Appointment of Maszlee Malik as Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

May 20, 2018

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as  Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

by FMT Reporters

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Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.

PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.

“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.

A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.

They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education

Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.

Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.

“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.

“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”

Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to PPSMI

Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.

This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.

“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.

“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.

A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.

The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.

“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.

Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.

The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.

Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.

But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.

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.

Image result for mahathir mohamad and malaysia's king

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.


Malaysia–A Nation Reborn with Bangsa Malaysia Identity

May 10, 2018

Malaysia–A Nation Reborn with  Bangsa Malaysia Identity

by Dato’ Amb (rtd) Dennis

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Bangsa Malaysia Anew

COMMENT | There are no words to describe what has just happened. Nothing anyone can say or express can capture the emotions that millions of Malaysians feel today. Perhaps the tears that fill our eyes, that fill my eyes… might begin to reveal something of the intensity we all feel at this moment as we lift grateful hearts and hands to Almighty God.

Our nation is reborn! It’s a new day. We have been given a second chance. Who would have thought such a thing was possible? All the polls, both foreign and local, said Najib Abdul Razak would cling on to power, that he had all the power of the state on his side, that the warlords in his own party were with him, that his cash would keep him king. And yet he fell with an earth-shattering thud.

Najib will now join the ranks of the Marcoses, the Soehartos, the Mubaraks, the Mugabes of the world, despots defeated by the people they spurned and took for granted.


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Rosmah Mansor–From First Lady to Zero Lady of Malaysia

Our people have shown their true colours. They came out in the millions. Standing in long lines in the hot sun, you could feel the potency of their determination, their resolve to defy the chicanery of corrupt and dishonest officials. They’ve rejected the politics of race and division and sent a clear message that they will no longer tolerate corruption and the abuse of power.

The sense of freedom is already palpable. Just watch national television and other media adjust to the new reality. It’s going to get really exciting and interesting as freedom takes hold.

Mahathir, Man of the Moment

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Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the man of the moment. They poked fun at him, said he was too old. They cut his picture out of election posters. They tried to make him out to be a lackey of others. Not content with that, they threw money at us; they threw threats at us, but there was no stopping Mahathir or the people who stood with him.

Millions of ordinary citizens sensed in him the leader they had longed for and he rose to the occasion with grace, sagacity and leadership. Whatever wrong that was attributed to him before has been erased; he is now our prime minister and he carries with him all our hopes for a better nation. As I wrote earlier, he was not just a former Prime Minister trying to make a comeback but an idea whose time has come.

He did not stand alone, of course. This victory would not have been possible without the DAP and PKR in particular, and men like Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim who kept the flame of freedom and hope alive during dark times. Anwar, in particular, paid a huge price and will forever be remembered as the man who launched ‘Reformasi.’ His plaintive cry for change decades ago finally brought down the walls of tyranny. We will very shortly join his family in celebrating his release.

Many others like the indomitable Rafizi Ramli, the late Irene Fernandez and the late Karpal Singh also sacrificed much to make this victory possible. We owe an immense debt of gratitude to such men and women who refused to give up, who were willing to pay any price for freedom.

And then there are the men and women of Bersih and the millions who marched with them… the list goes on. It’s a story of many pulling together as one, of Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu (Unity is Strength).

A second chance

Now the hard work of rebuilding our nation begins. There is so much to do, so many things to set right. It won’t be easy setting right years of destructive policies, repressive laws, division and disunity. But we have in Mahathir and his team of experienced and committed leaders, men and women who have been tested by adversity and proven by trial. And they have the support of the people.

Pakatan Harapan has already set forth its agenda for change – clean and trustworthy governance, the repeal of repressive laws, an end to corruption and economic policies that truly serve the people. This is what the people want. It’s not an impossible task, especially given the massive mandate that the people have given them.

I asked Mahathir recently whether he had given up on his dream of Bangsa Malaysia and he told me that he still carries it in his heart. Now, at last, the nation is ready for it; I am confident it will be one of his legacies to the nation.

This is also a time for healing the land and binding up the wounds of division and distrust. Let justice be served without vengeance or malice.

I hope UMNO-BN will now use its time in the wilderness to cleanse and reform itself and come back to life again as a strong, credible and honourable opposition. It owes that much, at least to the nation. For our democracy to thrive, we need a strong opposition.

Stand on guard

More than anything else, let us remember that it’s not just Mahathir’s victory; it’s our victory. We, the citizens of this great land, have spoken. We’ve sent a message that we will not be bullied, bribed, intimidated, cheated or disrespected. A sacred trust, a solemn compact has been forged between the government and citizens – that the government exists to serve the people, to seek out their good and to strive to make our country the best nation in the world.

We must now stand on guard for our nation. In the final analysis, for a democracy to flourish, the people themselves must be the custodians of their democracy, defenders of their freedom. Power invariably corrupts even the best of us; we must never again give power to anyone without watching them closely and holding them accountable. We made that mistake before; we cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

Hold your head up high, Malaysia

History is often punctuated by momentous and dramatic events. This is Malaysia’s moment. At last, we can again hold our heads high among the nations of the world. There is every reason to believe that, in time, we will emerge as one of the truly great nations of the world. Nothing less will suffice.

And let the word go forth that freedom and democracy have found a new home, a new people to champion its cause. Let struggling and oppressed people everywhere take hope that nothing is impossible, that freedom will triumph in the end. And it can be done without foreign troops, foreign interference or violence.

Rejoice, my beloved country, rejoice!

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.

GE-14: A Political Storm Ahead

May 9, 2018

GE-14: A Political Storm Ahead

by Dr. Bridget

COMMENT | In this quiet morning in Kuala Lumpur – after more than two weeks traveling across Malaysia learning from the graciousness of ordinary citizens in the campaign – it is apparent a political storm is ahead.

Roads were packed with voters going home, resolute and purposeful. Conversations in rest areas spoke of undaunted commitments to change and a deep love of Malaysia. Even traditional BN supporters en route recognise that there are dark clouds on their horizon, although many continue to believe that their advantage of money, machinery and manipulations will pull them through the election. Some think it will be a comfortable margin.

My estimate is that we are looking at a difference of 30 too-close-to-call seats that can swing in favour of either side at the national level. There will be many surprises. BN still holds the lead, but it has been on a direction of diminishing returns in the course of the campaign.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak did not control the narrative. Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad has given Malaysians the strongest chance to unseat the BN since independence.

The structural advantages of malapportionment, gerrymandering and voter exclusion for the BN should not be discounted, as they conservatively affect at least 20 seats. Also important is the reality that the Najib administration has significant vested interests in staying in power.

At the state level – Selangor, Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan, Sabah, and even Malacca are in play. The last five have a reasonable BN advantage. Penang should be retained by Harapan.

An emotional election

Sentiments across the country are strong, as this election has evoked a combination of emotions. There are many who are fearful, worried about the risks and the consequences of the election.

I find this particularly expressed among women, and among many Chinese Malaysians who are uncertain of whether change is possible. Some Malays in rural areas expressed concerns about Chinese power and the DAP in particular. Decades of racial politics have left an imprint, as insecurity has been an important tool for political power.

Others are angry. Not just about economic issues and the GST, but the fact that the BN leadership has damaged the country’s reputation. Malaysians understandably have deep pride in their country and have been affected by the charges of kleptocracy.

There is also anger at the unfairness in the election process, such as the blatant measures of disqualifications and the early taking down of banners. Perceived cheating will not be acceptable to many.

Many BN supporters are also angry – at Mahathir – and the uncertainty this election has brought home for them. This is about their families and livelihoods and such feelings are understandable, even if they are resented by others.

There are concerns with betrayal. This is on two fronts – among UMNO grassroots directed at Mahathir and among ordinary citizens directed at Najib. I have listened to many voters who have been in turmoil over their vote this time, with the level of voters leaving BN and UMNO behind and embracing a new alternative unprecedented.

Another key issue will be whether the PAS leadership betrays its party faithful in favour of cooperation with a potentially weaker Najib. An UMNO-PAS cooperation is more likely than ever before, as there are calls for a Muslim-only government in some quarters.

This sense of betrayal and anger is tied to revenge. Be assured that if Najib wins comfortably, those who have been seen to have changed sides will be potentially targeted. Many in PAS have also tied their contestation of over 100 seats to being a spoiler against its personal ‘enemies’ – Amanah, PKR and DAP.

Amidst all of this negativity, there is hope, as Malaysians tap into their sense of confidence in themselves and their fellow citizens. Even more than in 2008, the multi-ethnicity of crowds and campaigns speak to bridges across races. While Malays have been seen as those moving allegiance, the storm that could happen is a Malaysian one.

Perak: Malaysia’s political bellwether

Perak is an important place to see how heavy the rain will be. From the breathtaking lakes in Gerik to the industrious Kinta Valley, Perak has traditionally been an indicator of political fortunes in Malaysia.

This is true from the anti-colonial resistance to the historic 2008 election. Not only is the state representative of the demographic composition of Peninsular Malaysia and captures the combination of urban intensity with rural remoteness, those from Perak are geographically at the crossroads the country, feeling the pulse from Malaysia’s many diverse regions.

Both BN and Harapan believe they will win the state, while PAS is claiming to maintain its base, especially in the north near the Kerian River, and its traditional stronghold areas such as Bukit Gantang. With split voting this means that they will shape the results, and in some cases even win.

In the GE-14 campaign, Perak was largely ignored, in fact taken for granted. The BN assumed it had done its groundwork before election day to maintain power, while Harapan has assumed Perak will follow what they expect to be the national trend.

With Perak’s mixed ethnic composition it is assumed that the state will move back into opposition’s hands. These assumptions may be misplaced, as the lack of adequate attention to Perak has had an impact.

On the ground the campaigns were largely less dynamic than in the past, and there was disgruntlement that Mahathir did not opt to visit the state during the campaign itself. His only visit before the campaign was to Kamunting, and this was relatively disorganised and gave the opposition less traction than in other locations.

There was considerable infighting within the opposition, including over the chief minister position, and grumblings of weak candidates. As such, the BN goes into election day with an advantage in a state that was seen as winnable for the opposition.

Perak also has the most systematic and comprehensive changes related to the delineation at the state level, arguably more than Selangor. Seats have been especially carved out for UMNO, strengthened for other BN component parties, namely MCA, and weakened for the opposition as a whole, especially in areas where PKR and Bersatu candidates are contesting.

This said, the evidence of momentum for the opposition was evident on the ground – in Telok Intan and, interestingly in Tanjong Malim, a seat the MCA has not lost since independence.

In Parit, a historic constituency, voters harped on concerns with cost of living, echoing the message from this area decades earlier in the 1960s over the price of coconut oil. The level of disgruntlement was quite different than either that in either the 2013 or 2008 polls.

What will be critical in the final count in Perak is returning voters, those on the crowded trunk roads and hectic North-South highway. As in Malaysia as a whole, it will come down to a few too-close-to-call seats.

Scenarios of change

This morning, my messages have been flooded with requests for predictions. As an analyst, I am looking at turnout levels today – a high turnout this time round speaks to greater losses for BN. I still hold onto the importance of the changes in the electoral boundaries and three-corner fights as weakening Harapan.

Right now, this early morning, I see three scenarios – a BN victory less than that of GE-13, and a hung Parliament tied to the kingmakers of PAS and Parti Warisan Sabah, and an outright Harapan win, if slim. I weigh heavily on the first option.

I note that some others continue to see a strong BN victory – even a two-thirds victory. My own view is that this would be tied to potential questionable machinations in the system. Concerns about the Election Commission failing to stamp of voter ballots in KL and elsewhere raise these sorts of issues, as is the questionable ferrying of voters.

Where my analysis differs with others is the potential fortune of PAS. I see it stronger in its heartland states of Kelantan and Terengganu. In some places, it will be the recipient of anti-Umno sentiment, as in northern Perak in places such as Larut, and in Arau in Perlis compared to Harapan, in part due to weaker candidates.

On the road the PAS faithful driving home outnumbered Harapan flags, as the loyalties to the party run deep.

Studies such as Invoke’s ‘wipeout’ scenario only have served to strengthen PAS support and reduce potential split voting. It seems unrealistic in numbers predicted given sentiments in the rural areas. For many voters in places such as Bachok, PAS is the alternative they are most familiar with. It is seen as a ‘safe’ vote. Harapan machinery is very uneven outside of cities.

Those in the English media should not underestimate the dynamism of the discussions happening in the Malay media and strong Muslim sentiments among many voters.

PAS’ call for a ‘Muslim’ or ‘green tsunami’ is not only based on idealism alone. The fact that all the major contenders had strong Muslim currents in their campaign messages speaks to the reality of a core of deeply religiously aware voters. PAS does not need to win much of the Malay vote to advantage BN in close races, just 10 to 15 percent of the vote in some seats.

A different political landscape

Let’s take a moment to consider the implications of each scenario, as Malaysia tomorrow will be a different country whatever happens today.

The first scenario is a reduced Najib victory. He will be blamed. With the decline in support he will be seen as a loser, even if he holds a majority. The test is whether other leaders will step up the plate to challenge him.

Najib has strong control of the party and resources at his disposal. A reduced majority should not be equated with a Najib departure as yet – looking at Umno itself. The pressures inside the party for the party’s survival are percolating, but they do not want the party to split further.

Crucial to Najib’s future is whether he loses Malay-majority seats. This scenario is likely to be a long drawn out affair, with considerable resistance. Recent history has shown that Najib has been a political survivor within UMNO. Expect Najib to reach out to PAS and his friend Hadi to strengthen his numbers.

The second scenario is one of a hung Parliament. Hadi’s PAS has apparently shown its UMNO cooperation colours in GE-14 and in recent statements to support BN candidates in Selangor and Penang. Key will be how many of Hadi’s men win and whether he continues to secure enough seats for his own political leverage. A new form of political coalition will be necessary.

Warisan (Shafie Apdal-led party) is also important, although how many seats have survived the carpet bombing and ‘backdoor measures’ is yet unclear. East Malaysia will be extremely important in the final numbers of seats. If a hung Parliament arises, money and positions will be on the cards across the political divide.

The third scenario is dependent on voter turnout and seat numbers in East Malaysia, both Sabah and Sarawak. This will only happen if voters themselves take this election in their hands. It is a steep hill to climb, but Mahathir personified the concept of ‘Malaysia Boleh’ and he himself has shown that spirit in the GE-14 campaign given his age.

The storm is ahead. It is now warming up in KL as voters stream to the polls. It will rain this afternoon and perhaps this evening as well – and it is likely to be heavy. Expect a long and interesting post-election period as the clouds will remain even after the votes are counted.

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.

Invoke: BN’s Malay support on the wane

April 30, 2018

Invoke: BN’s Malay support on the wane


GE14 | BN’s support among Malays has been waning in recent months, although it still commands higher support than Pakatan Harapan or PAS, according to a recent survey by Invoke Malaysia.

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29 percent of Malay respondents preferred Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, while 23.8 percent preferred Najib Razak.

The pollster’s head, Rafizi Ramli, said that the downtrend in Malay support for BN corresponded with an increase in voters from the community who were undecided or declined to state their voting preference.

As of April 18, Invoke Malaysia’s survey suggested that Malay respondents who overtly stated their preference for BN stood at 18.1 percent, down from 41.1 percent last December.

Malay respondents who preferred Harapan or PAS are tied at 15 percent, while 50.7 percent were described as “fence sitters,” who were either undecided or refused to disclose their preference.

‘Hidden’ Harapan supporters

According to Rafizi, data on the “hidden” Harapan supporters among these “fence sitters” were elicited by subjecting them, along with BN and PAS supporters, to additional profiling questions.

For instance, these three groups were asked if they preferred BN Chief Najib Abdul Razak remained as caretaker Prime Minister, of which only 23.7 percent agreed.

Other questions posed included “Which party will win in your constituency?” and “Who do you prefer as PM?”

Taken together, Rafizi said at least 7.5 percent of respondents claiming to be “fence sitters” were actually Harapan supporters, while the “hidden” BN and PAS supporters in this group were negligible.

In view of this, Invoke Malaysia had concluded that a realistic estimation of Harapan’s actual Malay support stood at about 22 percent, against BN’s 25 percent, which were both significantly higher the number of PAS supporters.

“(In conclusion,) the prospect of Harapan overtaking BN’s Malay support is becoming more real as we get nearer to the general election,” said Rafizi.

Nearly half believe BN will fall

Overall, when other ethnic groups are taken into account, Rafizi said 29 percent of respondents preferred Dr Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, while 23.8 percent preferred Najib.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang was the prime ministerial choice of 10.4 percent of respondents, while 35.9 percent responded with “none of the above.”

When all the respondents were asked if they were confident that there will be a change in government, 40.5 percent replied in the affirmative, while 27.6 percent disagreed and 31.9 percent said they were unsure.

Rafizi remarked that “there is a strong correlation on the choice of PM and the respondent’s voting tendency.”

The telephone survey, which involved 1,961 verified voters selected through random stratified sampling, was conducted after the dissolution of Parliament.

For contrast, Merdeka Centre’s survey had predicted a significant swing in Malay votes away from BN, but opined that the swing was not big enough for the ruling coalition to fall.

However, their data showed that BN and Harapan were virtually neck and neck in terms support in Johor, the birthplace of UMNO.

Malaysia GE-14: Voting for Islamisms beyond the ballot box

April 30, 2018

Malaysia GE-14: Voting for Islamisms beyond the ballot box


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Political Islam at GE-14 isn’t just a race between parties as democratisation throws up alliances and fractures to define Muslim society.

Malaysia’s 14th General Election (GE-14) is not so much a contest between Malays and non-Malays, Muslims and non-Muslims, Islamists and secularists, but more about various competitions of ideas among Muslims of different backgrounds.

With Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM, or Malaysian United Indigenous Party) in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition, this election is not a clear-cut contestation between racialised and non-racial politics. With the Islamist party PAS opting out of the opposition group to form its own bloc, and the PAS breakaway Amanah positioning itself as an alternative to PAS, it’s unclear how Islamist-minded Muslims will vote on May  9 at GE-14.

Those Malays with Bumiputera policies in mind might vote for the ruling UMNO or PPBM, while Islamist-minded voters might vote for PAS, Amanah, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). Of course, Islamism and Bumiputraism do not necessarily oppose each other, and in some cases there are overlaps. Such crisscrossing and fluidity of Malay Muslim politics makes this GE14 highly unpredictable.

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Political Islam in Malaysia is not just about an Islamisation race between PAS and UMNO, and there are new, old, and emerging actors in shaping discourses and practices of political Islam today. Instead of a dichotomy between Islamism and post-Islamism, the various spectrums of political Islam are results of entanglements between democratisation and Islamisation processes in Muslim societies.

With the diversity and complexity of political Islam across the different regions of Malaysia, there are political parties, non-government organisations, and popular preachers competing to win over urban Muslim support. We should not assume that there is a clear-cut divide between rural and urban Muslims, or that urban Muslims are a monolithic entity—there are differences depending on educational background and socio-economic status.

Positioning itself as a “third force” and a kingmaker, PAS is struggling to keep its support base intact, ensuring it remains as Malaysia’s only influential Islamic party. Besides Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah, Selangor is another state where PAS has a strong base among Muslims, with support from blue-collar workers to the middle class and professionals. However, many of these urban pious Muslims are not hardcore PAS supporters—at GE-14 they might also vote for Amanah and PKR, as these two parties also have Islamic credentials.

In order to engage with its middle class and youth members, as well as to win over support from a broader set of pious Muslims, PAS leadership knows its religious credentials alone are not enough. Party strategists have recently introduced the idea of “technocratic government” (kerajaan teknorat) and running events such as town hall meetings featuring the party’s youth leaders from professional backgrounds. Yet on other occasions many party ulama and ustaz often declare that PAS is the only party upholding the Islamic agenda in Malaysia, that “Undi PAS, dapat pahala” (Vote PAS, gain rewards in the afterlife). A vote for PAS is akin to a ticket to heaven.

Even though the PAS manifesto does not highlight the controversial parliamentary amendment of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (better known in the public debate as RUU 355), in various ceramah (rallies) leaders often mention RUU355 to justify PAS’ split from its former alliance, Pakatan Rakyat, and its criticisms of stalwart opposition party Democratic Action Party (DAP) for not respecting Islam. In industrialised Selangor, PAS is fielding a mixture of professionals and Islamic preachers as candidates, including a non-Muslim Malaysian Chinese. However, despite the perceived warming relations with UMNO, there is dissatisfaction towards PAS’ current leadership and the inconsistent party strategy may cause some of its members to quietly switch their support to PH.


With the leadership of former PAS progressives and activists from IKRAM (an Islamic NGO), Amanah is positioning itself as an Islamic alternative to PAS. Former PAS and IKRAM leaders might have different opinions on the kind of Islamism Amanah should represent, but they in general agree that the party is endorsing a more inclusive and progressive Islamic agenda, as well as focusing on substance instead of form. Because of this, Amanah leaders advocate Maqasid Syariah, a concept that highlights Islamic values such as social justice, good governance, and multicultural co-existence. The party also claims to represent the spirit of the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz, the highly respected former PAS spiritual leader and Kelantan Chief Minister.

So far, Amanah has not broken through PAS’ traditional influence in Islamic schools and mosques. But Amanah has been running extensive campaigns on social media to win over pious Muslims while seeking allies in broader Malaysian society. Amanah did not perform well in two 2016 by-elections but that failure is not a good indicator of the party’s prospects at GE14, especially in urban and peri-urban seats. The nomination of Nik Omar, the eldest son of Nik Aziz, as a candidate of Amanah in Kelantan has also boosted the party’s religious credentials among pious Muslim voters.

Often overlooked as a party with Islamic credentials is PKR. The Malaysian Islamic Youth Movement (Angaktan Belia Islam Malaysia, or ABIM) has played an important role along with other more secular forces in establishing this multi-racial party. The party’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim positions himself as a “Muslim democrat”, and there are many Malay Muslim leaders with strong Islamic backgrounds in the party, many of them activists from ABIM and IKRAM.

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ISMA’s President Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman. The right-wing Malay Muslim movement has a growing base of young professionals.

Islamic NGOs such as ABIM, IKRAM and ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, or Malaysian Muslim Solidarity) have helped shape the practices of political Islam in Malaysia. These three tarbiyah and dakwah organisations have, in different ways, been influenced by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Closely associated with Anwar Ibrahim, ABIM has gone through different political engagements at different times over the years. ABIM has taken a moderate approach to political Islam, balancing between global Islamic aspirations with local traditions.

Many of its politically active current and former members are with PKR, some are in Amanah and, to a lesser extent, in PAS and in UMNO. Some ABIM leaders also play important roles in the operation of Darul Ehsan Institute (IDE), a think tank associated with the PKR-led Selangor state government. IDE promotes the idea of Maqasid Syariah and claims that the Selangor government is implementing Islamic values with its good governance. It is important to note that caretaker prime minister Najib Razak is also claiming that the federal government is fulfilling Maqasid Syariah. What constitutes Maqasid Syariah, and how this has been deployed by different groups and for different reasons deserves further analysis.

IKRAM, formerly Jemaah Islam Malaysia (JIM), is another active player in contemporary Malaysian Muslim politics. IKRAM is ideologically rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. It has close relations with the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in Indonesia. Yet, unlike PKS which is perceived as being exclusive and conservative in Indonesia, IKRAM is seen in a Malaysian context as being inclusive and progressive. It has developed close relationships with non-Muslims in various social movements such as Bersih 2.0, the electoral reform group. A wing of IKRAM, Hidayah, has also been running Chinese New Year celebrations in mosques, to promote the idea that Islam is a blessing for all.

Since 1998, when the sacking and jailing of Anwar Ibrahim sparked off the reformasi movement in Malaysia, some IKRAM activists joined opposition politics, mainly in PAS and PKR. In 2015, together with former PAS leaders, IKRAM members played a vital role in the forming of Amanah. Almost half of the grassroots leaders of Amanah have IKRAM backgrounds. In GE14, many IKRAM members are campaigning for the opposition coalition, especially for Amanah candidates. Citing Indonesia as an example, many Amanah and IKRAM leaders have reasoned that it would be good for Malaysia to have more than just one Islamic party. The election results will show if Amanah can legitimise itself as an Islamic alternative to PAS. A big challenge for Amanah and also IKRAM is that their leaders and members are mainly from the educated urban middle class and professionals, raising questions whether they can appeal to the broader Malay Muslim community.

Even though its exclusionary messages do not represent the views of many Malay Muslims, ISMA has made news headlines for its controversial statements, for example when it insulted Chinese Malaysians by calling them foreigners (pendatang). ISMA shares similar features as IKRAM, as both groups are influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood and their members are mostly educated, urban Muslim middle classes and professionals. Yet, unlike IKRAM, ISMA is more Malay-centric and less inclusive. In the previous 13th general election (GE13), ISMA contested in some seats as a “third force” under the flag of Berjasa, a small Islamic party, because it disagreed with PAS’ electoral pact with DAP. In this GE14, ISMA withdrew itself from contesting, instead positioning itself as an electoral pressure group.

ISMA launched a campaign called “Voter Awareness Movement” (Gerakan Pengundi Sedar, or GPS) and urged Muslims to vote for “credible Muslim candidates” (calon Muslim berwibawa). According to ISMA, a credible Muslim leader should be free from corruption, morally good, and uphold the Malay Muslim agenda. Even though it claims to be neutral, ISMA has often criticised the DAP and Muslim leaders in the opposition coalition. As its online campaigns have shown, ISMA tries to stimulate moral panic (over issues such as LGBT rights and alcohol consumption) and encourages a siege mentality among Malay Muslims (over issues such as alleged Christianisation and losing political power to “foreigners”). However, given that PH has accommodated elements of Bumiputraism and Islamism, the ISMA campaign is unlikely to have a major impact among Muslim voters.

In Indonesia, even though it did not run for elections, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) was politically influential, and it was a key actor behind the mobilisation against former Indonesian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok). However, in Malaysia, despite gaining followers, the local branch of this anti-democracy, transnational Islamist group, Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia (HTM), has had very little impact on Malaysian politics.

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Besides political parties and NGOs, many Muslim preachers and intellectuals with strong Islamic credential have also contributed to the dynamic of political Islam in Malaysia. Popular preacher Ustaz Ahmad Dusuki Abd Rani is running for PAS in Kota Anggerik, a state assembly seat in Shah Alam. Ustaz Ahmad Dusuki often gives religious talks in mosques, on TV and radio stations, and has a large number of social media followers – more than one million on Facebook and 200,000 on Instagram. Yet it’s uncertain whether his popularity will translate into electoral support. Another celebrity preacher Ustaz Azhar Idrus, despite not contesting, frequently appears at PAS events. Of course, not all Muslim preachers are PAS supporters. For example, Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin (Dr Maza) and popular preacher Rozaimi Ramle are perceived as being critical towards PAS and sometimes subtly giving their support to Pakatan Harapan.
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Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin (Dr Maza)

There are many Muslim activists and intellectuals in Amanah and PKR. Recently, Maszlee Malik, a prominent Muslim intellectual, lecturer and activist joined PPBM and is running as a candidate for a parliament seat in Johor state. He is also an active IKRAM member. In UMNO, the leading Islamic figure is Asyraf Wajdi, who is contesting in Kelantan. He was the former Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, in charge of religious affairs. He was once the president of PKPIM, a student wing of ABIM. Both Maszlee Malik and Asyrat Wajdi were former lecturers at the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

In short, besides PAS, there are many actors in political parties and NGOs, and preachers who are playing increasingly important roles in reshaping discourses and practices of political Islam in Malaysia. Which version of political Islam is more appealing among pious urban Muslims? Although Islam is a prominent issue, it is not the only determining factor in Muslims’ voting decision. The election results may not entirely reflect what Malaysian Muslims think of Islamism, but it might be a good indicator of the development and transformation of political Islam in Malaysia.