Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Image by UN Photos.

Silence not golden

09 May 2013

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Professor Ben Reilly is the Director of the Policy and Governance Program in Crawford School.

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By Belinda Cranston

Australia must speak out against alleged political fraud in Malaysia, according to Crawford School’s Professor Ben Reilly.

Reilly – a specialist in Southeast Asia and democracy – says Australia is too quiet on the topic of alleged electoral fraud.

“Not only has [Australian Foreign Minister] Bob Carr been incredibly evasive on the question of electoral fraud in Malaysia, but according to opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, he has refused to meet him when he has visited Malaysia, which is just crazy,” Reilly said.

The caution was possibly a throwback to the days when Mahathir Mohamad was Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Reilly added.

Mahathir, who was Prime Minister from 1981 to 2003, “really hammered Australia,” Reilly maintains.

“He really made Australia out to be a sort of Western bully boy in Asia.

“And the result of that is you now have a class of politicians who have been advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to be silent on all the issues that are important to Malaysia.”

The Malaysian General Election on Sunday saw the Barisan Nasional coalition return to power, but with a reduced majority. The elections, though, were marred with allegations of widespread fraud.

Despite this, Mr Carr has welcomed the result, saying Canberra was prepared to work with either the Opposition or Barisan Nasional.

Reilly said the Australian Government’s silence on Malaysia contrasted with its calls for democratic reform in other Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar.

“We are quite happy to say we demand democracy in Myanmar,” Reilly said.

“But for some reason with Malaysia, which is closer to Australia and is a country where we have a lot more historical links, suddenly we have nothing to say and no contribution to make.”

Against the odds

The Opposition’s share of the vote in Malaysia’s election was impressive considering the alleged fraudulent activities the ruling coalition employed to win.

Dr Ross Tapsell, a researcher from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific School of Culture, History and Language, said the Opposition winning 89 seats from the 222-member national parliament was commendable, given the system wasn’t “a level playing field.”

“These elections are certainly a unique case, and shouldn’t be seen in the same light as a completely free and fair election,” he said.

Despite odds stacked against her, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter, Nurul Anwar, succeeded in keeping her Lembah Pantai federal seat.

The 32-year-old mother of two was both articulate and passionate, Tapsell said.

“Perhaps they might see her as a future leader for 2018, but that is of course, a long way off.”

Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional won Sunday’s election without winning the popular vote or claiming its highly sought-after two-thirds majority.

This article forms part of New Mandala’s coverage of the Malaysian elections. It was originally published on the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific website:

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