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Thread: Electoral Earthquake in Malaysia

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Electoral Earthquake in Malaysia

    For the 61 years since Malaysia gained independence from Britain it has been governed by the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Over the past 40 years it has become increasingly corrupt and authoritarian, winning elections using dirty & even illegal tactics.

    Despite some big happenings (see below) this election was expected to be no different. However, the defection of one time BN Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed to the opposition has seen it win a crushing victory in a Parliament heavily gerrymandered toward BN. Opposition parties also won most of the state governments.

    it is impossible to describe how big this is. All the Malaysians I talked to before the poll just assumed BN would steal this election too. This will completely upend Malaysian politics.

    https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/09/a...lts/index.html


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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    For those interested, this is the back story (this is top of my head, so corrections welcome).

    Malaysia is roughly 70% Malay & associated ethnicities, 23% Chinese & 7% Indian. There is a lengthy history of tension, especially between Malays & Chinese. After WW2, wiht independence looming, political power was largely in the hands of Malays. The Communist uprising that ran from 1948 until 1960 (and limped on into the 80s) was largely Chinese based. Ironically urban Chinese also dominated business. The desire to maintain Malay political dominance was one of the motivations behind the expulsion of Singapore from the Malay Federation in 1965. After violent anti-Chinese riots in 1969 a series of programs were created to boost the educational & economic opportunities of Malays & associated groups. This meant preferential university admission, access to finance, government contracts etc. Whatever the intent, the long term impact of these policies has been to drive Chinese (and Indians) from Malaysia and entrench a system of patronage to Malay communities.

    Living on campus at Uni in the late 80s I was surrounded by Malaysian Chinese, many of whom stayed in Australia. Canada, the US & especially Singapore have also benefited from this diaspora. I was talking to a guy just last week who had been in Australia 11 years. He is in a management position at Australia Post. he knows he would have zero chance of the same in Malaysia and he knows his children have so much more opportunity in Australia because they won't be penalized for their ethnicity.

    The BN coalition that has governed Malaysia since independence is dominated by UMNO, a Malay-based party that originally drew its power overwhelmingly from rural Malays. As people have drifted to cities it has gerrymandered the system so a decreasing number of rural Malays hold disproportionate influence. BN also has smaller Chinese and Indian parties who put up with UMNO's increasingly strident Malay nationalism because they get access to patronage.

    At the start of the 80s Mahathir Mohamad became PM and set about modernizing Malaysia's economy. He was extremely successful. He also had an authoritarian streak that saw opposition politicians jailed & opposition parties cowed. Corruption also flourished. When Mahathir's deputy & designated successor Anwar Ibrahim challenged this in 1998 there was a concerted campaign against him culminating in his arrest on trumped up charges of corruption and sodomy (homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia). This kicked off a 20 year crisis in Malaysian politics. Mahathir retired in 2003.

    Anwar Ibrahim has been fighting those charges for 20 years. He has had them overturned, only to see the politicized machinery of state dig them up in other forms. He is currently in jail as a result. In between he and especially his impressive wife Wan Aziza attempted to forge an opposition coalition of various groups.

    Meanwhile BN went from bad to worse. Najib Razak, son of Malaysia's second PM and the man mahathir groomed after jailing Anwar ascended to the top job. His corruption as Defence minister was well known. As PM it was off the charts. The most blatant example was the byzantine 1MDB scandal, part of which involved over $US600 million appearing in the PMs personal bank account. In the midst of all this BN blatantly stole the 2013 election with a combination of bribery & electoral manipulation that would make a southern segregationist Governor blush.

    A control freak in power, Mahathir proved incapable of maintaining silence after he retired. For a decade he has been an increasingly strident critic of Najib, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes just because. Many believe that his decision to join the opposition led by Anwar, the man he jailed, stemmed from his son's failure to advance to a senior position in UMNO. Despite his 92 years Mahathir has campaigned hard. He helped the opposition reach out to ordinary Malays who were unhappy with the government, but unwilling to vote for the opposition. He has promised that he will seek a royal pardon for Anwar & turn over the job of PM to him.

    With the ability to dispense patronage gone the future of BN is unclear. Similarly, the new government is an unwieldy coalition of parties & personalities. Expect the next decade to produce a lot of political fluidity in malaysia. BN made a stable transition impossible, so we may be in for a period of instability. It is still better than the alternative.


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    thanks a million for this summary. hard to believe that places like Malaysia and Armenia are providing "hope" for the liberal democratic world, while elsewhere democracy is faltering.
    Last edited by astralis; 10 May 18, at 15:24.
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    Does seem very similar to Armenia.

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    thanks a million for this summary. hard to believe that places like Malaysia and Armenia are providing "hope" for the liberal democratic world, while elsewhere democracy is faltering.
    I see elections and politics in general as a pendulum. It swings back and forth, sometimes just enough, sometimes way too far.

    Something to look forward is pendulum swinging back, from where it went in 2016.

    Then again, the pendulum seems to have left the fixed plane it was swinging on, and is instead swinging around like a playground tire swing, rather than a pendulum.
    Last edited by Ironduke; 10 May 18, at 17:34.
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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Living on campus at Uni in the late 80s I was surrounded by Malaysian Chinese, many of whom stayed in Australia. Canada, the US & especially Singapore have also benefited from this diaspora.
    Coolest Chinese i've ever met : )

    You might also have noticed malays growing their hair long, apparently that wasn't allowed back home for some reason

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    thanks a million for this summary. hard to believe that places like Malaysia and Armenia are providing "hope" for the liberal democratic world, while elsewhere democracy is faltering.
    Some depressing observations of late from my state that has assembly polls this weekend.

    It isn't about issues but cash & caste. The electorate has become corrupt thinking votes can be bought instead of cast. People haggling over how much attendant parties should dole out as a cash incentive to vote for them

    As a general rule, elections are won on emotive issues and not governance or economy

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    Former Staff Senior Contributor Ironduke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Double Edge View Post
    It isn't about issues but cash & caste. The electorate has become corrupt thinking votes can be bought instead of cast. People haggling over how much attendant parties should dole out as a cash incentive to vote for them
    It's not as if we don't have, or had, similar things in the US. We simply write these types of things into laws, create rule/regulation-based bureaucracies to administer them, and frame them with honorable sounding terminology. A large proportion of our voter base votes on the basis of which party doles out the most benefits to them.

    I'm not saying these programs are good or bad. Food stamps and Section 8 housing are better than having Brazil-style favelas and African shantytowns. The old paid into social security and Medicare on the promise these services would be rendered unto them when they became too old to work, and are thus entitled. Military persons who served 20 years are entitled to their retirement, and disabled veterans to medical care. That being said though, again, many people do cast their votes based upon which party doles out their benefits and promises more.

    Seems in India these things are being doled out, much like the manner in which party bosses and political machines of 19th century America doled them out. Much baser, more corrupt, law of the jungle type dole.
    Last edited by Ironduke; 10 May 18, at 18:01.
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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ironduke View Post
    It's not as if we don't have, or had, similar things in the US. We simply write these types of things into laws, create rule/regulation-based bureaucracies to administer them, and frame them with honorable sounding terminology. A large proportion of our voter base votes on the basis of which party doles out the most benefits to them.

    I'm not saying these programs are good or bad. Food stamps and Section 8 housing are better than having Brazil-style favelas and African shantytowns. The old paid into social security and Medicare on the promise these services would be rendered unto them when they became too old to work, and are thus entitled. Military persons who served 20 years are entitled to their retirement, and disabled veterans to medical care. That being said though, again, many people do cast their votes based upon which party doles out their benefits and promises more.
    Entitlements is what you mean i guess

    Seems in India these things are being doled out, much like the manner in which party bosses and political machines of 19th century America doled them out. Much baser, more corrupt, law of the jungle type dole.
    People just say show me the money. They'll collect and then decide who to vote for. That vote comes if there is a promise in favour of their caste, reservations for govt jobs or other form of positive discrimination. The danger here is the social fabric is being slowly eroded. If a leader promotes only people of his caste in the hierarchy at the expense of competent people then governance and delivery suffers. People who got the job because of who they knew not what they knew. Though i suppose this has been going on for a while now everywhere.

    People making the criticism were professors at a local college, they lament very little money is being put into education, primary education and they have to deal with students that should have learnt things but haven't and need to be brought up to speed.
    Last edited by Double Edge; 10 May 18, at 23:12.

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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Double Edge View Post
    Coolest Chinese i've ever met : )

    You might also have noticed malays growing their hair long, apparently that wasn't allowed back home for some reason
    There was only one Malay in my residential college and I wasn't aware of too many more at Uni. Few of them came to Australia because most of them had guaranteed places at home followed by guaranteed jobs with government or a connected company.


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    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    thanks a million for this summary. hard to believe that places like Malaysia and Armenia are providing "hope" for the liberal democratic world, while elsewhere democracy is faltering.
    I see that as a positive thing. It runs counter to the narrative being pushed by Russia & China about democracy being some sort of Western luxury unsuited to other societies. As you say, it also reminds those of us who might be a bit jaded or complacent that democracy is worth fighting for.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    I see that as a positive thing. It runs counter to the narrative being pushed by Russia & China about democracy being some sort of Western luxury unsuited to other societies. As you say, it also reminds those of us who might be a bit jaded or complacent that democracy is worth fighting for.
    I must agree the events in Malaysia and Armenia are causes for hope. I must assume that Anwar Ibrahim will sooner or later take over there - I understand he has been released from prison now - instead of this rather ancient Mahathir Mohammed in his 90s. In Armenia an effective one party state system has similarly been overcome.

    These people may not be the end all of reformers and doubtless the 'old guard' of entrenched interests will seek to retain their position wherever possible. Battles for reform are not won overnight - as we in Ukraine know well. Armenia has much to fix; the Nagorno Karabakh war, Turkish relations and a corruption problem worse than Ukraine's. It would be wrong to think Pashinyan can solve everything at once just as it was wrong to think Poroshenko could in Ukraine. They can draw a line though; from here on in we start.

    Contrast the opportunity for real progress and reform these events have potential to bring with the latest enthronement of Putin followed by the re-appointment of Medvedev as Prime Minister. Moscow has gone into a form of 'Neo-Brezhnevian Putinism'. There is no opportunity for the deep reforms their society, economy, Government and people need. It's like a political ice age compared to the possibility for real and meaningful change events in Malaysia and Armenia offer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by snapper View Post
    I must agree the events in Malaysia and Armenia are causes for hope. I must assume that Anwar Ibrahim will sooner or later take over there - I understand he has been released from prison now - instead of this rather ancient Mahathir Mohammed in his 90s. In Armenia an effective one party state system has similarly been overcome.

    These people may not be the end all of reformers and doubtless the 'old guard' of entrenched interests will seek to retain their position wherever possible. Battles for reform are not won overnight - as we in Ukraine know well.
    I am expecting a period of realignment in Malaysia. My bet is that BN doubles down on Malay nationalism & moves closer to the Islamist PAS. This will pull back some of the Malay votes it lost this time around, but one of the big reforms that is coming is an electoral realignment - no more gerrymandering. With only 4 of 14 state governments, no national power & a metaphorical beheading of its leadership the 'old guard' will take some time to reorganize itself. of course, there will be elements within BN & even UMNO who may decide the new version is not for them. Messy stuff.

    The big danger is that BN loyalists in the bureaucracy, judiciary & law enforcement sabotage the new government. Having Mahathir & Anwar Ibrahim around will help a bit, because they know a fair bit about how the system runs. At some point it will also become tricky to hold together the governing coalition. Also messy stuff.


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    Yea I think Pashinyan plans an election - a free one - in Armenia to give him more support in the Parliament first.

    This events are not ends but opportunities for new starts only. There are no guarantees they can succeed. Following the old guard attempted coup in Moscow in 1991 the KGB was back in power by 2000.

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    Turbanator Senior Contributor Double Edge's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    It runs counter to the narrative being pushed by Russia & China about democracy being some sort of Western luxury unsuited to other societies. As you say, it also reminds those of us who might be a bit jaded or complacent that democracy is worth fighting for.
    A few westerners would have you believe the same applies to Mohammedans

    Hah!

    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    There was only one Malay in my residential college and I wasn't aware of too many more at Uni. Few of them came to Australia because most of them had guaranteed places at home followed by guaranteed jobs with government or a connected company.
    Depends on the discipline i suppose, saw plenty in the UK for engineering. Why go so far when Australia is closer

    Clearly one got the impression they outnumbered their fellow ethnic Chinese & Indians by a large margin
    Last edited by Double Edge; 11 May 18, at 16:39.

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