Feature

Malaysia’s house of cards: what next?

Petronas Towers, KLCC. Photo : David Jones

Australians in Malaysia and expatriate Malaysians in WA are hopeful the recent election in the country can prove a successful catalyst for unity.

Expat Australian Mellisa Clark has lived in Malaysia for over 10 years and says the movement to get rid of Najib Razak and the Barasan National party was a “grass roots” fight against corruption.

“Going into the election there was a lot of use of social media, a lot of people on Whatsapp groups and other encryption services.

“It’s what is meant by people power; there were people organizing others to vote – meeting at airports to give others their vote to take back to Malaysia,” she says.

Little India, Brickfields. Photo: Sam Jones

On the 31st of August 1957, Malaysia gained its independence from British colonial rule, dubbed Merdeka day.

The proud nation has since been considered a model for developing nations around the world.

However, political corruption has plagued Malaysia’s brief history, often stemming from contentious race relations and policies, put in effect for the benefit of a certain majority.

May 2018 saw the downfall of Najib Razak and his Barasan National political party, who held power since independence over 60 years ago.

During his time in office, Mr Najib was responsible for the creation of 1 Malaysia Development Berhad, a billion dollar investment fund that aimed to turn Kuala Lumpur into an international financial and trade hub.

Accusations of corruption surfaced in early 2015 when 1MDB missed repayments to lenders.

After investigating, the Wall Street Journal reported they had followed a $700 million paper-trail that ended in Mr Najib’s personal accounts.

Senior WA academic and Curtin University Journalism lecturer Joseph Fernandez says there is uncertainty about what the results of Malaysia’s May election could mean for the country, but hopes national unity and a political awakening may be a result.

Colonial buildings in KL. Photo:Sam Jones

“Race relations are very sensitive in Malaysia, and people must be careful in the way in which they describe certain privileges that some have,” he says.

“I would like to think a degree of maturity is coming onto the scene.

“I like to think that people who may have been advantaged by these privileges can recognise that they don’t really need them.”

Malaysian-born Australian citizen and involved activist Baida Hercus, who lives in KL, says many locals could feel the result of the election coming, but were hesitant to show it in public.

Chinatown in KL. Photo: Sam Jones

“There was a massive silent majority,” she says.

“Malaysia for the last few years has been quite politically mute.

“People wouldn’t post political stories, they would talk about their views in person but when it came to posting it online everyone was avoiding it.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the election results Baida was hesitant to draw any conclusions of national unity.

“The Malaysian Islamic Party also received a large voter base, so it may be too quick to judge how effective this vote will be for national unity, but we can only hope that Mahathir will lead with everyone’s intentions at heart.”

“Everyone is excited to have Mahathir taking us through to 2020 at least,” she says.

Categories: Feature, Politics

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