One Month In, Malaysia Off to a Shaky Start

Frightened of the Islamists, majority wants this government to work

John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s shaky new ruling coalition government will have been in power for a month today but, according to political analysts in Kuala Lumpur, looks likely to stay there at least in the medium term despite its minority status because, in the words of one observer, “everybody’s scared shitless of PAS and Muhyiddin.”

Muhyiddin is Muhyiddin Yassin, the powerful 75-year-old leader of the Malay nationalist minority Perikatan Nasional coalition, who staged an unsuccessful last-ditch fight to form a government. Perikatan holds 74 of the 222 parliamentary seats. The biggest bloc within Perikatan, however, is the 50 held by the rural Islamist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, whose leader Abdul Hadi Awang has fought for decades to implement sixth-century Shariah religious law in the moderate Muslim country and whose international affiliates are the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East.

Outside the deeply rural north and east of the country, which appears caught in time, the modern, moderate urban areas want nothing to do with Shariah law. And, given the concern over the encroachment of Islam, internationally the west behind the scenes is pushing for this government to work. PAS is also handicapped by very real reports of deep corruption in its ranks at the same time it pushes for archaic sexual and civil laws.

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