Malaysia election: U-M experts can discuss

May 10, 2018
Contact: Debing Su


Former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad has won the general election, ending 60 years of rule by the Barisan Nasional. Experts at the University of Michigan can discuss the election results and implications.

Linda Lim, professor emerita of corporate strategy and international business at the Ross School of Business, is an expert on the political economy of local and multinational business in Southeast Asia.

“The unexpected electoral defeat of the governing coalition, which has been elected to power in Malaysia since independence in 1957, should put a damper on the ‘demise of democracy in developing countries’ chorus that has swept the world in the last few years,” she said.

“It also raises foreign policy questions for the U.S. and China, both of whose leaders—presidents Trump and Xi—had been cozying up to the now-outgoing Prime Minister Najib Razak, despite his clampdown on civil liberties and the multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal being prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Malaysia arguably ‘punches above its weight’ (31 million people, $300 billion GDP) in global affairs because it is a relatively open economy heavily dependent on international trade and investment that hosts many American, Japanese and other multinationals, and consistently registers respectable GDP growth. It is a multi-ethnic nation with a ‘moderate Muslim’ majority that enjoys relative social and political stability despite persistent ethnic and religious tensions. Moreover, Malaysia is a pluralistic electoral democracy despite the many constraints on the media, judiciary and other institutions that have worsened recently.

“It will be interesting to see if election post-mortems reveal anything about possible future shifts in policy directions, or if what we are witnessing is just a personality change at the top to be followed by ‘business as usual.'”

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John Ciorciari is an associate professor at the Ford School of Public Policy. His research focuses on Southeast Asia and examines foreign policy strategies, human rights and the reform of international economic institutions.

“Mahathir’s election will not bring radical policy change in Malaysia, but his defeat of United Malays National Organisation is a political watershed. Perhaps only one of UMNO’s own patriarchs could displace it after decades in power,” he said. “The question going forward is whether a coalition composed of strange bedfellows can govern effectively in a system where UMNO has deep roots of influence.”

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