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Malaysian ruling coalition remains in power May 5, 2013

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The Malaysian ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) seems to have managed to remain in power after today’s general elections, having at least passed the mark of the 112 necessary seats necessary to retain their parliamentary majority, reports Al Jazeera. The Malaysian newspaper New Straits Times reports the number to be 133 at the time of writing this, with 6 seats left to be decided. I haven’t seen the aggregate voting numbers yet, but I expect PR may very well have gained a vote majority, despite not having captured the sufficient number of parliament seats. This because they are strong in the population dense urban areas where more votes are necessary to gain a seat in the single seat first-past-the-post voting system.

Prime minister Najib Tun Razak has made statements that he wishes to embark on a “national reconciliation process” to work against extremism towards a more moderate environment in the wake of the election. What this means, remains to be seen. BN has a rather dubious history when it comes to “measures” for national unity, traditionally not having been shy to employ authoritarian measures to quell opposition. Whether this will be the result also this time remains to be seen.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim fuelled public suspicions beforehand by claiming that only fraud could keep the opposition from winning the election. Social media are currently abuzz with various claims of fraud. The government is accused of everything from direct ballot stuffing to flying in foreigners and issuing last minute citizenship credentials to win closely contested rural districts. On Facebook a “blackout campaign” replacing profile images with a black square has been started, pointing to the “miraculous blackouts” allegedly ensuring BN’s victory. The opposition leader himself has made claims about multiple occurrences of “phantom voters” through his official Twitter account @anwaribrahim, and appears not to accept the result.

While the government coalition seems to have won this round, halting the progress of the opposition movement, whether legitimately or not, they do not seem to have managed to improve their position in parliament, losing a few seats to the opposition compared to the last general election in 2008.

An “Arab Spring” for Malaysia? May 5, 2013

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Yes, I know. Malaysia isn’t an Arabic country, and the current Malaysian regime is far from the former regimes of Libya and Egypt. Nevertheless, today’s general election in this Muslim majority South-East Asian country could possibly be a pivotal point with several similarities to the Arab Spring, and with a peaceful transfer of power, could possibly make it a beacon for the fledgling regimes further west.

When Malaysia gained independence from Great Britain in 1957, one of the conditions for the transfer of power was that power had to be shared between the major ethnic groups: The Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. The Party Perikatan (Alliance Party), later to become the Barisan Nasional (National Alliance), was the response – a coalition of the main political organization of each of the three groups, namely United Malays National Organization (UMNO), Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). This nationalist conservative alliance, led by the UMNO has ruled the country since, with fifty years of consecutive two-third majorities in parliament until 2008, when the newly formed Pakatan Rakyat (PR) opposition alliance under the leadership of former UMNO deputy head Anwar Ibrahim seized almost half the votes (but far less than half the seats due to a first-past-the-post electoral system).

The maximum term length for the Malaysian parliament is 5 years, so the Prime Minister finally had to dissolve parliament and call for new general elections now. To name an election “historic” is an abused trope, but in this case it has all the makings for becoming a pivotal moment in Malaysian history. Either as the election where BN lost its marjority for the first time, the election where PR lost its momentum and failed to gain the majority, or something else entirely. (more…)

Gore and Wolfowitz on Anwar Trial August 4, 2010

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The Wall street Journal today published a joint editorial by Al Gore and Paul Wolfowitz  ((Hidden behind paywall at WSJ, so I’m linking to Lim Kit Siang’s publication of the entire piece)) regarding the trial against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. This trial is the latest in a series of various legal actions most likely politically motivated and engineered by the Malaysian establishment to keep him out of Malaysian politics.

Gore and Wolfowitz, pretty far apart in domestic politics have come together in their condemnation and call for action by the American government. They also display some insight into matters in Malaysia and Anwar Ibrahim. Matters in Malaysia are by no means entirely black and white, but the heart of the matter is that abuse of judicial power to undermine democracy is wrong no matter what. (more…)

On parliamentary censorship in Malaysia and the Jew connection April 24, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia , 4comments

I haven’t blogged much the past couple of months. It’s partly because of a busy schedule and partly because of a severe case of writer’s block. A holiday to my old stomping grounds in Malaysia and Pulau Langkawi where I once attended sekolah menengah (Malaysian high school) has inspired new interest in writing about the country.

Malaysia has a parliament and elections, but it is nowehere near being a working democracy. This week they have once again proven this with the censorship of MP and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar now faces possible suspension from parliament over a comment made during one of its sessions. He claimed that the nationalist campaign 1Malaysia, intended to boost national unity, is somehow related to Ehud Barak’s 1999 political campaign One Israel. The relation is the PR firm APCO that allegedly has been working for the government coalition Barisan Nasional. (more…)

Anwar Ibrahim on trial for sodomy again February 7, 2010

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Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was today back in the courtroom for trial on charges of sodomy, a very serious offense in the Muslim-dominated Malaysia. The prosecution claims to have rock sure technical evidence, Anwar and his supporters claim this is a high-level government conspiracy to discredit the opposition movement. Whatever the truth, both sides of the political fence in Malaysia has much on the line in this trial.

Similar charges in 1998 led to Anwar being sacked as s deputy PM, imprisoned and quarantined from politics – also being the decisive blow against his economic reform program1. It may have been a pyrrhic victory for the sitting regime as it also served as a rallying call for the opposition eventually leading to the creation of the current opposition coalition where such diverse parties as the Islamist PAS and the socialist DAP stand reasonably united with Anwar as their leader.

In the previous round, the allegations against Anwar were by many seen as a decisive low blow by a hegemonic leader (Mahathir Mohamad) against his reform-oriented deputy who was rising too fast in public popularity . In 1998 Mahathir sat on the pinnacle of a strong pyramid of patronage and media control. He needed to prevent Anwar from getting in the position for a possible hijack of this effective machine. In destroying an internal enemy he created an external one.

(more…)

  1. I have previously published a student paper about this in the post Sex, lies and capital controls []

Exit Pak Lah April 2, 2009

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badawianwarIt’s been in the works for quite some time, but Malaysia’s unpopular prime minister Abdullah Badawi (nicknamed Pak Lah – “uncle Abdullah”) finally handed in his resignation to the Malaysian king yesterday. He will be succeeded by his deputy prime minister and successor as UMNO party president, Najib Tun Razak.

After UMNO has been losing ground over the last few years, in 2008 in particular, the challenges for Najib will be great. While Malaysia is being hit harder and harder by the international financial crisis, Najib will have to reform and revitalize his party, the Barisan Nasional coalition and the government of Malaysia itself if he is to have any hope of holding the opposition coalition under the leadership of Anwar Ibrahim at bay.

On taking office, the heredtary nobleman Najib is already shrouded in suspicions of corruption and scandal – none of which have been yet to stick in court, but are accepted by large parts of the population. His work is certainly cut out for him. (more…)

No change for Malaysia? January 27, 2009

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badawianwarThere is a mood of anticipation over the world as Barack H. Obama (as I now understand we should call him) has taken his seat in the Oval Office. This mood of anticipation and great expectation of change is not unlike what had the opposition movement in Malaysia whipped up last year when Anwar Ibrahim made his comeback into Malaysian politics. But did change never come?

September 16 2008, the opposition movement’s new national day, was announced to be the day the roots of the Malaysian establishment would shake and mass defections from the government coalition would be announced. The blogging community and opposition coalition leaks had the tally at more than 30 MPs ready to jump sides, and the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition ready to sweep in and take power. But the day came and went with out much of the announced ruckus. Certainly no mass defections. (more…)

10-minute guide to Malaysian Politics: A foreigner’s view October 7, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , 4comments

Malaysian politics are fascinating, but as with any country not easy to understand unless you’ve studied them. I’ve had a keen interest in Malaysia for a few years, so I’ll try to sum up the most important things you need to know to follow what’s going on. This reflects my understanding of things, which I admit may be flawed. Please comment on any mistakes you believe I have made. Also a word of caution: Wikipedia articles on these subjects have occasionally been contaminated by “jokes” or partisan statements and should be used with caution. (more…)

Anwar Ibrahim returns to the Malaysian parliament August 29, 2008

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , 2comments

Anwar Ibrahim, former “crown prince” of the Malaysian government party UMNO – for many years convicted to exile form Malaysian politics, is now set to return to the Malaysian parliament after winning the by-election in his home constituency of Permatang Pauh in the Malaysian state Penang (Pulau Pinang). He fills a parliamentary seat left open by the withdrawal of his wife. The election came as no surprise to anyone, but is extremely significant, as it shows an Anwar who is back on his feet and once again leading the opposition after being removed from power by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (you can read more about that in the post “Sex, Lies and Capital Controls” from this blog).

To many, Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest and conviction on charges of corruption in 1998 was seen as a decisive victory by then prime minister Mahathir. Likewise, it was by many (my self included) seen as a decisive crackdown on the call for democratic reform by the power of Malaysian autocracy. Anwar’s real return to politics this week turns that short term victory into a long term setback. Not only has Anwar personally been able to return to a position of leadership, but his political ideas of “reformasi”) are still alive, represented by his party Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Justice and are now strongly represented in the parliament. Strong enough to take away the parliament 2/3 majority that the government coalition Barisan Nasional (of which UMNO is the most prominent member) has held since the country’s independence in 1957. (more…)