PROTON: “Melayu-developed car of pride”(?)

August 31, 2011

PROTON: “Melayu-developed car of pride”(?)

by Dr.KJ John@
Aug 30, 11

Ahmad Talib is a mainstream media personality having served as the former managing editor of the NST. I first met him when I gave a lecture at the Ministry of Information about the National IT Agenda.

Ahmad Talib wrote a recent column where he talked about a conversation he had with Proton CEO Syed Zainal about the story of a Proton taxi-cab which Syed Zainal took from KLIA to go home.

During the trip, twice the taxi driver did not open the power windows to pay his toll but instead opened the entire door. When asked why, the driver complained that he was told that if he used the power window too often, it could easily get spoilt. Therefore, he chose to do it the more difficult way.

Syed Zainal, as reported by Ahmad Talib in his column, told the driver who he was and requested that he continue to use the power window instead and that he would personally get it repaired if it really got spoilt. The Proton CEO even gave his card but to date he had not heard from the taxi driver.

Maybe the advice worked, but in the mean time, Ahmad Talib has since reported that many other Proton owners called to confirm the hypothesis of the taxi driver, based on their own experience.

NNONEow, what is the real problem here? I once had the privilege of visiting Tengku Mahaleel Tengku Ariff in his office when he was CEO of Proton. At a briefing he gave us, he informed the group of visitors from Mimos Berhad that the real problem with Proton was that inadvertently it was positioned and marketed from the beginning as “a people’s car”.

Therefore, Proton was never really able with that brand reputation to reposition its image to compete with the imported versions of other saloons or others of an equal class and quality.

My take on this issue is however somewhat different. My view is that Proton was postured and positioned originally as a national car but over time, with many decisions and many related supplier-vendor crony relationships and concerns, the same car has been redefined as a matter of a “Melayu-developed car of pride” but no more as a Malaysian people’s car.

In fact, today, even the definition of what is a national car, I believe, has now been revised to suit this identity crisis. Today, if I am not mistaken, even an ordinary distributor of cars and marketer of foreign-made cars is even classified as a “maker of national cars”.

Crony interests among suppliers

NONEI remember vividly the day Proton was revealed. Dr Mahathir Mohamad (TDM) had sold it to the nation as a matter of national pride and part and parcel of his pet Bangsa Malaysia agenda.

I did participate with pride in wanting to visit a showroom and see the car for myself. TDM had promised it would be delivered within two years. I even touched and pounded on it to feel the car and see if was made from “Milo and Ovaltine cans”.

But, sadly when real production began in Malaysia, market competitiveness took a back seat as “cronies of the mainstream agenda got the contracts to become vendors and suppliers.”

I speak with sincerity and no malice to anyone. I was faced with some real life cases when I tried to help a good friend from the Sikh community who was already in the curtain tape business and had secured an Australian supplier who could support the development of Proton’s safety belt development at very reasonable costs.

NONEMy friend’s family had been in this business for many years.

But, with many crony interests and other small but petty considerations, my friend had to finally give up after a few years of waiting and trying to become a Proton supplier.

With many ‘bad decisions’ like these, slowly but surely, the entire Proton supplier-vendor network in Malaysia may today come from only one community.

Therefore, my reflective question today for all readers is: Is Proton a still a Malaysian car or has it become a psychological symbol to project a Ketuanan Melayu identity?

The same can be asked of Malaysian batik. There was a time in public service when we would be frowned upon if we did not wear authentic Malaysian batik and instead wore Indonesian batik.

Today, I do not drive a Proton but I love Malaysian batik but do not really care whether someone wears Indonesian or Japanese batik. As long as our batik designers make excellent quality of Malaysian batik, I will pay for and wear them.

In my previous two columns, I have raised a similar identity crisis issue in different ways. For one of them, I received a lot of negative and emotional feedback from writers who could not understand or appreciate the need for a concept of nationality. Distinguished Prof AB Shamsul argues, “we are still not yet a nationality but only a state”.

Only one class of citizens

My question to all citizens and Proton, the corporate entity – when are we all ever going to become first-class citizens of the nation-state called Malaysia?

Can we really expect Lee Chong Wei to win the Olympic gold for badminton when there are those who say, “why bother to watch the finals of the badminton, because whether they are Indonesian, or Malaysian, or from China, these are all only Chinese players”. We have to see things beyond race and ethnicity for quality and excellence to be nurtured.

When are we really going to grow up and become proud to be Malaysian, whether Indian, Chinese or Malay or Kadazan or Iban? Or even not care, whether we were originally Javanese, Malayalee, or Cantonese, or Orang Sungai, or Orang Laut, or Orang Asal?

Come on Malaysia, we need to decide who we are and what we want to make out of life, while we make ends meet in this country of ours.

My argument, first made at the Perdana Leadership Talks, was that we all have multiple identities but we are all Malaysians first and foremost. If someone claims he is not, we should ask him to shape up or ship out.

Secondly, we all have a heritage of faith, which defines our worldview. That we cannot deny and this defines our belief systems. Thirdly, we all have an ethnic heritage which defines our culture, a mother tongue and our taste-buds.

Fourthly, we all have a personality. Some are extroverts and others introverts. Some are judgmental and others are feelings driven. Depending on which personality profile instrument you use, you can still learn some very interesting things about yourself and about others. Finally, from my dignity thesis, and the nature of human nature, we get the fact that we all have a human conscience.

Therefore, I dare say this: no one can convert me or force me to do anything that I would not want to do willingly. In the literature this is called free will. All humans have free will. That does not take away the sovereignty of God or what can be called God’s Will. God exists at a different paradigm level and too often we cannot know or understand God because we reduce Him to our level of thinking.

Let God remain God and man stay man. A pot cannot question the potter. What we truly and actually need is to understand who we are and what our purpose in this life is. Once that is clear, then we can move on with the business of living our short life for the glory of our Creator. Our identity cannot be shaken or disturbed only because some called us names or even called us the wrong names.

My take is that if you are an anak Bangsa Malaysia, then you are a first-class Malaysian and no one – yes, no one, and not even the government – can deny you that right, unless you wilfully do something wrong.

May God Bless Malaysia and Selamat Hari Raya to all Malaysians.

Dr. KJ JOHN, who has a PhD from The George Washington University, was in public service for 29 years. He is now dean of the Faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, Malaysia. The views expressed here are personal views of the writer and not those of the university or any other institution he is involved with. Please write to the columnist at, if you have any feedback or views.

The Lessons of Singapore’s Presidential Election

August 31, 2011

The Lessons of Singapore’s Presidential Election

Author: K Kesavapany, ISEAS  (08-30-11)

The results of Singapore’s 27 August Presidential Election were a cliff-hanger. In the four-way contest, the government’s preferred candidate, former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, won 35.2 per cent of the valid votes after a recount. That represented a razor-thin victory of 0.34 of a percentage point over his nearest contender, former Member of Parliament Tan Cheng Bock. Both were previously members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

The third contestant, former civil servant Tan Jee Say, took a quarter of the vote, and the last contestant lost his election deposit after having obtained only 4.9 per cent of the vote.

The break-up of votes is an interesting throwback to the results of the General Election held in May 2011. Then, the PAP secured 60.1 per cent of the vote in what was seen as a setback for the party, particularly since it lost a Group Representation Constituency for the first time as well. The thin margin of Tony Tan’s victory in the Presidential Election suggests that the anti-incumbency factor was at play, for Tan Cheng Bock ran on a platform distancing him from the government.

The substantial 25 per cent of votes that went to Tan Jee Say, who had contested the General Election as a candidate for the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, reinforced the sense of anti-incumbency sentiments. In a first-past-the-post system, a victory by even one vote is a victory: Tony Tan’s margin was 7,269 votes. Critics of the government, however, were quick to point out that almost 65 per cent of Singaporeans did not vote for him.

Elections are divisive by nature. What matters now is whether Tony Tan can unite the people behind him. Here, there is reason to believe that the new president can do so. His long years in Parliament have given him an instinctive understanding of what unites citizens over and above the necessary divisiveness of democratic politics.

He realises that he has to reach out to the 65 per cent who did not vote for him because he is their president as well. He has promised not to be an ivory-tower president, just as his predecessor, President S R Nathan, was not. Charitable and other projects were an area in which President Nathan made his mark. Tony Tan will no doubt do the same.

This is not to say that Tan will be the kind of interventionist president that the other three candidates, in different degrees, offered to be. Singapore has an elected presidency, not an executive presidency. Tan is keenly aware of the constitutional parameters within which he must function. These restrict him from blocking actions to five key areas: the spending of Singapore’s past reserves; key public service appointments; detentions under the Internal Security Act; restraining orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act; and investigations carried out by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

That said, the ‘new normal’ in Singapore politics will require the new president to listen more keenly to sentiments on the ground. The next six years, in which Tan occupies the highest position in the state, will show how well he uses his power and authority to make a difference to the lives of Singaporeans, whatever their background.

Ambassador K. Kesavapany is the Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Malaysia-Australia Refugee Swap Deal declared illegal

August 31, 2011

Malaysia-Australia Refugee Swap Deal declared illegal

UPDATED @ 03:28:27 PM 31-08-2011

The refugee swap deal between Australia and Malaysia was deemed illegal by Australia’s High Court today.The hugely controversial arrangement has been popularly referred to as the “Malaysia Solution” in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an Australian Associated Press report that quoted Chief Justice Robert French as saying that “the declaration made… was made without power and is invalid.”

The court barred asylum seekers held by Australia from being sent to Malaysia, a ruling that will likely derail the swap deal intending to send 800 boat people to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 already-processed refugees to Australia.

The move was put on hold earlier this month after Melbourne lawyer David Manne won a High Court injunction to prevent deportations pending a decision on the deal.

He argued that Australian-held asylum seekers had rights to refugee protection assessed in Australia, and that the High Court could review Bowen’s declaration that Malaysia was a suitable destination for offshore processing.

With Canberra agreeing to pick up the RM1 billion bill for the swap, the Gillard administration’s popularity has sunk under pressure from opposition leaders and human rights activists in both Pacific nations.

But Australia’s Labor government insists the swap will stem human trafficking despite a Parliament motion condemning it due to concerns over Malaysia’s treatment of refugees.

There has also been concerns that a biometric system used in Malaysia to register migrants is “riddled with problems” and reports of scalps taking advantage of an ongoing amnesty programme for illegal immigrants have raised further questions over its ability to deal with incoming asylum-seekers.

According to the AAP, refugee lawyers asked the High Court to strike down the deal, arguing that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen (right) did not have the power to send asylum seekers to a country that has no legal obligations to protect them.

They also argued that sending unaccompanied minors to Malaysia would breach the minister’s duty of care as their legal guardian to act in their best interests.

But the Australia’s Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler had argued the government could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country even though it had no domestic or international legal obligations to protect asylum seekers.

Happy 54th Birthday and God Bless Malaysia

August 30, 2011

Happy 54th Birthday and God Bless Malaysia

“The essence of the messages (of Al-Qur’an) over time is always the same: a guidance on how to live a just, equitable and peaceful life; how to make the world a better place for everyone. Human perversity as well as ignorance can turn what is open and available to all into intricate, complicated means to divide people. Instead of God consciousness and guidance being the moral principles which bring people together , it becomes the embodiment of the most irreducible differences, the cause of irreconcilable dispute.”–Ziauddin Sardar, Reading the Qur’an (pp.103)

Make Malaysia a Better Place

Tomorrow, August 31, 2011, we celebrate 54 years of Independence and congratulations are in order. While we congratulate ourselves, we must also reflect.  With that in mind, permit me to quote what our Father of Independence and Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed on August 31, 1957:

NOW In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, I TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA ibni AL-MARHUM SULTAN ABDUL HAMID HALIMSHAH, PRIME MINISTER OF THE PERSEKUTUAN TANAH MELAYU, with the concurrence and approval of Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu that as from the thirty first day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty seven, the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu comprising the States of Johore, Pahang, Negri Semblian, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu, Perak, Malacca and Penang is and with God’s blessing shall be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.”

There is no doubt that we have achieved considerable progress in terms of economic and social development over the last 5 decades. That has unfortunately come at a price, that is, at the cost of our fundamental liberties. In terms of achieving Tunku’s vision of a democratic state…” founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”, we are lagging behind, and today our democratic state is under threat.

We are faced with an authoritarian and hubristic leadership which is bent on retaining its right to rule at whatever cost. Not necessary to do that. The government has just do the right things, and put service above self-interest and greed. Because it has failed to do that, it must  now work hard to regain our trust and confidence.

Malaysia is increasingly divided along racial and income lines; we have rampant corruption; our fundamental liberties are being trampled upon and our institutions of governance are dysfunctional, including our system of justice. Economic growth is slowing down and we face a serious threat of inflation.The ship called Malaysia is today rudderless.

But  we can change all that, and I believe that as Malaysians, we can make it happen. We should get our politics right. We cannot allow politicians both in government and the opposition to exploit racial sentiments for their own benefit. Failure to do so, we risk being losers by allowing national harmony to fritter away. Peace and stability are critical. Underpinning that is national unity.

We must use this Merdeka Day to reflect on our successes and failures so that we can work together to achieve the vision of our Father of Independence of a truly democratic state founded on the principles of liberty and justice.

May God Bless Malaysia. And may we live in peace and harmony as Malaysians.–Din Merican

Eugene K.B. Tan reviews Singapore’s Presidential Election (PE) 2011

August 30, 2011

Eugene K.B. Tan  reviews Singapore’s Presidential Election (PE) 2011

It was a pulsating finish to Singapore’s fourth presidential election. A mere 7,269 votes separated Dr Tony Tan from Dr Tan Cheng Bock. The hustings, which fired up the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, portend what future PEs could be like. What can we make of the results?

The influence of the May general election should not be over-exaggerated. To be sure, there is residual unhappiness after the so-called “watershed election”. My sense, however, is that the majority of Singaporeans distinguished between the parliamentary and presidential polls.

What the GE (General Election) demonstrated, reinforced in Saturday’s poll, is that the voter is keen for more political competition and diversity. But as the PE (Presidential Election) results illustrate, the average voter is not going to throw caution to the wind and cast a ballot for a candidate just because he comes with an opposition accent. The People’s Action Party branding still carries cachet. Voters can discern form from substance.

International media reports have characterised the outcome as a sign of “many still upset with long-ruling PAP”. This reading is premised on viewing the polls in partisan terms, with Dr Tony Tan flying the PAP/Establishment banner, and Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian collectively the non-PAP/non-Establishment flags. According to this view, the score was PAP — 35 per cent; non-PAP — 65 per cent.

That is probably reading the results simplistically. Many Singaporeans did not see the contest in purely partisan terms. They carefully scrutinised candidates’ track records, their campaign promises, and how they would work with the PAP Government.

In a crowded race with three serious contenders, it should not be surprising that the votes were split. The results, if anything, confirm that the political landscape is more diverse, more competitive. The Singapore electorate is maturing and is more than capable of making up its own mind. The endorsements by the trade unions, business groups and others seem to have had limited effect.

Both Dr Tans, as former PAP stalwarts, can be regarded as the Establishment camp. They also espoused a moderate reading of the roles, functions and powers of the elected president.

Combined, they polled 70 per cent of the popular vote. To these voters, the past PAP affiliation was not a deterrent — there was confidence they would exercise the executive custodial powers independently.

The support for both men also indicates Singaporeans value stability, in the sense of an elected President being able to work with the elected government. It suggests that many may be uncomfortable with the office being an alternative power centre.

Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian, seen as the non-Establishment camp, together garnered 30 per cent of the ballots. Their support base is primarily the staunch opposition voters, who prefer a president not so closely aligned with the ruling party. All in all, the election appears to indicate the PAP enjoys a loyal support base of about 35-45 per cent of the electorate (safely assuming the bulk of Dr Tony Tan’s supporters are Establishment loyalists) and the opposition a 30-35 per cent loyal following.

A significant 25-35 per cent form the middle ground, often described as the swing voters. How is one to understand Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s strong cross-camp appeal? His ability to reach out to both pro-Establishment voters and those less so is a political craft honed through his many years as a popular grassroots MP. His commitment to unify people was a strong and persuasive selling point; his common touch, his signature ability to engage Singaporeans from all walks of life, was vital in bringing those of different political persuasions together.

All said, the winner’s razor-thin victory margin points to the need for the elected presidency to evolve in tandem with Singaporeans’ expectations of the roles and functions of the office. Amid the new normal of more competitive political landscape, much will also be expected of the President-Elect’s promise of seeking to heal the country’s political, economic and social divisions.

Where the late President Ong Teng Cheong had sought to demonstrate purposefully the role of the EP (Elected Presidency) within our parliamentary system, Dr Tony Tan’s presidency is likely to be characterised by the imperative for a people’s president to unify Singaporeans of whatever political inclinations. I believe he is conscious of the need for him — more than for any of his predecessors — to not only work with the government but also with all political parties and civil society.

In this regard, he will have to play a more “activist” role. I am reasonably confident that Dr Tony Tan will attempt to build bridges with the various groups, but he cannot get the different camps to work together if they are not prepared to do so in the first place. Before the non-PAP will work with him, he will have to establish to them his credentials as being non-partisan and independent. But with sincerity, impartiality and determination, there is no reason why bridge-building cannot take place.

The need to evolve the office of the president in a manner that is in sync with Singaporeans’ expectations has to be on the “to-do” list of both the incoming president and the government. They will have to manage the competing, and perhaps even conflicting, visions of the presidency — the process of electing a head of state as well as the latter’s roles and function.

Dr Tony Tan will have to throw light on what he does in his custodial roles, notwithstanding the confidentiality of those actions. Removing the myths and misperceptions is essential to the standing and legitimacy of the EP.

There is also a growing expectation that the presidency should be a watchdog that can both bark and bite. The sense is that the current reactive powers of the EP results in a watchdog that can only bark, and in limited circumstances, and that this is not good enough. In short, there is the imperative to manage voters’ expectations and keep faith with the constitutional parameters.

Can we expect dialogues and discussion — behind closed doors for a start — on how to maintain the relevance and legitimacy of the office?

To ignore the current ground sentiments and concerns may result in the PE in 2017 becoming a proxy political contest in which the raison d’etre of the EP will be challenged, and the office’s authority and legitimacy suffering as a result. That would be a pity, since the elected presidency can enhance our system of governance. — Today

* Eugene K.B. Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law.

Najib’s Approval Rating Drops

August 30, 2011

Najib’s Approval Rating drops to 59 Per Cent

by Nigel
Aug 29, 11

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s approval rating has declined six points to 59 percent, according to the latest report by independent pollster Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Merdeka Center attributes the decline to increased concerns over the spiraling cost of living as consumers begin to feel the impact of recent increase in fuel and electricity prices. The pollster also acknowledged that the way the government handled the Bersih 2.0 rally had generated some “adverse” negative perceptions and eroded the Prime Minister’s support.

The latest announcement puts the Prime Minister’s approval rating at its lowest point in nearly two years. Najib’s approval rating has been on a steady decline since June 2010, after having achieved a record high of 72 percent.

This is the first time that his approval rating hits below 60 percent since September 2009 when he scored 56% – his second lowest after his not-so-impressive showing of 45% in May, a month after he took the helm from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi [see below].

On the up side, the number of people who are dissatisfied with the Prime Minister remained unchanged at 27 percent.The survey period was between Aug 11 and Aug 27 which coincided with the announcement of the proposed parliamentary select committee on electoral reform, and a month after the Bersih rally of July 9.

Down three points

The survey, based on 1,027 respondents, found that slightly more than half – 51 percent – felt that the country was going in the right direction, down three points. Along ethnic lines, Najib’s support among ethnic Malays declined slightly by four points, down from 73 percent, whereas support from the ethnic Chinese tumbled, dropping a whopping 11 points to 38 percent.

The outlook of Indian Malaysians on the direction the country has taken also took a dive from 54 to 39 points, but interestingly, they are the only group to have increased their support for Najib, up two points from 67 percent.

Based on the survey, almost one third of respondents are worried about the rising cost of living, a concern that cuts across ethnic lines.

Najib had on July 27 announced that the seventh National Key Results Area will be introduced to the Government Transformation Programme to address the spiraling cost of living, but the Government appears to have done little to soothe concerns.

NAJIB’S POPULARITY RATING (2009-2011)       


May – 45%
June – 65%
July – 64%
Sept – 56%
Dec – 66%


March – 69%
May – 72%
Nov – 69%


March – 67%
May – 65%
Aug – 59%

Perutusan Khas Hari Raya Aidilfitri Dan Hari Kemerdekaan

August 29 ,2011

29 OGOS 2011


Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh dan Salam Aidilfitri serta Salam Kemerdekaan,

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Walillah hil Hamd.

Pertamanya, segala ucapan tahmid dipanjatkan ke hadrat Allah SWT justeru selesai sebulan kita melaksanakan ibadah puasa dalam satu perjalanan spiritual mentarbiyyah rohani dan menguji fizikal. Maka, dengan tibanya fajar Syawal yang mulia, umat Islam hari ini dengan penuh rasa kesyukuran menyambut satu kemenangan mujahadah yang tertinggi pengertiannya seperti disifatkan oleh Rasulullah SAW yakni jihad bagi melawan nafsu.

Pada tahun ini, ditaqdirkan sesuatu yang bitara dan unik, sebagai rakyat Malaysia kita bertuah dapat menyambut gema Aidilfitri berselang sehari dengan ulangtahun sambutan kemerdekaan negara yang ke lima puluh empat. Kedua-dua perayaan ini mempunyai signifikan begitu besar kepada negara yang mempunyai kemajmukan amat kompleks seperti Malaysia di mana bukan sahaja wujud perbezaan daripada segi etnik tetapi juga teranyam indah dengan kepelbagaian agama, budaya, bahasa dan taraf sosioekonomi.

Pucuk pangkalnya, rakyat Malaysia yang berlainan agama, anutan dan kepercayaan mempunyai banyak sebab untuk bersyukur dan berterima kasih. Hakikat bahawa, Malaysia telah dan sedang dirahmati nikmat keamanan juga kemakmuran tidak mampu disangkal oleh mana-mana pihak. Jelas sekali, kita ibarat sebuah oasis di tengah-tengah dunia berkecamuk sedang dilanda badai politik dan kegoncangan ekonomi yang bertali arus.

Tuan-Tuan dan Puan-Puan,

Hari ini, seperti yang kita maklum, ketika gergasi ekonomi dunia seperti Amerika Syarikat dan juga beberapa negara anggota Kesatuan Eropah yang dikelompokkan sebagai ekonomi maju sedang bergelut dengan krisis kewangan serius sehingga memerlukan penyelamatan atau “bailout”, sebaliknya, Malaysia hasil pengurusan yang berhemah serta cekap, masih mampu bukan sahaja untuk mengembangkan ekonomi dan mencipta peluang pekerjaan baru tetapi juga untuk memberikan setengah bulan bonus kepada satu perpuluhan empat juta kakitangan awam yang menelan belanja dua bilion ringgit menjelang sambutan istimewa perayaan Aidilfitri dan Hari Kemerdekaan.

Sungguhpun yang demikian, kita tidak boleh sekali-kali terbuai dan berpuas hati dengan ehwal kejayaan tersebut. Untuk itu, sepanjang tempoh dua tahun yang lepas, pancang-pancang telah dipasak oleh kerajaan bagi memastikan penciptaan kekayaan baru, pertumbuhan ekonomi berterusan dan penciptaan pekerjaan berganjaran tinggi selaras dengan kemahiran yang semakin meningkat. Apa yang diimpikan adalah sebuah negara yang makmur dan sejahtera dimana setiap individu sanggup bekerja keras, meningkatkan kemahiran secara istiqomah dan beriltizam menggunakan segala peluang dengan bijak agar dapat mencorak sebuah kehidupan bahagia berkelangsungan hingga cucu cicit kita kelak.

Peri pentingnya, setiap seorang daripada kita hendaklah mengetahui bahawa, matlamat tertinggi kerajaan adalah untuk mendahulukan kebajikan seluruh rakyat, sebagai suatu urutan keutamaan yang telah menjadi wawasan nasional semenjak negara mencapai kemerdekaan. Dari itu, sebagai kerajaan yang merasai denyut nadi rakyat, lagi prihatin terhadap kegundahan serta resah gelisah warganya dan memahami kebimbangan mereka, kita sedar tentang fenomena kos kehidupan semakin meningkat sekaligus kita maklum terhadap harga bahan makanan yang semakin naik. Lantaran itu, kerajaan telah dan akan terus mengambil tindakan memperbaiki dan memperelok keadaan ini secara berperingkat serta menyeluruh demi kepentingan rakyat.

7. Pokoknya di sini, sekalipun fenomena kenaikan harga bahan makanan bersifat global, namun sebagai kerajaan bertanggungjawab kita tidak akan berpaling daripada menghadapi sebarang cabaran. Misalannya, sebagai langkah awal kita telah menjadikan matlamat menangani kos kehidupan yang semakin meningkat sebagai satu lagi Bidang Keberhasilan Utama Negara atau NKRA yang terbaru. Satu Jawatankuasa Kabinet Mengenai Bekalan dan Harga Barang juga telah ditubuhkan dengan dipengerusikan sendiri oleh YAB. Timbalan Perdana Menteri. Sememangnya, langkah-langkah ini membuktikan komitmen kerajaan bagi memastikan program yang bakal digubal serta dilaksanakan akan benar-benar mampu membantu rakyat.

Selain daripada itu, kerajaan akan meneruskan dasar memberi subsidi secara langsung atau tidak langsung. Ini terutamanya, subsidi bahan makanan yang terpilih seperti beras, minyak masak, tepung gandum dan gula. Begitu juga bahan bakar seperti Petrol RON95, Diesel dan LPG serta perkhidmatan kesihatan dan pendidikan. Akan tetapi, kita berhasrat melakukannya dengan lebih cermat dan bijaksana tanpa menjejaskan kesihatan fiskal negara dengan mendukung prinsip bahawa mereka yang lebih memerlukan dan berkelayakan akan didahului serta diutamakan.

Sehubungan itu, baru-baru ini saya telah mengumumkan beberapa inisiatif awal bagi membantu mengurangkan bebanan yang ditanggung. Antaranya, Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia di mana barang-barang keperluan berjenama 1Malaysia mampu dibeli dengan harga yang lebih rendah berbanding harga pasaran. Di Klinik-Klinik 1Malaysia pula rawatan asas boleh diperolehi dengan bayaran seringgit dan yang mutakhir melalui Program Kebajikan Rakyat 1Malaysia atau singkatannya KAR1SMA sejumlah 1.4 Bilion akan diperuntukan kepada lima ratus ribu warga emas, orang kelainan upaya, ibu tunggal serta balu polis atau tentera yang berkelayakan.

Sesungguhnya, usaha kerajaan tidak terhenti sekadar itu sahaja. Selanjutnya, insyaAllah melalui Bajet 2012 yang akan dibentangkan pada awal Oktober nanti, saya akan mengumumkan pula langkah-langkah susulan bersifat lebih komprehensif bagi menangani masalah yang memberi kesan kepada isi keluarga yang berpendapatan rendah dan pertengahan.

Tuan-Tuan dan Puan-Puan,

Dalam syiar meriahnya perayaan dan besarnya jiwa kemerdekaan, saya menyeru kepada semua agar tidak sekali-kali melupakan pengorbanan, darah, keringat dan air mata bapa-bapa kita para pejuang kemerdekaan negara serta anggota pasukan keselamatan negara dari dahulu hingga sekarang. Beringatlah yakni semuanya tidak terjelma dengan berwenang-wenang ataupun kekal lestari jika bahtera keramat kemerdekaan Malaysia tercinta ini terbiar hanyut tidak dikemudi dengan tulus, tidak dihargai dan musnah tanpa dipelihara. Oleh yang demikian, kita dengan ini menolak dan mengecam sekeras-kerasnya sebarang pernyataan dan usaha oleh mana-mana pihak yang ingin mempersenda atau memperlekeh pengorbanan mulia para wirawan dan wirawati negara serta keluarga mereka. Kita berasa kesal kerana mereka sebaliknya pula memperagungkan Parti Komunis Malaya yang anti Tuhan, anti agama dan anti Nasional.

Jadi, di atas segala-galanya, bagi memastikan apa yang terlimpah dan tercurah ke atas kita dan bumi Malaysia kekal berkesinambungan, maka perpaduan nasional perlu terus dibajai dan diperkukuhkan. Mudah-mudahan jua atas keinsafan ini makin tersepuh dan menebal semangat patriotisme dan kecintaan yang kukuh kepada pertiwi di setiap nubari kita.

Tuan-Tuan dan Puan-Puan,

Bertolak dari situ, pada hemah saya, dua sambutan yang bersesekali ini sewajarnya membawa permaknaan dan pengertian yang mendalam tentang betapa besarnya kurniaan Ilahi kepada Malaysia yang makmur, bebas dari sebarang ketakutan dan kebimbangan terhadap keselamatan sama ada keselamatan diri kita mahupun keluarga disamping dapat meraikan hari-hari kebesaran sebegini dalam keadaan kecukupan dan kelimpahan.

Kata orang dulu-dulu, sempena hari baik bulan baik ditambah pula hembusan Merdeka, kita buanglah yang keruh, kita ambillah yang jernih. Di musim perayaan ini, marilah kita bersatu sebagai sebuah keluarga besar Malaysia supaya dapat menjadi contoh kerukunan hidup kepada seantero dunia.

Lantas, sempena bulan yang mulia dan semangat sambutan Hari Kebangsaan ini, ayuhlah kita terus menyemarakkan tradisi murni kunjung mengunjung dan mengadakan rumah terbuka. Seperti yang sering dinyatakan, bukalah pintu rumah dan pintu hati seluasnya dengan menjemput rakan-rakan berlainan kaum, kepercayaan dan agama ke rumah masing-masing. Di sinilah tergubah dan terlukisnya sebuah citra Malaysia yang kita damba-dambakan.

Akhir kata, saya dengan rasa kerendahan hati bagi pihak diri, isteri, anak-anak dan seisi keluarga mengambil kesempatan ini menyusun jari nan sepuluh memohon kemaafan zahir dan batin atas apa jua kesalahan mahupun kekhilafan yang dilakukan. Turut dihulurkan salam istimewa Hari Kemerdekaan kepada seluruh rakyat Malaysia dimana jua Tuan-Tuan dan Puan-Puan berada. Semoga Tuhan sentiasa merahmati kita semua.

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar Walillah hil Hamd.

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri dan Selamat Hari Kemerdekaan.

Wabillahi Taufiq Walhidayah Wassalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.


Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri–Eid Mubarak

August 29, 2011

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri–Eid Mubarak

To  Fellow Muslims and Malaysians,

Maaf Zahir Dan Batin

Dr Kamsiah and I take this opportunity to wish you Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Maaf Zahir & Batin-Id Mubarak.  For Malaysian Muslims, it is traditional to use the expression, Maaf  Zahir & Batin to accompany  Hari Raya greetings. It simply means forgiveness with all sincerity.

To those Malaysians and their families who are journeying to their respective hometowns and kampongs, we wish you a safe journey. May God Bless you and your family with lots of good health, happiness and prosperity.

Salam Aidil Fitri Untuk Semua

Sempena 1 Syawal yang mulia ini, Kami berdua ingin menyampaikan ucapan Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Maaf Zahir Dan Batin, kepada umat Islam di seluruh Malaysia dan juga merata dunia.

Marilah kita perkuatkan azam dan tekad untuk memperbaharui perpaduan serta bersama-sama bagi membina sebuah negara yang penuh nilai-nilai murni seperti adil, muhibbah, amanah dan sejahtera.

Kami  berharap semoga 1 Syawal 1432H akan membawa kegembiraan kepada semua sebagai tanda meraikan kejayaan menahan diri dari membuat perkara-perkara yang dilarang Islam termasuk makan dan minum di siang hari selama sebulan Ramadhan, yang kami anggap bukan sesuatu yang mudah untuk dilakukan tanpa taqwa yang tinggi.

Kami juga berharap sanak saudara dapat berkumpul di hari yang mulia ini untuk merapatkan silaturahim dan mempereratkan hubungan yang mungkin agak renggang ekoran komitmen masing-masing dalam kerjaya, hal-hal keluarga dan sebagainya. Selamat Hari Raya, Maaf Zahir Dan Batin–Dr Kamsiah G. Haider dan Din Merican

Dark Clouds Over The United States and Europe

August 28, 2011

Dark Clouds Over the United States and Europe

by (Tan Sri) Dr Lin See-Yan

The world is adrift and it will continue to drift in the coming months or even years

Within the past couple of weeks, the world has changed. From a world so used to the United States playing a key leadership role in shaping global economic affairs to one going through a multi-speed recovery, with the emerging nations providing the source of growth and opportunity. This is a very rapid change indeed in historical time.

What happened? First, the convergence of a series of events in Europe (contagion of the open ended debt crisis jolted France and spread to Italy and Spain, forcing the European Central Bank or ECB to buy their bonds) and in the US (last minute lifting of the debt ceiling exposed the dysfunctional US political system, and the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the US credit rating) have led to a loss of confidence by markets across the Atlantic in the effectiveness of the political leadership in resolving key problems confronting the developed world. Second, these events combined with the coming together of poor economic outcomes involving the fragilities of recovery have pushed the world into what the president of the World Bank called “a new danger zone,” with no fresh solutions in sight.

Growth in leading world economies slowed for the fourth consecutive quarter, gaining just 0.2% in 2Q’11 (0.3% in 1Q’11) according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The slowdown was marked in the euro area. Germany slackened to 0.3% in 2Q’11 (1.3% in 1Q’1) and France stalled at zero after 0.9% in 1Q’11. The US picked up to 0.3% (0.1% in 1Q’11), while Japan contracted 0.3% in 2Q’11 (-0.9% in 1Q’11).

The US slides

Recent data disclosures and revisions showed that the 2008 recession was deeper than first thought, and the subsequent recovery flatter. The outcome: Gross domestic product (GDP) has yet to regain its pre-recession peak. Worse, the feeble recovery appears to be petering out. Over the past year, output has grown a mere 1.6%, well below what most economists consider to be the US’s underlying growth rate, a pace that has been in the past almost always followed by a recession. Over the past six-months, the US has managed to eke out an annualised growth of only 0.8%. This was completely unexpected.

For months, the Federal Reserve had dismissed the economy’s poor performance as a transitory reaction to Japan’s natural disaster and oil price increases driven by turmoil in the Middle East. They now admit much stiffer headwinds are restraining the recovery, enough to keep growth painfully slow.

Recent sentiment surveys and business activity indicators are consistent with expectations of a marked slowdown in US growth. Fiscal austerity will now prove to be a drag on growth for years. Housing isn’t coming back quickly. Households are still trying to rid themselves of debt in the face of eroding wealth. Old relationships that used to drive recoveries seem unlikely to have the pull they used to have.

Historically, consumers’ confidence had tended to rebound after unemployment peaked. This time, it didn’t happen. Unemployment peaked in Oct 2009 at 10.1% but confidence kept on sinking. The University of Michigan’s index fell in early August to its lowest level since 1980. Thrown in is concern about the impact of the wild stock market on consumer spending. Indeed, equity volatility is having a negative impact on consumer psychology at a time of already weakening spending.

Three main reasons underlie why the Fed made the recent commitment to keep short-term interest rates near zero through mid-2013:

(i) cuts all round to US growth forecasts for  the second half of 2011 and 2012;

(ii) drop in oil and commodity prices plus lower expectations on the pace of recovery led to growing confidence inflation will stabilise;

and (iii) rise in downside risks to growth in the face of deep concern about Europe’s ability to resolve its sovereign debt problems. The Fed’s intention is at least to keep financial conditions easy for the next 18 months. Also, it helps to ensure the slowly growing economy would not lapse into recession, even though it’s already too close to the line; any shock could knock it into negative territory.

The critical key

Productivity in the US has been weakening. In 2Q11, non-farm business labour productivity fell 0.3%, the second straight quarterly drop. It rose only 0.8% from 2Q10. Over the past year, hourly wages have risen faster than productivity. This keeps the labour market sluggish and threatens potential recovery. It also means an erosion of living standards over the long haul. But, these numbers overstate productivity growth because of four factors:

(a) upward bias in the data – for example, the US spends the most on health care per capita in the world, yet without superior outcomes;

(b) government spending on military and domestic security have risen sharply, yet they don’t deliver useful goods and services that raise living standards;

(c) labour force participation has fallen for years. Taking lower-paying jobs out of the mix raises productivity but does not create higher value-added jobs;and

(d) off-shoring by US companies to China for example, but they don’t enhance American productivity.

Overall, they just overstate productivity. So, the US, like Europe, needs to actually raise productivity at the ground level if they are to really grow and reduce debt over the long-term. The next wave of innovation will probably rely on the world’s current pool of scientific leaders – most of whom is still US-based.

US deficit is too large

The US budget deficit is now 9.1% of GDP. That’s high by any standard. According to the impartial US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), even after returning to full employment, the deficit will remain so large its debt to GDP will rise to 190% by 2035! What happened? This deficit was 3.2% in 2008; rose to 8.9% in 2010, pushing the debt/GDP ratio from 40% to 62% in 2010. This “5.7% of GDP” rise in the deficit came about because of (i) a fall of “2.6% of GDP” in revenue (from 17.5% to 14.9% of GDP), and (ii) a rise of “3.1% of GDP” in spending (from 20.7% to 23.8% of GDP).

According to the CBO, less than one-half of the rise in deficit was caused by the downturn of 2008-2010. Because of this cyclical decline, revenue collections were lower and outlays, higher (due to higher unemployment benefits and transfers to help those adversely affected). They in turn raise total demand and thus, help to stabilise the economy. These are called “automatic stabilisers.” In addition, the budget deficit also worsened because, even at full-employment, revenues would still fall and spending rise. So, the great recession did its damage.

Looking ahead, the Obama administration’s budget proposals would add (according to CBO) US$3.8 trillion to the national debt between 2010 and 2020. This would raise the debt/GDP ratio to 90% reflecting limited higher spending, weaker revenues from middle and lower income taxpayers, offset in part by higher taxes on the rich. Even so, these are based on conservative assumptions regarding military spending, no new programmes and lower discretionary spending in “real” terms.

No doubt, actual fiscal consolidation would imply much more spending cuts and higher revenues. According to Harvard’s Prof M. Feldstein, increased revenues can only come about, without raising marginal tax rates, through what he calls cuts in “tax expenditures,” that is, reforming tax deductions (eg cutting farm subsidies, eliminating deductions for ethanol production, etc).

Such a “balanced approach” to resolve the growing fiscal deficit will be hard to come-by given the political paralysis in Washington. Worse, the poisonous politics of the past two months have created a new sort of uncertainty. The tea partiers’ refusal to compromise can, at worse, kill off the recovery.

The only institution with power to avert danger is the Fed. But printing money can be counter-productive. Fiscal measures are the preferred way to go at this time. Even so, the US fiscal problems will mount beyond 2020 because of the rising cost of social security and medicare benefits. No doubt, fundamental reform is still needed for the long-term health of the US economy.

Eurozone stumbles

Looming large as a risk factor is Europe’s long running sovereign debt saga, which is pummeling US and European financial markets and business confidence. So far, Europe’s woes and the market turmoil it stirred are worrisome. The S&P 500 fell close to 5% last week extending losses of 15.4% over the previous three weeks, its worse streak of that length in 2 years, and down 17.6% from its 2011 high. The situation in Europe has been dictating much of the global markets’ recent movements.

The Eurozone’s dominant service sector was effectively stagnant in August after two years of growth, while manufacturing activity, which drove much of the recovery in the bloc shrank for the first time since September 2009.

Latest indicators add to signs the slowdown is spreading beyond the periphery and taking root in its core members, including Germany. The Flash Market Eurozone Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 51.5 in August (51.6 in July), its lowest level since September 2009. The PMI, which measures activity ranging from restaurants to banks, is still above “50”, the mark dividing growth from contraction. However, PMI for manufacturing slid to 49.7 the first sub-50 reading since September 2009. Both services and manufacturing are struggling.

Going forward, poor data show neither Germany nor France (together making- up one-half the bloc’s GDP) is going to be the locomotive. Indeed, the risks of “pushing” the region over the edge are significant. Germany faces an obvious slowdown and a possible lengthy stagnation.

European financial markets just came off a turbulent two weeks, with investors fearing the debt crisis could spread further if Europe’s policy makers fail to implement institutional change and new structural supports for the currency bloc’s finances. In the interim, the ECB has been picking up Italian and Spanish bonds to keep borrowing costs from soaring.

The action has worked so far, but the ECB is only buying time and can’t support markets indefinitely. So far, the rescue bill included 365 billion euros in official loans to Greece, Portugal and Ireland; the creation of a 440 billion euros rescue fund; and 96 billion euros in bond buying by the ECB. Despite this, market volatility and uncertainty prevail.

Europe is being forced into an end-game with three possible outcomes: (a) disorderly break-up – possible if the peripherals fail in their fiscal reform or can no longer withstand stagnation arising from austerity; (b) greater fiscal union in return for strict national fiscal discipline; and (c) creation of a more compact and more economically coherent eurozone against contagion; this implies some weaker members will take “sabbatical” from the euro.

My own sense is that the end-game will be neither simple nor orderly. Politicians will likely opt for a weak variant of fiscal union. After more pain, a smaller and more robust euro could emerge and avoid the euro’s demise. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman gives a “50% chance Greece would leave and a 10% odds of Italy following.”

Leaderless world

The crisis we now face is one of confidence. Starting with the markets across both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan. This lack of confidence reflected an accumulation of discouraging news, including feeble economic data in the US and Europe, and signs European banks are not so stable. The global rout seems to have its roots in free-floating anxiety about US dysfunctional politics and about Euroland’s economic and financial stability.

Confidence is indeed shaky, already spreading to businesses and consumers, raising risks any fresh shock could be enough to push the US and European economies into recession.Business optimism, at best, is “softish.” Consumers are still deleveraging. Unfortunately, this general lack of confidence in global economic prospects could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the end, it’s all about politics. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal contends politics have incentives that economics cannot understand. To act, politicians need consensus, which often does not emerge until the costs of inaction become highly visible. By then, it is often too late to avoid a much worse outcome. So, the demand for global leadership has never been greater. But, none is forthcoming not for the US, not from Europe; certainly not from Germany and France, or Britain.

The world is adrift. Unfortunately, it will continue to drift in the coming months, even years. Voters on both sides of the Atlantic need to demand more from their leaders than “continued austerity on autopilot.” After all, in politics, leadership is the art of making the impossible possible.

Former banker, Dr Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who now spends time writing, teaching and promoting the public interest. 

The Asian Power Squeeze

August 28, 2011

The Asian Power Squeeze

by Gareth Evans (2011-08-26)

CANBERRA – As China gets closer to overtaking the United States as the world’s largest economic power, and its disinclination to accept US military dominance of the Western Pacific grows more obvious, America’s Asia/Pacific allies and friends are becoming increasingly anxious about their longer-term strategic environment. The nightmare scenario for policymakers from Seoul to Canberra is a zero-sum game in which they are forced to choose between their great economic dependence on China and their still-enormous military reliance on the US.

No one believes that the US-China relationship will end in tears any time soon, not least because of the mutually dependent credit and consumption embrace in which the two countries are currently locked. But the outlook a decade or two from now  is already generating a mass of analysis and commentary,  focusing on the tensions that have long festered in the South China Sea, bubble up from time to time in the East China Sea, and are forever lurking in the Taiwan Strait. What, if anything, can those regional countries with competing interests and loyalties do to avoid the pain that they would certainly face if US-China competition turned violent?

Probably no single one of us can do very much to influence the larger picture. But there are several messages – some accommodating, but others quite tough – that could very usefully be conveyed collectively by Japan, South Korea, the major ASEAN players, and Australia to China and the US, spelling out how each could best contribute to keeping the region stable.

Giants are not always especially tolerant of lesser mortals, but in my experience the US tends to listen most and respond best to its friends when its policy assumptions are being challenged and tested, while China has always respected strength and clarity of purpose in its partners and interlocutors. And messages coming in convoy are harder to pick off than those offered in isolation.

The first set of messages to China should be reassuring. We accept that it has always been more serious than most about achieving a nuclear weapons-free world, and we understand its need to ensure the survivability of its minimum nuclear deterrent so long as such weapons exist. We understand its interest in having a blue-water navy to protect its sea-lanes against any contingency. We acknowledge that it has maritime sovereignty claims about which it feels strongly. And we recognize the strength of national feeling about Taiwan’s place in a single China.

But these messages need to be matched by others. As to its nuclear and other military capability, mutual confidence can be based only on much greater transparency – not only about doctrine, but  numbers and deployment – than China has traditionally been willing to offer.

Any increase in China’s nuclear arsenal is destabilizing and utterly counterproductive to its stated goal of global nuclear disarmament. If other countries in the region are to diminish their reliance on the US nuclear deterrent (and not acquire any nuclear capability of their own), they must be confident in their ability to deal with any conceivable threat by conventional means.

In this context, China should expect no diminution in the commitment of America’s traditional allies in the region to that relationship, and to the US support that might be expected to continue to flow from it. And while the defense planning of others in the region assumes no malign intent by China, such planning must be conducted – as evident in Australia’s recent Defence White Paper – with the capability of major regional players squarely in mind.

Likewise, any aggression by China in pursuing its territorial claims, including on Taiwan, would be disastrous for its international credibility, for regional peace, and for the prosperity on which the country’s internal stability is premised. In the South and East China Seas, competing sovereignty claims should optimally be litigated in the International Court of Justice; failing that, they should be frozen, and arrangements for mutual access and joint resource exploitation peacefully negotiated.

The region’s messages to the US need to combine traditional sentiment with some equivalent hard-nosed realism. Our appreciation for the security support given to us in the past, and which we hope will continue in the future, remains undiminished.

But, paradoxical as it might seem, the Asia/Pacific region’s stability could well be put more at risk by America’s continuing assertion of absolute primacy or dominance than by a more balanced distribution of conventional military power.

The wisest single message that its regional allies and friends could now give the US is one that I heard former President Bill Clinton articulate in a private gathering in Los Angeles ten years ago:

“We can try to use our great and unprecedented military and economic power to try to stay top dog on the global block in perpetuity….But a better choice would be for us to try to use that primacy to create a world in which we will be comfortable living when we are no longer top dog on the global block.”

Gareth Evans, Australia’s Foreign Minister from 1988-96, is Chancellor of the Australian National University, Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

The FBC Controversy widens

August 28, 2011

The FBC Controversy widens

Press corps in Kuala Lumpur all knew FBC had close links to the Malaysian government with special access

By Ian Burrell, Media Editor

Friday, 26 August 2011

One of America’s most prestigious magazines, the 154-year-old The Atlantic, has become the latest high-profile news organisation to launch an investigation into its relationship with a media company that was allocated millions of pounds by the Malaysian government.

The Washington-based magazine and website is “reviewing all transactions” it had with FBC, a media company that also produced television programmes for the BBC and the business channel CNBC. The Independent revealed this month that FBC had been hired by Malaysia in a “global strategic communications campaign”.

The FBC programmes broadcast on BBC World News dealt with contentious issues including Malaysia’s treatment of its indigenous peoples, its management of rainforests and its controversial palm-oil industry. The BBC said: “FBC has now admitted to the BBC that it has worked for the Malaysian government. That information was not disclosed to the BBC as we believe it should have been when the BBC contracted programming from FBC. Given this, the BBC has decided to transmit no more programming from FBC while it reviews its relationship with the company.”

The Atlantic has ordered a “full review” into its own relationship with FBC. Justin Smith (right), president of Atlantic Media Co, publisher of the magazine, has resigned from the board of FBC. FBC’s founder Alan Friedman, a long-term friend of Mr Smith’s, blogged for The Atlantic from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Mr Friedman also encouraged The Atlantic to host an event in March in which the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, was interviewed by a correspondent of The Atlantic.

Natalie Raabe, director of communications for The Atlantic, said Mr Smith’s role at FBC was unpaid and “largely nominal”. She said that the magazine was “reviewing all interactions it has had with FBC and its chairman,” including blogs Mr Friedman wrote about Indonesia. “We have found several instances in which Friedman wrote positively about the Indonesian government and its representatives. Our internal process will seek to determine whether Friedman was representing Indonesia at the time he wrote for”

She said the company was also examining blog comments made by Mr Friedman(left with Najib) on Malaysia and had now attached an online reference to inform readers that he was working for the Malaysian government “at or around the time he wrote them”.

FBC also made a half-hourly weekly programme for CNBC, part of the American NBC network. Many of its episodes featured Malaysia. CNBC has withdrawn the programme “indefinitely” and “immediately initiated an examination of FBC and its business practices”. Since publication of The Independent’s investigation, the newspaper has been contacted by numerous correspondents based in Kuala Lumpur, who complained that the broadcasters should have taken action earlier.

One senior international journalist with a decade of experience in Malaysia, said FBC’s relationship with the Malaysian government was “common knowledge among the press corps in KL”. He said: “The real scandal is the failure by BBC and CNBC to police the outsourcing of their programmes. They need to answer some hard questions.”

The BBC said it had “acted swiftly to suspend the broadcasting from FBC” and pointed out that “all independent TV companies who produce programmes for BBC World News have to sign strict agreements”.

A former correspondent for a prominent US magazine said that correspondents became accustomed to seeing FBC granted access to “notoriously press-shy” senior political and business figures who would not speak to other sections of the media. “Knowing FBC and their modus operandi, it was pretty clear how it happened,” he said. The Independent has established that FBC also hired the Washington-based American lobbying company APCO Worldwide for the purpose of “raising awareness of the importance of policies in Malaysia that are pro-business and pro-investment as well as the significance of reform and anti-terrorism efforts in that country”.

FBC denies impropriety in any of its programme-making. Its lawyers said in a letter that “at no time have the television programmes made for the BBC ever been influenced or affected by our client’s commercial activities”. It said that FBC ran production and commercial divisions, which “are and always have been quite separate and distinct”. The BBC, CNBC and the media regulator Ofcom continue to investigate.

Dr Tony Tan is the 7th President of Singapore

August 28, 2011


Singapore Presidential Election 2011 : Dr Tony Tan  wins

AsiaOne, AFP
Sunday, Aug 28, 2011

Congratulations to Dr Tony Tan, President-Elect of Singapore and the People of Singapore.

Dr Tony Tan was declared the winner of Singapore’s presidential election early Sunday morning after a recount gave him a razor-thin margin. Dr Tony won a total of 744,397 votes. This was 35.19 per cent of the total votes cast. He won by a margin of 7,269 votes, or 0.34 per cent of the valid votes.

Singapore’s President-Elect Dr.Tony Tan

His closest contender was Dr Tan Cheng Bock, who won 737,128 votes, or 34.85 per cent of the votes cast. Mr Tan Jee Say secured 529,732 votes, or 25.04 per cent of the valid votes.

Mr Tan Kin Lian obtained 103,931 votes, or 4.91 per cent of the valid votes. He will forfeit the $48,000 deposit.There were 37,826 rejected votes. A total of 2,153,014 votes were cast.

In a speech to his supporters, the President-elect thanked his wife Mary and his family, as well as his campaign team and supporters.

Obstacles to Malay Entrepreneurialism

August 28, 2011

Obstacles to Malay Entrepreneurialism

By Dr M. Bakri Musa

Ramadan is a month for reflection. As we reflect we cannot avoid the depressing reality that the Muslim world is overrepresented in all categories of underdevelopment. The pat and often cited reason is the inherent incompatibility of Islam to modern development.

When such an explanation is offered by non-Muslims, they can barely conceal their smugness. When asserted by a Muslim, he or she would immediately be dismissed as not fully comprehending the faith, or worse, condemned as an apostate.

Such an “explanation,” its certitude not withstanding, is about as useful as someone telling you, when asked why he is in the hospital, “I am sick.” And if you are still not convinced or betray any doubts, would quickly add, “Very sick!” Not very helpful! If however, the answer were to be, “My bowels are not working,” or, “I have difficulty breathing,” we would then be that much closer to identifying the problem, and thus its remedy.

This Islam-is-the-problem explanation does not even describe the symptom, much less the disease. If indeed there is something inherently deficient with Islam, it still would not explain why the faith thrived during its first four centuries, or why its adherents are increasing and becoming more devout today. And if Islamic practices are deficient, then what and where exactly are those deficiencies so we could address them.

It is here, specifically in response to the second query, that Timur Kuran’s book, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Laws Held Back the Middle East outshines the rest. Kuran’s insights came from his studies of the Middle East and Turkey, a sub-segment and a minority one at that of the vast Muslim world; nonetheless they apply to Malays in Malaysia.

Kuran enumerated four problematic areas: institutional development; the concept of riba (interest); Islamic inheritance; and waqaf (trusts). I will add a fifth, zakat (tithe), to parallel the five tenets of our faith.

The Stark Statistics

First, the stark statistics: There are more Muslims living under authoritarian regimes today than there are people ruled by communism. As for economic development, Muslim contribution to global economic activities is less than 5 percent, disproportionately way below our share of the population. If Allah had not blessed us with oil, that figure would be negligible. As for social development, the number of books translated into Arabic during the last 1,000 years is less than those translated into Spanish in one year.

A more nuanced understanding, as expressed by James Lacey, is that it is the Arab, not Muslim civilization that is collapsing. Many miss that as most Arabs are Muslims. We would not attribute the fall of the Western Roman Empire to a crisis of Christianity; it was that of Western Europe.

There is no comparable statistics to relate the equally stark contrast between Muslims (essentially Malays) and non-Muslims in the Malaysian context. Nonetheless, stroll down Main Street, any town in Malaysia, and the paucity of Malay establishments is not hard to miss, while Prime Minister Mahathir once asserted that non-Malays pay most of the taxes.

Islam is an integral part of Malay life. Unfortunately when confronted with “Islam is the problem” assertion, Malays like most Muslims would simply recoil and retreat to the comfort of our familiar assumptions. The angry few, unable to rebut the statistics, would simply lash out.

To break from that set pattern we must first liberate our minds so we could critically examine those assumptions. Fear not, for if our faith is strong, such an exercise would not weaken it; on the contrary, it would strengthen it.

Obstacles to Malay Entrepreneurialism

Involvement in trade and commerce opens up one’s mind; apart from improving one’s economic and other well being. It also enhances one’s piety, as with the saying, Kemiskinan mendakati kefukuran (Poverty invites impiety). Anyone doubting that wisdom need only visit neighboring Indonesia. It also reflected Allah’s esteem of the vocation that He had chosen a trader to be His Last Messenger.

Successful traders have to understand their clients and customers, anticipate their needs and wants, and see the world from their perspective. The very act of putting ourselves in their place, or as our Native American Indians would put it, to walk in their moccasins, is a mind-liberating exercise. For example, now that we are trading with China and it is our biggest purchaser of palm oil, previously ultra FELDA Malays have a decidedly different view of the Chinese, at least the mainland variety. That is what trade, and a liberated mind, does to you.

The barriers to Malay participation in business are not the often cited “hard” ones like lack of human or financial capital, rather the less recognized “soft” obstacle imposed by our inflexible and unimaginative interpretations of our faith.

A particular problem is our treatment of interest, which we simplistically equate to riba. Credit, the flip side of interest, is the lifeline of business. Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus goes further, he asserts that access to credit is a basic human rights.

Interest is premised on that rare universal truth in economics: time value of money. That is, a dollar (or dinar) at hand is worth two promised in the future. The ancient Arabs were adept at business; they must have had to come to terms with the concept of interest. They did not quantify it or termed it as such, nonetheless when a borrower returned the money or goods, he would have thrown in something extra as goodwill if for no other reason than to encourage the lender to continue lending.

Charging of interest also factors in that universal human trait; we do sometimes renege on our promises, like not repaying our loans. I have yet to read a cogent explanation on the meaning of riba, and whether it is equivalent to the interest charges of the many innovative financial instruments that we have today. Many of them were not even thought of during the prophet’s time. It is like discussing transportation; we are still trapped in the warped time zone of the camel caravans when the world is into container ships, jumbo jets, and long-haul trucks. Yes, they are all transportation, but the commonality ends there.

We go to great length quoting various hadith on the evil of interest income. One equates 1/70th of the sin of riba to be equivalent to the sin of having sex with your mother. How offensive an imagery and metaphor! If interest is really that grave a sin, I would have expected other hadith condemning in even harsher tones those who would renege on their loans. I am yet to hear one.

Current Muslim attitude towards interest is similar to those of medieval Christians. The only difference is that they had come to terms with it (undoubtedly fed up with all the wealth from money lending going to the Jews) and with that came Western economic development. Meanwhile the words in the bible condemning usury have not changed.

If today’s Muslims have qualms about learning from or adopting Christian ways with regards to interests, then go back to the early Muslims. They thrived on trading; learn how they adapted to the concept. In many ways that is exactly what we have done today; hence “Islamic bank,” which is oxymoronic.

Just as the West did, we must continually built on and improve these new Islamic financial institutions, tweaking and innovating along the way to meet changing times and circumstances, just as western banking has evolved over the centuries and continue to do so.

This brings me to Kuran’s observation on the lack of institutional development in the Muslim world. It is not enough to rely on the admonishments of hadith and Koranic verses; there must be a workable mechanism to resolve the inevitable disputes, as when someone reneges on his loans, with or without interests. The West has bankruptcy laws and wage garnishing; Islamic institutions too should have similar mechanisms. This lack of institutional development is the most glaring and consequential deficiency of the Islamic world.

Waqaf, Inheritance Laws, and Economic Development

Muslim inheritance laws as currently interpreted may be more just (all children getting a share, albeit the son getting twice that of the daughter) than that of the Europeans (where the entire estate goes to the eldest son), but they are bad for economic growth. One consequence is the fragmentation of the estate on the death of its owner. This is not only disruptive but also prevents a business from growing beyond a generation.

That is also bad social policy even if, as some proclaimed, proscribed in the Koran. Muslims accept the Koran as a document for public and individual good; so if our interpretation results in otherwise, as with our inheritance practices, then those those differences must be only apparent, not real.  Thus we must re-examine our interpretation. This does not mean disbelieving the Koran. In fact the Koran is silent on when exactly the children would get their share, nor does the Koran specify that the asset itself has to be divided.

This paves the way for designing a novel vehicle of issuing shares on the family asset. Then only the shares would be inherited while the asset itself remains intact, thus satisfying the edicts of the Koran and be good economic policy at the same time. Indeed the Western concept of a corporation achieves precisely this objective.

Today we have many large successful Malay enterprises. It saddens me to read of the all-too-frequent ensuing family squabbles upon the death of their owners. The problem is compounded by our tradition of not having wills.

Inheritance practices are what stymied the development of Kampung Baru and Malay Reserve land generally. Unless addressed, those settlements will remain undeveloped no matter how much physical resources we pour into it. The one resource needed is intellectual; for us to re-read and re-interpret those ancient edicts.

Tun Razak anticipated this with his FELDA program; thus the stipulation that the owner specifies only one of his children to inherit the property. This is clearly not in accordance with Islamic inheritance laws. Yet I am yet to hear Muslim scholars challenging the stipulation; likewise the matrilineal inheritance of the Minangkabaus. Perhaps this unique tweaking of the inheritance laws explains why the Minangs are the most economically developed of the Malays.

What we desperately need today is the equivalent of the Minangkabua wisdom, adat menurun agama mendadaki (Tradition descends, Faith ascends) synthesis of modern economic insights with our religious precepts.

Landowners of yore recognized this quandary; thus they resorted to bequeathing their properties to waqaf, community trust. The primary motive was undoubtedly charity, but it was also to avoid confiscatory inheritance taxes and fragmentation of their assets.

As noble as the waqaf is, it too needs refinement. As Kuran noted, current interpretation requires that the words of the trust be observed literally. A land bequeathed for a school has to remain so, never mind that it is now in the middle of an industrial area.

For growth to occur there must be capital formation. A common assumption is that Malays have low capital formation; hence our less-than-robust economy. Zakat is community saving mandated by the Koran. In Malaysia, this is reinforced by favorable secular laws where your zakat is considered tax credit.

Annually the sums collected are in the hundreds of millions, if not billions. Yet its management remains rigidly tied to some ossified interpretations of ancient texts. Creatively managed zakat could be construed as the community’s capital formation to boost Malay economy.

Consider zakat’s disbursement; it is still with cold cash that could easily be siphoned off by less-than-trustworthy functionaries. Why not vouchers or direct deposits, as with Mexico’s Progressa program. That would be one way to introduce the poor to the banking system; it would also lead to better bookkeeping.

On a policy level, it would be better if the money were to be invested in a local enterprise that would then employ the poor, combining charity with dignity, and at the same time generating jobs and economic growth. Again we are prevented from such innovations because we have unnecessarily tied ourselves to some old rigid interpretations that have remained unchanged literally over the millennium.

Today there is no transparent accounting of these massive zakat funds. As the Islamic establishment considers interest haram, somebody must be enjoying the benefits accruing from those idle funds. All I know is that the Islamic establishment has some of the most ornate offices, our religious functionaries have luxurious government-issued bungalows and cars, and the religious police and establishment have expanded exponentially. Meanwhile our poor have to seek help elsewhere, as at churches. Bless those generous Christians!

Our trapped minds prevent us from seeing these realities. This Ramadan let us resolve to liberate our entrapped minds so we get a more accurate view of reality. Let us creatively use the provisions of the Koran not to trap us mentally or economically but to liberate us.

Adapted from my forthcoming book, Liberating The Malay Mind, to be published by ZI Publications.

The “Great” One who refuses to go away

August 27, 2011

The “Great” One who refuses to go away: Perjuangan Belum Selesai

Written by  Iskandar Dzulkarnain, Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

Growing up under his leadership, one tends to have utmost fear for this man (Tun Dr.Mahathir Mohamad). 22 years as Prime Minister, his fame or infamy has stretched far and wide.

When in power, many a Malay looked up to him with pride and respect. Sad to say, the moment he was out of power, even his deputy – the extra mild Abdullah Badawi – turned on him.

His latest article attacking Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim for denigrating the New Economic Policy failed to make much impact. In the past, Malaysians would have read with eyes agog at his unrestrained criticism of Anwar, who during the 1990s was popular enough to overthrow him.

But now ex-premier Mahathir Mohamad only draws a yawn. Most Malaysians have already formed their opinions of the NEP and whatever Mahathir says will not change their minds. Even the Malays, who are in two minds about the NEP, are steadfast in their differing views. Some Malays insist that the NEP be maintained as it is, while a similar number insist that it be revamped to help more lower-income Malays rather than benefit only the rich Malays and the Chinese tycoons connected to Mahathir himself.

Still a he-devil

In Mahathir’s eye, Anwar is still a devil and busy lying to the people that the NEP only benefits the BN cronies and that the contracts, Approved Permits and licenses given out in the name of affirmative action invariably involve corruption. He also said Anwar made it sound as if the NEP did not benefit the Malays and other Bumiputera at all, just the UMNO elite and their ‘friends’.

Gripe as Mahathir may wish, the statistics from his own government show that Anwar is also right, perhaps even more right than he is.

Many experts will agree the NEP did benefit many Malays and Bumiputras in the country. But as Anwar pointed out, when one compares against the overall Malay and Bumi population, those who benefited work out to a miserly fraction. In many of his speeches, Anwar often quoted government figures showing that 96 per cent of the poorest people in the country are actually Malays. And the NEP has been in existence since 1971 or for 40 years. How can Mahathir, a doctor by training, fail to grasp this piece of simple math?

The only explanation may be that Mahathir is still ‘politicising’ against his former deputy, despite having sacked him, chased him out of their party and jailed him for 6 years. How did the blood between the two men become so bad? Some say it is guilty conscience on Mahathir’s part for the 1998 sodomy charges. True or not, it appears Mahathir’s dislike for Anwar has only grown stronger and not weaker with the years.

Non-Bumis were sidelined

In his latest article posted on his chedet blog, Mahathir said that every Malay child is helped in his education with free text books and often with free meals. Schools are built in the remotest areas where before there were no schools. Hostels are built for mostly Malay and other Bumiputera children so that they can live a better life and are able to study in better surroundings then in their homes in the villages.

But in doing so, Mahathir is also admitting that he has marginalized the non-Bumiputras in his effort to prop up the Bumiputras in the country. Why? Are non-Bumis lesser beings that are not deserving of governmental assistance? What happens to the poor non-Bumis who are also in need of assistance? And all this while, the country thought that BN was developing the country for all Malaysians, and not just for the Bumiputras.

Mahathir goes on to say that for the qualified, tertiary education is readily accessible with huge numbers of scholarships. As a result many of the children of poor families or of families unable to pay high fees now hold university degrees and are highly qualified professionals. As an example, he states that where before only 5% of the doctors in Malaysia were Malays and Bumiputera, nowadays 40% of the profession are Malays.

If this is so, did the NEP benefit the Bumiputras at the expense of the Non-Bumis? And was this the NEP’s intention? Did it get side-tracked along the way by unscrupulous politicians? These are all questions that have been asked many times before and until now, no answers have been forthcoming from Mahathir.

All he has provided are half-answers in the vein of his latest article – either using Malay supremacy as his defense or as a basis for attacking his favourite targets, such as Anwar or the DAP’s Lims.

No wonder the 86-year Dr M has lost his audience. The only times that he stirs interest these days is when he espouses the racist rhetoric of extremist Malay groups such as Perkasa. With his vintage wit and his courage to simply ‘hantam’ (wallop), his spin or version of a particular event or issue is in a class of its own. He now entertains Malaysians, rather than serve a role as an advisor, elder statesman and someone for all Malaysian to turn to in any hour of darkness. Very likely, he may be the one creating the darkness, his critics make no bones about saying. This is the extent of cynicism that Mahathir now draws.

The numbers cannot lie, Mahathir may

Other boasts made by Mahathir to attest to the NEP’s effectiveness include the Bumis’ share of corporate assets. He said today, more than ten and half million (10,500,000) Malays and other Bumiputera hold shares in these unit trusts with total holdings valued at one hundred and thirty-five billion (135,000,000,000) Ringgit. This is a direct benefit from the NEP. The unit trust makes up a substantial percentage of corporate wealth held by the Bumiputera, he added.

“Felda too has been nursed until it has become the biggest plantation company in the world. The settlers have much higher incomes while their children are much better educated. All these are due to the New Economic Policy. Microcredit is extended to the smallest village enterprises and this has helped tens of thousands of Bumiputera villagers, especially the women in business.

There are now thousands of Bumiputera businessmen who benefited from the importation of used and new cars, from becoming agents and vendors to the national car projects and also in the oil and gas business as a result of the NEP.

The best of them have grown big, some very big, becoming car dealers and assemblers, housing developers, steel fabricators, boat and ship builders, IT, transportation, ports and shipping, food and cosmetic manufacturers and many other businesses,” wrote a still passionate Mahathir.

So thanks to the NEP, the bumiputras have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Then why are they still left far far behind compared to the non-Bumiputras who had to struggle without government assistance?

And can someone explain why the non-Bumiputras who form in total only 33 per cent of the population can manage to hold 82 per cent of the equity in corporate Malaysia? How can 67 per cent of the Malaysian population – the Malays and the Bumis – hold only 18 per cent after 50 years of affirmative action? Shouldn’t the figures be the other way around or did someone miscalculate? What went wrong? Surely, not bad math again.

An insult to the Malays, a back-stabber to the non-Malays

The fact is that although Mahathir may harbour noble ambitions for the Malays, his effort have failed to alleviate the lot of the majority of Malays and Bumiputras in this country who are more or less still in square one, unable to move forward while on the other hand we have a handful of super rich Malay individuals who think of nothing other than how to protect their ill-gotten wealth from overflowing to the Malay masses.

Many Malays in this country are truly insulted by Mahathir, who still continues to tell the world that the Malays are weak and helpless. We still need crutches to walk, we are still handicapped and need government assistance in the 21stcentury. And the best part is, the non-Malays actually believed him to the extent that they stupidly voted the BN all these years, while he stabbed them in the back. If you doubt this, just ask Ling Liong Sik and Chan Kong Choy – two former MCA ministers in the BN Cabinet and better hurry while they are still free men.

Mahathir also went on to tell the Malays that the non-Malays in this country are Supermen, capable of controlling the wealth and power in this country as they already hold more than 82% of the country’s wealth. Malays must be on guard, do not be too friendly with them or else one day the carpet will be pulled from under their feet.

How on earth are Malaysians going to unite with such political schemers around!  -  Malaysia Chronicle

A-G Gani Patail denies RPK’s bribery claims

August 27, 2011

A-G Gani Patail denies accepting bribes from Ho Hup

By Lee Wei Lian@

Attorney-General (A-G) Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail has denied claims by blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin that he was being bribed by former Ho Hup Construction Bhd deputy executive chairman Datuk Vincent Lye in exchange for help in a boardroom tussle.

Raja Petra had alleged on his blog Malaysia-Today on August 23 that Lye had “bribed” Gani and used Ho Hup funds to pay for renovation work at Gani Patail’s second wife’s house in Negeri Sembilan.

In his first response to Raja Petra’s claims, Abdul Gani told The Malaysian Insider that he had never accepted any money from the construction company.“I didn’t take a single cent from Ho Hup. I have a rule; I don’t take money,” he said.

When asked whether he owned a house in Seremban, he replied: “I don’t have a house in Seremban or anywhere in Negri Sembilan.”“I don’t know what to say … all these things happened in 2009 but the case was from 2010, so it doesn’t make sense,” he added, apparently referring to the charges filed against Low.

Raja Petra had insinuated that the A-G used his influence on behalf of Lye to have his boardroom rival Datuk TC Low charged in court in January this year for non-timely disclosure of his interests in the company.

The blogger had also posted pictures on the website of what appears to be a computer-generated invoice dated July 13 2009 from a company in Petaling Jaya to Ho Hup for installation of lighting fixtures for “AG’s Bungalow at Seremban 2 — Sri Carcosa”; a handwritten invoice dated July 13 to Lye for renovation work for Sri Carcosa in Seremban 2; a cash payment voucher from Ho Hup dated August 12 for work done for “AG Tan Sri Ghani Patail Bangalow at Seremban 2 — Sri Carcosa” worth RM18,000; and a cheque made out to the renovation supplier for RM18,000.

Lye and Low, who had stakes of about 28 and 26 per cent respectively in Ho Hup at the time, were battling for control of the construction company boardroom. The former, however, was voted out at an EGM in March this year.

In May, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) cleared Gani Patail of corruption allegations in relation to his recent haj pilgrimage last year.MACC operations evaluation panel (PPO) chairman Tan Sri Dr Hadenan Abdul Jalil had said that the case had been dropped as investigations showed “no testimony to any criminal offence.”

The issue was highlighted by Raja Petra and former corruption prevention panel adviser Tan Sri Robert Phang who had said Abdul Gani’s explanation to the panel had failed to dispel suspicions over the pilgrimage.

Apart from the duo, former top cop Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim has repeatedly attacked Abdul Gani for his failure to prosecute several high-profile cases and has called for the Prime Minister to axe the A-G.

Yingluck’s real challenge may be Thaksin

August 27, 2011

Yingluck’s real challenge may be Thaksin

The Yingluck fever continues unabated. This week, Yingluck Shinawatra, the first female prime minister of Thailand, earned a spot on Forbes’ annual list of the “World’s Most Powerful Women”.

Voted into office following Thailand’s general elections in July, she was ranked 59th on the list of 100 clout-wielding ladies, just ahead of supermodel Gisele Bundchen and author JK Rowling.

At home, she remains hugely popular. On August 23, she gave a confident performance when she delivered her government’s policies ahead of a Parliamentary debate that may test whether she actually owns a sense of leadership and whether she can escape the long shadow of her self-exiled brother, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

In her first policy address to lawmakers, Yingluck pledged that she would prioritise national conciliation by healing the rift between different groups in society. Accordingly, she would empower the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to produce credible investigation findings on last year’s violent crackdowns on Red Shirt demonstrators.

She vowed to stabilise the economy and boost incomes, with policies ranging from corporate tax cuts to debt relief for farmers, village development funds and lower fuel prices — policies primarily designed to benefit Puea Thai’s supporters in far-flung regions of Thailand.

But the most popular and controversial pledge has been to fix a daily minimum wage of 300 baht. Analysts warn that the government’s populist programmes could have a devastating impact on the overall economy, spinning off inflation, budget deficits and public debt.

Immediately after her statement, members of the opposition questioned some of the policies. The Democrat Party criticised Yingluck’s approach to resolving the conflict in the Thai south as being a “replica” of the Thaksin administration’s hard-nosed policy towards Thai Muslims, which had generated an outpouring of resentment among southerners against the Thai state.

The Democrat Party also cast doubt on the Puea Thai-led government’s loyalty to the much revered monarchy. It accused some Red Shirt members — a few are serving in the current government — of a continued anti-monarchy attitude, an allegation flatly denied by Yingluck.

Despite the opposition’s provocation, the Yingluck government has a solid backing because of her party’s overwhelming majority in Parliament. Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva may have performed well as an adamant leader of the opposition but his party is suffering from a lack of direction. The Democrat Party is in urgent need of a revamp; it has never won an election since 1992.

Even so, Yingluck’s path may not be as smooth as she wishes. The real challenges for her government may come from two main sources.

First, since Yingluck refused to give any ministerial posts to Red Shirt members for fear that this could upset her enemies in high places, her government could find itself in a difficult position as it deals with issues related to the Red Shirt movement. These members have already complained that they were “used” by the Puea Thai in the election campaign and have claimed that the party owed its victory to their unflagging support.

Frustration within the Red Shirt movement is becoming increasingly apparent. For example, core leaders are now urging the Yingluck government to seek justice for those who lost their lives in last year’s crackdowns; they want the security forces to be prosecuted for the deaths of their loved ones.

The other challenge stems from within the Shinawatra family. Thaksin has embarked on his world tour. As of today, he is in Japan where he has visited provinces in Miyagi prefecture hit by the recent quake and tsunami. His globe-trotting has put the Yingluck government in jeopardy.

Thaksin, who is keen to act as de facto prime minister of Thailand, by visiting Japan has opened a door for the opposition to discredit Yingluck and Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who happens to be Thaksin’s cousin. The Democrat Party has attempted to impeach Surapong for aiding a “criminal” in getting a visa to Japan. Yingluck and Surapong have denied requesting that Japan grant him an entry permit.

While Thaksin has reiterated that he does not intend to return home soon, his activities abroad have shown to what a great degree he remains a powerful player in Thai politics — and that is not necessarily all good news for Yingluck. — Today

* Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun is a Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Malott on Electoral Reform: Part 2

August 27, 2011

Malott on Electoral Reform: Part 2

COMMENT This is the second of two articles about proposals that have been made for electoral reform in Malaysia, counter-statements by the government, and how Malaysia’s situation compares to that of other countries.

Allow overseas voting

Many Malaysians have called for voting rights for all Malaysians who live abroad, and not just for government workers and military who are assigned overseas or Malaysians studying in foreign countries.

There are over one million Malaysians living overseas, but according to Election Commission Deputy Chief Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, only 2,500 of them are eligible to vote.

NONEThe government has not provided any convincing reason why all Malaysians overseas should not be permitted to vote. However, two days ago EC Chairperson Abdul Aziz Yusof (left) said that “hopefully” all registered voters living overseas will be able to vote in the next general election.

To date, the government has resisted allowing overseas Malaysians to vote out of concern that many of the Malaysians who live overseas do not support UMNO or its coalition partners. In addition, the ethnic reality is that many of the Malaysians living overseas are non-Malay, and likely not to vote for UMNO.

So UMNO’s conclusion is that permitting overseas Malaysians to vote therefore might work against its interests.

There is no clear international consensus on what right citizens who live overseas have to vote in their home countries.

The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network examined the practices of 214 countries and territories. It reports that 115 countries, just a little over half, permit their citizens to vote from abroad. Malaysia is one of those countries. The other 99 countries and territories do not allow overseas voters.

ACE says that 80 of those 115 “OK to vote” countries do not impose any conditions on overseas voting, except that the voter must be a citizen. However, the other 35 countries, including Malaysia, impose restrictions. Those restrictions concern either the reason or the length of time that a person is overseas.

Malaysia is one of a number of countries to impose “activity-based restrictions.” Why are you overseas? In Malaysia’s case, only diplomatic officers and students abroad may vote. A number of other countries have the same conditions, such as India, Singapore, and Israel.

pulau ketam village head election 310711 votingSome countries, usually those that do not impose “activity-based” or job-related restrictions, impose a time restriction. The assumption is that a citizen who has lived abroad for a number of years and perhaps become a permanent resident in another country should not be eligible to vote in national elections.

Australia, for example, denies the right to vote to any Australian citizen who has lived abroad for more than six years. For the UK, it is 15 years. For Germany, it takes 25 years before a German citizen overseas loses the right to vote.

In short, there is no clear international consensus. Half of the world’s countries do not permit overseas voting. But of those that do, Malaysia has some of the more restrictive conditions.

A national discussion about the eligibility of Malaysians overseas to vote therefore would be a useful part of the dialogue on electoral reform.

Provide fair access to media

Well-informed voters – which can come only from the free flow of information about parties, candidates, and their positions – are essential to a healthy democracy. Bersih 2.0 has called for free and fair access to the media for all political parties.

There have been many international reports that support Bersih’s position. Reporters without Borders places Malaysia 141st out of the 178 countries in its Press Freedom Index.

The US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices declares that Malaysian opposition parties are unable to compete on equal terms with the governing UMNO-dominated coalition because of restrictions on campaigning and freedom of assembly and association.

The State Department reports that “news of the opposition is tightly restricted and reported in a biased fashion.” Let’s take a look at the ways in which information about parties, candidates and their positions are disseminated in Malaysia.

1) The state-owned and controlled media, RTM and Bernama, are supposed to be public institutions for all citizens in Malaysia, because they are supported by all taxpayers regardless of their political affiliation.

In reality, RTM and Bernama have become propaganda arms of Umno and BN. RTM evens uses taxpayers’ money to broadcast UMNO’s political assemblies. RTM and Bernama take their political direction from the prime minister and the Information Ministry. They praise the ruling parties and castigate and demonise the opposition.

In other countries with publicly-owned broadcast systems – for example, the UK, Australia, Japan, and the United States – access is provided to all political parties, and an effort is made to be politically impartial.

EC Deputy Chief Wan Ahmad has said that he cannot compel newspapers and television stations to report on the opposition. That, of course, is true. It is not within the EC’s authority. But it is within the government’s authority and therefore a legitimate topic for discussion.

NONE2) In Malaysia, privately-owned newspapers and television stations are owned by companies under the control of UMNO, MCA and MIC, and can disseminate their views freely, to everyone.

By contrast, there are no television or radio stations owned by supporters of the opposition, and opposition newspapers cannot be sold openly. They can only be distributed to party members, a clearly discriminatory practice.

3) Wan Ahmad says that despite these restrictions, the opposition and its supporters have access to alternative media sources, meaning the Internet and its websites and blogs. That also is true. But it does not make for a level-playing field. The opposition is forced to campaign with one hand tied behind its back. They have a rifle, but the other side has a cannon.

Some alternative sites clearly are supporters of the opposition. Others (like Malaysiakini) try to provide a point of view that is more balanced than the mainstream media. As a result, their reporting does not always please Malaysia’s rulers.

These alternative media outlets therefore have been subject to government harassment, such as the denial of service attacks that were launched against Malaysiakini during the recent Sarawak elections. This too cuts off the free flow of information to Malaysian voters.

Over two centuries ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press.” Organisations and governments throughout the world have made it clear what they think about press freedom in Malaysia. It is no wonder that Malaysia ranks 141st in the world – even below Zimbabwe.

Ensure an impartial EC

Around the world, there probably are thousands of different ways in which governments at all levels – national, state, and local – organise and conduct elections. Because of this great variety, foreign analysts would not insist that there is one “right way” to organise and manage elections. Instead they would focus on some basic principles.

There are a number of questions that should be asked to determine whether elections are being conducted in a fair manner:

  • Is the organisation that is responsible for conducting the elections impartial, or does it favour one party over another?
  • Can the same be said about the leadership and staff employees of that organisation? Do they carry out their work in an impartial manner?
  • Is the organisation subject to political interference?
  • Are the decisions and actions of the organisation transparent, and are they fair? Do they treat both the government and the opposition equally?

Numerous academic studies conducted by both foreign and Malaysian academics have concluded that over the years, the independence and impartiality of Malaysia’s election commission has been lost. In many cases, this is because its independence has been stripped by parliamentary action. So it is not fair to blame everything on the personnel who lead the commission.

However, various unfortunate statements by Malaysia’s election officials have only reinforced the view that they favour one party over another. For example:

In 2007, then EC Chairman Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman said that “there is only one regime in this country that is capable of running (the country).”

Abdul Rashid went on to say that he was on the same wavelength as his friend, senior UMNO leader Sanusi Junid, about what the country needs. “If we don’t agree, then we are in trouble, because I run the elections,” he said.

kuala terengganu parliament by election spr ec announcement  051208 wan ahmad wan omarEC Deputy Chief Wan Ahmad (right) has taken to writing articles in Utusan Malaysia, owned by UMNO, saying that the opposition is engaged in ‘dirty tricks’ and trying to scapegoat the EC in order to promote their political ambitions.

Wan Ahmad added, “BN has never attacked or put down the EC. That is the difference between PAS, DAP, PKR and BN.”

Critics of the EC say that BN has no reason to attack or put down the EC, as the EC is doing BN’s work.

In response to Wan Ahmad’s comments, Bersih 2.0 issued a statement saying that the EC “continues to make comments that are less in the spirit of working together towards cleaner elections and more in the spirit of defending an incumbent party against contenders.”

Bersih called on Wan Ahmad and the EC to end their war of words with political parties. “Recent comments that have been made threaten the public image of impartiality that the EC needs to have to maintain public confidence. It is more the job of the Deputy Chairperson of a political party to make political criticisms than it is the deputy chairperson of the EC.” That is a sentiment with which most of the world would agree.