Mirage or Reality? the Malaysian Reformation

By Yang, Catherine | Harvard International Review, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Mirage or Reality? the Malaysian Reformation


Yang, Catherine, Harvard International Review


With a harsh legal system that is hostile to governmental opposition, Malaysia is known as one of Asia's most politically conservative countries. However, it may soon retire from this position of dubious honor, given Prime Minister Najib Razak's recently announced plans to revolutionize Malaysia's political climate. With political reform following so swiftly after Najib's succession of economic reforms last year, political activists and leaders of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance have been willing to offer praise, though their appreciation is tempered by wariness. Najib has built a reputation for grand gestures while in office, and one cannot assume the purity of his intentions. It is only logical to evaluate Najib's pronouncements in light of the circumstances under which he became Prime Minister, and his need to appeal to the electorate before die 2013 deadline for the next election.

In the 2008 Malaysian general election, the Barisan Nasional coalition (BN) lost the two-thirds supermajority in parliament for the first time since the country's independence in 1957. Under party pressure, the previous Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi stepped down in favor of Najib, who succeeded to the post without a mandate at the polls--one major political weakness that has dogged him during his tenure as prime minister. By law, Malaysia must hold elections no later than 2013. However, Najib has indicated that he might call for early elections and aim to win the electoral mandate by a large majority, one which will grant him more leverage against the discontented elements within the BN coalition. His new' proposals all aim to cultivate support from moderate middle-class voters in Malaysia.

This is not the first time Prime Minister Najib has upturned the status quo in Malaysia. Last year, Najib introduced the ongoing Economic Transformation Program (ETP), including projects that ranged from the creation of a Talent Corporation to investment in wafer fabrication plants to the introduction of tax incentives on Malaysia's oilfields. The initiative combines infrastructure upgrades and education advancements to ad-dress Malaysia's underlying problems, improving its competitiveness in the region and its attractiveness to foreign investment. The Malaysian government optimistically forecasts that, by 2020, the ETP is projected to lead to die transformation of Malaysia into a high-income country and the creation of 3 million jobs in the middle- and high-income brackets.

On September 15, 2011, Najib went even further by promising to repeal a myriad of Malaysia's security laws, many of which have been implemented for decades and integrated into the political and law enforcement infrastructure of the country. The Internal Security Act of 1960 was passed in order to deal with a communist insurgency at the time, allowing police to detain suspects indefinitely, How-ever, this has since been turned into a weapon against activists and members of the opposition to keep them out of the way. …

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