Welch on Tenang


January 31, 2011

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Bridget Welch* on Tenang By-Elections

Malaysia’s 14th by-election since March 2008 scored another victory in the BN column, as they held onto their seat. This was expected, as it was home ground for UMNO and the contest was purely about the winning majority.

Even with the lower voter turnout, UMNO did well with a comfortable and higher majority of 3,707. Rather than provide a numerical assessment of the voting results, let me share some broader observations and tensions that arise from the Tenang campaign.

Despite the centrality of machinery and money, this election highlights the increasing challenges of engaging the diverse electorate in Malaysia. Arguably, the dynamics of the by-election in Johor muddy the waters, making the decisions about national electoral strategies and tactics even more complex.

Decision to proceed irresponsible

The most defining feature of this election was the weather. It was dreadful, and it negatively affected the polling. Watching voters drench themselves to vote, despite umbrellas, and wade in up to knee-high water to the polling station, made me question whether the by-election was worth the risks involved.

I remain deeply puzzled why this by-election was not postponed. I woke up the morning of the poll thinking that it might already be time for Noah’s Ark as the overnight downpour had already affected roads and submerged parts of the constituency.

The fact that four polling stations (30 percent of the stations) were inaccessible by early afternoon made this question even more salient. It is fortunate that no one was seriously hurt and some voters were able to navigate the slick hazardous conditions, as the decision to continue with the polls appeared irresponsible.

Voters, however, braved on. They believed strongly in their civic responsibility to vote, to have their opinion recorded despite the inconveniences involved in casting it. This speaks to an important feature of Malaysian politics, that even despite lackluster campaigns on both sides, when asked to act responsibly, to fulfill their roles as citizens, they do so.

It was not only a matter of reward or partisanship, but a deep-seated desire both to be heard and be part of the national political landscape. Johoreans, in particular, feel left out of the excitement, and don’t like to be ignored.

What was striking is that the weather highlighted perhaps the biggest governance problem locally – flooding. While it is easy to think that climate change and heavy rain were responsible, the fact remains that flooding is also man-made.

The land development practices of clearing land and failure to adequately monitor deforestation have contributed to the high siltation of the streams and river and created increased vulnerability to flooding. The low-lying areas are well-known, but the problem has clearly been inadequately addressed.

Part of the problem is that flooding lies in the multiple jurisdictions of state and federal authorities, but this should not have been an excuse in Johor. The infrastructure is not up to par, and regular flooding is now the norm. Just a few years ago, areas in Johor were completely submerged.

This by-election is a wake-up call to the BN government to act responsibly. The Tenang by-election showcased the problem of flooding that is now frequent in semi-rural areas throughout the country. It is a national problem that needs attention. Many of the voters who opted for the BN did so with the hope that conditions would improve in the future, that their civic responsibility would yield a more responsible government response.

Chinese not spooked by Islamic State

The reasons people voted as they did are not so easy to capture. Three interesting features stand out. First, the focus among voters was on the party rather than the candidate. For BN voters, the dominant thread was loyalty to UMNO. For the majority of opposition voters, the focus was primarily on Pakatan Rakyat.

Chinese voters were not as scared off with the Islamic State tactics, while those loyal to PAS continued to feel both a connection to the Islamic Party and its cooperation with other component partners. In other by-elections, the candidate chosen was decisive. Here, given the credentials of both candidates, party emerged as more central.

This suggests that while the choice of candidate may be increasingly important in urban areas, the image and identity of the party remains central in more semi-rural communities. Both of the main parties concerned – UMNO and PAS – have challenges in improving their images and profiles in parts of the country, especially those where they have limited machinery or tainted images.

Another feature of Tenang was the lack of political awareness or interest. Many, especially in the more rural areas, had never even heard of Pakatan and many were just not interested in politics.

The intense politicking followed closely by Malaysiakini readers does not permeate the lives of Tenang voters, and they like it that way. Unlike Sibu, there was not a major political awakening in Tenang and voters did not relate to many of the opposition concerns about corruption and justice.

This is a challenge politically, as many outside of urban centres have limited sources of political information and do not connect with issues touted by the urban-based political leaders the same way. Take ‘Interlok’, for example. This book was seen as distant from the life experience of voters. Meshing political issues with local outlooks remains a challenge across the political spectrum.

Finally, given the dominance of UMNO and its close relationship to government officials, one of the most difficult issues involves the blurred lines between government and party. The nasty weather conditions brought this to the fore, as police, fire officials, rural development authorities and election officials faced real challenges in managing their jobs neutrally.

The scarce resources of boats and equipment added to the perception – deeply held in the Chinese-majority areas where assistance was less forthcoming – that civil servants did not respond fairly. It was exacerbated by the perception and reality that voting cut along ethnic lines and added to the view that the response was ethnically biased.

Further investigation is needed to assess this, but the perception remains and is a product of the government’s failure to draw sharp lines between what is for the party work and what belongs to the citizens at large.

Given the multiple jurisdictions of governance and increased competitiveness, the need for civil servant neutrality is even more pressing. Any election should ultimately not rest on the selective use of government resources for the interest of any party. It makes the victory hollow, and raises ethical concerns and feeds unnecessarily into the increasingly racialised political lens.

Soul searching for PAS and MCA

As the waters subside, there are two political parties that have the most soul-searching to do. First is PAS. They are losing Malay ground in semi-rural areas. While in fairness, they had little support in the first place in Tenang, this election taken with the totality of results in the past few elections, including Galas in Kelantan, suggest some serious rethinking.

The challenge for PAS is how to gain support in semi-rural areas that are multi-ethnic constituencies, e.g. Galas, Tenang and Merlimau, especially those in western and southern parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

The Islamic State agenda polarised the electorate creating a zero-sum dynamic. Finding an identity that is inclusive, across races, and does not put pressure on Pakatan partners is not easy. The recent by-elections point to PAS’ Malay deficit, one that is focused in some areas more than others.

PAS is not able to effectively engage FELDA  settlers and break into traditional UMNO ground. Despite the strong candidate, PAS appeared less connected to voters in Tenang than it did elsewhere.

For the BN, Tenang was MCA’s test in its strongest base. They did not deliver. The money, the promises, the Islamic State bogey, the personal presence and the month-long campaigning tied to the Chinese New Year did not win additional votes.

There was no major swing back to MCA in its core political ground. This spells trouble for the party as it relies heavily on UMNO for its seats and is unable to be seen as a strong representative of the Chinese community. The fact that very few young Chinese voters came back from Singapore to vote (many from Kuala Lumpur did, however) is even more telling for MCA. The results could have been worse.

Like PAS, the MCA faces the challenge of redefining its political identity and engagement. It can see first-hand how MIC and Gerakan have weakened, and MCA – along with perhaps PBB (Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu Sarawak) – remains the last party standing that has some autonomy besides UMNO.

The choices ahead for MCA are as difficult as those of PAS as it balances its subservient role in the BN with the need for its own survival.

Beyond Tenang

It is fitting that the next by-election is in a similar mixed-race constituency in a semi-rural area. Pakatan will face an uphill battle there as well. Campaigning has started already.  One hopes that the all the parties go beyond the shallow and negative messages and “goodies” that have dominated Tenang.

It is the last round pre-Sarawak contest before the next general election. Both sides are weary and the fatigue is showing.

Yet if yesterday’s polls are illustrative, the parties have to step up their game and give more responsible and positive options to voters to deserve the level of national commitment to Malaysia’s future that the Tenang voters showed by voting despite having to wade through very muddy waters.

*DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. She was in Tenang to observe the by-elections. Welsh can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

Say What? Ketuanan Rakyat?


January 31, 2011

Say What? Ketuanan Rakyat?

It has indeed been a strange and surreal one month in Selangor. You have the spectacle of a state government grappling with the problem of having as its top civil servant a person who is not to its liking. And all the time while doing this, it had neither the courage nor the honesty to admit what the real problem is

The real problem that the Menteri Besar of Selangor has to contend with is not Mohd Khusrin Munawi per se, but rather the poor relations that the MB has with the Palace.”–Aktivis Reformasi

by  Aktivis Reformasi*, via e-mail

It has indeed been a strange and surreal one month in Selangor. You have the spectacle of a state government grappling with the problem of having as its top civil servant a person who is not to its liking. And all the time while doing this, it had neither the courage nor the honesty to admit what the real problem is.

Thus, it is like trying to untie a bothersome knot without knowing where the ends of the rope are. You’ll just end up looking like a fool. The real problem that the Menteri Besar of Selangor has to contend with is not Mohd Khusrin Munawi per se, but rather the poor relations that the MB has with the Palace.

Had the Palace decided that it would agree with the advice of the MB to change the recent appointment of the state secretary after the slip-up caused by the MB’s own tardiness in responding to the Public Service Commission’s request for the state’s list of nominees, the impasse would have been broken or wouldn’t have arisen in the first place.

So, because he didn’t have the courage or the honesty to admit to his failings, the MB went about to untie the knot without knowing where the ends of the rope are. Muddle-headedness and blunders inevitably ensued.

The first was to succumb and dance to the opportunistic tune of his political detractors that anything which smacks of being critical of the palace constitutes sedition or ‘derhaka’ (treachery). This is a total misreading of public sentiment on the matter.

The MB seems to have forgotten that when Mahathir Mohamad pushed through the 1993 constitutional amendments on the role of the monarchy, cheered on by his ever so willing deputy Anwar Ibrahim, support for the amendments was enormous from both sides of the political divide.

No one accused anyone of being treacherous. The public did and probably still do want the monarchy’s role to be limited and better defined constitutionally.

In the present state secretary impasse, however, his detractors’ opportunistic pro-royalty stance was vociferous enough to cow the MB into deciding that it was politically unpalatable for his party to even let out a whimper calling for the palace to stick to constitutional forms and conventions. From then on, everything that happened was in the realm of charades with all sides involved assiduously ignoring the elephant in the room, which was the deviation from constitutional conventions.

The second blunder was to personalise the impasse into the person of Mohd Khusrin. Despite its past disdain for his actions when he was the head of the state religious department, the state government should have had the discipline and clarity of thought to maintain that the issue at hand was not about the personality but the manner by which the appointment was made.

That is to say, had the best civil servant in the country been appointed as state secretary in the same said manner, the state government would still have objected because constitutional norms and conventions had not been abided with. But to take such a principled stand, sadly, seems to be a notion so very alien to a government which purports to be the champion of Reformasi and Ketuanan Rakyat.

The third blunder was to resort to amending the state constitution to grant more powers to the palace in the appointment of the top three civil service posts on the state. By what strange logic such a move would solve the MB’s problematic relationship with the palace, no one could fathom. That the attempt would fail must certainly had been anticipated by the state government.

So the exercise of a special sitting to amend the state’s constitution could be put down as a feeble attempt in political point-scoring and to ‘democratise’ the impasse by trapping the state assemblymen from the opposition to declare whether they are ‘pro-rakyat’ or otherwise, in accordance to the MB’s perverted sense of logic. That’s putting it kindly.

What seems to have escaped the MB is that it also gives the impression of a government wanting to make wanton use of constitutional amendments to cover up its own leadership shortcomings and incompetence. How different then is a Pakatan Rakyat government from any other ruling party in its blase attitude towards the sanctity of the constitution?

After all that has been said and done, the state government is back at square one and nowhere near solving the impasse. Astonishingly, the MB now appears amenable to having Mohd Khusrin as the state secretary. So what was the previous one month all about? One can only assume that he’s finally realised that he has been trying to untie a knot without knowing where the ends of the rope are – and has only managed to look like a fool in the process.

If there is one lesson from all these, it is that if we want ketuanan rakyat and genuine reformasi, we won’t get it from spineless and gormless political leaders, such as the ones you have in the Selangor state government. My sympathies go out to all those honest folk who really thought those same politicians had the courage and competence to achieve those goals.

God permitting, the truth about these pretenders to the throne will be revealed sooner rather than later.

*Aktivisi Reformasi is personally known to me. I, however, respect his wish to keep his true identity confidential.–Din Merican

Asia and its Inflation Problem


January 31, 2011

ECONOMICS

Asia has an Inflation Problem

by Stephen S. Roach

Asia has an inflation problem. The sooner it comes to grips with its problem, the better. Unfortunately, the appropriate sense of urgency is missing.

Willingness to tackle inflation is impeded by Asia’s heavy reliance on exports and external demand. Fearful of a relapse of end-market demand in a still-shaky post-crisis world, Asian policymakers have been reluctant to take an aggressive stand for price stability. That needs to change – before it’s too late.

Excluding Japan, which remains mired in seemingly chronic deflation, Asian inflation rose to 5.3% in the 12 months ending in November 2010, up markedly from the 3.5% rate a year earlier. Trends in the region’s two giants are especially worrisome, with inflation having pierced the 5% threshold in China and running in excess of 8% in India. Price growth is worrisome in Indonesia (7%), Singapore (3.8%), Korea (3.5%), and Thailand (3%) as well.

Yes, sharply rising food prices are an important factor in boosting headline inflation in Asia. But this is hardly a trivial development for low-income families in the developing world, where the share of foodstuffs in household budgets – 46% in India and 33% in China – is 2-3 times the ratio in developed countries.

At the same time, there has been a notable deterioration in underlying “core” inflation, which strips out food and energy prices. Annual core inflation for Asia (excluding Japan) was running at a 4% rate in late 2010 – up about one percentage point from late 2009.

A key lesson from the Great Inflation of the 1970’s is that central banks can’t afford a false sense of comfort from any dichotomy between headline and core inflation. Spillover effects are inevitable, and once a corrosive increase in inflationary expectations sets in, it becomes all the more painful to unwind. The good news for Asia is that most of the region’s monetary authorities are, in fact, tightening policy. The bad news is that they have been generally slow to act.

Financial markets appear to be expecting a good deal more Asian monetary tightening – at least that’s the message that can be drawn from sharply appreciating Asian currencies, which seem to be responding to prospective moves in policy interest rates. Relative to the US dollar, an equal-weighted basket of 10 major Asian currencies (excluding Japan) has retraced the crisis-related distortions of 2008-2009 and has now returned to pre-crisis highs.

Export-led economies, of course, can’t take currency appreciation lightly – it undermines competitiveness and risks eroding the country’s share of the global market. It also invites destabilizing hot-money capital inflows. Given the tenuous post-crisis climate, with uncertain demand prospects in the major markets of the developed world, Asia finds itself in a classic policy trap, dragging its feet on monetary tightening while risking the negative impact of stronger currencies.

There is only one way out for Asia: a significant increase in real, or inflation-adjusted, policy interest rates. Benchmark policy rates are currently below headline inflation in India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. They are only slightly positive in China, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

The lessons of earlier battles against inflation are clear on one fundamental point: inflationary pressures cannot be contained by negative, or slightly positive, real short-term interest rates. The only effective anti-inflation strategy entails aggressive monetary tightening that takes policy rates into the restrictive zone. The longer this is deferred, the more wrenching the ultimate policy adjustment – and its consequences for growth and employment – will be. With inflation – both headline and core – now on an accelerating path, Asian central banks can’t afford to slip further behind the curve.

Asia has far too many important items on its strategic agenda to remain caught in a policy trap. This is especially true of China, whose government is focused on the pro-consumption rebalancing imperatives of its soon-to-be-enacted 12th Five-Year Plan.

So far, the Chinese leadership has adopted a measured approach to inflation. Its efforts focus mainly on increasing banks’ mandatory reserve ratios while introducing administrative measures to deal with food price pressures, approving a couple of token interest-rate hikes, and managing a modest upward adjustment in the currency.

The mix of Chinese policy tightening, however, needs to shift much more decisively toward higher interest rates. With the Chinese economy still growing at close to 10% per year, the government can afford to take more short-term policy risk in order to clear the way for its structural agenda.

Indeed, China’s dilemma is emblematic of one of developing Asia’s greatest challenges: the need to tilt the growth model away from external toward internal demand. That can’t happen without increased wages and purchasing power for workers. But, in an increasingly inflationary environment, any such efforts could fuel an outbreak of the dreaded wage-price spiral – the same lethal interplay that wreaked such havoc in the United States in the 1970’s. Asia can avoid this problem and get on with the heavy lifting of pro-consumption rebalancing only by nipping inflation in the bud.

Much is made of Asia’s Teflon-like resilience in an otherwise tough post-crisis climate. Led by China, the high-flying economies of developing Asia are increasingly viewed as the new and powerful engines of a multi-speed world. While the jury is out on whether there has really been such a seamless transition of global economic leadership, Asia must face up to the critical challenges that may come with this new role. Inflation, if not addressed now, could seriously compromise the region’s ability to meet those challenges.

Stephen S. Roach, a member of the faculty of Yale University, is Non-Executive Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia and author of The Next Asia.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
http://www.project-syndicate.org

The Spirit of March 8 for Real Change


January 31, 2011

BOOK Review by GEOFFREY YEOW, The Star

March 8: Time for  Real Change
Edited by Kee Thuan Chye
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 363 pages
ISBN: 978-9814328333

AS a relative youngster, politics has always been like a love-hate relationship for me. We love how politics can ignite passionate debates about right and wrong, yet we hate how it manages to transform everything good into something evil.

So when I was asked to review this book, I took it up as a challenge to delve into a world that I admittedly do not know much about but always had a dormant interest in.

This was one of the first books to come out after the landmark March 8, 2008, elections, when the Opposition won an unprecedented number of Parliamentary seats. Back then, it was entitled March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up.

Time for Real Change is a re-issued edition with new content released late last year – and very timely it is, too, what with the number of by-elections that have taken place lately and rumours of the next general election swirling about the World Wide Web.

Let us get some things straight before we start off. March 8 is not a book about politics. It is a compilation of many thoughts that run parallel to a man’s dream of living in a nation where equality, justice and true freedom are the rule of thumb.

Is that too much to ask? In this day and age, it probably is. Here’s a quick re-cap of the events that sparked the first version of this book (for those of you who might have, by some wild chance, missed it all): On that fateful day three years ago, for the first time since the 1969 general elections, the ruling coalition of Barisan Nasional failed to secure the two-thirds majority in Parliament required to pass amendments to the Malaysian Constitution.

This represented a major shift in power, with the Opposition parties having a larger say in Parliament and greater control over amendments to the law. More importantly, it proved to Malaysians that the once-impenetrable has finally encountered kryptonite.

This book is made up of three main sections. The first, Where We Are Now, evaluates the significance of events in the aftermath of the general election. This includes the ruling coalitions’ attempts to instil change and reform.

The middle section, Back to the Beginning, chronicles the events that culminated in March 8, while the last, Where Do We Go From Here, discusses the future of our nation and the growing hope for change that seemed so bright on that fateful day.

Kee Thuan Chye, the editor (and also contributing writer) of the book, is a dramatist, poet and retired journalist. From the first page, it was fascinating to see him using his expertise in all three fields to pull us in with smooth-flowing sentences and words that are easy to understand (which is something most authors tend to forget).

His summation of events leading up to March 8 and its aftermath paint a clear picture, without our needing to go to Google and look up specifics details. Kee’s voice is always distinct amidst all the facts and statistics, his frustration with the current political landscape is clearly delivered.

In all the sections, a number of well-respected names share their thoughts on the historic general election and its repercussions. Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and controversial Malaysia Today editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin lead the voices in the call for change and democracy.

With most books, it is not unusual for us to feel as though we are reading behind a glass wall, with the author telling us the story. In this book, however, Kee writes with a personal touch, emphasising phrases such as “we have to do our part” and “we continue to support it”. We get the impression that he is on our side of the wall, pointing out to the world and telling us what is really going on out there.

As someone just starting to get the hang of politics, John Lee’s article, Youth Votes Count for Everything, speaks to me in particular. Lee states that although a minority of the younger generation cares passionately about the political landscape, most are just not interested.

He then goes on to argue that although this remains an issue, the March 8 general election has produced positive change by increasing the interest in the young as they begin to realise the power of their votes and, essentially, their voice. With the advent of political blogs, “Twittersphere” and social media, the point that Lee makes resonates loudly, as the younger generation could well prove to be the turning point in the next general election.

Some people may argue that this book was written with a pro-opposition bias. I feel the appropriate term should be that it was written with a pro-change and pro-democracy bias. As Kee says: “March 8 has gives us something precious for the next general election, and hopefully for longer into the future: Choice … It sure beats having a monopoly.”

Readers will find his book eye-opening as it drags you in from the very start and inspires you to believe that while real change and true democracy may be improbable, they are certainly not impossible.

Learning from Egypt and Tunisia


January  31, 2011

The Malaysian Insider :Will Malaysia become like Egypt and Tunisia? Not Likely but Learn from Them

This is a question which many Malaysians are asking in the wake of people power and street demonstrations which have rocked several Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan.

Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 3,707-vote majority win in Tenang within its Johor stronghold shows that the ruling coalition remains popular among the electorate although it has failed to regain the Chinese vote, a major block in most urban areas.

However, opposition politicians like to believe that the conditions are ripe for a similar style uprising here, citing repressive practices and endemic corruption by the BN government.

Cairo, not Kuala Lumpur

On the flip side, government leaders say that the situation in Tunisia, Egypt and Malaysia is as different as night and day, noting that the Southeast Asian nation has full employment, with the people having full stomachs and the country is a democracy with regular elections.

For now, BN leaders are correct. And Azahar Ibrahim’s 6,699 votes against PAS’s Normala Sudirman’s 2,992 in the country’s 14th by-election since Election 2008 show that the ruling coalition has the policies that keep attracting support.

But there are similarities between what is happening in Tunis and Cairo, and the authorities will be well advised to watch and learn and avoid the same pitfalls. These include:

• Turning a blind eye to endemic corruption, especially among ministers, government politicians, royals and those connected to the leadership.

Because this is a rich country, Malaysians generally do not go beyond complaining when they wonder how ministers and politicians can own a fleet of luxury cars, own luxury homes in London, afford to put their children in boarding schools and have their wives decked in million ringgit jewels when their monthly salary is not more than RM15,000 a month.

For now, the Malaysian reaction is a mixture of amazement, frustration and envy. But as the events in Tunisia show, pent-up anger over endemic corruption can push ordinary people to do drastic things.

President Hosni Mubarak has ruled Egypt with a strong hand, supported by secret police and the military. He has refused to give any democratic space and frustration has built up to explosion point because many Egyptians believe that the system is stacked against them.

Elections are rigged, opposition politicians are threatened and the religious class

Unpopular with Egyptians

persecuted.Mubarak has weakened all the institutions and bent it according to his will. The situation in Malaysia is a long way from Cairo but this situation will only continue if the government understands that rules of fair play and justice must be adhered to by institutions, whether it is the judiciary, police, MACC, Election Commission and other institutions.

Mubarak believed that as long as he had the military might behind him he could run Egypt as his fiefdom. The point is that tolerance has its breaking point.

The turmoil, in which more than 100 people have died, has sent shock waves through the Middle East where other autocratic rulers may face similar challenges, and unsettled financial markets around the globe as well as Egypt’s allies in the West.

The final straw seems to have been parliamentary elections in November last year, which observers said authorities rigged to exclude the opposition and secure Mubarak’s ruling party a rubber-stamp Parliament.

The military response to the crisis has been ambivalent. Troops now guard key buildings after police lost control of the streets, but have neglected to enforce a curfew, often fraternising with protesters rather than confronting them.

It also remains to be seen if the armed forces will keep Mubarak in power, or decide he is a liability to Egypt’s national interests, and their own. It was also unclear if Mubarak had decided to talk with the generals or if he was summoned by them.

It was Tunisian generals who persuaded former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee last month after weeks of protests.

That has not happened in Malaysia, even in 1998 at the height of the Reformasi protests against the sacking of then-Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

A series of desertions and a sacking from Anwar’s PKR have shown that the de facto PKR and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leader has still to come to grips with controlling his party rather than challenging Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak for Putrajaya.

UMNO-BN wins Tenang by Bigger Majority

The latest polls result from Tenang appears to reflect that BN is regaining most of its support from the Malays, who deserted the ruling coalition in 2008, and the Indians who appear to have benefited from the Hindraf march in November 2007.

However, it has yet to receive more support from the Chinese, the country’s second-biggest community but the most dominant in business. An editorial in UMNO-owned Mingguan Malaysia weekly yesterday urged the government to curry favour with the Chinese to ensure continued support in the next general election amid concern that the situation in the Middle East could find its way to Malaysia.

With BN now winning six out of 14 by-elections since Election 2008, all eyes will be on the 15th by-election in Merlimau, Melaka on March 6, two days to three years since the last general election, to see if the ruling coalition can maintain their momentum and win the Malacca seat.

Growing support for the Najib administration in the past few by-elections will help assure the government that Tunisia and Egypt will not happen in the country in the near future.It will also keep the opposition in check but the Najib administration will have to continue with its reforms to ensure it remains in power. Otherwise, it will be a matter of time before protests grow like in Tunisia or Egypt and even in Indonesia more than a decade ago.

Gobala Quits PKR


January 30, 2011

PKR loses a strong supporter: Padang Serai MP Gopala will be a loner in Parliament

by Susan Loone@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Padang Serai member of parliament N Gobalakrishnan has quit PKR, making him the sixth PKR MP to become an Independent.

“I have stepped down from all posts in PKR and will continue my work through a new NGO,” said his twitter posting this morning.

Gobalakrishnan, who called a press conference this morning at his Padang Serai office in Kedah to make the annoucement, told Malaysiakini that he is now an independent MP with immediate effect.

Four other MPs have quit PKR since the 2008 general elections to become Independents – Zahrain Mohd Hashim (Bayan Baru), Tan Tee Beng (Nibong Tebal), Mohsin Fadzil Samsuri (Bagan Serai) and Wee Choo Keong (Wangsa Maju) – while another, Zulkifli Nordin (Kulim-Bandar Bahru), was sacked from the party.

PKR now has 23 seats in the Dewan Rakyat, down from 31 after the March 2008 general elections, while DAP has 29 and PAS, 23. BN will need another four defections to reclaim its much-coveted two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The magic figure for the ruling coalition is 148, and it will be able to achieve this with its 138 seats along with the support of the existing seven BN-friendly independents (including Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali) plus another four.

Gobalakrishnan’s move today on the eve of the Tenang by-election appeared to follow the same pattern as Wee, who announced his resignation from PKR two days before last year’s May 16 Sibu by-election.

He will not join Zaid’s Kita

Gobalakrishnan said his decision to quit the party came after a visit from one of PKR deputy president Azmin Ali’s “strongmen”. But he declined to name the visitor.

“They thought I will toe the party’s line, but after seeing so much that had happened in the party, I have no choice but to quit,” said Gobalakrishnan.

“They have been planning to get rid of me and have already assigned someone else to do the work in Padang Serai (constituency),” he added.

Gobalakrishnan nevertheless expressed sadness over his departure from the party as he had been with the party for over a decade.

“But I will continue to provide my service to the people here,” he vowed. Gobalakrishnan will however not be joining Zahrain’s Independent Consensus nor Zaid Ibrahim’s newly launched Kita, or People’s Welfare Party.

He said he would instead be dedicating his efforts to set up a new NGO to focus on social development and supporting places of worship.

The NGO is currently being registered with the Registrar of Societies, said Gobalakrishnan. On whether he has officially informed the party about his departure, Gobalakrishnan sarcastically said that secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution Ismail was “IT savvy”.“This is a globalised world, he would have known about it already.”

‘Twitter’ warpath

Gobalakrishnan’s recent tirade against party leaders had recently earned him a 45-page show-cause letter, which he had refused to reply.

In the December 31 letter, he was asked to show cause, failing which, the party’s disciplinary board will decide on his fate. According to Section 27.7 of the party’s constitution, this may include terminating his PKR membership, stated the letter.

Gobalakrishnan, a former PKR supreme council member, has gone on the ‘twitter’ warpath against the party leadership, claiming that last year’s party elections were rigged.

In the course of his various criticisms, he had demanded that party de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim to step down, before he appeared at the home of the party’s biggest dissident Zaid Ibrahim, who has since quit the party to form Kita.

Gobalakrishnan has also lambasted the party for appointing political novice N Surendran as vice-president, claiming that the latter was not capable of representing the Indian community as he could not speak Tamil fluently.

One of the top contenders for PKR vice-president, Gobalakrishnan had harboured hope that he would be appointed into the post when he failed to win the top four spots.

Soon it will be over for Mubarak and his Kleptocrats


January 30, 2011

Egypt: Mubarak and his Kleptocrats will fall soon

Sorry Fellas,

I am spoiling your weekend and the Chinese New Year mood to post something about happenings in Egypt, where the Mubarak’s brutal regime is about to fall because the people without jobs and income are saying enough is enough. Egyptians want change and an end to corruption and abuse of power.

Like Menyalak-er, Danildaud, Frank, Dr. Phua et.al, I may not agree that the end of history (liberal democracy and Fukuyama debunked) will come to Egypt but I am of the view that the people of Egypt will triumph and usher in a  new government with leaders who serve the people, not serve themselves.

Like what happened to Marcos in the Philippines during the Ronald Reagan Administration in the 1980s, the Obama Administration  is working out a formula for Mubarak and his kleptocrats to have safe passage and an orderly transfer of power. We all know that without American support, Mubarak will not last one more minute. Without military support, Mubarak will  also not stand, given with anger of Egyptians.–Din Merican

Published on Saturday, January 29, 20 11 by the Independent/UK

A People Defies Its Dictator, and a Nation’s Future is in the Balance

A brutal regime is fighting, bloodily, for its life.

by Robert Fisk*

It might be the end. It is certainly the beginning of the end. Across Egypt, tens of thousands of Arabs braved tear gas, water cannons, stun grenades and live fire yesterday to demand the removal of Hosni Mubarak after more than 30 years of dictatorship.

And as Cairo lay drenched under clouds of tear gas from thousands of canisters fired into dense crowds by riot police, it looked as if his rule was nearing its finish. None of us on the streets of Cairo yesterday even knew where Mubarak – who would later appear on television to dismiss his cabinet – was. And I didn’t find anyone who cared.

They were brave, largely peaceful, these tens of thousands, but the shocking behaviour of Mubarak’s plainclothes battagi – the word does literally mean “thugs” in Arabic – who beat, bashed and assaulted demonstrators while the cops watched and did nothing, was a disgrace. These men, many of them ex-policemen who are drug addicts, were last night the front line of the Egyptian state. The true representatives of Hosni Mubarak as uniformed cops showered gas on to the crowds.

At one point last night, gas canisters were streaming smoke across the waters of the Nile as riot police and protesters fought on the great river bridges. It was incredible, a risen people who would no longer take violence and brutality and prison as their lot in the largest Arab nation. And the police themselves might be cracking: “What can we do?” one of the riot cops asked us. “We have orders. Do you think we want to do this? This country is going downhill.” The government imposed a curfew last night as protesters knelt in prayer in front of police.

How does one describe a day that may prove to be so giant a page in Egypt’s history? Maybe reporters should abandon their analyses and just tell the tale of what happened from morning to night in one of the world’s most ancient cities. So here it is, the story from my notes, scribbled amid a defiant people in the face of thousands of plainclothes and uniformed police.

The Man of Peace and Integrity Egypt needs

It began at the Istikama mosque on Giza Square: a grim thoroughfare of gaunt concrete apartment blocks and a line of riot police that stretched as far as the Nile. We all knew that Mohamed ElBaradei would be there for midday prayers and, at first, the crowd seemed small. The cops smoked cigarettes. If this was the end of the reign of Mubarak, it was a pretty unimpressive start.

But then, no sooner had the last prayers been uttered than the crowd of worshippers, perched above the highway, turned towards the police. “Mubarak, Mubarak,” they shouted. “Saudi Arabia is waiting for you.” That’s when the water cannons were turned on the crowd – the police had every intention of fighting them even though not a stone had been thrown. The water smashed into the crowd and then the hoses were pointed directly at ElBaradei, who reeled back, drenched.

He had returned from Vienna a few hours earlier and few Egyptians think he will run Egypt – he claims to want to be a negotiator – but this was a disgrace. Egypt’s most honoured politician, a Nobel prize winner who had held the post of the UN’s top nuclear inspector, was drenched like a street urchin. That’s what Mubarak thought of him, I suppose: just another trouble maker with a “hidden agenda” – that really is the language the Egyptian government is using right now.

And then the tear gas burst over the crowds. Perhaps there were a few thousand now, but as I walked beside them, something remarkable happened. From apartment blocks and dingy alleyways, from neighbouring streets, hundreds and then thousands of Egyptians swarmed on to the highway leading to Tahrir Square. This is the one tactic the police had decided to prevent. To have Mubarak’s detractors in the very centre of Cairo would suggest that his rule was already over. The government had already cut the internet – slicing off Egypt from the rest of the world – and killed all of the mobile phone signals. It made no difference.

Deal with Barack H. Obama, not this Butcher of Iraq,George "Decision Points" Bush

“We want the regime to fall,” the crowds screamed. Not perhaps the most memorable cry of revolution but they shouted it again and again until they drowned out the pop of tear gas grenades. From all over Cairo they surged into the city, middle-class youngsters from Gazira, the poor from the slums of Beaulak al-Daqrour, marching steadily across the Nile bridges like an army – which, I guess, was what they were.

Still the gas grenades showered over them. Coughing and retching, they marched on. Many held their coats over their mouths or queued at a lemon shop where the owner squeezed fresh fruit into their mouths. Lemon juice – an antidote to tear gas – poured across the pavement into the gutter.

This was Cairo, of course, but these protests were taking place all over Egypt, not least in Suez, where 13 Egyptians have so far been killed. The demonstrations began not just at mosques but at Coptic churches. “I am a Christian, but I am an Egyptian first,” a man called Mina told me. “I want Mubarak to go.” And that is when the first bataggi arrived, pushing to the front of the police ranks in order to attack the protesters. They had metal rods and police truncheons – from where? – and sharpened sticks, and could be prosecuted for serious crimes if Mubarak’s regime falls. They were vicious. One man whipped a youth over the back with a long yellow cable. He howled with pain. Across the city, the cops stood in ranks, legions of them, the sun glinting on their visors. The crowd were supposed to be afraid, but the police looked ugly, like hooded birds. Then the protesters reached the east bank of the Nile.

A few tourists found themselves caught up in this spectacle – I saw three middle-aged ladies on one of the Nile bridges (Cairo’s hotels had not, of course, told their guests what was happening) – but the police decided that they would hold the east end of the flyover. They opened their ranks again and sent the thugs in to beat the leading protesters. And this was the moment the tear-gassing began in earnest, hundreds upon hundreds of canisters raining on to the crowds who marched from all roads into the city. It stung our eyes and made us cough until we were gasping. Men were being sick beside sealed shop fronts.

Fires appear to have broken out last night near Mubarak’s rubber-stamp NDP headquarters. A curfew was imposed and first reports spoke of troops in the city, an ominous sign that the police had lost control. We took refuge in the old Café Riche off Telaat Harb Square, a tiny restaurant and bar of blue-robed waiters; and there, sipping his coffee, was the great Egyptian writer Ibrahim Abdul Meguid, right in front of us. It was like bumping into Tolstoy taking lunch amid the Russian revolution. “There has been no reaction from Mubarak!” he exalted. “It is as if nothing has happened! But they will do it – the people will do it!” The guests sat choking from the gas. It was one of those memorable scenes that occur in movies rather than real life.

And there was an old man on the pavement, one hand over his stinging eyes. Retired Colonel Weaam Salim of the Egyptian army, wearing his medal ribbons from the 1967 war with Israel – which Egypt lost – and the 1973 war, which the colonel thought Egypt had won. “I am leaving the ranks of veteran soldiers,” he told me. “I am joining the protesters.” And what of the army? Throughout the day we had not seen them. Their colonels and brigadiers and generals were silent. Were they waiting until Mubarak imposed martial law?

The crowds refused to abide by the curfew. In Suez, they set police trucks on fire. Opposite my own hotel, they tried to tip another truck into the Nile. I couldn’t get back to Western Cairo over the bridges. The gas grenades were still soaring off the edges into the Nile. But a cop eventually took pity on us – not a quality, I have to say, that was much in evidence yesterday – and led us to the very bank of the Nile. And there was an old Egyptian motorboat, the tourist kind, with plastic flowers and a willing owner. So we sailed back in style, sipping Pepsi. And then a yellow speed boat swept past with two men making victory signs at the crowds on the bridges, a young girl standing in the back, holding a massive banner in her hands. It was the flag of Egypt.

© 2011 Independent/UK

Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper.  He is the author of many books on the region, including The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East.

Happy Weekend and Gong Xi Fa Cai


January 29, 2011

Happy Weekend and Gong Xi Fa Chai to All Malaysians

Last Sunday (January 23), Dr. Kamsiah and I had a few friends including Tean Rean, our Thai kerbau rider from Bakar Bata, Alor Setar,  my cousin Dr. Yaccob and his wife Dato Tunku Sofiah Tunku Mohamed Jewa, and an avid Facebooker who goes by the initials HAK at our home in Damansara Jaya for a simple makan. Also present was singing heartrob, Nurul Wahab.

We were particularly delighted  to have Kamsiah’s lovely daughter Elia  and her son, Elyas, at this function, making the occasion a n even more memorable and meaningful one.

At our karaoke session, Nurul sang a Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You from her movie featuring Kevin Kosner, The Bodyguard.  So we thought we should introduce  Nurul to you all; she is followed by Whitney. I will also bring back Frank Sinatra rendering Fly Me To the Moon which I sang that night. Also featured this weekend are Nat King Cole, Vic Damone, Al Martino and Jerry Vale.

Nurul Wahab in Action

It was an enjoyable evening. We recounted good times and for once politics, strange as it may seem to some of you, was not on the table for discussion. What a welcome relief that was, given the state of politics in Malaysia.

Two tension filled and expectations high by-elections, one in  Johore and the other in Malacca, will be held soon. The mainstream and the blogger groups are active doing their thing, while mighty  UMNO-BN political machine will hard at work. There will be plenty of political promises for voters to entice their votes. Let us  hope that the elections will be peaceful and orderly and  clean as it is possible in our country.

Let us enjoy this week’s election and look forward to Chinese New Year in The Year of the Rabbit. We take this opportunity to wish all Malaysians who celebrate the coming of the Rabbit Year. Gong Xi Fa Cai to all near and far. As usual, we always hope for a good, prosperous and peaceful 2011.—Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Nurul Wahab

Whitney Houston

Frank Sinatra

Nat King Cole

Vic Damone

Jerry Vale

Al Martino

Indonesia: Good Governance for Sustained Economic Growth


January 29, 2011

http://www.nst.com.my

A Case of Indonesia: Good Governance for Sustained Economic Growth

by Philip Bowring

NOTHING could be more symbolic of the rise in Indonesia’s status in the world: Garuda, the national airline named after the sacred, mythical bird that is its national emblem, is being marketed to global investors.

It has been reaching out to global investors as the government seeks to raise at least US$1 billion (RM3 billion) by selling a large stake in what was long an accident-prone carrier shunned by passengers and airports alike.

This caps a year in which Indonesia’s international stock rose faster than probably any other Asian country.

Foreign perception of the nation’s progress had long lagged behind its actual, quietly impressive political and economic development in the dozen years since the Asian financial crisis and the overthrow of the Suharto regime.

But the now bullish perception may have run ahead of reality, perhaps setting both foreigners and newly confident locals up for disappointment.

First, it’s worth reviewing the good news. The stock market was Asia’s top performer last year. The economy grew about six per cent, and the same is expected this year. The budget position is strong; debt is low; trade in surplus and foreign reserves is high.

Foreign commentators have suggested that it be classed with China, India and Brazil as one of the group of large, fast-expanding economies identified as the spearhead of global growth.

NGC Beautiful Indonesia - Mount Semeru and Bromo "Some Indonesians believe that belching volcanoes such as Mount Semeru (in background) and Mount Bromo (in foreground) are portals to a subterranean world that has shaped not only Indonesia’s landscape but also its beliefs and culture. A long exposure time captured stars in this photo—and the brief balanced light from both a fading moon and a brightening eastern sky".Internationally, Indonesia is now viewed as stable and strategically important. It is a member of the Group of 20 and, like Brazil, beginning to play a role beyond its immediate neighbourhood.

United States President Barack Obama has underlined its achievements, as a Muslim-majority country with a secular constitution, democracy, pluralism and religious tolerance.

It is now making an effort to reduce forest destruction and carbon emissions. Yet the sustainability of these positive developments is questionable.

Economic success owes a great deal to the near record prices fetched by most of its export commodities — coal, palm oil, copper, rubber and others.  These, in turn, have underpinned strong growth in consumption without pushing trade into a deficit. How long this cycle will last is anyone’s guess, but a sustained retreat of prices is going come with a sharp downgrading of Indonesia’s growth prospects.

If economic worries are for the future, governance worries are here now. Investors may like stories like the success of Garuda, the national airline, but local media have been focused on a very different tale — an amazing saga that has stunned even Indonesians accustomed to graft — involving a corrupt tax inspector and his deals with senior judges and firms linked to senior politicians.

Some of the blame for a lack of government reform lies with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He has failed to use his 2008 electoral mandate to press on with administrative reforms or act decisively against the corruption.

By putting his instinct for political compromise ahead of the law, Susilo risks the governance reform vital for sustained development.

Corruption among parliamentarians is rife so little legislation is passed as members jostle for favours. Susilo set a poor example last year when finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati was forced out after clashing with vested interests, including one of the nation’s richest men and the head of a major party in Susilo’s coalition.

Media freedom and diversity thrives so the populace knows about a lot of the sleaze.But without leadership from the top, little cleaning is possible. The government vigorously pursues Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian terrorist network, but Indonesia’s traditions of religious tolerance have been damaged by failure, for political reasons, to confront localised harassment of Christians and Ahmadis (an Islamic sect regarded by some as heretical).

These problems do not suggest that Indonesia should once more be ignored.  But foreign awareness of its problems, as well as opportunities, is needed and could help Indonesia achieve sustained reform rather than copy the Philippines’ record of democracy marred by weak, corrupt governance. – IHT

Figuring out Anwar Ibrahim


January 29, 2011

http://www.malaysia today.net

Figuring out Parti KeADILan Rakyat(PKR)’s Ketua Umum

by Wong Mun Chee

Politicians are never our saviours. We the people need to be savvy enough to understand and comprehend with apprehension the true objectives of a politician.

A simple recap, in 1972 Anwar Ibrahim formed ABIM and served as their leader. In 1982, he surprised everyone by joining UMNO. In 1993, he was made the Deputy Prime Minister after forcing out (Tun) Ghafar Baba. In 1999 after his incarceration, PKR was formed and the rest I guess is the new politics that we see today with the same old political agenda.

The economist ran a pretty decent piece on Anwar and they described him as the Malaysian chameleon (see link http://www.economist.com/node/14140818.) Now let’s get down to facts to see whether he is a chameleon.

While in ABIM, it was a Muslim agenda; then in UMNO, it was more a Malay agenda by introducing numerous pro-Malay policies in the national school curriculum. One of the major changes that Anwar did was to rename the national language from Bahasa Malaysia to Bahasa Melayu. I wonder where One Malaysia or Malaysian First fits in here.

Other notable events such as the Kampong Rawa incident in March 1998 where there was a tense stand-off when politically motivated Muslims emerged from Friday prayers in an adjacent mosque and marched in numbers to the Sri Raja Raja Madurai Veeran temple in Kampung Rawa. During this incident, the negotiator – Mr. Anwar – threatened the Hindus there to accept whatever he said, otherwise he said no temple bells will be sounded in Penang. Knowing MIC, what would you expect? Naturally the temple was demolished and relocated even when it had stood there before the mosque came into the picture.

Another interesting event is of course the insertion of UMNO proxies in Sabah since its inception in 1991. Naturally the progenitor is none other than our famous Anwar.

Anwar sympathizers will naturally cry foul for the follies and frolics of  their  man during his reign against the community generally, as after all he did face persecution for his ambitious attempt to overthrow the mighty Machiavellian, Dr. Mahathir, by being another Machiavellian. Basically it was a clash of the Titans with little relevance for public concern or needs but their race to power.

The interesting point to be taken into consideration is, the charmed character of Anwar did not serve his imprisonment for a cause for the society but rather being a seasoned politician, he was able to gain public sympathy through his Reformasi.

Fast forward 2011, amongst the three opposition coalition parties, the one that seems to be a time bomb seems to be PKR. Why? Same principle – all proxies to ensure Anwarism, no difference from the UMNO style with their allies, gain power.

Why am I bringing this up? I’ll tell you why. Little birds in the sky have been chirping to me that Anwar has recently met with Taib (Sarawak) and Musa (Sabah) beyond the Malaysian waters.

Now what is the purpose of meeting UMNO cronies? Trust me. In politics, it is not about principle but where and when the deal can be struck. Even the enemy is your friend. Naturally we all know that Peninsular is 50-50, but East Malaysia is where the real power is for the political swing. What they discussed or why, is a good guess for you as much as it is for me.

Let’s ponder on my own theories. Taib and Musa have been under a lot of heat and it is unlikely that UMNO can hold it together for them as they need to take care of their own backyard in Peninsular. Anwar has his days numbered; either he goes behind bars or strike a deal for a swing in power and in exchange for these blokes to continue with their billionaire lifestyle and fulfill his own agenda to become the Prime Minister.

You see, once he is in power it is very difficult to question anything. Look at UMNO, a classic example,for 53 years. And why go so far? Even PAKATAN within their four states exercise and exhibit similar agendas with lots of media propaganda for the feel good factor so what more with seasoned politicians.

On another take, for all you know, Anwar may be negotiating with Najib as he would now realize that PKR is falling apart as most are UMNO rejects or his proxies. I would do that, if I am a politician. Wouldn’t you?

Why would Najib negotiate with Anwar? Well, for one a common enemy ,Dr Mahathir. Najib has Dr Mahathir nibbling at his feet from day one since he has been the Premier. The current Deputy Prime Minister, a crony of Dr Mahathir comes with such contradictory statements from the current Premier it is like another subtle proxy war. Is it so difficult to fathom this? It is always good to read between the lines to find the true agenda.

I won’t be surprised that one day Anwar will turn around and tell Najib he thinks Najib is doing the right thing as they have a common enemy in sight. He may want to maintain his freedom by enhancing Najib’s position just to avoid serving a prison sentence.

The crux of this letter is, politicians are never our saviours. We the people need to be savvy enough to understand and comprehend with apprehension the true objectives of a politician. This can only materialize if they are steadfast in their principle from day one, not swaying and swinging for political needs no matter how you see it. A good politician and its true meaning is to serve the society without the typical grandeur that we observe with Anwar as and when it fits the agenda.

This can only happen if your individual action is in place to check and balance them as I attempted to do with Anwar Ibrahim. Whether I have my doubts about Anwar is secondary. It is your call as the society to flush out artificial politicians.

The End of History comes to Tunisia


January 28, 2011

The End of History comes to Tunisia

by Pierre Buhler*

Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” is still unfolding, but we can already read into it lessons about democracy and democratization that extend far beyond the Maghreb.

To set the Jasmine Revolution in historical perspective, we must recall June 4, 1989 – that pivotal Sunday when the Poles voted the communists out of power and, at the other end of Eurasia, the Communist Party of China crushed a burgeoning democratic movement on Tiananmen Square. In retrospect, that day looks like a fork in the road of human history.

One path led to the demise of communism and a new birth of freedom and democracy – at times bloody and painful – in Europe. The other path traced an alternative course, with China remaining under the grip of its ruling party, but delivering prosperity to its impoverished masses through astounding and sustained growth.

As the revolutionary year of 1989 was unfolding, Francis Fukuyama, presciently yet controversially pondered whether the path chosen in Europe heralded the “end of history.” Following Hegel, Fukuyama made the case that history is directional – that it is leading somewhere – for two reasons. First, the ceaseless spread of technology and of the economic liberal order, which has a homogenizing effect. Second, the Hegelian “struggle for recognition” has been a pervasive driving force of mankind, powerful enough to lead countless individuals to the ultimate sacrifice.

But, while a widespread consensus held that communism was nothing but a dead end, China’s economic success, and the authoritarian backlash in Russia following Boris Yeltsin’s departure from the Kremlin a decade ago, prompted a more pessimistic analysis.

Theories of “democratic rollback” and of a resurgence of “authoritarian great powers” surfaced to unveil the potential of systems that combined nationalism and state-led growth-yielding capitalism.

Some argued that authoritarian rule provided a much surer and safer path to welfare than democracy could offer, others extolled the virtues of “Asian values,” and still others argued that democracy in the Arab or Muslim world would only pave the way for Islamic fundamentalists to take power. Not surprisingly, autocrats everywhere embraced such views.

Leila Ben Ali--Beauty is not good enough

But the message of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution rings loud and clear: democracy – and the liberal political order in which it is rooted – is not merely a Western concept (or a Western conspiracy), but holds universal attraction, powered by the craving for “recognition.” Moreover, it can be accessed at an early stage of a country’s modernization.

To be sure, authoritarian rule can manage the early stages of industrialization. But a “knowledge economy” cannot operate with muzzled minds. Even the smartest authoritarian rulers are unable to manage complexity on this scale – not to mention the corruption that inevitably breeds in the protected shadows of autocracy.

Challenging the “myth of the autocratic revival,” the American political scientists Daniel Deudney and John Ikenberry have examined China and Russia, finding “little evidence for the emergence of a stable equilibrium between capitalism and autocracy such that this combination could be dignified as a new model of modernity.” While neither country qualifies as a liberal democracy, both “are much more liberal and democratic than they have ever been, and many of the crucial foundations for sustainable liberal democracy are emerging” – one main hurdle being the centrifugal forces that democracy might unleash.

But most countries that are unburdened by such a threat have, quietly or spectacularly, rallied to the liberal order over the past decades. Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Indonesia have done so without being hampered by their supposed “Asian values.”

Similarly, Latin America, once the playground of myriad juntas and golpes, is now largely anchored in political liberalism. Turkey is ruled by a mildly Islamist party that plays by the rules of democracy. And, in the spring of 2009, the presidential campaign in Iran evinced a formidable craving for freedom.

What is obvious from these cases is that development activates the two channels that Fukuyama identifies as shaping the direction of history: cumulative economic and technological change and the desire for recognition. Both foster individual empowerment, which is the gateway to freedom and democracy. The paths differ between countries, setbacks are not uncommon, and it can take decades, but the leap can occur when the circumstances are ripe – as in Tunisia.

Indeed, the Jasmine Revolution embodies all the tenets of the liberal political order that the West has been advocating since the Atlantic Charter of 1941: a yearning for freedom, opportunity, and the rule of law. Moreover, Tunisia’s revolution was indigenous, not imported as part of some forcible regime change.

The Tunisian people, led by a frustrated middle class that refused to be cowed, thus provide a healthy reminder of the steady and compelling forces driving the behavior of individuals and nations nowadays. They illustrate the catalytic effect of digital connectivity (clearly visible, too, among China’s “twittering classes”). And they might embolden other Arab peoples, as may be happening in Egypt, to force accountability upon their rulers.

Whatever the outcome in Tunisia, those who believe that democracy, to paraphrase Woodrow Wilson, makes the world a safe place – and that more democracy makes it safer – have every reason to rejoice at such an auspicious development.

*Pierre Buhler, a former French diplomat, was an associate professor at Sciences Po, Paris.

Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute for Human Sciences, 2011.
http://www.project-syndicate.org

Now Closer to Home: Happenings in Sarawak


January 27, 2011

Happenings in Sarawak: Kleptocracy at Work

A whistleblower website, which has alleged a litany of corruption involving Sarawak CM Taib Mahmud and his family, has hit another state leader in its latest expose.

According to Sarawak Report, Deputy Chief Minister George Chan has given his Christina Foo, described as his “mistress”, a multi-million ringgit contract to purchase medical equipment for a new hospital in Kota Samarahan, a town about 20km southeast of Kuching.

It said that Trend-Nics, a company linked to Foo, could have made “as much as RM40 million from the contract”. The Kota Samarahan Heart Hospital, after years of delay, was officially opened last week by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who also made a stop in Kuching to attend Taib’s wedding bash.

The hospital was first conceived by Chan, the state minister in charge of health, eight years ago as a private cancer facility to cater to “health tourisism”. Its RM473 million construction cost was funded by the state-owned Sarawak International Medical Centre. However, problems soon emerged, with the project’s private partner pulling out of the deal.

The ailing hospital was eventually taken over by the fFderal Government last year, at a cost of over RM400 million.

Work to build the hospital started in 2003 and it was scheduled for completion in 2006. However, the hospital was only completed last year.

Bailed out by Putrajaya

Sarawak Report said the project, now reconverted to a heart hospital, is destined to be another white elephant as it was not built to be a public hospital.

“The hospital was designed for wealthy, fee-paying patients, with single and double rooms, and it is simply wrong that the Federal Government has paid so much money for a hospital that is inappropriate for government patients and was never designed for the large numbers of patients that government hospitals must accept,” the website said, quoting a Health Ministry source.

Due to the six-year delay, the hospital equipment bought almost a decade ago are now obsolete to be used for heart surgery, Sarawak Report lamented.

More shockingly, the website said, the doctors had been unable to perform any surgery because the low-cost system that was installed is unable to supply adequate oxygen for the patients in the brand-new hospital, dubbed by the website as the “most expensive hospital ever built in Malaysia”.

“Insiders on the project have told Sarawak Report that they quarreled with Foo over proposals to purchase cheap beds and label them as expensive cardiac beds – the price difference between the two brands was RM2,400 instead of RM48,000.”

Apparent poor attempt to disguise ownership

Sarawak Report also said Foo, 52, had made an apparently poor attempt to disguise her ownership of Trend-Nics, the company said to have been given the RM130 million contract by Chan to supply equipment to the hospital.

“Our investigation of Trend-Nics official documents show that the directors of the company are in fact registered as two other Ms Foos – Florence and ‘Celine’,” said the website, which also put up documents from the Companies Commission.

However, it found that Trend-Nics is 100 percent owned by another company, Chastain Sdn Bhd.  “Chastain is 80 percent owned by Christina Foo herself, who is also registered as a director at her swanky Kasuma Resort residence. The other director, Florence Foo, owns 10 percent and the remaining 10 percent is owned by ‘Celine’ – who turns out to be an alias for Christina Foo herself.”

According the Companies Commission documents, both Celine and Christina share the same alias – Christina Constance Foo. Sarawak Report said it was “an open secret” that Foo has been Chan’s mistress for many years, even when the deputy chief minister was still married to his first wife.

“Experts and insiders are adamant that not only was there no need for this middleman contract (involving Trend-Nics), but that Foo was not qualified to be involved in such matters,” it added.

Blood ties between Chan and Taib

Chan has a lot in common with Sarawak strongman Taib, who will celebrate his 30th anniversary as chief minister in March.

They are in-laws by virtue of Chan’s daughter Anisa being married to former deputy tourism minister Sulaiman, who is Taib’s second son. Both men, who are in their mid-seventies, have just remarried women who are many years younger than them. Taib, 74, whose Australian wife of Polish descent died in 2009, tied the knot last month with Syrian-born Ragad Waleed Alkurdi, 28.

Chan, also 74, who is divorced from his American wife of Irish descent, married Lorna Enan Muloon about a year ago.  Lorna is the adopted daughter of Chan’s friend – former Sarawak local government minister Joseph Balan Seling, who died last year at the age of 74. The couple has been recently reported to be expecting a baby.

Sarawak Report has over the past few months revealed details on a slew of land and properties owned by the Taib family, both in Sarawak and abroad. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency (MACC) has so far kept deafening silence on the series of exposes on Taib’s wealth.

Will Tunisia be the First Domino?


January 27, 2011

Will Tunisia Be the First Domino?

In Egypt, too, protestors are laying waste to the mistaken notion that Arabs and Muslims are politically passive.

By Anwar Ibrahim*

Tunisians earlier this month forced their president out of office, marking the first popular revolution in an Arab country in modern history. The swiftness with which it came about should send a clear message to other autocracies and dictatorships in the Muslim world.

The longevity of such regimes comes from their ability to suppress dissent with state-controlled organs, particularly the military. What Tunisia’s example demonstrates is that when one of these organs malfunctions—as the security forces did when they failed to mobilize effectively—others, like the media and the judiciary, can fall rapidly as well.

Could this be a Berlin Wall moment for the Middle East? Will other Arab states that employ the same modus operandi of political oppression also fall?

In a 2005 address at the U.S.- Islamic World Forum in Doha, I argued that democratization would come to the Middle East sooner than most projected, and I criticized what I consider to be the U.S.’s “policy of selective ambivalence.” While the Bush administration extolled the virtue of freedom in waging its war on terror, the U.S. remained closely allied with various countries that use blatantly repressive policies to stamp out civil society and subvert democracy.

This ambivalence has not dissipated under the Obama administration. Despite Mr. Obama’s historic speech in Cairo, where he specifically extolled representative government, this White House continues to work closely with a range of Middle Eastern autocrats. From the perspective of democrats in the region, this is because democratization will likely yield governments that tend to be less responsive to U.S. demands—particularly those governments regarded as Islamist.

Consider Tunisia. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would not have remained in power for 25 years had it not been for American support. The fact that this kleptocratic regime finally fell is a stark reminder that government built on the suppression of its citizens is temporary. We saw this in Iran in 1979 with the dramatic downfall of the Shah, and also in 1998 when Indonesians peacefully transitioned to democracy after three decades of military rule.

The problems that plague the Arab world remain overwhelming: the concentration of wealth and power by the few over the many, poor infrastructure, primitive education systems, minimal health care, and decreasing incomes in the face of rising food prices and cost of living. Corruption and nepotism reign in the complete absence of accountability and transparency.

It is a perfect recipe for political upheaval: political marginalization and economic impoverishment for the people and ill-gotten wealth for the ruling elite. It’s a reality that can’t be cloaked by propaganda—citizens can see the reality on YouTube and Facebook—though the leaders certainly try. Indeed, no Arab leader has owned up to any of these evils, other than by offering pious platitudes about improving the economic lot of their people.

It would be foolhardy for governments in the region to regard Tunisia as an isolated case. The economic and political grievances that spawned the revolution are not unique to that country. One need only walk the streets of Cairo and Karachi, or roam the back lands in Algeria and Afghanistan, to see how grinding poverty and oppression can crush a person’s dignity.

Autocratic rulers accustomed to permanent sovereignty might consider changing their mindset. The Tunisian uprising was driven by a desire for freedom and justice, not by any particular ideology. The bogeyman of Islamism, the oft-cited scapegoat of Middle Eastern dictators to justify their tyranny, must therefore be reconsidered or junked altogether. The U.S., too, should learn a lesson about the myth that secular tyrants and dictators are its best bet against Islamists. Revolutions, be they secular or religious, are born of a universal desire for autonomy. The common thread that binds the Iranian revolution and the Tunisian upheaval is the rising discontent of the people after years of suffering under oppressive rule.

Could Tunisia’s revolution turn this winter of Arab discontent into a spring for Middle Eastern freedom? As Tunisia moves into the league of Middle Eastern democracies along with countries such as Turkey, for much of the rest of the Muslim world democracy remains elusive. Opposition groups in countries like Egypt have found a beacon of hope in Tunisians’ struggle. Demonstrations in Cairo and throughout the region lay waste to the mistaken notion that Arab and Muslims are politically passive and prone to authoritarianism. But will they be given a fair chance? The Palestinians chose their own leaders through the ballot box, but the West changed the rules of engagement midway through the game.

The fundamental lesson is clear: The U.S. must stop supporting tyrants and autocrats whether in the Middle East, Pakistan or Southeast Asia. Let this be a new dawn for democracy in the Arab and Muslim world.

* Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, a former Deputy Prime minister of Malaysia, is a  Member of Parliament for the Justice Party( Parti KeADILan Rakyat ) and leader of the Opposition.

http://online.wsj.com/articleSB10001424052748703555804576102343246718046.html

Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going


January 27, 2010

Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to keep Singapore Going

A NEW book which was launched on January 21  offers a rare glimpse into the mind of the most influential man in Singapore’s history. Titled ‘Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going’, it is based on 16 interviews the Minister Mentor gave to seven journalists from The Straits Times from December 2008 to October 2009.

The 458-page, 11-chapter tome is a comprehensive examination of Mr Lee’s beliefs. It covers weighty topics such as Singapore’s political system, climate change and international relations, but also lighter ones, like his views on tattoos, fengshui and movies.

The Malaysian Bomoh Vs The Confucian Mandarin

One distinctive feature is its extensive use of the question-and-answer format, which the authors hoped would engage younger readers and capture unvarnished, the robust exchanges between Mr Lee and his interviewers.

‘There hasn’t been a book like this where his views are subjected to such intense questioning and scrutiny in 32 hours of interviews,’ said The Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang, 57, who led the team of seven writers.

Source: Straits Times, Singapore

A Killer Blow to Online Media


January 26, 2010

A Killer Blow to Online Media

by Steven Gan, Co-Founder and Editor, Malaysiakini

COMMENT Many had expected Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to be more stringent in enforcing controls a la Dr Mahathir Mohamad over the media. Few expected that he would be worse than Mahathir.

Yesterday, the Home Ministry announced that the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) – the mother of all censorship laws – would be amended to cover online content. Its secretary-general Mahmood Adam said the changes will plug loopholes in the law.

There is no doubt that Malaysiakini and other online media have gained from the ‘loophole’, derived from Mahathir’s pledge not to censor the Internet in 1995 as he kick-started the Multimedia Super Corridor project.

Since his retirement in 2004, Mahathir has himself turned blogger. Free of censorship, the online media went on to lay the foundations for the ‘political tsunami’ in 2008, resulting in then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi conceding that the government had “lost the Internet war”.

While the traditional media and online media are both kept in check by some 35 laws which restrict freedom of expression in Malaysia, there is one crucial difference between the two.

The online media, unlike its print and broadcast cousins, does not need government approval to put out the news or to go back to the Home Ministry each year to renew the publishing and printing permits. It is this which keeps editors and journalists in the traditional media on a short leash.

It is likely that, should the proposed amendments become law, the online media too will be required to apply for a licence. This will be the final nail in the coffin for press freedom. The little freedom of expression that Malaysians have enjoyed online over the past 16 years will end.

The licensing regime will enable the government to apply political pressure to the online media, and worse, allow the all-powerful home minister to declare news websites illegal. Don’t forget that under the PPPA, the minister’s decision cannot be challenged in court.

This is why Najib is worse than Mahathir when it comes to media operations. Instead of freeing up the traditional media by doing away with the licensing regime under the PPPA, Najib and his cousin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, are taking the regressive step of controlling the online media.

Singapore-style Internet censorship

The timing and the speed of the amendment – it is expected to be tabled in Parliament by March – shows that the government has the upcoming general election in mind.

This proposal comes hot on the heels of similar curbs imposed by Singapore on its fledgling online media.

Only two weeks ago, the Singapore government announced a litany of restrictions on political website The Online Citizen, often dubbed as the island-state’s version of Malaysiakini.

As part of the new requirements, The Online Citizen must declare itself a political organisation. This will bar its team of volunteers from writing, reporting, analysing or commenting about the elections expected to be called as early as March.

It is clear that the Malaysian government is taking a leaf from Singapore’s Internet censorship playbook.

The move to amend the PPPA to include the online media must be defeated. Otherwise, Malaysia will return to the bad old days when the government had complete monopoly on truth.

Egypt trying to be like Malaysia


We are pretty familiar with scenes of riot police shooting tear gas and water cannons at peaceful demonstrations in Malaysia. The same scene is being repeated in Egypt today.

Drawing inspiration from the Tunisian revolution, Egyptians who have long suffered under Hosni Mobarak’s authoritarian rule have come out in unprecedented numbers to protest dictatorship and tyranny. There is no ideological bent to these demonstrations other than the clamor for change, for freedom and for reform. Good luck to the people of Egypt.

Simon Tisdall has covered the Egyptian protests here.

Egypt protests are breaking new ground

Egyptians have been here before, but the nature of this protest will unsettle a regime for which complacency is a way of life

Egypt is not Tunisia. It’s much bigger. Eighty million people, compared with 10 million. Geographically, politically, strategically, it’s in a different league – the Arab world’s natural leader and its most populous nation. But many of the grievances on the street are the same. Tunis and Cairo differ only in size. If Egypt explodes, the explosion will be much bigger, too.

Egyptians have been here before. The so-called Cairo spring of 2005 briefly lifted hopes of peaceful reform and open elections. Those hopes died, like autumn leaves, blown away by a withering sirocco of regressive measures and reimposed emergency laws. Food and price riots in Mahalla el Kubra in 2008 briefly raised the standard of revolt again. They were quickly suppressed.

Read the rest here.

Book Review: Leebert’s Magic and Mayhem


January 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW

Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy From Korea to Afghanistan, Derek Leebaert, Simon & Schuster, 336 pages

By James Bovard*

In the decades since John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, foreign-policy experts have become Washington’s leading con men. Even though Wiz Kids and Dream Teams have dragged America into one bloodbath and debacle after another, politicians and the media still kowtow to the “Best and Brightest.”

Derek Leebaert’s Magic and Mayhem seeks to explain how such experts get power and why their influence is so pernicious. Leebaert, a Georgetown University professor, derides the influence of “magical thinking” in foreign policy: “Shrewd, levelheaded people are so frequently bewitched into substituting passion, sloganeering, and haste for reflection, homework, and reasonable objectives.”

Regardless of policymakers’ Ivy League pedigrees, U.S. foreign and defense policy routinely operates on a village-idiot level of information. Leebaert notes that “FDR remarked that most of what he knew about the world came from his stamp collection.” (Perhaps some charming old Russian stamps filled Roosevelt with affection for Uncle Joe.) Similarly, Leebaert observes, Paul Bremer, chief of Iraq’s Coalition Provisional Authority, admitted in his memoirs “that he didn’t know anything about Iraq when stepping down from Kissinger Associates to become America’s proconsul.” Adam Garfinkle, who worked as a speechwriter for Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, said in 2007, “No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history.”

The Pentagon matches the White House and State Department bonehead for bonehead. The U.S. military floundered in Iraq and Afghanistan because, as Leebaert writes, “the Army not only forgot everything it had been bloodily taught about counterinsurgency in Vietnam, but in Vietnam, it had forgotten everything it had learned about counterinsurgency in Korea as well.”

Cluelessness is perhaps the greatest constant in our foreign policy. In 1967, the Pentagon ordered top experts to analyze where the Vietnam War had gone wrong. The resulting study contained 47 volumes of material exposing the follies that had at that point already left tens of thousands of Americans dead. After the study was finished, it was distributed to the key Johnson administration players and federal agencies, where it was completely ignored, if not forgotten. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented that “the people who read these documents in the Times [in 1971] were the first to study them.” Daniel Ellsberg, who wrote a portion of the papers and leaked them to the newspaper, noted that the documents reveal “a general failure to study history or to analyze or even to record operational experience, especially mistakes. Above all, effective pressures for optimistically false reporting at every level, for describing ‘progress’ rather than problems or failure, concealed the very need for change in approach or for learning.”

The political system routinely buries information that undermines power-grabs—and war is the biggest power-grab of them all. Neoconservatives who had Bush’s ear encouraged the president to believe he was making his decisions “by gut.” But, as Leebaert says, “To be a ‘gut player,’ as he called himself, rarely enables one to digest information that gives stomachaches.”

Leebaert deftly demolishes Henry Kissinger’s record and reputation. Kissinger, like other “Emergency Men,” sometimes showed boundless condescension towards the American public. He warned Nixon that “withdrawal of U.S. troops [from Vietnam] will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded.” Indeed, Kissinger was even colder than he appears in Leebaert’s discussion. According to a December 21, 1970 entry in the diary of Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, Kissinger “told me he does not favor [Nixon’s peace plan]. He thinks that any pullout next year would be a serious mistake because the adverse reaction to it could set in well before the ’72 elections. He favors instead a continued winding down and then a pullout right at the fall of ’72 so that if any bad results follow they will be too late to affect the election.”

Magic and Mayhem’s discussion of the Korean War is one of the book’s strongest suits. The Pentagon had plenty of warning that the Chinese would intervene if the U.S. Army pushed too close to the Chinese border. But the euphoria that erupted after MacArthur’s Inchon landing blew away all common sense and drowned out the military voices who warned of a catastrophe. Though the Chinese attack resulted in the longest retreat in the history of America’s armed forces, and though the Korean War was more unpopular than the Vietnam War ever was, intellectuals and foreign-policy experts succeeded in redefining the Korean conflict as an American victory. Leebaert notes, “A magician’s wand has swept away the extent that the war turned out to be a hideously taxing minimization of disaster… . It took almost two years to establish our lines securely where they had been a month after Inchon.” “Spinning” the Korean War paved the way for escalation in Vietnam.

Leebaert is at no risk of receiving one of the Agency Seal Medals that the CIA bestows on people—especially congressmen—who serve the agency’s interests. The CIA “has long embodied the insular, turf-obsessed office culture of a savings bank in Buffalo,” he writes. “The CIA has been excellent at keeping all accountability at arm’s length, which virtually guarantees poor thinking.”

The spy agency has failed America more often than politicians or CIA-fed journalists admit. Prior to 9/11, the CIA’s Map Library possessed “maps of the caves, tunnels and dugouts that Bin Laden had helped to engineer at Tora Bora long before, passed on fifteen years earlier by the Afghan guerillas America was then backing.” But by the time the U.S. began its own Afghan campaign in 2001, agency staffers had forgotten they possessed this key to al-Qaeda’s hideouts.

The torture scandals of the Bush years resulted in part from the CIA’s reliance on self-proclaimed experts who knew almost nothing of interrogation. Magic and Mayhem urges the appointment of a “truth commission” to get to the bottom of the post-9/11 torture regime. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has chosen to put its muscle on keeping the lid on the outrages. Naturally, the foreign-policy wise men cheer his cover-up decision. But as Churchill declared, “The purpose of recriminating about the past is to enforce action in the future.” Obama is helping to create a war crimes “get out of jail free” card he might need himself one day.

Leebaert actually understates the U.S. debacle rate abroad. He hails the American-led NATO bombing of Serbia: “The 1999 eleven weeks’ war over Kosovo was undertaken by a coalition of Western governments, preceded by two months of negotiation that legitimized and clarified its objectives, then followed by a UN peacekeeping mission. The presence of overwhelming backup forces nearby as well as American military leadership resting on political good sense and seasoned diplomacy further increased the chances of success.”

What success? After NATO planes killed hundreds if not thousands of Serb and ethnic Albanian civilians, Bill Clinton could pirouette as a savior. Once the bombing ended, many of the Serbs remaining in Kosovo were slaughtered and their churches burned to the ground. NATO’s “peace” produced a quarter-million Serbian, Jewish, and Gypsy refugees. At least the Serbs were not murdering people for their body parts, as the Council of Europe recently accused the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) of doing to Serb prisoners in recent years. (“When the transplant surgeons were confirmed to be in position and ready to operate, the [Serbian] captives were … summarily executed by a KLA gunman, and their corpses transported swiftly to the operating clinic,” where their kidneys were harvested for sale.)

Perhaps even worse, Clinton’s unprovoked attack on Serbia set a precedent for “humanitarian” warring that was invoked by supporters of Bush’s unprovoked attack on Iraq.

Leebaert regrets the American “penchant for dreaming up conspiracies” and the “steadily mounting overall mistrust of government since the late 1960s.” But the notion that rulers are owed trust is the most expensive entitlement program of them all. Blind trust in government has resulted in far more carnage than has distrust of government

Magic and Mayhem scants the role of brazen deceit in U.S. foreign policy. The phrase “damn rascal” does not appear once in the book. “Presidents have lied so much to us about foreign policy that they’ve established almost a common-law right to do so,” George Washington University history professor Leo Ribuffo observed in 1998. From John F. Kennedy lying about the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba; to Johnson lying about the Gulf of Tonkin resolution; to Richard Nixon lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia; to Jimmy Carter lying about the Shah of Iran being a progressive, enlightened ruler; to Ronald Reagan lying about terrorism and Iran-Contra; to George H.W. Bush lying about the justifications for the first Gulf War, entire generations have come of age since the ancient time when a president’s power was constrained by a duty of candor to the public.

The standards for decorum in discussing foreign policy practically guarantee that brazen liars will receive a pass, regardless of how many people perish as a result of their perfidy. Kissinger is now a columnist for the Washington Post editorial page—one of the few non-Fox venues that denies George W. Bush deceived the nation into the Iraq War. It is nonsense to presume good faith in experts who continually make declarations that any 12-year-old with a DSL line could disprove in two minutes.

WikiLeaks has revealed that U.S. foreign policy is far more venal and dishonest than the Beltway portrays it as being. From Hillary Clinton’s machinations to steal the credit-card numbers of foreign diplomats to the U.S. government’s spurring Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia and covertly providing arms to boost attacks in Yemen, as well as twisting arms and pulling strings across Europe to block investigations of U.S. torture, the scams have come fast and furious. Most of the American establishment has been indignant about the leaks—as if they violated government’s divine right to delude the governed.

Instead of relying on purported foreign-policy masterminds, Americans should remember Emerson’s maxim that “character is higher than intellect.” Washington is full of intellectuals more devoted to power than to truth. Professors hungry for influence are no more trustworthy than a second-term Arkansas congressman seeking a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.

But even if Americans properly discount the pretensions of the next deluge of foreign policy sages, it is unlikely that the government will begin learning from its mistakes. The only surefire way to avoid past follies is to reduce vastly U.S. interventions abroad. Aside from that, the second best solution is somehow to assure that it will be the pro-war experts, congressmen, and political appointees whose blood is shed in the conflicts they start.

*James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, Freedom in Chains, Lost Rights, and six other books.