PENANG STATE — Malaysia’s ruling National Front coalition won a hotly-contested election Sunday, election commission officials announced, as voters opted for continuity and experience over opposition calls for reform. The 13-party National Front win was called by the election commission early Monday morning, after it exceeded the 112 seat threshold needed for a majority. It was the coalition’s 13th consecutive general election victory since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957. Prime Minister Najib Razak, 59, head of the majority United Malays National Organization party, led the ruling coalition to victory, hammering home the message to his largely rural conservative Muslim Malay base that the inexperienced opposition would ruin the economy and erode national security.
PENANG STATE — Malaysia’s ruling coalition has since 1957 steered the country between race riots, a brief and stormy marriage with Singapore and a communist insurgency, to the country’s position today as one of the great economic success stories of the developing world. But now its 56-year run in power since independence from Great Britain could be headed for the rocks. Malaysians will vote in a new parliament on May 5, and polls show a coalition led by former government insider Anwar Ibrahim has a shot at winning control of Southeast Asia’s third largest economy. “This election is the first one that is not a foregone conclusion,” says Clive Kessler of the University of New South Wales. Despite economic growth under the current government, perception of corruption and growing calls for more democracy and greater accountability have dogged it, giving the opposition a foothold from which to challenge the government.
KOTA BHARU — After Malaysia’s opposition coalition announced a reform-inclined election manifesto on Feb. 25, an opinion poll released the following day showed that Prime Minister Najib Razak’s popularity down two points to 61 percent, while his government had the approval of 45 percent of Malaysians, also a two point drop, according to findings by The Merdeka Center, a Kuala Lumpur-based research firm. What is expected to be Malaysia’s closest-ever election will take place sometime between now and the end of June this year. Opposition lawmaker Dzulkefly Ahmad is confident that the three-party opposition coalition can make history by winning the vote, an outcome that would end the governing National Front’s unbroken run in office, having governed since independence from Great Britain in 1957. “In a clean and fair context, we have a fighting chance of winning,” says Ahmad, a MP for the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), one of three parties in the opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister
KUALA LUMPUR — On Feb. 17, Malaysia’s still-influential former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad weighed in on an ongoing debate about freedom of the press in Malaysia, a rising Southeast Asian economy. Writing on his widely-read blog, he opined: “Frankly I would rather have the government censoring me … [I]f I don’t like what the government is doing, I can work for the rejection of the party which forms the government. But there is nothing I can do to stop people who may wish to deprive me of my freedom through the alternative media.” Mahathir, who was prime minister from 1981 to 2003, the longest such stint in Malaysia’s history, was reacting to videos posted online showing sections of the crowd mocking current Prime Minister Najib Razak at a Chinese New Year event in Penang, an electronics hub and tourist draw in Malaysia’s northwest.
KUALA LUMPUR — It’s around an hour by speedboat from Sulu in the southern Philippines to Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo, a route often plied by fishermen, traders, and migrants. The maritime passage goes from what is the poorest part of the Philippines to eastern Malaysia, with many making the journey from the Philippines in search of work, joining the 10 million or so Philippine citizens that moved abroad to find jobs. But when on Tuesday around 100 men arrived in batches to – and depending on what account you read – camp out in, or occupy a village called Lahud Datu, it soon become clear these weren’t the usual fishermen or migrant workers. What exactly is going on is unclear, but it has both countries on high alert. Malaysian security forces have sealed off the village, which is 300 miles from Sabah’s regional capital Kota Kinabalu, a two-hour flight from Malaysia’s main city Kuala Lumpur.
GEORGE TOWN — Korean pop sensation Psy danced right into the middle of Malaysia’s increasingly fractious politics today, following the prime minister on to the stage at a government-held Chinese New Year celebration in opposition stronghold Penang. Psy’s two renditions of his hit “Gangnam Style” were the highlight of a scorching morning in the west coast city, where Malaysia’s governing coalition, known as the National Front, made a local and youth vote pitch ahead of elections expected to be the closest-fought in Malaysia’s history. “If you read most of the surveys, they show almost a neck and neck race, but most analysts think that the BN will win narrowly,” says James Chin, a professor of political science at Monash University.
YANGON – Ahead of what reform campaigners believe will be Malaysia’s “dirtiest ever elections,” the long-ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has engineered something of a clean-up. In recent months, it has reformed some old and oft-derided laws, such as allowing indefinite detention without trial and forcing local newspapers to apply each year for a publication permit, a stipulation that encouraged self-censorship. UMNO and its allies have governed Malaysia consecutively since independence from colonial rule, a longevity not usually associated with electoral democracies. UMNO and its Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition survived the last election in 2008, though ceded its two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time and lost five out of 13 federal states to the opposition, a coalition of three parties led by controversial former UMNO firebrand Anwar Ibrahim that includes the Islamic party PAS and the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP).
KUALA LUMPUR –- Speaking at the Asia-Pacific Ireland Business Forum in Malaysia Friday, Ireland’s ambassador based in Singapore said that the Irish Government needs to do more in Asia. Ambassador joe Hayes’ brief in Singapore covers the world’s 4th biggest country Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest growing economies but one where Ireland is not making an impact, he says. “All of the EU has a footprint in Indonesia except Ireland and Luxembourg,” Hayes told the APIBF, an annual gathering of Irish business executives covering a region from the Gulf to Japan. Hayes criticised the Irish Government for not sending top-level government rep. to an upcoming summit in Laos, the 9th Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, which will take place Nov. 5-6 in Vientiane.