Social Cohesion, Racial Campaigning and the Collapse of Pakatan Harapan: Malaysia’s National Harmony Bills and Harmony Commission

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

    Abstract

    In the lead-up to next month’s federal budget, Malaysia’s present government could be on the verge of collapsing, unless negotiations between Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and government partner UMNO salvage his majority between now and then. This latest instalment in Malaysia’s ongoing political crisis was launched when opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim announced on 23 September that Muhyiddin’s parliamentary majority had crumbled and he “had the numbers” to form a new government in his place. Anwar’s own, short-lived, Pakatan Harapan (PH) government (2018-2020), led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, fell in February. If Muhyiddin falls now too, Malaysia will have transformed from a nation that had a single, 60-year government to one that has had three governments in one year. Meanwhile, party factions and powerbrokers continue to test every possible combination of allies and frenemies in the search for one that can hold itself together, and, maybe, if they’re inclined, implement a few reforms. That’s if they can convince the regime’s clients and beneficiaries to allow them to succeed. Yet given the fast pace of developments now, it is important not to let PH’s own collapse pass by without sufficient reflection. After a victory that was unexpected by many observers, yet which created strong (and overly optimistic) reform expectations as soon as it took place, PH was unable to implement its purported reform agenda, which it began to downplay soon after being elected. Nor could it quickly replicate the boom years which preceded the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, despite its nostalgic election campaign which harked back to this period and featured images of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim, smiling together. After all, PH’s term was bookended by two fiscal events that proved difficult to manage, especially given Malaysia’s pre-existing economic challenges – 1MDB and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the serious economic contraction it has triggered.
    Original languageEnglish
    Commissioning bodyNew Mandala
    Publication statusPublished - 2020

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