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.

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...

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 fabric of Malaysia that is coming from leaders, who have lost the plot in having a national consciousness and the broader decline taking place in democratic governance. Given the passage of the Kelantan hudud bill, what are the likely political implications that will evolve from this measure? Some political parties will begin the politics of containment, while others will fan division and will continue to use hudud for political gains. As of now, it is important to remember that no hudud measure will take effect. They are all measures on paper. With respect to those who favour these measures, on many levels hudud does not holistically reflect the ideas of justice embodied in Islam or any faith for that matter and brings to light serious questions about fairness and administration of the rule of law for all of Malaysia’s citizens. The stoning, chopping and whipping...

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, the hudud measures do neither, and potentially undermine the party’s standing as a national party and within its own electoral base. In this second piece, I lay out how misguided the revitalized hudud initiative is for a political party whose stated aim is to hold national power. Over-reacting to Umno pressure In the defensive mode of the PAS party leadership, the party have been responding to others rather than setting its own course. The most effective actor influencing PAS has been Umno. Opting for offensive attacks, Umno has successfully convinced PAS that is it losing ground among Muslims. Despite winning more of the popular vote nationally in GE2013 and winning more seats and gains in their vote share in Malay heartland seats (except Kedah and Perak where party infighting affected results), many in PAS have the perception that they lost ground. They have also been...

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 fore political dynamics within the party and showcases how the PAS would govern. At its core, the amendment introduction is a political exercise aimed at shoring up a Kelantan PAS state government that has lost its moral authority with the passing of respected leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and in the wake of devastating floods where the state government proved to be completely ineffectual. This process of introducing the amendments and the political implications signal that the current conservative ulama leadership of PAS is apparently no longer meaningfully interested in democratic principles and holding national power. This action of moving to strengthen hudud if fully realised will have negative electoral implications even within Kelantan itself. To say that this a folly is perhaps an understatement, as it potentially marks a turning point for PAS as a trusted and viable party in national government. This...
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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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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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Hijack on Capitol Hill

Published on Jan 23, 2015 in The Edge Review How the new Republican US Congress plans to seize control of Obama’s Asia policy After its first month focused on reversing domestic healthcare and social policies, the new Republican-majority US Congress is expected to start trying to stamp its mark on President Barack Obama’s initiatives abroad,...

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A mountain to climb

Published on Jan 02, 2015 in The Edge Review 2015 is a banner year for ASEAN as it takes the long-awaited leap towards integration. But obstacles to success remain formidable This is supposed to be a pivotal year for Southeast Asia as ASEAN approaches its stated aim of creating an integrated market and boosting regional...

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Finding hope for Malaysia in 2015

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Difficult is an understatement for the year Malaysia had in 2014. Today marks a new beginning, an opportunity for assessment and moving forward. With so many Malaysians suffering from bouts of despair with the national leadership on both sides of the political divide, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some...

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