Malaysia: GE14 takes this electoral unfairness to new lows

April 30, 2018

Malaysia: GE14 takes this electoral unfairness to new lows

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | It is a given that elections in Malaysia are unfair, but GE14 takes this unfairness to new lows. Malapportionment, gerrymandering, back-door movements of voters, alleged phantom voters, manipulation of regulations, and apparent bias of government officials are seriously discrediting this election like no other.

This article looks at the potential impact of these manoeuvres and argues that given the competitiveness of the contests, these factors have the potential to seriously influence the result.

The analysis below is based on an assessment of changes at the polling station level on parliamentary seats using 2017 fourth quarter electoral roll (the one to be used for the May polls), drawing from a study of voting behavior across the past four elections, and aims to take account of a broad range of factors shaping electoral integrity.

The embedded advantages the BN government have are significant and should not be underestimated.

There has been extensive analysis of the March 2018 delineation exercise, what I am calling the “front door” delineation as it is open to the public and easier assessment.

Analysts have pointed out that the malapportionment means that the BN can win a majority of seats with as low as 16.5% of the vote and that the delineation imbalances representation away from urban areas, Chinese communities and was inconsistently applied in rural areas along partisan lines especially in favour of Umno.

They have also note the partisan “packing” and “cracking” of seats in the gerrymandering, which has resulted in many close seats favouring BN. Most of the discussion has centred on close races or marginal seats such as Lembah Pantai and Hang Tuah Jaya (formerly Bukit Katil).

There have been four dimensions of the analysis to date that have not been properly raised. First of all, there is greater sophistication in the movement of voters this time around, tied to the advantage that the BN has with information and technology (GIS mapping). Much of the movement is subtler, less obvious but equally as calculating.

Second, it is not only race that is being used to move voters, but class and histories of voting patterns in areas. Lower class areas are being moved, for example, as they are seen to be more susceptible to vote-buying and electoral promises.

Traditional areas that vote in established patterns have been also moved to shore up seats, such as the movement of a PAS-leaning village and its polling station into a competitive seat, with the hope that this movement, for example, will allow the three-corner fight to allow BN to win.

Third, with the movement, there are winners and losers. Much of the analysis centres on the BN and particularly UMNO’s advantages, but not all the BN component parties have benefited to the same degree and some individuals within parties have benefited more than others.

The delineation exercise has a personal dimension, with winners such as Hishammuddin Hussein and his new ‘military’ camp in his area of Sembrong, discussed below.

Equally important in the analysis is the need to acknowledge that the movement has come from somewhere, so that other seats have become “safer” (in the case of packing votes in these seats, e.g. Beruas and Damansara (formerly PJ Utara)) or more competitive as a result of the movements (Johor Bharu).

Finally, the delineation exercise is based on assumptions about voting behaviour. The history of 2018 Malaysia’s delineation exercise has been that while UMNO has disproportionately benefited, especially in the election right after the exercise, that many of the assumptions do not hold over time as voting patterns change. The decision to create mixed seats backfired in 2008, as did the creation of more Malay majority seats in 1999.

The important assumptions in this exercise on the peninsula are the:

  • persistence of ethnic voting patterns (Chinese in favour of the opposition, Malays split but in favour of BN, and Indians favouring the opposition) and;
  • that three-corner fights would split the vote advantaging the BN and vote-buying would continue to be decisive in shaping outcomes, especially in rural and lower class areas as well as in key states such as Sarawak (which has had its own delineation exercise in 2016).

In the 2018 exercise, it was also assumed that UMNO’s base – the civil service and large sections of the Malay rural heartland – would stay with the BN. How much these assumptions play out in the election will shape the effectiveness of the BN in using the delineation to its advantage.

I raise this, as voting that contradicts these assumptions – such as less impact of money or defections within the military as occurred in 1999 – weaken the expected delineation effects.

‘Backdoor’ voter movements

It is important not to just look at the “front door” exercise alone, as much of what has happened has not been in public purview. The polling station analysis is perhaps the best viable way to assess systematic changes that are more hidden, as they allow us to drill down to effects in communities.

The analysis below looks at changes in voter levels and composition at the polling station level. Here we find changes in areas that were not part of the 2018 delineation exercise, such as in Sabah. We also get a better sense of the breadth of changes happening to the electoral terrain as a whole.

The “backdoor” manoeuvres focus primarily on voter movements and additions. Under the “backdoor” measures, there has been the introduction of new voters to areas in the form of military “camps” in areas such as Sembrong, Segamat, Bera, and Bagan Datuk (where BN ministers Hishamuddin Hussein, Subramaniam, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, and Zahid Hamidi are incumbents and contesting again), concerns about the surprising movement of voters from one polling station to another (including families in the same house), re-emergence of voters who have passed away and the ‘immaculate’ registration of voters who appear on the roll but did not register.

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These developments raise a different set of issues. First is the systematic voter suppression that has occurred since 2013. The changes to the voting registration process, namely taking away the ability for political parties to register voters and making the post office the focal point of registration rather than through an automatic system, have depressed voting.

BN has had the advantage in registration as many of their appointees in local communities have still been able to register voters. There have been complaints that even those who have registered through the post office have not necessarily seen their vote on the electoral roll.

There are 3.8 million voters who have not been registered, a record amount compared to earlier elections. This decline in voter registration is more impactful in some places rather than others. While most of the lack of registration has occurred in urban areas and among young voters, states such as Sabah and Selangor have been most affected by this lack of voter registration.

A second factor is the number, placement and composition of new voters. The national average increase in voters since 2013 in a seat is 16%. Some seats are above the average as a result of the “front door” delineation changes, e.g. Kapar or Hang Tuah Jaya.

Other seats have been affected by either significant registration in the seat by parties (BN or opposition, e.g. Tebrau) or unexplained placement of voters in seats, e.g. remote Pensiangan and Kinabatangan. Where these new voters are placed, and in line with how those areas have voted, suggest potential inclinations for voting.

Questions are raised in some of these areas about the origin of these voters as well, e.g. the alleged Rohingya voters in Langkawi for example.

Image result for A Malaysian Voter at a polling station in Langkawi

UMNO Supporters–UMNO Dulu, Sekarang Dan Selama Selamanya( UMNO Past, Present and Forever)

Third, is the issue of advance (military and police personnel with their spouses) and postal votes (traditionally overseas voters but now expanded). In 2013, 23 seats or 10.3% of the overall Parliament was determined by advance/postal votes, e.g. Segamat. These votes are equally important this time around, as advance votes comprise around 300,000 voters.

What distinguishes GE14 is the expansion of categories of postal voters. In October and December of last year new categories of voters have been added, civil service in the Prisons Department, Fire and Rescue Department, Police Volunteer Reserve, Immigration Department, and National Registration Department.

We have yet to have a full assessment of the number and placement of these ‘new’ postal votes, but they may reach another estimated 300,000 voters, potentially doubling the count and the electoral impact on outcomes.

Importantly, there is less transparency in postal voting compared to both advance and polling day casting of ballots, as candidates are not able to know who they are, where the votes will go until days before the election and whether they are in fact, legitimate voters.

These changes have taken place in an environment where access to the voting roll has been more restricted, with soft copies not readily accessible and addresses of voters (crucial for assessing reliability) have not been listed in the final version.

These changes have also taken place in a process where it has become harder to challenge the voting roll, as charges of RM10 have been imposed for questioning one individual voter and if the objection is rejected a penalty up to RM200 is imposed.

At the same time, there have been systematic “objections” against younger and Chinese voters on the part of partisan actors that appear dubious and orchestrated, and have had the effect of removing some genuine voters from the roll, notably perceived opposition voters. These measures have only served to raise further questions about the integrity of the electoral roll and undermine the credibility of the electoral process.

‘Estimated’ potential electoral effects

Given these dimensions/assumptions and looking at the history of voting in different areas, what then does the analysis at the polling station level tell us? A word of caution as you read ahead.

This analysis is an estimate, based on past voting rather than what might happen next week. It includes an assessment of a combination of the “front and back door” delineation changes that are accessible, including changes due to the boundary and seat changes, registration of new voters and changes to advance voters.

Image result for A Malaysian Voter at a polling station in Langkawi


It does not include the potential effect of postal votes as this information is not yet available. The findings show that a substantive level of calculation and broad scope changes have taken place in the electoral terrain.

Of the 222 parliamentary seats, the changes are estimated to affect 119 of the seats or 54% of the overall seats. Of these affected, disproportionately 73 or 33% of the overall Parliament changes to seats favour the BN, while 46 seats or 21% favour the opposition. This is a significant advantage for the BN, as the changes have largely occurred in competitive (marginal) seats.

Many changes have not occurred in “safe” BN seats, such as those in Perlis. Also, changes in favour of the opposition in seats are their “safe” seats, such as Damansara (previously PJ Utara).

The opposition has also had some areas not affected at all, e.g. Penang. However, two of the most competitive states – Selangor and Sabah – have the largest number of seats affected, making these states much more competitive than before, and disproportionately these advantages are in BN’s favour.

Among the more competitive seats delineated that are estimated to favour BN are Alor Setar, Bandar Tun Razak, Bangi, Baram, Batu Sapi, Bukit Gantang, Dungun, Gombak, Hulu Langat, Hulu Rajang, Jerantut, Kalabakan, Keningau, Kota Kinabalu, Kota Raja, Kuala Nerus, Kuala Selangor, Kuala Trengganu, Kuantan, Kubang Kerian, Kubang Pasu, Kulai, Lanang, Lumut, Lembah Pantai, Merbok, Muar, Pandan, Penampang, Pensiangan, Pokok Sena, Pulai, Sarikei, Segamat, Semporna, Sepanggar, Stampin, Tawau, Tenom, Temerloh and Wangsa Maju.

Among the seats delineated that are estimated to work against BN and thus remain competitive or have become safer for the opposition, are Ayer Hitam, Bakri, Bentong, Besut, Kota Melaka, Johor Bahru, Kuala Kedah, Marang, Pengkalan Chepa, Pasir Mas, Rompin, Rasah, Setiu, Taiping, Tambun and Tapah.

Let me pull out a few from above that have not received much attention in analyses to date. Consider Johor Bharu – long held by Umno veteran Sharir Samad, who is contesting again. Not only does he have the taint of being Felda chairperson amidst its scandals, he now has a less favourable seat to contest in as a result of movement of voters outside of the new boundaries. JB has moved from “safe” to “competitive” seat due to changes.

Consider Stampin in Sarawak. This seat has become more competitive for BN this election as a result of the removal of around 18,000 voters during the 2016 delineation exercise. These voters have been placed into the DAP “safe” seat of Bandar Kuching. Stampin is now more competitive for BN’s Dr Sim Kui Hian. The delineation factor was also critical in the BN win for Sim in the 2016 state elections.

Let’s examine Sabah, where the effects are a product of voter movement. The placement of new voters in many of the Kadazan/Dusun/Murut seats, such as Pensiangan and Keningau, are estimated to advantage the BN. These seats remain highly competitive.

On the East Coast of Sabah, the highly competitive seat of Batu Sapi also sees new voters coming in traditional polling areas that have favoured the BN. This seat, for example, has long been accused of having illegal voters registered. The list is long, as the changes are comprehensive and deep.

Najib’s (un)safety net

How then should we assess these potential effects? On the one hand, it would seem that the BN has done whatever it can to put itself in the most advantageous position. It is has done so openly and with more additional opaque measures, arguably the most comprehensive attempt to skew the electoral terrain to its advantage.

The full extent of the electoral impact of the changes is not yet fully clear. It is also important to recognise that all the changes are not to BN’s advantage, as some of the seats have strengthened the opposition, notably DAP e.g. Bandar Kuching.

BN’s Achilles heel is that it is dependent on the accuracy of the assumptions that went into the delineation exercise. If these assumptions prove not to pan out as expected, BN is vulnerable. BN is also dependent on people carrying out the measures to make these changes effective, e.g. money will need to go down to voters as opposed to staying in the hands of elites.

Given the fluidity in GE14, and the anger at Najib himself within the system, these cannot be guaranteed for his government, although the incentive of money inside the system is strong.

The fact that the Najib government has introduced the breadth of changes it has, undermining the electoral integrity and skewing the electoral field to such an extent, is not a sign of strength but weakness. It remains to be seen whether the imbalances in the system will reach a tipping point that has the potential to backfire on Najib himself.

Related articles:

Power and place in Penang

All quiet on the Sarawak front

Is Sabah ready for political change?

GE14 unknowns: Malaysia’s highly competitive polls

Invoke: BN’s Malay support on the wane

April 30, 2018

Invoke: BN’s Malay support on the wane


GE14 | BN’s support among Malays has been waning in recent months, although it still commands higher support than Pakatan Harapan or PAS, according to a recent survey by Invoke Malaysia.

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29 percent of Malay respondents preferred Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, while 23.8 percent preferred Najib Razak.

The pollster’s head, Rafizi Ramli, said that the downtrend in Malay support for BN corresponded with an increase in voters from the community who were undecided or declined to state their voting preference.

As of April 18, Invoke Malaysia’s survey suggested that Malay respondents who overtly stated their preference for BN stood at 18.1 percent, down from 41.1 percent last December.

Malay respondents who preferred Harapan or PAS are tied at 15 percent, while 50.7 percent were described as “fence sitters,” who were either undecided or refused to disclose their preference.

‘Hidden’ Harapan supporters

According to Rafizi, data on the “hidden” Harapan supporters among these “fence sitters” were elicited by subjecting them, along with BN and PAS supporters, to additional profiling questions.

For instance, these three groups were asked if they preferred BN Chief Najib Abdul Razak remained as caretaker Prime Minister, of which only 23.7 percent agreed.

Other questions posed included “Which party will win in your constituency?” and “Who do you prefer as PM?”

Taken together, Rafizi said at least 7.5 percent of respondents claiming to be “fence sitters” were actually Harapan supporters, while the “hidden” BN and PAS supporters in this group were negligible.

In view of this, Invoke Malaysia had concluded that a realistic estimation of Harapan’s actual Malay support stood at about 22 percent, against BN’s 25 percent, which were both significantly higher the number of PAS supporters.

“(In conclusion,) the prospect of Harapan overtaking BN’s Malay support is becoming more real as we get nearer to the general election,” said Rafizi.

Nearly half believe BN will fall

Overall, when other ethnic groups are taken into account, Rafizi said 29 percent of respondents preferred Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, while 23.8 percent preferred Najib.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang was the prime ministerial choice of 10.4 percent of respondents, while 35.9 percent responded with “none of the above.”

When all the respondents were asked if they were confident that there will be a change in government, 40.5 percent replied in the affirmative, while 27.6 percent disagreed and 31.9 percent said they were unsure.

Rafizi remarked that “there is a strong correlation on the choice of PM and the respondent’s voting tendency.”

The telephone survey, which involved 1,961 verified voters selected through random stratified sampling, was conducted after the dissolution of Parliament.

For contrast, Merdeka Centre’s survey had predicted a significant swing in Malay votes away from BN, but opined that the swing was not big enough for the ruling coalition to fall.

However, their data showed that BN and Harapan were virtually neck and neck in terms support in Johor, the birthplace of UMNO.

Malaysia GE-14: Voting for Islamisms beyond the ballot box

April 30, 2018

Malaysia GE-14: Voting for Islamisms beyond the ballot box


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Political Islam at GE-14 isn’t just a race between parties as democratisation throws up alliances and fractures to define Muslim society.

Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE-14) is not so much a contest between Malays and non-Malays, Muslims and non-Muslims, Islamists and secularists, but more about various competitions of ideas among Muslims of different backgrounds.

With Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM, or Malaysian United Indigenous Party) in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition, this election is not a clear-cut contestation between racialised and non-racial politics. With the Islamist party PAS opting out of the opposition group to form its own bloc, and the PAS breakaway Amanah positioning itself as an alternative to PAS, it’s unclear how Islamist-minded Muslims will vote on May  9 at GE-14.

Those Malays with Bumiputera policies in mind might vote for the ruling UMNO or PPBM, while Islamist-minded voters might vote for PAS, Amanah, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Of course, Islamism and Bumiputraism do not necessarily oppose each other, and in some cases there are overlaps. Such crisscrossing and fluidity of Malay Muslim politics makes this GE14 highly unpredictable.

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Political Islam in Malaysia is not just about an Islamisation race between PAS and UMNO, and there are new, old, and emerging actors in shaping discourses and practices of political Islam today. Instead of a dichotomy between Islamism and post-Islamism, the various spectrums of political Islam are results of entanglements between democratisation and Islamisation processes in Muslim societies.

With the diversity and complexity of political Islam across the different regions of Malaysia, there are political parties, non-government organisations, and popular preachers competing to win over urban Muslim support. We should not assume that there is a clear-cut divide between rural and urban Muslims, or that urban Muslims are a monolithic entity—there are differences depending on educational background and socio-economic status.

Positioning itself as a “third force” and a kingmaker, PAS is struggling to keep its support base intact, ensuring it remains as Malaysia’s only influential Islamic party. Besides Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, Selangor is another state where PAS has a strong base among Muslims, with support from blue-collar workers to the middle class and professionals. However, many of these urban pious Muslims are not hardcore PAS supporters—at GE-14 they might also vote for Amanah and PKR, as these two parties also have Islamic credentials.

In order to engage with its middle class and youth members, as well as to win over support from a broader set of pious Muslims, PAS leadership knows its religious credentials alone are not enough. Party strategists have recently introduced the idea of “technocratic government” (kerajaan teknorat) and running events such as town hall meetings featuring the party’s youth leaders from professional backgrounds. Yet on other occasions many party ulama and ustaz often declare that PAS is the only party upholding the Islamic agenda in Malaysia, that “Undi PAS, dapat pahala” (Vote PAS, gain rewards in the afterlife). A vote for PAS is akin to a ticket to heaven.

Even though the PAS manifesto does not highlight the controversial parliamentary amendment of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (better known in the public debate as RUU 355), in various ceramah (rallies) leaders often mention RUU355 to justify PAS’ split from its former alliance, Pakatan Rakyat, and its criticisms of stalwart opposition party Democratic Action Party (DAP) for not respecting Islam. In industrialised Selangor, PAS is fielding a mixture of professionals and Islamic preachers as candidates, including a non-Muslim Malaysian Chinese. However, despite the perceived warming relations with UMNO, there is dissatisfaction towards PAS’ current leadership and the inconsistent party strategy may cause some of its members to quietly switch their support to PH.


With the leadership of former PAS progressives and activists from IKRAM (an Islamic NGO), Amanah is positioning itself as an Islamic alternative to PAS. Former PAS and IKRAM leaders might have different opinions on the kind of Islamism Amanah should represent, but they in general agree that the party is endorsing a more inclusive and progressive Islamic agenda, as well as focusing on substance instead of form. Because of this, Amanah leaders advocate Maqasid Syariah, a concept that highlights Islamic values such as social justice, good governance, and multicultural co-existence. The party also claims to represent the spirit of the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz, the highly respected former PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Chief Minister.

So far, Amanah has not broken through PAS’ traditional influence in Islamic schools and mosques. But Amanah has been running extensive campaigns on social media to win over pious Muslims while seeking allies in broader Malaysian society. Amanah did not perform well in two 2016 by-elections but that failure is not a good indicator of the party’s prospects at GE14, especially in urban and peri-urban seats. The nomination of Nik Omar, the eldest son of Nik Aziz, as a candidate of Amanah in Kelantan has also boosted the party’s religious credentials among pious Muslim voters.

Often overlooked as a party with Islamic credentials is PKR. The Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Angaktan Belia Islam Malaysia, or ABIM) has played an important role along with other more secular forces in establishing this multi-racial party. The party’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim positions himself as a “Muslim democrat”, and there are many Malay Muslim leaders with strong Islamic backgrounds in the party, many of them activists from ABIM and IKRAM.

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ISMA’s President Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman. The right-wing Malay Muslim movement has a growing base of young professionals.

Islamic NGOs such as ABIM, IKRAM and ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, or Malaysian Muslim Solidarity) have helped shape the practices of political Islam in Malaysia. These three tarbiyah and dakwah organisations have, in different ways, been influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Closely associated with Anwar Ibrahim, ABIM has gone through different political engagements at different times over the years. ABIM has taken a moderate approach to political Islam, balancing between global Islamic aspirations with local traditions.

Many of its politically active current and former members are with PKR, some are in Amanah and, to a lesser extent, in PAS and in UMNO. Some ABIM leaders also play important roles in the operation of Darul Ehsan Institute (IDE), a think tank associated with the PKR-led Selangor state government. IDE promotes the idea of Maqasid Syariah and claims that the Selangor government is implementing Islamic values with its good governance. It is important to note that caretaker prime minister Najib Razak is also claiming that the federal government is fulfilling Maqasid Syariah. What constitutes Maqasid Syariah, and how this has been deployed by different groups and for different reasons deserves further analysis.

IKRAM, formerly Jemaah Islam Malaysia (JIM), is another active player in contemporary Malaysian Muslim politics. IKRAM is ideologically rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. It has close relations with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in Indonesia. Yet, unlike PKS which is perceived as being exclusive and conservative in Indonesia, IKRAM is seen in a Malaysian context as being inclusive and progressive. It has developed close relationships with non-Muslims in various social movements such as Bersih 2.0, the electoral reform group. A wing of IKRAM, Hidayah, has also been running Chinese New Year celebrations in mosques, to promote the idea that Islam is a blessing for all.

Since 1998, when the sacking and jailing of Anwar Ibrahim sparked off the reformasi movement in Malaysia, some IKRAM activists joined opposition politics, mainly in PAS and PKR. In 2015, together with former PAS leaders, IKRAM members played a vital role in the forming of Amanah. Almost half of the grassroots leaders of Amanah have IKRAM backgrounds. In GE14, many IKRAM members are campaigning for the opposition coalition, especially for Amanah candidates. Citing Indonesia as an example, many Amanah and IKRAM leaders have reasoned that it would be good for Malaysia to have more than just one Islamic party. The election results will show if Amanah can legitimise itself as an Islamic alternative to PAS. A big challenge for Amanah and also IKRAM is that their leaders and members are mainly from the educated urban middle class and professionals, raising questions whether they can appeal to the broader Malay Muslim community.

Even though its exclusionary messages do not represent the views of many Malay Muslims, ISMA has made news headlines for its controversial statements, for example when it insulted Chinese Malaysians by calling them foreigners (pendatang). ISMA shares similar features as IKRAM, as both groups are influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and their members are mostly educated, urban Muslim middle classes and professionals. Yet, unlike IKRAM, ISMA is more Malay-centric and less inclusive. In the previous 13th general election (GE13), ISMA contested in some seats as a “third force” under the flag of Berjasa, a small Islamic party, because it disagreed with PAS’ electoral pact with DAP. In this GE14, ISMA withdrew itself from contesting, instead positioning itself as an electoral pressure group.

ISMA launched a campaign called “Voter Awareness Movement” (Gerakan Pengundi Sedar, or GPS) and urged Muslims to vote for “credible Muslim candidates” (calon Muslim berwibawa). According to ISMA, a credible Muslim leader should be free from corruption, morally good, and uphold the Malay Muslim agenda. Even though it claims to be neutral, ISMA has often criticised the DAP and Muslim leaders in the opposition coalition. As its online campaigns have shown, ISMA tries to stimulate moral panic (over issues such as LGBT rights and alcohol consumption) and encourages a siege mentality among Malay Muslims (over issues such as alleged Christianisation and losing political power to “foreigners”). However, given that PH has accommodated elements of Bumiputraism and Islamism, the ISMA campaign is unlikely to have a major impact among Muslim voters.

In Indonesia, even though it did not run for elections, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) was politically influential, and it was a key actor behind the mobilisation against former Indonesian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok). However, in Malaysia, despite gaining followers, the local branch of this anti-democracy, transnational Islamist group, Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia (HTM), has had very little impact on Malaysian politics.

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Besides political parties and NGOs, many Muslim preachers and intellectuals with strong Islamic credential have also contributed to the dynamic of political Islam in Malaysia. Popular preacher Ustaz Ahmad Dusuki Abd Rani is running for PAS in Kota Anggerik, a state assembly seat in Shah Alam. Ustaz Ahmad Dusuki often gives religious talks in mosques, on TV and radio stations, and has a large number of social media followers – more than one million on Facebook and 200,000 on Instagram. Yet it’s uncertain whether his popularity will translate into electoral support. Another celebrity preacher Ustaz Azhar Idrus, despite not contesting, frequently appears at PAS events. Of course, not all Muslim preachers are PAS supporters. For example, Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin (Dr Maza) and popular preacher Rozaimi Ramle are perceived as being critical towards PAS and sometimes subtly giving their support to Pakatan Harapan.
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Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin (Dr Maza)

There are many Muslim activists and intellectuals in Amanah and PKR. Recently, Maszlee Malik, a prominent Muslim intellectual, lecturer and activist joined PPBM and is running as a candidate for a parliament seat in Johor state. He is also an active IKRAM member. In UMNO, the leading Islamic figure is Asyraf Wajdi, who is contesting in Kelantan. He was the former Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, in charge of religious affairs. He was once the president of PKPIM, a student wing of ABIM. Both Maszlee Malik and Asyrat Wajdi were former lecturers at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

In short, besides PAS, there are many actors in political parties and NGOs, and preachers who are playing increasingly important roles in reshaping discourses and practices of political Islam in Malaysia. Which version of political Islam is more appealing among pious urban Muslims? Although Islam is a prominent issue, it is not the only determining factor in Muslims’ voting decision. The election results may not entirely reflect what Malaysian Muslims think of Islamism, but it might be a good indicator of the development and transformation of political Islam in Malaysia.

The Self Destruction of PAS In the Works

April 30, 2018

The Self Destruction of PAS In the Works

Here is another compelling reason why we must reject Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional. PAS advocates Radical Islam. Vote wisely. Vote for Pakatan Harapan and Dr.Mahathir as our next Prime Minister.–Din Merican

UMNO – in looking to PAS as a spoiler in three way contests has made an assumption that PAS can deliver the votes necessary to clip Harapan candidates at their wings. But if that assumption proves to be false, May 9 will indeed be a day of reckoning for all involved.

By Mustaqim Abdullah

President of Amanah, Mohamad Sabu affirmed that “keimanan tidal boleh diwarisi” (faith cannot be inherited). He wasn’t so much stating a fact as he was pointing to the many instances in Biblical and Islamic history where sons and daughters of religious figures, unfortunately, did fall far away from the proverbial apple tree.

Going around the election circuit now, is the 30 minute audio of Nik Abduh, one of the younger sons of revered Tok Guru Nik Aziz, that the “top leadership of PAS had received money from UMNO.” If proven true in the Hadi Awang versus Clare Brown suit in London, the audio would go down in history as one of the evidence that blighted the spotless reputation of Nik Aziz, albeit through sins of association, not omissions or commissions.

But just when all hopes were lost, Nik Omar, widely regarded as the favoured son of Nik Aziz, emerged as a candidate of Pakatan Harapan on nomination day.

The 14th general election is shaping up to be a titanic contest between caretaker Prime Minister Najib and former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Muhammad, with Anwar Ibrajim set to be released on June 8 2018. In such a triangular contest, there is little room for error especially when it comes to stating the party’s policy position firmly. Yet, PAS waffling on 1MDB and other issues, has cast them in bad light. Nik Omar’s defection to Pakatan Harapan is yet another example of the chickens coming home to roost for a party that has found itself, oftentimes, out of touch with even its own grassroots.

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In fact the overall strategy PAS has taken may not only lead to what many predict is its obliteration at the polls but also to the self destruction of UMNO. First of all, PAS is experiencing nothing less than what Yale historian Paul Kennedy would call an “imperial over stretch.”

In trying to do too much, with too little resources, PAS has spread itself thin, even if it’s leaders are helped by more exposure on TV3 due to their quasi alliance.

By competing in 160 constituencies, without any major group of political stars, to galvanize the troops on the ground, the message will turn time and again to need to expand the role of Islam. Yet, Amanah, it’s splinter party, has taken the more realistic, and strategic route, of competing in 27 constituencies. Whereas Amanah is not lopsided, and is helped by the machinery of Pakatan Harapan, with Sabu contesting in Kota Raja, Selangor, Amanah is making forays into areas that PAS should be defending.

Second, PAS in the current form is hobbled by its inability to make full use of the aura of the late Nik Aziz. When Nik Omar is touted as the better progeny of Nik Aziz, the soft power of Pakatan Harapan cum Amanah cannot but increase gradually.

Third, members of PAS are quietly distraught with the though of having to help UMNO yet in several cases having to challenge UMNO too. Such inner contradictions do not augur well for a party that aspires—-valiantly but vainly—–to be a “King Maker”.

Finally, PAS is down to the last man standing. If Hadi Awang is gone, as age has caught up with him, PAS would not have a viable bench of actors who can step to the fore of their responsibility. Invariably, the lack of strong leadership and branding would cast PAS to be seen as a bit-player rather than a central actor.

UMNO – in looking to PAS as a spoiler in three way contests has made an assumption that PAS can deliver the votes necessary to clip Harapan candidates at their wings. But if that assumption proves to be false, May 9 will indeed be a day of reckoning for all involved.

Vote Pakatan Harapan and Dr. Mahathir as our next Prime Minister

April 30, 2018

Vote Pakatan Harapan and Dr. Mahathir as our next Prime Minister on May 9, 2018

by Din Merican, Phnom Penh

“Malaysians could not care less of the future of Najib or his party. Instead they are concerned about their fate as well as that of their children and grandchildren. Alllong to have a leader who is competent, trustworthy, and with a modicum of integrity. That process begins with Najib’s removal in the upcoming election. –Dr. M. Bakri Musa

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Pakatan Harapan–Our Best Hope for our Future

In 9 days’ time, we Malaysians, at home and abroad, will be going to the polls hopefully in large numbers (voter turnout will be a major determinant of this electoral outcome) to choose  the next government.

The choice is between Pakatan Harapan led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and corrupt UMNO-led kleptocratic Barisan Nasional headed by scandal tainted Najib Razak. At this point in time, Najib’s coalition is ahead because of the advantages of incumbency, divisions within Pakatan Harapan, and strong pro-UMNO and  gung-ho Islam sentiments in the Malay community.

Things can change very quickly in the coming days as the campaign heats up, aided by the power of internet which favors the opposition, given the quality of their candidates and  the dynamism and passion of the 92-year old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

I have been very critical of the Tun’s politics and his record, for which I have received  a lot of brick brats from my friends and readers on Facebook. But when push comes to shove, I am persuaded to endorse Pakatan Harapan and support him as our next Prime Minister.

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Dr. M Bakri Musa, my friend in Morgan-Hill, California and a prolific writer and political analyst, has in some small measure tempted me with his article below to state my stand. I hope you too will reject Barisan Nasional led by UMNO’s Najib Razak and support Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan as the next Government.


It is indeed unfortunate that my blog has been blocked by  Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). Malaysians at home, therefore, cannot read my humble endorsement. Those who can, given the magic of technology, please spread the word. We can make a difference to the future of our lovely country. All the best for May 9, 2018.–Din Merican

Greed, Incompetence, and Utterly Devoid of Integrity – The Banality of Najib’s Leadership

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California, USA

When the day of judgment comes to Malaysia, which it inevitably will and I hope soon (as with this May 9, 2018 election), Malaysians would be shocked into disbelief to discover the banality of Najib’s leadership. His is one of insatiable greed, unbelievable incompetence, and utterly devoid of integrity.

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How did such a character ascend to the highest office in the land? I cannot accept that Malaysians are that stupid to have let that happen. Yes, there are plenty of dumb and gullible ones but overall Malaysians are sensible folks. Yet there he is, Najib as Prime Minister for the past long, nine embarrassing and totally wasted years.

Najib did not get there on his own effort. That much is certain.

Others had paved the path for him right from the very beginning. Now that he is Prime Minister, Najib does not know how to clear the path ahead, much less which direction to take the nation. He is clueless. Time to get another leader. Time to disabuse Najib of his delusion of entitlement.

It is not difficult to imagine what his fate would have been had he not been a “Bin Tun Razak.” At best a junior functionary in his backward state of Pahang. Likewise, had he not been born in a deeply feudal Malay culture of rural Pahang in the early 1950s but modern Kuala Lumpur of today, his taking over his father’s hereditary title of Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar would be a non-event. In the kampung however, that title conferred instant aristocratic aura. It roughly translates as “Rich, Exalted Lord Mayor.” Rich and exalted at least by local standards, with vague reference to the mythical prince of classical Malay literature, Inderaputera.

I would have thought that being suave and the product of a British public school he would have found that title quaint, and the elaborate installation ceremony comical, alaan African tribal rite of passage. Yet there he was lapping it up, like that prepubescent Tibetan kid who was anointed to be the future Dalai Lama.

Najib’s seeming suaveness is what my folks back in the old village referred to with undisguised sneer as moden culup, a veneer of or pseudo modernity.

Najib would not have inherited that title had his father lived to his expected life span. Razak’s premature death also hid his dark side, and Najib got to shine in the reflected glow of his father’s halo.

One of Razak’s many dark sides was his secretiveness. He concealed his mortal illness from his family and the nation. Even on his final but futile trip to London for his medical treatment there was an elaborate ruse to camouflage it. That could not have been undertaken without the complicity of many, like his pilots and physicians. As a result, his death stunned the nation. Judging by his reaction to the tragic news, even his Deputy, Hussein Onn, was kept out of the loop. What a way to treat your second-in-command!

With the outpouring of grief, sympathy was, as expected, showered on Razak’s young family. Najib, being the oldest son, was the main beneficiary. Thus began his fast and smooth glide to the top.

Najib’s first enabler was Hussein Onn who selected him at the age of 23 to take over his father’s old Parliamentary seat. Reflecting the enormous reservoir of public sympathy, Najib won unopposed. Hussein went further; he appointed Najib to be a minister soon after. From there Najib’s trajectory was fast and steep. The prodigal prince from the jungle of Pahang could do no wrong. Everyone wanted to be on his coattail or be seen as greasing his path. Everyone, from political leaders to religious, and royalty.

Earlier there was Tengku Razaleigh, himself a protege of Razak. Tengku, then head of Petronas, took Najib under his wings. Tengku was cautious and did not put Najib in a critical position but instead in “government relations.”

Najib’s gratitude to Razaleigh? In a subsequent close contest in 1987 between Razaleigh and Mahathir for the UMNO presidency (and thus Prime Minister of the country), Najib switched his support to Mahathir at the very last minute, denying Razaleigh what would have been his widely-expected victory.

Mahathir too was Najib’s enabler. As Prime Minister, Mahathir boosted Najib further, later using him to dislodge Abdullah Badawi. Najib was only too willing to be Mahathir’s tool. Today Mahathir is Najib’s nemesis.

Unlike all those other enablers, Mahathir at least recognized his mistake, albeit late, and is now trying very hard to remedy it. Let’s hope he succeeds.

Other minor but no less consequential enablers include the current Attorney-General who gave Najib a pass in the 1MDB mess. The A-G was a Najib political appointee and a former UMNO apparatchik; so no surprise there. More reprehensible are the behaviors of the permanent establishment including the top civil servant. It was widely believed the Chief Secretary forced the retirement of the former A-G who had apparently filed papers for Najib’s arrest over the 1MDB mess. Even the Agung was a Najib enabler by acceding to the Chief Secretary’s motion.

Even when Najib strayed off the straight path, as with his frequent and not-too-secret trysts, the religious police, otherwise brutal on those whom they deem to behave “un-Islamically,” indulged him. Another institutional enabler!

There are others, the most unapologetic being his party. UMNO is now United Mohammad Najib Organization, ready and ever willing to do his bidding. What a sorry ending to an organization that was instrumental in bringing independence to Malaysia!

Beyond individuals and institutions, Najib is using that old standby and most effective enabler of all–cash. Packets of ringgit are openly passed out during UMNO’s elections. Now that scourge is infecting the general elections. The ringgit is literally being dispersed at campaign rallies like beads and candies at a Mardi Gras parade. Unlike UMNO members who scooped up the cash with unrestrained glee, voters are now increasingly asking the pivotal question: Where is the money coming from?

Malaysians could not care less of the future of Najib or his party. Instead they are concerned about their fate as well as that of their children and grandchildren. Alllong to have a leader who is competent, trustworthy, and with a modicum of integrity. That process begins with Najib’s removal in the upcoming election.

This Malaysian Election (GE-14) is different

April 29, 2018

This Malaysian Election (GE-14) is different

by Dr. Bridget Welsh, John Cabot University

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Malaysia’s government has dissolved the Parliament to make way for the 14th General Election (GE14). The country will go to the polls on 9 May. From afar, this election seems like a repeat of the last election in 2013, when a polarised electorate was divided over the governance of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Questions of leadership, ethnic inclusion, economic management and democratic reform were at the heart of the earlier polls. These issues remain important. But now there is greater electoral competitiveness, a reformulated opposition and international intervention in an election that will be a crossroads for democracy and governance in Malaysia.


In 2013, the campaign centred on Najib. Painted as a reformer, the BN anchored its success to Najib to pull votes in. His picture was plastered across the country, backed up by a ‘1Malaysia’ public relations blitz and a campaign flush with cash. Najib was able to rally his political base and ally with business, ever dependent on government largesse. He was also able to use his advantage through electoral malapportionment and gerrymandering to win the majority of seats despite losing the popular vote.

In 2018, Najib is still at the centre of the campaign but now he is more of a deterrent away from BN. Dogged by allegations of scandal, and with the lowest popularity of any premier in Malaysia’s history heading into the polls, Najib lacks the pull he once had. He relies on the power of his office to maintain his advantage as the election is seen as so personalised that he cannot lose.

Race and religion play pivotal roles in Malaysian politics. GE13 was characterised as a ‘Chinese tsunami’ in which nearly 80 per cent of Malaysian Chinese voted against the government, which provoked a Malay counter-reaction towards the government. In 2018, the campaign is being touted as a ‘Malay tsunami’ as now opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad aims to win over parts of the majority Malay community. Whether Mahathir succeeds or creates a backlash is not yet clear. What is evident is that unlike in the 2008 election, where there was a sense of inclusive national identity, ethnic politics now dominate.

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On top of ethnic mobilisation is religion. Non-Muslims have been moving away from the BN due to deepening Islamisation and greater restrictions on the practice of minority faiths. Najib’s tenure saw the troubling disappearances of Pastor Raymond Koh in 2017 and regular verbal attacks on Christianity by public officials. Some non-Muslims are turning back to the BN out of fear of further displacement and reprisals.

This shift has coincided with more frequent calls to ‘defend Islam’ and for greater Muslim unity against supposed challenges to the faith. The BN has propagated this narrative. The Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) has gone further, calling for a ‘Muslim tsunami’ in which Muslims displace others. Religious mobilisation will shape the electoral outcome, as PAS focuses its campaign on ‘defending the faith’ through the implementation of Islamic law and narrowing the space for religious freedom post-election.

 Najib is relying on his economic performance to maintain support, especially from the business community. His administration can be credited for navigating the country out of the 2008–09 global financial crisis, as growth has stabilised and reached 5 per cent. He is a favourite of the international financial community for introducing a goods and service tax in 2014. But this has come at a cost, with high inflation, record debt, and non-employment-generating infrastructure investment dampening the effects of growth.

Arguably the biggest challenge for Najib is the charge of kleptocracy and mismanagement of government-linked companies in a litany of corruption scandals. Najib’s and his family’s ostentatious ‘shopping trips’ and displays of wealth have served to showcase the distance of the elite. The opposition hopes to capitalise on anger but has yet to win the confidence of business. Electorally, there are two opposing trends: anger at the higher cost of living, and pro-incumbency, risk-averse behaviour in a ‘flight to safety’.

From 1999 campaigns have been about democratic political reform, with the winner co-opting a reform narrative. Since 2013 the Najib administration has taken a sharp authoritarian direction, with attacks on critics and a campaign of fear.

GE14 has become an election about defending democracy rather than promoting it. What muddies the picture is that the opposition leader touted to lead this defence of democracy is Mahathir Mohamad. The opposition has promised term limits for the executive and more accountability in financial management but is struggling with how to distance itself from Mahathir’s divisive political legacy, especially in East Malaysia where he remains unpopular.

GE14 is still arguably the most competitive election in recent history, with 65 per cent of the seats competitive compared to 50 per cent in 2013. At least half of the state governments are open contests. Three-corner fights add to the competition, as PAS is facing off against both the BN (despite the close relationship between Najib and PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang) and the newly configured opposition. Pakatan Harapan offers quite a different option to voters — not only Mahathir’s leadership in alliance with his former foe Anwar Ibrahim, but the most secular and experienced opposition to date.

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Najib Razak has good  relations with Xi’s China

The prominent role that the Chinese government is playing in the election is another feature. China’s Ambassador has accompanied BN parties on the hustings, and Chinese funding is seen to boost funds for 1MDB debt payments and the current campaign. China’s commitment of US$55 billion in infrastructure projects in Malaysia makes the Najib government a key ally in China’s geostrategic ambitions. This has provoked strong nationalist responses within Malaysia.

The election outcome will determine not only the political direction and leadership of Malaysia — and the shape of democracy and governance — but will also have reverberations in regional affairs.

Dr. Bridget Welsh is Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies at the National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of the Habibie Center and University Fellow at Charles Darwin University.