June 29, 2013
What Happens Next in Malaysia? The Political and Economic Aftermath of the May 5 Elections
An Asia-Pacific Democracy and Human Rights Seminar Featuring:
Dato Din Merican
Public Affairs Blogger/Writer
Ms. Hui Hui Ooi
Assistant Director, Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, Atlantic Council
Amb. John R. Malott
Former United States Ambassador to Malaysia
Malaysia’s May 5 elections resulted in the ruling coalition returning to power despite losing the popular vote. Following this historic event, the East-West Center in Washington hosted a panel discussion featuring two Malaysian perspectives on what is happening in Malaysia, politically and economically, following the vote, as well as an American perspective on what the elections mean for US-Malaysia relations.
watch by clicking: http://vimeo.com/69319481
Blogger and popular public policy writer, Dato Din Merican, kicked off the program by explaining how the recent election was about ideologies and economic philosophies. He described the election as being about “what is democracy?” Simply regular elections? Or an expanded institution that includes freedom of expression and an embrace of diversity? Debate over electoral reform and racial and religious politicking were among the social issues enmeshed in the vote. Issues of governance and economic growth were also of concern for the electorate as corruption and deficit spending go unchecked. However, Mr. Merican shared that he has high expectations for his country’s future because Malaysians are intelligent and increasingly judging their politicians by their actions, not their words. “We know what our problems are,” he said, “we need the political will to fix it.”
Ms. Hui Hui Ooi commented on the political landscape in Malaysia following the election. In examining the future of the opposition coalition party Pakatan Rakyat, she described the vote as fairly successful. While they did not win the most parliamentary seats, they did capture the popular vote. To prepare a different outcome in the next elections she suggests that the PK acknowledge its aging leadership and begin nurturing its future leaders, increase outreach to rural, youth, and minority voters, and prepare to govern should they win. In the case of the ruling Barisan Nasional collation, she feels they need to reconsider their Malay-only approach and rhetoric, start thinking of all ethnicities as Malaysians, to revive popular support.
From the perspective of the US, former Ambassador John Malott explained that the elections were “win-win” for the US, with the leaders of both parties being US-educated and pro-American. The primary consequence for US foreign policy is that the vote proved that there is a viable opposition in Malaysia, and that the US should engage the broad political spectrum as it strengthens and expands its bilateral relations. We warned that because few in Washington follow events in Malaysia on a daily basis, it is easy to make the mistake of taking official talking points on the country’s progress at face value. He cautions not to “conflate intention with action” and to be realistic about the political and economic realities in the still developing democracy. He also called on the US to encourage Malaysia to reach for higher standards in democracy, governance, and human rights as part of its bilateral relationship.
To view more photos from this event, please visit our Flickr Page.
Dato Din Merican presides over one of the most respected blogs in Malaysia, where the alternative media are playing an increasingly important political role. Dato Din served in the Malaysian government as a foreign service officer and central banker and then moved on to industry and commerce with the Sime Darby Group, one of Malaysia’s major business conglomerates. He was graduated from the University of Malaya in economics and did postgraduate studies at the School of Business at George Washington University and INSEAD (France).
Hui Hui Ooi is Assistant Director at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security of the Atlantic Council. Originally from Malaysia, she majored in economics and international studies at Miami University of Ohio and holds an MA in international relations from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University. She is a new and young voice in the international think tank arena and recently authored two articles on Malaysia’s elections for the Scowcroft Center.
John R. Malott served as the United States Ambassador to Malaysia from 1996 to 1998, during the Asian Financial Crisis and arrest of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. During his 31-year career in the US Department of State, he held such positions as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and Consul General in Osaka, Japan. He has provided political commentary on Malaysia to such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Malaysiakini, and the Islamic Monthly.