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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

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The Week Ahead: How Big a Dent in the Barisan Nasional?
Looking ahead to the Malaysian election result
By WAYNE MORRISON

also:
East Asian Goals, Southeast Asian Problems
Will the WTO Drop the Labor Issue?

November 29, 1999
Web posted at 5:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 4:30 a.m. EDT


    INTELLIGENCE
The WTO: How Zhu Saw It
New evidence shows the Premier's side of the debate
- Thursday, Nov. 25, 1999

Shoot the Messenger
Image Control at the Estrada Presidency
by Ricardo Saludo
- Tuesday, Nov. 23, 1999

The Week Ahead
Playing the Waiting Game
by Ann Morrison
- Monday, Nov. 22, 1999

Bill and the BubbleBoy
Microsoft claims it puts customers first. Then can we get some service here, Mr. Gates?
by Stuart Whitmore
- Friday, Nov. 19, 1999

The Dazed Lion in Winter
Post-election, the Habibie administration's inadequacies come out
- Thursday, Nov. 18, 1999

Into the Year of the Dragon
What's Ahead for China
by David Hsieh
- Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1999

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Across Southeast Asia and further afield, all eyes are on the Malaysian elections. Campaigning finished Sunday, voters are going to the polls today and the results of the most eagerly watched Malaysian election in years should be known early Tuesday morning.

The election, at one level, is a contest between the establishment, stability-first, values of the Barisan Nasional (BN) of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the reformist campaign of Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, wife of jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, once Mahathir's heir apparent. Azizah's Parti Keadilan Nasional (National Justice Party) is one of several diverse parties forming the Barisan Alternatif (BA), which in fielding candidates in every constituency, is posing probably the stiffest challenge ever to BN.

Inevitably, though, many see the election as a contest between Mahathir and - looming large over the polls - the specter of Anwar, currently serving a six-year sentence for abuse of power and on trial accused of sodomy. Anwar says that he is the victim of a conspiracy.

The conventional wisdom is that Mahathir's BN will take a knock, the only question is how hard. With some 86% of the seats in Parliament now (thanks to a virtual landslide last time), the BN can lose ground without losing control. The key point the BN is determined to defend is a two-thirds majority, which it needs to change the constitution and which symbolizes its dominance of Malaysian politics. The BA is equally determined to deprive the BN of the two-thirds.

Some hot contests are in store. Keenly watched will be Azizah's performance in what was Anwar's seat in Penang, as will be contests pitting the BA's ethnic Chinese leaders against those of the BN in city seats. The Chinese vote, which usually leans toward stability and economic results, is seen this time as an important swing vote. While Mahathir is unlikely to be threatened in his own constituency, a few of his ministers may be seriously challenged.

A crucial battle is on in Kelantan, Malaysia's only opposition-held state, where onetime finance minister and Mahathir rival Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is trying to defeat the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (Pas) and possibly improve his chances of bidding to be prime minister after Mahathir. But the battle with Pas is a fierce one, and it has been fought also in neighboring Trengganu and other rural-Malay-majority states in the north, Perlis and Kedah, Mahathir's home state. Will Pas keep Kelantan and add one or more of these states to its control? The prospect of such a division in the country's majority Malay community is undoubtedly one of the BN's biggest fears.  

East Asian Goals, Southeast Asian Problems
Asia awaits the response of politicians worldwide and money-market analysts to pledges and statements of goals coming from the annual ASEAN summit in Manila at the weekend. China, Japan and South Korea met on the sidelines of the summit, more Japanese aid was forthcoming for Crisis-hit countries, and lofty East Asia ambitions were voiced (ironically, in the absence of Malaysia's Asia-first Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who was fighting an election). Host President Joseph Estrada spoke of an Asian common market and an Asian currency. But closer to home, security and economic problems are likely to monopolize ASEAN's attention for the next few years. This was evident in the concern about Aceh province breaking away from Indonesia and support for a unitary state. ASEAN also found difficulty securing Chinese agreement to a code of conduct among claimants to the Spratlys islands (China wants more time to consider this). ASEAN's six founding states did agree to remove import tariffs by 2010, though Malaysia wants to protect its auto industry beyond that date.  

Will the WTO Drop the Labor Issue?
When the World Trade Organization starts work on the "millennium" round of trade negotiations in Seattle on Nov. 30, the first major bone of contention will be the agenda. And the sorest issue for developing countries in Asia and elsewhere is a U.S. proposal to put labor rights permanently on the WTO agenda. These countries fear that the linking of trade and labor rights will seriously and unfairly disadvantage them vis-a-vis the rich countries. That aside, the WTO members are expected to move toward initial offers for trade liberalization by next September in agriculture, goods and services and e-commerce/information technology. One target has them finishing negotiations in three years, way faster than the previous Uruguay Round negotiations which lasted eight years.

An important presence in Seattle will be the Chinese, who recently concluded an agreement with the U.S. on WTO-related issues.

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