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).
MANILA — By April 14, the latest date for which figures are available, 38 election candidates had been killed during the January to mid-April campaign period, according to Felix Vargas, spokesman for the government’s task force on elected government officials. The figure does not include campaign workers and candidates’ assistants who were killed. Professor Rommel C Banlaoi, the director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), told Asia Times Online that “cases of election related killings from the use of illegally armed groups have been recorded and to date numbers more than 100” The Maguindanao atrocity was the largest recorded mass killing of journalists in a single incident. The massacre was carried out to deter an opposition clan, the Mangudadatu family, from running in the elections against the government-backed Ampatuan clan. This case and other, less well-known clashes in the southern Philippines and elsewhere illustrate how elections raise the stakes for volatile local bigwig rivalries
GEORGE TOWN — Two years after canceling her last scheduled concert in the country, US pop star Beyoncé announced earlier this month that she would perform in the Malaysian capital in late October. Her 2007 gig was cancelled after PAS – an Islamist party that forms part of the opposition coalition – threatened protests. “We are against Western sexy performances. We don’t think our people need that,” said PAS spokesman Sabki Yusof. Beyoncé’s about-turn comes despite a raft of piety-tinged controversies in recent weeks, including the shariah law sentencing of a 32 year old woman and an Indonesian national to six lashes for drinking in public. The government did a u-turn of its own, rescinding a ban on Muslims – who make up around 60% of the population – from attending a Black Eyed Peas concert in Kuala Lumpur on September 26. That gig was part of a series of events held around the world to mark the 250 year anniversary of the founding of Irish beer giant Guinness.