Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announces new cabinet members in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Dec. 2. Arif Kartono/AFP via Getty Images

Anwar Ibrahim has beaten the odds and achieved an ambition he has harbored for decades. He is now Malaysia’s prime minister. After years of opposition politics and even time in prison, Ibrahim is now in a position, however tenuous, to put into place the programs and systemic reforms he has theorized about and campaigned for while in the wilderness. But it’s a difficult task for a man both on the inside and outside of the system—a leader who came up inside the coalition that ruled Malaysia for decades but has also stood outside it for years.

Much needs to be done.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a world struggling with resurgent authoritarianism, Malaysia is a bright spot. In May, the former opposition, led by Mahathir Mohamad, unseated the political bloc that has essentially ruled the country since independence. To do so, Mahathir’s coalition had to overcome widespread gerrymandering, a history of electoral fraud and a repressive preelection climate. The victory surprised observers — including me.

Yet Malaysia’s government is now in danger of frittering away the momentum of its democratic triumph. Malaysian leaders must act rapidly before the country’s more anti-democratic forces reemerge, the opposition fights itself, and the power and popular legitimacy from winning an election fade.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the coming days, as world leaders travel to Singapore for the annual Southeast Asian summit, China will likely have a rather unpleasant development on its mind: increasing pushback across Southeast Asia of its growing economic influence, led by none other than Malaysia, a traditionally China-friendly nation.

When Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad made a surprise return to power earlier this year at the age of 92, it precipitated a qualitative shift in Sino-Malaysian relations as he pushed for more transparent and equitable economic deals with Beijing. As Mahathir said at the time, he views China’s leadership as “inclined towards totalitarianism” and unashamed to “flex [its] muscles” in order to “increase [its] influence over many countries in Southeast Asia.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Just Lost an Election? Join the Winning Side

Call them “hoppers,” call them “frogs,” as soon as the surprise outcome of Malaysia’s recent election became clear, politicians from the losing parties started jumping over to the winners’ side. The moment the long-ruling coalition Barisan Nasional was voted out of power on May 9, it started to disintegrate.

But even with Pakatan Harapan, a collection of long-suffering underdog parties, now in charge, the mass defections already are endangering Malaysia’s democracy: The system risks swinging from being dominated by one overbearing coalition to being dominated by another overbearing coalition.

When ballot counting ended on May 10, the morning after the election, Pakatan Harapan (and its regional ally in the state of Sabah) had won 122 out of 222 seats in the lower house of Parliament.…  Seguir leyendo »

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (R) and opposition leaders Wan Azizah look on as a video clip of Anwar Ibrahim is being played during an anti-kleptocracy rally in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 14, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin - RC12E60791B0

The flag of Malaysia’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, or People’s Justice Party (PKR), is turquoise-blue with red stripes at both ends. At its center is a stylized white “O.” It symbolizes the black eye of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s former deputy prime minister, who was a rising political star in the 1990s until he criticized the ruling National Front, a right-wing coalition led by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and was shipped off to jail for alleged sodomy. In September 1998, before a show trial, Anwar was beaten up by a police chief. Thereafter, a photo of Anwar’s bruised face became a symbol of opposition to the National Front, which had, in one form or another, been in power since Malaysia achieved full independence in the early 1960s.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man takes a copy of a newspaper with the headline reporting that Mahathir Mohamad has been sworn in as Malaysia’s new prime minister at a convenience shop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday. (AP)

Malaysia’s ruling coalition had been in power for 61 years — until the May 9 surprise electoral upset by the Hope Pact (Pakatan Harapan) party coalition. While Southeast Asia has seen little in the way of democratic advance in recent years, Hope Pact’s victory was an example of electoral power against steep authoritarian odds.

As results came in, it soon became clear that this was not a narrow victory by the opposition. Instead, the opposition and ruling coalitions essentially switched places. Hope Pact, combined with additional allied parties, won 122 out of 222 seats. In 2013, the last general election, its predecessor opposition coalition claimed 89 seats.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur on 10 May. Photo: Getty Images.

In a huge electoral upset, opposition candidate Mahathir Mohamad led the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition to victory over Najib Razak’s United Malay National Organisation (UNMO) in Malaysia’s general election, despite an unfair playing field, electoral gerrymandering and lack of access to mainstream media.

The win is clearly an important moment for Malaysia’s democracy: UNMO had been in power since 1957 and led the country for 44 years as a dominant member of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. But it is also a political power play: Mahathir, a former prime minister, turned on his former pupil Najib in favour of his old political opponent Anwar Ibrahim, who Mahathir is now set to pardon from politically motived charges to pave Anwar’s path to the prime minister’s office.…  Seguir leyendo »

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday as they watched live televised results of his victory.Credit Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Not long after midnight, the crowd of thousands began to sense that something historic was taking place. They had gathered on a vast lawn to watch the election results roll in through the night, and the mood was cheerful and relaxed. Here, in Petaling Jaya, a heavily residential city that blends into Kuala Lumpur, support for the opposition party, Pakatan Harapan, the Alliance of Hope, runs high, and as P.H.’s tally began to outstrip that of Barisan Nasional, the ruling party, everyone present began to contemplate the unthinkable: the end of the only government Malaysia has ever known.

The ramifications of P.H.’s…  Seguir leyendo »

A supporter wears a lapel pin bearing a portrait of Prime Minister Najib Razak of the ruling coalition party Barisan Nasional during a campaign event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this month. Credit Manan Vatsyayana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

I have never quite bought the notion that democracy delivers a government no better than what its people deserve. The phrase, often repeated in anger or haste, is clever, but it ignores political realities. We do not deserve the government we get if the government we get is the consequence of fear and uncertainty, poverty, weakened democratic institutions, systematic racism, gerrymandering and a system stacked in favor of those in power.

Malaysia votes on May 9 and almost every projection has Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, claiming electoral victory for the 14th consecutive time. To be precise: This coalition or a predecessor has governed Malaysia (and before it, Malaya) for over 60 years, without a break.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mahathir Mohamad, 92, was the country’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003. Credit Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Facing a tricky general election later this year, on Sunday the political opposition in Malaysia named its candidate to head the government: Mahathir Mohamad, who was the country’s prime minister from 1981 to 2003.

The choice may seem curious. Mr. Mahathir is 92 years old. He is a former patron-turned-foe of both the current prime minister, the embattled Najib Razak, and the opposition’s longtime leader, the imprisoned Anwar Ibrahim. This appointment also makes Mr. Mahathir, at least nominally, the main challenger to the very system he helped build during his decades in power.

It’s a controversial move on the part of the opposition — and it’s brilliant.…  Seguir leyendo »

Malaysia says Kim Jong-nam was killed with a chemical weapon

A preliminary report from Malaysian authorities has found that Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was killed by the banned nerve agent VX.

He died on his way to hospital from Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13 2017. It’s claimed that two women, who have now been detained, rubbed the chemical on his face.

We asked a pharmacologist to explain what the nerve agent involved is and how it works; and an expert in international law to examine the implications of an assassination using a banned chemical weapon on foreign soil.

What is VX nerve agent?

Chemical warfare weapons act on the nervous system (hence the name nerve agents), typically the nerves that control breathing.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester’s scarf bearing the logo of the Bersih, an electoral-reform movement, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in November. Mohd Daud/NurPhoto, via Getty Images

How does he do it? How does Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia stay in power despite allegations that he embezzled $1 billion from a sovereign wealth fund?

Corruption is nothing new here, but the scale and implications of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affair are staggering. It may be the world’s largest money-laundering scandal involving a sitting head of government. The case is being investigated by authorities in at least six foreign states, including the U.S. Justice Department.

Yet there’s been no mutiny within Mr. Najib’s party, no vote of censure in Parliament, no mass protests. In both 2015 and 2016, tens of thousands of supporters of Bersih, an electoral-reform movement, took to the streets calling for Mr.…  Seguir leyendo »

The ostrich is as tall as the cars around it, and running at a fair pace in the fast lane of the Federal Highway, which links Kuala Lumpur’s city center to Petaling Jaya, its largest satellite town. As the video of the surreal incident — the result of a tame ostrich’s escaping from captivity — circulated on social media in June, what struck many observers was that the giant bird was able to run so freely along the busiest of the capital’s many traffic-clogged highways. An hour or two later and the adventurous ostrich would have been hemmed in by gridlocked traffic, just like the rest of us.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Muzzling of the Malaysian Mind

On Thursday the High Court here rejected yet another challenge to the Sedition Act, paving the way for the government’s record-breaking case against the political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, better known as Zunar, to proceed. Zunar faces up to 43 years in prison on nine counts of sedition — the most counts anyone in Malaysia has ever been charged with.

His crime? Posting comments and cartoons on social media criticizing a court decision last year that upheld a conviction for sodomy against the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

In February, the police hauled in another cartoonist, Fahmi Reza, for drawing Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown.…  Seguir leyendo »

On a recent weekend excursion out of the city, I stopped for coffee at a cluster of roadside shops selling refreshments for travelers heading to the jungle-shrouded highlands that form the spine of Malaysia. A young man was sweeping the small yard outside the outbuilding that housed the restrooms; he was the janitor and handyman, he said, but he was wary when I tried to strike up a conversation.

He was from Bangladesh, he told me, and had been in Malaysia for three years. He was called Yunus, but there was no way I could tell if that was his real name.…  Seguir leyendo »

Shila Amzah is a Malaysian pop star famed as much for her fashion sense as for her powerful voice. Her vast collection of striking, multicolored hijabs has made her a style icon and a role model for young Muslim women across the country. These days, though, she sings primarily in Mandarin, and — as her 2.5 million followers on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo suggest — a majority of her fans are from mainland China.

In a country wary of Islam — the Chinese government has a fractious relationship with its ethnic Uighur minority in the western province of Xinjiang — Ms.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Malaysian government has no sense of humor — and that’s dangerous

I’m a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a $700 million “donation” made to his personal bank account.

Last February, police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.…  Seguir leyendo »

Malaysia’s Balancing Act

President Obama came to Malaysia recently for the latest U.S.-Asean and East Asia Summits, reaffirming America’s strategic commitment to Asia. But most of the 10 Asean countries responded as they often have in recent years: They hedged.
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They stopped short of fully aligning with Washington. And even some of the governments increasingly worried about China’s creeping assertiveness in the South China Sea, like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, have preferred to selectively accommodate Beijing rather than confronting it head-on.

This balancing act has meant keeping some distance from Washington, and at times defying its will. Even so, the United States government should welcome this behavior: Hedging by small and mid-level states in Southeast Asia is good for stability in the region, and that’s good for America.…  Seguir leyendo »

A beggar in central Kuala Lumpur. Credit Saeed Khan/Agence France-Presse

One of my earliest memories of the place where my father grew up, Kelantan — a predominantly rural state on Malaysia’s far northeastern coast — is of its famous flood-measuring point. Built around 1929 and known as Tangga Krai, it consists of a series of flood markers beside a set of steps that rise steeply from the banks of the Kelantan River to a height of about 100 feet — a simple but effective warning in the country’s most flood-prone region.

For me, like most urban dwellers, the dizzying scale and quaintly low-tech nature of the steps were part of Kelantan’s unique character: a rugged land of extremes, cut off from the rest of Peninsular Malaysia by jungle-covered mountains, rich in Malay traditions reflected in its own distinctive vernacular.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cuando el Partido de la Justicia y el Desarrollo (AKP) desafió a los entendidos y encuestadores y recuperó la mayoría parlamentaria en las elecciones generales del 1 de noviembre en Turquía, los mercados financieros vitorearon. Al día siguiente, la bolsa de valores de Estambul subió más del 5 % y la lira turca tuvo un repunte.

Parece no importar que en estos días sea difícil encontrar a alguien en los círculos empresariales o financieros que pueda decir algo bueno sobre Recep Tayyip Erdoğan o el AKP que lideró antes de asumir la presidencia en 2014. Y no nos equivoquemos: aunque se supone que el presidente turco debe estar por encima de las políticas partidarias, es Erdoğan quien en gran medida lleva las riendas.…  Seguir leyendo »