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.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad's popularity

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.

As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri

April 21, 2018

As UMNO-Baru says, ‘Depa Aku Pantang'(DAP) dan Kami Takut Diri Sendiri

by Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT | Do you fear flying? You shouldn’t. You have a greater chance of being flattened by a lori balak (timber lorry), or be run over by a bus Some people claim that the most dangerous part of flying is the journey to the airport; negotiating bumpy roads and dicey corners. Others claim that one should not fear flying, but crashing.

On some airlines, some people are afraid of sitting beside a passenger who removes his clothes to watch porn. Or be comforted inappropriately, by a steward. Or having to eat a miserable looking nasi lemak, with limp cucumber garnish.

These are rational fears, aren’t they? Do you recall when you were a child and your mother tried to get you back inside the house, at senja (dusk), to have dinner, a wash and then, to bed. Remember her clarion call? “Cepat masuk, takut hantu datang” (quickly come inside, before the ghosts appear).

These fears worked. Now, some of you also use the same ruse to make your children come into the house at dusk, because the trick is effective.

My relatives in the kampung, who lived in houses on stilts, used to have big earthenware urns filled with water, at the bottom of the stairs. Anyone who returned home late at night, used a cebok (water scoop) to wash one’s feet. Children who refused to follow orders were told that it was necessary, so that the hantu would not follow them into the house.

Naturally, parents used to say this so that children would not bring muddy feet into the house, but the “takut hantu” ploy worked. Human primitive instincts prevail, and for the past 61 years the same tactic has been used in politics.

Tried and tested methods are used

The bogeyman is not the unseen hantu but the very active and visible Democratic Action Party (DAP). UMNO-Baru strategists are not very creative. They use tried and tested methods, like the “Takut hantu” trick to scare Malay voters into thinking that the DAP will annihilate the Malay race and destroy Islam.

UMNO-Baru leaders use the tactics used by the best cults. They have an authoritarian leader who demands absolute commitment from his followers. They go through many rituals, just like religious worshippers. They don’t call it brainwashing. It is called party policies (dasar parti).

Cult followers are isolated from mainstream society. This tactic is also used by UMNO-Baru and PAS leaders. Malays are, in reality, isolated from other communities through religious indoctrination and education. Even our schools practise segregation. Malay students attend agama classes, but non-Malays have moral civic classes. The cult of UMNO-Baru does not want integration.

The Malay child’s indoctrination is reinforced at home and in society by JAKIM (Islamic Development Department Malaysia) and the various state religious authorities. The behaviour and dress of Malays girls are strictly controlled. Yoga or dancing the poca-poca are prohibited. Enlightening books are banned. Muftis will issue fatwas to mop up Malays who refuse to toe the line.

Then they wonder why many Malays, especially the women, find new-found mental, vocal and physical liberation when they go overseas to study. Perhaps, not in the Middle East, but certainly in the West.

The UMNO-Baru leaders, who claim that DAP is the enemy, are indirectly saying that they, and UMNO-Baru, have failed. After 61 years, UMNO-Baru’s language is still couched in talks of tribalism and tribal politics, despite Malaysians having moved beyond this.

Malays hold key positions in government, the GLCs and also very senior positions in educational establishments, the Armed Forces, the Police and diplomatic missions. Most scholarship holders are Malays. What has the Malay to be scared of? Maybe, their own shadows.

The population is composed of 69 percent Malays/bumiputeras, and 23 percent Chinese. The DAP and the Christians constitute only a small percentage of the populace.

One makcik from Kelantan said, “The conservative Malay states have serious problems with their youth who indulge in drugs, middle aged men who are involved in incestuous relationships or marry young brides, and then leave many single mothers with their children in the lurch.

“The East Coast states have the largest number of viewers of online pornography. More married middle-aged women are infected with HIV-AIDS, not because they are promiscuous, but because they have unprotected sex with their husbands, who are infected.”

The leaders who have abused the rakyat’s trust, and stolen taxpayer’s money, are Malay: The National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal. The Arab prince’s RM2.6 billion “donation”. The Mindef (Ministry of Defence) land allegation. The sale of Felda land. The Mara scandal. The Felda, KWSP, KWAP, Petronas, Proton, MAS and Tabung Haji fund scandals.

Using the DAP to scare the Malays is a “takut hantu” tactic. The real ‘hantu‘ can be found among the Malay leadership.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

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


New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest

April 13, 2018

New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest

by Ross Tapsell

What does a 92-year-old former prime minister and a smartphone have in common? Both have become critical factors in deciding who wins GE14 next month.

Image result for Najib Razak baca doa

Najib Razak–Baca Doa, invoking God’s Help!

Kampung Tok Senik is a leafy wooden-hut resort in the middle of Langkawi island, off the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Built during Langkawi’s tourism boom in the 1990s, its website proudly claims it’s “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”. Today, paint strips off the walls, tiles are broken, the waterslide looks like it would distribute splinters rather than exhilarating rides. Various websites now list the resort as “haunted”. So when the 92-year-old former prime minister arrived for a campaign strategy meeting, foreign tourists would be forgiven for thinking they had seen the resort’s resident ghost.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is indeed back from the dead, and Prime Minister Najib Razak is spooked. Dr Mahathir is making meaningful inroads in the northern peninsula states of Perlis and Kedah, which includes Langkawi, where he’s seen as the island’s “father”. Many people I speak to recall the “boom” days which saw resorts like Kampung Tok Senik flourish as solely Mahathir-inspired; the resort’s now stale, dishevelled appearance seems a metaphor for the Malaysian state. Over on the mainland in Guar Chempedak, 3000 people watch Mahathir speak at an opposition rally, a further 1000 attend a similar event in Perlis a day later. In response, Najib has promised several grandiose government programs for the region, including five projects for Langkawi worth RM1.3 billion (A$430m). As Muhamad Sanusi, Deputy Commissioner of the Islamist party (Pas) in Kedah said, “UMNO’s biggest concern is to make sure Mahathir doesn’t win. Mahathir back in parliament would be a dangerous thing. By hook or by crook, they will try to stop him. If Mahathir stands in Kedah, UMNO Kedah will be given a special job and loads of money to try to stop him.”

Yet it would be wrong to see Dr Mahathir’s persona as the only factor in voting here. His messages, and his party, Bersatu, are predominantly an anti-Najib machine. Almost all Bersatu party members are disgruntled former UMNO [Najib’s party] cadres fed up with Najib’s rule, which they see as corrupt and self-serving. One cadre in the Bersatu Women’s Wing tells me, “UMNO people are stupid [bodoh], always blindly following Najib”.

There’s little in Dr Mahathir’s campaign speeches to suggest that if he does miraculously become Prime Minister again, he or any of his senior party members have a visionary plan for the country’s future. Rather, his speeches are piercing analytical take-downs of the current administration, linked to corruption, taxes, the rising cost of living, and a flailing economy. Would a Mahathir-led opposition in alliance with a freed Anwar Ibrahim bring about comprehensive changes to the system? After all, Bersatu is being described as “UMNO 2.0”. But for UMNO, an “alternative UMNO” with a more popular leader is a serious problem.

While the resurgence of the “old” Mahathir is a key factor in this election, another game changer is the emergence of the “new”: the smartphone. Cheap, Android mobile phones are ubiquitous in Malaysia. In 2016, according to Malaysia’s Multimedia Commission, 77% of Malaysians had access to the internet, and around 90% of those users were using Facebook on a smartphone. But it’s the growth in Malay semi-rural and rural areas that matters here. Prior to the last election in 2013, only around 58% of internet users were ethnic Malay. In two years, that number had grown to 68% and continues to grow. In rural Kedah, most people I talked to under the age of 40 were all using a smartphone with Facebook and WhatsApp installed. This matters because they have access to a wider array of information and disinformation (90% of respondents said they used their phone to “get information”). As one local candidate told me, “we have problems understanding the decision of first-time voters, and this is because they all have smartphones. We can’t rely on them to vote the way their parents voted or other family members vote because they are more individuals in terms of the information they receive through these devices.”

When Kedahans I spoke with discussed the election, invariably they began to talk about Najib and the 1MDB wealth fund controversy. When I subsequently asked where they got their information (given Malaysia’s mainstream media mostly avoids reporting this issue), they would almost always say “Facebook”. For all its serious flaws around data privacy and the spread of disinformation, Facebook and WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) are the two most common ways that ordinary citizens receive alternative news and views on their smartphones in Malaysia.

Their usage and impact are central to understanding Southeast Asia’s rapidly shifting information society. One newspaper has already described GE14 as the “Whatsapp election”. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s parliament passed the highly controversial Anti-Fake News Bill. Analysts watch with concern as to whether the bill will be used to negate the spread of anti-government information online, in particular with further details about the 1MDB saga.

But let’s return to Kampung Tok Senik, “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”, because it’s the ethnic Malay vote in places like here, in semi-rural and rural areas of the peninsula, that will decide the election. The opposition wants to win 100 out of 112 seats on the peninsula—it holds out little hope of winning many seats in Sabah and Sarawak—and to do this, they need a so-called “Malay tsunami”, where an enormous swing of Malay voters, abandoning UMNO and Pas, vote for the opposition. Senior local operators and pollsters in Kedah’s UMNO-led government remain confident of keeping the state. They have campaign teams using WhatsApp and Facebook, and small groups of campaigners on the ground countering Mahathir’s messages. Pas says its loyal voters will not budge, and they claim the arrival of Bersatu is good because it reduces UMNO votes and could place Pas in a better position. Of course, everyone is talking a big game prior to the campaign.

What they all agree on however is that the arrival of new parties Bersatu and Amanah (a splintering of Pas) means ethnic Malay voters have more choice in this election. And coupled with smartphones allowing for more personal interaction with individual parties and candidates, the local candidate is crucial. As one villager in southern Kedah told me, “things are changing. My grandfather voted for Pas his whole life. My father voted for UMNO his whole life. But me? I will choose the best candidate.”

A common saying amongst pollsters when assessing winning seats here is “tengok calonlah”, meaning “wait and see who the local candidate is before assessing who will win the seat”. Of course, personal and family ties to parties, as well as effective party machinery, still matter in how people choose the “best” candidate. But this suggests an unlikely “Malay tsunami” solely to the opposition or indeed to any one party, given all parties have decent hard-working candidates, as well as complete duds. At least prior to the official campaign period, I did not see signs of an enormous swing towards the opposition. Perhaps it’s no surprise that technology allows for more individual choice of news and views, and an individual candidate’s performance trumps entrenched party loyalty.

Despite Malaysia’s entrenched authoritarian regime with a ruling party which has won every election since Merdeka in 1957, there is still much uncertainty and anxiety around the precise outcome of the election—and what kind of outcome is best for Malaysia’s future.


On Rafizi Ramli

March 14, 2018

On  Rafizi Ramli

by Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | I like Rafizi Ramli. I must say that I’m quite impressed with him and his work. He is a diligent and courageous person and really works hard as a parliamentarian.

He is also not your typical boring MP but one who regularly comes up with new ideas. And Rafizi does not only talk. He is a doer. He dares to implement his ideas and set his plans in motion.

Lest Rafizi’s detractors and political enemies think that I’m heaping praises on a friend, let me state here that I do not know the young Pandan MP personally. I have not even met him.

I was actually invited by a PKR friend to attend Rafizi’s Invoke event last Friday, but I could not make it. Otherwise, I would have seen Rafizi in action for the first time and possibly posed a question or two to him from the audience.

However, watching Rafizi from afar, I feel he certainly deserves the accolades from many who are appreciative of his dedication to duty and strong commitment to his cause but more importantly, his sincerity and honesty in living up to his pledge in serving the people.

Those who know the young MP well are saying that he is a man of honour and integrity. I suppose they are right.

I have been watching Rafizi closely since he announced the establishment of his “baby”, Invoke Malaysia, about two years ago.

Honestly, there are not many young politicians in our midst I would bother to take a second look at these days. At least, not in the same fashion as I would observe what French President Emmanuel Macron or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would say or do.

These two are of the younger set of leaders to watch on the world stage. They are powerful, vibrant and energetic personalities and certainly interesting to watch.

Rafizi had explained Invoke’s mission clearly – one of which is to ensure fair competition in the political process – and this was something new and exciting to many. In a nutshell, Invoke Malaysia is a big data, media and election machinery.

Most of his workers and volunteers are young people who have been knocking on doors throughout the country to get their message across.

I’m impressed that Invoke surveys were able to garner a whopping number of 100,000 respondents or more. This is truly amazing when surveys done by other think-tanks only involve some 2,000 respondents at best.

But there was more from the Invoke founder. When Rafizi announced that he was funding Invoke with RM800,000 of his savings, you can immediately tell that this man was serious.

He knows that what he has set out to do requires money and he is prepared to sacrifice first. This is leadership by example and Rafizi has set the bar very high.

In my previous article, I’ve broached the subject of election funding and said that if the well-to-do former UMNO bigwigs in Pakatan Harapan are not prepared to fund the opposition coalition with their fortunes, then they can kiss GE14 goodbye.

If the coming election is all about a “To Each His Own” saga, meaning that the wealthier candidates only look after themselves and fund their own campaigns without helping out their colleagues’, GE14 is a sure goner for Harapan.

Pension is only a bonus

That is why I’m saying here that Rafizi has been exemplary. Now, I do not know Rafizi’s background or the financial status of his family. But RM800,000 is a lot of money and I’m not sure many politicians, young or old, are prepared to emulate Rafizi’s sacrifice.

Allow me another round of real, honest talk. Many, if not all, politicians, from BN or Harapan, are in politics because there is financial security if one is elected to public office. All elected representatives receive a pension for life after serving a term as MP or state assemblyperson.

For BN representatives, the pension is only a bonus. Most would be well-endowed by the time they leave office.

Now, how many of those who have benefited from holding public office in the past are prepared to go all out to help their former party colleagues financially? I doubt I will be able to find many Rafizi Ramlis out there.


The Invoke chief, slave-driver and fundraiser has also announced that he would not be contesting in GE-14 because of his legal issues. Yet Rafizi is going all out to ensure victory for his Harapan colleagues. This is a most unselfish and gallant act.

One final noticeable positive trait about Rafizi – he has not made any negative public statements about his so-called political enemies, if indeed he has some, within his own PKR. He is said to be linked with a certain camp in his party.

I doubt Rafizi is a person who will stoop that low to lash out at anyone and certainly not at those within his party, in the pursuit of his personal agenda. The Pandan MP is bigger than that, and despite his youth, his clarity of vision plus his wisdom and charisma are his biggest assets.

Rafizi will have to sit out GE-14. While we will miss him in Parliament, I’m sure he will soldier on in other capacities, either in the political arena or elsewhere. Let me share this quote with Rafizi from Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho,

“Everybody is a political person, whether you say something or you are silent. A political attitude is not whether you go to Parliament; it’s how you deal with your life, with your surroundings.”

So kudos to you, Rafizi Ramli. Keep up your good work.

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at

Dr. Mahathir leads Pakatan Harapan but his Heart and Soul is with UMNO

February 23, 2018

Dr. Mahathir leads Pakatan Harapan but his Heart and Soul is with UMNO

By Karamjit Gill

Image result for tun dr mahathir mohamad ppbm

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad– My Heart and soul is with UMNO, but  he leads the Political Opposition. It is paradoxical, Mr. Watson

“Furthermore, Dr Mahathir should be reminded… that he singlehandedly destroyed the independence, impartiality and professionalism not only of the judiciary, but also of other important national institutions like the police, the Election Commission, the anti-corruption agency and the civil service.” -Lim Kit Siang, February 2015

Image result for Lim Kit Siang

DAP’s Nelson Mandela–Shall we christen him Madiba Lim? What he wouldn’t do for Politics and Power.

It is heartbreaking to watch whistleblowers being punished while perpetrators walk scot-free. Rafizi Ramli’s jail sentence for revealing dirty secrets is a crushing blow to transparency. However, what can we do?


Image result for Rafizi Ramli goes to Jail

Doing something ethically right but lawfully wrong is a punishable offence. Such occurrences happen in developed nations as well. Remember the case of Cyntoia Brown in America? Brown is still serving her life imprisonment sentence for killing a 43-year-old child predator in self-defence, who “bought” her when she was 16 years old to fulfil his lust for sex. Last year, this 2004 case picked up steam again on social media with A-list celebrities calling for her release. Although Brown’s lawyers recently filed for an appeal, she is still sitting behind bars.

Image result for Rafizi Ramli goes to Jail

Selangor Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Azmin Ali hopes Rafizi Ramli will be released from jail for the sake of PKR solidarity

Leaders and supporters from the opposition coalition would call Rafizi’s sentencing a political move, although some within Pakatan itself would be glad. We often hear Pakatan leaders crying foul on the alleged non-independence of the judiciary. The important question is when did this impartiality of the judiciary start?

Such menace in the system was started by none other than their own Prime Minister candidate Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. But they have forgiven him for everything. Hence, they have forgiven him for meddling with the Judiciary as well. So, why cry now when you have forgiven and forgotten everything Mahathir did?

The gibberish excuse Pakatan leaders give today is that they are using Mahathir to win the Malay support, and Mahathir is only there to take down Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Is Mahathir really there to take Najib down and would he be willing to step down thereafter? Although it is proclaimed so by the opposition and apparently agreed upon by Mahathir behind closed doors, do any of Mahathir’s actions speak the same language?

Mahathir intends to recreate another Proton and says Pakatan may do so if it forms the government despite Lim Kit Siang saying numerous times in the past that Malaysia should not be venturing into the automotive industry. Will Lim suddenly change his stand now? Lim’s silence on Mahathir’s plan is deafening.

Most recently, Mahathir said he needs a couple of years to supposedly correct the current government’s wrongdoings. Wait a minute. Two years as Prime Minister and nobody from Pakatan is saying anything? What happened to getting a royal pardon for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and vacating the seat? Are you going to argue and say that the entire process will take at least two years and therefore Mahathir will be Prime Minister till then? Hence, Mahathirism can continue and all the supposed agreements will be thrown out of the window and again you will come and say sorry later?

Two years would be more than enough for Mahathir to ensure that his son moves up the political ladder.

Mahathir quit UMNO citing disgust over Tun Abdullah Badawi. His war was not with UMNO. He was against Badawi. Once Badawi quit, Mahathir and his wife happily rejoined UMNO in 2009. Upon rejoining UMNO, Mahathir said, “Although I was out of UMNO, my heart and soul were in UMNO.” Be assured that Mahathir’s soul is still with UMNO. His war is against Najib.

By the slimmest chance, if Mahathir does become Prime Minister and is pushed to resign, he will take his loyal supporters and rejoin UMNO with his teary wife probably expressing affection for UMNO again. Then what will Pakatan do? Call for another street demonstration and condemn Mahathir in another U-turn?

History tells us that street demonstrations with Mahathir at the helm will never be as peaceful as when Najib is at the top. Water cannons, physical abuse and arrests will be in abundance. Why should we Malaysians be used as political pawns when the opposition keeps messing up and shooting itself in the foot?

Personally, the opposition has already lost the election before it begins. Their defeat commenced the day they foolishly decided to make Mahathir their leader and Prime Minister designate.

An analytical paper was published in the Journal of East Asian Studies in 2015, titled “The 2013 Malaysian Elections”. Data analyses clearly showed that non-Bumiputera votes in rural and semi-urban areas were the key to BN’s victory despite having less than 50% support from Bumiputera voters, even in rural constituencies.

With Mahathir becoming the next Prime Minister, non-Bumiputera votes may increase in favour of BN. As for the Bumiputera votes, PAS being out of the coalition and becoming the third force will definitely split any extra support for the opposition with Mahathir’s inclusion.

Besides “Bangladeshi voters” and a power blackout hypothesis that has never been proven and was said to have never occurred by DAP’s own election strategist Ong Kian Ming, the opposition should start thinking about new fabricated excuses to comfort themselves once the elections are done and dusted. It was an absolute abhorrent idea to work with Mahathir.

Karamjit Gill is an FMT reader.

The new Normal in Malaysian Politics

December 25, 2017

The new Normal in Malaysian Politics

Author: Editorial Board, East Asia Forum
Image result for The new Normal in Malaysian PoliticsPremier Najib Razak–An Abnormal Malaysian Politician

Among the legacies of British colonial rule in Malaysia were marked economic and socio-cultural divisions between the country’s ethnic groups. For many years after independence, the Malays, the largest ethnic group, played a negligible role in the economy relative to large minorities of people of Chinese and South Asian descent. Since the 1970s, the state-led effort to boost the economic role of Malays under coalition governments led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has been at the very core of Malaysia’s politics. 

Debate continues about the extent and sources of, and appropriate remedies for, the economic divide. Still, the intentions of UMNO leaders from the 1970s onwards in championing positive discrimination in favour of Malays were understandable, given the obvious hazards for social cohesion posed by a highly visible wealth gap between ethnic groups.

The cause of Malay economic empowerment brought its fair share of problems. By the end of the 23-year rule of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, it was clear that the UMNO-led effort to build a Malay capitalist class had helped sanctify and institutionalise a system of cronyism. Affirmative action policies for the Malay middle class — ranging from generous racial quotas in public universities to subsidised loans for Malay borrowers — were increasingly resented by non-Malays, many of the more skilled and affluent of whom joined the ‘brain drain’ overseas.

Moreover, Malaysians paid a heavy price in terms of their political freedoms. Behind the economic growth and political stability that UMNO could advertise to the world was a marked decay in the quality and independence of the country’s political institutions — particularly the judiciary and civil service — censorship of the media, and pervasive corruption.

Image result for Mahathir

Yet judged in pragmatic terms, the formula worked. Most notably under the rule of Mahathir Mohamad from 1981 to 2003, rapid growth — with the dice loaded in favour of Malays — succeeded in both creating a large Malay middle class and generating performance legitimacy among minorities, who also felt the benefits of the economic boom and accompanying political and social stability. Politically, this inter-communal settlement found expression in the form of the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) coalition, whereby UMNO became the senior partner in a coalition with Chinese, Indian and Bornean parties — an arrangement which endures today.

Will that arrangement endure much longer? In this week’s lead article, which launches our year in review series, Clive Kessler argues that in the general elections widely expected for the first quarter of 2018, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s strategy to secure his hold on power may be steering Malaysia towards a significant political realignment. For the first time, Kessler writes, the election ‘will see the two great Malay political parties — UMNO and the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) — working implicitly as allies, not rivals’.

The longest standing sources of political opposition to UMNO-led rule have been the secularist, Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP), on one end of the political spectrum, and the Islamist PAS, on the other. Periods of cooperation between these two forces in opposition coalitions has been — understandably, given their radically different visions for Malaysian society — marked by tension.

Unless united in a coherent coalition, none of the opposition parties — the DAP, the UMNO offshoot Bersatu (led by the 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir), or Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party (PKR) — can hope to overcome the parliamentary gerrymander which helps keep UMNO in power. Thus, as Kessler notes, driving a wedge between the Islamist and secularist blocs of the opposition has been a key part of Najib’s strategy to ‘break’ the political opposition during his prime ministership.

The wedge in question was the perennial issue of the role that Islamic law should play in Malaysia’s legal system. UMNO has always understood the versatility of Islam as a wedge issue; posing as the defender of pluralism in elections past to win votes for the BN coalition from non-Malays spooked by the opposition’s accommodation of PAS, while at other times peeling away Malay votes from PAS by portraying the opposition coalitions as hostile to Malay economic interests and, increasingly, Malay and Islamic cultural dominance.

But in the aftermath of the near-abandonment of the BN coalition by non-Malay voters in the 2013 general election, UMNO sees increasing monopoly over Malay votes — potentially, in coalition with PAS, its long time rival for Malay support — as the path to continuing political preeminence. As Kessler observes, ‘UMNO knows the score — it can rule forever, so long as PAS wants it to and lets it do so’. Thus, a new political settlement may be emerging, one which Kessler argues will see non-Malay political forces sidelined.

The result of this electoral strategy is UMNO’s increasingly strident Malay supremacism — now accompanied by concessions to PAS’s agenda of enshrining sharia law federally. PAS understands the opportunity, knowing well how it can ‘make UMNO its hostage and ensure it would forever find itself pressured to adopt PAS-congenial and Islam-promoting policies’. This interplay, Kessler writes, ‘has produced the increasing and, over recent years, radical de-secularisation of Malay society and Malaysian politics’.

What would another term of government for Najib under such a political settlement mean for Malaysia? The first implication is that Najib will almost certainly survive the 1MDB Berhad corruption scandal unscathed. Decades of institutional degeneration under UMNO rule, and the concentration of power in the office of the prime minister, has seen Najib able to swat away any domestic attempts to hold him account for his role in the 1MDB affair. The unfortunate importance of identity politics in shaping voter behaviour also helps insulate him from much of the electoral backlash.

The second is the acceleration of Malaysia’s march towards a greater role for Islam in the law and in society. In the coming years, Malaysia’s minorities will be increasingly left in little doubt as to their status as second class citizens, with diminishing political clout as the gerrymander, and the increasing interdependence of UMNO and PAS, render their votes less important. Liberal Muslims will likely see their personal freedoms further eroded as the government enforces puritanical interpretations of Islamic law with greater vigour.

Under the new political formula outlined by Kessler, the rule of UMNO, already the world’s longest-governing political party, looks set to be extended for many years to come. If the party continues down its current path under Najib, the losers will be the people of Malaysia, as the post-independence dream of a secular, pluralist and democratic nation drifts further out of sight.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

The EAF Editorial Board is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Amy King, Liam Gammon, Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and Ben Hillman, and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.