Malaysia: Can Pakatan Harapan handle Change– Mixed Signals


May 20, 2018

Malaysia: Can Pakatan Harapan handle Change– Mixed Signals

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.asiasentinel.com

…a substantial coterie of Malay nationalists and religious zealots remains in place, with members of the defeated United Malays National Organization (UMNO) still machinating on how to thwart the new government.”–Mariam Mokhtar

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Changes of government –especially after six decades of misrule —  are usually followed by joy-filled, tearful scenes in the streets and mass gatherings eager to embrace a fresh start. A celebration of the throwing out the old, corrupt regime, and welcoming in the new administration.

As the dust settles, there appears fat chance of that happening in Malaysia, where a substantial coterie of Malay nationalists and religious zealots remains in place, with members of the defeated United Malays National Organization (UMNO) still machinating on how to thwart the new government.

One day after the polls, a subdued but delighted crowd gathered outside the palace until 11 pm, waiting several hours for the swearing-in of the seventh Prime Minister — Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year combatant who had led a months-long, take-no-prisoners charge to rid the country of his onetime protège, Najib Razak, saying he had been personally betrayed.

Having secured victory, Mahathir has acted like a man possessed, trying to rebuild Malaysia and restore its reputation seemingly overnight.  He has wasted no time in getting his cabinet in order. This was the old Mahathir, methodical, meticulous and masterful at political machination. If members of his winning team thought they could have a well-deserved rest following the two public holidays that Mahathir had earlier declared after  winning the 14th General Election, they were sorely disappointed.

Having said in previous interviews that he had little time left to rebuild Malaysia, Mahathir held several meetings to form a credible government, appointed three Cabinet ministers, pushed for a royal pardon for his former adversary, Anwar, and still found time to meet the Sultan of Brunei, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and the Governor of Sarawak, Taib Mahmud.

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He blazed his way through matters of state, ordered travel bans on Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, and several prominent politicians and cronies including the former Inspector of Police. He ordered the Police to raid several apartments belonging to Najib’s family members and ordered the Attorney-General, an UMNO hack who had “cleared” Najib of complicity in the 1MDB scandal, to go on a long leave, while sealing his office to prevent important documents from being taken away, or shredded.

Police who raided Najib’s residences seized an amazing amount of loot in more than 350 boxes and bags containing cash, jewelry and designer handbags early Friday including 284 boxes of handbags and 72 pieces of luggage containing cash, jewelry, watches and other valuables, said Amar Singh, Chief of the Police commercial crimes unit. How much of that might be related to assets being seized by the US in its kleptocracy case against Najib, family members and others is unclear.

If Mahathir moved with blistering speed, ironing out what had to be done for the nation, one couldn’t say the same about individual states like Johor and Perak.

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The New Menteri Besar of Johor

Johoreans were furious to find that their new Chief Minister candidate from the winning Harapan coalition was acting like a thoroughbred UMNO politician. He nominated an UMNO officer as his adviser and told UMJNO members, now a minority in opposition, that they weren’t eligible for any state funding. Those actions, reminiscent of the former Barisan Nasional leadership, incurred the ire of the Johoreans.

The practice of party-hopping, which is picking up speed in East Malaysia, was condemned by the campaign reform organization Bersih and various politicians. People took to social media to vent their frustration, and one human rights NGO named ENGAGE penned an open letter to Pakatan Harapan leaders, saying  the nation doesn’t want to see the winning coalition become another “BN 2.0” after several parties affiliated with the Barisan broke ranks and said they planned to join Harapan.

The party-hopping, which was taking place in Sabah, Sarawak and Perak, has eroded voter confidence.

Up north, despite the promise by the new government to ensure press freedom, RSN Thayer, the Democratic Action Party MP for the Jelutong constituency, announced that the license for TV3, the publicly listed media company controlled by UMNO, should be revoked. He incurred the wrath of Malaysians who told him that they don’t want the new government to be a poor copy of the one just booted out. Thayer’s own party leaders distanced themselves from him.

When Rafizi Ramli, a Pakatan politician, whose whistle-blowing on UMNO’s activities had earned him a fine and jail term for violation of the bank secrecy laws, currently under appeal, criticized Mahathir for not discussing the appointment of the finance, home affairs and defense ministry, he too was slammed.

Rafizi said that PKR’s consultation was critical, and he opposed Mahathir’s bulldozing methods.  Upset that the Chinese Daily, Sin Chew had written that Rafizi was only vocal because he had been vying to be made the finance minister, Rafizi has said he would sue the paper. Some party members accused Rafizi of trying to derail Mahathir’s efforts to form a government, but others came to his defense and said change must include exposing any and all wrongdoings.

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Speaking out as he did didn’t please the lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan. She tweeted “PKR please stop your nonsense. I fully support the appointments by the Prime Minister. Please put country above all else. The rakyat (people) did!”

Rafizi merely rather sensibly criticized Mahathir’s lack of consultation among the four new government parties. In his 22 years as prime minister he often acted high-handedly and there were concerns that might be continuing. Elsewhere people who made what were deemed offensive remarks about Mahathir on social media found that police reports had been lodged against them.

Eric Paulsen, acting for the NGO Lawyers for Liberty (LFL), said that demanding police action against individuals who openly expressed criticism of the government, merely trivialized  police reports and disregarded the rights of people with differing views. Paulson himself had been charged with sedition by the previous government.

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Paulsen said that in the new Malaysia, people should be allowed to criticism unless they threatened public disorder and called for violence. He too urged the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) to focus on their work and to stop wasting resources investigating these sorts of report.

The following day after the election, groups of UMNO Youth members gathered outside the party’s massive headquarters and starting fighting one another. It was the day the party would have celebrated its 72nd anniversary. Instead, they traded blows and insults while demanding the resignation of Najib, the UMNO president. For his part, Najib denies any wrongdoing, is making out that he is a victim while his party is in denial mode, with its leaders still scrambling after power, expressing regret and doing mock post mortems.

Perhaps the most shocking revelation was a Reuters interview of Anwar Ibrahim following his release from prison. The man Najib put behind bars said that a “shattered” Najib had called him twice, in prison, asking him what to do on the night he lost the elections. Anwar advised him to accept defeat and move on, advice Najib didn’t take.  Sources say he sought initially to round up army and police officials to declare martial law but both forces were split. He eventually had to concede.

As expected, few former Cabinet members came to Najib’s defense. The former Youth and Sports Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin claimed that he tried to help Najib in the campaign to no avail and apologized to party members for UMNO’s failure to cling on to power.

He neglected to apologize to the public for failing to acknowledge that Najib allegedly had stolen vast funds and corrupted the political system. Branded an opportunist by many, Khairy was regarded as vying for pole position to lead the leaderless and rudderless defeated party that had ruled Malaysia for six decades.

Initially, Khairy said that the party needs to reform and return to its original ideals, safeguard the honor of the Malays, take care of the other races, and fight for all communities. He then hinted that he was a possible leadership contender, saying the party needs someone who with the confidence of the grassroots supporters, to revive it.

The same Khairy had, in another report, claimed to have overlooked the clear signals that UMNO had a problem. He blamed the leaders for being detached from reality, for members having a feudal mindset that protected the leader and prevented them from asking tough questions. So says the man who barred reporters for Malaysiakini, almost the only independent media voice in the country, because he despised the questions they asked.

Khairy may have a battle on his hands. The former Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, is a Malay nationalist and would not take kindly to Khairy’s suggestion for UMNO to accept members from other races. Two years ago, Zahid urged UMNO members to unite because “foreign enemies” were plotting to topple the government.

Zahid can take heart with the sentiments of the Malay nationalist NGO, Perkasa which has criticized the appointment of a non-Malay as Finance Minister.

Najib’s cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein, the usually clueless former Defence Minister, has also said that UMNO needs new leadership.

The irony is that Mahathir is trying to rebalance many of his previous pro-Malay and pro-Islamic policies. One reform that he promised to implement within 100 days of being in office, is the abolition of the deeply unpopular goods and services tax that played a major role in Najib’s defeat. That will now take place earlier than expected, on June 1.

Malay nationalists and religious zealots remain,fanned by years of official recognition of their cause by UMNO in the effort to keep minority races at bay. Although Mahathir and Pakatan Harapan may have won round one, they will have to navigate carefully, or the path to Malaysian reform will be long and rocky.

Mariam Mokhtar is a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel

 

Of Frogs in Malaysian Politics


May 20, 201

Of Frogs in Malaysian Politics

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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No-one should take the Malaysian people for granted.

 

We were patient for decades despite the injustices, the lack of opportunities for certain sections of society, and the discrimination, but we had faith in our fellow Malaysians.

There was no doubt about our desire for change. In the 14th general election, we gave it our all. The only doubt was on what former Prime Minister Najib Razak was prepared to do to secure a win. Remember the late night meeting at his house, the two-hour delay in the Election Commission’s announcement of results.

The Police handled their duties with the utmost professionalism, as did the Armed Forces. There were no major incidents, only a handful of youths caught with fireworks in Putrajaya because they wanted to celebrate the election results.

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For decades, Malaysians had been fed up with being treated like political football. We were appalled to see many prominent businessmen ingratiating themselves with the Najib administration. We observed with trepidation when government critics like cartoonist Zunar were harassed by the authorities.

By and large, Malaysians are peaceful and law-abiding. We are also a tolerant lot, and have remained so despite the various tricks designed to make us turn against one another.

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A few years ago, we might have had reservations about Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s willingness to team up with the opposition, doubting his intentions and fearing insincerity on his part. Eventually, however, he won the mandate to take charge of the opposition coalition.

Last Thursday, on May 10, we were rewarded for our persistence. The rest, as they say, is history. So why is the new government allowing so many UMNO-Barisan Nasional (BN) MPs and assemblymen to switch allegiance to Pakatan Harapan (PH)?

We won’t name individuals, but many who won their seats, allegedly through vote buying, are now trying to jump ship and join PH.

If PH allows them in, it would be a betrayal of trust. We voted for PH because PH translated our needs and aspirations into its policies.

The four component parties were prepared to forego their own logos for the greater good. They rallied together for the people.

So who are these desperate UMNO-BN frogs? They were prepared to support Najib. They were arguably aware of the corruption, the lies and the manipulation.\

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They cannot simply turn around and expect to be welcomed into PH with open arms. For years, they played a part in our suffering. They colluded with corrupt UMNO-BN leaders. They failed to realise the mood of the people.

Their desire now to desert the sinking UMNO-BN ship is damaging the fragile understanding and trust between the people and the PH leaders. These frogs are self-serving and do not have our interests at heart.

We do not believe that a person who, year in and year out, spewed venom at UMNO General assemblies, would suddenly fight corruption and get rid of discrimination.

We despair when UMNO frogs are not barred from joining PH. Look at the alarm caused in the Perak imbroglio over the choice of Menteri Besar. Nizar Jamaluddin, the candidate of choice for most people in Perak, had a proven track record in his short stint as Menteri Besar. However, his tenure came to an abrupt end thanks to an infestation of frogs in the state assembly.

Nizar is not a career politician, unlike many of those who are now jumping over to PH. On whose advice was the popular choice ignored? Who has their own personal agenda to keep?

These frogs could destroy PH’s reputation and allow the re-election of UMNO in the next general election. They will also hinder the rebuilding of Malaysia. People will think PH is no better than Umno-Baru.

We do not want PH to be contaminated and brought down like this, not in Perak and not anywhere else in the country.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed by the writer are not necessarily those of FMT.

Terence Gomez on bfm


May 19, 2018

UM’s Terence Gomez on bfm

https://www.bfm.my/bg-terence-gomez-universiti-malaya-challenges-of-democratic-transition?utm_source=bfmmy&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=web_highlights

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Beginning with Tun Dr Mahathir’s statement to reform political party financing and GLCs, the author of ‘Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia’ published last August, takes us through the many challenges the country faces in this transition from authoritarian to democratic rule. Starting with an analysis of GE14 – including the alleged secret pact between UMNO and PAS – we look at the shape of things to come.

Presented by: Melisa Idris, Sharaad Kuttan

Malaysia: After Regime Change, What’s Next?


May 19, 2018

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

by Eric Loo

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/424766

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.

AP Interview: Anwar wants Malaysia to scrap race policies


May 18, 2018

AP Interview: Anwar wants Malaysia to scrap race policies

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Pardoned Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim said Thursday that decades-old affirmative action policies for the country’s Malay majority must be discarded in favor of a new program to help the poor regardless of race.

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In an interview with The Associated Press, the prime minister-in-waiting also said he plans to run in a by-election this year to become a member of Parliament but that he isn’t in a rush to take over the top job.

Anwar, 70, was convicted of sodomy in 2015 in a case he said was politically motivated. His sentence expires June 8 but he was given a royal pardon on Wednesday and freed from custody after last week’s stunning electoral victory by his alliance led by former foe Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar said poor Malays will benefit more from merit-based policies that are transparent. He said the New Economic Policy, instituted in 1971 following bloody riots fueled by Malay discontent with the relative affluence of ethnic minority Chinese, has been abused to enrich the elites.

The program, which gives preference to Malays in government contracts, business, jobs, education and housing, is credited with lifting millions of Malays out of poverty and creating an urban Malay middle class. It is also blamed for a racial divide between Malays, who account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 31 million people, and minority Chinese and Indians who have long complained about government discrimination.

The policy is a sensitive issue, with many Malays fearing they will lose their privileges under a new government. Many ethnic minorities have left Malaysia in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

“I have said that the NEP should be dismantled but the affirmative action must be more effective. I believe that poor underprivileged Malays will benefit more through a transparent, effective affirmative action policy rather than the New Economic Policy which has been hijacked to enrich the few cronies,” said Anwar, a Malay.

Anwar, who changed Malaysia’s political landscape with his reform movement after he was sacked as deputy prime minister in 1998, said he had expected his alliance to win with a small margin but didn’t expect the victory to be so complete.

He said defeated Prime Minister Najib Razak had been “self-indulgent” and underestimated public anger over the corruption scandal involving the 1MDB state fund that is being investigated abroad.

“He was full of himself, thinking he could succeed and even toying with the idea that he will regain a two-third majority (in parliament) which is clearly outrageous to most people but he is convinced,” Anwar said. “He is just oblivious to the stark realities, he is in a cocoon.”

Anwar said Najib called him on the night of the May 9 polls after it was clear that Najib’s National Front coalition, which ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957, was losing. He said Najib appeared to be still in denial and that he advised Najib to concede defeat.

U.S. investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the 1MDB fund. Najib denied any wrongdoing. The new government has barred Najib and his wife from leaving the country and police early Thursday raided Najib’s house in search of evidence.

Anwar was once a high-flyer in the National Front but was convicted of homosexual sodomy and corruption after a power struggle in 1998 with Mahathir, who was prime minister for 22 years until 2003. He was freed in 2004 and convicted again in 2015 of sodomy, which he said was concocted to destroy his political career.

Anwar worked from his prison cell to forge a new opposition alliance by ending his two-decade feud with Mahathir, a gamble that paid off when the alliance won the polls. Mahathir, 92, has taken office as the world’s oldest elected leader.

“It’s a long wait … the struggle is 20 years. There was continued humiliation, victimization but it’s OK, we survived. There’s no need to complain too much,” Anwar said. “I think we should focus our attention now on how to alleviate the poor, how to reduce this inequality, how to stop these excesses and endemic corruption which is part of the culture now.”

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Anwar said forgiving Mahathir and rebuilding their friendship in the country’s interest wasn’t as difficult as he thought and that they can “emerge as two great friends again.”

He played down concerns of possible tension with Mahathir, saying he would not hold any Cabinet post for now to give Mahathir “a free hand” in running the country. But Anwar said he plans to return as a lawmaker by running in a by-election this year as well as spend time with his family and travel abroad for speaking engagements.

He praised Mahathir as an “indefatigable fighter.” “He chose a good ending to this episode. I don’t want to deny that we had serious disagreement on policies and excesses but now he said, ‘Look, I owe it to this nation that I loved and I want to make amends and the corrective measures,'” Anwar said.

Anwar said the new government faces huge challenges in cleaning up the financial mess left by 1MDB and putting in effective policies, but he is confident Malaysia can emerge as a “beacon for democracy and justice in the region and more so in the Muslim world.”

 

Post GE-14:The Road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard


May 18, 2018

Post GE-14:The Road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard

by Clive Kessler

COMMENT | Malaysia’s recent national elections either announced a new dawn or they simply mark the beginning of another dark and difficult time in the country’s much-contested political story.

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The great rush of recently unimaginable events over the last two weeks – when seemingly immovable structures and obstacles crumbled – suggest bright days are in sight for the Southeast Asian nation. Most dramatically, a convicted felon, pardoned by the Malaysian King unconditionally, has become a Prime-Minister-in-Waiting, and a recently omnipotent Prime Minister risks being branded a convicted felon.

But appearances may be misleading. So may the relief and enthusiasm that many Malaysians feel at the sight of the scandal-tainted Najib  Razak being forced out of office by Mahathir Mohamad.

A lot now hangs on the 92-year-old Mahathir and his allies. Should he fail to secure a long-lasting recovery in Malaysian democracy, it could signal doom for the hopes of peaceful democratisation throughout Asia and beyond. The implications of developments in this Muslim-majority nation for Islamist politics worldwide could be even more ominous.

The road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard. The problems facing Mahathir’s new Pakatan Harapan government are both personal and deeply political.

A New Order

Mahathir has returned to the top office, an ostensible national saviour with an opportunity too to redeem his own chequered political reputation. He will hand over to his ally Anwar Ibrahim, the man released from jail recently.

Anwar’s jubilant loyalists will want it to be sooner than Mahathir, and even 70-year-old Anwar (photo), who needs some recovery time after three years in prison, may wish.

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Some people fear the return of Mahathir, who governed Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 at the head of the dominant UMNO that his protege Najib later also headed. The old authoritarian will not have changed his stripes, say his critics.

But others would be happy to see him stay on a while. He knows better than anyone how to wield the levers of state power and so to consolidate the new order. He still has enormous standing among the public, and especially with UMNO loyalists.

These people will be less inclined to accept the more polarising Anwar. They fear that Anwar, who in his previous ministerial incarnation (as Deputy Prime Minister for five years in the 1990s) was a soft Islamist who often proved a facilitator for harder-line Islamists, may again succumb to the same temptations.

Mahathir, they know, is an Islamic “protestant” who gives primacy to individual religious conscience and abhors the traditional clerical establishment and their political pretensions.

But Anwar’s main in-house problem, when he enters cabinet, may not be with Mahathir. By the time he comes in, he will find Muhyiddin Yassin entrenched there, from the outset of the new era.

Like Anwar, he is a former Deputy Prime Minister (2009-2015) and a former long-serving UMNO politician, and he is a proven and wily grappler in close political combat.

Forced out of government by Najib for raising questions about the 1MDB state investment fund scandal, in which Najib was allegedly implicated, he had always been more acceptable to UMNO’s Malay support base than Najib. In his words and manner, he generated an aura of Malay authenticity and sincerity that was beyond Najib’s conjuring.

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The ultimately fatal estrangement between Najib and UMNO’s mass base began when he lost Muhyiddin as his Malay retail broker and intermediary. UMNO’s response to the emergence and consolidation of the new order will be crucial.

 

After a day of uncertainty following the voting on May 9, the surviving UMNO grandees decided to accept the outcome. There would be no attempt to resist or reject the new administration immediately. That was encouraging. But it was on their part a prudent as well as a proper response.

Rather than trying to undermine it from the start, many in a wounded UMNO will think it smarter to let the new administration make its own mistakes first, lose its fresh luster, create its own problems and set in train its own crises and perhaps demise.

There can be no easy assumption that a new ruling group so diverse and lacking in political coherence as the Pakatan Harapan government will find its way forward easily, and without divisive contention.

An Improbable Coalition

The five-party Harapan coalition is an improbable combination of social democratic secularists, traditionalist Muslims, moderate Islamists, Malay nationalists and local-rights-championing east Malaysian nativists. Will they find the discipline, judgement and good sense as well as the clear political program to keep them in power?

When they stumble, their adversaries will be ready to move: Not only the leading Umno politicians but also the various Malay supremacist activist groups that have long served as street enforcers for some of the outwardly more respectable Umno warlords – and who have shown their readiness to create civil unrest as a way of attempting to force the hand of the national leadership and Police.

These developments, or their possibility, are of more than national political significance. They have regional implications and international resonance.

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has proved a long, bleak winter. Should the far more securely grounded Malaysian democratic efflorescence fail, it will threaten the prospects for the peaceful development of democracy elsewhere in Asia and further afield. Even more worrying, perhaps, could be the impact on Islamist politics around the globe.

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The Najib years saw an intensifying rapprochement between the once-secular nationalist forces of UMNO and the Islamist forces centered on PAS. Eventually, the urbane Najib became dependent upon Islamists for his political ascendancy and, ultimately, for his mere survival.

 

He came to rely upon the political support of PAS domestically and the financial support of Islamist money from the Middle East. This was as a key element in the entire 1MDB scandal, as Najib allegedly diverted money from the 1MDB fund and used it to fight and win the 2013 elections. Najib, who faces a new judicial investigation launched by Mahathir, denies wrongdoing.

After defeat and in opposition, the entente between UMNO and PAS may become even closer. And, should the new Harapan government stumble, it will be a far more cohesive, solidly grounded and purposeful Malay-backed Islamist force that will come to power in Malaysia and determine its direction.

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Tough Times for Najib and Rosmah after Defeat in GE-14

This is a far from impossible scenario. It is one that is full of dire implications not just for Malaysia but for the region and for a world gripped by anxiety about advancing Islamism.

A lot is hanging, worldwide, on whether the new Malaysian government will succeed.


CLIVE KESSLER is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He is an author who has observed Malaysia’s elections since 1967, and has written extensively on Malaysia for over 50 years.

The above article was first published in the Nikkei Asian Review.

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