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Malaysian ruling coalition remains in power May 5, 2013

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , add a comment

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

Posted by Sverre in : Malaysia, World politics , add a comment

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…)

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.

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