Tough year for human rights in Southeast Asia — Bridget Welsh

Source: New Mandala

BY BRIDGET WELSH

Bridget Welsh charts the major challenges to civil liberties across the region in 2016.

In reflecting on developments in 2016, attention has centered on events in the West or the Middle East, Trump’s presidential victory or the brutality in Aleppo. But closer to home, Southeast Asia has experienced worrying trends that have undermined human rights and fostered division. Overall, 2016 was not a good year for the region, as trends show greater challenges for civil liberties.

Vicious political attacks on civil society activists have risen, with greater violence. Cambodian activist Kem Lay was murdered in broad daylight in July. Filipino environmental activist Gloria Capitan in Bataan Philippines was murdered in the same month, while labor activists Orlando Abangan and Edilberto Miralles were killed the same week in September. In Malaysia Sarawakian indigenous rights activist Bill Kayong was shot point blank in his truck at a road junction in June. Serious questions remain about culpability in all of these cases.

Other attacks on activists were more clear-cut, with governments ruthlessly using all of their tools at their disposal to quiet dissent. Malaysian Bersih movement chairwoman Maria Chin Abdullah was arrested using Special Offences (Special Measures) Act of SOSMA for 10 days, along with other activists, notably student leader Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof. Read more

Najib’s fear campaign — Bridget Welsh

Source: New Mandala

The Malaysian Prime Minister’s ruthless tactics to hold onto power at all costs demonstrate that he is the one who is most afraid while his people are willing to fight on, Bridget Welsh writes.

bersih

Picture taken from New Mandala

This week Najib Tun Razak is beating the Malay chauvinist drum at his party’s annual general assembly (AGM). Meetings of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have regularly followed this mode, but the use of racism and paranoia have taken on greater intensity in the face of its leader’s eroding political legitimacy.

For the past two years, Malaysia’s Prime Minister has been beleaguered by the 1MDB scandal that has involved not only nearly $700 million going into Najib’s personal account but also raised issues of criminal money laundering, embezzlement and economic mismanagement involving over $3.5 billion. The case is being investigated and prosecuted in over six jurisdictions, most notably by the US Department of Justice.  The scandal featured centre stage in last month’s Bersih 5 rally in which thousands went to the streets to protest corruption, economic mismanagement and systematic inequalities in the electoral process.

Despite public discontent, Najib has adeptly used a variety of tactics to stay in power, which is crucial if he is to avoid international prosecution. The most obvious of these involves a crackdown on political opponents. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed in 2015. Since then more than 10 opposition politicians have faced a variety of charges from sedition to challenges to ‘parliamentary democracy’. Last month whistleblower and parliamentarian, Rafizi Ramli, was convicted of violating the Official Secrets Act for releasing evidence associated with 1MDB. This week’s UMNO meeting has called for continued no-holds barred attacks on the opposition. Read more

‘Rethink redelineation exercise’

Source: The Star Online

Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian (left), and  South-East Asia political analyst Dr Bridget Welsh. Pic taken from The Star Online.

Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian (left), and South-East Asia political analyst Dr Bridget Welsh. Pic taken from The Star Online.

PETALING JAYA: There is a need to review how electoral boundaries are redelineated to prevent further divisive segregation of voters along ethnic lines, according to analysts.

Responding to the Election Commission’s proposal to alter the electoral boundaries of 113 parliamentary seats in the peninsula which has drawn wide criticism for creating fewer mixed seats and reinforcing mono-ethnic ones, Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian said the proposed boundaries could further entrench racial politics and discourse.

“Given that redelineation is an exercise that takes place every 10 years or so, this means the next decade will continue to see the continued trajectory along current trends.

“This is because elected representatives will be more attuned to their monoglot constituencies compared to the mixed ones of the past,” he said.

Political parties from Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan along with NGOs and voters have stated that they will file objections against the EC’s proposal.

The EC will be holding a local inquiry after Oct 14 – when the one-month period to display the proposed re-delineation ends – in order to hear the objections.

Ibrahim said any redelineation along ethnic lines could hamper the move towards a shared Malaysian identity and be counterproductive to national interest.

A better option would be to draw constituency boundaries to reflect the communal mix in a state, he added. Read more