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.

Building a New Malaysia: Agendas and Aspirations

HELP University forum on 14 Jan 2019, discussing the national issues facing Malaysia. “Unfair, Premature to Say PH Govt As Having Failed Malaysians — Voon,” theborneopost.com, Jan 16, 2019. “Dr Mahathir-Anwar Succession Plan Not Being Handled Well, Forum Told,” The Malaysian Insight, Jan 15, 2019. “PH Has Not Lived Up To Expectations, Says Analyst,” freemalaysiatoday.com, Jan 14, 2019. “‘General Disappointment’ Towards Harapan in First Eight Months, Says Analyst,” malaysiakini.com, Jan 14, 2019.  

‘General Disappointment’ Towards Harapan in First Eight Months, Says Analyst

Taken from malaysiakini.com After eight months of taking over federal power, a political analyst today noted that there has a general sense of disappointment with the performance of the Pakatan Harapan government. Associate Profesor Bridget Welsh said with race relations continuing to be an underlying factor in the Malaysian political landscape, Harapan has indirectly sidelined some of its existing support base. “Unlike US President Donald Trump who had responded to his political base and hold on to power, in Malaysia we don’t see that. “So all sides are somewhat disappointed,” Welsh said at a forum organised as part of Help University’s Conversation on National Issues series themed “Building a New Malaysia: Agendas and Aspirations”. Despite Harapan’s long list of promises, Welsh likened the country’s current state to the situation in Myanmar where expected democratic reforms have slowed down to almost a halt. Welsh, who described the situation as being deeply worrying, attributed the general public disappointment to an overall fragmentation of the society and Harapan government’s perceived focus on attempts to increase Malay representation in Parliament. In the ongoing nation-building process in a new Malaysia, Welsh noted that it is important to resolve the issue of leadership and move towards...

Singapore’s PAP Managing Uncertainty

Taken from East Asia Forum Singapore’s 2018 was eventful. Key developments had less to do with the city-state’s ASEAN chairmanship and more to do with the governing People’s Action Party’s (PAP) responses to growing uncertainty related to domestic pressures and regional developments. In keeping with the norms of the conservative government, the PAP opted for the familiar. But in doing so it has opened itself to greater risk as the country faces increasing headwinds.Politically, Singapore prepared the ground for elections. The announcement of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat as the prime minister-designate in November reduced speculation about the hierarchy in the party’s fourth generation leadership and provided an answer — at least for now — to the question of who will succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.Heng represents a safe choice, known to the cabinet as a team player, a consummate and tested PAP cadre, and a technocrat in the area that poses the biggest challenge for Singapore — its economy. Heng now faces the daunting tasks of winning over the increasingly sophisticated public and coming out of the shadow of the Lee family.The internal wrangling for positions coincided with increased attacks on Singapore’s opposition. In October, the strongest opposition party,...

Hopes and Heroes: Malaysia in 2018

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Malaysia’s year of embracing change has been both euphoric and disquieting. After the victory of Pakatan Harapan in May and the rapid formation of a new government, high expectations have been met by hard realities. Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s return has brought to the fore many of the problems of his earlier tenure and simultaneously showcased the burdensome financial mismanagement of the Najib Abdul Razak era. Not only is the new government facing serious domestic political challenges and a growing public perception that it is not delivering, but Mahathir has also returned to power in unfavourable global conditions, of which the uncertainty and slowdown of the world economy are arguably the most serious and foreshadowing a difficult year ahead. As the year ends, it is fitting to reflect on both positive and negative developments and to recognise that, despite disappointments and persistent divisions, 2018 was indeed a year of hope and heroes. Citizen empowerment and freedom Foremost in this list are the ordinary Malaysians. From across the political spectrum, citizens went to the polls and took to the streets to express their aspirations. Malaysia had a peaceful transition of government and despite real anxieties over increased race-based mobilisation,...
"The End of UMNO" book launch - revised edition

“The End of UMNO” book launch – revised edition

  Discussing the revised edition of “The End of UMNO?” at the 2018 ANU Malaysia Update conference with James Chin, John Funston, and Clive Kessler.   Other links Soundbites on UMNO from James Chin and Clive Kessler   “Eerie Times...

Harapan report card: Glass half full or half empty?

Taken from malaysiakini.com Today, Pakatan Harapan faces its 100-day report card. The idea of ‘100 days’ is somewhat arbitrary and any assessment in the early days of any administration should also be treated with caution – including this one. This is especially the case given the difficult conditions Harapan has inherited, not only the financial liabilities caused by reckless spending and serious graft, but decades of erosion in institutional competence and good governance. The problems lie not only with the political system but extend into society where social relations are deeply coloured by race and resentment as well as uneven education and entitlements which reinforced inequalities. Let’s start with the positive, however. First of all, Harapan has shown that it can work together as a new coalition, and it has found its footing. While there have been moments of frustration – immature behaviour from those coveting position they somehow think they are entitled to – the five parties (with Warisan) have worked out many of their key differences and put in place a cabinet that while may lack in experience, is arguably the most talented and clean government in decades. Over the past three months, these officials on the whole...

Cautions from Sungai Kandis

Taken from malaysiakini.com Pakatan Harapan won its first by-election since taking over the government in Sungai Kandis. PKR candidate ustaz Mohd Zawawi Ahmad Mughni defeated (former premier) Najib (Abdul Razak’s) loyalist and Umno supreme council member Lokman Noor Adam. Harapan won with a comfortable majority of 5,830 votes for the incumbent PKR in a straight fight against the biggest loser in the 14th general election – Umno, although there was a drop of 35.5 percent in turnout in the contest, from 49.4 percent from 85 percent. This victory and the lower turnout was expected, but the campaign and results suggest that there are political developments evolving that do not bode well for greater political reform and more inclusive‘New Malaysia’. Return to race First of all, the by-election campaign was dominated by a racialized Umno narrative. The gamut of issues ranged from supposed Christian dominance and Communist conspiracies to alleged attacks on Malay institutions and the community at large. None of these issues was fundamentally new, as they have long been part of the defensive approach that Umno introduced after it scraped through in the 2013 elections. These right-wing attacks combine identity politics with paranoia and feed off the insecurities and fear of...

A turning point for Terengganu?

Taken from malaysiakini.com On Malaysia’s beautiful east coast, PAS is experiencing a sweet honeymoon in Terengganu. On the ground, PAS is similarly receiving the positive energy and goodwill felt in the Klang Valley towards Pakatan Harapan. In fact, one could even argue that Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar’s leadership of Terengganu is seen as one of the most dynamic nationally at the state level. With less resistance to its leadership within the civil service, a young professional team and a focus on economic development for the state, PAS’ new government is working to establish itself. Dr Sam, as he is known, is quickly coming out of party president Abdul Hadi Awang’s shadow, despite being his protégé. The challenges PAS faces in Terengganu are significant. The state’s oil and gas revenue are on the decline. Umno seriously depleted the state funds in its mismanagement, leaving little in the coffers. The sharp disparities between the wealthier south and poorer north remain large. Some of the northern areas around Setiu are among the poorest in Malaysia. There remains a large dependence on government assistance, with a “bantuan” mindset deeply entrenched. There is a large young population in search of jobs, and a deficit of...

‘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...
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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...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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,...

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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...

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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...

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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...

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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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