Disclaimer: I have no real idea why Malaysia abstained in the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 voting. The following is just speculation.
In the run up to the 2nd September deadline, there were a lot of lobbying, cajoling, and pleading from both sides of the OOXML divide. For those who opposed the ratification of OOXML, reasons given were on technical grounds -- essentially saying that OOXML as a technical specification is defective. For those who wanted OOXML ratified (and really, there was only one -- Microsoft), reasons given were on economic grounds -- essentially saying that if OOXML is not voted in as an ISO standard, Malaysia would lose out economically.
The "No" to OOXML faction
This very blog, among many others all over the world, would generally painstakingly put down the deficiencies of OOXML, with examples. Yoon Kit and Ditesh, especially, have contributed a lot. Within the context of Malaysia's NB, comments given to justify a "No" vote were also extensive. For what it's worth, there weren't any reasons given in the form of "We will save/lose x million dollars if OOXML is approved", because that would be rubbish. Regardless of whether we were to save money in disapproving OOXML, or spend more if OOXML was approved, it had no place (to the minds of the "No" crowd) in a discussion of whether a technical specification for a suite of file formats should be approved as an ISO standard. Further, apart from employees of IBM, no one else who objected to the ratification of OOXML were under the pay of IBM, nor were they under IBM's magic spell nor did any of them receive any favours, discounts, women, rent boys or any other sort of incentives from IBM.
The "No" crowd works with the technically minded bureaucrats and technocrats in the Standards Body.
The "Yes" to OOXML faction
Microsoft have generally forwarded the following arguments when countering any FOSS initiatives in Malaysia, and therefore I don't think they changed much when arguing about Open Standards, because in my encounters with personnel from Microsoft (Malaysia, and one dude in Riyadh once), they themselves have absolutely no clue about the difference between Open Source and Open Standards:
- Microsoft have contributed a lot to the Malaysian economy and the Malaysian IT industry.
- Microsoft have invested x million ringgits in Malaysia, with y million ringgits last year alone.
- Microsoft have <big number> --> ∞ of ISVs in the country, all depending on Microsoft to help them along.
- Microsoft have assisted governments and big business all over the world with their IT needs.
- Microsoft have always put importance on interoperability.
- Microsoft have always believed that "The Children Are Our Future".
- Microsoft have always believed in competition.
- Microsoft loves you very much.
And therefore, given the reasons above, and the fact that Chewbacca lives on Endor (which makes no sense), the country must therefore say "Yes" to OOXML as ISO/IEC 29500. Because saying "No" would result in:
- Malaysia going back on its Technology Neutral stance.
- Malaysia losing out in competitiveness against other nations.
- Malaysia gets left behind by the other countries which would be using Microsoft Office happily.
- Malaysia no longer gets to preserve its sovereignty.
- Malaysia would lose Microsoft as a valuable contributor to the nation's economy and IT growth.
- Malaysia would no longer be a Halal Hub.
The "Yes" crowd works on the politicians and top-ranking civil servants. The "Yes" crowd also "encourages" their partners to be part of the standards body, in order to get more "Yes" men.
Given the above two approaches, with such divergent tactics, I suspect that the only available response from the country was to "Abstain". This is so that no one wins and no one loses. Further, I suspect the above scenario was also played out in many other countries. Though not necessarily ending with the same result, obviously.
Man, is the world frakked or what?