Griffith Review Panel at the National Library of Australia

Image: National Library of Australia.

I’m speaking on the Griffith Review panel at the National Library of Australia, as one of the authors featured in Issue 55: ‘State of Hope,’ focused on South Australia.

The panel is at 6pm on Tuesday 21 February, in the Theatre on the Lower Ground Floor. More details are available from the National Library.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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

On The News with Muslim Texts

Today, I was interviewed by Stan Grant in the Sky News Studios in Melbourne for the evening current affairs program, Reporting LIVE with Stan Grant. This interview mostly focused on how we should understand Muslim movements and Islamist politics: my argument was that texts alone are not enough, we have to also pay close attention to political and social contexts. Picture: Sky News.

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