Hornbill Unleashed

August 16, 2016

Democracy still vibrant in Malaysia, says don

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 9:01 PM

Dr Farish A. NoorThe emergence of new political parties in Malaysia suggests participatory democracy is still vibrant, academic and respected observer Dr Farish A. Noor says.

It shows Malaysians still believe in playing by the rules of constitutional democracy, says the Associate Professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

However, he says in a comment piece in the Straits Times, “the splintering of parties and the emergence of new parties will also contribute to the splitting of votes at any coming election, making it more difficult to predict the outcome of political contests at both the state and federal levels”.

Farish notes that Malaysia’s political landscape has grown even more complex and diverse with the establishment of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, not too long after Parti Amanah Negara or Amanah was formed.

Bersatu and Amanah are basically made up of dissidents who once belonged to Umno and PAS.

Saying this suggests that shifts are taking place within the largest electoral bloc of the country, the Malays, he adds: “These developments are happening at a time when the political fortunes of all the parties in the country are hanging in the balance.”

He notes that the Merdeka Center’s poll last year showed that levels of public support for mainstream parties are dwindling, and the government’s overall approval rating had dropped below 30 per cent.

The dominant Umno’s popularity has waned, but so has the standing of PAS since it left the opposition coalition, says the political scientist.

However, he thinks, Malaysia has become so “thoroughly politicised” that the electorate has become saturated. In such a situation, it will be relatively difficult for any new party to break new ground and capture new bases of support.

The proliferation of parties, he says, “adds to an increasingly complex and at times confusing political landscape where identity politics and communal demands remain the norm and where political activism, when couched in communal terms, can appear divisive and exclusive.

“But on the other hand, the creation of more and more parties, NGOs and associations seems to suggest that the political system is still seen as a tool for mobilisation and a vehicle for some kind of political-social mobility. Parties in Malaysia often work as patronage-granting mechanisms that provide not only political goals but also social capital, credibility, prestige and means of acquiring power and resources.”

However, he observes, a worrying outcome of all this might be a situation where people lose faith in the political system, and regard both politics and the goal of state capture as futile and unnecessary.

That, Farish warns, would “suggest a deeper distrust of politics and the state altogether”.

FMT Reporters

1 Comment »

  1. A multi-billion corruption scandal and international criticism have failed to topple Prime Minister Najib Razak. Fresh political opposition isn’t expected to work either, analysts say.

    Malaysia saw the birth of its newest political party, the Parti Pribumi Bersatu, last week. With former premier Mahathir Mohamed as founding chairman and former deputy PM Muhyiddin Yassin as president, it’s widely believed the party has one clear goal.

    “It’s explicitly clear that the party [commonly referred to as Bersatu] was created to topple the PM,” said Oh Ei Sun, Najib’s former political secretary from 2009-2011 and a current senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

    Indeed, it’s no secret that Mahathir—once a mentor to Najib—and Muhyiddin are the PM’s biggest critics.

    Last June, the PM was accused of receiving $681 million in his personal bank account from state wealth investment fund 1MDB, sparking calls for his resignation, led by Mahathir at home and anti-graft watchdogs abroad. Meanwhile, Yassin was sacked last year for criticizing Najib’s handling of the scandal.

    Early this year, Mahathir rounded up Najib’s political enemies to spearhead the ‘Save Malaysia’ movement – a campaign to oust Najib and form a national consensus on institutional reforms and a new political system. In March, the movement got more than 1 million people to affirm their concerns over Najib’s leadership by signing a document called the Citizen’s Declaration and Bersatu’s launch is seen as an extension of these efforts.

    But with general elections expected in 2018, pundits are sceptical of Bersatu’s ability to dislodge Najib’s ruling party—the United Malays National Organization (UMNO)—and its coalition government, the Barisan Nasional (BN).

    UMNO has helmed Malaysia since independence in 1957 and provides the PM with support of its central leadership and regional chiefs, widely seen as the key to Najib’s political survival. In February, Mahathir quit UMNO, saying it was “supporting corruption” under Najib’s reign.

    Given UMNO’s deep roots and historical dominance, Bersatu may not be a formidable enough opponent, suggested Tringh Nguyen, Asia Pacific economist at investment bank Natixis. “It is doubtful that this new political vehicle is going to do much given Mahathir’s age [91] and also waning political clout…it’s unlikely that Mahathir can galvanize support to topple Najib.”

    Moreover, Malaysia’s fractured political landscape is another obstacle.

    “There are many challenges facing Bersatu, especially with the opposition disunited,” said Norshahril Saat, fellow at the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute, a research group specializing in Southeast Asian studies.

    There are already a number of opposition parties to BN, including the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah). But infighting between these groups has only solidified the BN’s grip over the country, Saat noted.

    Certain members of PAS left to form Amanah in 2015, uniting with the PKR and DAP to form an opposition alliance called Pakatan Harapan. However, the alliance has already lost two by-elections to BN this year. Meanwhile, other smaller opposition vehicles have united to form another pact called Saksama.

    Bersatu has said that it will ally with Pakatan Harapan but if that materializes, it’s expected to only muddle the opposition landscape further, noted Oh.

    Still, it will certainly make the 2018 elections interesting, said Saat. “Mahathir’s hope is that sentiment against the BN government has not changed since 2013, when more than half of Malaysians voted for the opposition.”

    With a lack of viable alternatives to Najib and slowing economic growth, Malaysia overall is in a state of “strategic survival,” said Nguyen.

    Amid a messy political atmosphere, there is an air of stagnation around the country’s medium-term outlook and a lack of debate about how to take Malaysia to the next level of development, he explained.

    Comment by Basri — August 17, 2016 @ 5:12 PM | Reply

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