Malaysia's turmoil poses grave risks

The Straits Times says

Malaysians' commemoration of their independence from British colonial rule 58 years ago deserves a far better backdrop than the unfortunate turmoil that's now gripping the nation. The almost daily gyrations of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal roiling the nation have been complicated by a political donation of US$700 million that was banked in Prime Minister Najib Razak's personal account. As if he didn't have enough to contend with, Mr Najib is now weighed down by a currency that is under severe pressure and the flight of capital from the resource-rich country. If ever there was a time for Malaysians to join hands, this would be it, given the heavy weather it is facing on several fronts.

Even as many Malaysians bear the political intrigues with stoicism and a sense of deja vu - two former prime ministers and three deputy PMs have been unseated so far by political infighting - others are agitating for a public vote of no-confidence in Mr Najib. The Bersih rally over the weekend drew large crowds of outraged citizens - said to be mostly urban non-Malays - as well as participants across the political divide. It showed how sharply the nation is "polarised along ethnic and socio-economic lines", according to the independent Merdeka Centre.

That is a cause of deep concern for Singapore too, given the close historical and cultural ties between the two neighbours.

Whatever is the result of a probe into a trail of funds linked to 1MDB, what must be kept in perspective is that the siege of ruling party Umno is essentially an intra-party predicament. It is obvious this is being stoked by prominent players inthe wings for reasons which are mix of principle, personality and politics. Ultimately, the political crisis has to be resolved by wise heads within the party in a way that places the interests of the nation above all else.

The series of angsty events over past months would have been handled differently perhaps if not for the batten-down mode prevailing in Kuala Lumpur. As more Malaysians recognise the peril of a prolonged undertow of political risks, the hope is that a more balanced and inclusive agenda will take hold. Malaysians know full well that pressing concerns like financial stability, economic growth and social peace have to be addressed collectively. The innovation-led economy envisioned by the 11th Malaysia Plan unveiled in May holds much promise, but also presents considerable challenges - as it hinges on the development of a creative, skilled workforce within an education system that is poorly ranked internationally.

Singaporeans would naturally wish for the steady progression of its closest neighbour up the economic and social ladder. It's not just about investments and trade ties, it's also about wanting to uphold the peace and stability that has been so beneficial on both sides of the border.

This article was first published on August 31, 2015.
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