Author: Imran Shamsunahar

Indonesia’s Unlikely Democracy Remains Resilient

Indonesians refer to election day as Pesta Demokrasi—which translates to “Democracy Festival.” And it’s easy to see why. On April 17, about 156-million eligible Indonesians cast their votes forpresident at 809,500 polling stations strewn across 17,000 islands. Coinciding with the world’s largest direct presidential election were parliamentary and local legislative elections, with more than 20,000 seats contested by more than 245,000 candidates. Overseeing the entire process were around 6-million election workers—a force larger than the entire population of neighboring Singapore. As CNN reported, “ensuring this mega-poll in the world’s third largest democracy would go off without a hitch was a logistical feat, with election workers traveling by boat to remote islands, scaling mountains to reach hill-top villages and trekking through jungles—sometimes on horses—to bring ballot boxes within range of every voter.” All in all, April’s election was billed as “the most complicated single-day elections in global history.” It was also deadly—though not in the way you might expect. An estimated 139 election workers and police officers reportedly died from exhaustion due to the sheer scale …

Malaysia’s Struggle to Preserve Religious Pluralism

For observers of contemporary Malaysia, much has been written about the tropical nation’s creeping Islamization. To define this more specifically, the observable interjection of Islamic morality into its institutions, its legal systems, and its political discourses and practices. The move towards a more puritanical and intolerant Islam has raised alarm bells for a country whose identity is rooted in its cosmopolitan and pluralistic character, raising the ugly specter of ethnic and religious conflict in one of Southeast Asia’s most developed economies. However, the shock victory of an opposition coalition in a historic general election in May 2018 raised hopes of a “New Malaysia.” The incumbent political coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Front), composed of race-based parties, with the dominant United Malay National Organization (UMNO) component explicitly espousing Malay-Muslim supremacy, was ousted after 61 years of uninterrupted rule since the country’s independence from the British in 1957. With a new administration under the Pakatan Harapan (Coalition of Hope) coalition, and with veteran leader Mahathir Mohammed back in power in his second stint as Prime Minister (at the …

Neo-Orientalism and the Left

Stroll through the streets of major cities in Southeast Asia – whether it be in Malaysia, Vietnam, or Thailand – and you start to notice a new fad among Western tourists. It is referred to as ‘beg-packing,’ and involves primarily white Western tourists begging on the streets for money to fund their travels across the region. Some may sell small trinkets or busk for money. I encountered this persoally in the Little India area of Kuala Lumpur, where I watched a young dreadlocked white woman solicit change from passers-by with her kettle drums. Beg-packers who depend on the charity of a poorer country to fund a luxury like travel have rightly received much derision on the Internet since the phenomenon was first reported. As one Malaysian writer noted: “I think that this kind of behavior shows how many people still look at the world with an orientalist view. They see Asia as an exotic place of spiritual discovery.” According to the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, ‘orientalism’ describes how Westerners have historically viewed the East …