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Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 03:23 | SYDNEY
Thursday 17 Aug 2017 | 03:23 | SYDNEY

Kuala Lumpur preoccupied

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10 July 2008 15:02

Prime Minister Rudd is not having much luck in his personal diplomacy in Asia. His trip to China was undercut by the Olympic torch relay and Tibet, bad vibes from Tokyo and price disputes over iron ore. His trip to Japan was undercut by a mass murder in central Tokyo and a historic censure movement in Japanese politics. His trip to Seoul was called off at a time when the new Lee Myung-bak Government was exhausted after more than a month of demonstrations. Ironically, Indonesia’s relative political stability meant that only his trip there has not been sideswiped by the domestic political tribulations of the host. Luckily, no trip to Bangkok has been planned.

Now he arrives in Kuala Lumpur for round two of the Anwar Ibrahim-UMNO stoush, with an accusation of sodomy against Anwar again the weapon of choice. 

As with the trips to Japan and South Korea, Kuala Lumpur’s domestic pre-occupations mean that little concrete is likely to come from the visit, especially on free trade negotiations.

Malay politics is now highly contestable, with UMNO’s grip on the (increasing) majority Malay vote slipping at the same time that religious politics in growing in Malaysia. It is no surprise that Anwar has been twice accused of sodomy when he has challenged UMNO’s grip on power or that Anwar is now using the syariah courts to try to clear his name. Anwar rose to political significance in Malaysia as a young Islamic leader. Malaysian politics is becoming increasingly intra-Malay and religious in tone as well as offering, for the first time (echoes of Japan), the potential for a true two-party system.