Bridget Welsh is a Senior Research Associate at NTU, a Senior Associate Fellow of THC and a University Fellow of CDU. She is also an Honorary Research Associate at University of Nottingham Malaysia’s Asia Research Institute (UNARI). She analyzes Southeast Asian politics, especially Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore and Indonesia. She is committed to engagement and empowerment.

BJ Habibie, Indonesia’s renaissance leader

Taken from malaysiakini.com  Pak BJ Habibie, Indonesia’s third president from 1998-1999, passed away yesterday. He was 83. Born in Parepare in South Sulawesi, Habibie was a man who embodied the hopes and ambitions of Indonesia’s post-colonial generation. He won a scholarship to study aeronautical engineering in Germany. Through his hard work and dedication to his studies, he succeeded in not only completing his doctorate, but also developed important foundational ideas in thermodynamics, construction, and aerodynamics that still hold his name. He rose to become the vice-president of Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm in Hamburg, now part of Airbus. Recruited by Suharto, Habibie returned to Indonesia in 1974 to contribute to the country’s industrialisation, particularly the aviation industry. He served in six different cabinets, promoting science and technology. He led the Indonesia Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI) which served to widen the base of support for the New Order government, and embraced how faith, modernity and community were intertwined. In 1994, his tenure was marred by corruption allegations involving the procurement of East German retired warships for the Indonesian Navy. This story led to the controversial ban of Tempo magazine, which reinforced his role as part of the New Order regime. In March 1998, at the height of...

A new arena awaits as Myanmar warms up for 2020 polls

Taken from The Straits Times The parties, voters and issues have undergone major changes since the last elections even if Aung San Suu Kyi remains the anchor of her party’s campaign While the election campaign has not officially started, it is clear that there is a reorientation in Myanmar politics towards next year’s polls. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the military-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and ethnic parties are already developing their campaign strategies and ratcheting up their political engagement. Myanmar’s 2020 polls will be markedly different from the historic 2015 transition elections. The campaign, political parties and forms of mobilisation are changing as the country grapples with working in a more open, contentious political system. Compared with all the countries in South-east Asia, Myanmar has undergone the most rapid and intensive political, economic and social changes in the last five years. These changes are reshaping politics. Facebook Election First, the coming general election will be a Facebook election. An estimated 20 million citizens (or 38 per cent of the population) are on social media, particularly Facebook. Not only is this medium becoming the norm for sharing political news, concerns about hate speech, fake news and political...

Maju Malaysia? Anger, distrust and cynicism

Taken from malaysiakini.com A little over one year after the election of Pakatan Harapan, the dominant sentiment is not hope, but betrayal. When ministers break bread with those seen to be engaged in attacks against the nation’s social fabric, and elected representatives are charged with sexual assault, it is no wonder the level of anger of Malaysians has risen. Sadly for some, an equating of Harapan with BN is misplaced, as many of their supporters are even angrier with this no longer new government for its perceived failure to uphold the principles they rode into office. With BN they knew what to expect. Harapan is seen not to have met expectations, and this crash in expectations has evoked strong reactions. With citizens having vested so much emotional connection to a ‘New Malaysia,’ it has been a difficult year to watch the escalation of disappointment to a debilitating level of anger, distrust and cynicism. The list of ‘successes’ (and there are quite a few of these) pales in relation to perceived lost opportunities, as the focus is on the areas where Harapan supporters feel cheated. Rather than a polarised electorate, Malaysia is now a combination of voters who feel displaced from power, and others who...

Lowering the voting age – the right risk for Harapan

Taken from malaysiakini.com The constitutional amendment under consideration in the current parliamentary sitting to lower the voting age from 18 to 21 is arguably one of the most impactful reform initiatives of the Pakatan Harapan government. Bringing an estimated 3.8 million young people into the electoral roll, and in the process according young people the inclusion they deserve, is an important step towards strengthening the country’s democratic foundation. Malaysia not only joins the pattern of representation in the majority of the world, Harapan provides substance to the reform programme that got it elected and rewards the young for their support in GE14. Over the past week, I have been asked which party will benefit politically and what will be the potential electoral impact of this reform. The answer is not a simple one, as it is shaped by whether other electoral reforms are adopted (automated registration and a new delineation) as well as turnout and support levels that are shaped in a yet-fought campaign. It is important to recognise that the young will set their own path. Past voting patterns, however, suggest that all political parties can potentially gain from lowering the voting age but disproportionately, the opposition has gained...

PAS’ post-GE14 waiting game

Taken from malaysiakini.com PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang ended the party’s 65th muktamar by predicting a collapse of Pakatan Harapan. This should come as no surprise, as in the assembly he harped on the alleged failures of the government. The party has been engaged in trying to promote divisions in and dissatisfaction with Harapan since GE14. At the same assembly, Hadi received formal approval from the delegates for a partnership with Umno, a de facto relationship that has existed electorally post-GE14 but one in practice started much earlier. The move signals a change in the alliance at the leadership level to greater grassroots ties. There is little recognition that the conditions Harapan faces were the product of Umno mismanagement, or any articulation of how PAS would manage the challenges the country faces. PAS is engaged in a full-on attack on Harapan, with the hope that it will bring PAS into national power. Of the two parties in the opposition, PAS has proven (so far) most adept at navigating New Malaysia’s politics of uncertainty and has gained political traction over the last year. There have been important changes taking place in the Islamic party in recent years. PAS is clearly engaged in a...

EU-Asia Relations: New Game Changers

Taken from thediplomat.com Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Dr. Nicola Casarini, a fellow of Istituto Affari Internazionali, Italy’s leading think tank, and Dr. Bridget Welsh, associate professor of political science and director of Asian outreach at John Cabot University in Rome, is the 189th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”  John Cabot University and the Istituto Affari Internazionale convened a timely conference on new game changers in EU-Asia relations. Identify the top three takeaways. The conference discussed the broad shifts impacting EU-Asia relations. Attention centered on seven major developments: 1) tensions in the transatlantic relationship between Europe and the United States arising during the Trump administration; 2) fragmentation caused by internal splits within the European Union, especially from Brexit; 3) the important rise of China not only as the second largest global economy but through its embrace of its global leadership role under Xi Jinping; 4) dynamics in the China-U.S. relationship and pressures to adopt positions in binary contentions over trade and security; 5) the increasing importance of other Asian powers, notably Japan, India, and to a lesser extent ASEAN; 6) economic realignments...

Back To The Past?

Taken from Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad’s return as Malaysia’s prime minister has brought important shifts in foreign policy priorities and partnerships from that of his predecessor Najib Tun Razak. Framed through a nationalist lens and by Mahathir’s earlier tenure as premier from 1981 to 2003, these changes are predominantly coloured by the past and do not fully reflect an appreciation of the new global environment and a calculated positioning of Malaysia for future regional uncertainties. The most touted break from the Najib era has been Mahathir’s approach to China. Najib had moved the country closer to the rising global hegemon by expanding investment ties and dampening down responses to China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea. Malaysia became a critical country in Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative due to its advantageous geopolitical location within Southeast Asia and its importance in the Obama administration’s Asia pivot policy. Najib’s government on its part had recognised China as the main driver of the region’s economy post the 2008 financial crisis. After the 2015 revelation of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandals, involving USD$4.5 billion tied to kleptocracy associated with the Najib government, China became a needed...
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"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 for UMNO” – The Star, 28 Oct 2018.  

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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...

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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...

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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...

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‘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...

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‘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...

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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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