The Malaysian elections took place recently. To start off, here's a brief description of the party system in Malaysia:
First off, there are two major coalitions — the Barisan Nasional, and the Pakatan Rakyat. The BNP is led by Najib Razak, who continues as Malaysia's PM after the BNP defeated, albeit by a slim margin, the PRP, led by Anwar Ibrahim.
Malaysia has a highly diverse society, comprising of Chinese, Malays and Indians among others. Race has always been a touchy subject in Malaysia. From the May 13 riots between the Chinese and the Malays, which led to a period of emergency, to the riots boiling under the surface now. Malaysian 1970s law gives some preference to what they call bhumiputras — a word that means the same in Malay, Sanskrit and Hindi — sons of the earth. In short, in Malaysia, this refers to the ethnic Malays. As a possible result, analysts have said a major chunk of Razak's vote, making the win so razor thin, was the fact that the ethnic Chinese had abandoned the party.
The BNP won 133 seats in the parliament, winning 47% of the total vote. The opposition had won around 50% of the seats but managed to end up with only 89 seats in the parliament, leading to widespread protests and allegations of gerrymandering.
Large demonstrations have taken place, claiming the elections were rigged. However, the Obama administration says it will support the results, with Obama even calling up Razak to congratulate him on his victory. Ibrahim angrily wondered if Obama was aware of the "anger and outrage against this mass rigging and fraud."
A possible reason the administration supports the BNP could be the fact that relations between Malaysia and the U.S. have warmed considerably under Razak's rule. The ties between the two countries were very strained during Mahathir's tenure (1981-2003).
Ethnic tensions are on the rise, with associations such as the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia asking Malays and indigenous peoples to boycott products made by companies held by ethnic Chinese-Malays accused of supporting the opposition. Disturbingly, there have been warnings of a Malay backlash towards the Chinese.
Mohammed Noor Abdullah, a former court judge said, "the Chinese betrayal towards the Malays' hand of friendship — that is true. Because they plotted to seize political power even though they already had economic power"
On a lighter note, I've just finished The Long Day Wanes, by Anthony Burgess (the author of The Clockwork Orange). Published as three independent books initially (all three were published in the 1950s), they provide a fascinating portrait of Malaysia (or Malaya, as it was called before) as it was back then. Even so long ago, racial tensions seemed to have been present.
Here's to hoping the country can control the protests and not lead to a crisis situation.