Spotlight - Malaysia: February 1, 2024

With the year 2024 underway and the upcoming lunar new year, Malaysian politics continues its drive on an even tone. Rumors of a possible government overthrow spread among the public in early January, dubbed “the Dubai Move” after the location where some opposition leaders supposedly met to foment a coup against the Anwar government. Yet, despite the opposition’s claims of “having the numbers” (meaning successfully gathering enough support in parliament), Malaysian prime minister Anwar Ibrahim seems to be in control of his "rocky boat." Criticism regarding inflation and the slow pace of reforms remains ineffective, with the opposition yet to play a significant role.

A growing number of media controversies and internal party fights have taken up the focus of the opposition Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, and the Malay front has yet to propose credible policy alternatives to Anwar’s agenda. This task would be made easy by the government’s many faux-pas, yet PN has continually failed to find its voice, overshadowed by its vocal ally, the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). PAS has taken on the role of steering politics further to the right, playing on issues related to religious controversies and the protection of the Malay-majority rights. On this last matter, PAS is largely helped by the restless political animal Mahathir Mohamad, who will turn 99 in July, and has recently been accused of stirring racial hatred for having criticized Malaysia’s multiculturalist model and the lack of integration of Chinese and Indian minorities. Mahathir has also been appointed as the economic advisor of the PAS-led northern states. 

Concurrently, on January 25, Malaysia's fourth periodic review of its human rights record was held at the United Nations quarters in New York. The U.S. mission to the UN has recommended that Malaysia strengthen the power of its Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) and repeal or amend laws that contradict human rights. Anwar’s government is under scrutiny for its recent decisions that endanger freedom of expression, LGBTQI+ rights, religious freedom, and stateless people.