The results of the 2008 Malaysian election are in and Barisan Nasional is back in power. This coalition is headed by the UMNO which has ruled Malaysia ever since independence in 1957. I don’t believe having the same party in power for 50 years is that healthy and certainly makes for a very suspicious and unbalanced “democracy”.
Like many Asian countries, the deal is that citizen’s can have economic freedom but criticism, protest and dissent are not tolerated. In Malaysia, all the mainstream media are controlled by political parties. Journalists lack freedom of expression and forums for debate just don’t exist. As witnessed by the recent Hindraf protests or the arrest of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian government will freely use the draconian Internal Security Act laws to squash political opposition. Opponents can be detained without trial indefinitely. This is justified as the way to maintain stability, security and economic growth. It’s also a convenient way for the same party to stay in power.
The biggest issue in Malaysian politics therefore continues to be avoided and that is the unequal treatment of citizens of different races. I don’t see how a country can achieve racial integration when you keep reminding everyone that their race matters.
This latest election brings hope that a more open dialogue will begin. The opposition political parties have gained many new seats and Barisan Nasional has lost it’s 2/3rds majority in parliament which allowed it to push through legislature with impunity. It may force the goverment to listen more but it’s a long road to getting politics balanced.