Bridget Welsh is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University. She is also 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.

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 were three-cornered fights with a divided opposition, these results are not unexpected. The important implications of these by-elections lies less in the winning, but in the losing – as the shifts in campaigning, voting and political alignments reveal that old dreams are gone. Malaysian electoral politics is shifting, and all indications are that the direction is not toward a stronger, more vibrant polity that offers meaningful choices to the electorate. Declining engagement At this marker before the next general election, it is important to identity key trends. Importantly, voters are not engaging as in the past. This is evident in the decline in voter turnout. Malaysians are tired of the politicking and turning away from elections. The drop in voter turnout from 2013 was a whopping 14 percent in Sungai Besar and 13 percent in Kuala Kangsar respectively. Importantly voter turnout levels were also a...

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 seats. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition gained 8.3% of the popular vote, to a total of 63.7% compared to the 55.4% it won in 2011. It would seem that the message sent across the world was that Sarawakians support the BN. They appear to care little for corruption, abuse of power, an electoral system that relies on massive vote buying, gross distortions of electoral constituencies and abuse of political position against opposition alternatives. They were not moved by one of the most serious global money-laundering scandals. In fact, while this may be true for some of the electorate, this reading of the election is not complete. The Sarawak results point to Malaysia’s opposition’s weaknesses and potentially even more debilitating trends ahead, as hope for change through the ballot box is deteriorating. At the same time, the BN ‘victory’ also should be understood of as hollow,...

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 Adenan Satem’s victory has been assured, but it will not be a win that is based on fairness or meet basic international standards of electoral integrity. This article looks at malapportionment and gerrymandering in Sarawak, and shows how those in office have manipulated the system to their advantage. Winning a minority: malapportionment For the BN to win a majority today in Sarawak, they only need 372,776 voters, or 32.7 per cent of the electorate of 1.1 million voters. This number is based on winning 42 (out of the total of 82) of the seats with the least voters. In order for the BN to win two-thirds of the seats, they only need to win 672,336 voters or 59 per cent of the electorate. Disproportionately the seats with fewer voters are safer seats for the BN, rural/semi-rural and Malay and Dayak seats. Examples include Sadong Jaya,...

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 are announced, and even more ‘development’ promises are made in arguably one of Malaysia’s most neglected states. The 2016 campaign is similarly being affected by the use of resources and highlights how uneven the playing field is in this election. Given the seriousness of the 1MDB scandal and the use of these tainted funds in Malaysia’s 2013 election, understanding the role money plays in determining the electoral outcomes is more important than ever. Money politics in Sarawak is not only intense; it is expensive. There is no question that the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) is using its control and access to resources to assure a victory in this Borneo state. Less autonomy, more dependence and projects One important development in the 2016 Sarawak campaign is the dominance of money from the federal government. The retirement of former Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud has reduced...

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, with gains in parliament from one seat in 2004 to six seats in 2013. The share of the popular vote won in Sarawak state elections has jumped from 29 per cent in 2001 to 44 per cent in 2011. Chief Minister Adenan Satem and his team, led by the head of the BN Prime Minister Najib Razak, aim to stop and reverse these gains, and in the process assure that the state remains a BN stronghold. By looking at voting behavior, we can understand the electoral battlegrounds and the slowly-shifting sands of the Sarawak political landscape. Voting analyses in Sarawak have concentrated on three distinct areas: urban-rural differences, ethnicity and age. I have studied voting trends in the past two elections; the state election of 2011 and parliamentary election of 2013 (GE 2013). The findings on voting in those studies are estimates based on polling...

‘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 their orientations, and even less to inspire Sarawakians to vote at all. Political parties have mainly relied on old strategies, offering little new in their engagement with the electorate. Strongman versus pressure politics The main substantive campaign issue is autonomy, the mantra of ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’. The prominence of this call is different than earlier campaigns but not new to Malaysian electoral politics as Sabahans will understand. Concerns about autonomy in East Malaysia have been long-standing and extend for decades to when the two Borneo states joined the Federation. Not surprising, all of the parties in the Sarawak polls are calling for greater control of decision-making at the state level in areas involving language, immigration, education, religion and resources (oil royalty). Where they differ slightly is in their priority in areas of governance, with those aligned with the BN tapping into immigration and those in...

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 the gains made by the People’s Action Party (PAP) last September.  I have been fortunate to be included in both (but alas cannot claim to be among the younger scholars any longer). Both of my publication draw from the following nationally representative poll, conducted in October-November 2015 after the election. The poll’s release has been delayed to allow these publications to come out. Please find the key findings of the Welsh GE2015 poll and the attached details of the findings and methodology. This poll joins other public opinion research in Singapore, especially the important post-elections studies conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies. The key findings of the Welsh GE2015 poll are: Singaporeans rely on mainstream media sources for their political information, especially television. The Internet had a limited impact on influencing political outcomes, with chat groups even less influential. Most Singaporeans have a positive...

Not business as usual in Malaysia

Taken from New Mandala.  The formation of an alliance of former foes this month marks a turning point in Malaysia’s contemporary political history. The Citizen’s Declaration opposing premier Najib Tun Razak through peaceful means and calling for political reform was signed by former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and leaders of the 1999 reformasi movement who opposed his leadership, other senior leaders in the dominant party UMNO, civil society activists who mobilised the masses to protest the party’s rule, and long-standing traditional political party antagonists. To get these men and women to sit down together reflected the depth of concern among prominent Malaysians, who opted to put their country’s future before its political past. At issue was not just the scandals plaguing the country, but its declining economic fortunes, exacerbated by declining revenues from oil and gas and poor governance. In response, the government has intensified a crackdown on international and Malaysia’s media, strengthened the government’s relationship with conservative elements in the Islamist party PAS, and to portrayed the Declaration as a conspiracy to topple the government — measures that have only deepened the ongoing crisis of confidence with Najib Tun Razak. In contrast to the cool portrayal of ‘business as usual’, Malaysian politics is entering...

Democratic contraction in Southeast Asia

Taken from New Mandala. 2015 was the year authoritarian governments struck back against democratic pressures. The story of 2015 in Southeast Asia was Myanmar’s November election. In giving the National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi a landslide, Myanmar citizens signaled their strong support for democratic change and better governance. These calls have been loud in recent years — in Malaysia’s 2008 and 2013 elections, in Thailand’s repeated electoral victories for a non-military aligned government, in Cambodia’s 2013 and Singapore’s 2011 polls as well as strong electoral support for democracy in the Philippines and Indonesia. Democratic pressures on Southeast Asian governments have been increasing, and are not likely to recede in the near future. 2015 was the year authoritarian governments in the region struck back. Behind the Myanmar headlines there is a worrying trend of a significant democratic contraction taking place. The use of the authoritarian arsenal by Southeast Asian governments are not new, but in the course of the year regional governments expanded their use of incumbency and control of institutions to shore up their positions. The most obvious trend has been the increased use of repression, especially targeted toward opposition politicians and critics. In...

In search of hope for Pakatan Harapan

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Today marks the three-month anniversary of Pakatan Harapan – the revamped opposition coalition that is having difficulty getting off the ground. It is supposed to bring about hope, to galvanise like-minded Malaysians in the spirit of reform and cooperation to offer an electoral alternative. It is failing badly. As the year end approaches, it is valuable to examine why. Legacy issues The fact that Harapan was formed out of disappointment with Pakatan Rakyat has marked the new coalition. Attention still centres on who was responsible for Pakatan Rakyat’s collapse, with the blame game a persistent dynamic. At the same time, there is denial that Pakatan Rakyat is over, with some individuals and parties unwilling to let go of the past. These legacies of the past are debilitating Harapan. Rather than look forward, opposition parties in Harapan are continually focused on old wounds and battles. Fighting old friends now enemies is the norm, as old wounds are still raw. DAP attacks PAS. PKR insists that it can work with everyone (while in effect it is working with none as it stymies its supposed partners). Parti Amanah Negara attacks its old colleagues to show it is not PAS as...
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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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Difficult questions on Umno’s future trajectory

Taken from Malaysiakini.com Today the Umno general assembly begins – an event that has been stage-managed to deliver another show of support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. These sorts of activities have become commonplace since the July revelation of the RM2.6 million ‘donation’ that continues to be inadequately explained and embarrasses Malaysia. The meeting...

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Taking new paths

Managing Myanmar’s transition challenges requires humility and an eye for history. The NLD’s decisive victory in Myanmar’s election is being labeled a victory for democracy. On many levels this is correct. Myanmar citizens emphatically embraced the freedom to vote in a free election after decades of exclusion. The sense of joy and empowerment the experience...

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Malaysia’s ‘Strongman’?

Taken from New Mandala Embattled prime minister’s response to major financial scandal may have ensured his short-term political survival. But his future looks less safe. As Malaysia’s premier Najib Tun Razak holds onto power the crisis surrounding the country’s sovereign development fund, 1MDB, has deepened. In preparations for the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) General Assembly next...

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November 8: Choices and chances

Taken from Myanmar Times Across Myanmar there is a sense of excitement for Sunday’s polls. Old and young, Bamar or ethnic minority, Union Solidarity and Development Party or National League for Democracy or other supporter, this election has already fostered a sense of inclusion and national pride that extends the sense of optimism that has...

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Building trust, assuring electoral integrity

Taken from Myanmar Times All eyes are on Myanmar ahead of November 8. But this election is not just about the choices the voters will make – it is a test of the government’s commitment to a “free and transparent” process. A polling station official seals a box used to accept advance votes at a...

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Solving Malaysia’s economic crisis

Taken from New Mandala. Co-authored with Datuk Ramesh Chander. Ahead of the Government’s 2016 budget, Malaysia is staring down fiscal challenges unlike any that it has faced over its history as an independent nation. In this special in-depth report, Datuk Ramesh Chander and Bridget Welsh examine whether Malaysia can resolve its economic woes, and offer several...

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Celebrations of Love

This month Hoa would have celebrated her birthday. She would have joined multiple joyous events this year with her friends. Central among the festivities has been the weddings of some of her dearest friends, who helped her during battle with cancer and shared her life with joy and laughter. In July, Dominic married Ninh in...

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Singapore swing

Taken from New Mandala Singapore’s ruling party led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong secured a decisive victory in the country’s 12th General Elections overnight. By all accounts – including my own – they won 69.9 per cent of the popular vote, cutting into the 2011 election gains of the Worker’s Party who lost one of its...

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