Time to Revamp Malaysian Studies in Australia

Malaysian Studies

Image selected by Asian Currents.

Today the Asian Studies Association of Australia’s bulletin Asian Currents published a piece I wrote on how to do Malaysian Studies better in Australia. We can only watch Prime Minister Najib and his opponents’ moves and counter-moves for so long before we articulate a broader relevance for our work for communities of interest who care about Malaysia, Malaysians in Australia and Malaysia-Australia relationships.

Australia needs to look beyond Malaysia’s current political impasse and engage more widely with an important neighbour

For some time now, Malaysia watchers in Australia have focused much of their attention on the potential for the 1MDB crisis, and the 2013 election result before it, to unseat UMNO president and Barisan Nasional prime minister Najib Razak.

The imaginative pull these intertwined issues exerts is understandable—the sense of slowly building crisis, the moves and countermoves by government and opposition parties, and the clever deployment of hidden political resources are fascinating, especially when events appear to gather pace. Equally alluring is the temptation to be the person who called the critical moment just before it happened.

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New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 3

Social Cohesion NM

Part 3 of my Mahathir series for New Mandala.

Social cohesion and scandal cycles in Malaysia

Mahathir on the divisions tearing a country, the opposition and politics apart.

“I’m afraid the whole thing revolves around Najib,” former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said last month in his Putrajaya office.

“Because of Najib and his attempt to retain his position as Prime Minister, it becomes difficult for any kind of real dialogue or reforms to be carried out.”

Since this interview, negotiations to create a new opposition front in Malaysia have been in full swing. Party leaders have spent the last three weeks issuing statements on policy issues that will determine their chances of success at the next election, slated for 2018.

One key issue is social cohesion in a nation wearied by toxic debates around race and religion.

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New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 2

Money Politics NM

The second part of my Mahathir series for New Mandala.

Mahathir and Malaysia’s money politics

In a country where cash is king, soon nothing will happen without bribery, alleges former PM.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad looked on Thursday like a man with important calculations to make. Even as he smiled and laughed, he seemed quiet and reflective as he discussed Malaysia’s dramatic political realignment.

“We had a wrong understanding of the level of concern on the part of the people about what is happening,” he said.

A few days earlier, Mahathir had campaigned with the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition in twin by-elections, called after two incumbents died in a helicopter crash. Held in the federal electorates of Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, both by-elections were won with increased margins by the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

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New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 1

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Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, former Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Last week, I interviewed Malaysia’s former Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, about his intentions for his campaign of public opposition to current Prime Minister, Najib Razak. This is the first of my essays based on that interview for New Mandala, the Southeast Asia blog published by The Australian National University’s Coral Bell School for Asia Pacific Affairs.

Mahathir prepares for Najib confrontation

For former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, defeating PM Najib Razak at the next election is “theoretically” possible, albeit not with money politics which he claims is Najib’s only competitive advantage. “Najib is very, very weak,” Mahathir said on Thursday in his Putrajaya office, adding that “if he is not able to bribe, he will lose. He has to bribe, because he believes that bribery is king.”

Despite his perceived weakness, however, and after his twin by-election victories earlier this month, calls have resumed for Najib to call a snap election soon, while fractious opposition parties remain in a state of tactical disarray. Najib may be preparing to do exactly that, foreshadowing on the weekend that he will announce a cabinet reshuffle today. Whenever Najib does call the election, which is due in or before 2018, Mahathir appears to have concluded that he will not win by developing a competing brand of money politics. “I can’t,” Mahathir said, “because if we give money he will always give more. He has tons of money.”

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KITLV Southeast Asia Update

KITLV SE Asia Update

Today I had the pleasure of speaking at this year’s Southeast Asia Update, organised by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), in the first Round Table session of the day, titled ‘Religious Renewal’. The discussion featured themes such as the continued reality of religious plurality and diversity alongside strong efforts by state and non-state actors to generate new orthodoxies. Picture: KITLV.

Violence, Displacement & Muslim Movements in Southeast Asia

KITLV Workshop Image

Today I spent the day with colleagues in a fantastic workshop on Violence, Displacement & Muslim Movements in Southeast Asia, hosted by the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies and the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society. The full program is available from the KITLV website.

Four Corners journalists detained in Malaysia


Australian cameraman Louie Eroglu (left) and journalist Linton Besser. Photo from Twitter.

Yesterday I was interviewed by Patricia Karvelas on ABC Radio National’s Drive program on the recent detention of two Australians, Linton Besser and Louie Eroglu, in Kuching. The full audio of the interview is available here.

Today, I expanded on my interview in a fuller explainer for New Mandala, which I’ve also pasted below with the link at the bottom of the page. Update on 17 March: my piece on New Mandala has been quoted by Amanda Hodge writing in The Australian, and her article is available here.

A pressing concern

By Amrita Malhi, Guest Contributor — 15 March 2016

Amrita Malhi goes beyond the headlines to examine what’s behind the expulsion of an Australian journalist and cameraman from Malaysia.

ABC Four Corners journalist Linton Besser and camera operator Louie Eroglu are returning to Australia, having been “deported” from Malaysia after authorities decided not to charge them with obstructing a public servant under Section 186 of Malaysia’s Penal Code.

In recent days, both men have been detained in a Kuching hotel, facing allegations by the Malaysian government that they had attempted to “barge into” the path of Prime Minister Najib Razak, not only creating a security risk for him and his minders, but also violating Malaysian journalistic norms. Read more

Malaysia’s Direction Matters to Australia

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently in the United States for an ASEAN Summit. Stock image selected by New Mandala.

Yesterday, I published a piece on New Mandala that looked at how Australia is managing its relationship with Malaysia in light of the scandals surrounding its Prime Minister Najib Razak, and the lack of a viable alternative government for international governments to deal with. It also mapped out some of the moves UMNO has made since the 2013 election to restructure politics in its favour as the nation approaches the next election in 2018. The full text is below.

Najib and Malaysia’s Road to Redemption?


As leading party UMNO and its embattled PM desperately cling to power, there could be even darker times ahead for Malaysia’s democracy. 

The actions of Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak have been met with widespread disbelief from domestic and international observers.

For many, there seems to be no end to the series of scandals directly or indirectly linked to Najib and his associates, beginning with a financial investigation abruptly brought to an end by a newly-appointed Attorney-General, Mohamed Apandi Ali.

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