top of page

Malaysian Elections and Geopolitical Implications

Mr. Abdullah Badawi, the Prime Minister of Malaysia faced a scheduled parliamentary election in 2009. Not unexpectedly, on February 13th 2008 he announced mid-term elections one year ahead of schedule. He wanted to avoid an electoral contest in which the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a former Islamist turned democracy activist, could be allowed to participate as the leading opposition figure and possible Prime Ministerial candidate. Anwar Ibrahim faces ban from electoral scene till 2009 on trumped up charges of corruption and sodomy on behalf of previous Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad. Anwar Ibrahim might have pulled off an alternative, credible multi-racial political front by 2009 to confront the ruling coalition if the mid-term elections were not announced prematurely. Badawi seems to be using the stability, economic prosperity and continuation of Malay dominance to face electorate again on March 8th 2008. He has targeted the Malaysian civil society and the leaders of the (Hindu Rights Action Forum) HINDRAF who are in prison under the infamous Internal Security Act. Badawi had got the opposition leader Mr. Anwar Ibrahim also arrested a few weeks ago to prevent him from informally campaigning for the expected but not announced elections.

India has genuinely tried to engage Malaysia since independence. India is currently trying to negotiate a free trade area with Malaysia. The Defense Minister AK Anthony visited Malaysia few weeks ago to develop military relations with that country despite claims of marginalization and oppression of Hindu Malaysians. A day after his visit, Malaysia announced new visa rules restricting entry of Indian Professionals in Malaysia. Though successive governments of India have truly considered Malaysia as a friendly Asian nation, the diplomatic sentiments have not been reciprocated by the successive Malaysian governments. Malaysia has consistently blocked India’s entry into ASEAN+6, ARF, APEC, East Asia Community on behest of China and Pakistan. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad was very vocal in proposing anti-India entry parameters in these East Asian fora to keep India isolated. In fact Malaysia has been counter-balanced by Singapore that has welcomed India’s role as an ASEAN regional dialogue partner. Singapore is facilitating India’s entry into derivative East Asian and Asia-pacific institutions. Malaysia has always taken pro-Pakistan stance in international fora against vital Indian interests.

While denouncing India for the 1998 Pokhran II nuclear tests, Malaysia became a willing participant in Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear trade and commerce. Mr. Abdullah Badawi’s own son was allegedly front-running a shadow company for the benefit of AQ Khan’s international nuclear Wal-Mart that benefited Pakistan and smuggled nuclear weapon components to North Korea, Libya, Syria and Iran. Details of these transactions are carefully documented by Adrian Levy and Catherine Clark-Scott in their best seller entitled “Deception: Pakistan, the United States, and the Secret Trade in Nuclear Weapons”. Also not widely known is the fact that Kuala Lumpur was the active planning and meeting ground for the Islamic terrorists who brought down the Twin Towers during the 9/11 attacks. It appears that after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Malaysia has turned out to be the incubator of Jihadi terrorism in Asia.

In the Asian geo-political theatre, a de-facto China-Pakistan-Malaysia axis has emerged with its strong anti-India under-pinnings. Malaysia, like Pakistan is an artificially contrived product of British Colonialism. The British colonial territory of Peninsular Malaya was merged with Sabah and Sarawak states that constitute East Malaysia. Analogous to Pakistan, it has pre-Islamic Indic and Hindu heritage that Malay Muslim civil society vehemently refuses to accept and acknowledge unlike their Indonesian cousins. Both countries are part of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and tend to view international policies through the prism of Islamic Ummah. Both countries lack true democracy and have authoritarian, anti-minority constitutional provisions that have brought about ethnic cleansing of Hindu minority since independence from colonial Britain. This has reflected in demographic pattern of both these countries with declining Hindu minority population since the time of Independence from colonial power Britain. Meanwhile, China, in order to counter-balance US in the Islamic world, has gone out of the way to aggressively cultivate Islamic countries, including Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Albania, Libya and Malaysia etc. It is no secret that China has cultivated Pakistan over the last four decades to contain India. With their similar hostile anti-India and anti-Hindu national mindsets, both Pakistan and Malaysia have become Chinese pawns in the international chess-board.

Mr. Badawi hopes to hold on to power in the March 8th 2008 federal elections. Four years ago, Mr. Badawi obtained more than two-third majority in national elections winning 200 seats conceding only 20 seats in the Malaysian parliament to the opposition. Mr. Badawi has gone on the record to say that Malaysian Indians might not vote for Barrisan Nasional this time. As a sop to Hindu-Malaysians, the Hindu festival of Thaipussam was declared a national holiday just before announcing the mid-term elections. The discredited MIC leader Sami Velu initially decided to not contest the elections having realized that he may not win this time. But ultimately, in the name of experience, he was persuaded to contest his seat by Abdullah Badawi to avoid giving any moral victory to HINDRAF leaders. Now, during the elections Sami Vellu who has been a minister in the Barrisan Nasional government for more than thirty years claims that the Malaysian government has not done enough for the Malaysian Indians!

It is widely predicted that though Barrisan Nasional will come back to power, it may not get two-third majority. It is likely that the loose opposition combine of Democratic Action Party, Kedilan (Justice) Party of Anwar Ibrahim and the Islamist PAS may together get a total of 80-90 seats in the national parliament. Last time when the ruling UMNO (United Malay National Organization) lost electorally in May 1969, there were racial riots with targeting of Chinese Malaysians. The youth wing of UMNO has been displaying spears and axes in their annual meetings to maintain the Malay supremacy. In this context, one may remember former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad ‘s overt threats in his book “The Malay Dilemma” that Malays will be forced to “run amok” if Malay supremacy is challenged. This time, in case of UMNO electoral losses, the potential targets of Malay mobs will be Hindu-Malaysians. The international community needs to anticipate racial and religious violence targeted against Hindu-Malaysians in the aftermath of UMNO defeat in the March 8th 2008 elections in Malaysia.

A wounded but victorious Abdullah Badawi and UMNO may show persistent hostility towards Hindu-Malaysians in the domestic arena. Genuine grievances of Hindu Malaysians may not be resolved after the elections. Cornered domestically, Malaysia led by Abdullah Badawi may draw closer into the undeclared CPM (China-Pakistan-Malaysia) axis and show its intense displeasure by striking at India’s interests in international arena with scorn and renewed vigor.

The de facto and de jure system of racial and religious apartheid needs to be dismantled in Malaysia. If the international community can criticize and demand reforms in South Africa for racial segregation and apartheid policies, we can certainly criticize Malaysian government for the same. Multi-lateral, carefully calibrated economic sanctions against Malaysia are warranted till the apartheid state is dismantled and the proposed constitutional reforms are implemented. The US, India and Japan are not morally justified in negotiating an FTA with Malaysia under current apartheid system when minorities are being systematically persecuted. Asian democracies like India and Japan need to take moral lead and use calibrated and targeted economic sanctions to change this system of apartheid in a fellow Asian nation.

All diplomatic means must be used to avoid any repetition of ethnic riots following declaration of results of the March 8th 2008 elections. Strong political message needs to be sent to the law-enforcement agencies of Malaysia (Police and Army included) that ethnic violence and genocide following a possible defeat in the March 2008 elections will not be tolerated. If such timely steps are not taken now, the whole of South-East Asia will be destabilized consequently. History will not forgive us for our failure to act in Malaysia at this crucial juncture.

(The writer, Dr. Adityanjee, is the President of the Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi and can be contacted by email at

2 views0 comments


bottom of page