ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict


November 9, 2018


ASEAN — finding middle path in the US-China conflict

Image result for ASEAN -- finding middle path in the US-China conflict

Despite local uncertainties, the region must be bold in shaping its own future

For almost a decade, the basic strategic issue for Southeast Asia has been how to respond to the changing dynamics of the Sino-American relationship as it enters a new phase of heightened long-term competition.

The U.S. and China will not quickly or easily reach a new modus vivendi. Southeast Asia will have to navigate a prolonged period of unusual uncertainty.

U.S.-China rivalry in the South China Sea has emerged as something of a proxy for their competition. Strategically, the situation is a stalemate. China will not give up its territorial claims and the deployment of military assets. But neither can China stop the U.S. and its allies operating in the area without risking a war it does not want because it cannot win.

Image result for ASEAN -- finding middle path in the US-China conflict

The Trump administration has given the 7th Fleet more latitude to conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea. Japan and other U.S. allies are beginning to push back against China’s claims. The U.S. has signaled its intention to conduct even larger shows of force. This raises the risk of accidental clashes. Still, that risk does not at present seem unacceptably high.

A premeditated war is improbable. China will feel it must fight only if the U.S. supports Taiwan independence. This is unlikely. If an accidental clash should occur in the South China Sea or elsewhere, both sides will probably try to contain it. The Association of Southeast Nations ought to be able to cope with situations short of a U.S.-China war. ASEAN has previously managed far more dangerous circumstances. But this will require greater agility, unity and resolve than ASEAN has shown recently.


Image result for Asean

The most obvious manifestation of increased Sino-American competition is U.S. President Donald Trump’s “trade war.” Trade is the means; the objective is strategic competition. China accuses the U.S. of using trade to hamper its development. China is not wrong.

Although attention has focused on the tit-for-tat tariffs, the more significant aspect is new U.S. legislation to limit technology transfers to China, which sets new rules that future administrations will find hard to change.

Trump’s attitude toward China is no aberration, but reflects a bipartisan view — widely shared in business as well as politics — that the U.S. has been too accommodating to Beijing. Whoever succeeds Trump will likely stay tough on China.

The Trump administration has often been described as isolationist, but this is a distortion. Rather, it believes that this is an era of great power competition and is determined to compete robustly, with a preference for bilateralism over multilateralism, and a return to “peace through strength.”

China has misread the implications of the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 by believing its own propaganda about the U.S. being in irrevocable decline. It missed the souring mood of U.S. business toward China, mainly over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. These concerns are shared by businesses in other developed economies, which support Trump’s goals although they may disagree about his methods.

President Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress speech a year ago abandoned Deng Xiaoping’s approach of “hiding light and biding time.” But his main focus was domestic. Xi said China’s new “principal contradiction” was between “unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This poses a fundamental challenge. Unless those needs are met — which will require immense resources — Communist Party rule could be at risk.

To find a new growth model, the party must balance control and market efficiency. An enhanced role for markets implies a loosening of control.

It remains to be seen what Xi will do. So far he seems to have opted for stronger control, and may have sharpened the problems he faces.

The Belt and Road Initiative is as much about this domestic challenge as China’s global ambition. The BRI exports the old growth model based on state-led infrastructure investment. The BRI buys time to find a new balance between the market and the party.

But the BRI rests on the foundation of U.S.-led globalization. Can it succeed if the world turns protectionist? China may well be the main loser if that global order frays. China cannot replace U.S. leadership. An open international order cannot be based on a largely closed Chinese model. BRI partner countries are pushing back, including in Southeast Asia, and implementation will be problematic.

China is not happy with every aspect of the post-Cold War order based on U.S.-led globalization. China wants its new status acknowledged. But Xi has championed and profited from globalization. The trade war is now hurting China and slowing growth. China may seek to become more self-sufficient technologically, but this will take time while the pressures are immediate.

Some have speculated that there may be opportunities for ASEAN if foreign companies shift production from China. This is possible. But doing so is easier said than done and no one will forgo the Chinese market. ASEAN members must also resist temptations to act as a backdoor into the U.S. for Chinese companies.

A prolonged trade war and concerns that China may have compromised the security of supply chains, are likely to upend existing supply links. This could seriously complicate ASEAN members’ efforts to move up the value chain, for example if U.S. groups relocate business back to America. In response, ASEAN must attract higher grade investments by improving infrastructure and skills, and assuring investors their technology is secure.

Low labor costs and a potential market of 700 million consumers are no longer sufficient to make Southeast Asia an attractive investment destination. The attitude of ASEAN members toward China and the extent to which they are beholden to it are likely to become important considerations in investment decisions.

Image result for asean leaders gathering 2018

BALI, Oct 12 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has lamented ASEAN for not fully tapping its potential as an economic powerhouse, despite having abundant resources and a consumer market of nearly 700 million people.

ASEAN needs to move decisively to hedge against long-term uncertainties, while taking advantage of available opportunities.

Reforms such as the removal of non-tariff barriers and harmonization of ASEAN’s approach toward services and labor mobility could help make Southeast Asia a common production platform. Member states meanwhile should implement plans to upgrade skills and infrastructure. But internal political changes in some member countries could undermine the goal of closer economic integration. Unfortunately, ASEAN has, in recent years, become too timid for its own good.



Ambassador A Large Bilahari Kausikan, a former Permanent Secretary at Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is Chairman of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

Continue reading

Democrats, Don’t Muck this One Up

October 11, 2018

With less than a month until Election Day, it’s time for Democrats to hunker down and get serious about their midterm messaging. In the dispiriting aftermath of the recent Supreme Court confirmation circus, this means taking a couple of deep breaths, not flipping out over the Republicans’ purported “Kavanaugh bounce” (which might be more of a hiccup) and focusing on a few key issues that resonate with a broad swath of voters.

Republicans are twitchy about their electoral prospects. They know that midterm elections tend to go poorly for the party that holds the White House, just as they are aware that President Trump, while beloved by the base, has a popularity problem among the wider electorate. Party leaders are going all in with the culture-warring and scaremongering, looking to drive their voters to the polls with the specter of a wild-eyed, rage-filled Democratic “mob” hellbent on destroying the Republic. In a Wednesday op-ed in USA Today, the president himself indulged in some light red-baiting, claiming that “radical socialist” Democrats want to turn America into Venezuela. The entire screed was classic Trump: unhinged, breathtakingly dishonest and aimed squarely at making the opposition’s head explode.

As part of this base-stroking, Republicans are eager to keep the debate raging over their freshly confirmed, ultra-polarizing Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh. The brutal fight to seat Justice Kavanaugh, which morphed from an inquiry into the judicial fitness of one man into a culture-war cage match over women’s rights and shifting sexual mores, electrified many left-leaning voters. But it also stirred up die-hard Republicans, potentially endangering the “enthusiasm gap” Democrats had been enjoying.

With Justice Kavanaugh now safely tucked into his lifetime appointment, there’s much less cause for conservatives to stay angry. And even if they’re stewing today, or next weekend, three-plus weeks is an eternity in politics — all the more in a political climate dominated by this endlessly dramatic White House. Thus, we see prominent Republicans, including the Senate majority leader and the head of the Republican National Committee, peddling the idea that if Democrats gain power in Congress, one of their top priorities will be to impeach Justice Kavanaugh. No matter that this claim has no factual basis — it plays perfectly to the Republican base’s enduring sense of victimhood.


Which is why Democrats must resist the urge to follow Republicans down this spider hole, or that of any radioactive topic designed to inflame partisan passions.

Image result for Nancy and Dianne Feinstein


Thankfully, Democratic leaders in both chambers of Congress seem to recognize this and are encouraging their members to pivot toward issues aimed at bringing more people into the fold. In the Senate, they have said they will fixate on health care in the coming weeks, with special attention paid to protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This is a wildly popular provision of Obamacare, and one on which Republicans know they are vulnerable. This explains why President Trump fibbed about having fulfilled a campaign vow to protect coverage for pre-existing conditions, when in reality his administration has refused to defend such protections. Every single Democratic candidate should be laboring to make sure that every single American voter knows this.

The day after the Kavanaugh confirmation vote, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, called on her members to pull themselves together — “DON’T AGONIZE, ORGANIZE” — and get busy selling voters on the party’s “For the People” agenda. In addition to cutting health care costs, Democrats pledge to focus on creating well-paying jobs through infrastructure investment and on tackling Washington corruption. The party ought to have a bit of fun with this last agenda item, given that polls have shown for months now that a strong majority of voters are favorably inclined toward congressional candidates who will provide a check on this White House.

So far, Democrats seem to be staying on point. A couple of lawmakers have called for the next Congress, presumably with Democratic control of the House, to revisit the allegations against Justice Kavanaugh. A handful of others have argued that, if it turns out that he lied to Congress, he should be impeached. Ms. Pelosi has swatted down such suggestions, declaring, “We are not about impeachment.”

None of this means that the masses of Americans rightly appalled by this Supreme Court fight, or any of Mr. Trump’s outrages, should simply swallow their pain and get over it. Outside groups and incensed individuals should be working to channel all that frustration and heartbreak into turning out voters next month.

But the truth is, voters repulsed by Mr. Trump and his congressional enablers are already fired up to turn out for Democrats. Thanks to an unforgiving Senate map, the party’s more daunting challenge this cycle is to persuade people in not-so-blue areas of the country to give it a second chance.

As such, candidates and lawmakers need to take a more strategic approach. Stick to a message with broad appeal. Discuss the Kavanaugh battle in the larger context of the need for a responsible legislative branch to hold this out-of-control executive branch accountable. And no talk of impeachment — for anyone.

The only way to get the attention of a Republican Party that has proved itself interested in nothing more than power is to take away that power. Until that happens, the rest is just noise.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Democrats, Don’t Muck This One Up | Today’s Paper

Malaysian Joker

March 20, 2018

Image result for Zahrain Mohamed Hashim

I know Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim very well. We have been close  friends for a long time. At one time, we were in Parti KeADILan Rakyat helping Anwar Ibrahim who was leading the coalition Pakatan Rakyat of PKR, DAP and PAS for GE-12 in 2008.

For reasons of our own, we left PKR. Dato Zahrain rejoined UMNO while I chose to remain a private citizen and a strident critic of the Najib  administration. We have remained close friends and we did not let politics divide us.

When he was appointed our Ambassador to Indonesia, he consulted me about the nature of the job, and sought my advice. I told him to accept the appointment but added that the job would be a challenging one since it would involve representing the elected government and the country at the same time. His duty, I said, was to do a professional job.

On the basis of the feedback I got from my Indonesian friends and associates, he is a good Ambassador with close ties to the business community, the media, the politicians, civil society leaders, and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry. While we may disagree on many issues, we have been have not allowed our differences to affect our friendship. In my opinion, Dato’ Seri Zahrain is not a Malaysian joker. He is our country’s Ambassador appointed by our King to represent Malaysia.–Din Merican

Malaysian Joker

Despite the probe into 1MDB in several countries, there is “no case” against it and all allegations involving it are part of a “political game”, Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim said.

“There is no case. The police, MACC and the attorney-general have studied (the 1MDB case) and found there are no elements of fraud. It is the same case in the Parliament.

“There is no theft involved, no missing funds and no illegal flow of funds from 1MDB. 1MDB is formally still in business,” he was quoted as saying.

Zahrain also said that it has been established that no money from 1MDB – started by the government to develop investment and business – had been channelled into Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s personal account, as alleged in a report by TheWall Street Journal.

The RM2.6 billion in Najib’s account was instead a gift from a Saudi Arabian donor, he stressed.

Zahrain also questioned why US authorities did not liaise with their Malaysian counterparts if they were “sincere” in addressing the 1MDB issue.

Our comment

There is a simple question to be put to the latest joker to dance naked on behalf of Najib  Razak. If the Attorney General’s report exonerates 1MDB, then why was it unconstitutionally declared an Official Secret?

Furthermore, if “there is no case” how does he describe the civil case in the US, now pending whilst the criminal side of the investigation gets under way?  If there is no action, how does he describe the forceable seizure of the yacht Equanimy in Indonesia and Jho Low’s jet in Singapore?

If no imprisonments, how does he explain the present incarcerations of Khadem Al Qubaisi, Mohammed al Husseini and Prince Turki in their various jurisdictions?  All were key players in the 1MDB scams.

And why are Jho Low, Casey Tang, Jasmine Loo, Nik Faisal et al all on the run afraid to show their faces?  Why did Jho Low buy himself a St Kitts & Nevis Island passport?

Lastly, why did Riza Aziz’s personally owned company Red Granite Pictures just plead a deal with the US authorities and pony up US$61 million, in a plain admission that the money was – as stated only too clearly in the DOJ submissions – stolen from 1MDB?

Sadly, the Malaysian government has now evolved into a fully fledged criminal enterprise and its representatives have been transformed into gangsters of the sort that deny even the most glaring and obvious facts when challenged.

If the people want to be governed by such shameful shysters it is up to them, but they ought not to forgive these thieves and liars for attempting to steal the election as well as the country’s wealth.

Malaysia is known for the wrong reason(s)–Misogyny

August 1, 2017

Malaysia is known for the wrong reason(s)–Misogyny

Image result for animah kosai

Lawyer Aminah Kosai and Friends

Editor’s Note: Animah Kosai (pic above on extreme right) is a lawyer who writes, speaks and advises leaders on creating an open “Speak Up” culture in corporations to address wrongdoing, harassment and safety concerns. She also speaks on women empowerment. Animah is creating a platform called Speak Up and can be followed on LinkedIn and Twitter @SpeakUpAtWork

Malaysia has a problem: misogyny. The country’s Parliament set yet another sordid example last week when Member of Parliament Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh, during a debate on amending domestic violence laws, said husbands were ‘abused’ when wives threw insults, withheld sex and denied consent for Muslim men to take another wife.

Image result for Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh

Another Problematic UMNO Mamak–Setiu MP Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh

In 2007, another MP, Bung Mohktar Radin, equated the leaking parliament roof to a woman’s period, picking on woman opposition MP Fong Po Kuan, and saying she ‘leaked’ every month. His disgraceful comments drew laughter from the floor. No male MP stood up to defend her.

Image result for Shabudin Yahaya, MP and former syariah court judgeAnother UMNO Character from Penang


In April this year, Shabudin Yahaya, MP and former syariah court judge, objected to a female representative proposing a ban on child marriage during the tabling of child sex abuse laws. He said nine year old girls are already mature. That girls at 12 or 15 who had bodies of 18 year olds were physically and spiritually mature, and could be married. He explained that rape victims would face a bleak future without husbands — and suggested they marry their rapists. In Malaysia, the legal age for marriage is 18 but exemptions can be given by the appropriate judge.

Was there outrage? Yes. From civil society, mainly women, and a handful of female MPs. It’s an uphill battle when 90% of the House of Representatives are male. Only 23 out of the 222 elected members of parliament are women.

Picture a rowdy boys club that fights to determine the loudest chest thumper. The winner emerges as alpha male while the rest fall into line as loyal followers. Women entering this arena upset the pecking order. We think differently. We ask tough questions. The alpha male isn’t used to being questioned. Especially not by a woman. In front of his pack!

To keep his position, he has to remind her who’s boss. He does so through bullying rather than rational intelligent discourse. You see this in Parliament, in the workplace and on social media. All a leader needs to do is make one remark to ‘put a woman in her place’ and his sycophants will do the rest.

Image result for Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor

An UMNO Empty Vessel who makes the most noise–Teuku (aka Tengku) Adnan Mansor

A few months ago, Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was at a town hall meeting when an eloquent young woman asked him about steps to reduce street crime. She was worried for her safety. He replied, “It’s because you’re so beautiful. The next time you go out, wear shabby clothes.” The audience laughed and wolf whistles were heard.

In just one sentence, Tengku Adnan avoided answering the question, objectified the woman, blamed the victim and rallied the boys to follow his cue.

Once a leader speaks this way, he is sending the signal to the masses that it is the fault of the victim for being attacked. This is wrong and has to be called out for what it is.  Patriarchy. Sexism. Rape Culture.

Why can men get away with such sexist remarks? Because they hold the power. Malaysia has the dubious distinction of scoring highest in the Hofstede Power Distance Index. In other words, Malaysia is the country in which the least powerful members of society most accept and expect the unequal distribution of power.

This means leaders can say anything knowing they will most likely not be challenged. In some families, women are reminded that religion and tradition requires them to be subservient to their husbands.

Image result for Najib Razak--Malaysia's Corrupt Hypocrite

Malaysia’s Hippo-Crite –Anything for Political Survival

Zulkifly’s male abuse remarks last week came the same day his boss, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced women had hit 30% representation in management in the top 100 listed Malaysian companies. Najib noted 17 of the companies had no women directors and said companies without women on boards by 2018 would be named and shamed.

Najib, meanwhile, has only 3 women in his 35 member cabinet. His party, UMNO, has 7 women in its 57 member Supreme Council — a council that has both Tengku Adnan and Bung Mokhtar on it.

When there is big imbalance between the genders, misogyny thrives. The only way forward is for men to drop their pack mentality and let women in. It’s hard for women with 10% or 20% of the power to change male mindsets. Don’t leave the heavy lifting to us.

Men, the moment you hear a sexist remark, intervene and object. A man will be taken more seriously by a misogynist. Men are part of the brotherhood. When a woman points out a sexist remark, she is challenging the male ego. He gets defensive, stops listening and often continues his tirade. I have seen the powerful shift when a man calls out sexism. The speaker stops and thinks. He is not threatened. He may not change immediately, but a seed is planted. The more men call out misogyny, the greater the shift. Eventually men will hear women the same way they hear men. As equals.

Workplaces, social media and yes, Parliament, will become less aggressive and open up to a calmer, respectful culture where women will be happy to participate.

We need male champions for gender equality. So non-alpha male men: break ranks and support us.

Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?

August 19, 2015

Global Anti-Corruption Conclave in Malaysia?

by John

‘Premier’ world gathering in September is not a joke. Or maybe it is.

Right in the middle of what looks to be the biggest political and economic scandal in Malaysia’s history, the International Anti-Corruption Conference and Transparency International will hold their 16th bi-annual anti-corruption conclave in the country’s political capital of Putrajaya September 2-4 – with Malaysia both host and a likely target.

The event is billed as “the world premier forum that brings together heads of state, civil society, the private sector and more to tackle the increasingly sophisticated challenges posed by corruption.”

TS Abu KassimGone Missing

The conference was originally scheduled for Tunisia, but because of a scheduling problem over parliamentary polls it was moved to Malaysia with the cooperation of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission. This makes it all the more uncomfortable, since the MACC’s chief, Abu Kassim Mohamed, was hurriedly sent on vacation in July as the MACC appeared to be closing in on Prime Minister Najib Razak over suspicious transfers of US$681 million into his personal AmBank Account in 2013. The money was transferred back out a few weeks later into an account in Singapore that has now been closed.

The MACC’s probe has seemingly gone quiet with the boss out and other investigators facing police questioning over alleged leaks to the press. Abu Kassim may not even be at the event he is hosting. He reported to a hospital for a back operation and is scheduled to be on leave until October. He has said he would continue the probe of Najib’s finances if and when he comes back.

They know it’s a mess

To the IACC’s credit, it displays a summary of the scandal prominently on its website and acknowledges that it will arrive in the midst of a scandal. “The IACC is indeed still on despite the controversy,” one potential registrant was told by email. “We see the event as an ideal opportunity to explore ongoing issues in Malaysian and beyond.” Having held previous gatherings in Brazil, Peru and South Africa the IACC is presumably used to engaging with countries where corruption is a live issue.

Najib-It takes a worried man

Given press controls and the United Malays National Organization’s lock on media and state power, Malaysia will be a challenge. With so many top officials having been sacked or sidelined by Najib as he defends his position, the country currently looks like a text-book case for how to stonewall a corruption scandal.

Abu Kassim is only one of a large number of officials who have been sacked, bribed, promoted to other positions or otherwise refused to slow investigations into the money transfer or the indebtedness of the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd. state development fund. They include Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin; a rival for power; Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who was  reportedly preparing to indict Najib; and several others.

‘Ending impunity’

According to a press release from the IACC, the conference is being held “following close collaboration with the Malaysian government and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission,” which are both hosting the event. The conference theme remains “Ending Impunity: People, Integrity, Action.” The anti-graft organization said, “We are delighted to be able take the event to a key country in the fight against corruption in Asia.”

Najib, under fire as never before, was expected to speak at the event. It is unknown if he will still be there. Abu Kassim is also slated to speak. Among the other listed speakers are Aruna Roy, the Indian social activist and freedom of information campaigner; Simon Peh, commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong; and Daniel Kaufmann, president of the Natural Resource Governance Institute and former director of the World Bank Institute, where he pioneered techniques to measure corruption. The full list is on the IACC website.

The opposition Democratic Action Party parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang, on his blog, demanded that the conference be cancelled, asking “What type of an example of ‘Ending Impunity: People. Integrity. Action’ can Malaysia present to the world and some 800 international participants who will attend and be engaged in plenary debates and workshops on ending impunity for corruption? Or is Malaysia to present a live example as to how difficult or even impossible it is in a country like ours to end impunity for corruption, unless there is a total change of government?”

Beware domestic media

Lim has a point. Given the control the government exerts over the mainstream media in all its forms, one can easily imagine Najib’s administration pulling out all the stops to show domestic viewers and readers that the world has arrived in Malaysia to praise his anti-corruption efforts. An email from Asia Sentinel to the IACC hadn’t been answered as of this posting.

As the conference date has come closer, the IACC website has been crammed with stories on the Malaysian corruption scandal, noting, for instance, on August 3 that Najib had sacked all of the officials connected with the investigation. The IACC laid out a road map for the country, saying Malaysia “needs strong and independent authorities;” and that “press freedoms must be guaranteed and respected;” and that “serious action is needed on cross-border corruption.”

It added that the anti-corruption conference, which involves credible anti-corruption NGOs and officials from across the world, would be on hand to tackle the issues.

If the conference indeed provides a forum that the Malaysian authorities took seriously, the Plenary Agenda offers a possible guide to Malaysian corruption. Plenary I deals with ending impunity. Plenary II deals with fighting corruption in development and investment beyond 2015. Plenary III deals with “keeping business clean and stopping illicit financial flows.” Plenary IV deals with “investigating and exposing the truth.”

More Bad News for Malaysia’s Democracy

June 22, 2015

More Bad News for Malaysia’s Democracy

by James Giggacher

Back in February, 2015 just after Anwar Ibrahim lost his appeal against sodomy charges and was given a harsh five-year jail sentence, New Mandala spoke to Malaysia politics expert John Funston.

John FunstonHe said that without Anwar around to unite the conflicting policies and personalities, maintaining the opposition alliance would be “extremely difficult”.

He was spot on.

A mere four months after Anwar’s jailing and the seven-year-old People’s Alliance, or Pakatan Rakyat, has called it a day, declaring Wednesday that it no longer “functions formally”.

It brings an end to Malaysia’s most successful opposition movement; one which won the majority of votes in 2013’s general election to almost unseat the six-decade ruling coalition Barisan Nasional. Only gerrymandering of seats saw Barisan Nasional maintain power.

The collapse of the coalition comes about after attempts by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to enforce the controversial Islamic law, hudud. The Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) objected to the move and now the two parties have severed ties.

Which raises the question; what does this mean for the already slim hopes of democracy in Malaysia? The first thing to keep in mind is that while Pakatan Rakyat showed great promise as a possible alternative to the ruling Barisan Nasional, it was never a cohesive alliance.

“The collapse came about for the same reason the parties split after the 1999 election – because a group within PAS has sought to press for an extreme version of its Islamic ideology,” says Funston.

“This time the pro-Ulama group are even stronger – after a bitter campaign they won a clean sweep of all top positions in the party’s general assembly earlier this month.”

Another key difference is that the pro-Ulama group is now looking to work with Prime Minister Najib Razak’s UMNO party to achieve its goals – in particular the implementation of the extreme hudud law in PAS-run Kelantan.

But as Funston points out, as too Tom Pepinsky here, it might not be the end of collaboration between the former alliance parties.

“In the absence of a formal coalition some cooperation still seems likely, in particular for the Selangor state administration where the three parties have similar representation,” says Funston. “But this will not make for a unified administration, and further efforts by PAS to implement hudud might imperil even this.”

With elections due in 2018, the demise of the alliance will significantly reduce the opposition’s prospects of successfully challenging the government. And if PAS does end up building an alliance with UMNO, this also does not bode well for Malaysia’s non-Malay parties.

“Some opposition members have mooted a grand alliance against the ruling coalition, drawing on support from moderate Malay NGOs, and perhaps headed by UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh,” says Funston.

“Such a realignment would be difficult to accomplish, though some movement in this direction is possible if the PAS professionals align more closely with DAP and PKR, and other Malay moderates continue to join these two parties.”

Meanwhile Barisan Nasional are going through their own potential divorce, with an ongoing clash between former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir and Najib sending the ruling party to the brink (read this New York Times piece for a good overview of the back story involving the PM’s wife’s spending sprees and the murder of a Mongolian model).

The upshot is that Mahathir has called time on Razak, saying his many failures, including that of sovereign wealth fund 1MDB, means he must go.

“The 90-year-old Mahathir is relentless, and has an outstanding record of bringing opponents down,” says Funston. “He may well continue until he succeeds in this case.

“Najib has responded vigorously, and benefits from the fact that there is no obvious successor. But he has not mounted a plausible defence against Mahathir’s charges, and momentum could move against him quickly if party leaders come to accept Mahathir’s claim that UMNO will not win the next election while Najib remains in charge.” With three years until elections, the drama is only set to build.

James Giggacher is editor of New Mandala.