Malaysiakini–A Story of Devotion to Web-Journalism for Democracy in Malaysia

May 25, 2018

On Two Courageous Friends (Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan) and Malaysiakini–A Story of Devotion to Web-Journalism for Democracy in Malaysia

by Marc Lourdes


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INTERVIEW | Malaysiakini was born in 1999, in the crucible of the Reformasi movement that sprung up in the wake of the arrest and imprisonment of then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran started the online news portal to give Malaysians an unvarnished view of what was happening in the country – the kind people were unable to get from the government-controlled mass media newspapers and TV stations at the time.

The little outlet is now one of Asia’s most influential news sites. But the journey has been perilous. In its two decades of operations, Malaysiakini has been raided by police numerous times, dragged to court and most recently faced the threat of seeing its founders incarcerated for their work.

Yet, it has also won numerous awards for its journalism and has a special place in the hearts of Malaysians the world over. More than 17 million people used the site to track the Malaysian election results on May 9 and a multitude more followed along on social media.

Anwar Ibrahim, on his release from prison on May 16 after obtaining a royal pardon, specifically thanked Malaysiakini for its work and its journalism.

I spoke to CEO Premesh Chandran to find out more about the Malaysiakini journey – and what comes after this remarkable chapter in its life.

What was the genesis of Malaysiakini?

Steven and I used to work at The Sun, and before that we were student activists. We often talked about how independent and free media propels a country forward, and we felt that independent media in Malaysia was the weak link.

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After Anwar Ibrahim was arrested in September 1998, a lot of people approached us, suggesting we start up an underground newspaper. So then I said, “Look, the internet is coming in and the government has already promised not to censor the internet. I think an online thing would work.”

This was very early days – think dial-up modems – and at the time most of the websites were just blogs.

In the 20 years you’ve been around, you’ve seen a lot of competition come and go. Yet, Malaysiakini has consistently been number one, and consistently the most trusted site in the country. Why is that?

We moved first and developed a large following very early on. And we were in multiple languages.

We really tried to run it professionally, and slowly, over time, we’ve been able to build up linkages and support across the political divide. After the 2008 elections [in which the opposition made unprecedented gains], we also reported very independently on the state governments run by the opposition.

I think we built up our brand very strongly over the years. And in 2002, we decided to go subscription. That was pivotal.

At the time, advertising was clearly not working out. So we had a choice to either go subscription or basically close down.

Nobody thought it would work but we decided to try it anyway. The idea there was: Who really wants Malaysiakini to survive? We felt our readers were our strongest backers. They would be the ones saying, “Here, I will support you.”

It was a tough route – not many people were using credit cards in those days, there was no such thing as PayPal, no subscription systems around.

So how did you make it work?

We did things like create our own prepaid cards. In those days, even prepaid cards were a rarity. And just a lot of marketing, getting the word out. A lot of people were paying in cash, paying in cheques, and we were figuring things out as we went along.

I think not having a print product helped us because when you have a print newspaper, your focus is on that and online is a stepchild. So I think because we were only digital, that helped us focus only on digital and become really good at digital.

People talk a lot about the Malaysiakini commitment to good journalism, but the technology part of your business is very underrated. Tell us a little bit about that.

We’ve been investing in technology since 2001. Because we started very early, there were not a lot of systems we could buy. If we started today, it may not make much sense to build lots of our own technology – we could just get whatever is there.

But because there was nothing there back then, we had to build a lot of our technology ourselves. So we’ve invested in our CMS, subscription system, advertising – now we work with Google – we’ve got our own HR system, CRM. We’ve done everything ourselves.

You were also an early mover into video, having spun out KiniTV a few years ago. What was the thinking behind that?

We actually launched it in 2006 and it was first called MalaysiakiniTV. At that time YouTube had just started, and the government promised broadband connections.

We felt video would be a way to really allow more people to connect. But the first three to four years were very disappointing. Broadband took a really long time to come in, people couldn’t really watch without buffering, and the cost of equipment was high.

It was only much later, around 2012 and 2013 when mobile phones became much cheaper and bandwidth costs came down, that you could see a huge jump in people watching video online. I think we were a bit too early on that and because of that we were not able to generate much revenue so we kept it small – only about three to five people.

But some of the videos we did were very important. We broadcast a series of three to four public rallies in 2007 and 2008 [Hindraf, Bersih, Bar Council]. A lot of those videos got pirated on to CDs and distributed. It was great marketing for us.

Did Malaysiakini find it hard to attract advertisers because of what it was?

That’s been true from day one. Advertisers found it difficult to advertise because we are very political, we ask tough questions, the government attacks us a lot.

Our advertising team would put up a proposal and we wouldn’t be able to get the ad dollar. So, we did earn ad money but if you look at our earnings per reader, it was much lower than what the mainstream guys were earning, even though we had a large audience.

What we’ve always done at Malaysiakini is keep our costs very low. Even top management here don’t earn as much.

With the new government in place, do you see the ad market changing for you? Will it be easier for you to operate and do business?

I think it will be definitely much easier; I think we will be getting more [advertising] campaigns.But online advertising itself is problematic for publishers generally. Facebook takes a lot of the money, Google takes a lot of the money. So we need to think of the ad market as a globalised market, it’s not just Malaysians competing. It’s not me versus The Star or NST.

The previous political hurdles will no longer be there, but that doesn’t mean we are going to earn millions and millions and millions of dollars.


Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan gives a speech in the Malaysiakini newsroom at about 4am on May 10. The team had just finished a marathon day at work that culminated in the biggest story of its existence – the 14th Malaysian general elections, which saw the BN government ousted after 61 years of rule. (Photo: Marc Lourdes)

As things stand today, what’s the percentage of your revenue split between advertising and subscriptions?

Last year, it was 70% ads and 30% subscriptions. Subscriptions have taken a bit of a hit; it used to be much more but has gone down a little bit.

When people feel disillusionment in politics, our subscriptions tend to go down. Now that people are excited about politics, our subscriptions will go up.

Malaysiakini has been fundamental to the first time we’ve had a change in government in Malaysia. What does this mean for your sense of achievement and purpose?

In many cases, people work very, very hard but don’t live to see the day. But to actually see it is very exhilarating and euphoric, almost surreal.

What comes next for Malaysiakini?

The political and regulatory environment will be easier to handle; there’ll be less business obstacles to us and we can go into more areas.

But the media field will be much more competitive. With any country in post-transition, we see this bloom of media. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants to set up a news website or TV station. So I think the field is going to get really crowded.

And I’ve also seen in many countries, there’s a honeymoon period – but it only lasts six to 12 months. We will obviously be reporting critically of the government. And then the honeymoon will be over. We’re not under the illusion that we are going to be the golden boys forever.

And it’s not in our DNA to try to parrot the government and be the government’s PR agency.

Do you have plans for growing beyond Malaysia?

We’ve always talked about Malaysia as being possibly a very interesting intellectual hub for both Southeast Asia and for Asia.

We are a melting pot, we have different languages here, different ethnic groups, different religions. We speak English, so we can be connected to the Western world.

It’s a very fertile place for ideas and engagement, but has always been held back by a government that’s less than democratic. So, with those obstacles removed, we can see a lot of intellectual discussions happening, not only about how Malaysia should be in the future but how Asia should be.

So, I think there is a possibility we can position Malaysia as kind of an intellectual centre and media centre for Asia. And maybe Malaysiakini has a role in that space.

What are the most useful lessons you’ve learned over the past 19 years?

One is to be consistent. We don’t hold grudges. Mahathir [Mohamad, in his first stint as Prime Minister] tried to shut us down. But when he left and his voice was being silenced by his successor [Abdullah Ahmad Badawi], we gave him space because his views were important. So we’re very consistent with our mission – that’s one key thing.

The decision to rely on our readers and on subscription in hindsight was a good move. But we have also kept the Malay language site free, so it reaches a wide audience. So although we are talking about subscriptions, we aren’t dogmatic about it. We’re not saying that’s the only way forward.

Another good lesson is that Steven and I have this division: he looks after editorial and I look after the business. It’s very often that online media is started by journalists and editors, and they are really gung-ho about [doing] the best journalism in the world.

What they end up doing is over-investing in the journalism part and under-investing in the technology, advertising, operations, etc – because everybody who is sitting at the management table are all editors and journalists.

So I think that a key lesson would be that if you want to be successful in media, you need a good editor, you need a good technology lead – that’s really key – and you need someone looking at revenues, whether it’s advertising or subscription.

These three key aspects you can’t do without. Too many companies fail because it’s unbalanced.


MARC LOURDES is a Malaysian journalist and editor, and is among Asia’s leading experts on digital news media operations. Until recently, he was CNN’s digital director for Asia Pacific. Follow Marc Lourdes on Twitter.

The Mahathir 2.0 Cabinet of the Few, For the Many

May 24, 2018

The Mahathir 2.0 Cabinet of the Few, For the Many

by Rais

COMMENT | Clocking in on time has always been a trademark of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed. The use of name tags, even by ministers, was another signature move of his during his previous tenure.

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Neither of these initiatives were missed by the local and international press covering the inaugural cabinet meeting on May 23. They saw the return of that same efficiency, the very quality that made Pakatan Harapan stronger and better than the BN they defeated on May 9.

But there is one issue which they overlooked. One that Mahathir had to announce himself, albeit in jest – his willingness of Mahathir to allow all thirteen cabinet ministers to speak their mind.In his words, “Everyone spoke so that I would not be seen as a dictator.”

In a way, he never was, precisely because Mahathir was constantly looking for an intellectual sparring partners, which he did not have much in his earlier tenure.

It was the fear to speak up with knowledge and facts that stunted the earlier government of UMNO-BN, one which Harapan is determined not to repeat.

Nevertheless, there are three reasons why Mahathir willingly allowed everyone to express their views, and with candour. Firstly, the cabinet is still new. Everyone has to be given the chance to speak his or her mind, without which true talents cannot be found, ever. Freedom of expression even in cabinet requires thorough study of one’s ministry papers.

But when such ‘noises’ are generated, without critical thinking, Mahathir would have to whittle the noise levels down. Consequently, to help the new ministers’ grapple with policies that are coherent and practical, as befitting the new politics of Harapan.

Secondly, unlike the ingratiation of the previous administration of Najib Abdul Razak, the new Harapan cabinet will now echo the frustrations and hopes of Malaysians at large, without fear or favour.

The former Prime Minister, in contrast, only made himself privy to positive news. This was a feature reinforced by gratuitous politicians like Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Hishammuddin Hussein and even Khairy Jamaluddin – who admitted to Singapore’s Channel News Asia, of all outlets, that “no one would like to bell the cat.”

Whether one is a cabinet member of Amanah, Bersatu, DAP or PKR, each is bound to speak with facts drawn from the field that constitutes the rakyat. The people’s voice, be it positive or negative, must be articulated, debated and presented to ensure the cabinet stays rooted to the realities on the ground.

The cabinet must at all costs avoid being circumambulated by advisors and advocates who would only promote their ideas and views for their own good, and not for the good of many.

Democracy at work

For once, the cabinet is not for the few. The level of contestation of ideas is intense and all are allowed to speak their mind, just like what happens in Harapan’s presidential council meetings, which Mahathir chairs and always concludes with specific decisions made.

I know this is being replicated at the cabinet, given that many of its members also sit on the presidential council, and they have come to be accustomed with such process of decision making.

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Thirdly, the cabinet may not meet as often as the esteemed Council of Eminent Persons, but they have to match their ‘elders’ in terms of intellectual calibre. And they do, at the risk of being removed in they are non-performing.

Be this over the next one hundred days or a year, dysfunctional cabinet members will have to be quickly replenished as Malaysia’s national debt level does not allow one to wallow.

The rich oasis of talents in the cabinet plus the experience hands of Mahathir, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Guan Eng and the like will ensure that the nation will be navigated and reinvented properly towards regaining prosperity for the many.

That being said, barring any untoward financial crisis of cataclysmic proportions, the cabinet can perform to the satisfaction of Harapan’s presidential council.

Financial strength

To begin with, the price of oil is inching up, not down. The sovereign risk agencies know that Malaysia’s fiscal strengths are substantial when our oil and gas sectors are firing on all cylinders.

Image result for irwan serigar abdullahWhere is the Najib Apple Polisher, Irwan Serigar Abdullah now?


Nevertheless, consistent with global warming, and the transition to a greener economy, the Malaysian government should not be relying on the proceeds of Petronas alone. To do so would be to make oneself vulnerable to the curse of the ‘black gold,’ as Russia and many Arab countries are vulnerable to.

Be that as it may, Malaysia has a temporary lifeline from oil. The original budget of Harapan was conceptualised in 2017 when the price of oil was hovering around US$52 per barrel.

As things stand, the price of oil looks likely to breach US$85 per barrel, perhaps even US$90. This may not last, however, as it is due to the strategic tensions in Iran and the instabilities in Venezuela.

Nevertheless, both events have enhanced the financial strength of the Harapan administration, especially its determination to knock down the national debt of more than RM 1 trillion – a contested figure, but something I alerted to last year in terms of on-budget and off-budget debts.

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As I write, the Finance Ministry is still assessing the final damage. Will it breach RM2 trillion? I expect it to reach closer to RM1.8 trillion. Now with Lim having access to detailed files and numbers, I am keeping my fingers crossed. But suffice to say we do have safe pair of hands in Lim.

With debt at 65 percent of the GDP, as opposed to the fake numbers of 50.1 percent given by the previous Najib administration, obviously the fiscal strength of Malaysia is more diminished than what Umno-BN had originally let on.

‘Bersih, Cekap, dan Amanah’

From day one, Harapan has refused to govern based on lies and deception. The present administration will be guided by good governance and best practices echoing the maxim of ‘Bersih, cekap and amanah’ (Clean, competent and accountable) that Mahathir introduced during his previous tenure.

The Harapan manifesto, Buku Harapan, clearly spells out the various specifics on the institutional reforms to safeguard the nation with proper checks and balances.

But with a truthful government comes the need to eliminate the excesses too. Not surprisingly, Mahathir has taken to eliminating the redundancies on the payroll, as exemplified by the termination of the National Professors Council.

At 3,000 members, it stands testament to how a uncontrollably bloated the government has become. This council was nothing but a group of cheerleaders who lauded Najib’s supposed transformation plan. A sheer waste of productive resources of the nation.

One must remember that of the various clusters in the council, those that dealt with political and polling issues, constantly got the results wrong – sometimes intentionally and conveniently to appease the powers that be. Outcome-based research rather than research-based outcomes.

Such poor analysis has no role in the new government. In fact, the academic contracts of these professors must now be reviewed in their respective universities when they return to the fold. Academic dishonesty is unacceptable. Students need not look up to them at all. If they did, they would be learning the wrong lessons even before they are working in their respective fields.

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No more Allowances for this Majlis Members since Majlis Profesor Negara has been abolished.

The abolition of the National Professors Council, each member of which was getting an additional allowance on top of their own salaries, is the surest sign from Harapan that learned individuals should not be wasting the precious public resources of the government.

It is also a first shot across the bow that there are no proverbial sacred cows that Harapan must protect.

In fact, the 17,000 officers on political contracts were removed last week, to end political patronage appointments and their blind loyalty and support, which Mahathir does not need nor does Harapan demand.

The village councils (JKKK), a traditional bastion of UMNO-BN, was set up to eavesdrop on the political preferences of the people, were abolished too.

Indeed, the same review is now being placed on the Malaysian External Intelligence Organisation, better known as the Research Division (RD) of the Prime Minister’s Department, is yet another sign that heads must roll when they work in cahoots with the regime to peddle false analysis.

Throughout the tenure of Najib, the RD was politicised to preserve the regime, to the degree of creating the false facade that the regime cannot fail even when it was becoming totally dysfunctional.

Clearing out deadwood

Heads must and have rolled. By taking all the above measures, and more, Harapan is confident it can raise the strength of Malaysia into a developed country, ideally, by 2020, if not a little later.

This is the second week of the Harapan administration at work. The people’s expectations are simply monumental as seen in their willingness to offer their views democratically and responsibly.

Harapan welcomes this type of participatory democracy, as opposed to the ‘once in five years’ democracy. It certainly welcomes constructive criticism for continuous improvement. Ideas are never a monopoly of the administration or political party or any single group.

It is indeed time for all of us to be in this together to reinvent Malaysia in a new mould, as a nation that belongs to the many – not the few.

RAIS HUSSIN is a Bersatu supreme council member, and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

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.

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.


Democracy and Press Freedom

May 18, 2018

Democracy and Press Freedom

by Amb. Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad and Press Freedom

COMMENT | Democracy brings with it its own dividends. One of them is press freedom.

Freed from the shackles of government control, the Malaysian press is already exploring the limits of its new found freedom to articulate news, views and opinions. Our dismal ranking – near the bottom of the list in the World Press Freedom Index (145 out of 180 countries) – will now improve dramatically. Perhaps we might even become a poster boy for press freedom, at least in ASEAN.

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No More Vandalism of the Media

I anticipate that with time we’ll once again have a noisy and assertive press. There are lots of enterprising and intrepid reporters out there who are just raring to do their job once again. We must release them to their professionalism and passion if we want to strengthen our democracy.

I’ve been  a columnist and commentator for almost 10 years now. I know what it’s like to be censored, to feel anxious about crossing some invisible line, to worry about whether I might run afoul of some foul law or upset some powerful person somewhere.

Journalists, columnists and commentators should never have to fear the state. But that’s over and done with; I feel freedom’s caress in a very real way now as I write.

We cannot afford to be complacent about the press ever again. A free press is fundamental to democracy, fundamental to keeping our government honest and accountable, and the people informed.

To that end, we must insist that our new government act quickly to rid our nation of every single repressive law. No journalist should ever have to worry about exposing wrongdoings, malfeasance or corruption no matter who is involved. No editor should ever have to worry about a call from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Both government and public officials need to operate in the full glare of public scrutiny.

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Abdul Rani  Kulup–King of Police Reports–is out of business

As well, we should stop the childish behaviour of making police reports whenever someone says something unpleasant against the prime minister or other public figures, as a group in Kedah did recently (claiming that someone had said something offensive about Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad). Public figures don’t deserve special protection from criticism or insult. In any case, Mahathir himself won’t be losing any sleep over being called names; he’s been called worse before and look where he is now.

Television and the print media should also be free of government control or influence; it gives them too much power to impose their views on the nation. Political parties, too, should get out of the media business. Hopefully, the new government will act decisively to free the media from political control. We certainly don’t want to see the mainstream media now become unthinking and fawning echo chambers of the new government.

Coming back to life

The air of freedom that is already penetrating mainstream media is now forcing them to reinvent themselves. Suddenly, public broadcasting and the print media are coming back to life.

Image result for Jamal Yunos and the Red Shirts

Hooligans and Racists like Jamal Yunos and his Red Shirts will now have to bear the full brunt of the law if they intimidate journalists and disrupt public order

One TV channel, for example, carried a banner encouraging their viewers to celebrate our democracy. Another long-repressed reporter who had for years considered Mahathir a dirty word suddenly found the courage to give him advice on democracy. Strong stuff by the standards of our hitherto moribund mainstream media but it’s a good beginning.

For the first time, I find myself watching the news on local TV instead of automatically switching to CNN, BBC or Al-Jazeera.

I once wrote for a major English daily but resigned in disgust after a few years and refused to buy any of the local newspapers. Like many Malaysians, I refused to support the ‘dummification’ of the media, refused to be party to lopsided, blatantly dishonest reporting.

Well, I bought my first copy of a local newspaper a few days ago and I confess the content and tone have improved. Perhaps I can now look forward to once again spending part of my day, teh tarik in hand, reading the local papers.

Online news portals like Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today (FMT) and the now defunct Malaysian Insider have kept the flame of press freedom burning through the long dark years of oppressive government. So many of their journalists worked long hours with little pay and endured harassment and rejection because they were passionate about their profession.

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Malaysiakini: Free at Last to pursue responsible journalism

Many of us will always be grateful to editors like Steven Gan, Nelson Fernandez and Jahabar Sadiq for their courage in publishing all our highly critical and near subversive articles about Umno-BN and the Najib administration when no one else would. They upheld freedom of expression and the right to criticise the government when both were abandoned by mainstream media. They and their staff ought to be hailed as heroes of our democracy.

In the new environment of press freedom, online media like Malaysiakini and FMT will now become mainstream. Perhaps it’s time for a print version of Malaysiakini or an FMT daily or even a KiniTV channel. One thing is sure: competition will result in better and more qualitative news coverage and lead to a flowering of investigative journalism. What a thrilling prospect! Politicians take heed.

Whatever it is, the sooner the media is revamped and given the freedom to do their duty without fear or favour, the safer our democracy will be.

DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former ambassador. He blogs here.

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

Rafidah Aziz’s Message to Pakatan Harapan Politicians and Fellow Malaysians

May 16, 2018

In 2015, Anwar was jailed for five years in what his supporters described as a politically motivated move to end his career [Reuters]

BREAKING NEWS: Anwar Ibrahim has received an unconditional pardon from King of Malaysia. Deservedly so, since he committed no crime. He is today a Free Man. I wish him well. He said he will go abroad and become an academic probably back at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He is in no hurry to be back in the rough and tumble of Malaysian politics.– Din Merican

Rafidah Aziz’s Message to Pakatan Harapan Politicians and Fellow Malaysians: Get Down to the serious business of Rebuilding Malaysia

by Rafidah Aziz

Dear Malaysians,


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‘D-day’ has passed. The hard work begins for the Pakatan Harapan government, to fulfil the aspirations and hopes of the rakyat – Malaysians who now feel that sense of harmony and strength that only unity can bring. They see that clear future ahead for them, and for those coming after them.

And now, all the stakeholders of the nation – the government, the enforcers of law and justice, the movers of the economy, social activists and monitors and drivers of the collective social conscience, and the rakyat at large – must now be serious about a number of things.

This includes putting the nation back on to the right tracks of social and economic development, righting the wrongs, ensuring that the rule of law and justice prevails, and putting into place a national management team that all Malaysians can respect, trust, and be proud of.

We must also rebuild Malaysia’s global image and reputation, which has been so tarnished, translate that spirit of ‘Malaysia boleh’ into something that every citizen can feel they can subscribe to and be part of as proud Malaysians.

Malaysians must now do what it takes to move the country up to a higher plane of:

  • Political maturity
  • National unity and cohesiveness
  • Mutual respect for each other amongst us the rakyat
  • Acceptance of our many diversities (as opposed to merely ‘tolerance’)
  • Motivation, decisions, and actions, guided solely by integrity and honesty and accountability at any and all spheres and levels of society, and
  • Putting national interest above everything else.

Dear Malaysians, how can a house that is crumbling under the weight of self-interest, massive scandals, poor governance, and lack of integrity and unbridled greed, survive into the future?

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Therefore, we the rakyat surely cannot allow to fester any machinations which reflect all that has brought us to this stage of saying enough is enough.


And so: no more self-interest, no more ‘my people’ and ‘your people’ divisive politics, and no more individual flexing of power and importance, of wanting to outdo one another.

This is the time for humility in victory. This is the time to work together, and not to ever even think of ‘manoeuvres’, ‘plottings’, or whatever , that can erode the rakyat’s confidence in the Harapan government.

No one should test the rakyat’s patience, or betray their trust. Please get your act together. No sideshows necessary or warranted.

Public governance is not the same as leading a mere political party, where one is accountable mainly to the card carrying members of the party. Public and national governance is beyond party interests, ‘loyalties’, and inward-looking decisions. It is also not and never about power and positions

Leaders must show leadership, and leadership does not mean posts, but rather the qualities intrinsic in the person. The rakyat put you there, they can easily push you out too. But most importantly, God almighty can quickly take away what he, in his compassion, has given you. Please do not disappoint the rakyat.

Just gel and unite, as one strong Harapan team in the government, with prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad leading the way.No side-tracking, no unnecessary antics and shenanigans, and no wasting of precious time jostling for position.

It is time for shoulders to the grindstone to work for the rakyat.

Sejahtera Malaysia.

RAFIDAH AZIZ is a former  MITI Minister.