The Obama effect for Malaysia

Obama’s win will fill all pages online, but perhaps we need to look at its impact on Malaysia.

The most obvious one would be of change. There would be a clamour for us to look at race-relations in a different way and to engage the concept of egalitarianism. All Malaysians as equal stakeholders.

A young Malaysia was galvanised by the election of Kennedy in 1960 and how optimism is a powerful tool of change. The spirit of the time encourage democratic participation and perhaps a further swing to activism locally.

Money and love

The second, and perhaps more telling would be the US foreign and trade policy.

Trade first. There is an agenda to increase the number of jobs at home before jobs elsewhere, and with both houses in Congress becoming more and more democratic – there will be calls for fairer trade.

Human rights and the environment will be key considerations on how trade policy will play, even if the US is primarily pragmatic about how it affects global trade – with a priority on US interest.

Some jobs may be encouraged – like in outsourcing – to return home.

In the area of foreign policy – cognisant of Obama’s past in Indonesia – there would be increased engagement in the zone. Malaysia’s own ethnic selectivity may become a point of concern and address.

The Anwar factor

The local beneficiary might be the former deputy prime minister. As much of his push for the March election was on “A New Dawn” and time for change, which is eerily similar to Obama, this win will bring another round of “let’s replicate it here”.

But a wave would need something to build on, and that might be the local economy. There world will rebound due to the Obama bump but Malaysia’s fundament issues remain – mismanagement of institutions, bail-outs and patronage.


The benefits are going to be less tangible and more relevant over time. The world is about to enter a period of uncommon optimism, and Malaysia will roll with it, and change too.

Things are in a path of change, and for a change we are not allowed to opt out.

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