Bridget Welsh is a Visiting 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.

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 US just holds steady despite its greater engagement in the region. These are among the findings in the last two waves of the Asian Barometer Survey (ABS), which asked respondents to name a “model” country to emulate, write Kai-Ping Huang and Bridget Welsh. Among the winners are Japan and Singapore, while domestic governments in the region lose favor with their citizens. Download the full pdf  here.

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 for the region, as trends show greater challenges for civil liberties. Vicious political attacks on civil society activists have risen, with greater violence. Cambodian activist Kem Lay was murdered in broad daylight in July. Filipino environmental activist Gloria Capitan in Bataan Philippines was murdered in the same month, while labor activists Orlando Abangan and Edilberto Miralles were killed the same week in September. In Malaysia Sarawakian indigenous rights activist Bill Kayong was shot point blank in his truck at a road junction in June. Serious questions remain about culpability in all of these cases. Other attacks on activists were more clear-cut, with governments ruthlessly using all of their tools at their disposal to quiet dissent. Malaysian Bersih movement chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested using Special Offences (Special Measures) Act of SOSMA for 10 days, along with other activists, notably student leader Anis Syafiqah Md...

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 door in Malaysia, the multi-billion 1MDB scandal has made headlines since July 2015. At issue are kleptocracy allegations against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak involving the deposit of nearly USUS$700 million deposited into his personal bank account, through an investment vehicle that has been tied to money-laundering and embezzlement being investigated in six international jurisdictions. The actual losses involved extend beyond US$3 billion. Najib clings to power to avoid international prosecution. In mainland Southeast Asia an assessment this year by Global Witness alleges that Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has taken at least US$200 million for his own personal use and claims that the actual amount pilfered may extend to above US$1 billion. He too appears to be using his office for protection and wealth. The amounts in the abuse of office for personal gain is just one of the many worrying trends involving...

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. Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University; a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta; and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Indonesia.   Bridget Welsh (BW): Michael, why don’t you begin. Where do you think the state of democracy is in the region? Michael Vatikiotis (MV): Well, if you take a glass half-full approach, then I suppose you would look at the long arch of history of democracy over the last 40 years. I argue that in many countries of Southeast Asia there has been a gradual improvement in the forms of governments that have begun to look more and more institutionally like functioning democracies. So to break that down, you have of course a wave of...

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 (AGM). Meetings of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have regularly followed this mode, but the use of racism and paranoia have taken on greater intensity in the face of its leader’s eroding political legitimacy. For the past two years, Malaysia’s Prime Minister has been beleaguered by the 1MDB scandal that has involved not only nearly $700 million going into Najib’s personal account but also raised issues of criminal money laundering, embezzlement and economic mismanagement involving over $3.5 billion. The case is being investigated and prosecuted in over six jurisdictions, most notably by the US Department of Justice.  The scandal featured centre stage in last month’s Bersih 5 rally in which thousands went to the streets to protest corruption, economic mismanagement and systematic inequalities in the electoral process. Despite public discontent, Najib has adeptly used a variety of tactics to stay in power, which is crucial if he...

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 wrong. The dominant image is that this is a victory for racism, misogyny and anger. Americans have been grappling with the decline in global power and rising inequalities. Insecurity and fear have been underlying drivers of angst and despair. The dark forces in America have been growing stronger and empowered, with Trump representing and channelling them to his side. To say the campaign has been ugly would be an understatement. From the onset of the campaign, Trump controlled the narrative and ultimately Hillary Clinton was not able to project as powerful an alternative message. Buttressed by massive media coverage, an effective use of social media (especially when he was not controlling his Twitter account) and a partisan FBI director, Trump won out against the odds. Like the famous Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The campaign however was won...
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...
Redelineation - Containment & Capture

Redelineation – Containment & Capture

Taken from BFM 89.9 Bridget Welsh discusses issues surrounding The Election Commission’s proposal to redraw electorial boundaries in Malaysia. Your browser does not support native audio, but you can download this MP3 to listen on your device.
The End of UMNO?: Essays on Malaysia's dominant party

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

Edited by Bridget Welsh, this is a collection of essays on Malaysia’s dominant party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). International academics John Funston, Clive Kessler, James Chin and Bridget Welsh analyse the contemporary history of UMNO, with a particular...

So Close, But Yet So Far: Public Perceptions of ASEAN

Bridget Welsh and Kai-Ping Huang discuss public perception of ASEAN for The Habibie Center ASEAN Studies Program, ASEAN Briefs. Recently compiled survey research shows that ASEAN has a long way to go to strengthen its relationship with the public in Southeast Asia. This conclusion is drawn from the fourth wave of the Asian Barometer Survey (ABS), conducted from 2014 to 2016 in eight Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.2 These countries comprise the most populated Southeast Asian countries, excluding Brunei and Laos. The fourth wave of the Asian Barometer Survey asked the public how close they were to ASEAN, with respondents having a range of options from ‘very close’ and ‘close’ to ‘not very close’ and ‘not close at all’. What is revealing is not just the connectivity (or rather limited connectivity) to ASEAN, but the countries and communities that have the most distant relationships to ASEAN. Download the full pdf file here.
Latest entries

A Tuesday night in Istanbul

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Most journeys begin with a sense of expectation of arrival at the destination, but last Tuesday – as terror struck Istanbul’s Ataturk airport – the experience was one of rising above expectations. As the world rightly condemns the use of violence against innocent civilians, there is a tendency to overlook the ordinary...

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The June by-elections and the politics of losing

Taken from Malaysiakini.com The by-election results for Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are in. Umno held onto their seats, and increased its majorities. Given the tragedy surrounding the polls stemming from the helicopter accident in Sarawak last month, the fact that by-elections disproportionately favour those with access to resources, and the reality that these contests...

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Bellwether by-elections – muddied waters?

Taken from BFM 89.9 Bridget Welsh discusses Malaysian politics around the June 2016 Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections.    Your browser does not support native audio, but you can download this MP3 to listen on your device.

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Victory and insecurity: Sarawak results and trajectories

Taken from New Mandala With the ‘landslide’ results of the Sarawak election last week, it would appear on the surface that Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has been given a political reprieve. His close ally Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Satem secured an overwhelming majority of 72 out of 82 seats, or 87% of the...

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A ‘fixed’ result: Sarawak’s electoral distortions

Taken from New Mandala As Sarawakians head to the polls today, it is important to understand that the Barisan Nasional-created electoral constituencies in the state will significantly impact the result. Malaysia’s non-independent Electoral Commission has staked the system in its favour in how it has delineated and recently redrawn the state’s electoral boundaries. Chief Minister...

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It’s raining money in Sarawak

Taken from New Mandala More than any other state in Malaysia, Sarawak’s elections have been seen to be determined by money. Vote buying and patronage are deeply intertwined in the state’s political fabric, as many voters look at the election period as one of festivity and entertainment. Booze is purchased, and bounty is shared. Projects...

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Stopping ‘change’: Sarawak’s electoral battlegrounds

Taken from New Mandala While the Sarawak campaign may lack dynamism, the nature of the state’s politics has been transforming. Over the last 10years, voting has changed considerably, with more support for alternatives and, importantly, greater engagement in politics. The seats the opposition have won in state elections has moved from two in 2001 to 16 in 2011,...

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‘Same Old’ in Sarawak campaign

Taken from New Mandala As the lackluster 11th Sarawak 2016 election campaign comes to a close on Friday, consistency rather than change has predominated. Most Sarawakians on both sides of the political divide had made up their minds on how they will vote before the campaign began. So far, the campaign has done little to change...

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The WelshGE2015 Poll: Post-Election Insights on Voting in Singapore

In the past few weeks, two important publications have come out. Terence Lee and Kevin YL Tan have published Change in Voting: Singapore’s 2015 General Election and the special journal of Singapore’s GE in the Round Table edited by James Chin. These publications, featuring younger scholars and diverse views, will contribute to scholarly debate surrounding...

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