MALAYSIA: Issue is whether pivot to Asia continues

Politically insular, Muslim-majority Malaysia has not shown overwhelming interest in the US presidential campaign.

But like elsewhere, the chattering classes have adopted a mocking stance towards billionaire Donald Trump, without necessarily supporting any other candidate.

Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, who is chairman of CIMB, one of the region's top banks, and Prime Minister Najib Razak's younger brother, has called the Republican candidate "the most dangerous man on earth".

But in the lower reaches of society, Mr Trump's anti-Muslim remarks have not created much hype, even though the Islamic community here is the second-largest in South-east Asia.

Instead, President Barack Obama, generally a popular figure here, was the subject of protests during anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership rallies.

Mr Trump and his Democratic rival, Mrs Hillary Clinton, have opposed the trade pact, but Malaysia's expectation is that whoever becomes president will still push for its ratification.

The key issue then is whether the new US leader would carry on Mr Obama's pivot to Asia, especially with China becoming increasingly assertive in its relations with Malaysia.

"Ultimately, the US has been quite consistent in not wanting other superpowers to be dominant in South- east Asia. This will likely continue under either candidate, but Clinton would of course have the track record, having been Secretary of State for Obama," said Mr Wan Saiful Wan Jan, head of policy think-tank Ideas.

Shannon Teoh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'MALAYSIA: Issue is whether pivot to Asia continues'. Print Edition | Subscribe