US Attempting Regime Change in Malaysia: Fact or fiction?

­December 27, 2012 (RT – Nile Bowie) – As the South-East Asian nation of Malaysia prepares for general
elections, distrust of the political opposition and accusations of
foreign interference have been major talking points in the political
frequencies emanating from Kuala Lumpur.

­The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) leads the country’s
ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional, and has maintained power since
Malaysian independence in 1957.

One of Malaysia’s most
recognizable figures is former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who
has been credited with ushering in large-scale economic growth and
overseeing the nation’s transition from an exporter of palm oil, tin,
and other raw materials, into an industrialized economy that
manufactures automobiles and electronic goods.

The opposition
coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, is headed by Anwar Ibrahim, who once held
the post of Deputy Prime Minister in Mahathir’s administration, but was
sacked over major disagreements on how to steer Malaysia’s economy
during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Today, the political
climate in Malaysia is highly polarized and a sense of unpredictability
looms over the nation. Malaysia’s current leader, Prime Minister Najib
Razak, has pursued a reform-minded agenda by repealing authoritarian
legislation of the past and dramatically loosening controls on
expression and political pluralism introduced under Mahathir’s tenure.

Najib
has rolled back Malaysia’s Internal Security Act, which allowed for
indefinite detention without trial, and has liberalized rules regarding
the publication of books and newspapers. During Malaysia’s 2008
general elections, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition experienced its
worst result in decades, with the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition
winning 82 parliamentary seats. For the first time, the ruling party
was deprived of its two-thirds parliamentary majority, which is
required to pass amendments to Malaysia’s Federal Constitution.

In
the run-up to elections scheduled to take place before an April 2013
deadline, figures from all sides of the political spectrum are asking
questions about the opposition’s links to foreign-funders in Washington.

The question of foreign-funding

Malaysia’s
former PM Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has long captured the ire of officials
from Washington and Tel Aviv, and though he’s retired, he has channeled
his energies into the Perdana Global Peace Foundation, which recently
hosted an international conference in Kuala Lumpur calling for a new
investigation into the events of 9/11 and has sought to investigate war
crimes committed in Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mahathir has
been an ardent critic of Israel and organizations such as AIPAC, and
has recently accused US-based organizations the National Endowment for
Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Institute (OSI) of holding a
concealed intention to influence Malaysia’s domestic politics through
the funding of local NGOs and groups directly linked to Anwar Ibrahim’s
Pakatan Rakyat opposition coalition.

In an article the former
prime minister published in the New Straits Times, a leading mainstream
newspaper, Mahathir accuses financier George Soros and his
organization, the Open Society Institute, of “promoting democracy” in
Eastern Europe to pave the way for colonization by global finance
capital.

Mahathir acknowledges how OSI pumped millions into
opposition movements and independent media in Hungary, Ukraine and
Georgia under the guise of strengthening civil society, only to have
like-minded individuals nominated by Soros’s own foundation come to
power in those countries.

The former prime minister has also
pointed to how Egypt (prior to Mohamad Morsi taking power) has cracked
down on NGOs affiliated with NED, namely groups such as the National
Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and
Freedom House, which are all recipients of funding from the US State
Department.

In Malaysia, high-profile NGOs and media outlets have
admittedly received funding from OSI and satellite organizations of
NED. Premesh Chandran, the CEO of the nation’s most prominent
alternative media outlet, Malaysiakini, is a grantee of George Soros’s
Open Society Foundations and launched the news organization with a
$100,000 grant from the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance
(SEAPA), another organization with dubious affiliations to the US State
Department.

Malaysiakini has come under pressure from local
journalists for the lack of transparency in its financial management
and hesitance in revealing the value of its shares. Additionally,
Suaram, an NGO promoting human rights, has borne heavy criticism over
its funding and organizational structure. The Companies Commission of
Malaysia launched investigations into Suara Inisiatif Sdn Bhd, a private
company linked to Suaram, and found it to be a conduit for money being
used to channel funds from NED.

Suaram has been instrumental in
legitimizing allegations of a possible cover-up of the murder of a
Mongolian fashion model, Altantuya Shaaribuu, who was living in
Malaysia in 2006 and associated with government officials that have
been linked to a kickback scandal involving the government’s purchase of
submarines from France. Senator Ezam Mohd Nor, himself a recipient of
Suaram’s Human Rights Award, has accused the organization of employing
poor research methods and attempting to disparage the government:

“Malaysians
have the right to feel suspicious about them. They have been making
personal allegations against the Prime Minister [Najib Razak] on the
murder of Altantuya and many other cases without proof… their motive is
very questionable especially when they are more inclined towards
ridiculing and belittling the ruling government.”

The German
Embassy in KL has reportedly admitted that it has provided funds to
Suaram’s project in 2010. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Anifah Aman
followed by making strong statements to the German Ambassador and
declared that Germany’s actions could be viewed as interference in the
domestic affairs of a sovereign state.

Since 2007, Bersih, an
association of NGOs calling itself the Coalition for Clean and Fair
Elections, staged three street protests in which thousands of
yellow-clad demonstrators took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur demanding
electoral reform. After coming under heavy scrutiny for obfuscating
funding sources, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga Sreenevasan admitted
that her organization receives funding from the National Democratic
Institute and the Open Society Institute.

Sreenevasan herself has
been the recipient of the US State Department’s Award for International
Women of Courage, and was present in Washington DC in 2009 to receive
the award directly from the hands of Michelle Obama and Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton. While Sreenevasan’s organization claimed to be
non-partisan and apolitical, members of Malaysia’s political opposition
openly endorsed the movement, and some were even present at the
demonstrations.


Anatomy of Malaysia’s political opposition

 

Malaysia
is a multi-cultural and multi-religious state, and both the ruling and
opposition parties attempt to represent the nation’s three largest
ethnic groups. Approximately 60 per cent of Malaysians are either
ethnic Malay or other indigenous groups and are mostly listed as Muslim,
while another 25 per cent are ethnic Chinese who are predominantly
Buddhist, with 7 per cent mostly Hindu Indian-Malaysians.

The
United Malays National Organization, the Malaysian Chinese Association,
and the Malaysian Indian Congress head Barisan Nasional. The
opposition, Pakatan Rakyat, currently controls four state governments
and is led by Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan Rakyat, the Chinese-led
Democratic Action Party (DAP), and staunchly Islamist Malaysian Islamic
Party (PAS).

While a large percentage of urbanites with
legitimate grievances are quick to acknowledge the government’s
shortcomings, many are hesitant to back Anwar Ibrahim due to his
connections with neo-conservative thinkers in Washington and general
disunity within the opposition. 

Ibrahim maintains close ties
with senior US officials and organizations such as the National
Endowment for Democracy. In 2005, Ibrahim chaired the Washington-based
Foundation for the Future, established and funded by the US Department
of State at the behest of Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of then-Vice
President Dick Cheney, thanks in large part to his cozy relationship
with Paul Wolfowitz.

While Ibrahim was on trial for allegedly
engaging in sodomy with a male aide (of which he was acquitted sometime
later), Wolfowitz and former US Vice-President Al Gore authored a
joint opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of Ibrahim,
while the Washington Post published an editorial calling for
consequences that would affect Malaysia’s relations with Washington if
Ibrahim was to be found guilty. Ibrahim enraged many when he stated
that he would support policy to protect the security of Israel in an
interview with the Wall Street Journal; this is particularly
controversial in Malaysia, where support for Palestine is largely
unanimous.

Malaysian political scientist Dr. Chandra Muzaffar writes: 

“It
is obvious that by acknowledging the primacy of Israeli security,
Anwar was sending a clear message to the deep state and to Tel Aviv and
Washington that he is someone that they could trust. In contrast, the
Najib government, in spite of its attempts to get closer to Washington,
remains critical of Israeli aggression and intransigence. Najib has
described the Israeli government as a ‘serial killer’ and a
‘gangster.’”

Members of Barisan Nasional have addressed
Ibrahim’s connections to the National Endowment for Democracy in the
Malaysian Parliament, including his participation in NED’s ‘Democracy
Award’ event held in Washington DC in 2007. Independent journalists
have uncovered letters written by Anwar Ibrahim, two of which were sent
to NED President Carl Gershman in Washington DC that discussed sending
an international election observer team to Malaysia and general issues
related to electoral reform.

A third letter was sent to George
Soros, expressing interest in collaborating with an accountability firm
headed by Ibrahim. Pakatan Rakyat’s Communications Director, Nik Nazmi
Nik Ahmad, verified the authenticity of the documents. This should
come as little surprise, as Ibrahim’s economic policies have
historically aligned with institutions such as the IMF and World Bank,
in contrast to Mahathir, whose protectionist economic policies opposed
international financial institutions and allowed Malaysia to navigate
and largely resurface from the 1997 Asian financial crisis unscathed.

An
issue that concerns secular and non-Muslim Malaysian voters is the
role of the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) as part of the opposition. In
sharp contrast to the moderate brand of Islam preached by UMNO, the
organization’s primary objective is the founding of an Islamic state.

The
PAS has spoken of working within the framework of Malaysia’s
parliamentary democracy, but holds steadfast to implementing sharia law
on a national scale, which would lead to confusing implications for
Malaysia’s sizable non-Muslim population. The debate around the
implementation of Islamic hudud penal code is something that other
Pakatan Rakyat coalition members, such as figures in the Chinese-led
Democratic Action Party, have been unable to agree on.

The PAS
enjoys support from rural Malay Muslims in conservative states such as
Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu in northern Malaysia, though they have
very limited appeal to urbanites. While certain individuals in PAS have
raised questions about NGOs receiving foreign funding, Mahathir has
insinuated that PAS’s leadership has been largely complicit:

“They
[foreign interests] want to topple the government through the
demonstration and Nik Aziz [Spiritual leader of PAS] said it is
permissible to bring down the government in this manner. They want to
make Malaysia like Egypt, Tunisia, which were brought down through riots
and now Syria…. when the government does not fall, they [Pakatan
Rakyat] can appeal to the foreign power to help and bring down, even if
it means using fire power.”

 

Protestors form a human chain in the city center of Kuala Lumpur during April 2012 protests in support of the Bersih coalition (Photo by Nile Bowie)
Protestors
form a human chain in the city center of Kuala Lumpur during April 2012
protests in support of the Bersih coalition (Photo by Nile Bowie)

­


Feasibility of ‘regime change’ narrative


It
must be acknowledged that the current administration led by Prime
Minister Najib Razak has made great strides toward improving relations
with Washington. At a meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010, Najib
offered Malaysia’s assistance to cooperate with the United States to
engage the Muslim world; Najib also expressed willingness to deploy
Malaysian aid personnel to Afghanistan, and allegedly agreed on the
need to maintain a unified front on Iran’s nuclear program.

Najib
has employed a Washington-based public relations firm, APCO, to
improve Malaysia’s image in the US and has seemingly embraced American
economic leadership of the region through his support for the
Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Some would argue that Najib
is perhaps the most pro-American leader Malaysia has ever had – a stark
contrast to the boldness of Mahathir.

Despite Najib having good
rapport with formal Western leaders, it is clear with whom the
thank-tank policy architects, Zionist lobbies, and foundation fellows
have placed their loyalties.

Sentiment among Malaysia’s youth and
“pro-democracy” activists, who constitute a small but vocal minority,
tend be entirely dismissive of the ‘regime change’ narrative, viewing it
as pre-election diversionary rhetoric of the ruling party. While
bogeymen of the Zionist variety are often invoked in Malaysian political
discourse, it would be negligent to ignore the effects of
Washington-sponsored ‘democracy promotion’ in the global context, which
have in recent times cloaked mercenary elements and insurgents in the
colors of freedom fighting, and successfully masked geopolitical
restructuring and the ushering in of neo-liberal capitalism with the hip
and fashionable vigor of ‘people power’ coups.

As the United
States continues to militarily increase its presence in the Pacific
region in line with its strategic policy-shift to East Asia, policy
makers in Washington would like to see compliant heads of state who
will act to further American interests in the ASEAN region.

Let’s
not ignore the elephant in the room; the real purpose of America’s
resurgence of interest in the ASEAN bloc is to fortify the region as a
counterweight against Beijing.

The defense ministries of Malaysia
and China held a landmark defense and security consultation in
September 2012, in addition to frequent bilateral state visits and
enhanced economic cooperation. It was the father of the current leader,
Malaysia’s second Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, who made the landmark
visit to Beijing to normalize relations in 1974, and under his son
Najib, Sino-Malaysian relations and cooperation have never been better.

Following
the global economic crisis of 2008, Najib looked to Beijing to revive
Malaysia’s export oriented economy, emphasizing increased Chinese
investment into Malaysia and expanding the base of Sino-Malaysian trade
in areas like education and student exchange, finance, infrastructure
development, science and technology, yielding lucrative and mutually
beneficial results. China has been Malaysia’s largest trade partner,
with trade figures reaching US$90 billion in 2011; Malaysia is China’s
largest trading partner among ASEAN nations.

In asking the
question of regime change in Malaysia, Dr. Chandra Muzaffar reflects on
Washington’s moves to bolster its military muscle and dominance over
the Asia-Pacific region:

“Establishing a military base in
Darwin [Australia], resurrecting the US’ military alliance with the
Philippines, coaxing Japan to play a more overt military role in the
region, instigating Vietnam to confront China over the Spratly Islands,
and encouraging India to counterbalance Chinese power, are all part and
parcel of the larger US agenda of encircling and containing China. In
pursuing this agenda, the US wants reliable allies – not just friends –
in Asia. In this regard, Malaysia is important because of its position
as a littoral state with sovereign rights over the Straits of Malacca,
which is one of China’s most critical supply routes that transports
much of the oil and other materials vital for its economic development.
Will the containment of China lead to a situation where the hegemon,
determined to perpetuate its dominant power, seek to exercise control
over the Straits in order to curb China’s ascendancy? Would a trusted
ally in Kuala Lumpur facilitate such control? The current Malaysian
leadership does not fit the bill.”

‘Backwards’ and forwards

 Pakatan
Rakyat, the main opposition coalition pitted against the ruling party,
has yet to offer a fully coherent organizational program, and if the
coalition ever came to power, the disunity of its component parties and
their inability to agree on fundamental policies would be enough to
conjure angrier, disenchanted youth back on to the streets, in larger
numbers perhaps.

What is ticklishly ironic about reading op-eds
penned by the likes of Wolfowitz and Al Gore, and how they laud
Malaysia as a progressive and moderate model Islamic state, is that
they concurrently demonize its leadership and dismiss them
authoritarian thugs.

Surely, the ruling coalition has its
shortcomings; the politicization of race and religion, noted cases of
corrupt officials squandering funds, etc. – but far too few, especially
those of the middle-class who benefit most from energy subsidies,
acknowledge the tremendous economic growth achieved under the current
leadership and the success of their populist policies.

Najib’s
administration would do well to place greater emphasis on addressing
the concerns of Malaysia’s minorities who view affirmative action
policies given to Malay ethnicities as disproportionate; income status,
not ethnicity, should be a deciding factor in who receives assistance.
The current administration appears set to widen populist policies that
make necessities affordable through subsidies and continue to assist
low-income earners with cash handouts.

Najib has acknowledged the
need for broad reforms of Malaysia’s state-owned enterprises over
concerns that crony capitalism may deter foreign investment; this
should be rolled out concurrently with programs to foster more local
entrepreneurship. To put it bluntly, the opposition lacks confidence
from the business community and foreign investors; even the likes of JP
Morgan have issued statements of concern over an opposition win.

It
should be noted that if Islamists ever wielded greater influence in
Malaysia under an opposition coalition, one could imagine a sizable
exodus of non-Muslim minorities and a subsequent flight of foreign
capital, putting the nation’s economy in a fragile and fractured state.
And yet, the United States has poured millions into ‘democracy
promotion’ efforts to strengthen the influence of NGOs that distort
realities and cast doubt over the government’s ability to be a coherent
actor.

Malaysia does not have the kind of instability that
warrants overt external intervention; backing regime-change efforts may
only go so far as supporting dissidents and groups affiliated with
Anwar Ibrahim. No matter the result of the upcoming elections, Najib
appears to have played ball enough for Washington to remain more or less
neutral.

According to Bersih coalition leader Ambiga
Sreenevasan, Malaysia’s electoral process is so restrictive that a mass
movement like Bersih is required to purge the system of its
backwardness. These are curious statements, considering that the
opposition gained control of four out of 13 states in 2008, including
Selangor, a key economic state with the highest GDP and most developed
infrastructure.

In response, Najib has adhered to Bersih’s demands
and has called for electoral reform, forming a parliamentary select
committee comprising members from both Pakatan Rakyat and Barisan
Nasional.

As elections loom, Bersih coalition leader Ambiga
Sreenavasan is already dubbing them “the dirtiest elections ever seen” –
unsurprising rhetoric from a woman being handed her talking points by
the US embassy.

­Nile Bowie for RT