Malaysia’s fear of Egypt

As the ruling Barisan National considers calling a new general election, it is fearful of another electoral bloody nose, or even a People Power revolution.

Malaysia’s state run news agency, Bernama, has published an astonishingly tone-deaf and self-serving condemnation of Egypt.

Posing as political analysis, Bernama’s piece says the “people’s revolution” [their scare quotes, not mine] has failed:

“While they claim to have done it for democracy, the revolt did not bring about any significant improvement to the country that is known for its rich civilisation.”

The author completely dismisses all elements of the Egyptian experience based on nothing more than personal observations (gathered on a press trip organised by the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents) and quotes from a Singapore tourist and “several Egyptians”.

Then the money quote, from a bus driver who once worked in Malaysia:

“The important thing is that your country is being guided by fair and wise leaders.”

On an ordinary day, all this would count very much as business as usual in Malaysia’s browbeaten media – praise for the leaders and the system is a regular front-page lead. But this particular piece is much more transparent, and  egregious, because of its timing.

The “fair and wise” Malaysian government on Friday said it will lock down the capital Kuala Lumpur to stop pro-democracy protesters, even after those protesters agreed to hold their demonstration inside a stadium so as not to disrupt daily life.

The home minster has said he will refuse to entertain any formal applications to stage demonstrations.

There’s nothing new in all of this, of course. The Bersih (clean) movement has been calling for electoral reform and cleaner government for years, only to be met with heavy handed policing.

On the back of mounting public anger, The People’s Justice Party (PKR) caused a big upset in the 2008 elections, when its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was finally allowed to participate. Anwar quickly found himself facing more legal action.

As the ruling Barisan National considers calling a new general election, there’s no surprise that it’s fearful of another electoral bloody nose, or even an Egyptian-style revolution.

No surprise, either, that it’s resorting to the usual tactics to prevent either of those outcomes.

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