What is Dr Mahathir’s anti-Najib strategy?

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.



Time to Reform Multicultural Policy

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.

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 4

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.

Financial scandals and foreign affairs

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.

Read more

Mahathir’s New Party

Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks at a ‘Save Malaysia’ rally in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 28 March 2016. Photo: EPA/AHMAD YUSNI, selected by Southeast Asia Globe.

I’ve made some comments in the Southeast Asia Globe on Mahathir’s new political party. My comments were:

According to Amrita Malhi, a researcher on Malaysia based at the University of Adelaide, the new party was established to oppose UMNO and current Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is facing allegations that more than $1 billion from state development fund 1MDB was transferred into his personal bank accounts.

“[Mahathir] believes that Najib is using money allegedly siphoned out of 1MDB to pay both his allies and many voters to continue to support him,” she said. “As Mahathir has determined that he cannot possibly outspend Najib, he is moving to convince disillusioned UMNO members to leave and join his new party instead.”

Malhi added that some UMNO party members admire Mahathir and are growing increasingly disillusioned with Najib.

“They feel awkward about defending him, especially before international audiences,” she said, “even while Najib’s allies continue to defend him before the Malaysian public.”

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 3

Image: Malaysia’s “redshirts” clash with the police at a recent rally in Kuala Lumpur. Selected by New Mandala.

Part 3 of my Mahathir series for New Mandala is below.

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.

Read more

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 2

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.

Read more

New Mandala Mahathir Series – Part 1

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.”

Read more

Why is there a Kuala Lumpur Terror Alert?

Nurul Izzah


Threats might not be containable: Nurul Izzah, vice-president of the People’s Justice Party, which this week announced a new coalition with the Democratic Action Party called Pakatan Harapan, the Alliance of Hope. Khairil Yusof/Flickr

Today, I updated an essay I wrote for Inside Story, triggered by the terror alert in Kuala Lumpur over the weekend.

Malaysia’s Flashpoint

With a terror alert issued and the country’s redshirts threatening to riot, Malaysia’s intractable political crisis has come to a head, writes Amrita Malhi

With a postscript added on 27 September 2015

As Malaysia’s Muslims celebrated Hari Raya Haji – the Feast of Sacrifice – this week, American and Australian authorities warned their citizens to avoid Bukit Bintang, the popular shopping and entertainment district in central Kuala Lumpur. Authorities were especially concerned about the lively Jalan Alor eating strip, which last night remained thronged with diners enjoying Chinese food. Singapore’s Straits Times immediately linked the terror alert to warnings from Indonesia that Malaysian Islamic State fighters are known to be training in Poso, on Sulawesi. Authorities in Singapore have also recently warned that terrorist activity is again on the rise across the region. To contain the threat that terrorists pose, Indonesia and Singapore both rely heavily on Malaysia – a major transit point for foreign fighters heading for Iraq and Syria, including from Australia. Yet with the nation’s new redshirt movement warning of a possible rally and race riot this weekend, the Malaysian authorities are themselves embroiled in a serious crisis with identity politics at its heart.

Read more

Imagining a Nation After its National Front

A supporter holds an opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia flag on election nomination day in Pekan, Pahang state. Photo: Lai Seng Sin/ AP

I was in Malaysia during its 2013 election, a historic event that has since unleashed a major restructure of Malaysian politics. I’m putting up a series of posts from 2013 to provide a bit of depth to what’s going on now in 2016, beginning with this one from Inside Story, where I tried to imagine what a post-racial Malaysia might look like, while also attending a funeral and watching an election campaign. The full text is below, and the link to the original article is at the bottom.


Can Malaysia find life after the National Front?

4 MAY 2013

A historic election campaign reopened old questions about what kind of nation Malaysia should be, writes Amrita Malhi in Kuala Lumpur

When Balbir Kaur arrived in Malaya, the country’s ethnic groups – Malays, Chinese, Indians and “Others” – were already said to be living racially bounded lives. The educated Malay elite was part of a broader Malay nationalist group, the United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO, which had emerged from the struggle over competing visions of a postcolonial Malaya in the heady days of the 1940s. One option, Britain’s Malayan Union proposal, saw Malaya as a nation-state in which citizens would have the same status, regardless of their racial origin. But this proposal was abandoned the late 1940s as UMNO rose above the various organisations jockeying for leadership of the national struggle. All pro-independence groupings to the left of UMNO were banned, and the colonial authorities had set about eradicating the Malayan Communist Party, whose politics were Malay nationalism’s strongest competitor. Read more

Scroll To Top