KAMPAR — He wouldn’t give his full name or his age — except to say that he had vivid childhood memories of Japan’s World War II occupation of Malaysia — but Lee, a Chinese-Malaysian shopkeeper in Kampar, a onetime tin-mining hub in the northwestern Malaysian state of Perak, didn’t hold back. “Politics in this country is about this: money politics,” he said, using the local shorthand for corruption. “The BN” — Barisan Nasional, or National Front — “is clever at it, and that means it is difficult for the opposition to win in this country,” he added. Sure enough, the parliamentary election held May 5 resulted in the BN coalition maintaining its nearly six-decade hold on power, which dates all the way back to Malaysia’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. The BN fended off a strong showing by Pakatan Rakyat (PKR, or People’s Alliance), the opposition coalition, which ran a campaign focusing on alleged government graft — the “money politics” — and the BN’s perceived ethnic favoritism toward the country’s 60 percent Malay majority.
GEORGE TOWN — Tens of thousands of black-garbed Malaysians gathered in a football stadium on Wednesday night to hear opposition leaders denounce the outcome of Sunday’s election, which extended the Barisan Nasional’s (BN, or National Front) 56-year run in office. The vote was marred by cheating, say supporters of the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) opposition, clad in black as a protest against the result. Seeking a recount for 29 seats he contends were won by dubious means, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told the crowd in the opposition stronghold of Selangor – a business and industry hub near Kuala Lumpur – that “I would not quit until we reach Putrajaya, until we expose all (fraud) and claim Putrajaya for the rakyat (people).”
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 – On Saturday, tens of thousands of yellow and green-clad protestors seeking changes to Malaysia’s electoral system were driven back from the city’s Independence Square by volleys of water-cannon and teargas fired after protestors pushed through barricades sealing-off the plaza. Almost 400 demonstrators were subsequently arrested by police, including some seen being dragged away holding bloodied faces and bruised limbs.
Moments after Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim addressed the crowd at the front line, several protestors close to the police barricade suddenly shouted “back, back,” before pushing through the police lines around the Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, the iconic downtown location where the protestors sought to hold their sit-down demonstration seeking changes to how Malaysia holds elections.
KUALA LUMPUR – Almost 10 months after security forces forcibly broke-up an electoral reform protest in the national capital, a chaotic repeat looms as the Malaysian government and city authorities attempt to close off the city center square where activists hope 100,000 people will gather this weekend to seek sweeping changes to the country’s electoral system.
BANGKOK – With Western countries and Japan seeking to get around China’s domination of the crucial but mis-named “rare earths” sector, a potentially game-changing processing site slated for Malaysia looks set to become a major election issue as that country gears up to vote. Opposition politicians and local activists from Kuantan – where Australia’s Lynas Corp hopes to build a processing plant for rare earth minerals mined in Australia – are protesting against the project. The plant will provide “a crucial link in developing a non-Chinese supply of rare earth metals,” according to Yaron Voronas of the Technology and Rare Earths Center, an online forum for the industry. The 17 materials, which are not in fact “rare”, but difficult to mine in commercially viable amounts, are growing in economic and strategic importance because they are a key component in high-tech devices such as mobile phones and computers, as well as military hardware such as night-vision goggles and guided missiles. Despite having only around 35% of estimated global rare earth deposits, China currently supplies approximately 95% of the global market – as mining and processing in western countries has been largely mothballed over environmental worries. Green concerns have animated protests against the proposed Malaysian site, which awaits the granting of a Temporary Operating Licence from the Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board, initially approved in February but postponed pending an appeal by locals and activists who have come out against the project
KUALA LUMPUR – A not-guilty verdict in a sex scandal case against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim could prove a game-changer in the run-up to elections due by 2013 but thought by many analysts to be held this year. After months of railing against what he deemed trumped-up and politicized charges, Anwar cut an understandably cheerful and relieved dash on Monday morning when speaking to perhaps 3,000 supporters outside the Kuala Lumpur court where he was acquitted of charges of sodomizing a male party aide in 2008. Sodomy is a criminal offense punishable by 20 years in prison in Malaysia, where Muslim citizens are subject to sharia law. The case, which has hung over the country’s political scene for over three years, represented the second time Anwar faced such charges. He was acquitted due to a lack of evidence. Anwar thanked God for the not-guilty verdict, telling reporters, “We must focus on the next general elections and the reform agenda. We hope for an independent judiciary and free media.”