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.

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 bars in an attempt to crush the opposition. Rather than act as a catalyst to bring positive change, the campaigns have been mired in the muck. We have witnessed base gutter politics in Umno’s vulgar sexual innuendo campaigning. We have seen persistent attacks on politicians (including their wives) across the political divide in Malaysia’s ‘destruction’ mode of politics. The prominence of sabotage and division has overshadowed sensibility and dignity. Despite all of this, there are important markers at stake in these contests and in Malaysia’s electoral landscape. Najib needs strong victory The outcome of these by-elections will affect the country’s national leadership. In Permatang Pauh, a victory for PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will likely move her into the opposition leadership position, at least in the short-term. This is despite the obstacles she faces from those within the ranks of Pakatan Rakyat, and even...

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 analyses have focused on the worrying changes in the rule of law, particularly the political use and legal expansion of sedition and the negative implications of potentially introducing hudud, but less attention has centered on the measure that arguably directly affects more people, the GST. This tax is highly contested and has the potential to serve as a catalyst for further conflict in Malaysia’s already increasingly fractious polity. For Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, the GST has emerged as his policy Achilles Heel that has the potential to undermine his leadership. Politically-Loaded Interpretations There are three interrelated issues that underscore why the GST is so divisive and damaging. This first of which is the polarizing views of the tax itself. Based on the results of Asia Barometer Survey late last year (detailed below), Malaysians were evenly divided over the GST even before it was...

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 to addressing the serious ISIS problem. Security forces in Malaysia and Indonesia have been very proactive in dealing with the threat of ISIS, working assiduously to prevent people from traveling overseas. In that they have been successful: one ISIS webpage warned Southeast Asian recruits to not travel through Malaysia, calling it “suicidal.” Indonesian counter-terrorism officials speak of a backlog of recruits because the logistical network is being so effectively targeted. In recent weeks, Indonesian police have arrested several key funders who have financed the travel of militants. Cooperation with Turkish authorities led to the arrest of 16 Indonesians seeking to cross into Syria. Malaysia has already detained more than 120 people for fundraising, recruitment and fighting with ISIS. Both Malaysia and Indonesia have been able to engage in proactive security measures within the existing laws effectively. This has not stopped them from using the ISIS...

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 he did at home. LKY operated in the era of strongmen, from his sparring partner across the Causeway, Mahathir Mohamad, to his diplomatic engagement with Indonesia’s Suharto, Cambodia’s Hun Sen, Burma’s Ne Win and China’s Deng Xiaoping. Arguably more than the others, LKY stood out for his foreign policy acumen, winning friends for his strong views where others made enemies. He promoted a mutually acceptable realist global platform, the combination of pragmatism, security and economic growth that were the ingredients of international cohesion. He welcomed foreign investment, giving others a convenient base in Southeast Asia to make money. While he should rightly share the foreign policy accomplishments with his People’s Action Party (PAP) team, notably Foreign Minister S. Rajaratnam, LKY supported the formation of ASEAN and played an important role in building the regional architecture that set Southeast Asia on its own path. Among the...

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 who both personified and defined Singapore. The fact that LKY has passed on in the pivotal year of the nation celebrating the country’s 50th anniversary only serves to reinforce the need for review. There is good reason to acknowledge the accolades of a man who has been labeled as one of Asia’s most influential leaders. Most of the media, especially in the government-linked media of Singapore, lay out these reasons well. LKY was a force to be reckoned with, a complex man who made no excuses in his views and was direct in stating his opinions. He trusted few, but chose to collaborate with those who shared his hard work ethic with talent and ideas to develop the busy port of Singapore into a safe dynamic cosmopolitan city-state. He will rightly be remembered for not only putting Singapore on the world map, but as a...
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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...

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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...

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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,...

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PAS’s hudud folly – a political putsch

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Tomorrow the Islamist party PAS is scheduled to introduce ‘minor’ amendments to the hudud legislation it introduced in Kelantan in 1993. The bill cannot be implemented as the constitution currently prevents the legislation from having effect. Although limited in scope, the move nevertheless will have significant consequences as it brings to the...

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Malaysia’s IS problem

Published with Zachary Abuza on Mar 06, 2015 in The Edge Review Malaysia’s focus on stopping would-be fighters masks growing domestic support for Islamic extremists When local papers reported last month that a 14-year old Malaysian girl had been stopped from heading to the Middle East to fight for the Islamic State (IS) movement, the headlines...

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Project Malot Marches On

Over the last year, there has been considerable transition on my end (with my departure from Singapore), but there has been continuity with the support for education efforts in the Malot village tract in Myanmar near Bogalay. After a tremendously successful fund-raiser in Singapore in January of 2014, thanks to the kindness of my former...

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Political persecution is hurting Malaysia

Video commentary on the show ‘On The Move Asia‘, Bloomberg, about Anwar’s jailing.

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Pakatan’s problem marriage

Published on Feb 06, 2015 in The Edge Review Malaysia’s opposition coalition united in backing troubled leader Anwar Ibrahim but divided in almost everything else. It may not survive… Malaysia waits with bated breath for a new twist to its most celebrated political saga. On February 10, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is scheduled to learn...

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A Visit to Hanoi

I cannot visit Vietnam without thinking about Hoa. Arriving at the airport makes me recall similar moments on route to see her in hospital or celebrate her life. The city itself brings back even more memories – of her favorite food, of the bustle in which she grew up, of laughter. It is over four...

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