Malaysia’s newly elected government was locked in an increasingly tense political stand-off a day after several opposition figures were detained under the country’s colonial-era sedition law

May 24, 2013 12:58 pm

Malaysia on edge amid arrests and protest calls

By Jeremy Grant in Singapore

Malaysia’s newly elected government was on Friday locked in an increasingly tense political stand-off a day after several opposition figures were detained under the country’s colonial-era sedition law.

The arrests came less than three weeks after Malaysia’s bitterly contested election left the incumbent government of prime minister Najib Razak in power but the country divided. The opposition has called a mass rally on Saturday to protest the election result.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said on Friday the police action against the four detained men – including a senior official in his own party – was “tyranny writ large”.Najib’s government is not a duly elected government. Its legitimacy is therefore in question. This is our position and we are mounting a legal and judicial challenge in this regard,” he said.

The arrests highlight how the election result has poisoned the political atmosphere and exposed deep divisions within Malaysian society. It has also plunged Mr Najib into uncharted waters as he looks to continue cautious political and economic reforms begun in 2009.

Barisan Nasional, Mr Najib’s ruling coalition, lost the popular vote for the first time in the history of its biggest member party, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno). Urban Malays and ethnic Chinese flocked to the opposition coalition led by Mr Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform.

Yet Barisan won the election with a narrow majority, largely due to strong support in rural areas and the way constituency boundaries are drawn.

Mr Anwar has refused to accept the outcome and has organised rallies across Malaysia in protest – dubbed “505” events after the May 5 election. The one planned for Saturday is to be close to Kuala Lumpur, the capital.

Among those detained were Tian Chua, vice-president in Mr Anwar’s Keadilan (Justice) party and a student activist named Adam Adli, for committing sedition after allegedly calling on Malaysians to take to the streets to seize power. Opposition newspapers have also been confiscated.

The government has said the election was fair and has urged “all parties to engage peacefully and responsibly with electoral reform”.

However, the use of the sedition act has surprised many observers. Less than a year ago Mr Najib said the 1948 act, passed when what was then Malaya was under British rule, represented “a bygone era in our country” and would be replaced by a new “national harmony act”. That has yet to happen.

Amnesty International, the human rights group, this week urged Malaysia to repeal the law, saying it “imposes a chilling effect on free expression in violation of Malaysia’s constitution”.

Najib is facing strong opposition within his own party and I suspect he has to show he is tough

– James Chin, professor of political science at Australia’s Monash University

However, Mr Najib’s room for compromise is seen as limited since his priority is securing re-election as Umno party leader at a party convention, expected in the autumn.

While Barisan regained power, it did so with a smaller majority than at the election in 2008. Hardliners within Umno are likely to agitate for Mr Najib’s removal, diplomats say, even though Mr Najib’s personal popularity may have helped Barisan avoid an even worse result.

“Najib is facing strong opposition within his own party and I suspect he has to show he is tough,” said James Chin, professor of political science at Australia’s Monash University.

Few expect the opposition rallies to lead to violence in a country with less of a tradition of street protest than some of its neighbours in southeast Asia.

Lim Guan Eng, chief minister of Penang state and secretary-general of the Democratic Action Party, which is part of Mr Anwar’s coalition, said the opposition “does not seek to overthrow the [Barisan] government” and “has always chosen a peaceful change of government in accordance with the federal constitution”.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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