Malaysia Update Conference 2016: Najib’s Malaysia — A Crisis of Confidence?

21 August 2016

The past year in Malaysia has been as tumultuous as any in sixty years of independence. At its epicentre has been the sovereign wealth fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), with debts of around RM50 billion (more than US $12 billion) and the reported diversion of more than $4.5 billion into unauthorised accounts. Time and Foreign Policy magazines both ranked 1MDB in their top five financial scandals for 2015, and the US Department of Justice has launched a civil case for recovery of more than US$1 billion in assets associated with money laundering from 1MDB.

Prime Minister Najib has been accused of diverting up to $1 billion of these funds into his personal bank account, but although surveys have shown his popularity has declined he has retained a tight hold over political affairs. Recent elections in Sarawak, and by-elections in Perak and Selangor, have even shown an increase in support for the ruling coalition. How has this been possible, and where will it lead?

Najib has used all the discretionary powers available to him as prime minister and head of UMNO. He has sacked UMNO critics and senior officials, tightened laws to control the media, and increased use of the Sedition Act and other draconian laws. But will these measures suffice to maintain Najib’s position in the long term, and how seriously do they threaten democratic rule in Malaysia? Will opposition parties be able to unite against the ruling National Front and resolve their own internal conflicts?

Najib has also strengthened his government by enticing opposition Islamic Party (PAS) to cooperate in the cause of Muslim unity. He has allowed PAS to present a parliamentary bill to increase the powers of Islamic courts – widely seen as a step towards allowing harsh criminal punishments (hudud). That has driven a wedge between PAS and other opposition political parties, but at the same time raised questions over the implications for 40% of Malaysia’s population who are non-Muslims, and Malaysia’s international image as a champion of moderate Islam.

Leading politicians, academics and others will examine these and related issues in the 2016 Malaysia Update, sponsored by the the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU as well as the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. In addition a special panel consisting of outstanding young female politicians will discuss the role of women and gender in public life – an area often overlooked, but increasingly important in today’s Malaysia.

In addition Saifuddin Abdullah, John Funston, Clive Kessler, James Chin, and Bridget Welsh, contributors to a new book edited by Bridget Welsh, The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant Party (Petaling Jaya: SIRD Publications, 2016) will discuss the future of Malaysia’s ruling party and contemporary Malay politics in the launch of the e-version of the collection on Thursday 25 August, 5.30-6.30pm in Coombs Extension room 1.13, Fellows Road, ANU.

E-copies will be available to order

Registration: All are welcome. Refreshments and a light lunch will be provided, but registration is required.

Register here

International and national speakers

Leading Malaysian political figures including former Second Finance Minister, Dato’ Seri Haji Ahmad Husni, Dato Paduka Ibrahim Ali, leader of the Malay-rights organisation Perkasa, and Zairil Khir Johari (DAP MP); and two women MPs, Fuziah Salleh (PKR) and Alice Lau Kiong Yieng (DAP).

Internationally recognised academics, Professors Terence Gomez (University of Malaya), Bridget Welsh (Senior Research Associate at National Taiwan University and University Fellow Charles Darwin University) James Chin (University of Tasmania), and Shamsul AB (National University of Malaysia).

Plus social activist and columnist, Azrul Mohd Khalid.

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