Ilya TsukanovAll materialsWrite to the authorLongreadMalaysians went to the polls on Saturday for general elections. The vote comes in the midst of a major political crisis which has plagued the country for several years. Sputnik has obtained documentary evidence pointing to an organized campaign by the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID to meddle in the election.Malaysia has been a US partner for decades. Situated in the South China Sea, half the country juts out of continental Southeast Asia, with the other half located on the island of Borneo in the Malay Archipelago. The nation has over a dozen islands off its shores in the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, and the Sula and Celebes Seas. In addition to being rich in hydrocarbons and fishing resources, these areas are critical global shipping lanes that account for trillions of dollars in trade each year.The US recognized the significance of ties with the kingdom at the end of the 18th century, establishing consular and commercial contracts with peninsular Malaya, predecessor to the modern Malaysian federation, in 1800. During the Cold War, Kuala Lumpur aligned itself with the West against the USSR and China, and Washington and its allies aided the Malaysian government against a series of communist insurgencies between 1948 and 1989. Today, the US State Department lists Malaysia as an important “security partner,” and recent assistance has included partnering with Kuala Lumpur in support of “maritime security and governance through improved defense and law enforcement capabilities” (code for maritime efforts to counter China), $220 million in security aid, and $1 million a year for the training of hundreds of Malaysian servicemen at US military academies.With such a legacy and strategic relationship at stake, and amid attempts by recent Malaysian prime ministers to improve bilateral ties with Beijing, or at least abandon the Cold War bloc mentality adhered to in Washington, it should come as little surprise that the US is concerned about whether it will be able to maintain its dominant status in the region.
Sputnik ExplainsThree Reasons Malaysia’s 2022 Elections Are Important to FollowYesterday, 06:52 GMT
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who served as prime minister between 2009 and 2018, raised eyebrows in Washington in the mid-2010s after promising to take Kuala Lumpur’s ties with Beijing to “new highs” and pursue agreements in energy and defense that he hoped would “elevate the relationship between our two nations.” Razak also promised to increase bilateral trade between the Asian nations to $160 billion, well over double the business Malaysia does with the US on an annual basis.After losing the 2018 election, supporters of Razak’s long-governing UMNO Party sniffed out suspected US interference. Western officials and media hailed the vote as a “historic victory” by the Pakatan Harapan opposition bloc, with Malaysian elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad asked to take the reins as interim PM.Behind the scenes of Pakatan Harapan’s victory was coalition chairman Anwar Ibrahim, a former World Bank and IMF consultant, Johns Hopkins lecturer, and panelist at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a notorious CIA front known for funneling cash to “pro-democracy” groups and “civil society” organizations around the world. Ibrahim was intended to succeed Mohamad as prime minister, but ultimately opted to stay behind the scenes. The politician became leader of the opposition in 2020, when the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed thanks to the defection of over 30 MPs, and a new coalition, known as Perikatan Nasional (which included UMNO lawmakers in its ranks) came to power.Reports of US government support for anti-UMNO campaigns filtered through to the media weeks after the 2018 vote, with observers digging up an array of NED-sponsored activities propping up the opposition, including generous funding for local “pro-democracy” and “anti-corruption” NGOs, media fronts, law firms, and “human rights” advocacies.The 2018 vote set the stage for the wave of political instability that Malaysia faces today, with the Perikatan Nasional coalition collapsing in August 2021 after a year-and-a-half in power, and current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob of the Barisan Nasional coalition dissolving parliament in October and calling general elections after just 15 months in office.
2022: Meddling Fears Resurface
Saturday’s election, coming in a period of protracted political instability, has seen allegations of US meddling resurface, this time by senior politicians. Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, now an advisor to Barisan Nasional, has accused Rafizi Ramli, deputy president of the People’s Justice Party, one of the largest parties inside the Pakatan Harapan coalition, of receiving dark money support from the US.It’s “common knowledge” that Ramli’s party, led by Anwar Ibrahim, “is strongly supported by the United States,” and that “the president of the NED (separated from the CIA) once named Anwar one of the agency’s main partners in 2019,” Razak wrote in a social media post this week.Razak pointed to suspicious activities by Ramli’s company – Invoke, a Malaysian non-profit election volunteerism and analytics firm, pointing out that seed money for the company had come from a Taiwan-registered entity which transferred $735,000 to Invoke in 2020. Razak further noted that Invoke’s board of directors includes Andrew Claster, a US national who served as deputy chief analytics officer for Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Screengrab of Crunchbase information on Invoke’s finances and partners, provided by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in a social media post accusing the opposition of foreign ties.“Many netizens suspect that the increase in asset value following a large investment into Invoke may be an attempt to channel foreign political funds and engage in money laundering,” Razak alleged.Razak, who has been jailed for alleged involvement in the multi-billion dollar investment scheme, isn’t the only one to point to suspected US interference in the Asian nation’s politics.The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Committee raided Invoke’s offices twice this week, seizing financial ledgers after a complaint was launched against Ramli over suspected irregularities in his asset declaration.
Document Trove Points to Meddling Via NGOs
Sputnik has received information and documents from an anonymous source alleging that US government institutions, including USAID and its private development company contractor DAI Global, have shelled out millions of additional dollars to Malaysian NGOs affiliated to Anwar Ibrahim.Furthermore, the source alleged, DAI has cooperated with Malaysian NGOs, including the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research – a local pollster, to conduct national polling and assist the opposition with election strategies. DAI has also reportedly provided Malaysian political organizations, including the Coalition for Clean and Fair Election, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (a local human rights group) and the Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (an Islamic youth movement), with training and strategy advice for holding protests and strikes.
DAI document of fixed amount award to Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia, a Malaysian Islamic youth movement, for democracy promotion activities.The leaked information includes a DAI PowerPoint presentation titled “Nonviolent Action: An Overview,” which lists effective, organized, and motivated street protests as a key component to any “successful social change campaign.”DAI offers an array of strategies for protest organizers, emphasizing that “structural change” via effective demonstrations could spark “institutional shifts away from harmful structures, institutions, laws, and regimes,” and proposing an array of tactics, including non-cooperation, disruptive intervention, blockades, or the formation of a parallel government, to achieve goals.
Slide from a DAI presentation in Malaysia on effective “civil resistance tactics.”The DAI-proposed strategies include loud demonstrations involving the clanging and banging of cook wear, the use of “digital games” to “strengthen public opposition for a political cause,” and “coercive expression.”
DAI presentation listing “digital games” as an effective resource for fomenting public opposition.The presentation points to the effectiveness of self-mutilation, or “self-harm without suicidal intent that seeks to disrupt the narrative of an opponent or society,” and even cites suicide as a method of protest which has proven effective in the past.
DAI presentation slide on the suicide as “another method that is sometimes utilized in nonvivolent campaigns.”The presentation features a handy chart listing active and passive allies and opponents of protest campaigns, as well as disengaged sections of society, and how to deal with each of them – either through increasing “solidarity, coordination, and risk taking” (for allies) or taking “actions to discredit, undermine, and weaken leadership” (for opponents).
DAI presentation chart outlining ‘spectrum of allies and opponents’ to achieve change through protest.
In February, the NED issued a country report summary of its projects in Malaysia in 2021, with aid totaling more than $1.6 million.This included a $400,000 grant to the International Republican Institute – a US-based organization affiliated with the GOP, titled “Strengthening Political Parties and Youth Political Participation.”
Screengrab showing the type of ‘news’ content featured on the IRI’s portal dedicated to Malaysian politics.The Center for international Private Enterprise (CIPE), another US non-profit operating in Malaysia, received over $364,000 to help “strengthen anti-bribery controls and corporate governance systems.”Malaysia-based NGOs also received large grants, with the Merdeka Center getting $200,000 for public opinion research, and an array other NGOs and groups raking in tens or hundreds of thousands for ventures ranging from “promoting pluralism and tolerance” to youth-focused political, “civil society,” and human rights advocacy activities.The cash also included $700,000 for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an NED affiliate which made a name for itself beginning in the 1980s with activities intended to topple the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan governments, and which played a role in sparking the first Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004.With a bit of digging, direct links between US NGOs and their Malaysia-based counterparts can be found in plain sight, with Brian Braun, program director of the IRI in Malaysia, seen taking part in the “Youth Democracy Summit” event organized by the Persatuan Pengundi Muda (Undi18), a Malaysian youth advocacy, in March. Groups like Undi18 have sprung up like mushrooms after a rainstorm to engage young people in “voter education” using popular videos, hashtags comics, and other youth-geared gimmicks.
Colorful examples of the types of youth-geared political content being generated in Malaysia with US assistance.
IRI President Daniel Twining outlined Washington’s strategy of interference in Malaysian politics back in 2018 in a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies – an influential DC foreign policy think tank with ties to the White House and both major parties in Congress.“We had worked in Malaysia with opposition political parties since 2002. And guess whose funding we did it with? The National Endowment for Democracy, because guess who wouldn’t fund democratic political party work in Malaysia? The US Agency for International Development and the State Department, because I think the reflection was ‘gosh, this is kind of a one-party system, this is a bad use of our funds and two Malaysia’s kind of a valuable military partner,” Twining recalled, apparently oblivious to USAID’s Malaysia operations via DAI Global.
“So for 15 years, working with NED resources, we worked to strengthen Malaysian opposition parties. And guess what happened two months ago? After 61 years [of UMNO in power], they [the opposition] won!” he said. “That’s an example of playing the long game. And the reason I wanted to bring this up is the link – because guess what the first step, really one of the first steps that the new government took: it froze Chinese infrastructure investments…” Twining stressed.
With the polls closed and election officials counting the votes following Saturday’s vote, it remains to be seen whether Washington’s “long game” – which thrust Malaysia into its deepest political crisis in decades the last time around, will achieve another “victory.”