Past Events

Catharsis: Time for Change in Malaysia for Winners and Losers Alike


Catharsis: Time for Change in Malaysia for Winners and Losers Alike

With Woo Wing Thye and Ooi Kee Beng

Launch of “Catharsis: A Second Chance for Democracy in Malaysia” (SIRD, Penang Institute and ISEAS Publishing: 2018), by Ooi Kee Beng

Date: December 7, Friday
Time: 8:00pm–9:30pm (Registration starts at 7.00pm)
Venue: Conference Hall, Penang Institute, 10 Brown Road, 10350 George Town, Penang

About the Seminar:
May 9, 2018 marks as important a turning point in Malaysia’s history and in the nation-building process of the country as May 13, 1969. While the latter date saw violence breaking out between different ethnic groups, the former occurred with no sign of violence at all. But in both cases, the direction for nation building did switch radically, almost in Hegelian fashion.
It should be a matter of pride to Malaysians that the first change in government in the country since independence took place peacefully, and the corrections to the old regime have so far been taking place in accordance to the rule of law. The agreement made between all the parties in the newly ruling coalition seems to be holding and going according to plan.
The losing side has expectedly been taking measures to adapt to the new reality of being out of power, even as the new government settles into its new role, not only of governing the country but also of reforming its institutions and changing unwanted practices and habits in the workings of the highly centralised state apparatus.
The bigger long-term problems however lie within Malaysian political culture. After decades of living under an ethnocratic system, the divisions between Malaysians have become second-nature to most citizens who are now used to thinking of themselves in terms of their collective and communal identities. Self-reflection by the individual, reforms in the modus operandi of corporations, and an inclusive mentality in the public service and among elected representatives are all necessary processes needed for the change that took place on May 9 to be fully exploited. The change is as much a cultural one as it is a political one. And while politicians learn to behave in more inclusive ways and according to the rule of law, public discourses and public behaviour in general will have to adapt according. Malaysian journalism will have to mature and the universities will have to participate in public intellectual life more seriously. To limit identity politics, Malaysia’s importance in Southeast Asia needs to be highlighted, especially when economic and strategical challenges mount in the region.


Prof Dato’ Dr Woo Wing Thye is Research Professor at Sunway University where he heads the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia and the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development. He is also Professor of Economics at the University of California at Davis, and Distinguished Fellow of the Penang Institute. He holds research appointments at Columbia University (NYC), Fudan University (Shanghai), and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Beijing). Wing was Executive Director of the Penang Institute during 2012-2013. He has been an economic advisor to several governments including Indonesia, China, USA and Malaysia. Wing’s current research focuses on the growth challenges of the East Asian economies e.g. the middle-income trap, financial sector development, international and regional economic architecture, technology acquisition and innovation, and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dato’ Dr Ooi Kee Beng is the Executive Director of Penang Institute. He was the Deputy Director (2011-2017) of Singapore’s ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, where he had been a fellow since 2004. Born and raised in Penang, he received his PhD in Sinology from Stockholm University. He is the founder-editor of the popular magazine Penang Monthly and the policy briefs ISSUES (Penang Institute) and ISEAS Perspective (ISEAS). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia (ISEAS), and a long-time columnist for The Edge Malaysia.
His book, The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (2006), won the “Award of Excellence for Best Writing Published in Book Form on Any Aspect of Asia (Non-Fiction)”. Other noted works by him include The Eurasian Core and Its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World; Young and Malay: Growing Up in Multicultural Malaysia; Yusof Ishak: A Man of Many Firsts; In Lieu of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography of Goh Keng Swee; Lim Kit Siang: Defying the Odds; and The Right to Differ: A Biographical Sketch of Lim Kit Siang. His translations of Chinese war strategy such as Sunzi’s Art of War, Wuzi’s Art of War and Weiliaozi’s Art of War are the first from classical Chinese into Swedish.