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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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