STORY BY ELLEN KOESTER
The country of Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy— meaning that while they have a monarch (called a “head of state”), it is their parliament that handles much of the legislative duties.
Like the United States, Malaysia has three branches of government: the legislative, executive and judicial.
It is a democracy with the executive branch headed by a democratically elected prime minister.
However, their current Prime Minister, Najib Razak, faces allegations of corruption and money laundering. Although this scandal has had a presence in some world news sources, this and other corruptions in the Malaysian government are largely concealed from international eyes.
Hemapraba Rengasamy, a Malaysian native and international student at Drake University, chose to pursue a university education in America to enjoy more freedom, both in educational decisions and in other ways.
The liberal educational system in the United States differs greatly from what she calls the “rigid” system in her home country.
Her newfound freedom stretches past education, however. When speaking about her country’s political system, Rengasamy has to be cautious about what she says as a badly- worded sentence could result in punishment.
“Freedom of speech is not properly exercised in my country although we are a democracy,” Rengasamy said. “Personally, I’d say that the Malaysian political system has been monopolized by one political party. Although admittedly (the party) was doing well in the beginning, they are starting to deteriorate.
“Until the last elections in Malaysia, no one thought the opposition had any chance. In the United States, you never know which party is going to win, but in Malaysia, it isn’t a matter of who’s going to win – it’s a matter of by what margin.
“In the last election, they won by a surprisingly small margin, but it was fixed and everyone knew it,” Rengasamy said.
Noripah Kamso is Drake’s Global Practitioner in Residence and a Malaysian native. She and her husband, Shuhaimi Salleh, are less negative about their country’s political system.
“Malaysia is 50 years old and is relatively young when compared to the much older United States,” Kamso said.
When comparing the country’s age and population (just under 30 million) to a fully developed superpower like the United States, it becomes apparent that Malaysia has a long way left to go. Although there are many factors that determine the political system of a nation, the political differences between the U.S. and Malaysia stem mainly from the different religions that the majority of its respective citizens follow.
According to Kamso, the Muslim population in Malaysia hovers around 62% of the total population, which differs from the Christian roots the American government possesses.
“People in Malaysia are definitely more conservative,” Rengasamy said. “They are primarily Muslim while here they’re usually Christians, which makes a big difference in how things are run and done. Most of the things you find in Malaysia are halal. It’s similar to what kosher food is for the Jewish. Halal also defines the morality of human actions and behavior. It is one of the reasons our society is so conservative, because our population is mostly Muslim and they have to practice their religion.”
In comparison to other countries, Kamso has a different take.
“Among all the Muslim countries in the world, Malaysia is the most liberal,” Kamso said. “One can find pork anywhere and there are many places of worship for Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.”
While the Malaysian government might seem oppressive, many of the changes are relatively new.
“Young people don’t always see the big picture,” Kamso said. “Six months ago, it wasn’t like this. Our current prime minister’s term is over, but he won’t step down and when someone speaks against him, they are sacked.”
Through an American perspective, the Malaysian way of life may seem overly oppressive and at times, dangerous.
While the Malaysian government is muddling through corruption allegations right now, Rengasamy and Kamso hope it will come away from them more democratic and will give its people the freedom they deserve. The country is young and still has time to grow.