Politics in Malaysia since it became independent in 1957 have been dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UNMO), which has ruled through coalition alliances with ethnic parties such as the Malaysian Chinese Congress and Malaysian Indian Congress.

The government has been criticized for tolerated corruption, disregarding civil rights and controlling the judiciary and media. The Opposition claims the electoral system favours the ruling UNMO and Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which has ruled Malaysia for more than half a century, As the perennial majority party in the BN, the UMNO has also created barriers for parties to compete in elections, such as increasing the amount of required deposits.

Thomas Fuller wrote in New York Times, The governing party “and the ethnic-based system of politics that it represents is in disarray. There is simmering resentment between the majority Malays and the minority Chinese and Indians, and corruption within government is rampant, despite promises to clean up the system.” Opposition leader Ibrahim “Anwar has vowed to remake the country's politics and revoke the authoritarian laws that, among other things, ban students from protesting, keep the media controlled and allow the government to lock up dissidents without trial. But Anwar remains a polarising figure who is not trusted by many in the elite. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, August 2, 2008]

"I think there will at some point be a crisis of legitimacy," Ibrahim Suffian, the head of the Merdeka Centre, a polling agency, told the New York Times. "The leaders seem to feel that they can get away with a lot of things so long as the masses are satisfied with the economic opportunities given to them. But the economy is so bad that people are losing faith. There is a feeling that maybe it's time for major changes." [Ibid]

On politics and color in Malaysia, Bruce Gale wrote in The Strait Times, “Politicians in Kuala Lumpur have not been quite so obsessed with colour. But even here, the battle lines have been drawn to some extent. Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, for example, is well known for its blue and white banners. So far, however, the mishmash of parties and colours that make up the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance has prevented the government's opponents from rallying around a single colour. This may be the reason why opposition parties urged their supporters to wear black when rallying outside the Perak state assembly building on May 7 to protest against the installation of a new state government. Dozens of protesters wearing black were arrested outside the assembly building. "Why can't we wear black? Do we have to get permission from the government to wear black?" asked one opposition supporter. [Source: Bruce Gale, The Strait Times, June 15, 2007]

Political pressure groups and leaders: Bar Council; BERSIH (electoral reform coalition); PEMBELA (Muslim NGO coalition); PERKASA (defense of Malay rights). other: religious groups; women's groups; youth groups

Family Ties Take Root in Malaysian Politics

Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote:“Politics often appears to be a family affair in Asia with Pakistan's Bhuttos, India's Gandhis and the Lees in Singapore; now Malaysia looks set to join the party. Najib Razak, the 55-year-old son of Malaysia's second premier and the nephew of the third, will take the helm in March at a time when this Asian nation of 27 million people grapples with economic problems and rising political and ethnic tensions. [Source: Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, November 3, 2008 ++]

“Another rising star of the party that has ruled Malaysia for all 51 years of its existence as a country is Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of its longest-serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. On the opposition benches in parliament sits Nurul Izzah Anwar and her father, veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim. Anwar is a former deputy premier who once looked set for the top job until he was kicked out of the ruling party and jailed on what he says were false charges. ++

"There is an Asian belief that political power can be passed on to the next generation through bloodline," said James Chin, political science professor at Monash University in Malaysia. Critics say the sense that blood entitles a person to exercise power has generated corruption, stymied development and hampered good government. More often than not, the progeny of political leaders fail to live up to the family name. "If Malaysians or foreigners expect Najib to be like his father as PM, they will be greatly disappointed," said Abdullah Ahmad, a political author and a former aide to Najib's father. ++

Anwar’s Daughter

Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, was elected as a member of Parliament for PKR in 2008. Before she won her seat Reuters reported: Nurul Izzah Anwar, a 27-year-old who has just given birth, has joined her mother to fight the government in the March 8 poll. U.S.-educated Nurul, trying to make her own mark in politics, was quick to deny suggestions that she was contesting as a hedge for her 60-year-old father. "I'm offering myself for the people of Lembah Pantai," she said, referring to the economically mixed urban constituency in the heart of Kuala Lumpur where she is contesting. "If they are voting, they are voting for me. I want to win this election for myself and for my party," she told Reuters. [Source: Ahmad Pathoni, Reuters, February 28, 2008]

“Some ordinary voters think Nurul, still breast-feeding her baby, could make it in politics. "She is promising. She is well-educated and religious. She can win if the election is held fairly," said Faridah Mat Jais, a 44-year-old woman selling snacks under a highway bridge. Others have some reservations. "I think the prospect is not too bright because she is contesting against a formidable woman figure," said political analyst Shamsul Amri Baharuddin. In the interview, Nurul said the multiracial Keadilan would fight to end Malaysia's deep-rooted racial politics. "If we are going toward this (racial) road, we are doomed," she said. "We need a future devoid of racial politics, that's why it's very important for young Malaysians — Indians, Chinese, Malays — to stand up and work together." [Ibid]

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “Anwar’s daughter, Nurul Izzah, then entered the hall. The sports complex happened to be in her constituency. Izzah had not been especially eager to be a politician, having just given birth that year. But when Anwar was imprisoned, and his wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, took his place as an opposition leader, politics became something of a family enterprise. [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

“Nurul Izzah is popular, especially among the young. She has her father’s gift for public speaking, and is remarkably beautiful. She got up on the stage and shouted slogans in English about Israel being founded on bloodshed. When she sat down, she whispered to me, “Did you notice how they took away the microphone?” Referring to the official media, she said, “That’s how much they love me.” The vigorous government campaign against Israel had taken the opposition by surprise, and she felt that she had to make a statement. But the government evidently did not wish to share its Muslim solidarity with the opposition.

“I asked Izzah when she started wearing a tudung. “Since I was 18,” she replied. Later that year, her father was jailed. “In the darkest hours, you turn to God. We were never forced into wearing the tudung. It was my decision. My father was alarmed.” In fact, Izzah was sent to a Catholic convent school outside Kuala Lumpur, and studied international relations at Johns Hopkins. Her best friend is a half-Welsh Catholic. “I can’t remember many verses of the Quran,” she said, with a polite giggle, “but I felt it was my duty as a Muslim to wear the tudung. I did face some challenges.” As a student, she told me, “My crowd was mostly liberal. So friends sometimes felt uncomfortable. Couldn’t go clubbing and that sort of thing.”

“Nurul Izzah was asked to run for office, she explained, “because it was important for the PKR to have a young generation that supports multiracial politics. But, you know, to run for the opposition is suicidal for a future career in this country.” Despite what must have been a very difficult childhood, she had a refreshing lack of bitterness, and spoke with a sense of humour, even a guarded optimism. I had noticed this quality in others of her age, including Chinese and Indians, who were working for NGOs, writing blogs, or organising local communities. Some have backgrounds in the community: I met Indian and Chinese politicians who started in labour unions. Others have studied abroad and decided to return, as activists or journalists. The most popular blogger is the half-Welsh, half-Malay scion of a royal family. The two founders of Malaysiakini, the country’s best online news site, met as students in Australia. Some are religious; many are not. But everyone, even Lim Teck Ghee, a staunch atheist, seems to agree that the chances of Malaysia’s becoming a more democratic, less racialist society depend almost entirely on the former Muslim student leader who helped institutionalise Malay nationalism: Anwar Ibrahim.

Najib Family in Malaysian Politics

Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “Najib has been in parliament since the tender age of 22 when he took over the seat of his father, who died in office. He has held posts in the sports, education and defense ministries and now holds the powerful finance portfolio. His father Abdul Razak Hussein designed Malaysia's race-based system which was supposed to help ethnic Malays climb the economic ladder and compete against the more entrepreneurial ethnic Chinese population. His uncle, Hussein Onn is credited with forging unity among the races during his premiership. [Source: Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, November 3, 2008 ++]

“Najib's family links run to the heart of politics and business; his cousin is education minister and his younger brother Nazir runs Malaysia's second-largest bank CIMB. Many political observers believe Najib may simply owe too much to too many people to stake out a separate political identity. He still needs to win a party election to take the top job, although he appears to have no real competition. ++

"He (Najib) was coddled and helped all along, first by his uncle Hussein Onn and then by Mahathir, the man who owed a debt of gratitude to his father," said Zainon Ahmad, political editor of the local Sun newspaper. "Only now I think Najib has to be on his own," he said.

Mahathir Shadow in Malaysian Politics

Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “When he took the reins of power in 2003, current prime minister Abdullah looked like a tonic for a country that had grown tired of Mahathir's 22-year rule. Mahathir dragged Malaysia toward developed nation status, oversaw the building of the iconic Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur, and guided the country through the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. Yet his long rule was also criticized for the growth of cronyism and its failure to help poor Malays. Abdullah seemed to have laid the ghost of Mahathir to rest in 2004 when the Barisan Nasional coalition, led by his United Malays National Organization (UMNO) party, scored its biggest election success on promises to end corruption. [Source: Jalil Hamid and Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, November 3, 2008 ++]

“That success turned to dust in elections in March 2008 when the opposition stunned the government by depriving it of its customary two-thirds majority in parliament, which means it can no longer automatically change the country's constitution. Mahathir has since turned on Abdullah, sniping from the sidelines when the premier canceled some of his massive infrastructure projects. He resigned from UMNO, swearing not to return until Abdullah was ousted. ++

“In a further twist to that feud, Mukhriz Mahathir is battling Abdullah's son-in-law Khairy Jamaluddin for the leadership of UMNO's influential youth wing, a staging post to the party presidency and the premiership of the country. That political battle is a sign that dynasty politics will be around for a long time to come, worrying some Malaysians who feel the country is governed neither by them, nor for them. "The ones that keep coming back for more are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of yesteryear's leaders," said a comment posted on political blog www.bakrimusa.com. "It is, to them, their birthright to be accorded such positions as their fathers and forefathers. If you are not born to 'the families', then you must marry into one!"

See Mahathir, Anwar Under History

Ethnicity and Politics in Malaysia

Malaysian politics have traditionally been divided along racial lines. After serious riot between Muslims and Chinese during the election in 1969 an effort was made to make sure that elections do not take a racial nature. Muslims (most of them Malays) make up 60 percent of Malaysia's population and form the bulk of voters for the United Malays National Organization. The party dominates the National Front coalition, which includes Chinese- and Indian-based parties in a power-sharing arrangement that has ensured racial peace in this multiethnic country.

Ethnic Malays and Muslims, who comprise some 60 percent of Malaysia’s 27 million people, control political power. Many ethnic Chinese and Indians, who form the two main minority communities, complain their grievances are ignored, especially regarding an affirmative action program that gives privileges to Malays in business, jobs and education.

Although Malays make up the majority of the population they can be divided along various lines such moderate Muslims versus more Islamic Muslims. The Chinese are a minority, but a sizable one at 25 percent of the population. They often play the role of swing voters.

According to Reuters: “Malaysia is dominated politically by ethnic Malays, who are Muslims and see themselves as the natural rulers and indigenous race. But they make up only a slender majority — ethnic Chinese and Indians account for almost 40 percent of the population. The social melting pot, partly a legacy of colonial times when former ruler Britain imported Chinese and Indian labor to work mines and plantations, has left Malaysia with a major challenge to keep the peace between the races. With conservative Islam on the rise in Malaysia, non-Muslims have begun to complain that their constitutional right to freedom of worship and to secular government are being compromised.The Malay deputy premier recently called Malaysia an Islamic state, angering non-Muslims. Increasingly, leaders of the multi-racial government are urging Malaysians to heed the lessons of 1969, when racial tensions burst into deadly riots. [Source: Reuters August 31, 2007]

Religion and Politics in Malaysia

According to Human Rights Watch: Malaysia’s constitution affirms the country is a secular state that protects religious freedom for all, but treatment of religious minorities continues to raise concerns. On August 3, 2011, Selangor state religious authorities raided a Methodist church where an annual charity dinner was being held. The authorities alleged that there had been unlawful proselytization of the Muslims present at the event but presented no evidence to support their allegations. Nazri Aziz, de facto law minister, said that since Islam allows underage marriage, the government “can’t legislate against it.” [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012: Malaysia]

Religion can be a contentious political matter in Malaysia. Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker, “How to reconcile the Islamists and the secularists? Anwar prefers to finesse the problem, by “concentrating on what we have in common, not what divides us.” But PAS has stated its desire to introduce hudud laws for Muslim citizens “” punishing criminal offenses with stoning, whipping, and amputation. Secularist partners in a federal government would find that hard to accept. “Any party should be free to articulate its ideas,” Anwar says. “But no issue should be forced on non-Muslims. When I argue with Muslims, I cannot sound detached from rural Malays, like a typical Malay liberal, or sound like Kemal Ataurk. I would not reject Islamic law out of hand. But without the consent of the majority there is no way you can implement Islamic law as national law.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, May 19, 2009 ]

Political Parties in Malaysia

Malaysian political parties are generally divided along ethnic lines fist and ideological and religious lines next. Political parties often are characterized by factionalism, publicized internal disputes, and near cloak-and-dagger internal relations.

Since independence, Malaysia has been governed by a coalition of political parties called the National Front (Barisan Nasional—BN), which consisted of 14 political parties in the 2004 elections. The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has been the dominant party in both the BN and the country. The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC; formerly the Malayan Indian Congress) have also been influential in the BN. Significant opposition parties include the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia—PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat—Keadilan). Political parties often draw much of their support from distinct ethnic or religious communities, and their electoral success appears to rely on an individual leader’s influence.

Measured by the number of seats in the 2004 elections for the House of Representatives, the most supported political party was the UMNO, which won 109 of the 219 seats, followed by the MCA (31 seats), Democratic Action Party (12 seats), Parti Pesakea Bumiputera Bersatu (11 seats), and Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (10 seats). All other political parties won fewer than 10 seats. The BN coalition won 198 out of 219 seats in the 2004 elections. In the 12 general elections since 1955, the BN and its predecessor, the Alliance, have won at least 70 percent of seats, except in 1969 when they won only 51 percent of seats.

See 2008 and 2013 Elections

United Malays National Organization

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is political party of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed and the current leader of Malaysia Prime Minister Najid Razak. The UNMO and has traditionally been secular and the party of Malay nationalism. It has several million members. It was formed shortly after independence and took a stand opposing equal rights for Chinese and Indians. Coalitions with the UMNO at the helm have ruled Malaysia since 1957. By some reckonings no political party in the world has been in power for longer than the UMNO.

Political parties and leaders: National Front (Barisan Nasional) or BN (ruling coalition) consists of the following parties: 1) Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia Party or GERAKAN [KOH Tsu Koon]; 2) Liberal Democratic Party (Parti Liberal Demokratik - Sabah) or LDP [LIEW Vui Keong]; 3) Malaysian Chinese Association (Persatuan China Malaysia) or MCA [CHUA Soi Lek]; 4) Malaysian Indian Congress (Kongres India Malaysia) or MIC [Govindasamy PALANIVEL]; 5) Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah or PBRS [Joseph KURUP]; 6) Parti Bersatu Sabah or PBS [Joseph PAIRIN Kitingan]; 7) Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu or PBB [Abdul TAIB Mahmud]; 8) Parti Rakyat Sarawak or PRS [James MASING]; 9) Sarawak United People's Party (Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sarawak) or SUPP [Peter CHIN Fah Kui]; 10) United Malays National Organization or UMNO [NAJIB bin Abdul Razak]; 11) United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organization (Pertubuhan Pasko Momogun Kadazan Dusun Bersatu) or UPKO [Bernard DOMPOK]; (12) People's Progressive Party (Parti Progresif Penduduk Malaysia) or PPP [M.Kayveas] [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The ruling party’s multiracial coalition comprises a dozen or so parties. For a long time it was made up of 14 parties but is now maybe 13. Malays and indigenous people make up 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million people, while Chinese account for 25 percent and Indians 8 percent. Each ethnicity is represented by a party in the National Front, a power-sharing arrangement designed to keep racial tensions at bay. In the election in March 2004, the National Front coalition took 198 (90 percent) of the 219 seats. The Chinese-dominated Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan parties are important in the BN coalition. Parties in Sarawak are also the coalition.

Coalitions. See History

UMNO Politics

The UMNO has traditionally relied on pork barrel politics to remain in power. In rural areas the UMNO is a “one-stop shop,” offering everything from student loans to funeral arrangements. Local bureaucrats “educate” villages about the good things that the UMNO does.

The UMNO is sharply divided along regional lines. There have also been disputes between old guard members and young Turks. The UNMO has a reputation for being corrupt and favoring the Malay elite. It has been accused of favoring the Malay elite and leaving ordinary Malays behind, not to mention anti-Semitism. In 2003, it gave copies of Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic book “The International Jew”.

The UNMO and the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has been accused of routinely using tough laws to block challenges to its five decades in power. They are also behind longstanding paternalistic practices of a government that controls the mainstream media, bans most street protests, bars students from taking part in politics and jails political opponents without trial. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, March 9, 2008]

Sarawak, Sabah and UMNO

Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “Borneo's two Malaysian states — Sabah and Sarawak — have been a bastion of votes for the National Front coalition headed by Najib's party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). The two states, among Malaysia's poorest despite vast natural resources, kept the National Front in power in 2008 even as a groundswell of support for the opposition deprived the government of its iron-clad two-thirds parliamentary majority. [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, April 3, 2013 +++]

“As UMNO's party leader in Sabah, Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman is expected to find ways of raising money for the party - and to get out the vote. "For UMNO, Musa is almost indispensable in Sabah. You lose him, you may lose your whole regime," said Oh Ei Sun, senior visiting fellow with Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and a former political secretary to Prime Minister Najib.” +++

Jonathan Miller wrote on Channel4.com, “Barisan Nasional, UMNO's ruling coalition, has long had a stranglehold on state politics in Sarawak, and Sarawak's chief minister, Taib Mahmud has long-delivered one fifth of BN's seats in the federal parliament. That's just how it works. Even the Wikileaks cables included repeated references to him as "highly corrupt" and to his relatives as having cashed in on "most major commercial logging contracts". [Source: Jonathan Miller, Channel4.com, May 4, 2013]

Opposition Parties in Malaysia

Major opposition party: People's Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat) or PR (opposition coalition) consists of the following parties: Democratic Action Party (Parti Tindakan Demokratik) or DAP [KARPAL Singh]; Islamic Party of Malaysia (Parti Islam se Malaysia) or PAS [Abdul HADI Awang]; People's Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) or PKR [WAN AZIZAH Wan Ismail]; Sarawak National Party or SNAP [Edwin DUNDANG]

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times, The opposition is made up of the Islamic Party of Malaysia, which has a strong base in the northern peninsula, the Chinese-led Democratic Action Party, which has a loyal urban following, and the relatively young National Justice Party of Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister who was dismissed from office after an internal squabble in the governing party in the late 1990s. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, March 7, 2008]

Eileen Ng of Associated Press wrote: “The three-party opposition alliance led by Anwar Ibrahim comprises Anwar's multi-racial People's Justice Party, the Democratic Action Party dominated by ethnic Chinese and the conservative Islamic Party PAS. The three parties first worked together in 2008 by agreeing not to contest the same seats. They have deepened their alliance since then, unveiling a common election manifesto for the first time and setting aside differences over the Islamic Party's ambition to set up an Islamic state. Unlike the 13-party National Front dominated by Najib's ruling Malay party, the three opposition parties are equals in the alliance. [Source: Eileen Ng, Associated Press, April 29 2013]

The Chinese-dominated Democratic Action party (DAP) has traditionally been Malaysia's main opposition party. In the 1990s the leader of DAP was detained twice under the country's strict security laws. It increased its seats in parliament from 7 to 10 in the 1999 election. It allied itself with the PAS then broke the alliance on the issue of imposing sharia (Muslim law) and has since linked up with PAS, still holding deep reservations about the sharia issue. In March 2004 election, the Democratic Action Party became the major opposition party by increasing the number of seats from 10 to12.

Keadilan (National Justice Party) is new multiracial party started by Anwar’s wife Azizah Ismail while he was in jail. Anwar was at one time a member of the UNMO. Keadilan won only five seats in the 1999 election. Azizah won a seat. The poor showing was considered a major blow to the refromasi moment. In March 2004 election, Keadilan held on to only one of its previous five seats, the seat held by Anwar’s wife Azizah Ismail. At that time the party for all intents and purposes was considered dead.

Other political parties: notable independent parties: Sabah Progressive Party (Parti Progresif Sabah) or SAPP [YONG Teck Lee]; State Reform Pary (Parti Reformasi Negeri) or STAR [Jeffery KITINGAN]

Demonstrations and Protests in Malaysia

Street demonstrations have traditionally been extremely rare in Malaysia, which prides itself on its communal and political stability. Two protests by Indians in November 2007 indicate that Malaysians are becoming bolder about venting their frustrations publicly against a political system that concentrates power and influence in the hands of the Malay ruling elite.

See 1969 Riots under History, Indians Under Minorities, Protests After the 2013 Elections under History. Also See Human Rights.

Malaysia Passes Ban on Street Protests in 2011

In November 2011, parliament approved a tough new anti-protest that activist said imposes tougher restrictions and penalties for demonstrators. Al-Jazeera reported: “Malaysia's lower house of parliament has approved a ban a on street protests after opposition legislators boycotted the vote and activists criticised the ban as repressive and a threat to freedom of public assembly. Najib Razak, the country's prime minister, has framed the bill as part of a campaign to replace tough laws on security, speech and assembly. He defended the act on Monday, saying it guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and said the law prohibits public marches to avoid disruptions to general society. [Source: Al-Jazeera, November 29, 2011]

“Opposition politicians called Najib's reforms an election ploy, and say the bill validates their fears that tough old laws will merely be replaced by strict new rules. Malaysian and international rights groups describe it as repressive because it bans street rallies and imposes tough restrictions and penalties for demonstrators. The law was announced only last week, and some critics say the vote was rushed without proper public consultation. About 500 lawyers and their supporters marched to parliament hours before the vote, urging lawmakers to reject the bill and chanting "freedom to the people'' before police stopped most of them from entering the complex.

“The new law would confine demonstrators mainly to stadiums and public halls. Depending on the venue, organisers may be required to give 10-day advance notification to police, who would determine whether the date and location are suitable. Children under 15 and non-citizens would be barred from attending rallies, which also cannot be held near schools, hospitals, places of worship, airports or gasoline stations. Demonstrators who break the law can be fined $6,200.

“Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, said he believed the Peaceful Assembly Act would be "more draconian'' than laws in Zimbabwe or Myanmar. Other opposition activists indicated they might challenge the law in court, insisting it breaches the people's constitutional rights. Amnesty International, the UK-based rights group, called the Peaceful Assembly Act "a legislative attack on Malaysians' right to peaceful protest,'' while Human Rights Watch said the law is being pushed through parliament with "undue haste". "The government must reject the bill as it infringes on the rights of the people and violates the constitution," said Wong Chin Huat of Bersih 2.0, which spearheaded a rally for electoral reform in July that was broken up by police.

“Critics including the Malaysian Bar Council and Human Rights Watch maintain the act would grant police too much power over the timing, duration, and location of gatherings. "This bill is a legislative attack on Malaysians' right to peaceful protest," Sam Zarifi, Amnesty's Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement. Lim Chee Wee, president of the Malaysian Bar Council, said the ban was "outrageous". "Assemblies in motion provide the demonstrators with a wider audience and greater visibility, in order for others to see and hear the cause or grievance giving rise to the gathering," he said.

Malaysia's Leader Says Public Freedoms Can Be Sacrificed for Stability's Sake

After large demonstrations in 2007, Sean Yoong of Associated Press wrote: “Malaysia’s leader said he is willing to sacrifice public freedoms for the sake of national stability, a day after police arrested 21 opposition members and lawyers who took part in street protests. Human rights activists have accused authorities of clamping down on freedom of expression by banning recent rallies aimed at calling for electoral reforms, government transparency and racial equality. However, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said that efforts to ensure Malaysia’s security demand “a sense of accountability to the whole, rather than the few.” “If the choice is between public safety and public freedoms, I do not hesitate to say here that public safety will always win,” Abdullah said in a speech to corporate leaders. “I will not sacrifice my sense of accountability to the greater public, especially in the face of police intelligence about planned fighting or other violent intent,” Abdullah said. “We must never ever take our peace for granted.” [Source: Sean Yoong, Associated Press, December 10, 2007]

Abdullah’s administration has been rocked by a Nov. 10 rally in Kuala Lumpur—which drew some 30,000 people demanding electoral fairness ahead of national polls widely expected early next year — followed by a similarly large protest by minority ethnic Indians on Nov. 25 to complain of racial discrimination and economic deprivation. Police arrested 12 members of an opposition coalition Sunday for taking part in the Nov. 10 rally, as well as nine people, including several lawyers, involved in a march for human rights. Most of the lawyers were charged with illegal assembly. The government has also charged 31 Indians with attempted murder after a policeman was injured at the Nov. 25 rally.

Authorities had banned all the gatherings, saying they could threaten public order. Abdullah pledged to work to ensure political and economic justice, but added that people must remember “there are many groups within the country—each with their own sets of demands, each with their own set of sensitivities.” “These differences are very real, yet we do not descend into sheer unmitigated chaos,” he said. Abdullah also urged voters not to be swayed by groups that stir racial sentiments to reap political support. “If voters are easily persuaded … by people playing the racial card, then we are heading for disaster,” he said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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