Tag Archives: mahathir

How the missing airline fiasco highlights Malaysia’s weak governance

MALAYSIA-CHINA-VIETNAM-MALAYSIAAIRLINES-TRANSPORT-ACCIDENT As the world nears the end of the second week of the mysterious saga of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with no firm explanation of how the flight disappeared on an otherwise routine trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the strains on Malaysia’s government are increasingly apparent — and the search to discover the fate of Flight 370 showcases the shortcomings of Malaysian governance.malaysia flag

It’s probably the first time that a global audience has taken much stock of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who came to power five years ago.  Najib, who is relatively more popular than the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) that he represents, has benefitted from robust economic growth since taking office in 2009, though he arguably remains in the shadow of longtime Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who continues to loom large over the country’s political affairs.

But Malaysian institutions have taken somewhat of a hit this month in its sometimes sluggish, something hesitant, sometimes contradictory efforts in the search for the missing flight.  Why, for example, did it take so long for the Malaysian government to admit that the airplane kept running for six hours after leaving Malaysian airspace?  Was the Malaysian government purposefully concealing satellite data?  Why didn’t Malaysian forces act immediately when the plane veered off course?  In the aftermath of the flight’s disappearance, has the government done everything it could be doing to coordinate with the US government, the Chinese government and other nations to facilitate the search?  With growing signs that the flight deliberately changed course toward the Indian Ocean, why did it take Malaysian authorities a week to investigate the pilots behind the cockpit?  And by the way, why did Malaysian immigration officials allow two passengers to board an international flight with stolen passports?

It’s not just the US media — the Chinese government has become increasingly critical and impatient of Malaysia’s efforts over the past week.  Chinese premier Li Keqiang pointedly demanded earlier this week that the Malaysian government provide more detailed information in  a ‘timely, accurate and comprehensive manner.’

To be fair, no country would be able to mount by itself the kind of search effort that it now appears will be necessary to locate a flight that could have crashed (or landed) anywhere from Kazakhstan to the middle of the Indian Ocean.  What’s more, any country would suffer the same kind of second-guessing that Malaysia is now facing.

But the errors highlight that there’s a lot that’s wrong with Malaysian governance. Continue reading How the missing airline fiasco highlights Malaysia’s weak governance

Six reasons why Malaysia’s BN-led government held on to power in Sunday’s election


Malaysia’s incumbent government, headed by prime minister Najib Razak, has won Sunday’s landmark parliamentary elections, returning the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front) coalition and its largest party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to power, extending the UMNO’s 55 consecutive years of rule.malaysia flag

The race was the most closely contested in Malaysian history, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR, People’s Alliance) waging the most tenacious and successful campaign to date.  If Pakatan Rakyat delivered a shock to Malaysia’s ruling elite in the March 2008 elections by depriving it of the two-thirds majority it had enjoyed (and with it, the power to amend Malaysia’s constitution), the May 2013 elections proved that the opposition can present a campaign with a genuine shot at winning.

The Pakatan Rakyat appears to have come up short — the Barisan Nasional will return to office, with Najib (pictured above) winning his first popular mandate since replacing his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in 2009 following the poor results of the 2008 elections.  According to official results, the Barisan Nasional will hold 133 seats (the UMNO holding 126 of them) to just 89 seats for the Pakatan Rakyat in the 222-member Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).  That’s a 14-seat swing — seven seats less for the governing coalition and seven seats more for the opposition.

In one sense, it’s a win for the Pakatan Rakyat, which has had the best election result in Malaysian history, and it stands a good shot of building upon Sunday’s results to win power in the next elections.  Najib’s role as prime minister may even be in doubt following the Barisan Nasional‘s less-than-vigorous victory.  In another sense, it’s obviously a disappointment because the opposition failed to make sufficient inroads among ethnic Malays to win after a campaign that saw Malaysians divide largely on class, age and ethnic lines, with ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians supporting the Pakatan Rakyat and a majority of ethnic Malays supporting the Barisan Nasional, despite a growing mass of younger and more urban ethnic Malays supporting the opposition.

Indeed, the Barisan Nasional‘s two other major constituent groups, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), were nearly wiped out — the MCA won just six seats and the MIC none at all.  Ironically, that makes the UMNO itself even more dominant, even as the result confirms that the Barisan Nasional has lost nearly all of its support beyond ethnic Malays, which bodes precariously for its future.  Ethnic Malays constitute a little over 50% of the country’s population, while ethnic Chinese account for around 24% and ethnic Indians for 7%.

So what happened — what made the difference in Sunday’s election to push what was widely seen as a toss-up election to the incumbent?

Here are six reasons. Continue reading Six reasons why Malaysia’s BN-led government held on to power in Sunday’s election

Can Malaysia’s opposition actually win Sunday’s elections?


In 2008, Malaysia’s opposition surprised the world when it denied the ruling government a two-thirds majority for the first time since Malaysian independence in 1957, thereby depriving it of the ability to amend the country’s constitution with unilateral prerogative.malaysia flag

With Malaysians headed to the polls on Sunday, however, there’s no doubt that the opposition will make further inroads in what promises to be the country’s closest-ever election.

But with a relatively popular prime minister in Najib Razak, robust growth and some signs of a growing crackdown on corruption and liberalization of freedom, it’s not at all clear that Malaysia will mark a full rupture from the ruling party.  Even if it does so, the likely prime minister in the event of an opposition win, Anwar Ibrahim, is the former heir apparent to longtime Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad, who led the country from 1981 to 2003.

While the campaign has been for over a year quite electric, it’s not clear just how much policy would change if either candidate wins, though the opposition has argued that it would tackle corruption and shred Najib’s flagship New Economic Model, unveiled in 2010 as a plan to double Malaysian per capita income from $7,500 to $15,000 by 2020 in favor of a more egalitarian policy to achieve ever greater levels of economic development.

Political life in post-Mahathir Malaysia has been relatively more exciting than during his 22 years in office, which is most notable for Malaysia’s transformation from a relatively rural backwater into a high-growth economic powerhouse in southeast Asia.  Mahathir’s reforms included massive privatization and liberalization in the 1980s that unlocked decades of climbing living standards, despite the southeast Asian crisis of the late 1990s that sent the Malaysian ringgit plunging and notwithstanding affirmative action efforts to the benefit the bumiputera, the ethnic Malay majority, in light of the continued dominance of ethnic Chinese in the Malaysian economy.  Mahathir’s rule also featured some autocratic aspects, chiefly a deficit of press freedom, an infamous ‘Internal Security Act’ that allowed for arbitrary detention without trial.  He also effected often abrasive relations with the United States.

When Mahathir stepped aside, his successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, actually improved the governing coalition’s standing in the March 2004 elections, winning nearly 198 out of 222 seats in the lower house of Malaysia’s parliament on behalf of the Barisan Nasional (BN, National Front), the multi-ethnic umbrella group dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and, to a lesser degree, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

But in the March 2008 elections, Abdullah suffered a stinging defeat to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR, People’s Alliance), largely comprised of three parties:

  • the People’s Justice Party (PKR), a centrist party formed in 1999 that has campaigned against corruption and in favor of greater equality within the Malaysian economy (and not just UMNO supporters);
  • the Democratic Action Party (DAP), formed in the 1960s as a leftist secular opposition party that receives much of its support from ethnic Chinese in urban Malaysia; and
  • the Pan-Islamic Malaysian Party (PAS), an Islamic democratic party that predates independence, though it remains one of the world’s most moderate proponents of Islamic democracy, in accordance with the mellow nature of the majority of Malaysia’s Muslims.

Malaysia is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic state — about 60% of its population practices Islam, while 20% practices Buddhism, with smaller minorities practicing Christianity and Hinduism.  Ethnic Malays account for about 60% of Malaysia’s population, though ethnic Chinese account for nearly 23% and ethnic Indians account for around 7%.  Despite racial and ethnic tensions in the past — Singapore, where ethnic Chinese comprise nearly 75% of the population, withdrew from the Malaysian federation in 1965 over irreconcilable difference over ethnicity.

Anwar’s background in Malaysian public life is long and complicated.

He was widely credited with smart growth policies as Malaysia’s finance minister from 1991 to 1998 under Mahathir, who also elevated Anwar to deputy prime minister.  The two fell out over the Malaysian economy during the Asian financial crisis that took root in 1998, and Mahathir rapidly dispatched Anwar to prison on what are widely believed to be politically fabricated charges of corruption.  A second conviction for sodomy followed, and though it was subsequently reversed and Anwar left prison in 2004, he was arrested again on sodomy charges in 2008 that were finally dismissed only last year.  His wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, led the 2008 campaign in his stead, and as the leader of Malaysia’s opposition forces in 2013, he’s called for a more independent media and judiciary, as well as an end to the cozy economic rewards for members of Malaysia’s longtime ruling elite. Continue reading Can Malaysia’s opposition actually win Sunday’s elections?