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.

From the streets to the courtroom: judicial electoral contestation

Malaysians are gearing up for heated polls in the 14th General Election (GE14). Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his party the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), in office since 1957, aim to perpetuate their tenure. Many do not fully realise, however, that for the past three years there have been intense battles in the courtrooms, which continue to cast an unconstitutional shadow over the election. Minimally, the legal challenges have raised serious questions about the fairness of the electoral process and the nature of political power in Malaysia. When Malaysia’s electoral reform process began in 2007, the focus was to head to the streets to draw attention to the country’s uneven electoral playing field. Bersih (the Coalition for Clean Elections) moved from an opposition vehicle to a broad civil society movement. From 2011 the movement was led by lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan, whose leadership brought out thousands of Malaysians to rallies and culminated in a People’s Tribunal in 2013 outlining serious irregularities in that year’s election, GE13. That year the chairmanship of Bersih was taken over by Maria Chin Abdullah, a social activist, who ironically spearheaded fierce legal challenges over the electoral process until her resignation last month to stand as...

Rethinking EU-ASEAN economic engagement

Taken from Istituto Affari Internazionali As the European Union looks to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to anchor its political engagement in Asia, there is a need for strategic vision and concerted efforts to strengthen economic ties, re-assessing the nature of the relationship while preparing for the future. It is not enough to rely on the natural camaraderie between what are arguably the two most successful cooperative regional organizations. The EU needs to be more strategic. It must learn from the recent history of engagements with ASEAN and come out in front of regional trends, developing a more targeted and people-centred approach that reinforces EU norms. To date, key economic debates between the EU and ASEAN have centred on a potential region-wide free trade agreement. This builds on the success of other bilateral trade agreements with Japan (with negotiations finalized last year), Singapore (to be submitted for EU approval in April 2018) and Vietnam (currently under legal review), and reinforces the EU’s commitment to overcome global trade barriers. Economic exchanges have also been buttressed by robust multilateral and bilateral missions. These have expanded the EU’s presence and visibility in ASEAN, with the 2015 appointment of an ambassador to ASEAN...

Democratic space and Malaysia’s 2018 elections

This is English translation of the piece published in Italian in Relazioni internazionali e International political economy del Sud-Est asiatico, Torino World Affairs Institute (Twai) Contemporary Malaysian politics looks like a contest between two stalwarts from the dominant party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO). Current Prime Minister Najib Razak, in office since 2009, is facing a challenge from a multi-faceted opposition now led by former premier Mahathir Mohamad, the man who led the country from 1981-2003 and who ironically put in place many of the undemocratic institutional and governance conditions that have been the subject of calls for reform since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Ninety-two-year-old Mahathir joined the opposition last year after he failed to convince current UMNO leaders to unseat Najib in the midst of revelations of unprecedented levels of corruption. It is thus tempting to see the next election – required to be held before August this year but likely to be called earlier – as a test of different views of their records in office and legacies. The campaign to date has concentrated on competing perceptions of their leadership, with both men demonized and lauded by their supporters. This election, however, is less about the...

Tales of a resilient Umno, jaded voters, and a boring opposition

Book Launch and Forum Held December 18th held at the University of Notthingham Malaysia campus, co-sponsored by The Malaysia Institute of Australia National University Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore (SIRD and Rowman Littlefield) Co-edited by Greg Lopez and Bridget Welsh. This collection of eighteen essays was launched in Kuala Lumpur. It will be in bookstores early next year. Contributors include: John Funston, Clive Kessler, Amanda Whiting, A.B. Shamsul, Lily Zubiadah Rahim, Greg Lopez, Ross Tapsell, Mohammad Ariff, Meredith Weiss, Gaik Cheng Khoo, Chong Hui Wee, Bilveer Singh, Steven Wong, R. Reuben Balasubramaniam, Lee Soo Ann, Terence Lee, David Martin Jones and Bridget Welsh.  The following is an excerpt from an interview by Emmanuel Surendra of at the book launch of Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore I’ll kick this off with the coming general election, and as it’s around the corner and you have been studying and observing Malaysia for a very long time, what has changed since GE13 and what’s unique this time round? Let’s start with some of the basics first. Of course, we have a different opposition where we have a split opposition between PAS and Pakatan Harapan, and PAS has seen to be closely...

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...

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...
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,”, Oct 25, 2016. “Ku Li: Umno’s Future...
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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...

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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....

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Donald Trump’s upsetting victory

Taken from 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...

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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.

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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 focus on changes in the last two decades. E-book available for purchase at Hard copies...

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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),...

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A Tuesday night in Istanbul

Taken from 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 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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