A Change of Regime in Malaysia?

For the first time ever, Malaysia’s dogged and long-suffering opposition believes it has a chance of winning forthcoming elections and forming the next government. The ruling UMNO party will doubtless use the same strong-arm tactics which have kept it in power since independence in 1957. Yet the opposition senses a real chance of winning a majority in Parliament.

On the face of it, the opposition led by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim (pictured) doesn’t stand a chance. The government controls mainstream media, which unswervingly backs UMNO and denigrates the opposition. Any gathering of more than four people requires a government permit, and these are only sparingly granted to the opposition. Police violently break up unauthorised rallies, and mount road blocks to delay people attending those which are. Thugs from time to time attack people who get through.

Hotels and public buildings refuse to rent space for meetings, and the opposition campaign bus which tours the country with a dismountable stage has been repeatedly vandalised. Dubious legal cases have been brought against many of the opposition leaders, including Anwar himself, who spent six years in jail. Electoral rolls are suspected to be stuffed with phantom voters. On top of that, the economy is not doing badly.

Yet the opposition, which campaigns for an end to the corruption pervading public life after 56 years of one-party rule, believes it has a real possibility of winning. On the last occasion they won 5 of the 13 state parliaments, and for the first time took more than one third of national seats.

Why such optimism? Firstly, they say people are losing their fear of exposing corruption, and scandals are increasingly being aired in public. Civil society is strengthening as NGOs band together. The government’s perennial warnings of political chaos and racial conflict seem to be gradually losing credibility. And the internet provides new media channels which the regime cannot control e.g. http://www.malaysiakini.com/ and http://www.freemalaysia.com/

The prospect is that the slow upswell of liberated grass-roots opinion will erode the well-constructed defences of the ruling party, much as it did in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and is gradually happening in China and Russia.

Parliament must be dissolved by 27 April. Meanwhile, Anwar and his fellow-leaders criss-cross the country, slipping down back roads to avoid road-blocks, and motor-cycling over rough tracks through palm oil groves. One of them recently started addressing a few dozen people, but after 20 minutes hundreds came trickling out of a distant plantation on foot, swelling his crowd to 2,000.

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2 Responses to “A Change of Regime in Malaysia?”

  1. Trish Says:

    It always annoys me when Australian politicians refer to Malaysia as a democracy. It’s a total farce. I doubt we’ll see any real change there without serious instablility. And I’m not confident that Anwar, despite his positive image and popularity with the foreign press, will be able to control Muslim fundamentalists. So where does that leave us….?

  2. quietoaktree Says:

    http://www.freemalaysia-com ???

    — what is that supposed to be — an armchair revolution ?

    With the Malays getting preferential treatment over the Indians and Chinese by previous governments (not only with government jobs), they can of course complain that the´trickle down´-is only a trickle.

    But I can´t see the Malays wanting citizen equality with the Indians and Chinese. Even the television spot with National Anthem and Malaysian army didn´t show ONE Indian or Chinese in its ranks — an Indian friend was one of the very few with Malaysia´s highest military bravery decoration.

    It´s just another ´screwed up´ country and society caused by the British Empire.

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