Najib Razak

Najib Razak

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has suffered a breathtaking defeat by 93-year-old Mahathir Mohamad, the former leader of Razak’s party, in the country’s May 9 election.

Razak’s mentor-turned-tormentor was sworn in as the first non-Barisan Nasional (National Front) PM in the nation’s 61-year history. The country now faces the unlikely prospect of Mahathir handing over power to Anwar Ibrahim, his former deputy, who he removed by jailing him on sodomy charges. Anwar is due to leave prison from his second stint on June 8.

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In the process of this remarkable election, Najib, the man at the centre of a bribery scandal involving state-owned companies worth as much as US$4.5 billion (according to the US government), exposed just how spectacularly out of touch he and his government had become.

This, of course, was plain for all the world to see. Yet what support did Australia lend to the Malaysian people in the face of such unashamed corruption and institutonalised racism against the country’s ethnic Chinese, Indian and other minority communities?

Najib tried every trick in the election-rigging book and invented new ones, even former Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen would have been blushing in his grave: ballot boxes have been stuffed, the election moved to mid week, and a near-impossible system of postal and absentee voting set up in the lead-up to the poll. The last desperate hurrah was to shutter polling stations at the stroke of 5pm on May 9 — despite many having queues of voters eager to have their say.

But the final result, speaks for itself, a riposte to despots who believe they can exploit weak democratic systems.

It’s also a lesson for their enablers and one the increasingly craven and silent Australian government should heed. The Australian government not merely stands by, mute, but offers encouragement to the region’s most brutal and shocking regimes: training soldiers from Myanmar’s murderous military; and upgrading relations with the dictatorship in Cambodia only weeks before it finally obliterated the strongest opposition it had ever faced, earlier this year.

On Julie Bishop’s watch, Australia has returned refugees and paid millions to both Cambodia and the corrupt former Rajapaksa regime in Sri Lanka. More recently, as noted in Crikey, Australia, in pursuit of some sort of insurance against China, turned a blind eye to rampant religious persecution in Narendra Modi’s India.

And still, Bishop, frozen out by Malcolm Turnbull, spins around in ever decreasing circles trying to find a cohesive policy on China.

We spent enormous amounts of political capital, as well, whinging, moaning and even lecturing Indonesia about two of the Bali Nine who were executed for clearly breaking the laws of another country (as well as duping other young people into following suit) — damaging the relationship with our biggest and most important neighbour. Now, craven once more, we are begging Indonesia for a comprehensive trade and security agreement.

Malaysia is just one more example of Australia’s drop-dead hopeless “commitment” to anything close to truth-speaking about its neighbours.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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