Bridget Welsh is a Visiting 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.

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...

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 door in Malaysia, the multi-billion 1MDB scandal has made headlines since July 2015. At issue are kleptocracy allegations against Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak involving the deposit of nearly USUS$700 million deposited into his personal bank account, through an investment vehicle that has been tied to money-laundering and embezzlement being investigated in six international jurisdictions. The actual losses involved extend beyond US$3 billion. Najib clings to power to avoid international prosecution. In mainland Southeast Asia an assessment this year by Global Witness alleges that Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has taken at least US$200 million for his own personal use and claims that the actual amount pilfered may extend to above US$1 billion. He too appears to be using his office for protection and wealth. The amounts in the abuse of office for personal gain is just one of the many worrying trends involving...

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. Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University; a Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center in Jakarta; and a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia. She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, and Indonesia.   Bridget Welsh (BW): Michael, why don’t you begin. Where do you think the state of democracy is in the region? Michael Vatikiotis (MV): Well, if you take a glass half-full approach, then I suppose you would look at the long arch of history of democracy over the last 40 years. I argue that in many countries of Southeast Asia there has been a gradual improvement in the forms of governments that have begun to look more and more institutionally like functioning democracies. So to break that down, you have of course a wave of...

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...

Donald Trump’s upsetting victory

Taken from Malaysiakini.com 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 wrong. The dominant image is that this is a victory for racism, misogyny and anger. Americans have been grappling with the decline in global power and rising inequalities. Insecurity and fear have been underlying drivers of angst and despair. The dark forces in America have been growing stronger and empowered, with Trump representing and channelling them to his side. To say the campaign has been ugly would be an understatement. From the onset of the campaign, Trump controlled the narrative and ultimately Hillary Clinton was not able to project as powerful an alternative message. Buttressed by massive media coverage, an effective use of social media (especially when he was not controlling his Twitter account) and a partisan FBI director, Trump won out against the odds. Like the famous Pogo comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” The campaign however was won...
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,”themalaymailonline.com, Oct 25, 2016. “Ku Li: Umno’s Future...
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.
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...

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), conducted from 2014 to 2016 in eight Southeast Asian countries – Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.2 These countries comprise the most populated Southeast Asian countries, excluding Brunei and Laos. The fourth wave of the Asian Barometer Survey asked the public how close they were to ASEAN, with respondents having a range of options from ‘very close’ and ‘close’ to ‘not very close’ and ‘not close at all’. What is revealing is not just the connectivity (or rather limited connectivity) to ASEAN, but the countries and communities that have the most distant relationships to ASEAN. Download the full pdf file here.
Latest entries

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...

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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...

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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...

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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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