Although it is a minor diplomatic affront to Australia, it was unsurprising that Senator Nick Xenophon was deported from Malaysia yesterday. Most regional governments rarely tolerate criticism of how they exercise political power. Being kicked out of a regional country -- or, worse, facing court -- has been, for some regional critics, a relatively common experience.
Xenophon was detained and deported as a "security risk" under the Immigration Act and this status follows the sweeping logic of Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA is a grab-all law, introduced by the colonial British to repress any form of dissent.
Xenophon’s identification as a "security risk" reflects the high degree of concern that Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN -- National Front) government has over the coming Malaysian elections. The elections are scheduled to be held by June 27.
The handing down of a ‘not guilty’ verdict on sodomy charges against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim indicates a tectonic shift in Malaysian politics. Following a previous overturned conviction on a related charge, the immediate outcome of Anwar’s judicial decision is significant, but its longer term implications could be profound.
In a country in which the judiciary has been used as a political tool since the late 1980s, the ‘not guilty’ decision by Judge Mohamad Zabidin Diah went against expectations, even by Ibahim himself. Although the decision was widely viewed as a vindication of Anwar, it also reflects a possible break in political interference in the judiciary and, in turn, a relative weakening of what was a high level of central political control.