Despite the government’s optimism as expressed in the new millennial slogan, Malaysia Boleh!, the economic and political events of 1998−1999 helped to widen existing divisions within Malaysian society. A series of drastic emergency measures by no means guaranteed immunity from the effects of the 1997−1998 Asian currency crisis, even though food prices were restrained. The massive outflow of foreign direct investment contributed to the doubling of unemployment figures to 5.2 per cent, in turn exposing the lack of social protection policies for the poor and vulnerable. Coinciding with the economic crisis was a political struggle for power within the government, resulting in the dismissal and imprisonment of the Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. At the time the implications of these events were unclear, but with historical hindsight they can be viewed as signaling a shift in the country’s political mood. As the new millennium dawned, the emergence of a Malay anti-government sentiment in support of Anwar Ibrahim encouraged non-Malay groups to voice more openly their deeply-felt but mainly silent discontent. A rapid decline in Prime Minister Mahathir’s popularity presaged his eventual replacement as head of state in 2003, ending the longest and the most controversial government in Malaysia’s turbulent history as an independent nation.
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