The Malaysian government is one of the first foreign regimes to have quickly congratulated Barack Husein Obama on his massive victory in the Presidential polls but their message to the newly elected President of the United States is not what the Malaysians think it is.
Having acted tough against the George W. Bush administration in its comments on the Anwar ibrahim sodomy case this year, the Malaysian government expects a non-interference policy from the Obama administration in its local affairs.
Malaysia has a leftist thinking Minister of Foreign affairs who made his mark as a tough opposition member during the days of the Semangat 46 (S-46) party. Minister Rais Yatim is respected in the local political circles for his consistency in his criticism against American interference in other nations affairs.
Supported by a solid group of civil servants oriented towards the protection of the nation’s integrity – territorial and moral – the Minister will not have any difficulty to pinpoint to the Obama administration that any interference in the Malaysian affairs will only worsen Malaysian-US relations.
Anwar Ibrahim is well supported by the Democratic Party where he has top officials of the party on his side. They include former Vice President Al-Gore and several influential members of the American foreign diplomatic circles not forgetting the Clintons and the close circle of Barack Obama. It will not be difficult for Anwar Ibrahim to weave good and solid ties with Obama in the future. The Democratic Party has close ties with the Party Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) while its support for the Party Keadilaan Rakyat (PKR) is undoubted.
President Obama himself is known to be interested in the ideals of leaders like Anwar Ibrahim and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in that they want to be the bridge between the west and the Muslim world. Anwar Ibrahim is also member of an international foundation where both Republicans and Democrats from the US political spectrum are involved. His popularity among the current US administration is well known too and this is what has brought the recent ‘freeze’ between Malaysian and the US after the outbreak of the sodomy case in which Anwar was defended by the US State Department.
It is the strong and incessant response by Minister Rais Yatim and other members of the Malaysian government – mostly members of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) – that took centre stage.
Anwar Ibrahim has the total support of former President Burhanuddin J. Habibie of Indonesia. The latter is a close friend of King Abdullah and of Anwar Ibrahim indeed and recently, the role played by former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid by the side of Anwar Ibrahim during the by-election in the state of Penang, won by Anwar is of great significance here. Abdurrahman Wahid is very pro-American and he is a strong link between Washington, Obama and Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia. He is trusted by the current Bush administration and while Obama is being briefed on intelligence by American spy chiefs after his electoral win, the name Abdurrahman Wahid will feature prominently as a close ally of the US.
So will the names of Anwar Ibrahim and surely that of B. J. Habibie though the latter is no more involved in active politics.
With this large support base, Anwar Ibrahim will rise as the major political figure in the Muslim world alongside King Abdullah and Abdurrahman Wahid. Wahid still has a meagre chance of contesting the upcoming Indonesian Presidential elections but notwithstanding this, he will be great influence in the next year’s elections in Indonesia.
The fact that Indonesia is now a closer ally to the US and that Turkey has showed strong interest in ‘bridging’ the gap between Islam and Christianity for example, the Obama administration will do everything to work hand in hand with the two Muslim nations. Malaysia is not really seen as an ally in the ‘gap bridging’ and the ‘civilization building’ exercise that the group represented by Anwar Ibrahim, Tayyab Erdogan – Prime Minister of Turkey – and Abdurrahman Wahid. Erdogan is a close friend and ally of Anwar Ibrahim on the movement to bring Islam to moderation and to tie its knots with the Christian world with America as the leading nation.
Barack Obama explained in his victory speech at the Democratic Party’s celebration party in Chicago that ‘those who will try to break the wall of unity will be dealt with firmly’. In other words, it will be ‘either you are with us or you are against us’ once more. This was well practiced by the Bush administration to the extent that Kuala Lumpur was forced to bow to the US leadership in the war on terror.
But the leadership in Kuala Lumpur today is not willing to bow to any such suppressive moves be it from the US and Barack Obama or from the PKR and its member parties in the Pakatan Rakyat (PR).
Hence what does Malaysia expect from the Obama regime? As said earlier, Putrajaya instead of Kuala Lumpur, is not going to give in to threats, pre-emptive meddling in the affairs of the government and in the imposition of pro-US tactics in the war on terror and so on and so forth.
The Obama regime will have a tougher time to deal with the current government in Malaysia and this will be because the change in the US is seen as a good element by the Umno and the Barisan National (BN) government to the extent that it is already in talks with the Obama future regime.
The message to the Obama camp is pure and simple: No interference in Malaysia’s internal affairs notwithstanding which the USA risks heavy criticism from the Malaysian government on the international front.
It now depends on whether the Obama regime will allow the Malaysian government to be left alone in its rule of the country, which is not what the opposition supporters are expecting by all means. However, Obama does not have any commitment with the opposition of Malaysia as he did promise a new style of governance in Washington and this include ‘negotiated’ settlements of issues and cases in which the governments in the world will not end up losers while the US will be seen as the ‘eternal policeman’ of the world.
Obama has to listen to Putrajaya though the lobbying factor on Capital Hill will not allow his government to dry the funds and the support intended towards the implementation of ‘democracy’ in the rest of the world, which is a follow up of the Bush’s ugliest foreign policy in the history of the United States.
Yet do not expect any stick from Washington for the BN regime in Malaysia or a massive swift in American policies towards Kuala Lumpur. The Americans are far more interested in trade, investment and business this time around and with Obama offering the olive branch of peace to many Muslim nations, it will not be bombs or ‘covert’ operations against the BN, it will rather be the mellowing of the Obama governance towards accepting the BN, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even the Taliban if necessary in order to achieve peace.