US Foreign Policy: Obama’s Shift from the Middle East to the Pacific

November 30, 2011

US Foreign Policy: Obama’s Shift from the Middle East to the Pacific

by Christopher Hill

For two years, President Barack Obama’s administration has tried to convey a narrative in which it is winding up wars in Southwest Asia and turning America’s attention to its longer-term – and arguably more important – relationships in East Asia and the Pacific. In recent months, that narrative has gained the virtue of actually being true.

Now, the task will be to balance the need for responsible military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan with a responsible buildup of activities in East Asia. And that means putting to rest fears that the United States is gearing up for confrontation with China.

Obama’s decision to break off talks with Iraq’s government for a new agreement on the status of US forces there means that, after eight years, those troops are finally coming home (perhaps in time for Christmas). Since US politics no longer stops at the water’s edge, Obama’s decision was greeted with howls of derision by those who argued that he was “uncommitted” to the Iraq venture and somehow did not make his best effort to keep troops there. Never mind that Vice President Joe Biden, the chief negotiator, traveled to Iraq more times than any senior US leader has traveled to any previous war zone.

Nonetheless, critics claimed that Obama’s administration had offered up Iraq to the Iranians. The “proof” was that Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki – a leader who may be called many things, but certainly not pliable or pliant – did not deliver the rest of the country’s political class to an agreement.

Early in the process, Maliki signaled two points to his American guests: he would like to see a continuing US troop presence in Iraq, but was unwilling to bear the entire political burden. He expected support from other Iraqi politicians; none came.

Sunni leaders, who tend to be grouped under the banner of the Iraqi National Party, Iraqiya, made clear that they would not support the continuation of US troops on Iraqi soil, denying Maliki the backing that he needed to forge a broad-based coalition. Sunni leaders have often expressed support for US forces’ presence in their country, but also believe that Iraq should no longer be a host to foreign troops. Polling data in Iraq, such as they are, reveal strong sentiments of the same kind: Iraqis appreciate US forces and what they have done, but nonetheless want them to leave.

The American writer Mark Twain once said: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Indeed, Iraq’s implacable anti-American radicals are now both astonished and confused. Iraq’s Sunni and Shia extremists agree on little, but one point of unison had been that the Americans would never leave their country voluntarily. Yet that is what is happening today.

Whether Americans will ever return to Iraq for exercises and training missions that exceed the scope of embassy-sponsored security-assistance initiatives remains to be determined. Iraq needs continued training programs to manage its airspace, and its land forces must still overcome the Soviet model of massed artillery and armored formations. But potential future missions, if they materialize, would be understood as emanating from a sovereign Iraqi decision, not as making a virtue out of a fact on the ground.

And so, with America’s withdrawal from Iraq paving the way for the administration’s tectonic policy shift on Asia, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed west, confident that they would have a smooth journey. They did not.

To the extent that Americans regard any foreign-policy speech as having relevance to their lives, Obama’s economic message at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hawaii was on message and on target: jobs, jobs, jobs.

But, soon after, when Obama arrived in Australia and Clinton landed in the Philippines, what looked like a clean narrative about the economy abruptly unraveled: Obama promised his Australian hosts that the US would station fewer than a brigade of US Marines in far-off Darwin to train and exercise. No one could possibly believe that this step would be sufficient to allay whatever concerns the Obama administration and America’s Asian allies have about China’s growing military power, but that is how the US press played it.

When combined with Clinton’s crowd-pleasing appearance on a warship in Manila Bay, and her use of the term “West Philippine Sea,” the economic narrative stood little chance. The new storyline was that the US had started pulling out of Southwest Asia for the purpose of confronting China. Even the administration’s deft and courageous move to send Clinton to Burma, following Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from detention and decision to rejoin the political system, was portrayed as another effort to poke China in the eye.

America’s re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is welcome and overdue. Some of America’s partners in that part of the world ask very little, except for the US to pay attention now and again, attend meetings, and respect their consensual approach to problem solving. Just showing up, as the old aphorism goes, is half of life. In the Asia-Pacific region, it is sometimes even more than that.

But reengagement will come at too high a cost if it is widely seen as a path to confrontation with China, rather than overdue attention to everyone else. The US and the Asia-Pacific countries need to maintain productive relationships with China, which is becoming more complicated for everyone as China plunges into a period of internal introspection about its future.

How China emerges from this process, and how it behaves in its neighborhood – and globally – will determine much about what the world will look like in the medium and long term. We need to avoid creating self-fulfilling prophecies that stem from our deepest fears.

Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was US Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, US special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, and chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005-2009. He is now Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Myanmar sheds that hermit image

November 30, 2011

Myanmar sheds that hermit image

By KARIM RASLAN(11-29-11)

After decades of isolation, Myanmar is being brought back into the limelight by its military rulers led by President Thein Sein.

MYANMAR and Malaysia. It’s highly unusual for the two countries to be mentioned in the same breath – all the more so given Myanmar’s long-standing status as a “pariah” state. However, with the recent hotly-debated Peaceful Assembly Bill, it would appear that we Malaysians should be checking more closely with what’s going on in Myanmar.

Consider Tuesday’s closing ceremony of the SEA Games in Palembang and the extraordinary phrase emblazoned across the stadium: “See you in Myanmar.”

President Thein Sein has been cautiously testing the waters, releasing political prisoners, relaxing media coverage and allowing veteran politician Aung San Suu Kyi increased freedom of movement.

Moreover, last week’s summit in Bali resulted in the once hermit-like state being granted the chairmanship of the increasingly influential ASEAN grouping in 2014. What’s more is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting in December – the highest-ranking American official to do so in decades.

All these would have been unthinkable back in 2007, when the military regime’s vicious crackdown on the Buddhist monk-led “Saffron Revolution” all but confirmed Myanmar’s pariah status.

At the same time, Myanmar’s new Peaceful Gathering and Procession Bill somewhat loosens restrictions on public meetings. Thein Sein has been intervening more dramatically, halting an unpopular Chinese-funded dam in Myitsone last September after local protests.

Could this be the signs of a responsive government? The generals have also made overtures to end Myanmar’s decade-old civil war with the country’s ethnic groups, like the Karen, Shan and Wa.

What gives these initiatives credibility is that they appear to have the support of Suu Kyi as well as her National League of Democracy (NLD), which won the abrogated 1990 elections. Indeed, NLD has since announced that it will register as a political party and contest in upcoming by-elections.

A “Myanmar Spring”? There’s every reason to be sceptical: Myanmar has tried to open up in the past, only to see a sharp conservative reaction. While the reforms are undoubtedly welcome, a lot more needs to be done before the country is truly re-integrated into the international community.

So what’s next for Myanmar? Personally, I can think of no better introduction to its history and possible future than my friend Thant Myint-U’s two books.

Grandson of the celebrated UN Secretary-General U Thant, Myint-U in 2007 published The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma, followed by this year’s Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.

In The River of Lost Footsteps, Myint-U weaves Myanmar’s glorious but tragic history into his family narrative. It chronicles the many conflicts between the nation’s ethnic groups as well as attempts by foreign powers to impose order.

It’s hardly a cheerful read, but one is treated to the stoicism of Myanmar’s heroes, including independence hero General Aung San and his daughter Syu Kyi, the colourful post-colonial Prime Minister U Nu as well as U Thant.

Myint-U was fortunate enough to know or interview many of his subjects personally and indeed the book’s strength is its intimate feel.

Where China Meets India is a more geopolitical analysis. It traces China and India’s long history in Myanmar, particularly via bordering regions like China’s Yunnan province or India’s restive northeast.

Myint-U argues that Myanmar will be the site of the world’s next “great game”, as China and India battle for influence and natural resources in Southeast Asia. This is persuasive in light of the ongoing US$2.5bil (RM7.99bil), 2,380km-long Sino-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline that will link the port of Sittwe to Yunnan’s Kunming.

China hopes this pipeline will reduce its dependency on oil shipped through the Malacca Straits, which it fears India may be able to cut off with its burgeoning navy.

A recurring theme in Myint-U’s two books is that foreign nations cannot keep on isolating Myanmar, as its rulers have often simply turned their backs on the world. Indeed, the country’s current social policy may be conditional on the international community continuing to reward the regime for its good behaviour.

So while it’s probably wise to welcome the latest developments, the patient engagement of Myanmar ought to continue. However, a free and open Myanmar – with a population of 47 million, natural resources and strategic location – will be a strong rival for investment and influence.

The “Myanmar Spring” may well herald a new rivalry between mainland and maritime Southeast Asia. Finally, we Malaysians must ask ourselves: “Do we wish to fall behind ASEAN’s perennial human-rights laggard?”

UMNO Deputy President chides UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO Leadership

November 30, 2011

UMNO Deputy President chides UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO Leadership for Failure to capture attention of Gen-Y

Written by  Maclean Patrick, Stan Lee, Malaysia Chronicle

The manner in which Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin chided the UMNO Youth wing and Puteri UMNO is telling. Muhyiddin, the UMNO Deputy President, minced no words saying both wings had yet to capture the full attention of the younger generation. Hence, he said the two wings should work harder to be effective and remain relevant and of use to UMNO.

“I can’t deny that they have carried out many programmes and activities but the question is whether those programmes and activities have captured the attention and won the hearts of the young people,” Muhyiddin said in a recent interview with Bernama.

Muhyiddin said he also hoped that the younger generation of UMNO members would take advantage of this year’s assembly to raise issues concerning the aspirations of the “Generation Y’ as they made up 40 per cent of the country’s registered voters.

“So, they have to debate on the interests and the aspirations of this new generation, especially in terms of transparency, accountability, and whether what is being done will benefit them. All these aspects must be manifested in their debates at the assembly,” he said.

But Gen Y does not like UMNO’s caveman style of politicking

Indeed, Muhyiddin’s observation of the UMNO Youth wing led by Khairy Jamaluddin and Puteri UMNO under Rosnah Rashid Shirlin is not too far off the mark. But he is wrong in identifying the ultimate source of blame. Malaysia’s Generation Y has no issues with voting nor debating issues. It is with UMNO that Generation Y has an issue with! And neither Khairy and Rosnah have enough credibility to convince the extremely circumspect Gen Y into believing they are the salvation within a decadent UMNO.

Indeed, it looks like Khairy and Rosnah – both of whom despite their youth are already wealthy beyond the imagination of the masses – are unable to ‘lock minds’ with Gen Y, generally defined as those born after 1978. This group of privileged youngsters, due to better education and more prosperous parents, tend to extremely scrupulous, disdainful of gains not obtained through their own merit and take enormous pride in their skills and knowledge.

Certainly, it takes more than a YBs Can Jump basketball tournament or incessant, sharp-tongued twitters to hook in the young these days. Gen Y would expect KJ and Rosnah to stand up, draw a line and protest when the overly patriarchal UMNO such as Muhyiddin amd Mahathir Mohamad, sputter what they regard as sheer nonsense.

But neither KJ nor Rosnah have uttered a squeak even when it came to recent Peaceful Assembly Bill, which practically robs Malaysians of their fundamental right to gather and express their views. This Bill is a huge No, No as far as Gen Y is concerned. Yet, KJ and Rosnah pretend not to notice.

Not ‘real’

Both KJ and Rosnah can run all the activities and programmes they wish to get young people to support UMNO and thus, vote Barisan Nasional into power. But while the young Malaysia may attend the events, they are unlikely to vote UMNO given the huge question marks on how ‘real’ Khairy and Rosnah really are.

More likely, Malaysia’s Gen Y will see both these leaders as peddlers of poison ice-cream coated with Gen Y flavor. But once consumed, they will develop the same diarrhea that their parents and grandparents are now suffering.

During the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally, there was a noticeable youth presence amongst the walkers. And these youths were came from all walks of life – rural or urban, female or male, rich or poor, tertiary or basic education.

Gen Y is aware of current issues affecting Malaysia and truly aspire for Malaysia to be the best that it can be. They can see through Najib’s bluster and bombast of making Malaysia “the world’s best democracy”. They sneer at him. So, it is UMNO itself which is clearly an obstacle to the aspirations of many Malaysian youths.

 To Gen Y, the UMNO patriarchs are out of touch

When Muhyiddin alluded to the failings of both UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO, he was kidding himself. He wasn’t looking at the whole picture. Really, Muhyiddin should understand Gen Y will not be interested as long as either wing support the racist and religious stance taken UMNO, the parent organisation.

Sad to say, neither wing has had the courage to break free and make its own stand reflecting what Gen Y wants. So far, both Youth and Puteri wings have gone contrary to parent UMNO only on select issues, and these only at the surface level.

For example, Khairy said when the wing decided to take a contrarian view on several controversial issues such as the Internal Security Act, freedom of the press and on the Universities and University Colleges Act, many in the party had questioned his move.

The right-wing in UMNO found it hard to understand UMNO Youth’s direction as the wing had previously played the role of the champion of the Malays and was very radical on ethno-centric issues.

“They said we were championing issues that were similar to the opposition’s agenda. But I kept explaining that we need to change because this is what the young people want. We can still be radical but we have to be radical progressive and radical moderates. Now our efforts have paid off,” a defensive KJ said.

The delusional Khairy

But have they really paid off? The delusional Khairy even seems to think that his Youth wing should be credited for the influencing UMNO to change and for helping to keep UMNO relevant. But to others, this was an example of why Khairy must go.

“He thinks he has done a lot but the fact is, he has done the least of any Youth leader in UMNO so far. To UMNO, the party as a whole, he is a washout and must be taken out. Frankly, I agree because Khairy is only putting on a show. He is preserving his own political reputation – not daring to be too ultra and yet not daring to really stand up and push for the reforms that UMNO needs,” a veteran UMNO watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

As for Puteri UMNO, its chief Rosnah dismissed ‘rumours’ that she failed to get the full support of the “ladies in pink”.

“That is not true at all. We are as united as any movement can be. There are disagreements and there are times when some don’t agree with my ideas but otherwise, we are very close. To me, disagreements are part of the democratic process. It doesn’t distract us from our responsibilities in ensuring that UMNO remains relevant, especially to the younger generation,” Rosnah told the press last week.

Major shakeup in UMNO after GE-13

Indeed, the words of the two leaders of the youth wings in UMNO seem positive and they appear sure that they have done everything right and necessary for their party. So, why the negative comment from Muhyiddin?

As pundits say, interesting times are up for UMNO.With the 13th general election expected to be called in early 2012, chances are both Khairy and Rosnah will be allowed to save face so that UMNO as a whole can close ranks and fight the Pakatan Rakyat opposition with all their might. But the signal to the delegates at the ongoing assembly is clear.

The UMNO top leadership has acknowledged the failure of Khairy and Rosnah and will not oppose those who believe they can do a better job from contesting the posts of UMNO Youth chief and Puteri UMNO Chief at the party’s internal polls slated for the second half of 2012 – after GE-13! This is the writing on the wall for Khairy Jamaluddin and Rosnah Rashid.

Both are expected to make for the same exit as Women’s chief Shahrizat Jalil (picture above right), although the chances are high Shahrizat may announce plans to step down before the GE-13 in order to boost the BN’s chances. Rocked by a RM250 million corruption scandal involving the national livestock project NFC, Shahrizat has denied involvement but she is facing an uphill battle for political survival.

Malaysia Chronicle

Wanita UMNO’s Shahrizat at  her Incoherent Best

Tony Fernandes Versus Malaysia Airports on KLIA2 Cost

November 30, 2011

Tony Fernandes Versus Malaysia Airports on KLIA2 Cost

A leading local entrepreneur (left) and one of the country’s top GLCs are now locked in a face-off over the ballooning cost of the new low-cost carrier terminal (KLIA2) that could threaten Malaysia’s ambitions to be a regional transport hub.

Also at stake is whether the bad blood brewing between the two parties could affect the overseas growth of both Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and one of its biggest customers and what is now Asia’s fourth-largest airline, AirAsia.

AirAsia CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes yesterday rubbished MAHB’s justifications for the doubling of the cost of KLIA2 from the original estimate of RM2 billion in 2009 to RM3.9 billion currently.

He said on Twitter that increasing the terminal capacity from 30 million to 45 million passengers made little sense as it would make it larger than “the whole of Singapore’s Changi Airport” and suggested that the cost would likely inflate even further.

“American Airlines just gone into bankruptcy. And Malaysian Airports spend 3.9 billion. I’m sure that’s not the final figure,” he tweeted, referring to the news that the US airlines’ parent company — AMR Corp — filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

MAHB maintains, however, that it needs to plan for future capacity as other airports are doing and expects KLIA2 traffic to hit 30 million as early as 2017. A check on Changi Airports International’s website also shows that Changi Airport has a capacity of about 70 million.

The price-sensitive airline magnate also told The Malaysian Insider that he doubted MAHBmanaging director Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad’s assurances yesterday that the increased cost will not result in higher passenger fees and other airport related charges, adding that he lost faith in the airport operator after it allegedly failed to live up to a previous “guarantee” to not increase in airport fees.

“I am very disappointed in MAHB. They guaranteed no increases even at the present terminal,” he said via text message, referring to the fact that MAHB recently started charging an extra RM7 per international passenger at the existing low cost carrier terminal (LCCT).

Bashir had pointed out yesterday that the airport charges and fees were regulated by the government and said that the fees for KLIA2 when it opens for business in April 2013 would be the same as that of the LCCT, at least until the next government review.

The MAHB managing director, whose contract reportedly ends in June next year, also touched a nerve when he announced yesterday that 80 aerobridges will be installed at KLIA2 despite much lobbying by Fernandes to omit the facility to help keep down costs. Bashir said that aerobridges would help the elderly, infirm and others who suffer restricted movement and said that the average extra cost per passenger was a negligible 25 sen.

Fernandes, however, seized on MAHB’s apparent defiance as an example of a breakdown in private-public co-operation.“Look across the Causeway and look at Singapore,” he said. “They listen to their airlines. Their budget terminal has no aerobridges.”

He also noted on Twitter that his flight to Boston, US where he is meeting investors also did not utilise an aerobridge. “Came off US Airways on steps just like AirAsia. Can’t believe how Malaysian Airports gets away. Worst run Malaysian company. Full of empty promises,” he tweeted.

Some MAHB executive, however, expressed private fears that the public spat between the two entities could harm the GLC’s image abroad where it is trying to expand its airport business.

Fernandes has built his business around keeping costs down and has often complained that the claimed lack of responsiveness of MAHB could threaten to derail AirAsia’s expansion plans to become the second largest carrier in Asia after Japan Airlines.

With AirAsia expected to be the largest budget airline flying out of KLIA2 by far, Fernandes’ response that he will not use the aerobridges despite Bashir’s public plea for support means this is a stalemate that could determine if KLIA2 takes off or simply crashes and burns.

UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin sets the tone for GE-13

November 30, 2011

UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin sets the tone for GE-13 at UMNO General Assembly

by Hafiz Yatim (11-29-11)

UMNO has made a clarion call to its members from the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings to defend Putrajaya at all costs to ensure the sovereignty of the Malays.

NONEUMNO Deputy President Tan Sri  Muhyiddin Yassin, said UMNO is in a critical situation now.

He was speaking at the UMNO General Assembly tonight in Kuala Lumpur.

“The 13th general election is the mother of all elections as it would determine whether the Malays will fall or rise up. Will the political power remain in our hands or will it pass to others?” he asked.

“Do you want to see the political power to be lost and allow the opposition to win Putrajaya? Are we prepared to see the Malays losing their power on their own land? Certainly the answer is no,” said Muhyiddin in his joint speech to the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings tonight.

Muhyiddin urged all three movements to mobilise to defend UMNO and BN at all costs in the coming election.

The Deputy President also called on Wanita chief, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, to lead the female warriors of the party, and UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to be the Malay warrior in leading his movement to be the defenders of UMNO.

“All votes from women are important as women have a strong influence in society. As for UMNO Youth we have the youngest warrior in Khairy, and he should move his members to fight in the strongest challenge the party is facing. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the battle ahead.”

Muhyiddin said today’s landscape had changed where it now caters for the young, and UMNO must give its commitment and trust to the younger generation. “To UMNO leaders – give way to the younger generation for them to contribute in the party. Guide them as UMNO would not last without support from the younger generation,” he said.

Muhyiddin also had words for its new movement Puteri UMNO chief, Rosnah Sirlin, calling on her to play her role effectively.

“We have to remain united, have one mind, one prayer and one ambition to see the party remains strong. Disregard the differences and internal fights. “Believe that the party’s struggle is a jihad for the religion, race and country. It is a jihad for justice and protecting our rights. We have to believe that the coming election is important to our survival. The election is a fighting arena for all of you to become warriors. Do not retreat or surrender easily,” he said.

‘Let Leaders decide on candidates’

Muhyiddin said candidates were the weapons for the party and members should give their full trust and support to them.

“Let the Leaders decide on the choice of candidates. What is important is they have the calibre, are educated, are close to the people, clean, sincere, honest, have high morals and are accepted by society,” he said.

“Give your undivided support to the party and its leaders so that we could successfully promote the party president’s transformation agenda. The President is brave to introduce the political transformation, and change. This should be accepted by all UMNO members,” he said.

He urged members to defend the party at all costs and not to run away from the battle. “Do not retreat, do not sabotage, do not boycott, do not play dirty, do not close the party’s office during elections, and do not stab people from behind. Do not do anything that would hamper the party’s chances of winning. Remember the election is a contest to determine our survival. It is not to win individually but collectively as a party,” he said.

Focus on the problems faced by the people. Feel their pulse, hear their problems and go and assist them. We must be their eyes, ears and voice and most important we must be responsible to commit ourselves morally to assist the people,” said Muhyiddin.

Najib must deal with UMNO Warlords to win GE-13

November 29, 2011

Najib must deal with UMNO Warlords to win GE-13

by Baradan Kuppusamy@

The pressing issue for UMNO is to hammer home the theme that the party’s warlords, division chiefs and apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

UMNO is mobilising its grassroots to stage its annual general meeting at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur this week in a great show of choreographed pomp and colour and with members pledging party unity ahead of the most crucial battle of all, the 13th general election.

The party is set to put on the biggest show ever and the media coverage will be overwhelming; a stark contrast to its rival PKR, which just concluded its annual general meeting in Pulai Springs Hotel, Johor, and whose assembly attracted less attention.

While for PKR, the debate in a nutshell centred on enemies from within, the UMNO debates are expected to centre on winning candidates – a theme Prime Minister and UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been broaching for some months now.

For the UMNO leadership, the pressing issue is to get the party grassroots behind this theme, that UMNO warlords, division chiefs and party apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

What is important would be winning candidates who will fight in the constituencies that UMNO will contest and in other constituencies where the party’s allies will do battle.

The challenge for the UMNO leadership is to convince the power brokers in the party and the division chiefs that the next election is a battle for  the party’s survival and that only a certain type of candidate will be allowed to carry the Barisan Nasional flag.

Najib has to convince the power brokers to voluntarily relinquish the decision to choose the candidates to the party’s top leadership.Once that is accomplished, this would ensure that the warlords and division chiefs work to ensure the party wins.

They must not, out of anger at not being chosen, simply abandon the election machinery in their areas, go for a holiday at the most crucial moment or even indulge in acts of sabotage.They must not, as party members, stand as independents and split the votes.

Everything hangs in the balance for the next general election: the number of seats that Barisan Nasi­onal can expect to win, the percentage of votes it can garner, the extent of transformation to society that has taken place and whether voters are convinced.

Najib has been preaching about winning candidates as he makes his rounds around the country.Deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has also been spreading the importance of winning candidates.Above all, they want consensus.

An agreement from the party warlords that their candidate choices for the general election will be accepted and endorsed.

A division chairman or his deputy are not automatically the best candidates in their constituencies.The best candidates could be a humble teacher or a district officer or a doctor or just any ordinary member in the party hierarchy who has a certain degree of easy confidence and restraint and has no derogatory label at the local level.

This, then, is what Najib will set out to do – to establish the fact that party comes first above all else. The warlords will be asked to make sacrifices and not pull the party leviathan in different directions at the grassroots level. They will be asked to promise that they will strictly put party interest above self and support wholeheartedly the candidates that the leadership has chosen for the big battle.

Pakatan Rakyat is not an easy enemy to defeat. It might be wounded, it might have “enemies within” and it might have three different agendas.But they have a unifying figure in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, no matter how beaten down, and a unifying vision of occupying Putrajaya.They are not easily defeatable.

Besides, UMNO has to carry the MCA, MIC, Gerakan and PPP into battle with it, at least in the peninsula.These parties are in various stages of reinventing themselves for a new generation of voters.

Except for the MCA, which is in a showdown with the DAP, the rest have to accept their defeated images and exist as feeders of votes to big brother UMNO in return for representation in parliament.

It’s a new reality that they will have to accept.Najib will spell out the realities of the altered political landscape at the UMNO general assembly that he is not just UMNO President but also the Prime Minister for all Malaysians no matter what their race, ethnic group or social status are.

Although badly mauled by defections, PKR has pledged to reinvent itself and fight UMNO.The DAP, on the other hand, is a strong, sleeping giant, sure of Chinese voter support.PAS, meanwhile, is struggling for Malay votes beyond its one-million card carrying members, having lost the political initiative to UMNO.

Its many liberal policies were designed to endear it to non-Malays but it has woken up late to the fact that it needs the Malay voters too and is fast catching up, ratcheting up a hardline stance.

If Najib can convince his party warlords to ease off and not battle him over his choice of candidates and to put party above self, then he would have won half the battle.

The other half is to convince voters that he has been working day and night since becoming Prime Minister in February 2009 while the “Prime Minister-in-waiting” Anwar has been giving speeches from India to Egypt and countries in between. Najib can win a new mandate from voters but he has to get his party warlords behind him.

The Situation in Myanmar is not without Hope

November 29, 2011

The Situation in Myanmar is not without Hope, says Deva Ridzam

“ASEAN must pursue realistic goals with patience as well as perseverance, Myanmar can have a stable central government to hold the country together to ensure the overall development of the country. The decision to allow Myanmar to chair the regional grouping in 2014 is a far-sighted move by ASEAN”.–Ridzam

MYANMAR’S woes all these years have been a classic case of the leadership there being unable or unwilling to get its politics and economics right. Successive leaders, since 1962, never allowed parliamentary democracy envisioned by independence leader General Aung San to evolve and take root.

And in the context of both its own history and in terms of a politically evolving Southeast Asia, even the exercise of a flawed “democratic process” currently under way in Myanmar is better than what existed there until a few months ago.

Every member state of ASEAN must manage its socio-political and economic transition at its own pace. And this is what Myanmar’s new nominally civilian government seems to be attempting to do. Hopefully, its new constitution can provide the basis for a shift from authoritarianism towards a democratic path.

The junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), virtually gave up on ASEAN when it was forced to relinquish its chairmanship in 2006. The SPDC viewed it as an affront to Myanmar’s integrity. It created an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion of the regional bloc.

Asean’s so-called policy of “constructive engagement” failed miserably to start a dialogue with the junta. Hence, there was little understanding of the problems facing the generals there and the country.

Some ASEAN countries, while continuing their own business and other interests in Myanmar, tried to deflect lack of success by asking China and India to “exert influence” on the junta.

But these two neighbours of Myanmar also have their own national interests there. ASEAN and its partners should instead work on the basis of the junta’s seven-step plan.

The situation in Myanmar is not hopeless. Change there is inevitable sooner or later. Senior Gen Than Shwe is 74 years old. The generals  seem to accept the reality that the entire country  may not survive for long under intense domestic (monks, students and insurgencies) and international pressure.

The generals seem keen to move towards some sort of a “guided democratic” path, that is “soft authoritarianism” and may even find some sort of accommodation with the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party applied to re-register last week.

It would be wrong to view Myanmar solely through the lens of human rights and democracy or, for that matter, through any particular narrow perspective. More importantly, it is about “peaceful transition through national reconciliation”, which is key to solving their problems.

The point is to get all parties, especially the minorities, representing a third of the population, to talk together and explore common interests. Therefore, relying on  Suu Kyi alone and ignoring realities on the ground could lead to a Yugoslavia-type situation of civil war in Southeast Asia.

The international community should look to the future, nudge the generals towards greater flexibility, less negativity towards national reconciliation, better autonomy deals with insurgent groups as well as some arrangements with  Suu Kyi.

Instead of imposing external standards of democracy, the international community ought to be thinking in terms of transition from the present situation towards a “democratic path”, one that could lead to power sharing, multiparty elections and pluralistic democracy in the long term, with emphasis on capacity building and governance.

ASEAN should also encourage the generals to focus on the economy (investments to create jobs) as well as foster social cohesion, including social programmes relating to health and education, along with physical infrastructure. These are areas where the international community can and must help.

The evolving situation in Myanmar offers ASEAN and its dialogue partners a unique opportunity to allow the junta and all the other local parties to work out their own solution without outside interference or pressure.

ASEAN must pursue realistic goals and with patience as well as perseverance, Myanmar can have a stable central government to hold the country together to ensure the overall development of the country. The decision to allow Myanmar to chair the regional grouping in 2014 is a far-sighted move by ASEAN.

Open Letter from President, Malaysian Bar Council

November 28, 2011

Open Letter from President, Malaysian Bar Council to Members of Parliament

“The Malaysian Bar is resolute that any attempt to regulate a fundamental liberty guaranteed under the Federal Constitution must only be done after due consultation with all stakeholders, including opposition parliamentarians and civil society groups.”–Lim Chee Wee, President, Malaysian Bar Council

Dear Wakil Rakyat,

You may have heard that the Malaysian Bar opposes the Peaceful Assembly Bill 2011 (“PA 2011”) on the grounds that it imposes unreasonable and disproportionate fetters on the freedom of assembly that is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution.

There are provisions in PA 2011 that are far more restrictive than the current law, such as the banning of “street protests” (assemblies in motion or processions) and the unlimited powers vested in the police to dictate the time, date, place and conduct of an assembly.

There are also provisions in PA 2011 that are simply illogical.  As an example, although Police do not need to be notified of a religious assembly, such an assembly cannot be held at a place of worship.

Furthermore, a person living within 50 metres of a kindergarten or school cannot hold an open house for a festival, a funeral procession or a wedding reception.

The Prime Minister, in his Malaysia Day speech on September 15, 2011, promised the Rakyat of the following:

I often opine that long gone is the era in which the government knows everything and claims monopoly over wisdom. . . .

The government will also review Section 27 of the Police Act 1967, taking into consideration Article 10 of the Federal Constitution regarding freedom of assembly and so as to be in line with international norms on the same matter. . . . (emphasis added)

NONEBe confident that it is a strength and not a weakness for us to place our trust in the Malaysian people’s intelligence to make decisions that will shape the path of their own future. . . .

It is absolutely clear that the steps I just announced are none other than early initiatives of an organised and graceful political transformation. 

It stands as a crucial and much needed complement to the initiatives of economic transformation and public presentation which the government has outlined and implemented for over two years in the effort to pioneer a modern and progressive nation. . . .

In closing, I wish to emphasise that free of any suspicion and doubt, the Malaysia that we all dream of and are in the process of creating is a Malaysia that practices [sic] a functional and inclusive democracy where public peace and prosperity is preserved in accordance with the supremacy of the constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights.

‘Outrageous to prohibit processions’

PA 2011 is neither consistent with “international norms”, nor “in accordance with the supremacy of the Constitution, rule of law and respect for basic human rights and individual rights”. Instead, the Bill will take us further away from being “a modern and progressive nation”.

It is outrageous that assemblies in motion are prohibited. Assemblies in motion provide the demonstrators with a wider audience and greater visibility, in order for others to see and hear the cause or grievance giving rise to the gathering.

Assemblies in motion has been described as “a potent method of expression and is a common phenomenon in democratic societies”[1].

History is replete with peaceful assemblies in motion, which were agents of change and of good.

Processions led to nation’s founding

On  February 27, 1946 Onn Jaafar, founding father of UMNO and the grandfather of our present Minister for Home Affairs, led a procession of 15,000 individuals to protest the establishment of the Malayan Union, which disregarded the interests of the Malay Rulers and the Malays.

This was the first of a series of processions that successfully opposed the Malayan Union, and later led to our nation’s independence.

On February  27, 2008, the then-Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi led 20,000 people in a one-kilometre procession from the Batu Pahat UMNO office to the stadium to commemorate this rally.

There have been other processions calling for the abolition of the Internal Security Act 1960, rights of minorities and electoral reforms.

For the Malaysian Bar, we organised the Walk for Justice, which was held on September 26, 2007, to call for a royal commission to investigate the VK Lingam video clip and the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission, both of which were subsequently set up by the government.

NONEThe present prohibition of procession robs the rakyat of a right that currently exists under Section 27 of the Police Act, which regulates “assemblies, meetings and processions”.

Elsewhere, history is full of various peaceful processions led by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela, to name but a few, which brought an end to oppressive laws, policies and regimes.

It is ironic that the government now wants to prohibit the very processions that led to the founding of our nation, and others that moved the prime minister to promise legislative reforms.

These promised reforms now strike back at the very demonstrations that catalysed them.The Malaysian Bar is steadfast in its stand and determination that PA 2011, in its current form, must not become law.

The Malaysian Bar is resolute that any attempt to regulate a fundamental liberty guaranteed under the Federal Constitution must only be done after due consultation with all stakeholders, including opposition parliamentarians and civil society groups.

No Other Choice 

To this end, the Malaysian Bar has proposed an alternative bill to be considered, and calls for PA 2011 to be remitted to a parliamentary select committee for consideration.

At the second reading of PA 2011, we ask that you, as a wakil rakyat, support our call.NONEIt is not an exaggeration to say that tomorrow, you will hold the liberty of the rakyat in your hands.  We ask that you treat it with the deference it deserves.

Now, more than ever, you must remember that you were elected as a representative of the people, to carry out responsibilities as a ‘wakil rakyat’.

Please do not put blind obedience to party and partisanship before your duties as a servant of the people.  The rakyat should not be made to suffer the consequences of party politics.  PA 2011 is an unjust law, being made in undue haste, which has received the condemnation of the Rakyat.

There can be no other choice.

Do not pass PA 2011. Support our alternative bill and our call for a Parliamentary Select Committee.

Yours faithfully,

Lim Chee Wee
Malaysian Bar

[1] Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in Leung Kwok Hung & Ors v Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (FACC Nos. 1 & 2 of 2005, at para. 3).

The Recalcitrant Shahrizat: NFC is her Political WaterLoo

November 28, 2011

The Recalcitrant Shahrizat: NFC is her Political WaterLoo 

Written by  Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia-Chronicle

UMNO Senator Shahrizat Jalil(left) refused to face up to corruption allegations surrounding her family’s alleged involvement in the national beef production project, NFC, but her obstinacy may well boomerang and hasten her political downfall.

Already calls are growing within UMNO, known to be fraught with infighting and there is a long queue eyeing her Women’s chief post, for her to relinquish her positions. Whilst outside of UMNO, her refusal to take responsibility has added to the public anger against her. Shahrizat is also the federal minister for Women’s affairs.

“It is no point her leveling the blame at Pakatan Rakyat. Pakatan never forced NFC or her family to buy the two luxury condominiums with public money. Also, without her status in the BN, is she seriously saying the federal government would still have given the project to her husband and children? Do they have sufficient experience or expertise in developing a cattle livestock industry?” PKR vice president Chua Jui Meng told Malaysia Chronicle.

Nothing to do with me

Nonetheless, the way Shahrizat sees it is that she is wholly unconnected to the RM250 million NFC financial debacle, that even the Auditor-General had warned was in “a mess”. According to her, Pakatan was after her because of the strength of her Wanita UMNO wing.

Ironically, just days ago, it was Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin – who is also UMNO Deputy President – who admitted that the Wanita, Puteri and Youth were not performing to expectation.

“I agree on this and I believe that others also share this opinion (that the Youth, Puteri and Wanita wings are perceived to be not as active as before). UMNO president Najib Razak himself has stated this in his special message to the party wings recently,” Muhyiddin told Bernama in a recent interview.

“The assembly was held because we want them to realise that they have a greater role. But the view of outsiders with regard to the Youth and Puteri movements is that they are not up to expectations. We acknowledge this.”

Writing on the wall

It looks like this may well be one political skirmish that Shahrizat won’t be able to survive. The signs are clear, she may have no choice but to announce plans to step down as Women’s chief before the next general election, widely expected to be held early next year.

Meantime, Shahrizat vowed to fight on. She promised to address the NFC controversy during the Umno general assembly this week, even though it has “nothing to do with me.”

“It is not a problem if the NFC issue is debated. I will answer during Wanita UMNO’s assembly. I will send a clear message to those people out there,” Malaysian Insider reported her as saying and referring to the Pakatan Rakyat.

“I am being patient, as a woman I have to be calm. They (Pakatan) are doing this because they are afraid of Wanita Umno’s strength.”

Malaysia Chronicle

The Hour of the Technocrats

November 28, 2011

The Hour of the Technocrats

by Jeffery Frankel (11-25-11)

Greece and Italy, desperate after their gridlocked political systems left them mired in debt and crisis, have both chosen technocratic economists – Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti, respectively – rather than politicians to lead new governments.

Both can be described as professors: Monti has been president of Milan’s Bocconi University as well as a European Commissioner, and Papademos has been my colleague at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in the year since he finished his term as Deputy Governor of the European Central Bank.

Not long from now, both men will most likely provoke headlines such as the following: “Professors Earn ‘A’ in Economics, but Flunk Politics.” That will be unfair. It is not a lack of political ability which will stymie them, but rather a lack of political power.

Monti (right), despite strong popular support for his technocratic government, does not have a parliamentary majority upon which he can rely. Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made it clear that he will not set aside his personal political interests for the good of the country.

Papademos has been dealt an even weaker hand. Despite his best efforts to insist on a term longer than three months and the ability to appoint some members of his cabinet as conditions for accepting the premiership, in the end he won neither demand.

The elevation of these two outstanding civil servants comes after a period when other professors have been squeezed out by the political process. In June, several well-qualified economists from emerging-market countries were passed over in the selection of a successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

In Germany, Axel Weber resigned as President of the Bundesbank and member of the Governing Council of the ECB last January, reportedly because his statements opposing the Banks’ purchases of troubled eurozone countries’ bonds reflected his political naivety. The press could not imagine that a technocrat might voluntarily relinquish a sure shot at a position of great power – successor to Jean-Claude Trichet as ECB President – on a matter of principle.

But that is precisely what Weber did. The willingness to give up power if necessary is one of the advantages that professors bring to such positions. (The ECB presidency then went to another economist and technocrat, Mario Draghi, who is, in fact, the perfect man for the job.)

It is a mistake to conflate technocratic elites (those with PhDs or other advanced economics degrees) with other kinds of elites (those with money or power, especially if they inherited one or the other). Most economists understood the downside risks of European monetary union. It was the politicians who underestimated the technical difficulties when they opted for monetary integration.

It goes without saying that academic or technical expertise is neither necessary nor sufficient to ensure government officials’ success. Indeed, many of my Harvard colleagues would make terrible policymakers, owing to a lack of leadership, managerial, or other interpersonal skills. And many excellent political leaders – for example, George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, among US presidents – have not been intellectuals.

Technocrats can play a useful role as honest brokers when traditional politicians have become discredited or parties are deadlocked. Moreover, they have the credibility that comes with a lack of desire to be re-elected, either because their term in office has been limited in advance or because they are known to prefer a quiet academic life.

Their most obvious advantage is apparent when a country faces problems – for example, proposing economic reforms or negotiating loan terms – that are largely technical. A good precedent in Italy is Carlo Ciampi, who took the reins of government in 1993, after Italy was forced to drop out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, and managed to repeal the scala mobile (the wage-indexation system), beat down inflation, and re-board the train of European monetary integration.

Among some technocrats’ obvious disadvantages are lack of managerial experience, lack of perceived legitimacy, and lack of a domestic power base. Monti and Papademos (left) both have managerial experience and, for now, legitimacy. They will be limited, however, by their inability to command the stable support of a political bloc.

Several current heads of state could be considered technocrats: President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, President Sebastián Piñera of Chile, and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, among others. Nobody could accuse them of having led sheltered lives, or of being unaccustomed to making difficult decisions. At the same time, all three received academic training at Harvard. (Calderón took three courses from me; unfortunately, dealing with violent drug lords was not on my syllabus.)

Having good international credentials is not always an advantage. When Sirleaf received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, there was speculation that her good image abroad could hurt her campaign for re-election at home. Analogously, both Papademos and Monti are certified European Union and eurozone elites, which will help them to obtain support for their countries abroad, but will leave them vulnerable to domestic charges that they are lackeys of foreign powers.

It is fitting that Rome and Athens, the two seats of classical Western civilization, have turned to these two urbane, erudite men for leadership. But neither Papademos nor Monti can work any technocratic magic if they are not given the political tools to get the right policies enacted.

Jeffrey Frankel is Professor of Capital Formation and Growth at Harvard University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Najib must deal with issues like NFC

November 28, 2011

Najib must deal with issues like NFC to restore credibility 

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal

Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s pre-polls charm offensive could sputter on alleged mismanagement of government projects and an uncertain economy despite the prime minister announcing a slew of reforms to boost voter support for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), say opposition lawmakers.

In recent months, Najib repealed three Emergency declarations, pledged to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA), tabled a contentious Peaceful Assembly Bill, formed a parliamentary select committee on electoral reform and given more leeway to university students to participate in politics.

But a minister’s family’s handling of the RM250 million National Feedlot Centre (NFC) and an inflation rate that has remained at 3.4 per cent for two months is a challenge to Najib, who remains personally popular with a 59 per cent approval rating.

“With Pakatan Rakyat milking the NFC scandal to its maximum among the rural community, coupled with rising prices and stagnating income, the likelihood of a silent tsunami in the traditional strongholds of Barisan Nasional cannot be ignored,” DAP national publicity secretary Tony Pua told The Malaysian Insider.

The NFC has been dogged by allegations of corruption and fund misappropriation after it made it into the pages of the Auditor-General’s Report for 2010, which described the project “as a mess”.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers have alleged NFC funds were used for Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s personal expenses, and that the project was a failure.

Pua said Najib’s “major announcements” meant little hope for proper reforms, saying the prime minister had kept largely silent on crucial issues of discrepancies in government projects highlighted by the Auditor-General.

Likening Najib to predecessor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Pua described the PM as an “aloof” leader who avoided taking up clear decisive positions on key policy announcements.

“His popularity ratings are not significantly higher than that of Abdullah Badawi before the last general election, hence I would not be surprised if the outcome of the next general election once again exceeds the expectations of most, including Najib and UMNO,” said the DAP leader.

Pua said Najib’s “trickle down” economic measures did not help address the fact the country was undergoing tough economic times, and that his administration’s cash handouts and “mega-project” announcements did little to help ordinary Malaysians on a day-to-day basis.

Government officials have maintained GDP growth projections of between 5-6 per cent for next year thanks partly to the implementation of projects identified in the Economic Transformation Programme.

Most research houses however expect Malaysia to grow between 3-5 per cent.The World Bank said last Monday that Malaysia’s economy is expected to slow further in the remainder of 2011 and into early 2012 mainly due to the deterioration in the outlook for external demand and expects growth of 4.9 per cent next year.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), in its September report, had forecast growth of 5.2 per cent this year and 5.1 per cent in 2012 for Malaysia.

Nurul Izzah said Najib was trying to gain support from middle-class Malaysians who are, according to her, mainly Pakatan Rakyat supporters.

PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar pointed out that Najib has always refrained from responding or getting involved with issues concerning alleged government scandals, and has always left that to ministers and their deputies to respond.

“Aloof is a right word to describe him. A carefully coiffured and choreographed Najib might have the opposite effect to voters and UMNO leaders alike,” she told The Malaysian Insider.

The first-term Lembah Pantai MP charged that Najib’s sudden push towards civil rights reform was to gain support from middle-class Malaysians who are, according to her, mainly Pakatan Rakyat supporters.

“His constant reference on the BN version and approved human rights is distasteful and might turn off many Middle Malaysians who remain the major target of his proposed reforms.

“It showcases his superficial understanding of Malaysians’ rights as enshrined under the Constitution, leading many to believe he is stuck in an Asian values’ timewarp,” she said.

UMNO’s Datuk Abdul Rahim Bakri admitted the “Najib factor” has been a crucial element in regaining back votes lost from Election 2008.

“Datuk Seri Najib is a powerful factor in reaching out to voters across Malaysia, but everyone, even in BN, has to understand this is not enough.Every party, every leader must work together to achieve what we have set out in the government’s various transformation programmes,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

The deputy minister of transport however brushed aside claims that Najib was an aloof leader, saying that it was unfair to compare him to previous prime ministers or UMNO presidents.

“You cannot compare him to someone like Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. Maybe Dr Mahathir had a different approach to things, Najib is someone who looks at the bigger picture.

“Some issues can be handled by respective party leaders or even government ministries. The PM already has a lot on his plate,” said the Kudat MP, referring to the NFC scandal.

8th PKR Congress: Anwar Ibrahim warns Delegates of Trojan Horses and Froggies

November 28, 2011

8th PKR Congress: Anwar Ibrahim warns Delegates of Trojan Horses and Froggies

by Aidila

ANALYSIS Having drilled down the message that this will be last Congress before general election, PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim while capping off the Johor event, warned delegates of enemies within.

Recalling previous defections, Anwar called on delegates to not only sniff out “potential turncoats and kick them out” as the party pulls up its socks to face what he paints as the “defining battle” of Malaysian political history.

pkr congress 2011 271111 anwar speech 02Citing a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad, Anwar said even the prophet had no forgiveness for those who betrayed the cause.

Apologising for choosing either “under-qualified” or simply the wrong people as candidates in 2008, Anwar echoed party president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s policy speech in saying that this time, the party vows to get it right.

Warnings also abound for incumbent representatives, telling them not to expect a coveted “creed” from the president if they have underperformed, abused their power, or left “people waiting for hours in their office”.

“Three years and not a word in Parliament other than blasting others,” he said, dropping hints of who among PKR parliamentarians may need to start looking for another job.

After all, Anwar admits, the stakes are higher this time; and correspondingly, so is PKR’s strength. “Faced with corruption in and rigging, (Pakatan Rakyat) won over five states and Kuala Lumpur and now we are twice as strong compared to in 2008.

“Believe me, our preparations this time are far better than in 2008,” he said to a a full house, despite two long days of the Congress.

NONEBetrayal, observed PKR secretary general Saifuddin Nasution (left) meanwhile, comes not only from those who have defected but also those elected due to the hard work of the party workers, but were absent from the congress.

“Could they not have spared three days of 365 days in a year to attend the congress? Rubber tappers from Padang Terap are here…what are (the absentees’) excuse?

“No one becomes a YB, or an exco without the help of the party…we will not tolerate these opportunists,” he said in his cutting winding up speech, to hoots.

The election focus was obvious throughout the Congress, with Saifuddin often repeating that the host state was chosen because PKR is confident they can break into the UMNO bastion.

‘We can clean up Johor in two years’

Recalling a ceramah he gave to 30 people in Muar six years ago, Saifuddin said that the fact that hundreds filled the streets all over Johor to hear Anwar speak over the past few days is more than encouraging.

While delegates lapped up the talk of turning an UMNO stronghold (kubu) into its grave (kubur), there was little said over how a Pakatan government can be different to BN in the state of Johor.

khalid ibrahim pc 171111The only speakers who touched on Johor specific issues were Johor chief Dr Chua Jui Meng and Selangor MB Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

Abdul Khalid (right), ever popular with delegates and a much improved orator since contesting the Ijok seat, joined the bandwagon to promote his government’s policies in his winding up speech.

“We can go to Johor and tell the people that the reform will be continued there. Governance in Selangor far exceeds that in Johor.

“In Johor, they cannot even calculate the price of water that we have to help. I checked this, they do not audit their water assets,” he said.

He added that using Pakatan state governance model, the Johor administration can be “cleaned up” within two years. Bullish on winning Johor, PKR, however, refused to answer any queries on potential Menteri Besar candidates, toeing the line just as DAP state chief Dr Boo Cheng Hau in a press statement warns against “counting chickens before they hatch”.

Filling the gap in the Johor focus was much talk about the road to Putrajaya, with debates focusing on policies for education, good governance and the civil service.

‘Cheating needed for only 3% of votes’

Nitty gritty of winning an election were also discussed at length by former elections director and now vice president Fuziah Salleh who warned that all BN needs is a three percent swing to wrest Pakatan-held seats.

NONE“Elections is not about emotions or rhetoric or how angry people are with BN. It is about numbers,” she said in her sobering winding up speech.

“They only need to cheat on three percent of the votes. A little in postal votes, a little from foreigners, move some voters to different districts.

“Set up a committee to go through the roll, set up an IT team, and when you find discrepancies, set up a media team and expose it.”

But is all the talk of winning Putrajaya merely to put Anwar in the Prime Minister seat?

Twelve years after its founding, adoration for Anwar by PKR members is only slightly short of idolatry, with deputy president Azmin Ali declaring him an “institution” and “saviour” of the people.

All the same, lengthy stirring winding up speeches about the sacrifices of ordinary members and supporters appear to be an attempt to redirect focus and to show that PKR is not a party for one man.

From the old woman who planted RM1 into Wan Azizah’s hand as a donation to the party, to delegate Zaiton Samad who regaled the Congress with her tales of bravery in defending her land from the authorities, delegates went home believing in a cause that went beyond taking over power.

youth leaders wacana ekonomi 120611 rafizi ramli.JPGAs chief of strategy Rafizi Ramli (left) put it: “We are on the cusp of history. There has never been a political coalition at the brink of change. Don’t waste the prayers, hopes of the rakyat.

“Believe in fate – if it is to happen, it will. The place of PKR in Malaysia is to be the political party to end UMNO-BN’s rule. Trust that this is our place in history.”

Whether this sense of calling is enough motivation for the machinery to focus less on UMNO-bashing and more on laying the groundwork for the next election, will only be seen after the 13th general election is called.

Najib”s “Taklimat Presiden” is expected to be crisp and emphatic

November 28, 2011

Najib”s “Taklimat Presiden” is expected to be crisp and emphatic

By Zubaidah Abu Bakar
Kuala Lumpur

AS UMNO finalises preparations for its most crucial gathering this week, grassroots leaders are especially looking out for strong expressive messages from party president Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib’s “Taklimat Presiden” tomorrow, likely to be the last platform for him to say it from the heart in front of key officials from UMNO’s 191 divisions before the party leads Barisan Nasional into the general election, is expected to be crisp and emphatic.

Many will be bracing for Najib’s address. As a prelude to the Youth, Wanita and Puteri congress on Wednesday and the main party assembly from Thursday to Saturday, the party president will use this pre-council meeting to re-emphasise what he has been telling UMNO members since taking over the party’s helm in 2009.

For the prime minister, it is an opportunity to address UMNO’s perennial problems to these people who wield considerable influence — from disunity, factionalism and enemies from within, to issues relating to the upcoming general and party elections.

Observers note that it is perhaps a chance to make clear again for the party’s sake the importance of fielding winnable candidate even if some in the audience have the persistent but mistaken belief that they belong in this category.

Without their commitment to see through the desired reforms to the extent of willingly setting aside personal feelings and interests for the sake of the party, UMNO’s road to full recovery will be long and winding. And since Najib has made it categorically clear in the past that he intends to put party interests above all, those gathering for the closed-door briefing can expect the party president to be blunt in driving his point home.

It should not come as a surprise if tomorrow Najib says he is prepared to even drop his friends for others who are more winnable candidates. Najib is likely to plead with members to accept the party’s decision on winnable candidates and not sulk or sabotage the party’s election machinery if they or their preferred candidates are not picked.

UMNO’s position today, as every member has been told to gear up for, is that it can no longer go about business as usual; the conventional methods of selecting election candidates must go, because times have changed and so have people and their expectations. The post-2008 political landscape has made it even more pertinent for UMNO to institute changes fast.

As party leader, Najib can see this threat to UMNO. In his interview with Bernama two days  ago ahead of the general assembly,  he again reminded UMNO’s 3.5 million members that it was imperative that the party portrays itself as one that is willing to change for the people, in line with his 1Malaysia “people first” tagline.

But how far has UMNO changed in the past three years? Former party president Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad seems to think it is still far from  recapturing its former glory. To jog our memory of last year’s general assembly, delegates had spontaneously responded to Najib’s  plea to close ranks and rise to the challenge of making UMNO inclusive and respected and to retain its position as the nation’s beacon of hope.

But memories seemed to have  failed for some, as observers pointed out. For instance, UMNO division heads, after their meeting with Najib last February, had pledged to ensure a convincing BN victory in the general election  by focusing on their merits. Instead, they have  become more inclined to rely on the  weaknesses  of the opposition in trying to regain lost ground.

If debaters at the assembly resort to  bashing the opposition alone and not  articulating and addressing issues important to the people,  it will not bring in a significant number of votes.

Many other things will be closely watched at the assembly, including by observers and the BN partners — like how delegates articulate their viewpoints when they raise the cry to protect Malay rights and privileges;  and how they handle controversial issues like the one affecting the National Feedlot Corporation which is linked to Wanita chief Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil (right).

Whether or not there is going to be combustible sessions during the Youth, Wanita and Puteri assemblies on Wednesday and the three-day main assembly beginning on Thursday, it is vital that speakers stay  away from abrasive rhetoric that could in the end do more harm.

Go Forward with BERSIH 3.0, says PKR Delegate

November 27, 2011

PKR Delegate: Go Forward with BERSIH 3.0

by Aidila Razak@

PKR was today urged to stop “wasting time” with the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on electoral reform and to just proceed with a third instalment of BERSIH to press for firm action.

Debating the president’s policy speech at the PKR congress in Johor, Azmizam Zaman Huri even urged the leadership to call for BERSIH 3.0 to be held as early as next month. “Let’s not entertain the PSC. We know they will not entertain the BERSIH demands…this congress believes that the best path to Putrajaya is to jolt BN….by holding BERSIH 3.0, do you agree?” he asked the delegates to loud agreement.

He said that supporting the PSC is supporting the government’s delay tactics and that holding BERSIH 3.0 later would allow more room for cheating in the months leading up to the general election.

“We must hold it next month. Can we?” he asked the excited delegates during his fiery speech. Pakatan Rakyat has three members on the PSC, including PKR Deputy President and Gombak MP Azmin Ali.

Supporting his case, Azmizam claimed he has evidence of migrants naturalised in droves elsewhere and registered in Kota Raja and Hulu Selangor. “(The BN government) knows that they will go down in the next general election, so they will engage in more cheating. So we need to join BERSIH, clean the electoral roll, use indelible ink, demand fair and free access to media, stop corruption and stop dirty politics,” the PKR Youth Vice-Chief said.

‘No reform, no GE’

Azmizam also invited the delegates, who by then were whipped up into a frenzy, to show their support at an event on electoral reform on December 4.

“We will gather in the Shah Alam Stadium at 8pm on December 4 to send a message to (Prime Minister) Najib (Abdul Razak) and (wife) Rosmah (Mansor) that we do not want an election before BERSIH’s eight demands (are fulfilled),” he said.

pkr congress 2011 261111 audienceEarlier during the PKR youth congress on Nov 25, the youth wing’s Deputy Chief Khairul Anwar Ahmad Zainuddin in his winding-up speech said BERSIH 3.0 is tentatively scheduled for next February.

“We support BERSIH because we don’t want to enter the battle ring if the ring is not the same size and if the goal posts are shifted,” he said.

The youth wing has also promised street demonstrations if they discover polls are rigged.  BERSIH 3.0 is touted to be the follow up – should the government fail to act towards electoral reform – to the BERSIH2.0 mega rally for electoral reform organised by civil society, that saw an estimated turnout of 50,000 in the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Two Brains Running: One Fast and One Slow

November 27, 2011


Two Brains Running

Published: November 25, 2011

In 2002, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel in economic science. What made this unusual — indeed, unique in the history of the prize — is that Kahneman is a psychologist. Specifically, he is one-half of a pair of psychologists who, beginning in the early 1970s, set out to dismantle an entity long dear to economic theorists: that arch-rational decision maker known as Homo economicus. The other half of the dismantling duo, Amos Tversky, died in 1996 at the age of 59. Had Tversky lived, he would certainly have shared the Nobel with Kahneman, his longtime collaborator and dear friend.

Human irrationality is Kahneman’s great theme. There are essentially three phases to his career. In the first, he and Tversky did a series of ingenious experiments that revealed twenty or so “cognitive biases” — unconscious errors of reasoning that distort our judgment of the world. Typical of these is the “anchoring effect”: our tendency to be influenced by irrelevant numbers that we happen to be exposed to. (In one experiment, for instance, experienced German judges were inclined to give a shoplifter a longer sentence if they had just rolled a pair of dice loaded to give a high number.)

In the second phase, Kahneman and Tversky showed that people making decisions under uncertain conditions do not behave in the way that economic models have traditionally assumed; they do not “maximize utility.” The two then developed an alternative account of decision making, one more faithful to human psychology, which they called “prospect theory.” (It was for this achievement that Kahneman was awarded the Nobel.) In the third phase of his career, mainly after the death of Tversky, Kahneman has delved into “hedonic psychology”: the science of happiness, its nature and its causes. His findings in this area have proved disquieting — and not just because one of the key experiments involved a deliberately prolonged colonoscopy.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” spans all three of these phases. It is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value. It is consistently entertaining and frequently touching, especially when Kahneman is recounting his collaboration with Tversky. (“The pleasure we found in working together made us exceptionally patient; it is much easier to strive for perfection when you are never bored.”). So impressive is its vision of flawed human reason that the New York Times columnist David Brooks recently declared that Kahneman and Tversky’s work “will be remembered hundreds of years from now,” and that it is “a crucial pivot point in the way we see ourselves.” They are, Brooks said, “like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.”

Now, this worries me a bit. A leitmotif of this book is overconfidence. All of us, and especially experts, are prone to an exaggerated sense of how well we understand the world — so Kahneman reminds us. Surely, he himself is alert to the perils of overconfidence. Despite all the cognitive biases, fallacies and illusions that he and Tversky (along with other researchers) purport to have discovered in the last few decades, he fights shy of the bold claim that humans are fundamentally irrational.

Or does he? “Most of us are healthy most of the time, and most of our judgments and actions are appropriate most of the time,” Kahneman writes in his introduction. Yet, just a few pages later, he observes that the work he did with Tversky “challenged” the idea, orthodox among social scientists in the 1970s, that “people are generally rational.” The two psychologists discovered “systematic errors in the thinking of normal people”: errors arising not from the corrupting effects of emotion, but built into our evolved cognitive machinery. Although Kahneman draws only modest policy implications (e.g., contracts should be stated in clearer language), others — perhaps overconfidently? — go much further. Brooks, for example, has argued that Kahneman and Tversky’s work illustrates “the limits of social policy”; in particular, the folly of government action to fight joblessness and turn the economy around.

Such sweeping conclusions, even if they are not endorsed by the author, make me frown. And frowning — as one learns on Page 152 of this book — activates the skeptic within us: what Kahneman calls “System 2.” Just putting on a frown, experiments show, works to reduce overconfidence; it causes us to be more analytical, more vigilant in our thinking; to question stories that we would otherwise unreflectively accept as true because they are facile and coherent. And that is why I frowningly gave this extraordinarily interesting book the most skeptical reading I could.

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. It is System 1 that detects hostility in a voice and effortlessly completes the phrase “bread and. . . . ” It is System 2 that swings into action when we have to fill out a tax form or park a car in a narrow space. (As Kahneman and others have found, there is an easy way to tell how engaged a person’s System 2 is during a task: just look into his or her eyes and note how dilated the pupils are.)

More generally, System 1 uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. System 1 proposes, System 2 disposes. So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? In principle, yes. But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is “ego depletion.”) Too often, instead of slowing things down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it. “Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is,” Kahneman writes, “the automatic System 1 is the hero of this book.” System 2 is especially quiescent, it seems, when your mood is a happy one.

t this point, the skeptical reader might wonder how seriously to take all this talk of System 1 and System 2. Are they actually a pair of little agents in our head, each with its distinctive personality? Not really, says Kahneman. Rather, they are “useful fictions” — useful because they help explain the quirks of the human mind.

To see how, consider what Kahneman calls the “best-known and most controversial” of the experiments he and Tversky did together: “the Linda problem.” Participants in the experiment were told about an imaginary young woman named Linda, who is single, outspoken and very bright, and who, as a student, was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice. The participants were then asked which was more probable: (1) Linda is a bank teller. Or (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. The overwhelming response was that (2) was more probable; in other words, that given the background information furnished, “feminist bank teller” was more likely than “bank teller.” This is, of course, a blatant violation of the laws of probability. (Every feminist bank teller is a bank teller; adding a detail can only lower the probability.) Yet even among students in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, who had extensive training in probability, 85 percent flunked the Linda problem. One student, informed that she had committed an elementary logical blunder, responded, “I thought you just asked for my opinion.”

What has gone wrong here? An easy question (how coherent is the narrative?) is substituted for a more difficult one (how probable is it?). And this, according to Kahneman, is the source of many of the biases that infect our thinking. System 1 jumps to an intuitive conclusion based on a “heuristic” — an easy but imperfect way of answering hard questions — and System 2 lazily endorses this heuristic answer without bothering to scrutinize whether it is logical.

Kahneman describes dozens of such experimentally demonstrated breakdowns in rationality — “base-rate neglect,” “availability cascade,” “the illusion of validity” and so on. The cumulative effect is to make the reader despair for human reason.

Are we really so hopeless? Think again of the Linda problem. Even the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was troubled by it. As an expert in probability he knew the right answer, yet he wrote that “a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me — ‘But she can’t just be a bank teller; read the description.’ ” It was Gould’s System 1, Kahneman assures us, that kept shouting the wrong answer at him. But perhaps something more subtle is going on. Our everyday conversation takes place against a rich background of unstated expectations — what linguists call “implicatures.” Such implicatures can seep into psychological experiments. Given the expectations that facilitate our conversation, it may have been quite reasonable for the participants in the experiment to take “Linda is a bank clerk” to imply that she was not in addition a feminist. If so, their answers weren’t really fallacious.

This might seem a minor point. But it applies to several of the biases that Kahneman and Tversky, along with other investigators, purport to have discovered in formal experiments. In more natural settings — when we are detecting cheaters rather than solving logic puzzles; when we are reasoning about things rather than symbols; when we are assessing raw numbers rather than percentages — people are far less likely to make the same errors. So, at least, much subsequent research suggests. Maybe we are not so irrational after all.

Some cognitive biases, of course, are flagrantly exhibited even in the most natural of settings. Take what Kahneman calls the “planning fallacy”: our tendency to overestimate benefits and underestimate costs, and hence foolishly to take on risky projects. In 2002, Americans remodeling their kitchens, for example, expected the job to cost $18,658 on average, but they ended up paying $38,769.

The planning fallacy is “only one of the manifestations of a pervasive optimistic bias,” Kahneman writes, which “may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases.” Now, in one sense, a bias toward optimism is obviously bad, since it generates false beliefs — like the belief that we are in control, and not the playthings of luck. But without this “illusion of control,” would we even be able to get out of bed in the morning?

Optimists are more psychologically resilient, have stronger immune systems, and live longer on average than their more reality-based counterparts. Moreover, as Kahneman notes, exaggerated optimism serves to protect both individuals and organizations from the paralyzing effects of another bias, “loss aversion”: our tendency to fear losses more than we value gains. It was exaggerated optimism that John Maynard Keynes had in mind when he talked of the “animal spirits” that drive capitalism.

Even if we could rid ourselves of the biases and illusions identified in this book — and Kahneman, citing his own lack of progress in overcoming them, doubts that we can — it is by no means clear that this would make our lives go better. And that raises a fundamental question: What is the point of rationality? We are, after all, Darwinian survivors. Our everyday reasoning abilities have evolved to cope efficiently with a complex and dynamic environment. They are thus likely to be adaptive in this environment, even if they can be tripped up in the psychologist’s somewhat artificial experiments. Where do the norms of rationality come from, if they are not an idealization of the way humans actually reason in their ordinary lives? As a species, we can no more be pervasively biased in our judgments than we can be pervasively ungrammatical in our use of language — or so critics of research like Kahneman and Tversky’s contend.

Kahneman never grapples philosophically with the nature of rationality. He does, however, supply a fascinating account of what might be taken to be its goal: happiness. What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman first took up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied on asking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But such retrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriously unreliable.

What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or pain could be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time? Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the “remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he found that these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways. What makes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the “remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not care about duration — how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts. Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain or pleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experience ends.

These two quirks of remembered happiness — “duration neglect” and the “peak-end rule” — were strikingly illustrated in one of Kahneman’s more harrowing experiments. Two groups of patients were to undergo painful colonoscopies. The patients in Group A got the normal procedure. So did the patients in Group B, except — without their being told — a few extra minutes of mild discomfort were added after the end of the examination. Which group suffered more? Well, Group B endured all the pain that Group A did, and then some. But since the prolonging of Group B’s colonoscopies meant that the procedure ended less painfully, the patients in this group retrospectively minded it less. (In an earlier research paper though not in this book, Kahneman suggested that the extra discomfort Group B was subjected to in the experiment might be ethically justified if it increased their willingness to come back for a follow-up!)

As with colonoscopies, so too with life. It is the remembering self that calls the shots, not the experiencing self. Kahneman cites research showing, for example, that a college student’s decision whether or not to repeat a spring-break vacation is determined by the peak-end rule applied to the previous vacation, not by how fun (or miserable) it actually was moment by moment. The remembering self exercises a sort of “tyranny” over the voiceless experiencing self. “Odd as it may seem,” Kahneman writes, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

Kahneman’s conclusion, radical as it sounds, may not go far enough. There may be no experiencing self at all. Brain-scanning experiments by Rafael Malach and his colleagues at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, for instance, have shown that when subjects are absorbed in an experience, like watching the “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” the parts of the brain associated with self-consciousness are not merely quiet, they’re actually shut down (“inhibited”) by the rest of the brain. The self seems simply to disappear. Then who exactly is enjoying the film? And why should such egoless pleasures enter into the decision calculus of the remembering self?

Clearly, much remains to be done in hedonic psychology. But Kahneman’s conceptual innovations have laid the foundation for many of the empirical findings he reports in this book: that while French mothers spend less time with their children than American mothers, they enjoy it more; that headaches are hedonically harder on the poor; that women who live alone seem to enjoy the same level of well-being as women who live with a mate; and that a household income of about $75,000 in high-cost areas of the country is sufficient to maximize happiness. Policy makers interested in lowering the misery index of society will find much to ponder here.

By the time I got to the end of “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” my skeptical frown had long since given way to a grin of intellectual satisfaction. Appraising the book by the peak-end rule, I overconfidently urge everyone to buy and read it. But for those who are merely interested in Kahneman’s takeaway on the Malcolm Gladwell question it is this: If you’ve had 10,000 hours of training in a predictable, rapid-feedback environment — chess, firefighting, anesthesiology — then blink. In all other cases, think.

Jim Holt’s new book, “Why Does the World Exist?,” will be published next spring.

A version of this review appeared in print on November 27, 2011, on page BR16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Two Brains

Better PKR Candidates for GE-13

November 27,2011 (11-26-11)

Wan Azizah at 8th PKR Convention promises Better Candidates for GE-13

Scarred by a slew of defections from elected representatives and party leaders, PKR today vowed to choose better candidates for the next general election. Delivering her policy speech at the eighth national congress in Pulai, Johor, PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said that it will “not compromise with enemies within”.

pkr congress 2011 261111 wan azizah 04Addressing about 2,000 delegates and observers, she said that the leadership takes on board feedback that some of its candidates were “less qualified and performed poorly in Parliament or state assemblies and did not serve the rakyat properly.”

“We will give our guarantee that we will consult the divisions and grassroots in choosing the candidates.

“(They) should be from those who are qualified, hold true to the principles of the struggle and will not be tempted by the millions of ringgit from the enemy,” she said.

pkr congress 2011 261111 audiencePKR has become the butt of jokes following a string of defections since 2008.

The defectors, including Dato Seri Zahrain Hashim, Wee Chee Keong and Kulim-Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Noordin who was sacked from the party,  joined the Independent bloc (Konsensus Bebas) and have since actively attacked their former party.

Finding a silver lining in the damaging resignations, Wan Azizah said that it is good that the traitors are weeded out early. “It’s fortunate that they were exposed early and had opted to jump ship and betray the struggle. Now, they’ve unashamedly become the tools of corruption,” she said.

Malaysians worse off under BN

Calling the government of the day “sang penguasa”, Wan Azizah said that under the BN, the people have grown much poorer, despite the country’s purported development over the past few decades.

“The rakyat still live on household incomes of RM1,500 a month when the Selangor government has put RM1,500 as the threshold for urban poverty.Two-thirds of those with the lowest incomes are Malays and bumiputera, while the elite beat their chest to declare themselves the champions of Malays and bumiputera,” she said.

Quoting World Bank statistics, she said that the income gap for Malaysia has worsened from 2004 to 2009, with the Gini coefficient dropping from 37.91 to 46.21. “This places Malaysia worse than countries said to be poorer and more backward like Indonesia, Afghanistan and Iraq, including even a war-torn country like Liberia,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Auditor-General’s Report has turned into “a race to find the biggest evidence of corruption”, with the 2008 report estimating that losses from corruption as high as RM28 billion.

If before university graduates would expect to have a better life than their counterparts in earlier generations, now they face debt and unemployment, she lamented. “The rakyat should not be blamed for this,” said Wan Azizah, stressing that the government was fully responsible for the country’s malaise.

Still believing in equal opportunities

Referring to the Pakatan Rakyat shadow budget for 2012, Wan Azizah said that PKR remains staunch in its belief of equal opportunities for all.

While PKR Youth chief Shamsul Iskandar Md Akin ruffled feathers yesterday in his policy speech with his challenge to UMNO to amend the constitution to ensure a Malay Prime Minister, his president reiterated PKR’s multiracial message.

“For the first time, a party spearheaded by Malays and bumiputera is fighting for the rights of all Malaysians, regardless of ethnicity and religion. Our belief that social justice knows no racial boundaries have become the core of our struggle and our existence,” she said.

Also present at the PKR congress today were DAP Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang, PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang, PAS Vice-President Salahuddin Ayub and PSM Chairperson Nasir Hashim.

Earlier, PKR Secretary-General Saifuddin Nasution announced that among the party divisions which has seen a surge in new membership over the past year was Kulim-Bandar Bahru with 790 new members.

“Kulim-Bandar Bahru has the second highest number of new members. The people are showing that they still support us despite their MP,” he said to cheers and hoots from the floor.

pkr congress 2011 261111 wan azizah 01In his opening speech, Saifuddin, who is Machang MP, revealed that Pulai Springs Resort was the only venue in Johor which agreed to host the congress.

“We tried to book other hotels but the proprietors were scared. We couldn’t even book a hall at a Chinese school, which could have fitted more people… This is Johor, the strongest BN bastion in the world. ” he said caustically.

Congrats, Tan Sri Robert Phang

November 27, 2011

Robert Phang received the Master Class Award in Anti-Corruption 2011

My friend Tan Sri Robert Phang recently received  the Master Class Award  in Anti- Corruption while his Social Care Foundation was granted the Socially Responsible Company Award 2011.

Congratulations Tan Sri and may he continue in this worthy cause of fighting rampant corruption in our country. In his honour, I am posting “Corruption Spawns Violence”, an article from GW Business, a publication of The George Washington School of Business, The George Washington University (Fall, 2011 issue). –Din Merican


Corruption Spawns Violence

When it comes to war, multinational corporations have been blamed for everything from causing the conflicts to profiteering from them. But the Director of GWSB (George Washington School of Business)’s Institute for Corporate Responsibility argues that business can a force for peace.

Timothy L. Fort (right), who is also a professor of business ethics at GWSB, has written three books to show how companies, run honestly, can promote peace in society. “Ethical business behaviour has an unexpected payoff”, he said. ” It contributes to more peaceful relations among people”.

The premise of Fort’s fresh take was a study he worked on with Cindy Schipani, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. That research showed how corruption fuels violence. By comparing two indices, one measuring corruption and the other political conflicts, they discovered a nearly perfect correlation between corruption and violence in countries around the world. The more corrupt a regime, the more likely it was to resolve disputes through violence.

The violence doesn’t just flow from rulers, said Fort. Sometimes the populace is so frustrated by corrupt leaders that their resentment finally explodes in a physical act. The  uprising that has spread across Arab countries began earlier this year with resistance against the corrupt leadership of Ben Ali in Tunisia.

“Those protests were largely peaceful”, Fort said, “but the point is the level of frustration that can build in a corrupt system”.

Ethical companies build trust in three ways, he said. Hard trust comes from following the law. Real trust comes from running a company that is fair and honest to workers and customers. Good trust comes from moral excellence in everything you do.

Ethical companies can promote peace in countries by respecting their laws, contributing to economic development and engaging in community building. “To the extent that a company can have a strong anti-bribery policy, it does something to move the needle away from violence, he said.

In his book, Business, Integrity and Peace, Fort shows it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for businesses to behave ethically. He said that the basic components are already in place. That is, peace and ethics are deeply rooted in human, even primate, nature. People and companies just need to draw upon those instincts in contemporary times.

Asked whether any companies are known for acting ethically in foreign countries, he said it’s difficult to say because corruption is hidden from public view. But, given that caveat, he said, Motorola, Caterpillar and Deere & Company all seem to run ethical shops.–GW Business (Fall, 2011)