GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for Malaysia

May 10, 2018

GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for Malaysia

Politics & Policy

Malaysia’s Political Earthquake Is Deeply Ironic

The opposition just won, led by a former head of the establishment. How much will change?

Image result for mahathir mohamad wins Malaysia's GE-14

Dr. Mahathir announces coalition won significant majority of seats and will seek to restore rule of law in Malaysia.

After six decades of uninterrupted rule by one political bloc, Malaysia’s democracy showed it can work — ousting that bloc and the nation’s incumbent leader in a seismic shift. The irony is that it took a onetime scourge of democracy to come back from retirement to topple the party that ruled since independence from Great Britain in 1957 — the same party he led as prime minister for 22 years.

That man, Mahathir Mohamad, declared in his 90s that his new mission in life was to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. They had become corrupt and too addicted to power, he claimed. Never mind that as Prime inister Mahathir did much to centralize power. Never mind that Najib’s career was nurtured by none other than Mahathir.

Image result for mahathir mohamad wins Malaysia's GE-14

Najib claimed the opposition, now on the cusp of taking control of government, is a motley collection of parties. True enough. That’s how Parliaments work.

How would the opposition rule? Like Mahathir last time around or more freewheeling? How would leadership issues within the opposition resolve themselves, chiefly the relationship between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, now languishing in prison? (Put there the first time by Mahathir.) What will be the administrative priorities of an opposition that probably doubted it could ever win?

It almost doesn’t matter for now, because first the nation and the world can savor that this system, constructed on theoretical possibilities, has been shown to work. Gerrymandering and crackdowns on the press can’t suppress political and economic tides indefinitely. Ironies abound. Nobody in the media in the 1990s, when I worked in Malaysia, would have considered Mahathir a friend of a free and vibrant press.

Barisan Nasional had struggled in recent years and, as a result, had become more dictatorial and more dependent on xenophobic appeals to rural Malays and political Islam. How the opposition functions in government and what the role of smaller parties looks like is anyone’s guess. And all this assumes, of course, that the government allows the opposition to take office. There’s never been a change of power in Malaysia, since independence. The party was the government and the government was the party.

Not to get completely swept up in the moment: Over the longer run, Malaysia’s economic and political direction will be governed by interest rates and fiscal and regulatory policy, just like most countries. Mahathir himself isn’t exactly a political novice. And there are broader macroeconomic forces also at work, including China’s relative economic strength, what happens with global trade and developments in technology.

The economic and social distortions caused by the existing regime’s preferences for powerful Malays, members of the majority ethnic group, may not go away soon. They were cemented during Mahathir’s previous tour of duty.

Malaysia faces its share of challenges in this new era. And with a former Prime Minister returning to power, it’s fair to wonder how much will really change. There’s also no getting away from the fact that the once-unstoppable Barisan Nasional has lost the election. That’s already a huge change.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Daniel Moss at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Philip Gray at

2 thoughts on “GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for Malaysia

  1. When will MCMC UNBLOCK this website?

    On Thu, May 10, 2018, 09:53 Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger wrote:

    > dinobeano posted: “May 10, 2018 GE-14: The Morning After–New Hope for > Malaysia Politics & Policy Malaysia’s Political Earthquake Is Deeply Ironic > The opposition just won, led by a former head of the establishment. How > much will change? by Daniel Moss https://w” >

  2. There will be change. The Malays have spoken, there is a limit to corruption even abuse of power BUT they are far from meritocratic self reliance and on question of religion, new battle lines are exposed, and shown to be deeper than we thought and we find out they will not change no matter what facts and logic are.

    Hope? Yes but wrought with challenges, pitfalls, potential sabotage and minefields in religion.

    Yes we can do cleaning of the House of UMNO/BN but much is not straightforward.

    A case in point, why Jeffrey Kitingan chose a side with plenty of dirt that will be prosecuted by the Federal govt? BN Sabah cannot hold, why they still cannot see it?

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