Crime has become a major issue for Malaysia. Once one of the safest countries in South East Asia, Malaysia has become one of the most dangerous countries in the region. This is especially true of the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, which has become a center for criminal activities. In fact, some argue that Kuala Lumpur is among the most dangerous cities in the world.
Malaysia has stable conditions, but rising crime – why?
To be clear, Malaysia is still more safe than places like India, and Pakistan. It is also more safe than northern Mexico and other drug-riddled areas. Yet while India and Pakistan are both developing countries, and Mexico is caught in the midst of a massive drug war, Malaysia is a fast growing middle income country. There is no major drug war being fought, most people enjoy reasonable income levels, the government runs a large welfare system, and the economy continues to grow at a fast rate.
If anything, crime should be dropping as the country continues to modernize. Yet across the country, crime appears to be on the rise. This is especially true for violent crimes as a string of high-profile shootings has rocked the nation this year. The U.S. Embassy has also warned American citizens to watch out for purse snatching, and the online data collection site Numbeo has recorded an increase in its crime perceptions index.
Violent crime rates have also spiked among the country’s youth. The Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation found a three-fold increase in juvenile crime in 2012 over 2011. Meanwhile, in 2013 the youth crime rate in the northern state of Penang jumped by some 26%, a worrisome trend that could result in even higher crime rates in the future as the youth mature into adults.
According to the government, the violent crime rate actually doubled from 2000 to 2009 before declining. Still, 2013 may actually see crime rates rise after the repeal of tough security laws which made it easier for police to detain people. At the same time, gun violence is also increasing, despite Malaysia featuring some of the toughest gun laws in the world. Data released from the police showed violent gun crimes, including murder and robbery, rose in the first half of 2013 when compared with 2012.
Malaysian internal numbers look good, but could be cooked
The Malaysian government provided the New York Times with criminal statistics. These statistics showed that homicide rates remained unchanged at about 600 cases per year for the last ten years. Robberies using firearms dropped from 722 cases in 2000 to 17 in 2010, while gang robberies dropped from 1,809 in 2010 to 100 in 2012.
The opposition and other critics, however, charge that these numbers are being manipulated. Indeed, Malaysia has stopped reporting crime rates and statistics to the United Nations, which critics believe is because further scrutiny might uncover manipulated numbers. The government itself has also flip-flopped on the issue. One day government officials insist that crime is coming under control, the next day officials will cite rising crime rates as a need to install tougher security laws.
Indeed, Malaysia’s Home Minister, Zahid Hamidi, reportedly told the media that violent crime rates were indeed on the rise, despite official statistics suggesting otherwise. Hamidi cited the rising crime rate as a reason to install new, tougher security laws that would make it easier for police to detain suspects. Meanwhile, the same Minister was secretly recorded threatening local Malaysian journalists for asking probing questions. In the video, Hamidi went as far as to threaten newspapers with shutdowns.
Environment of corruption, bribery could be large factor
Like many Asian nations, Malaysia has strong criminal laws on its books, but rampant corruption and an easy environment of bribery means that many laws go unenforced. Tourist message boards, blogs, and other social media sources are filled with accounts of tourists and Malaysians turning to the police for help, only to be ignored. As a result, many believe that crime rates are being underreported. For some Malaysians and tourists it is simply not worth the time to seek out help from the police who will in effect put in minimal effort to assist.
One bright spot in the battle against crime has been the southern city of Johor, which borders Singapore. Johor had 17,500 cases of crime reported this year, compared to 26,624 crimes in 2008. Still, some critics wonder if the government is simply manipulating numbers to make the recent RM2 billion surge in spending on police look effective.
Either way, crime rates promise to be a major issue in the years to come. While the ruling party has nearly five years before the next general election, the opposition will likely keep the issue at the forefront of political discourse. With the ruling Barisan Nasional party already losing support, especially among urban areas, crime could become