Malaysia: After Regime Change, What’s Next?

May 19, 2018

Malaysia 2018: After Regime Change, What’s Next?

by Eric Loo

COMMENT | “The ability of the journalist to influence the course of events is out of all proportion to his individual right as a citizen of a democratic society. He is neither especially chosen for his moral superiority nor elected to his post. A free press is as prone to corruption as are the other institutions of democracy. Is this then to be the only institution of democracy to be completely unfettered?”


Image result for anwar and mahathir

Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim–Together Again but for how long?

 Those are the words of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, spoken in 1985 at the World Press Convention in Kuala Lumpur.

By Mahathir’s logic, journalists, if left unregulated, would by instinct overly report on conflicts and controversies at the expense of informing the people of the government’s achievements. The media watchdog must be leashed and used as a state apparatus to build the nation.

Contrast Mahathir’s tight rein on the media with this: “I reject the notion that a free press is alien to (Malaysian) society. All the great sages of the past were great because they were able to write and publish freely. All our great freedom fighters… were able to be great because they believed in freedom and they were able to use the media to articulate their positions.”

Those are the words of Anwar Ibrahim in an interview with Time Australia (June 10, 1996), when his book Asian Renaissance was published. Anwar, who was Deputy Prime Minister then, noted in his book that the cultural and intellectual reawakening of Asians (and Malaysians) will begin to evolve only when the mind and intellect are free of internal insecurity and independent of external constraints.

Image result for The Asian Renaissance


By Anwar’s logic, the media should serve as a “vehicle for the contest of ideas and cultivate good taste” to root out corruption and abuses of power in its many forms.

Western media generally frame Anwar as a liberal Islamist thinker and charismatic reformist post-1998, during which he regularly spoke at inter-civilisational forums. On the other hand, Mahathir was seen as an autocratic moderniser who brooked no opposition to his rule and who held a tight rein on the media.

Since May 2008, Mahathir’s unfettered criticisms of his predecessor Abdullah Badawi’s “flip-flopping mismanagement of the country” and Najib Abdul Razak’s fraudulent rule have exposed another side of Mahathir’s persona in the eyes of those who follow his blog, Chedet.

How ironic from a former Prime Minister who is renowned for shutting down any dissent from journalists, opposition parties and public intellectuals!

What the voters expect

Even as we continue to celebrate Pakatan Harapan’s historic win, many who have worked in the media, and those who have marched the streets with Bersih, will expect the new regime to repeal the Universities and University Colleges Act, Anti-Fake News Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Official Secrets Act and numerous sedition and security laws that have for too long suppressed open public debates on policy implementation issues and practical matters that affect the daily lives of every Malaysian family.

With the collapse of UMNO and political demise of Najib Razak and the probable prosecution of those who had plundered the country’s coffers, voters now expect the new regime to establish a non-partisan Judiciary, an independent Anti-Corruption Agency, and the re-opening of old cases.

Will Harapan be able to fulfil these campaign vows within its first term in government, led by a 92-year-old statesman heavily tasked with micro-managing a fractious coalition of parties, each with its own interests to pursue, and neutralising the likelihood of ad hoc protests from UMNO loyalists?

Even as I am truly inspired by Mahathir’s deep conviction in ‘saving the country’ from the kleptocrats, I am also fully aware of the divisive racialised political and communal systems that had developed during his 22-year leadership.

Decades of partisan politics, erosion of civil rights in the name of economic development, severe measures taken on minority dissent by Mahathir’s past detractors – these fractures will certainly taint his attempt at reshaping his legacy – from that of an autocratic Prime Minister and an enemy of the press, marked by Operasi Lalang in 1987, to that of a redeemer of a country lost to the kleptocrats and the corrupt in 2018.

The final collapse of the UMNO hegemon and the long-awaited regime change does not necessarily imply a clean break from the past.

We will still see shades of ideological, organisational and institutional continuities in the form of political patronage arising from past loyalties and kinship ties, and the jostling for appointments to powerful portfolios. Such are the realities of communal politics and the tribal interests that drive the political agendas.

Mahathir had campaigned on a theme of self-redemption to save the country with the remaining years of his life. Permanent redemption and full restoration of the country, I believe, can only happen if Mahathir, as the oldest statesman to be re-elected as Prime Minister in the world, is able to bring about transformed hearts and changed mindsets in his new cabinet.

This needs an effective ‘leadership by example’, a slogan which framed the start of Mahathir’s premiership with his deputy Musa Hitam in 1981.

Mahathir hopes to change the way he wishes to be remembered in the history books. While implicitly seeking forgiveness for his actions past and reconciling with Anwar today with a full royal pardon warms our hearts and endears us to him as our eldest statesman, ultimately voters who elevated Harapan to power will want to see real improvements happen very soon in their living conditions.

I hope the new alliance, which is entering a political environment with a new generation of ‘enlightened’ voters who got them into power, will not be akin to shuffling a deck of new cards but dealing in the same old polarised politics of race and religious intolerance of the past decades.

Image result for The Malay Dilemma

I hope Mahathir’s statement that “this election is not merely about seeking victory for a political party but to redeem the pride of the (Malay) race” does not return us to the type of society that he painted in his 1971 book The Malay Dilemma.

ERIC LOO is Senior Fellow (Journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

10 thoughts on “Malaysia: After Regime Change, What’s Next?

  1. The pen is mightier than the sword (and millions upon millions of dedak money). Claire Rewcastle-Brown spotted upon arrival at KLIA 🙂

  2. What the voters expect?
    Confusion, delayed Governance, Self interests, cloaked Cronyism (Bungalow style), more Fundamentalism (the Smiley kind)..

    Everything under the sun, but an Education Minister who’s a Salafi fundamentalist lurking beneath his basic and masters degree in Islamic Jurisprudence and a doctorate in Governance. A Zakir Naik acolyte, no less! How da…?

    Look you idiots, when Octo wanted to take over the Education Ministry – which is one of the Big 4 G ministries – Let him, cuz he knows what he’s talking about! But the so-called heroes of democracy ‘reminded’ him not so gently: the PH ‘manifesto’ – in which the PM was not to occupy the FinMin post.. Ya right! So he gladly gave it up! Gonna to get messed up by Octo alright, you turds! Luckily my kids are already grown..

    Then we have an ex-Sumatran Fruit and Minyak Angin sales lady heading the Housing ministry, which is one of the most corrupt.. Wonder whether she can even read standard deviations and understand the intricacies of the Land Code? No Hermes Birkin for her, i guess – but how about a coupla bungalows?

    From the frying pan into the fire?

    • Are you a patient?
      I’m objectifying a subjective, in case you haven’t noticed?
      A Turd = An Idiot. Was that difficult to understand?
      Octo – the Invincible – will wind turds up in idiot-balls and eat them for breakfast..

      As the euphoria wears off – please be assured, that this country requires serious work, dedication and prudent management to pull us out of this train wreck which is Malaysia. For all the goodwill and hope generated – the present Establishment is fractious, idiosyncratic and brittle. They will be as corrupt and self-serving as the one before – given sufficient time.

      Whatever elasticity that PH has, is now being ‘enforced’ by a nonagenarian of remarkable prowess – who was the progenitor of ‘The Troubles’ in the first place. It can either be considered ironic or scandalous, depending on point of view..

      Your hi-faluting ideals and persistent yodeling won’t see the light of day – as the Pakatoons will spend all their time rooting out the horrific misdemeanors, crimes of commission and omission and sheer incompetency – that the previous administration of Be-Enders have created. It’s not only the fiscal-fiduciary-economic aspect, but also the whole idea of Nationhood.

      I’m neutral as far as political ideology goes, unlike many of you. Pragmatic.

    • Oh yeah …. another display of narcissism on this blog — the intellectual narcissist, who knows it all, and thinks others are idiots and turds.

      My “hi-faluting ideals and persistent yodeling” helped to contribute to the recent victory of PH at GE14. I also work behind the scene via my access to certain PH politicians.

      What have all your cynicism, unending and tiresome displays of intellectual superiority, compulsive need to insult others/make snide putdowns contributed, dear Doctor CLF ? And why hide behind the term “CL Familiaris” rather than use your real name, dear Doctor ?

    • Characteristics of the “intellectual narcissist” (also called “cerebral narcissist”). From a person who was married to one and posted this on the Internet.

      An insatiable need to be intellectually superior

      Puts on the illusion of embodying philosophical constructs to put themselves above everyone else


      They get depressed at any slight to their ego

      They cannot handle constructive criticism

      They have a justification for every poor behavior they exhibit, and often make you the one with the problem

      They are primarily emotionally abusive and manipulative.

      They put on the illusion that they are, or could be, experts in any field

  3. my major concern is Islamization of Malaysia. I am not referring to PAS but politicians from Pakatan. Anwar always praised Turkey President. Is he not the person that started removing secularism from Turkey? I am just not comfortable with Anwar links to the Islamist. In addtion, I have been receiving information of the Education Minister link to Muslin Brotherhood. Is it true? Should we be concerned?


  4. The so-called ‘media’ in Malaysia is very far from becoming a ‘watchdog’.

    Far too many of the Malaysian reporters are either too lame, too under-trained, too narrow-minded, too biased, too arrogant, too ignorant, and/or too un-intelligent, or any or all of the above.

    Safe from a handful seasoned Malaysian reporters who have achieved the status of the Journalists, the rest of the pool of Malaysian reporters, unfortunately, can’t even begin to understand the importance of their job, nor their responsibility of their work, for the people, and nation.

    In other words, they just don’t have the ability to carry out their job, in a respectful manner.

    Until the time the Malaysian reporters can respect themselves enough to carry out decent work of journalism — I, and many other Malaysians, will continue to treat them with disdain.

  5. Anyone who has ever built anything, knows execution is everything. You can have all the chances in the world but if you keep failing in execution, then whole thing can fall apart. The Malay that voted for PH, voted against kleptocracy, NOT entitlement. UMNO ideology is entitlement, kleptocracy is just a failure of entitlement. Most Malays did not vote for PH. If PH stumble or UMNO can convince them they have changed enough, PH will fall easily to UMNO-PAS govt. Hadi Awang may yet be the PM or Ayatollah of Malaysia.

    PH has a tough job executing. Every mistake cost it potential losing in GE-15

  6. The Government Service at all levels is still there. They just need a new leader to show them the way forward. This is a chance for the people and I hope that we will support the government for doing the Right Thing.

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