Malaysia is in a political turmoil. Critics at home and abroad see Malaysia’s leadership moving downwards. The past year has seen Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s rule increasingly described as authoritarian. The vulnerability of the economy and the undermining of rule of law affect both the political and economic spheres in the country. Last week, lawyer Matthias Chang was detained under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma) 2012. This followed his client Datuk Seri Khairuddin Abu Hassan’s detention under Sosma after he made several reports overseas against the troubled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). In unprecedented and rare comments, Malaysia’s royalty have also called for a transparent investigation into 1MDB. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) announced there would be no prosecution despite Bank Negara Malaysia requesting a review of the prosecutor’s decision that no further action was required on 1MDB regarding false disclosures.
Regionally and internationally, Malaysia plays an active role. Malaysia’s role as Asean chair for example, comes at a critical time with the nation having spent most of 2015 containing its own domestic crisis. Behind the promises made in its bid to the United Nations Security Council, Malaysia’s record on human rights and freedom has so far appeared to be deteriorating. The various incidents over the past few weeks further suggest the challenges against the protection of human rights in the country. Last Tuesday, the apex court decided the Sedition Act 1948 is constitutional. In the same week, the Court of Appeal also reversed its own ruling on public assemblies. That meant rally organisers and participants now risk being arrested and charged should they be part of any rally that is deemed illegal.
Today, with Malaysia facing a severe trust deficit crisis that makes it vulnerable and a less appealing role model, the country’s ability to stretch its influence is declining. Rather than trying to reshape the perception domestically and the outside world, the country instead chooses to move towards authoritarian practices to promote political survival at home. The main goal now is to convince people and potential partners that any change in the status quo is likely to be harmful. How can the current political deadlock be broken? Based on the political developments so far, the country appears to be confident that it has enough institutional control at home as well as support abroad to stay the course. So it is entirely possible that the ruling government, which is also now the world’s longest having been in power for 58 years, could turn even more restrictive in time to come, simply to maintain the status quo.
This article appeared in The Malaysian Insider on 12 October 2015.