Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Blogger Takes Office in Malaysia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Blogger Takes Office in Malaysia

Article excerpt

Five years of blogging has brought Jeff Ooi a measure of notoriety. His biting posts on Malaysian politics sparked police investigations.

A pro-government newspaper sued him for libel. A prominent politician compared bloggers to monkeys in a lawless jungle.

In January, as Malaysia braced for national elections, a new banner went up on his blog (www.jeffooi.com): Get a Blogger Into Parliament. Fueled by donations and manpower, Mr. Ooi easily defeated a ruling-party candidate to win a parliamentary seat on Penang Island.

The cyberspace critic turned lawmaker is part of a wave of fresh faces on Malaysia's opposition bench after March's upset election, many of them driven by a desire for reform. On Thursday, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim was sworn in as opposition leader following a landslide by-election win that has rattled a shaky ruling coalition.

Ooi has no regrets about his career switch from IT constultant. "The keyboard is mightier than the sword.... Even a blogger can no longer tolerate the quality of governance that the country is having now," he says.

Other first-time opposition members in the 222-seat parliament include human rights activists, professors, nongovernmental organization workers, and an entrepreneur who secretly videotaped a lawyer allegedly brokering judgeships. His tape triggered an outcry last year and an official inquiry into judicial corruption.

Many of the newcomers are relatively young, underscoring a generational shift in politics here after decades of leadership by an entrenched elite. One in three MPs in the Democratic Action Party, a coalition partner of Mr. Anwar, is under 40. By contrast, the youngest divisional chief in the ruling United Malays National Organization is 43, says Liew Chin Tong, a DAP lawmaker.

"A lot of people have come alive in the last 10 years. They're the 'reformasi' generation, and they think about politics in fundamentally different ways," says Bridget Welsh, a politics professor at Johns Hopkins University, using the Malay word for reform. …

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