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Malaysia The Malaysian government’s 1998 pledge not to censor the Internet rings hollow a decade later. Since an unprecedented loss of voter confidence in the 2008 Malaysian general elections that was partly attributable to online dissent, the Malaysian government is now attuned to the political costs of a relatively uncensored Internet. It has since employed all means of control short of an outright technical filter of the Internet against cyber dissidents. RESULTS AT A GLANCE Filtering No Evidence of Filtering Suspected Filtering Selective Filtering Substantial Filtering Pervasive Filtering Political • Social • Conflict and security • Internet tools • OTHER FACTORS Low Medium High Not Applicable Transparency • Consistency • 324 Malaysia Background In 1998, the Malaysian government pledged to refrain from censorship of the Internet as part of a financial calculation to attract foreign investment. This pledge was statutorily enshrined in Section 3(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act of 1998 (CMA), which regulates telecommunications in Malaysia.1 The pledge was repeated in a bill of guarantees attached to the main Malaysian IT development project aimed at reassuring foreign investors.2 Thus the Internet initially offered a relatively unconstrained medium for opposition voices to flourish, allowing for the nascence of the active, vibrant, and mostly antigovernment Malaysian sociopolitical blogosphere.3 This pledge of noncensorship of the Internet has been substantially eroded under the banner of preserving “racial harmony” in recent years, especially after a major political setback suffered by the ruling coalition in 2008. Malaysia is an ethnically diverse country that has been governed by the same political coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN),4 since independence from British colonial rule in 1957.5 Malays make up 49.6 percent of the population, while 22.8 percent and 6.8 percent are Chinese and Indian, respectively.6 The strength of the Malaysian government ’s appeal to “racial harmony” in justifying Internet regulation lies in the nation’s historical experience with race relations. Race forms the “most prominent and pervasive line of cleavage in Malaysian politics, economics and society.”7 Racial tension, especially between the majority Malays and minority races over affirmative action, has been the source of the two most severe disruptions to social stability in Malaysia.8 KEY INDICATORS GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2005 international dollars) 12,678 Life expectancy at birth, total (years) 74 Literacy rate, adult total (percent of people age 15+) 92.1 Human Development Index (out of 169) 57 Rule of Law (out of 5) 3.0 Voice and Accountability (out of 5) 2.0 Democracy Index (out of 167) 71 (Flawed democracy) Digital Opportunity Index (out of 181) 57 Internet penetration rate (percentage of population) 55.9 Source by indicator: World Bank 2009, World Bank 2008a, World Bank 2008b, UNDP 2010, World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators 2009, Economist Intelligence Unit 2010, ITU 2007, ITU 2009. See Introduction to the Country Profiles, pp. 222–223. ONI Country Profile 325 The first incident in 1964 carved out Singapore as a separate state from the newly created Federation of Malaysia,9 and the second, on May 13, 1969, led to at least 100 fatalities overnight.10 Given BN’s uninterrupted rule since 1957, the litmus test of political strength in Malaysia’s flawed constitutional democracy lies in a particular coalition’s ability to maintain a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament—the requisite majority for amending the Malaysian Federal Constitution.11 Barisan Nasional has achieved this majority in almost every election since independence, in effect removing any real restriction on its legislative whims.12 On the strength of this test, BN’s political record is unblemished. It accounted for an unprecedented majority of 90.4 percent of all votes in the 2004 general elections.13 In this context, BN’s failure in the 2008 elections to secure the necessary number of seats in Parliament is unsurprisingly considered “a debacle.”14 Running on a savvy online campaign, the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat (PR),15 became a meaningful political adversary to the incumbent BN for the first time in Malaysian history. In contrast to BN’s three Web sites, PR was reported to have more than 7,500 Web sites and blogs, with little to no coverage in the mainstream media.16 Underlying PR’s heavy reliance on the Internet for campaigning in 2008 is Malaysia’s long history of state censorship of the mainstream media. Three main mechanisms of censorship and media control coexist and are wielded by the government in tandem. First, the...


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