Malaysia: End of the Selangor Menteri Besar Saga? Not Really.


Partyforumseasia: After nearly nine months of “gestation”, the drama around the replacement of Khalid Ibrahim, chief minister of Malaysia’s richest federal state of Selangor, comes to an end. In the unique set up of leaving the final appointment of his replacement to the local Sultan, the new chief minister will be Mr. Azmin Ali. Sultan 2He is the Selangor chief of Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and its vice president on the national level. Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah thus thwarted the strategically desastrous attempt of PKR to establish Anwar Ibrahim’s wife Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as chief minister. The series of political moves brought the opposition coalition of PKR, Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Muslim party PAS to the abyss of breaking apart and undermined the standing and authority of de facto coalition leader Anwar Ibrahim. It really looks like the UMNO and Barisan Nasional dream of neutralizing the opposition threat is coming true (see our 30 July post), their leaders must be watching their luck in disbelief. Their initial input was preventing Anwar Ibrahim from running for the Selangor state parliament and eventually taking over as chief minister himself by simply reviving the dubious sodomy case against him. If this triggered Anwar’s decision to let his wife run instead, the Pandora box was open. One strategic mistake followed the other and created internal problems of the coalition partners, especially in PAS.
Strategy-wise there were arguably several mistakes:
1. The evidence against chief minister Khalid Ibrahim was not sufficient to sack him immediately. For his obviously unexpected refusal to step down there was no plan B.

2. Obviously the necessary early co-ordination with the coalition partners was neglected. The move looked more like a strongman decision by Anwar Ibrahim.
3. The final say-power of the Sultan seems to have been underestimated with the coalition’s focus on a narrow majority in the state parliament for Dr. Wan Azizah.
4. The internal mood in PAS and its controversial discussion about a female chief minister has not been taken seriously enough. The tensions within the party between a more religious (Ulama) and a more liberal (Erdogan) faction would have necessitated a more sensitive approach by PKR.
5. By not considering long term supporter Azmin Ali as a natural choice for Khalid’s succession Anwar himself created tensions and factional divisions in PKR.

Outlook: After the PAS party convention last weekend, which also weakened PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, the Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition of anyway not too compatible partners is still standing. But it looks definitely more fragile  and a lot less dangerous for the UMNO government. Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership prestige is definitely dented. It will be more difficult than ever before in the last six years of its existence to hold the coalition together.

Will Malaysia Follow the Path of Taiwan and Mexico?


Partyforumseasia: The question may sound surprising in the regional discussion in Southeast Asia, not to mention Malaysia itself. It is the headline of an analysis by Joan M. Nelson, a Malaysia expert at the American University’s School of International Service, and published in the latest Journal of Democracy, July 2014, Volume 25, Number 3, pp 105 – 119.
Roller 2Too small to create a level playing field???

By comparing Malaysia’s UMNO with Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Taiwan’s Kuomintang (KMT), Nelson’s list of the main similarities is as follows: “The hegemonic party controls the legislature by a majority sufficient to change the constitution at will; penetrates the bureaucracy; constrains the judiciary and the media; and controls the institutions that organize, monitor, and adjudicate elections. The party is largely sustained by the distribution of government spoils and patronage.” (p.105)

The central points of the comparison are the gradual weakening of PRI and KMT and their loss of domination, opening Mexico and Taiwan to a more open and more democratic development and a more level political playing field with chances for the opposition to take over.

Sure, the Barisan Nasional coalition has lost the important two-thirds majority in parliament and in 2013 even the popular vote. But in contrast to Mexico and Taiwan, where party elites started leveling the playing field, UMNO elites remain dedicated to maintain the status quo. The central analysis in this article is bluntly describing the attitudes of the leadership: “Politicians and cadres long accustomed to electoral advantage and pervasive reliance on patronage (to advance within the party as well as to win inter party elections) predictably resist changing the system.”

This is underlining Partyforumseasia’s pessimistic outlook for a possible sea change in Malaysia, at least in the short and medium perspective. The ruthless judicial persecution of Anwar Ibrahim and other opposition figures show that the Barisan coalition has been digging in more than their heels to stem the tide and defend their domination. Too many of them see politics as business and not as a vocation, they simply cannot afford to lose. And the “Bersih fatigue“, observed by some, as well as the somewhat suicidal handling of the chief minister saga in Selangor by the Pakatan Rakyat contribute to a pessimistic outlook.

Malaysia: Is the UMNO/BN Dream Coming True?


Partyforumseasia Strategy-wise: Is the UMNO/BN dream (= seeing the PR opposition coalition committing suicide) coming true… or is it that their strategies are working? Knowing the systemic vulnerability of the UMNO/BN system by changing vote patterns and facing the extraordinary challenge by the Pakatan Rakyat opposition, held together by the charisma of Anwar Ibrahim, one might guess at least some of the defense strategies of the Barisan Nasional. The most important one in 2013 was winning the election at all cost – or, in financial terms, at a price tag of an estimated more than two billion RM. Gerrymandering as the most innocent looking tool worked as planned and the popular vote, won by the opposition, was more than neutralized. Having won the 2013 election, time would help to consolidate the shaken dominance again. And so it does, the second Malaysia Airlines (MH 17) tragedy in July even giving the Prime Minister and his government a chance to make good on perceived weaknesses after the first tragedy (MH 370). And both tragedies divert the public from domestic political issues.  Khalid Ibrahim
However, the Selangor shadow play about the replacement of chief minister (menteri besar) Abdul Khalid Ibrahim (picture with Anwar) at the hands of his own party can only be observed with glee and schadenfreude by the ruling camp. Since Khalid Ibrahim wants to stay on, a leadership drama is unfolding and develops into an operation on the open heart of the Pakatan coalition, which is anyway difficult enough to hold together . If Anwar still manages to convince most of his PKR leaders so far, the cacophony of statements by coalition partners in DAP and PAS will definitely harm the public image of the Pakatan Rakyat and spread doubts about their ability to take over the government in future. Internal squabble in any party world wide damages its public image. Even authoritarian party leadership is more acceptable for the broader public. But with the airline disasters already rallying the nation, the Selangor squabble might be close to suicidal for the opposition.