Malaysia Update 2016 to examine what comes next in the Southeast Asian nation.
The past year in Malaysia has been as tumultuous as any in the country’s 60 years of independence.
At its epicentre has been the sovereign wealth fund 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), with debts of around RM50 billion (more than US $12 billion) and the reported diversion of more than $4.5 billion into unauthorised accounts.
Now the eye of the storm is coming to Canberra, with the 2016 Malaysia Update taking place at the Australian National University this Friday.
Bringing together key politicians, academics and other experts the conference asks whether Malaysia is suffering a crisis of confidence under Prime Minister Najib Razak and his handling of the long-running scandal.
“Time and Foreign Policy magazines both ranked 1MDB in their top five financial scandals for 2015, and the US Department of Justice has launched a civil case for recovery of more than US$1 billion in assets associated with money laundering from 1MDB,” said Dr John Funston, co-convenor of the conference and a visiting fellow in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.
“Prime Minister Najib Razak has been accused of diverting up to $1 billion of these funds into his personal bank account, but although surveys have shown his popularity has declined he has retained a tight hold over political affairs.
“Recent elections in Sarawak, and by-elections in Perak and Selangor, have even shown an increase in support for the ruling coalition.”
In the face of relentless questions and investigations from abroad, and calls from his former mentor and PM Mahathir Mohammad to stand down, the embattled Najib has remained resolute – and mounted his own counterattacks.
Najib has used all the discretionary powers available to him as prime minister and head of his UMNO. He has sacked UMNO critics and senior officials, tightened laws to control the media, and increased use of the Sedition Act and other draconian laws.
But will these measures suffice to maintain Najib’s position in the long term, and how seriously do they threaten democratic rule in Malaysia? Will opposition parties be able to unite against the ruling National Front and resolve their own internal conflicts?
And where will it all lead?
This conference is free and open to the public, with refreshments provided. Speakers include leading Malaysian political figures and internationally recognised academics.
The conference will be preceded by the launch of a new book, The End of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s Dominant Party, at 5.30pm on Thursday 25 August.
Register for the conference and book launch here.