A very important election for our region was held over the weekend, with the poll for Malaysia’s national Parliament occurring, along with elections for twelve state legislatures.
I don’t profess to be an expert on this country, but the prospect of a significant weakening in power for the ruling coalition, who have held office for over 50 years since the country first gained independence, seems to me to be a very promising sign. Hopefully it will lead to improved democratic practices and also a decline in some of the more blatant forms of racial discrimination that exist in that country.
For those interested, I recommend reading these pieces by Jason Soon – a Malaysian born Australian economist – on Catallaxy, and Michael Leigh – an Australian political scientist specialising in Malaysian politics – on Andrew Leigh’s site. These pieces both give some easy to understand insights into some of the social and historical issues involved. Some of the comments in Jason’s piece also contain further useful insights.
Details on the results and other background can be found at this link on Wikipedia.
It seems that a mixture of backlash from ethnic minorities – Chinese and Indian – who are widely discriminated against and a separate backlash from ethnic Malays angry at worsening economic conditions – along with a more cooperative and strategic approach from the coalition of opposition parties – has combined to see a significant loss in seats, as well as the loss of some state legislatures, for the government.
The government has retained office, but fact that the result is being widely seen as a disaster for them suggests this could still be a watershed. The most immediate impact will come because the government has dropped below the two-thirds majority they have had in parliament which enables them to amend the country’s Constitution at will.
It seems that a key to the success of the opposition coalition has been their ability to work more cooperatively, helping them overcome some of the inherent unfairness of the first past the post voting system, not to mention blatant gerrymanders and other measures which the ruling parties have been able to deploy over the years to maintain their hold on power. Whatever one might think of his politics, you have to admire the tenacity of Anwar Ibrahim, a key opposition figure. He went from the heights of being Deputy Prime Minister and heir-apparent in the 1990s to being publicly humiliated and jailed when he spoke out against cronyism within the government, yet he continued to persevere. From my knowledge of him, his approach to promoting democratic values and constructive engagement between Islam and other faiths, seems promising.
PS: For those who like to study the potential electoral impacts of blogging, I noted this headline on the Malaysian Star website: – Blogger Jeff Ooi headed for Parliament. You can see his blog here. I don’t know if he previously had a major profile outside of blogging, but according to this link he was previously involved in one of the governing parties but was now running for the opposition Democratic Action Party, (which I think is mainly supported by ethnic Chinese). According to this report he is “a pioneer of what he calls ‘social-political’ blogging in Malaysia” and received the 2006 Asia Freedom blog award from Reporters Without Borders. He not only got elected, but his party won control of the state of Penang from the governing coalition. Wikipedia states that he “got his fame from his blog that was constantly critical of the ruling govenment.” It was interesting to see his post after the election result – “Makkal Sakti” (which I think translates as ‘people power’) – calling on people to stay calm and not celebrate and “not give any party the reason to declare an emergency”. I presume this is in part based on memories of race riots that occured the last time the ruling parties suffered an electoral setback in 1969.
Anyway, all of this makes me wonder if this is potentially a very significant example of blogging and web-based campaigning in general having a major political impact. In any case, he’s a blogger and he’s got elected, so that should give hope to all those political bloggers out there.
ELSEWHERE: Rather than just give views from Australian blogs, here are a few other sites I found from political bloggers in Malaysia: Rocky’s Bru, Blood of Malaysia, James Seng, Makkal Sakti, Sophie’s World, Aput and a general link to Bloglah – a Malaysian bloggers feed site. The website of the Malaysian Star has plenty of commentary and details of the results.