Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad talks to journalists in Malaysia’s administrative capital, Putrajaya, earlier this month. Ahmad Yusni/EPA, selected by Inside Story.
Today, the excellent website Inside Story published my latest essay on the strategy and tactics of Dr Mahathir’s entry into Pakatan Harapan. I discuss the way the opposition parties wish to convert FELDA’s problems into a mini-1MDB crisis for rural voters in critical seats.
I’ve had an essay published in Griffith Review, in a special issue called ‘State of Hope’, focused on South Australia as a testing ground for government-led social reform since the era of former Premier Don Dunstan.
I haven’t been able to participate in any of the nostalgia for South Australia’s past, having only arrived just as Mike Rann was replaced with Jay Weatherill. All the same, my essay addresses contemporary possibilities for new rounds of social reform, in this case in relation to how state governments “manage” the growing cultural diversity of their populations through the policy framework we refer to as multiculturalism.
The essay reflects on my experience organising InterculturAdelaide, a policy co-design workshop I convened in 2015, and of navigating the multicultural arena and the way it insists on assigning non-white Australians within discrete and bounded cultural silos. These silos are then targeted by political parties in their competitive quest to mobilise each cultural “community” as a supportive political constituency. Yet surely a focus on equitable interaction across purported cultural boundaries is a better approach for equipping Australians to navigate their own society and their increasingly multipolar region?
The essay, ‘Intercultural Futures: The Fraught Politics of Multiculturalism,’ is available for purchase from Griffith Review.
Image: Former US Attorney-General Loretta E. Lynch addressing Washington journalists over the Department of Justice investigation into funds misappropriated from state development fund 1MDB. Photo: Reuters/James Lawler Duggan, selected by East Asia Forum.
Today, I published a second op-ed in a series of two pieces featured by East Asia Forum, this time looking forward to how international developments might make life difficult for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, especially if they are capitalised on politically by the opposition alliance headed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
The full text of the opinion piece is below.
The international fallout from Najib’s 1MDB scandal
Author: Amrita Malhi, ANU
The international consequences of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal will likely continue to escalate. The affair concerns US$800 million from the development fund that investigators believe to have passed through Najib’s personal bank accounts, in addition to other funds believed to have moved through foreign intermediaries and investment vehicles.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Imaged selected by East Asia Forum.
Today, I published a summary in East Asia Forum of the domestic politics surrounding Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the end of 2016.
Najib might seem to have sealed up every institution he can access to ensure he cannot be toppled, but he still needs to ensure that his Barisan Nasional government can outmanoeuvre the opposition alliance with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad at its helm.
This is because it is no longer enough for successive Barisan governments to simply win electoral contests that are designed to deliver victory to them in any case, they also need to ensure they rule with a modicum of legitimacy.
The full text of the article is below.
Najib fights to retain control after 1MDB scandal
Author: Amrita Malhi, ANU
As 2016 draws to a close, Najib Razak remains Malaysia’s prime minister. This is despite two years of scandal, scrutiny and speculation over funds missing from state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), including US$800 million that is believed to have passed through his personal bank accounts.
Najib quickly shut down Malaysian investigations into 1MDB in 2015. Yet external agencies and media sources have since tracked what they believe is an international chain of transactions enabling billions to allegedly be siphoned out of the fund, through foreign banks, funds, shell companies and the prime minister’s personal contacts.
Amrita Malhi’s chapter opens a window onto previously under-appreciated dimensions of anti-British uprisings in early twentieth-century Malaya through her explorations of the “subterranean symbolic life” of the Ottoman Empire in Muslim Southeast Asia—and in particular in the ritual and political imaginations of Malay “secret societies.”
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Image selected by New Mandala.
The fourth and final part of my New Mandala series drawing on an interview with former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad can be found below. An abridged version was published in the Canberra Times and syndicated across Fairfax media websites online.
If Malaysia’s political impasse breaks, the impact may be global.
“I myself have never wanted foreign interference in our domestic affairs,” former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad declared in late June in his Putrajaya office. “But domestic means of redress have been closed.”
Since I spoke to him then there’s been much debate between Malaysia analysts on whether current PM Najib Razak’s position is safe, and how much longer he can hold on before the cluster of problems now assembled around him ends his political career. Today, the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs hosts the 2016 Malaysia Update largely focused on this debate.
This is an important question, not only for Malaysia but for Australia. Analysts in Asia continue to argue that Najib is unassailable, based on their analysis of formal UMNO structures and the Malaysian bureaucracy. Mahathir largely concurs in his assessment of Najib’s domestic prospects, saying “the AG [Attorney-General] will not take up the case against him in the court.
I’ve spent the day involved with the Malaysia Update, a day of talks hosted by the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs.
Highlights included a panel on gender and women in politics featuring members of parliament Fuziah Saleh and Alice Lau, which I chaired, and talks by Azrul Mohd Khalid from IDEAS and Ibrahim Ali from PERKASA.
More information, along with a full program, is available from the ANU website.
Image from the cover of the ARC NISA consultation paper.
I’m on a working group for the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) that has submitted advice to the Australian Research Council (ARC) on its pilot engagement and impact assessment exercise scheduled for next year. The exercise forms one component of the Australian Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), and earlier this year the ARC issued a consultation paper outlining its aims. The advice submitted by the ASAA working group argues that the ARC must define “engagement” in a manner that includes the Asian region, and that “impact” cannot be measured in terms of income alone.