Archive for the ‘Malaysia’ Category

Malaysia: Elections? What elections?

May 6, 2013

The ruling UMNO-led coalition has again won Malaysia’s “elections,” but after 57 years in power the process has become something of a charade. The government was declared to have won 133 seats and the anti-corruption opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim 89.

Despite its confidence beforehand, it is hard to see how the opposition could have succeeded. The government monopolises the mainstream media, which refused access to the opposition. Rather than an election campaign, there was thus a monolithic advertising campaign on behalf of the government.

The opposition was reduced to using social media and holding rallies. The latter were constantly disrupted by police mounting road-blocks to delay participants or interrupting proceedings on the grounds there was no “permit.” The opposition campaign bus, fitted out with a collapsible stage because halls were denied to them, was repeatedly vandalised. Under such circumstances, it is hard to see how they could have come out on top.

After 57 years in power, the ruling coalition has inevitably become financially corrupt. Its supporters are those who benefit from the sleaze and the ill-educated in the countryside: a coalition of the corrupt and the ignorant. The opposition has its power base among the well-educated in the major urban centres.

The government’s “election” result is nevertheless its worst ever, and Anwar claimed widespread fraud. There are even suggestions the government won less than half the popular vote. But there seems little for the educated and the open-minded to do except continue biting their nails in frustration. Many opposition supporters blacked out their profiles on Facebook after the results were announced.

Anwar, aged 65, and imprisoned for six years on a spurious pretext, was once a rising star of Malaysia, representing his country as Deputy Premier at the Davos World Economic Forum. Before this latest poll he said he would leave politics if he did not win. Malaysia will be the worse off if he does.

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A Change of Regime in Malaysia?

March 10, 2013

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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