Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University. She is based in Southeast Asia, where she works on Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the region. She is committed to engagement, fostering mutual understanding and empowerment.

Najib’s desperate shuffle for survival

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Najib Razak’s cabinet reshuffle was an expected step in the repertoire of many measures that the prime minister has used to stay in office. In this manoeuvre, he has removed the immediate leadership threats among the Umno hierarchy, closed down the two avenues of negotiation involving the 1MDB scandal, and purportedly strengthened the ‘strongman’ dimensions of his leadership. Many argue this Mahathirian move has secured Najib’s position by neutralising challengers. I disagree. In fact, Najib’s measures of late reveal weakness – not strength – and are likely to deepen his leadership crisis. With the reshuffle, Najib has forged new alliances among the various factions in Umno. In the Umno party elections of 2013, Najib made a strategic alliance with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s appointees and the former premier’s son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin to secure dominance over internal party opposition seen from the Mahathir Mohamad camp. Najib managed to position considerable loyalists as division chiefs in the party contests, but did not fully secure control over the Supreme Council or have a majority of division chief loyalists on his own, relying heavily on allies to shore up his position. Najib’s post-2013 approach to manage Umno was to fuel patronage to...

Obama’s bloody Trans-Pacific Agreement upgrade

  Taken from Rappler.com This week Malaysia was upgraded from Tier 3 to ensure that this Southeast Asian country could be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This upgrade not only comes after the May revelations of camps where men and women were raped, butchered and killed with the connivance of government officials, but at a time when Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is looking for external legitimacy to shore up his position at home. Newspaper reports revealed $700 million of funds from public funds were deposited into his personal bank account. This is part of a series of scandals surrounding Najib and his family. The government’s response has been to close down investigations and media outlets that dare to report the allegations. Obama was happy to give his golfing buddy Najib another political endorsement if it can deliver what his administration desperately needs – a marker to show that its policy in Southeast Asia has made any meaningful achievements. What Obama does not realize is that this decision has wrecked damage well beyond his remaining time in office. The “Malaysia trade upgrade” deal has seriously undermined US credibility on issues of human trafficking in Southeast Asia. To give Malaysia...

Fissures appear in Umno as crisis deepens

Taken from Malaysiakini.com As Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Razak faces explosive allegations of embezzlement, corruption and electoral manipulation that go to the very core of his leadership and the legitimacy of his government, the country is plunged into yet another crisis. Sadly crises have become common developments of the Najib government, whose responses to 1MDB even before the revelations by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) brought to the fore questions of economic mismanagement which has undermined the reputation of the Malaysia’s financial institutions. For many, the issue at hand is what Najib will do – he has already done serious damage to the country and unfortunately every day he stays in office, his leadership negatively affects the country’s reputation. Not only is Malaysia’s international credibility is on the line, its currency, access to foreign capital and future economic prosperity are at risk. Unlike his father, Malaysia’s second premier Abdul Razak Hussien, Najib has apparently chosen to put himself first rather than the country. During his tenure, Najib has distinguished himself from Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his effectiveness in using the country’s political institutions to strengthen his personal position. He has indeed taken the office of the prime minister to a...

Najib misses opportunity in 11MP – Ramesh Chander and Bridget Welsh

Taken from New Mandala As debate in Malaysia’s Parliament draws to a close on the 11th Malaysia Plan (11MP) that lays out targets for the country to achieve “developed” nation status by 2020, the focus has primarily centred on the unrealistic assumptions contrived for the macro-economic framework for the blueprint. Little attention has concentrated on the consistency of the assumptions and how the 11MP compares with previous policy frameworks. A close look at the 11MP reveals serious gaps and shortcomings, raising questions about whether the proclaimed milestones of development by 2020 can indeed be achieved. Underlying macro-economic fallacies The 11MP argues that Malaysia will become a “developed” or “high-income” nation by 2020. This is in line with the long-standing Vision 20/20 targets laid out two decades ago. The current plan argues that this transformation will be achieved with the economy growing at an average rate of five to 6% per year over the next five years resulting in the GNI per capita level of US$15,690 by 2020. The macro-economic assumptions underlying this trajectory have been questioned and have not been seen as credible. Scholars have highlighted that the plan begins by failing to acknowledge the shortfalls in projected growth targets...

The PAS purge of the progressives

Taken from Malaysiakini.com The results have definitely spoken – the progressive, national-oriented pro-Pakatan Rakyat faction inside PAS has been wiped out from leadership positions in all of the party organs. The outcome was not unexpected, but the ugliness of the muktamar even surpassed the nastiness of the vicious campaign before the polls. The implications of this outcome will deepen the ongoing divisions of the opposition, effectively severing Pakatan irreparably and empowering Umno. This outcome was exactly what Umno wanted and assisted in with its infiltration of PAS. Ironically the electoral sweep by party leader Abdul Hadi Awang and his ulama hatchet men will feed into the continued leadership crisis within Umno. With Pakatan fractured, schisms and splits within Umno also deepen. In short, the results of the PAS elections have contributed to Malaysia’s ongoing political crisis across the political divide and highlighted the deficit in quality national leadership to address the challenges ordinary Malaysians face. The blame game has already begun. There are many at fault – PAS leaders from both factions, Umno, DAP and more. Labels of ‘losers’ and frustrations are likely to rise, as the noise of Malaysian politics gets louder with internal pettiness that serves to disenchant...
Latest entries

PAS moving to the dark side

Taken from Malaysiakini.com As PAS prepares for the most divisive and decisive muktamar in its history next week, serious questions are being asked about the Islamic party’s direction. The media has focused heavily on the troubled relationship with Pakatan Rakyat, with the frayed relationship between DAP and PAS over hudud taking centre stage. Others have...

Continue reading »

Pmtg Pauh, Rompin – markers of political future

Taken from Malaysiakini.com The dominant theme of Permatang Pauh and Rompin has been one of negativity. On one level this is not a surprise, given that the circumstances surrounding both by-elections are grim. In one, a man in his prime lost his life in a helicopter crash, and in another a man was put behind...

Continue reading »

Najib’s taxing problem: The politics of Malaysia’s GST

Taken from New Mandala. As Malaysians rally in protest in Kuala Lumpur, it is clear that the April 1st introduction of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) has changed Malaysia’s political landscape. In the last few months the Najib administration has significantly redefined the rights of citizens, reducing freedoms while simultaneously adding to their responsibilities. Valuable...

Continue reading »

Draconian laws’ false sense of security

Published on Apr 15, 2015 on Rappler.com with Zachary Abuza With more than 200 Southeast Asians confirmed to have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS, and with estimates of up to 500, including family, governments across the region are considering enacting a slew of new counter-terrorism measures. These are both ineffective and counter-productive...

Continue reading »

Missing Lee: Regional politics loses its sharpness with LKY’s passing

Published on Mar 27, 2015 in  The Edge Review From Lee Kuan Yew’s expulsion from Malaysia in 1965 to his development of Singapore as a global model, his style and governance went well beyond the city-state. LKY was an Asian statesman who worked to stamp his brand and control over foreign relations as much as...

Continue reading »

Lee Kuan Yew’s political legacy – a matter of trust

Taken from New Mandala As Singaporeans mourn their charismatic leader Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), whose political acumen, drive and ideas defined the young nation and played a major role in its successful development, attention turns to assessment. Moments of transition always bring reflection, and this is especially the case with the passing of the man...

Continue reading »

A wrong turn in ASEAN’s arms race

Published on Feb 20, 2015 in  The Edge Review This week Malaysia hosts the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition, timed to coincide with the 9th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting. It may not sound exhilarating, but it means big business for Southeast Asia’s defence industry. This biennial exhibition has been around since 1991, and the...

Continue reading »

PAS’s folly – awareness and containment

Taken from Malaysiakini.com In the introduction of the Kelantan hudud bill its architect declared that those who question whether the legislation would bring in equal justice are “liars and immoral”. This unbecoming language is what one expects of a fanatic dictator, rather than a genuine democratic leader. It speaks to the decay in the political...

Continue reading »

PAS’s hudud folly – it’s not chosen by all

Taken from Malaysiakini.com The introduction of the hudud amendments today in Kelantan have yet another origin beyond democratic dynamics within the party. They are based on a calculated effort to win votes, namely to strengthen the support of PAS’s core supporters and to strengthen the position of PAS vis-à-vis the coalition partners inside Pakatan. Ironically,...

Continue reading »