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Change Has Come To America, But Will It Affect Malaysia ?

Bernama, Malaysia

Change Has Come To America, But Will It Affect Malaysia ?

By Alan Ting

5 November 2008

KUALA LUMPUR. — "Change has come to America" — that was how Barack Obama described his victory in the United States presidential election Wednesday.

Americans as well as people the world over were glued to their television sets as they had been looking forward to Obama’s victory in the hope that it would augur well for the world.

Malaysian politicans were seen using some of Obama’s catch-phrases in their political campaigns but the most pertinent question is will the change have any impact on a small country like Malaysia ?

For political analyst Dr Oh Ei San, he did not forsee any significant changes in terms of bilateral relationship between Malaysia and the US.

He said the only impact to Malaysia is that the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between US and Malaysia would be less a priority for the new president compared to the current administration under President George W. Bush.

"Even if they interested to have the FTA with us, they are likely to put emphasis on human and labour rights as well as environment protection as the key factors during the negotiations," he said.

Malaysia is one of the major trading partners of the US while the country remains as one of the major export market for Malaysia’s semi-conductor and manufacturing sectors.

Dr Oh said on the political front, he believed there would be some impact in terms of perception on opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as he is perceived as more close towards the Republicans than Democrats.

"However, at the same time, it would also be bad news for the ruling parties and government of Malaysia as US under the new leadership will likely to touch on the Internal Security Act (ISA) as it is a human rights issue," he added.

Another political analyst, Liew Chin Tong said the result signalled the end of the era of the economics of privatisation or popularly known as "Reaganomics" that was introduced by former US President Ronald Reagan in 1980s.

"This is a new chapter in US politics as well as their economic policy. The new president would do more economic thinking and these will give policies such as privatisation a major rethinking.

"Indirectly, for us here, it would push the government to refocus their strategy on providing basic amenities such as transport, healthcare and education to the general population," he said.

However, in terms of US foreign policy, Liew was of the opinion that there won’t be any significant changes as the US is much guided by consensus reached by their bipartisan approach.

"They are likely to leave it to the bureaucrats in the State Department to make the decisions," he added.

However, for analyst Dr John Lee, a visiting fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, he pointed out that Obama, just as it was under Clinton (former president Bill Clinton), the centerpiece of American security strategy for the region will be to deepen its relationship with China.

Lee said this did not mean the US will abondan its relationship with countries in the region like Malaysia but China would dominate Uncle Sam’s attention. "When its comes to this all-important Chinese policy, Obama is unlikely to see a significant role for Southeast Asia. There will be less consultation with the Southeast Asian alliance, simply because Southeast Asia will be viewed as strategically less relevant when it comes to the issue of managing the rise of China," he wrote in a article published by a local English daily.

However, for Dr Siva Murugan, senior lecturer and political analyst at Universiti Sains Malaysia, even if the US focused more on China, Obama’s efforts to repair ties with Middle East and Muslim countries will put Malaysia in their sights.

"Not many scholars and analysts look from this point of view, that Obama wants to have better ties with Middle East and Islamic countries. For this, you will need the support from all Muslim countries, which would mean Malaysia will be included," he said.