Governing coalition bruised in Malaysian election (and a blogger gets elected)

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.

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  1. Good work Senator.I just cannot see how this election will have as an impact on me.The only Malaysian I really got to know a bit was a illegal visa overstayer,who worked in a restaurant alongside me.I thought he was a good man,who only wanted to work,and being punished for that seemed at the time to be the unpleasant reality that borders means laws.He seemed really smart and interested ,and, in other circumstances other than then..would of been a high achiever if legal.What happens to people like him worries me a little today.I felt some sort of connection with him,because I had real difficulties living in Sydney at the time..much easier than today perhaps!If I was sponsoring someone as a guest worker,I cannot remember his name, it would be him,even today an employer would have a working asset.I hope this election means justice for him,I suspect it probably wont be.It is good to read how free Malaysian opinion is..hope it stays that way..and becomes intellectually challenging to read.

  2. It isn’t surprising that this fellow got elected.

    Some of the smaller political parties and “independent” alliances try to snag at least some of us from this blog.

    I’m not sure what they want to do with us besides collecting votes, membership funds and ideas.

  3. Lorikeet, it seems understandable that folk are paying attention to the issues and ideas being raised on blogs. Everyone is given the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution, which allows policy makers to take into consideration a broader range of opinions about the issues of the day. Blogs can, in a way, prevent individuals in positions of power from filtering out inconvenient issues and ideas.

  4. “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.”

    Malaysia’s less than positive experience with multiculturalism simply reaffirms the age-old rule that wherever and whenever two or more well-defined ethnic/racial groups inhabit the same territory, there will inevitably be tension and even outright conflict.

    Why the social engineers of the West are so oblivious to this reality is beyond me.

    By the way, Andrew, are you admitting that affirmative action is inherently discriminatory? If not, then why are you condemning an affirmative action policy designed to correct the economic imbalance between indigenous Malays and the country’s wealthy market-dominant ethnic minorities?

  5. Ralph, people are oblivious to the “reality” you describe because it doesn’t exist other than in your head.

    Malaysia has never adopted and thus never experienced multiculturalism. This election result may open up some opportunities for more genuine political and cultural pluralism in that country, although there’s a long way to go yet.

  6. It seems to me Ralph that you missed the point – that these ethnic minorities have been discriminated against. It seems that a great deal of group violence around the world has been caused by people being discriminated against.

    I’m thinking of Northern Ireland, USA, China, Pakistan, South Africa, … I could probably name every country on the planet.

    Even if you disagree with multiculturalism, surely you don’t believe groups should be discriminated against because of their skin colour, race, religion, culture. It weakens your own throne.

  7. “Ralph, people are oblivious to the “reality” you describe because it doesn’t exist other than in your head.”

    Say what you like, Andrew, but I’m not the one dreaming of multiculti utopias where all cultures under the sun are celebrated equally (except Western culture, which is evil).

    “Malaysia has never adopted and thus never experienced multiculturalism.”

    So ‘multiculturalism’ can only exist if imposed from above by self-appointed social engineers?

    Of course, my point about multi-ethnic societies still stands. Wherever and whenever two or more well-defined ethnic/racial groups inhabit the same country, there will inevitably be trouble. Multiculti cliches aside, diversity — within the same territory — has always resulted in strife, not strength. Those who claim otherwise are either dangerously ignorant or wilfully dishonest.

    Interestingly, I notice that you completely ignored my question about affirmative action. Muzz, as expected, missed the point completely, but at least s/he made an effort.

    Note to Muzz: Malaysia and South Africa are similar in more ways than you realise. In previous times, market-dominant ethnic minorities i.e. the Chinese minority in Malaysia and the European (Afrikaner and English) minority in South Africa, dominated the economies of those countries at the expense of the indigenous majority populations. Now, both South Africa and Malaysia have implemented affirmative action policies (which are, by nature, discriminatory) aimed at ending minority domination of their economies. I guess the big difference between the two countries is that ethnic Chinese and Indians in Malaysia aren’t experiencing the same level of racially motivated violence currently being directed against the European minority in South Africa.

    In short, my question to Andrew was whether he supported affirmative action or not. If so, then he is, by definition, supporting a form of discrimination.

  8. How have I missed the point Ralph? I think your examples illustrate my point precisely. When people feel (or are) discriminated against, there is tension. This is also the experience in the case of affirmative action / positive discriniation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.

    You seem more interested in the process of spcific instances rather than the outcome of the society as a whole. (Which would be women / blacks / Catholics / short people / whatever continually suffering and maintained in an inferior position)

  9. Ralph:

    Herein lies the problem. Whether we like it or not, Australia has already been turned into a multicultural society. I think it is too late to do anything much about it.

    I also think we have been lied to by politicians claiming that 80% of migrants have been coming from UK and NZ in recent times.

    There are squillions of Asians, and an increasing number of Arab muslims and Sudanese.

    I try to tread a middle road in these matters, but tend to agree that “strife” is more likely to follow than “strength” – in any part of the world.

    When I go out, I try to help people with directions whenever I can, even giving away my own bus timetables to Japanese, Sudanese and Chinese in recent times.

    I try not to discriminate based on race, religion or culture, but I am still concerned about the effects of multiculturalism (especially multi-religionism) on our society.

    BTW Muzz is a man, probably around 30 years old.


    Different groups all discriminate against one another. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way human nature works.

    It remains a sad fact that women are still heavily discriminated against in our own white society.

    And how about this? An elderly friend of mine was Fijian/Indian. She was discriminated against by both sides – except when they needed her as an interpreter.

    I remember sitting in her living room with an Indian Muslim (dressed like a nun) who spoke only Hindi, and another woman who only spoke Fijian.

    My friend (the social outcast/half-caste) interpreted for all of us.

    I have never met a person less deserving of the kind of treatment that was sometimes dished up.

  10. I think you’re mistaking a natural suspicion (and maybe aversion) of difference to an explicit discrimination – making a conscious decision to treat someone or a group differently because of the way they look or how they dress etc.

    I think we all uncoonsciously pre-judge people by the way they look I think the trick to overcome this is to recognise that in yourself and override your unconscious prejudices. It’s not easy.

    It was probably too late to stop multiculturalism in Australia in 1770.

    (I’m also intrigued by how you come by your image of me, but thanks for shaving a few years from my age.)

  11. Lorikeet said: “I also think we have been lied to by politicians claiming that 80% of migrants have been coming from UK and NZ in recent times.

    There are squillions of Asians, and an increasing number of Arab muslims and Sudanese.”

    Australians were never consulted and, worse still, have been frequently misled about the size and shape of the massive immigration-driven demographic changes of the past several decades.

    In truth, only about a third of current immigrants to Australia are still coming from traditional sources, such as the UK and New Zealand. The rest are coming mainly from Asian countries. Australia already has the largest Asian population in the Western world, and that proportion is only going to keep growing if immigration remains at record high levels. In fact, if present demographic trends continue, Australia will probably have an outright Asian majority by the end of the century, possibly as soon as mid-century.

    I guess the question should be: do the majority of Australians want this? After all, we have a choice in the matter. If the Australian people really want to transform their European-derived society into an Asian-dominated ‘multiculture’ through an act of public policy, then let them debate and approve that policy through an informed political process. And if Australians decide that they want to preserve their historic culture and way of life and do not want their country to be radically transformed, then let’s cut back on immigration.

    “Different groups all discriminate against one another. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way human nature works”

    Bingo. The only way to end all forms of discrimination is to eliminate all forms of difference. Realistically, this is not possible. But highlighting and exacerbating difference (‘celebrating diversity’ in multi-culti speak) can only serve to make matters worse.

  12. Muzz:

    Some people find it insulting if you overstate their age, so I went for age 30. I think your real age is more like 35.

    I guess you have forgotten that I am educated in Social Psychology and Group Dynamics, and Mind Control and Manipulation.

    I have worked with people from destructive cults and manipulative sects.

    Evaluating people as to how they look is an important skill we can develop and use, but I’m not suggesting we use it on people in order to deliberately discriminate against them.

    You can also pick up some information by standing next to them.


    I don’t think it will take as long as that for white Europeans to become a minority group.

    No one gives a stuff what we want. The government (in conjunction with rich business people) just wants to use foreign workers to drive wages down.

    A lot of Asians don’t want more of their own people coming here. They came to get away from the abuses of the two-thirds world, but instead it has followed them.

    My street has 3 families of white Europeans who came here from South Africa and Zimbabwe, to get away from both inter-racial and INTRA-RACIAL problems.

    Do you think they are happy about the more recent arrivals? The answer is “No”.

    I think the future holds a melting pot of communism.

  13. I’m surprised Andrew hasn’t jumped in to “correct” the immigration figures asserted above.

    Although doing a bit of research on the DIMI website shows that while it is accurate to say that the greatest proportion of new settelrs, as they call them, are clearly from NZ and the UK despite whatever Coral and Ralph want to assert, there are very large numbers of oevrseas born people in Australia holding various visas from all sorts of backgrounds. Whcih can and probably does add to confusion on this issue, not to mention the various pop street and supermarket polls so favoured by Coralkeet.

    Also while the country of origin might be UK or NZ, many from those countries are also of other nationaliteis, most obviously islanders from NZ which also adds to the hazy impression.

    Whether Lorikeet or Ralp

  14. I think the government does indeed give a stuff what you want – particularly if you live in a marginal electorate. After all, governments want to be re-elected. Andrew, on the other hand, has openly stated what he believed (popular or not) and see what happened.

    Regarding your neighbours, I really don’t think that a few immigrants from other countries is going to create the same sort of tension that exists in Zimbabwe or South Africa. And without being rude, do you think everyone was happy about their arrival?

  15. Muzz:

    I don’t know how you could think that the government cares what we want. They just throw a few carrots out of the bag whenever an election is due.

    Queensland still has only one house of parliament, and we’ve recently had council amalgamations despite 73% of voters being opposed.

    If the government cared what we wanted, we wouldn’t have seen John Howard thrown out of his own seat, would we? Part of the reason for his unceremonious dismissal could have been related to his extremely liberal immigration policy.

    Peter Dutton (Liberal) barely retained his federal seat by a hair’s breadth. Did he care what we wanted? Of course not. He just gained a tiny advantage from a few new “Snobville” areas appearing on the periphery.

    On the issue of immigrants creating tension, there are no longer only “a few”. The count must be moving closer to a few million throughout Australia.

    If there were only “a few”, they wouldn’t be almost completely taking over some of the public schools, or living in large enclaves, would they?

    Particular religious groups (outside of Christianity) wouldn’t be building their own exclusive schools, would they? They wouldn’t also be expecting the government to finance their schools’ security, if there were not some kind of conflict/problem, would they?

    Perhaps if there really were only “a few” immigrants, fewer hackles might be rising as well. There would be no need for legislation to deal with racial/religious discrimination.

    I’m not sure what you meant in your comment about Andrew, but he lost his seat to Labor. This was at least partly due to zeal on the part of a lot of people to get rid of Howard permanently.

    Politicians are supposed to represent the views of the people. I can’t see too much of that happening.


    Even if a lot of the people are only here on visas, their presence could still add to the ethnic mix and concomi.

    BTW even research scientists appreciate the value of anecdotal evidence.

  16. If we can have Christian schools – which expect the familes of the children attending to be involved in the church – why shouldn’t there be Muslim, Jewish or whatever schools?

    Personally I’m inclined to think that there should be no religious-based education at all, but I think I’m in a minority with that view.

  17. Muzz:

    Christian schools don’t all expect families of children to be involved in their particular church – although most would prefer it.

    They take agnostics, aethetists, children of other faiths and branches of the same faith.

    A lot of people would prefer to keep religious education out of schools. This now includes me.

    My son brought home his workbook from Religious Education, and when I asked why he hadn’t answered the questions on each page, he said they stuck their noses much too deeply into his personal, very private business.

    So I had a good look at the book, and found this to be true. I felt like telling them to butt out myself.

    Children can be educated in any faith within the churches, synagogues etc without any kind of religious education remaining almost mandatory in our schools.

  18. Muzz:

    You seem to have missed the point in what I was saying about the building of exclusive non-Christian schools.

    I said if there were indeed “very few” migrants, there wouldn’t be enough children to fill the schools – let alone money available to build them.

  19. Hm, as someone who grew up in Sarawak, (East Malaysia), I too was fascinated by the election result, and I am optimistic that this may trigger some more liberal reform. After all, Malaysia is already a democracy, as this election demonstrates – it just needs a good dose of political liberalism of the kind Anwar represents. Of some concern however is that one of the parties that has gained is the Islamic party – it is very much a splintered ‘opposition’.

    I would disagree with AB, and say that Malaysia is indeed a multicultural country – but its multicultural policy is presently flawed insofar as it discriminates against non-Malays. That being said, some form of affirmative action has had its place in improving the conditions and opportunities for indigenous populations, including the Malays. On the other hand, it would be far better being targetted at the poor more generally, as not all Chinese are rich, and not all Malays et al are poor. So it’s probably time there was a transition here.

    Happy Chocolate Day!

  20. Thanks Aron

    It will be interesting to see how the Islamaic Party works in with the other parts of the opposition coalition – although the governing party has done a lot to play the Islamic card from time to time and it has also balanced that with the differing groups as part of its coalition too, so its not a totally new challenege. But doing it through genuine pluralism rather than patronage and gerrymanders will be harder.

    Making the electoral system much fairer is reform that is much needed – although the long-term governing party is still in power, so I don’t expect there’ll be widespread change just yet.

    I understand what you’re saying about Malyasia being a multicultural country. I don’t dispute that, but what I was trying to indicate was that it had never tried a policy of multiculturalism. It had instead gone more with policies of separatism and monoculturalism which most of the opponents of multiculturalism in Australia call for. Apart from questions of fairness and justice, I think its quite a good example of how such policies are economically harmful.

  21. I know this is slightly veering off topic again, but it does show how Christian schools can work in Australia.

    I was talking recently with a colleague who has 2 young children. They were baptised together but the family are not particularly religious. However, they were considering trying to get them into the local Catholic school.

    A month after the baptism they received a letter from the local priest and it directly addressed the school issue, saying that to ensure that your child has the best possible chance of getting a place at the local Catholic school it would be best if the parents were active both socially and economically in the church. Enclosed was a direct debit form!

    They did nothing and a similar form arrived a month later. Again they did nothing and they were a little unsure about what to give. Then another form arrived a month later which had two check boxes, one for $5 a week, the other for $10 a week.

    This has got to be the best scam since papal indulgences.

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