Chairman KRudd Discovers 'Democracy' in Malaysia

Kevin Rudd, who has announced a number of joint programs with Malaysia, visits a secondary school in Kuala Lumpur. 

* Katharine Murphy, Putrajaya, Malaysia for the AGE

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd says Malaysia is a vibrant and flourishing democracy, although he avoided meeting a politician regarded as the country’s de facto opposition leader.

Mr Rudd said yesterday that the strength of democracy in Malaysia was a “great testament to the political wisdom of the people of this country”.

“Democracy is not just alive and well in Malaysia but flourishing,” Mr Rudd said after meeting his Malaysian counterpart, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.

“What has been great for us all to see in the councils of the world is the strength of Malaysia’s diplomatic processes,” he said in response to a question about human rights in Malaysia.

Mr Abdullah said the leaders of the two countries could discuss any issue.

Mr Rudd chose not to meet high-profile Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim on this, his first state visit to Malaysia as Prime Minister.

Malaysia has been rocked by sensational claims in recent weeks, with Mr Anwar embroiled in controversy over fresh allegations of sodomy following 1998 claims that led to his imprisonment. Adding to the turmoil, Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak has been accused of an affair with a woman who was subsequently killed.

Meeting Mr Anwar would have meant that Mr Rudd departed from the usual protocols, and would have created diplomatic tensions with his host.

Lowy Institute Asian affairs specialist Malcolm Cook said dramatic allegations of sodomy and counter-claims of a murder conspiracy showed the “colourful” state of Malaysian politics.

But “for the first time in modern Malaysian history, the potential for a change of government is quite strong”, he said.

Mr Rudd has been keen to place Australia’s relationship with Malaysia on a more even footing. He said Australia and Malaysia were entering a new phase in which the partnership would be built on working together in the region and the world.

The two leaders unveiled a number of initiatives, with education a central theme. Continued…

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