17:25 GMT +322 February 2019
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    Pivot to Asia

    A Cosmetic Change? The Malaysian Elections 2018

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    John Harrison
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    For the first time since gaining independence in 1957 from the British, the ruling party in this South East Asian country of 31 million people was voted out of power. The elections have been called a ‘historic event.’ The question is, however, will any change actually occur for the Malaysian people.

    Brecht Jonkers, a journalist for Al-Masdar News who is married to a Malay and has lived in Malaysia joins the program.

    Brecht expresses that the results of the election, which saw the incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak (Barisan Nasional (BN) Party) lose to ex-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad who is now representing another Party — Pakatan Harapan (PN) was somewhat of a surprise. Brecht says that he did not expect PN to win. "Most analysts didn't see this coming. They predicted that this would be a very hard election for BN but most people thought that Najib Razak would still somehow pull off an electoral victory…"

    The victory can be said to be all the more interesting when one considers that Mahathir Mohamad served as Malaysia's Prime Minister for over 20 years. Brecht comments: "I don't think you can call this a historic victory. I think the main difference between the old ruling Party and the new Ruling Party represented by Mahathir is the name, and even the name is similar. More and more, people are saying that the BN government lost to BN 2.0."  

    A previous deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim has just been released from prison, however few western commentators seem to have noted that he was imprisoned during Mahathir's time in power, when Ibrahim demonstrated signs of consolidating  his own power base. As part of his election campaign, Mahathir, who is 92, announced that he will hand over power to Anwat Ibrahim after two years, however Brecht is of the opinion that this is unlikely and even the two-year period is something new. "What we do know is that this two-year plan is already a change of mind, and has only been introduced a few days ago. Mahathir said that he was not campaigning to become Prime Minister himself, but he said that he wanted Ibrahim released and that he should become Prime Minister…"

    Whether or not the Malaysian people themselves are content is a different question to answer. Brecht says: "Most Malaysians voted against falling standards of living,…the instability of fuel costs, the instability of the Malaysian currency on international money markets, and a massive problem with corruption. It's not a third-world-type corruption; when you have to buy off your way to the top. But there is a massive problem behind the scenes of white collar crime going on in the high echelons of society, and that has translated into the massive anger by young people against BN….But turning people's frustration against specifically one person who was the Prime Minister may not be the answer to the problems… Instead of going for somebody who is outside of the system, in many ways they have gone for somebody who is very much in the system."

    One of Mahathir's foreign policy ideas is to restrain Chinese investment into the area. Brecht comments: "It is difficult to know to what extent Mahathir is serious about this, because one of the reasons he was railing against Chinese investments is because this was one of Najib Razak's major policies. His idea was to develop Malaysia though Chinese investment… However Mahathir has been against the Chinese East-West coast rail project which is a very ambitious project, and is now being constructed. There is $50 billion hanging on this, to link by rail ports on the East and West coasts of Malaysia, avoiding Singapore and the Malacca straights. …It is not clear if Mahathir will actually stop the project as they have already been building for about a year."

    Brecht thinks that the United States could be quite content with the results of the elections. "Even though Mahathir was known as bit of loose cannon when he was in power, he made a lot of statements that were considered to be anti-Semitic, tyrannical or even dictatorial, but he has always been a fierce proponent of the free market, of free trade. This has always benefited American investment. America used to be the biggest investor into Malaysia, now that role has been taken over by investors from China which is something that happened under Najib. So I believe the Americans are looking at this as a golden opportunity for them to basically come back to Malaysia and to increase their position…"

    Clearly the Malaysian people alone have the right to choose their government, and we hope that they have made the right decision. 

    We'd love to get your feedback at radio@sputniknews.com

    elections, Najib Razak, Malaysia
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