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?”


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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.

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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.

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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.

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

May 15, 2018

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

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By Janice Fredah Ti

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Pakatan Harapan–Stop Bickering and Got on with the Business of Government

Let’s examine the word “revolution”. It’s usually used to describe the forceful or even violent overthrow of a government by a huge part of the population. It brings to mind chaos, fighting, tear gas and chemical-laced water unleashed against citizens; citizens fighting the authorities; police, ambulances, sirens, injuries and even death.

However, my understanding of the word “revolution” is not limited to just that. Revolution, to me, means a big change. It means any movement or activity brought about by concerned citizens to bring about a paradigm shift in the mindset of fellow citizens, that will hopefully eventually effect a major shift in any given political or socioeconomic situation through entrepreneurship, education, the ballot box and others.

Let us hope there will be more to come and lot of changes in personnel in the civil and foreign service and GLCs.

Given that, a revolution is hard to define. It’s hard to determine when it starts or comes full circle. But a half-revolution – that is what I’d like to explore today.

Given our unique political conundrum, made worse by economic uncertainty, Malaysians cannot be faulted for toying with the word “revolution”. One minute, we’re plagued by political fatigue and on the verge of giving up; the next, someone mentions “revolution” and we’re instantly energised!

But what exactly is a revolution in the Malaysian context? Are we managing our expectations, are we leaving things to chance, are some people blindly following so-called leaders, and are others being misled?

Many of us do not like the fact that we are dependent on opposition political parties for any possible change in government. However, many believe that we are. Efforts to create a meaningful and sizeable third force by informed and concerned citizens over the years have met with very little success. Smaller parties like PSM are doing great work but unfortunately, they have not been accepted into the main opposition coalition, perhaps due to ideological differences.

The main opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan (PH), consists of PKR, DAP, PPBM and Amanah. We also have the runaway faction of the standalone PAS, PSM and other smaller parties. Putting aside PAS for now, what is PH doing in terms of effecting a paradigm shift in the minds of the general population to bring about the much needed change in government?

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Governing Malaysia is no circus with clowns. It is hard work and sacrifice. There is no such a thing as a free lunch.

PH parties have been fighting among themselves. They were involved in multi-cornered fights in the Sarawak state elections, giving the enemy an easy victory much to the bewilderment and disappointment of those who placed their hope in them. Are we to trust them with federal power if they can’t sort themselves out in state elections?

Some remain silent while others flip-flop on important matters like RUU 355. Shouldn’t PH, as the main opposition coalition, have a collective stand on major issues concerning the people?

PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail even went on record in an interview with Al Jazeera to say, albeit vaguely, things most would not like to hear on the hudud issue. She closed the interview by saying she was only a seat-warmer for Anwar Ibrahim.

DAP’s arrogance meanwhile has shot through the roof, what with the production of tacky video clips which supposedly serve to amuse a particular set of audience. And more than one DAP representative has used racial slurs in a public speech.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Malaysia’s main opposition coalition is concerned, but it should not be taken lightly.

As if the ruling government’s circus of incompetent and corrupt members was not bad enough, the main opposition has started its own circus as well.

It all began with a major upset that occurred in the already-polarised nation torn apart by a government gone mad. A movement started by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad emerged out of no where in 2016, and to date, all it has succeeded in doing has been to further divide the people, much to the amusement of the ruling government.

Why has this happened? Why is the nation divided by a new movement that didn’t quite accomplish its mission?Because it was started by none other than Mahathir himself, and supported by a string of stars in a line-up consisting of the ever-important who’s who of opposition political parties and civil movements.

For several months there was major confusion, debates, quarrels, and coffee shop talk that resulted even in the loss of friendships as people could not understand why others supported or refused to support such an initiative.

Some are adamant that the engineer of Malaysia’s current situation cannot be supported at any cost; that it would be an insult to former ISA detainees and their families (who, by the way, are very much alive and among us still); that he has never been sorry for what happened or for what resulted in Malaysia today; and so on and so forth.

This group of people think if Mahathir wants to start something, by all means he should but it is way too early to throw any support behind him. Others meanwhile are inclined to think that since Mahathir is taking this step, he should be supported regardless of his past deeds or association with current UMNO leaders, or for that matter, even his personal agendas if any.

The second group just want Barisan Nasional’s (BN) current top guy out, it seems. Some are fine with a reformed UMNO in the event that Mahathir does return to his former party, while some hope he will continue leading the opposition. Some don’t care about anything as long as the current top guy (Najib) is out. Who is right and who is wrong?

The leaders of some civil movements became involved, resulting in many Malaysians jumping into the fray to sign the Citizens’ Declaration without too much consideration. If you believe this is the right thing to do, well, they have rightly influenced people to the right path, otherwise they have misled them.

I am sure many would not disagree that a huge number of Malaysians would support and sign anything without question or analysis for the simple reason that their idols are there.

I personally think they have misled the people – not all, but many. We could argue until the cows come home, but don’t we all know of someone who has regretted signing the Citizens’ Declaration for one reason or another? This is the first step towards the grand disunity about to besiege the nation.

Based on the premise that a revolution is the result of unity and a paradigm shift in the minds of citizens, is this a revolution… or half a revolution?

Then came the formation of Mahathir’s new party PPBM, which initially accepted only Bumiputera membership. This was later revised to allow non-Bumiputeras to become associate members with no voting rights. I’m not sure how many, but I’ve been made to understand that quite a few non-Bumiputeras accepted this arrangement, including my own friends.

Have we not fought against racism for so long? Have we not complained about the current administration’s racially biased policies? Have we not completely despised groups like Perkasa (coincidentally, Mahathir is the VIP patron) and the infamous Ikan Bakar Tak Laku? And we are now told to accept a new racist party into the main opposition fold, because apparently, “we have no other choice”.

It’s mind-boggling, but again – is this leading us to the revolution we seek, or only half a revolution?

After an agonising wait, GE14 has finally been called. Most of us have been there, done that, seen and heard it all. Social media, which is a big part of many voters’ lives, is threatening to explode with the insults and quarrels from both sides of the political divide.

Understandable, many want change. But what change? Change is a process and a journey, not an event called GE-14. And a change to something worse is also called change.

PH, which has been entrusted to make this change, is now led by the very same person whom many acknowledge laid the foundation for the kleptocratic and autocratic government that we have today. To make things worse, he recently sought to exonerate himself from two of the nation’s saddest and darkest events: Ops Lalang and the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim. How convenient!

For those who must believe that it takes a thief to catch a thief, please carry on. For the rest of us, this is not palatable. It was never an issue of forgive and forget, but more of what possible reforms PH can bring forward with Mahathir in the coalition. What reforms could possibly take place with someone who apologises and makes a U-turn in six hours? PH is taking us for a ride, lock, stock and barrel.

Someone once said, “Change can never take place from the level of consciousness it was created.”PH – are you leading us to a revolution, or half a revolution?

If PH is serious about change and good governance, why are its parties, particularly PKR, fielding last-minute parachute candidates, worse still those who are not local, for state seats? Last-minute decisions for something as important as what they call “the mother of all elections”?

The power struggle is so blatant, and they are trying to tell us that they are for the people? How are they different from the very people they wish to bring down – BN? Try harder next time, PH.

PH, we want a revolution, not half a revolution. Many are angry at my disapproval and constant bashing of PH, as well as what they call my idealism. They say I am seeking perfection when the reality is that it doesn’t exist. I don’t think idealism is exactly the opposite of realism, but let’s save that for another day. If idealism involves not voting for a half-baked opposition coalition which could have presented itself as a sincere catalyst of change through real hard work and good planning, I am fine with idealism for now.

Happy voting, abstaining, or spoiling of votes!

Janice Fredah Ti is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect that of FMT.



NY Times: The Promise of Malaysia’s Old Leader

May 14, 2018

By The Editorial Board.

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

An autocratic politician emerges from retirement at age 92 to defeat his handpicked but appallingly corrupt successor, and to clear the way for a former deputy he had imprisoned on trumped-up charges. It’s an unlikely plot for a political thriller, but that’s what is happening in Malaysia. And if things play out according to Mahathir Mohamad’s plan, the situation could represent a rare, if curious, victory for democracy in a part of the world where the trend has been in the opposite direction.

Mr. Mahathir, the nonagenarian, dominated Malaysian politics as prime minister from 1981 to 2003, guiding the country through rapid modernization and economic expansion. He also ran the nation with an iron fist, and among his victims was his charismatic protégé, deputy and presumed heir, Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned in 1998 on sham charges of sodomy and corruption. Instead, Mr. Mahathir was followed in office by two handpicked successors.

The second of these, Najib Razak, stands accused of staggering corruption. The American Justice Department, which has been investigating the theft of Malaysian public funds because they were laundered through the United States, says at least $3.5 billion was stolen under Mr. Najib, with $731 million ending up in his personal account.

Declaring his choice of Mr. Najib as a successor “the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life,” Mr. Mahathir threw his hat in the ring in the recent national elections, this time as head of the opposition coalition that had been led by Mr. Anwar until he was thrown in prison a second time, in 2015, again on politically motivated charges. Despite trying every dirty trick in the book, Mr. Najib lost, and on Thursday Mr. Mahathir was sworn in once again as prime minister, making him the oldest government leader in the world. Mr. Mahathir has made good on his promise to seek a pardon for Mr. Anwar, who could succeed him.

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Free at Last, Free at Last–Anwar Ibrahim–Malaysia’s Nelson Mandela

Mr. Mahathir’s return does raise questions. He has not apologized for how he led Malaysia the first time, including the way he treated opponents, like Mr. Anwar. But Mr. Anwar makes no excuses for teaming up with the only politician with the popularity and standing to unseat Mr. Najib and set Malaysia back on course. At his last court appearance, Mr. Anwar said the opposition was not supporting Mr. Mahathir the person, but rather “the reform agenda he has committed to.”

Malaysia’s government faces a rough road ahead, including investigations into the lost state funds that must avoid the appearance of a witch hunt. But the way has been made easier by Mr. Mahathir’s return to demonstrate that democratic processes do work. All that remains is for him to make good on his pledge to take his final curtain call as soon as Mr. Anwar returns.


A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR10 of the New York edition with the headline: The Promise of Malaysia’s Old-New Leader. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper |

Dr. Bridget Welsh: The GE-14 aftermath: Hope and Healing

May 14, 2018

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Thank You, Dr. Bridget Welsh (pic above) for the excellent coverage of GE-14. Your writings on Malaysia with the insightful analysis, keen observations and succinct comments  are a delight to read. I am privileged  to know you as a friend, public intellectual and top rate researcher. You will always have a special place in this blog–Din Merican, Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh

The GE-14 aftermath: Hope and Healing

Harapan now has the support and goodwill of most Malaysians. Managing expectations and living up to the promise that GE-14 has brought about will be a large responsibility. Healing the wounds inside the system and the country as a whole are essential to meet these responsibilities.

COMMENT| Dr Mahathir Mohamad is once again Malaysia’s prime minister. Pakatan Harapan under the strategic leadership of Mahathir was able to create the perfect electoral storm to win over large shares of UMNO’s base, maintain the support of the opposition and bring about Malaysia’s first change of government at the federal level in the nation’s history.

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Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister–Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Democracy won out – the people’s votes were counted and a responsible peaceful transition of power took place. Najib Razak’s governance – the greed, the kleptocracy and the sense that he and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, were willing to sell out the country for their own interests, no matter how egregious – served to deeply alienate Malaysians across races and backgrounds and was strongly repudiated.

Millions of Malaysians took the ballot box and follow BN’s advice – ‘Make Malaysia Great Again’.

While I did see an opposition win as a viable scenario in the GE-14 political storm and could feel the strong sentiments on the ground, especially as the campaign gained momentum, I was too cautious in assessing the overwhelming outpouring, weighing in on the power holders holding on. I should have had more faith. I have long recognised the wisdom of ordinary Malaysians, and let despair, past disappointment and cynicism – in part shaped by global trends – overshadow hope.

In the wake of the Harapan victory, I begin my post-election analyses with focus on how hope can be actualised and an important healing process can begin.

Harnessing nationalism

Nationalism was a main driving force of this election as people from all walks of life voted to ‘Save Malaysia’. Most citizens put the love of their country over self-interest, following Mahathir’s own example. The BN’s emphatic loss was in large part due to its failure to look out for the interests of the country – from 1MDB to worrying investments with China.

Malaysians have long come together in crises such as the tragedies of MH370 and MH17. GE-14 represented yet another coming together to address a crisis and provides a positive opportunity for Malaysians to focus on national interest, a reset button.

It is important to capitalise on this spirit of working together, as the challenges of much-needed political and economic reforms extend well beyond one man (and his wife).

Building multi-ethnic bridges

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Focus has been on the multi-ethnic and national dimensions of the results. Caution is necessary in interpreting the results along these lines. While Malaysians from all walks of life voted for Harapan, the campaign was very much shaped along ethnic lines on both sides of the political divide. Even the post-election discussions of crossovers and such speak to the issue of Malay representation as opposed to others.

Ethnic mobilisation – engaging Malays – was at the heart of GE-14. UMNO was abandoned in large numbers with some going to Harapan, but others went to PAS. Arguably the Islamist party took more from UMNO support because it was a more comfortable racialised alternative for many Malays. While Harapan took away the mantle as the protector the nation, PAS has assumed the mantle for the Malays, with religious identity at the core.

Similar strong ethnic sentiments were expressed in Sabah and Sarawak. Acknowledging the persistence of race and religion is essential for any efforts to build a stronger society.

This said, arguably at no other time in Malaysia’s history, with the exception than that of Merdeka in 1957, has there been space to reduce racism and build mutual respect across communities, to realise that Malaysians embrace multiple identities of nation, community and religion and these identities do not have to be played off against one another.

This involves an understanding that Malaysia’s strength is in fact this diversity and difference. To move away from the “us” and “them” is not easy, to try to have trust, faith, tolerance and be respectful can be even more challenging when these practices have been eroded.

Meaningful reform needs to happen to the education system where the values of division are being perpetuated. As a young nation with so much talent, creativity, capacity and hope, the decay and distortions of Malaysia’s education system (often with the frustration and anger of many hardworking teachers) is, for me as an educator, one of the worst legacies of BN governance.

Special attention needs to centre on the curriculum in religious education and revitalising arts and culture. Efforts to work toward mutual understanding have to go beyond the classroom, to build on the extensive respectful quotidian exchanges that happen across races and faiths every day.

Finding moral compass

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They lost their moral compass, thinking that they  did not do anything wrong

In analysing developments in Malaysia (and elsewhere), I have regularly written about the loss of moral compass in the contemporary era. This was clearly the case among the UMNO elites, some of whom wrongly still think that they did not do anything wrong. Those in leadership positions should rightly be held accountable. Moving forward, there is, however, a need for a judicious search for justice.

Practices of corruption are endemic and part of a survival mode inside the system. Some in the Harapan government are also tainted with perceptions of these practices as the ‘UMNO’ culture of economic entitlement from holding office runs deep. This does not excuse them but helps us understand that the rot is systemic.

One important step could be to offer an amnesty to those who come forward, especially at the lower ranks, as a way of reaching across the system and starting fresh. This should be coupled with strengthening enforcement and incentives for good practices, a genuine commitment to anti-corruption.

Some of the crimes of the previous administration, however cannot be overlooked. Not only do people like Altantuya Shaariibuu, Teoh Beng Hock, Ahmad Sarbani Mohamed, Kevin Morais, Hussein Najadi, Raymond Koh, Amri Che Mat deserve the truth in their deaths and disappearances, as do countless others who died in Police custody, were buried in death camps and caught up in perilous trafficking rings.

Malaysia’s illegal economy needs to be curbed, and a culture of accountability reinforced. It will be difficult to open old and sensitive wounds but learning the lessons from these experiences and building on the knowledge of the reality of the seriousness of these problems is an integral part of a new beginning, of healing.

Tackling institutional reform

It is a given that Najib did serious damage to Malaysia’s political institutions, from the judiciary and parliament to the media environment and his own party. Mahathir at the helm provides an excellent (albeit ironic) opportunity for reform, given his national and broad mandate. He can indeed correct many of the mistakes he started and has acknowledged.

Lessons show this will take time, prioritisation, trust building, patience and a serious political commitment. Simple measures to repeal draconian laws on fake news, symbolic removal of senior staff who failed in their duties in areas such as the Electoral Commission and positive reinforcement of good practices and those who supported the turnover of power, such as the inspector-general of police, can go a long way. Attention will be paid on developments in the first 100 days.

A crucial part of this institutional rebuilding involves the 1.6 million in the civil service, many of whom voted for the opposition, but also many of whom remained loyal to UMNO. Keep in mind that BN won 35.4% of the country, over a third. The need for outreach to those in the system to dampen the inevitable resistance and resentments tied to entrenched practices that will come is pressing.

As stakeholders and implementors, civil servants are crucial for any successful institutional reform. In moments of change, it is always prudent to look for potential allies and be cautious in rushing to judgement. This does not mean to ignore real threats. GE-14 shows, however, that surprising allies can indeed lead to even more surprising outcomes.

Embracing social transformation

Equally substantive challenges remain in Malaysia’s economy, as acknowledged by Malaysia’s new leadership. Despite platitudes to the contrary, Malaysia is still caught in a middle-income trap. It does not yet have a clear strategy ahead to move out of it. The focus on infrastructure as a driver of growth needs to be complemented with more alternatives.

Serious thought needs to be placed on reforms in the agricultural sector to diversify from palm oil dominance. Equally valuable is consideration of how to strengthen services and ratchet up technology. There are seasoned experts inside the new leadership who understand that vision and long-term planning are better than short-term deals to pay off loans and address scandals. A thorough clean-up of 1MDB and the GLCs (government-linked companies) will go a long way to bringing investment into Malaysia.

The populist thrusts of the GE-14 campaign messages tap into real needs in society. Broadly, growing inequality, declining social mobility and persistent precarity of large shares of Malaysians underscored the resentments toward the Najib government. The GST showcased these vulnerabilities.

Throwing money at these problems through cash transfers such as BR1M did not go to the core of these problems. The poverty and underdevelopment in places such as Sabah, Sarawak and Felda areas remains serious. Equally significant are conditions in northern Terengganu and Kelantan, who cannot be left out of any new sets of initiatives even though they are opposition states.

GE-14 opens up the path for a social transformation, as did the critical juncture of 1969. If there was one positive from Najib’s decade in office, it is that he moved to embrace a more needs-based approach in social policy. This thinking can be foundational in the transformation, as an approach that focuses on one community at the expense of the other, for that race and not another, is part of the reason Malaysia is in the difficulties it now is.

This does not mean that policies cannot be sensitive to ethnic identities and social conditions, and policies will need to be adjusted to address the variation within Malaysia, whether it is rural Pensiangan or urban Kerinchi (not Bangsar South). Now, however, there is an opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about social problems and how they affect the economy and vice versa.

Healthcare, gender relations, family structure and religion are an integral part of robust discussions of policy reform. GE14 may have been essentially devoid of policy debate, but its outcome opens up the possibility of moving political discussions in a new direction.

Harapan now has the support and goodwill of most Malaysians. Managing expectations and living up to the promise that GE-14 has brought about will be a large responsibility. Healing the wounds inside the system and the country as a whole are essential to meet these responsibilities.

If there was one lesson I learned in GE-14, it is to have more faith … and hope.

BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She is following the Malaysian GE14 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at

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

Fake News Laws and Democracy Don’t Mix

May 14, 2018


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Fake News Laws and Democracy Don’t Mix

What is fake news and what is not will be clearly defined, says Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

He said the new government will not restrict on the press regardless of their leanings, but warned that any efforts to instigate the people will not be tolerated.

“Fake news laws will be given clear definitions so that news companies know what is fake news and what is not fake news.

“Even though we support freedom of the press and free speech, but there are limits. If they purposely try to create chaos, they will have to face action under specific laws.”

However, he said the government would not restrict any factual reports.

“If the press writes (factual) reports, even if makes the government uncomfortable, they are free to do so, we will not take action,” Mahathir said in a special televised address on RTM today.

Source: Fake News Laws and Democracy Don’t Mix


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Dr M will remember how the authorities accused him of lying over his slashed plane tyres just a week ago.  They called it Fake News.

‘Facts’ in the world of science are usually established through being tried and tested. Even so, matters regarded as fact for decades can later be discovered to be false, usually thanks to dissenters who eventually proved their point. The context of human discourse is far more complex and changing still.  You cannot create a scientific ‘definition’ to govern such things and human society needs those dissenters to be able to voice their position.

There are already huge disincentives facing journalists and public persons when it comes to deliberately or mistakenly disseminating false information.  Firstly, a reputation once lost is hard to regain.  Secondly, there are paths to sue within a civil context.  That is enough.

Leaders ought not to fear a false bogeyman – the idea that some unknown person could suddenly spout nonsense that would have hoards running onto the streets.  For every purveryor of false information there is the check of a trusted voice of good sense to counter-balance the impulses of the people in these situations.

Only one phenomenon breaks that rule, which is the development of cults – mostly extremist versions of established religions.  Cults can stir up dangerous actions by the indoctrinated followers, fed daily on false information.  Hence, bombs on the streets of Europe and elsewhere.

However, there is terror legislation for these matters and dangerous preachers are a very different target to journalists and ought to be handled separately.

Journalists and citizens must be allowed speak freely and even be allowed to get it wrong, if they can show their intentions were to inform about something they genuinely had good reason to believe and are willing to correct and amend if found mistaken (as opposed to intended and malicious lies).  These are the principles that have now evolved after much pain and argument in most modern democracies and Malaysia would do well to join them.

After all, the alternative is far worse.  It gives power to people like Najib to tell people like Dr M that they are lying over slashed tyres, 1MDB and all the rest.

SR rests its case.

GE-14: Congratulations to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister-Elect Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail, and Pakatan Harapan

May 10, 2018

Congratulations to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister-Elect Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail, and Pakatan Harapan on your victory

After six decades in power, BN falls to ‘Malaysian tsunami’–Malaysiakini

3.35am: (EDITORIAL)

May 9, 2018. This is the day Malaysians experienced the power of the ballot.

Anger towards the current administration had brought them out in large numbers to cast their votes in the historic 14th general election.

Few Malaysians would have thought they would live to see this day – the defeat of the formidable UMNO-led BN/Alliance which had held unbroken power for 61 years.

This is the first time the country has witnessed a change of government since independence from the British in 1957.

Malaysia is probably the only country in the world, apart from a handful of communist states, to have not undergone a regime change.

Pakatan Harapan’s victory is even more remarkable because of the gerrymandering, the numerous attempts by the Election Commission to frustrate the opposition campaign, and the holding of the election in the middle of the week, which most likely resulted in a lower voter turnout.

The rout of BN was made possible by a Malaysian tsunami – a tide which comprised not just the major ethnic groups in the peninsula – Malays, Chinese and Indians – but also those in Sabah and Sarawak.

At the end of the day, the redelineation, which BN pushed through weeks before the election, backfired.

Voters, frustrated with various issues, made a beeline at polling stations nationwide to reverse the efforts by BN and its functionaries to steal this election.

More importantly, this election witnessed a swing among the Malays in favour of the opposition despite the scare-mongering and race-baiting.

With this, Malaysia has taken the first step of becoming a normal country.

A normal country in which two or more coalitions would vie for power. A normal country where power now resided with the people, and not politicians. A normal country in which race and religion would not be an unalloyed obsession.

Now the hard work begins. No one should be under the illusion that a new government would be able to reverse the rot that had taken root for decades.

For a country that is so divided, it would take time to heal the wounds, and for Malaysians to rebuild the trust for one another and for the many institutions that have failed them.

Credit must also be given to those in BN such as UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO Treasurer-General Salleh Said Keruak and BN Strategic Communications Department Director Abdul Rahman Dahlan who were gracious in accepting defeat, emphasising that the voice of the people was paramount.

Similarly, supporters of Harapan must also be gracious in victory.

May 9, 2018, is also a reminder to all politicians not to take the people for granted. It is a reminder that it is the rakyat who are their masters, and the politicians have been elected to serve, and not lord over them. It would be wise for the incoming government to remember this.

Congratulations, Malaysia. At last, power to the people!