Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

An Unfinished Business

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Affairs

An Unfinished Business

Article excerpt

The year 1999 came to an end in Malaysia with the month of Ramadan bringing a lull onto the political terrain. As year 2000 approached, however, this much was clear: beneath the calm lay unresolved the tensions and contradictions of Malaysian society which were exposed by Anwar's fall, reflected in Reformas i, partially mediated through the BA, and temporarily checked by the November election.

Mahathir had led the BN to an electoral victory for the fifth time, only victory in this "dirtiest election" (as he himself had warned before it was held, although he meant to accuse the opposition) was not cheaply purchased. The swing against the government was large, and considering that 6,659,000 valid votes were cast, would have been more pronounced had the Election Commission not disenfranchized the 681,000 voters. Malay disaffection with UMNO has changed qualitatively, too. There is now Malay sentiment, unthinkable before, that UMNO has become "irrelevant". No one can predict whether this sentiment will subside before the next election, or gather sufficient momentum to threaten UMNO's ability to remain in power.

One critical factor will be how UMNO deals with intra-party disaffection. In 1999 Mahathir had pre-empted open expression of dissent linked to Anwar's expulsion and Abdullah Badawi's promotion to deputy premiership by postponing the party election, originally scheduled for June 1999, to the year 2000. …

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