Race continues to stall Malaysia's reform

Government invites a backlash from supporters after stalling on promised changes
Race continues to stall Malaysia's reform

Malaysian riot police block members of the ethnic Indian community protesting about discrimination at the Pudu temple in Kuala Lumpur in February 2010. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is struggling to negotiate the entrenched racial biases in multiethnic and multireglious Malaysia. (Photo by Saeed Khan/AFP)

As Malaysia struggles to break free of its past, it is becoming increasingly clear that any noble intentions its fledgling government has are being fundamentally undermined by irregular policy-making by chauvinists and their allies refusing desperately needed social reform in exchange for political favor.

A year after he became prime minister again after retiring in 2003, Mahathir Mohamad is struggling to negotiate the entrenched racial biases in multiethnic Malaysia. This does not bode well for a “new Malaysia” and the government's hopes to chart a path to developed nation status.

His failure to reform social policies means society is as unequal as before and his Pakatan Harapan alliance government, after its spectacular election win in May 2018 on the back of overwhelming support from minority ethnic Chinese and Indian voters, is in danger of losing their unselfish support.

A test of his government's popularity is in the works.

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