Two of ASEAN’s most durable authoritarian democracies (or is it democratic authoritarianism) come under scrutiny at the Australian National University this month.

The inaugural Malaysia – Singapore Update brings together a distinguished group of analysts to discuss the dynamic political and economic landscape in Malaysia and Singapore. Two separate sessions are organised for a comprehensive look at each country.

The upcoming elections in Malaysia and the transformed “new normal” environment in Singapore, following a series of watershed elections, are among the pressing issues that will be addressed in this timely gathering.

Venue: Hedley Bull 2, Hedley Bull Building, Australian National University

Wednesday, 12 September 2012 – 12:30 PM – 5:00PM

This event is free and open to the public.

Please register for catering purposes by emailing Nivarith Nair at [email protected]

The Update is supported by the College of Asia and the Pacific, the ANU Southeast Asia Institute, Department of Political and Social Change, and Crawford School of Public Policy.


The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), in coalition with partners in the Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) has held office since independence in 1957. Its record of unbroken rule exceeds any other elected government in power today. Yet the BN federal government is now facing tough elections with an increasingly disenchanted electorate. Can the opposition alliance fronted by former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim spark the fire for change and fresh new leadership?


The People’s Action Party (PAP) has enjoyed unbroken rule since full self-government in 1959. Last year’s general elections marked a watershed in Singapore politics. The much maligned opposition had a historic showing, breaking the stranglehold on the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) by presenting a credible and competent alternative. The traditional economic compact has been severely strained with rising income inequality and immigration sparking discontent amidst clear divisions in society. There has also been an increased swing away from the PAP in by-elections, as well as an opposition swing in the Presidential elections, usually non-partisan contests traditionally backed by the establishment. Will this “new normal” lead to greater genuine steps towards democracy, civil freedoms and a two-party or multiparty system?

These issues, and more, will be discussed at the Update. Scheduled speakers for this event include:

  • Anthony Milner, Australian National University – Anthony Milner is Basham Professor of Asian History at the Australian National University, and a Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of the widely-cited Kerajaan: Malay Political Culture on the Eve of Colonial Rule and The Malays.
  • Clive Kessler, University of New South Wales – An Emeritus Professor in Sociology, Clive Kessler is a widely sought after authority on Malaysian political and societal issues. He is more recently one of the authors of Sharing the Nation: Faith, Difference, Power and the State 50 Years After Merdeka.
  • Amanda Whiting, University of Melbourne – Amanda Whiting is an Associate Director (Malaysia) at the Asian Law Centre. She was a co-editor for the book Mixed Blessings: Law, Religions and Women’s Rights in the Asia Pacific Region, and has written several journal articles and book chapters on legal issues in Malaysia. She is currently undertaking research funded by the Australian Research Council on the history of the Malaysian legal profession, focusing on its role as an agent of civil society.
  • Hal Hill, Australian National University – Hal Hill is the author or editor of 15 books and has written some 140 academic papers and book chapters on the economies of ASEAN. His research has in recent times had him look at the challenge of “graduation” for Malaysia. He is the H.W. Arndt Professor of Southeast Asian Economies at the Crawford School of Economics and Government.
  • Marzuki Mohamad, International Islamic University – Marzuki Mohamad is an Assistant Professor at the Kulliyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. He has published many academic papers in his research areas of electoral issues, ethnic politics and political Islam. He is also currently serving as a special officer to the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.
  • Michael Barr, Flinders University – Michael Barr’s PhD thesis, Lee Kuan Yew: The beliefs behind the man, won him the 1999 Asian Studies Association of Australia President’s Prize for the best PhD thesis. Numerous works since have solidified his position as an expert on Singapore politics and history. He is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Flinders University.
  • Lily Zubaidah Rahim, University of Sydney – Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s 2001 book, The Singapore Dilemma: The Political and Educational Marginality of the Malay Community, establish her as a leading expert on Singaporean politics and society. She is an Associate Professor in Government and International Relations.
  • Ross Tapsell, Australian National University – Ross Tapsell researches press freedom in Southeast Asia. He is a former recipient of the Australian Government Endeavour Postdoctorate Award. His current research involves press freedom in Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • Shandre Thangavelu, National University of Singapore – Shandre Thangavelu is an Associate Professor in Economics. Aside from publishing and presenting numerous papers on ASEAN economies, he is also head researcher on manpower related issues and the Singaporean economy at the Singaporean Ministry of Manpower.
  • Bridget Welsh, Singapore Management University – Bridget Welsh is an Associate Professor in Political Science. Having authored books such as The Mahathir Years, Impressions of the Goh Chok Tong Years in Singapore and Transition or Transformation: Abdullah Badawi’s Tenure, she is widely sought after for her expertise on the region. One of her current research interests are women in politics in Southeast Asia.
  • Bilveer Singh, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies – Bilveer Singh is an Associate Professor and Acting Head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS). Prior to joining CENS, he was teaching at the Dept of Political Science, National University of Singapore. Bilveer is a regular speaker and media commentator on regional security issues. His current research interests include the foreign and defence policies of Singapore as well as regional security issues.