The Year in Malaysian Politics: Democracy’s Crooked Trajectory

Memo #310

By Kai Ostwald – kai.ostwald [at]

Ostwald_photoIn the run-up to Malaysia’s 13th General Election in May 2013, optimists argued that the country had finally transitioned from decades of semi-authoritarian rule to a competitive de-facto two party system of democracy. The election itself exposed several flaws in the system, namely that high levels of malapportionment allowed the… Continue reading

Reform in Malaysian Party Politics: Reasons for Slow Change in UMNO

Trying to reform a dominant political party by changing the status quo can precipitate conflict and instability, particularly if conservatism has become ingrained in its political practices. One such dominant party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has been beleaguered by vociferous calls for reform since its uncharacteristically mediocre performance in Malaysia’s general elections of March 2008. As the commanding group in the Barisan Nasional coalition, which has ruled Malaysia continuously since 1957, the UMNO has not been confronted with any serious challenge to its uninterrupted hold on power, particularly during the twenty-two-year rule of political strongman Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003). Continue reading

Mobilizing the Chinese Education Movement in Malaysia

Memo #174 – The Chinese education movement in Malaysia fought for the survival of Chinese vernacular schools within the Malay-dominated education system since 1951. Today it is one of the most influential political entities among Chinese-speaking Malaysians. It is playing a critical role in influencing votes to support a movement-friendly political alliance in the next general election. Continue reading

Becoming a Commercial Marriage Broker in Malaysia

Memo #133 – In the last two decades, East Asian countries have experienced a dramatic rise in international marriages. Much of it is between men in the wealthier countries of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore, and women from poorer countries in the region. Among Chinese Malaysians, the number of marriages between the men and Vietnamese women increased from 28 in 2001 to 1,185 in 2005. To explain this increase, the media began to cover the proliferation of commercial matchmaking agencies in the early 2000s. But the role that Vietnamese wives play in the matchmaking business has attracted little attention. Continue reading

Menghadiri Kelas Tuisyen Swasta Di Malaysia: Pemantauan Untuk Kualiti?

Memo #126 – Dewasa kini, menghadiri kelas tuisyen swasta dianggap sebagai satu keperluan utama dalam kebanyakan keluarga di Malaysia. Fenomena tersebut yang semakin menular menyebabkan pihak berkuasa sukar untuk mengabaikan hal tersebut. Justeru, kerajaan Malaysia berusaha untuk mencapai keseimbangan antara mengalakkan kelas tuisyen dalam sektor swasta dan pada waktu yang sama memantau pengurusan mereka. Continue reading

Indonesian Domestic Workers’ Rights in Malaysia

Memo #75 – Malaysia has experienced a shortage of domestic workers since 2009. This is because Indonesia banned its domestic workers from finding employment in Malaysia, in response to reports of abuse. Negotiations on an inter-state Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to increase labour protection for Indonesian domestic workers have stalled on issues such as minimum wage, days off, and the right of domestic workers to retain their identity documents. The two governments are set to sign the MoU in May 2011, but Malaysia’s recent actions indicate that it may not be entirely committed to the protection of migrant domestic workers. Continue reading

Governance by Religion Growing Strong in Malaysia: Bureaucratic Islam and Secular Sharia

Memo #22 – Political rivalry between Malaysia’s two largest Muslim parties and an emerging Muslim civil society are obvious causes of the increased impact of Islam in Malaysia. But Islam in the Malaysian polity is also appearing in an unexpected form: as part of a secularizing bureaucracy. Continue reading