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Malaysian rumblings

Updated On: Mar 16, 2007

Malaysia has rumblings of late - domestically in early party electioneering and regionally in its role in the Malacca Straits security and its outreach to South Korea.

One of the most talked-about hot topics in Malaysian domestic politics recently is the re-emergence of Anwar on the political scene once again. Mr Anwar's bid to run for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (Keadilan)'s presidential elections in May 2007 is highly-scrutinized although it seems to have an early setback for now. Anwar failed to win a party division's nomination for the post of party President in the Padang Serai division which opted instead to nominate former Deputy President Abd Rahman Othman for the party's top position. Only 12 out of 54 voted for Mr Anwar at the party gathering.

Other than intra-party complications, Anwar will also face challenges in navigating Keadilan's alliances with other opposition parties. For example, DAP national chairman Karpal Singh declared that the DAP will find it hard to have an electoral pact with Parti Keadilan Rakyat which has ties with PAS because the party's "stand is always that Malaysia is a secular state by virtue of the provision in the Federal Constitution and a judicial pronouncement in 1988". Karpal Singh said that his party found it difficult to understand why PAS was not prepared to accept this fact.

On the other side of the political divide, there are also rumblings that the ruling Barisan Nasional party may call for early elections given the strong showing by the Malaysian economy and a general upbeat mood on the stock market, despite the fact that Barisan Nasional has the mandate to govern until April 2009 at the fullest extent. While Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib does not feel that elections will be held soon, he personally felt that “…if it happens, the party is ready. Our machinery is in place." He also added that party leaders at all levels had taken steps to prepare themselves.

The BN's Chinese counterpart, MCA, also seems to be geared up as well. Vice-president Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai announced: "It has been our tradition to start preparations as soon as possible…Our election machinery is in place and we are ready for the election, whenever it is called." At the same time, the BN's Indian counterpart is sharpening their election strategies and tools of engagement. MIC deputy president Datuk G. Palanivel announced: "The party has asked all branch and divisional leaders to pick their teams of volunteers and begin work immediately…In fact, we have been working hard to keep our election promises and have never taken the voters for granted."

On the external front, Malaysia still insists that the security of the Straits is well-provided for. "So far we don't think the threat is really real at this point of time," Malaysian Transport Minister Chan Kong Choy told reporters. Observers in the media point to the evidence of reduced pirate attacks in the 960-kilometre (595-mile) long sea lane for its optimistic assessment. As a recognition of this, London-based Joint War Committee of underwriters decided in August 2006 to remove the Straits' war-risk tag from a list of 20 areas worldwide that connoted security threats to shipping.

Malaysia also de-linked the connection between pirates and other extremists like terrorists. Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister supported Chan's comments saying "no evidence" existed of a possible link-up between pirates and "terrorists". "But nonetheless we cannot be overconfident. We must increase our surveillance to ensure such a thing will not take place at all," said Najib Razak during an official visit to South Korea.

To boost its naval strength, Malaysia has sought the help of South Korea and seeks to purchase a multipurpose warship made by South Korea's shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co., South Korea's seventh-largest shipyard. Announcing this publicly, South Korea's presidential office statement read: "President Roh asked Deputy Prime Minister Najib to help further expand bilateral relations, and expressed hope that South Korea and Malaysia increase practical cooperation in the fields of defense and energy industries".

All along, Malaysia's stance on the Straits is that Malaysia as a littoral state does not want big power intervention but welcomed regional powers' cooperation in enhancing Straits security. Malaysia especially welcomes funding from regional powers to enhance the littoral states' capabilities in fighting off piracy and other security concerns. DPM Najib, who is also Malaysia's defence minister, appealed to the international community to share the financial burden of protecting the Straits. (15 March 2007) 

Sources:

Najib: Straits users must play role (The Star, 14 March 2007)

Anwar's party downplays 'rebel' division (Today, 13 March 2007)

No evidence of extremist threat to Malacca Strait: Malaysia (Channelnewsasia, 13 March 2007)

Malaysia urges burden-sharing to protect Malacca Strait (Channelnewsasia, 13 March 2007)

Security costs in Malacca, Singapore straits estimated at US$300m (The Star, 13 March 2007)

Abdullah waiting for 'feel good' factor to get even better (Star, 13 March 2007)

PM: We can be among the best (Star, 13 March 2007)

Security costs in Malacca, Singapore straits estimated at US$300 million (AP, 13 March 2007)

South Korea Sees Malaysia as Model of Progressive Islamic Nation (Bernama, 13 March 2007)

Malaysia seeks S.Korea warship (UPI, 12 March 2007)

All set for the word 'Go' (New Sunday Times, 11 March 2007)

Anwar's back in politics (Straits Times, 11 March 2007)

Karpal: Not easy to have pact (New Straits Times, 9 March 2007)

Anwar sets sights on next elections (Today, 9 March 2007)