno election provided clearer choices for the direction of the party, as opposed to primarily supporting different personalities and...

Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerabilities in the states

Taken from malaysiakini.com In the weeks following GE14, the focus has centred on developments at the national level, as Malaysians wait for a full cabinet and watch the new Pakatan Harapan government set in place its initial policies. At the state level, there are equally important and transformative developments taking place, largely off the national radar. There are some worrying signs that greater attention needs to be placed on building the reform credentials of the Harapan government from below. Varied tenuous patterns of state control Harapan now holds power in eight states – Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Sabah (despite the outstanding legal contest for the chief minister position). The remaining states are held by PAS (Kelantan and Terengganu) and BN (Pahang and Perlis) with Sarawak now Pakatan-friendly under a new configuration of the Sarawak Parties Alliance (Gabungan Parti Sarawak). Among Harapan states, there are broadly three political conditions. The first is a large majority coming with incumbency, as in the case of Penang and Selangor, and with a decisive victory as occurred in Johor. In these states, the main challenge is to accommodate different coalition partners (and in the case of PKR, factions) with positions...

Tainted love in Umno’s polls

Taken from malaysiakini.com Umno heads to its party elections at the end of the month. Nominations are in and a real contest is taking shape. This is a contest not just about the future of Umno but for the future of Malaysia. Despite being decimated in the May 9 elections, Umno continues to hold onto the support of at least a third of the Malay electorate and its actions in opposition will affect the country’s political direction. While the steps to rebuilding Umno’s credibility will require significant internal party reform and the adoption of new forms of political legitimacy and public engagement that are likely to take years to take root, the first test for Umno will be its party polls. At the core of this test is whether party stalwarts, tainted by close associations to the disgraceful leadership of Najib Razak, will put the love of the party above self-interest and, finally, long overdue, put the interests of the country before its discredited leaders. ‘Old’ versus ‘new’ politics Few have confidence in Umno to do the right thing. This is understandable as they watched the party pilfer the national coffers and pander to the turpitude of the Najib government....

A new coalition politics? Harapan gov’t one month on

Taken from malaysiakini.com Today marks one month after the historic GE14. It is early days yet for the new Pakatan Harapan government with only a core minimalist cabinet in place. Yet, in the past month, there have been important messages that illustrate a commitment to a genuinely different form of governance. At the same time, the cautious and more constrained manner Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has gone about making important decisions showcases the different style of coalition politics that now operates in an arguably more challenging political environment than that faced by BN in the past. Despite serious obstacles, Malaysia is embracing a ‘new politics’. Meeting promises To date, Harapan can point to four important areas where it has fulfilled its campaign promises. The first is the zero rating for the GST, reducing the tax burden of ordinary Malaysians. This is the first step needed to remove the tax altogether when Parliament meets in July. This policy change has been carried out with minimal impact on financial markets, thanks in part to higher oil prices and an open recognition of the need for alternative revenue sources. Second is securing the release and pardon of Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim. This...

Malaysia’s political transformation(s): Preliminary reflections

Taken from New Mandala. This article is based on the following public lecture given at the Australian National University; see here for the presentation slides and for the audio recording. Labels abound to describe what is happening to Malaysian politics since the 9 May 14th General Election (GE14), ranging from “democratic transition” to more ambiguous “change”. Equally varied are the prospects for the country, with scholars touting greater “democracy” and others pessimistically highlighting a return to the worst of the Mahathir Mohamad years, run by a “motley crew” with less-than-favourable assessments of Mahathir and/or Anwar Ibrahim based on views of their pasts. The tumultuous political events call out for explanation and analysis. Rather than embedding analyses with superlatives or pejoratives, the focus of this piece is to disaggregate the interrelated developments occurring and to point to the factors that are shaping their outcomes. At this juncture, given the uncertainties surrounding Malaysia’s political future, it is important to lay out the factors and conditions that are shaping political trajectories. It is also important to acknowledge that the scope of issues involved indicate significant political changes ahead. There are five different important interrelated developments happening in Malaysia. 1. Malaysia’s GE14 Election The 9 May...

Malaysia’s political drama is worthy of Shakespeare

Taken from BBC.co.uk The story of the relationship between just-elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim is so full of drama it would be fitting for Shakespeare – loyalty, betrayal, tragedy and irony meld together in a narrative for the ages. Dr Mahathir, now 92, first put Anwar in prison on corruption and sodomy charges in politically charged circumstances in 1999. But he has now come out of retirement, won a second stint as prime minister – and provided the key to his former deputy’s release nearly two decades later. Mr Anwar himself read all the volumes of Shakespeare when in prison after Dr Mahathir jailed him. Yet the chance for Dr Mahathir to assure the release and pardon of Mr Anwar allows the relationship to come full circle, where enemies become friends. And unlike many of Shakespeare’s plays, the story is one where the villain becomes the hero. Riding the wave At the core of the story of the two men is political power, and the drive to secure and maintain it. Dr Mahathir first brought Mr Anwar into his government in 1982. Mr Anwar had risen to prominence as a dynamic, charismatic student leader, who mobilised opposition to...

A truly Malaysian election

Taken from East Asia Forum The stunning victory of Malaysia’s opposition on 9 May 2018 in the country’s 14th general election and the equally impressive peaceful turnover of power — as the federal government changed hands for the first time in the country’s 60-year history — has put Malaysia under the international spotlight. Bucking the global trend of authoritarianism, millions of Malaysians said ‘enough was enough’ of the leadership of scandal-tainted Najib Razak. Mahathir Mohamad’s Pakatan Harapan coalition won an outright majority in the Parliament and collectively won 50 per cent of the popular vote. Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition saw its seats effectively cut in half and suffered its worst outcome ever at 36.4 per cent of the popular vote. The dominant story is that this was about three men and their roles in Malaysia’s history — Najib’s alienation of the public due to his perceived abuse of power, Mahathir’s charismatic and strategic return representing a safe landing for those in the system, and jailed former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s core reform drive anchoring the momentum for change. Mahathir’s leadership of the opposition was the game changer as it evoked the groundswell of electoral support that was able to overcome a skewed...

A political storm is coming

Taken from malaysiakini.com In this quiet morning in Kuala Lumpur – after more than two weeks traveling across Malaysia learning from the graciousness of ordinary citizens in the campaign – it is apparent a political storm is coming. Roads were packed with voters going home, resolute and purposeful. Conversations in rest areas spoke of undaunted commitments to change and a deep love of Malaysia. Even traditional BN supporters en route recognise that there are dark clouds on their horizon, although many continue to believe that their advantage of money, machinery and manipulations will pull them through the election. Some think it will be a comfortable margin. My estimate is that we are looking at a difference of 30 too-close-to-call seats that can swing in favour of either side at the national level. There will be many surprises. BN still holds the lead, but it has been on a direction of diminishing returns in the course of the campaign. Caretaker prime minister Najib Abdul Razak did not control the narrative. Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad has given Malaysians the strongest chance to unseat the BN since independence. The structural advantages of malapportionment, gerrymandering and voter movement/exclusion for the BN should...

GE14 – show me the money

Taken from malaysiakini.com Money remains one of the most important facets of this election. The scandal over election financing at the 2013 polls tied to 1MDB is a major campaign issue in the urban areas, and, of course, money is being used to finance this campaign and woo voters, often through direct vote buying. Videos and pictures of cash handouts in GE14 have circulated widely, so much so that this is the norm. A conservative rough total estimate of promises made in this campaign by the BN reach RM100 billion – a figure drawn from a study of promises made by senior BN leaders since January this year as well as from published manifestos. This does not include the discretionary (and often non-accountable) funds allocated by the Prime Minister’s Office, estimated to have a budget of RM18 billion for operating and development expenses, and funds that have been brought in or donated specifically for party spending in the GE14 campaign. Despite the bonanza of promises and rewards, there are marked differences in how money is shaping GE14 compared to earlier campaigns. Spending levels in this campaign on the ground outside of the capital are lower, as the machinery for all...

Ambitions in the east coast: Terengganu and Kelantan

Taken from malaysiakini.com The 14th general election can be argued to be a battle for the Malay soul, with Pakatan Harapan calling for a ‘Malay tsunami’, BN rallying Malay nationalism on the ground while promising more ‘goodies’, and PAS pushing its ‘choose Islam’ agenda. Nowhere is this battle more apparent than in the beautiful states of Terengganu and Kelantan. Making up only eight and 14 parliamentary seats respectively, or a total of 10 percent of the seats nationally, the number belie how critical they are for the political landscape. In part, this is due to the intense level of political competition, with large numbers of competitive seats and both having had repeated changes in governments. More important, however, is the fact that these areas will determine the role that PAS will play on the national stage as either the victor or vanquished. Pundits and pollsters have already repeatedly called Kelantan for BN, and applied this similar outlook to Terengganu, predicting BN will win the majority of parliamentary seats. On the ground, voting trends are harder to call, especially at the state level. The sentiments do not have to do with the same political struggles in the Malay community elsewhere, namely...

A tightening ‘Umno Belt’ in Malacca, NS, Pahang

Taken from malaysiakini.com In GE14, an important area to watch is what I call the ‘Umno Belt’ – the three charming states of Malacca (with six parliamentary seats), Negeri Sembilan (eight seats) and Pahang (14 seats) that collectively make up 28 seats in parliament. The Umno Belt is an important indicator of how strong Bersatu is and whether its influence extends beyond the base of its senior leaders – Johor and Kedah. It is also a test of whether Pakatan Harapan as a coalition is able to work well together. Last night’s large rally in Malacca shows that there are indeed strong undercurrents in states long seen as an integral part of the BN’s core. The Umno Belt states are often overlooked because in the past they didn’t seem to matter. Sure, a few seats such as Kuantan, Rasah and Kota Melaka were won by the opposition, and seats such as Bentong and Raub were close contests with the former remembered for the alleged blackout during the 2013 counting of votes, but overall, the smaller number of seats and generally lack of competitiveness left these areas out of analysis. In this election, all seats in Negri Sembilan, while still leaning BN, are competitive, and five out of six seats...

Battle royale in Johor: Determining the future of Umno leadership

Taken from malaysiakini.com All eyes are on the majestic state of Johor, which has been declared a “frontline” state for Pakatan Harapan to win in the 14th general election (GE14). Polls are pointing to swings, NGOs are joining the fray with racialised warnings and on the ground the political combat is fierce, with even the Election Commission taking sides in their childish (vote-losing for BN) cutouts of Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad from billboards. Of the 26 seats, 19 or 73 percent are competitive and can be won by either side, depending on the movement in the last few days of the campaign. The state government is also in the balance, although numbers generally favour BN among state seats. The Johor battleground is special, not just because of the contest and the number of seats, but because of its decisive role in deciding the leadership of Umno – even after the election. The war inside Since mid-2015 and the revelation of the 1MDB scandal, there has been a war ongoing inside the party, with the state’s leaders and the rank-and-file taking sides. Johor Umno led the charge against Najib Abdul Razak, not only with the resignation of former deputy prime minister (now Bersatu leader) Muhyiddin Yassin (photo) but...

Engaging disengagement – the youth vote in GE14

Taken from malaysiakini.com Comprising nearly 40 percent of the 14.9 million electorate, Malaysia’s youth (those under the age of 35) will be decisive in shaping the outcome of GE14. It is fitting that in this crossroads election about Malaysia’s democracy, the young will choose the path ahead. The problem is that for many of Malaysia’s millennials (born in the 1980s) and Generation Z (born after the mid-1990s), none of the political parties are adequately capturing their aspirations for the future. Disillusion, disengagement and growing indifference have been winning as the youthful enthusiasm present in GE13 is noticeably absent in this election. Those that do come out (or come home) will be crucial in determining the outcome of close races. The youth vote will be especially important in Johor, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, and given their numbers they hold the results of the national election in their hands. Today’s youth understandably engage politics differently than their seniors. Most have come of voting age after the 2008 election, so having a prominent opposition is “normal”. Their views of the opposition, however, are less sanguine compared to earlier generations. The discord within the opposition and failures of the Kajang move which led to...

Heavy, hidden hands in GE14: BN’s electoral advantage

Taken from malaysiakini.com It is a given that elections in Malaysia are unfair, but GE14 takes this unfairness to new lows. Malapportionment, gerrymandering, back-door movements of voters, alleged phantom voters, manipulation of regulations, and apparent bias of government officials are seriously discrediting this election like no other. This article looks at the potential impact of these manoeuvres and argues that given the competitiveness of the contests, these factors have the potential to seriously influence the result. The analysis below is based on an assessment of changes at the polling station level on parliamentary seats using 2017 fourth quarter electoral roll (the one to be used for the May polls), drawing from a study of voting behavior across the past four elections, and aims to take account of a broad range of factors shaping electoral integrity. The embedded advantages the BN government have are significant and should not be underestimated. There has been extensive analysis of the March 2018 delineation exercise, what I am calling the “front door” delineation as it is open to the public and easier assessment. Analysts have pointed out that the malapportionment means that the BN can win a majority of seats with as low as 16.5%...

Power and place in Penang

Taken from malaysiakini.com Penang is safely in opposition hands, with Pakatan Harapan expected to win a majority of parliamentary and state seats. This does not mean, however, that there are not political undercurrents that are shaping the results. In fact, many seats are competitive, including Permatang Pauh, Anwar Ibrahim’s traditional constituency where his daughter Nurul Izzah is contesting. To understand why, given that the state is an opposition stronghold, it is necessary to look at a nexus of local and national issues. Disgruntlement over development Many middle-class Penangites, especially those on the island, are unhappy with the pace and mode of development in the state. Congestion and (over)construction have evoked strong reactions from those concerned with their impact on the environment and quality of life. Critics contend that caretaker chief minister Lim Guan Eng’s development vision is not that different from that of BN’s – focused on ‘hard’ physical infrastructure rather than ‘soft’ human capacity enhancement. There are lingering concerns, for example, with the undersea tunnel, both its conception and financing. This is compounded by a sense of dismissal of these concerns, with inadequate outreach to many in civil society who expect more engagement in governance. Lim’s government has evoked the...

This Malaysian election is different

Taken from East Asia Forum Malaysia’s government has dissolved the Parliament to make way for the 14th General Election (GE14). The country will go to the polls on 9 May. From afar, this election seems like a repeat of the last election in 2013, when a polarised electorate was divided over the governance of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak. Questions of leadership, ethnic inclusion, economic management and democratic reform were at the heart of the earlier polls. These issues remain important. But now there is greater electoral competitiveness, a reformulated opposition and international intervention in an election that will be a crossroads for democracy and governance in Malaysia. In 2013, the campaign centred on Najib. Painted as a reformer, the BN anchored its success to Najib to pull votes in. His picture was plastered across the country, backed up by a ‘1Malaysia’ public relations blitz and a campaign flush with cash. Najib was able to rally his political base and ally with business, ever dependent on government largesse. He was also able to use his advantage through electoral malapportionment and gerrymandering to win the majority of seats despite losing the popular vote. In 2018,...

All quiet on the Sarawak front

Taken from malaysiakini.com The mood in Sarawak is relatively quiet. Sarawakians have serious election fatigue. But it is not only the voters who are tired, the messages and campaign are as well. The challenge for both sides will be to get Sarawakians to be vested in GE14 and come out to vote. Make no bones about it, the contests in Sarawak will be important. This is BN’s safest deposit, and the BN is relying on it. With 31 parliamentary seats, Sarawak makes up 14% of national seats, with 1.2 million voters. Seats from Sarawak comprise 19% of the BN win in 2013. More Sarawakians are registered in the population of 2.6 million than in most states, reflecting long-standing engagement with political issues. The state election two years ago has been a national bell weather, with BN’s whopping victory in the 2016 polls overshadowing dynamics locally. Voter turnout drops, delineation, and a changed narrative led by the late chief minister, Adenan Satem (2014-2017), brought home the BN victory one year after the 1MDB allegations emerged. On the defensive As such, the opposition goes into the Sarawak contest on the defensive. With the DAP’s loss of five state seats in 2016 (from...

Is Sabah ready for political change?

Taken from Malaysiakini.com An estimated 1.1 million voters in the beautiful state of Sabah will potentially hold the balance of national power. With 25 parliamentary seats (26 including Labuan), or 12% of the Dewan Rakyat, Sabah will determine whether BN will win comfortably (or not). Most certainly, Sabahans will decide the political future of their state, provide an assessment of Musa Aman’s 15 years as chief minister, and determine the state’s relationship with the federal government. Sabah has traditionally been seen to be part of the BN’s ‘safe deposit.’ Yet this election, the potential for change is stronger than in recent elections. The feeling on the ground is palpably different, as below the surface of congeniality lies deep resentments coupled with even greater aspirations. Below I outline a few factors that are shaping the Sabah campaign and are converging towards a result that will put Sabah very much on the national stage. Sabahans, however, are less concerned with what happens nationally than what happens in their own state, with local concerns and grievances paramount. Sabah for Sabahans Unlike Sarawak, the desire for greater state autonomy in Sabah has not been co-opted by the BN. In part, this is due to...

GE14 unknowns: Malaysia’s highly competitive polls

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Most analysts will tell you that BN will emphatically win the coming May 9 election. I am not most analysts. While I agree with the dominant argument that BN goes into GE14 with significant structural advantages and the ruling coalition is a strong favourite to win, the campaign is fluid and riddled with uncertainties. Compared to 2013, this election has more competitive seats and more unknowns. No one can predict the outcome with certainty. Below I outline five issue areas that make GE14 arguably one of Malaysia’s most competitive, suggesting that much of what is happening in the election to date is evolving in the last few weeks of the campaign, and as such GE14’s outcome and that of Malaysia’s political future is very much in the balance. 1. Tighter contests In 2013, nearly 50% of the seats (111 of 222) were competitive, with 32% of the seats won by less than 10%. Most of these close seats were fierce battles, some of which came down to blackouts, postal votes and multi-cornered splitting of the opposition vote. Polling agents were often unsung heroes. Recall that in four parliamentary seats in Sabah, opposition differences resulted in BN winning...

From the streets to the courtroom: judicial electoral contestation

Malaysians are gearing up for heated polls in the 14th General Election (GE14). Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his party the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), in office since 1957, aim to perpetuate their tenure. Many do not fully realise, however, that for the past three years there have been intense battles in the courtrooms, which continue to cast an unconstitutional shadow over the election. Minimally, the legal challenges have raised serious questions about the fairness of the electoral process and the nature of political power in Malaysia. When Malaysia’s electoral reform process began in 2007, the focus was to head to the streets to draw attention to the country’s uneven electoral playing field. Bersih (the Coalition for Clean Elections) moved from an opposition vehicle to a broad civil society movement. From 2011 the movement was led by lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan, whose leadership brought out thousands of Malaysians to rallies and culminated in a People’s Tribunal in 2013 outlining serious irregularities in that year’s election, GE13. That year the chairmanship of Bersih was taken over by Maria Chin Abdullah, a social activist, who ironically spearheaded fierce legal challenges over the electoral process until her resignation last month to stand as...

Rethinking EU-ASEAN economic engagement

Taken from Istituto Affari Internazionali As the European Union looks to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to anchor its political engagement in Asia, there is a need for strategic vision and concerted efforts to strengthen economic ties, re-assessing the nature of the relationship while preparing for the future. It is not enough to rely on the natural camaraderie between what are arguably the two most successful cooperative regional organizations. The EU needs to be more strategic. It must learn from the recent history of engagements with ASEAN and come out in front of regional trends, developing a more targeted and people-centred approach that reinforces EU norms. To date, key economic debates between the EU and ASEAN have centred on a potential region-wide free trade agreement. This builds on the success of other bilateral trade agreements with Japan (with negotiations finalized last year), Singapore (to be submitted for EU approval in April 2018) and Vietnam (currently under legal review), and reinforces the EU’s commitment to overcome global trade barriers. Economic exchanges have also been buttressed by robust multilateral and bilateral missions. These have expanded the EU’s presence and visibility in ASEAN, with the 2015 appointment of an ambassador to ASEAN...

Democratic space and Malaysia’s 2018 elections

This is English translation of the piece published in Italian in Relazioni internazionali e International political economy del Sud-Est asiatico, Torino World Affairs Institute (Twai) Contemporary Malaysian politics looks like a contest between two stalwarts from the dominant party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Current Prime Minister Najib Razak, in office since 2009, is facing a challenge from a multi-faceted opposition now led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the man who led the country from 1981-2003 and who ironically put in place many of the undemocratic institutional and governance conditions that have been the subject of calls for reform since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Ninety-two-year-old Mahathir joined the opposition last year after he failed to convince current UMNO leaders to unseat Najib in the midst of revelations of unprecedented levels of corruption. It is thus tempting to see the next election – required to be held before August this year but likely to be called earlier – as a test of different views of their records in office and legacies. The campaign to date has concentrated on competing perceptions of their leadership, with both men demonized and lauded by their supporters. This election, however, is less about the...
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The GE14 aftermath: Hope and healing

Taken from malaysiakini.com Dr Mahathir Mohamad is once again Malaysia’s prime minister. Pakatan Harapan under the strategic leadership of Mahathir was able to create the perfect electoral storm to win over large shares of Umno’s base, maintain the support of the opposition and bring about Malaysia’s first change of government at the federal level in...

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Tales of a resilient Umno, jaded voters, and a boring opposition

Book Launch and Forum Held December 18th held at the University of Notthingham Malaysia campus, co-sponsored by The Malaysia Institute of Australia National University Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore (SIRD and Rowman Littlefield) Co-edited by Greg Lopez and Bridget Welsh. This collection of eighteen essays was launched in Kuala Lumpur. It will be in...

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Trends in Soft Power in East Asia: Distance, Diversity and Drivers

Kai-Ping Huang and Bridget Welsh discuss trends in soft power for Global Asia’s In Focus section, themed “Battle for Influence: Perceptions in Asia of China and the US”. The battle for soft-power supremacy among Great Powers in East Asia holds some surprises as China’s influence is not gaining in ways commensurate with its rising power and the...

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Tough year for human rights in Southeast Asia

Taken from New Mandala In reflecting on developments in 2016, attention has centered on events in the West or the Middle East, Trump’s presidential victory or the brutality in Aleppo. But closer to home, Southeast Asia has experienced worrying trends that have undermined human rights and fostered division. Overall, 2016 was not a good year...

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Corruption Trends in 2016: Southeast Asia’s Governance Plight

Taken from The Habibie Centre ─ Asean Studies Program Serious corruption scandals continued to plague Southeast Asia as the monies involve reach record levels. In December 2015 Indonesians were riveted by the US$4 billion extortion attempt of Freeport McMoRan involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives Setya Novanto. He later resigned amidst ethics concerns. Next...

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Democracy in Southeast Asia: A Conversation Between Michael Vatikiotis and Bridget Welsh

Taken from The Habibie Centre ─ Asean Studies Program Michael Vatikiotis is a writer and journalist living in Singapore. After training as a journalist with the BBC in London, he moved to Asia and was a correspondent and then editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review. He has written two novels set in Indonesia. Dr....

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Najib’s fear campaign

Taken from New Mandala The Malaysian Prime Minister’s ruthless tactics to hold onto power at all costs demonstrate that he is the one who is most afraid while his people are willing to fight on, Bridget Welsh writes. This week Najib Tun Razak is beating the Malay chauvinist drum at his party’s annual general assembly...

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Donald Trump’s upsetting victory

Taken from Malaysiakini.com For months, I have worried about a Trump victory, and it has become a reality. Donald Trump won the US presidency yesterday. He achieved a political upset that makes this year’s baseball World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs pale in comparison. As they were in Brexit, the polls and pundits were...

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Launch of "The End of UMNO?: Essays on Malaysia’s dominant party"

Launch of “The End of UMNO?: Essays on Malaysia’s dominant party”

Reviews and comments on the book, “The End of UMNO?: Essays on Malaysia’s dominant party” ─  a collection of essays written together with John Funston, Clive Kessler, James Chin. “Umno’s Two Souls — Clive Kessler,”themalaymailonline.com, Oct 25, 2016. “Ku Li: Umno’s Future in the Hands of its Members,” The Star, Oct 25, 2016.  “Ucapan Ku Li Pada...

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