On the predecessor and successor:
The problems of race, religion and corruption may have increased since Mahathir Mohamad stepped down as prime minister. Mahathir was an authoritarian who undermined democracy and the independence of the judiciary, but he was secular at heart.
His successor Abdullah Badawi is more tolerant and less tainted by money politics. His looser grip has allowed civil society to gain ground and the judiciary to become less subservient. But he is arguably not strong enough to confront either the UMNO patronage system or the pretensions of official Islam.
Less tainted eh, IHT? Think again... Photo by Doc Mave.
UMNO is living proof that a monopoly of power is increasingly corruptive. The combination of political power and pro-Malay economic policies is especially corrosive. Nor is there much justification any longer for racial preferences, given that Malays have wealth as well as now easily outnumbering the immigrant races. It has created a Malay elite that is highly dependent on official favors.
UMNO remains in power at the center because the non-Malays fear its more Islamic Malay rivals. The Chinese, Indian and east Malaysian parties in the government are there to give an appearance of racial diversity and offer some antidote to the potential for the tyranny of the majority.
Read the full article - "Malaysia at 50: So far, so good" here.