Malaysian Leader’s Standing Rises With Successful Cellphone Diplomacy

July 24, 2014

Asia Pacific |​NYT Now.

Malaysian Leader’s Standing Rises With Successful Cellphone Diplomacy

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Intervention on Flight MH 17 Pays Off

by Keith Bradsher, Chris Buckley and David M. Herszenhorn, July 23, 2014

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — It wasn’t an aide or a diplomat on the phone with pro-Russian rebels, trying to get them to relinquish the bodies and the “black boxes” from the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 in eastern Ukraine — it was the leader of Malaysia himself.

najib and his deputyMalaysia’s Prime Minister and His Deputy. Muhiyuddin Yassin

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia played an unusual personal role, holding a series of cellphone conversations with a rebel leader and then coaching a Malaysian colonel on what to say as he passed through nearly a dozen rebel checkpoints on his way to the crash scene, according to a person who was with the prime minister much of the time.

Mr. Najib’s success has at least temporarily restored his standing at home, where his government was battered by accusations of incompetence following the disappearance in March of another Malaysia Airlines jet, Flight MH 370. The arrival of most of the bodies and the flight data recorders from Flight MH 17 at a Ukrainian military base on Tuesday brought an outpouring of relief and praise in Malaysia.

But Mr. Najib’s willingness to negotiate directly with Alexander Borodai, the rebel leader, has prompted disquiet outside the country about whether the prime minister had lent unwarranted legitimacy to a man the Ukrainian government has condemned as a terrorist.

Malaysian officials say Mr. Najib established a rapport with Mr. Borodai over the weekend, and finally reached an agreement with him on Monday for handing over the remains and the recorders, which the rebels had taken from the crash site, in territory they control near the Russian border. The plane, a Boeing 777-200 with 298 aboard, was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was struck by an antiaircraft missile on July 17.

Opposition politicians in Malaysia who had excoriated Mr. Najib through the spring over Flight MH 370 endorsed his actions on Wednesday at a special session of Parliament and in a series of earlier statements. A senior opposition politician, Lim Kit Siang, wrote on his blog that the prime minister “is to be commended for the breakthrough with the handover of the two black boxes.” And Lim Guan Eng, the Secretary-Ggeneral of the Democratic Action Party, a major opposition bloc, said that his party was “willing to stand together with the federal government to support their efforts to bring back the bodies to their families.”

Officials in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, insisted that Mr. Najib’s arrangement with Mr. Borodai did not involve any promise of formal diplomatic recognition or payment to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Political analysts said that Mr. Najib’s domestic political bonanza depended partly on that remaining true.

“If it emerges that there are issues behind this deal, then things will be seen in a slightly different way,” said Bridget Welsh, a senior Research Associate at National Taiwan University who specializes in Malaysian politics.

The Malaysian delegation in Ukraine incurred the anger of many Ukrainians by using the honorific “excellency” in referring to Mr. Borodai, who styles himself the leader of a breakaway republic. But, at least in public, Mr. Najib has not used the term, referring to the rebel leader only as “Mr. Borodai.”

Few Malaysians have followed the Ukrainian conflict in detail, so the question of legitimizing Mr. Borodai, who is a Russian citizen, has barely been raised here. The overwhelming priority has been recovering the bodies of the 43 Malaysians who were on Flight MH17, including two infants — an especially sensitive matter in a mainly Muslim country where prompt and proper burial of the dead is a strong religious imperative.

“Over here, people don’t care how the deal was done,” said James Chin, a Professor of Political Science at the Kuala Lumpur campus of Monash University. “All they care is that the bodies are coming back, so that the families have closure.”

But, Mr. Chin said, Mr. Najib’s political boost might not last long. When he announced the deal earlyTuesday morning, Mr. Najib predicted that the bodies of Malaysians would be in their families’ hands by the end of Ramadan, which in Malaysia will be Sunday. But Dutch and Australian officials now say that it could take weeks or months to identify the remains, which are first being flown to a laboratory in the Netherlands.

MH17 Crash Site2

“Now he’s smelling like roses, but I suspect it’ll end in tears,” Mr. Chin said of Mr. Najib.The Prime Minister sharpened his criticism of the initial difficulties in recovering the bodies and data recorders in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday, but he continued to refrain from assigning blame for the downing of the aircraft.

For Mr. Najib, the loss of a second Malaysia Airlines jet in less than five months is an ordeal that began when he received a call at his Kuala Lumpur home late last Thursday telling him that Flight MH 17 had disappeared from radar. The person who was with him for much of that night, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a ban on commenting publicly about the Prime Minister’s private activities, said that Mr. Najib immediately summoned officials to meet him at an emergency response center at the capital’s airport.

Airport guards outside the response center were not prepared for the appearance of the prime minister’s motorcade, with its escort of armed guards on motorcycles, and initially refused to let it pass, while they tried to check with superiors by telephone, the person said. The prime minister’s security detail cut the wait short by bodily lifting the guards and carrying them to the side of the road, and then pushing up the heavy gate blocking the entrance road.

Mr. Najib was given Mr. Borodai’s cellphone number by someone whom Mr. Borodai trusted and who vouched for Mr. Najib, according to Malaysian officials. They declined to say whether the intermediary who set up the initial call was Russian.

Malaysia has long sought to avoid conspicuously taking sides in the rivalries among the United States, Russia and China, and many of its citizens are wary of American influence. While the Netherlands is a member of NATO, which many pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine see as a threat, Malaysia is a distant Southeast Asian nation that has stayed largely silent on the turmoil there.

Russia has invested years of effort in building up its relations with Malaysia, in which aviation has played a major role for more than a decade. Malaysia agreed to buy 18 Sukhoi fighter jets from Russia in May 2003, in a deal worth nearly $1 billion. In exchange, Russia agreed to train and transport to space Malaysia’s first astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, an orthopedic surgeon by profession who traveled to the International Space Station in 2007 and became a celebrated national hero, not least because he observed the Ramadan fasts in space under the guidance of a large team of religious experts.

At a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin in Vladivostok in 2012, Mr. Najib noted that he personally oversaw the deal for the Sukhoi jets, and added, “The time has come for us to broaden the relationship and to look into new areas of cooperative relationship with you.” The deal to recover the recorders and remains from Flight MH 17 may be the richest political dividend Mr. Najib has yet reaped from that relationship.

Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley reported from Kuala Lumpur, and David M. Herszenhorn from Kiev, Ukraine


MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results

July 24, 2014

MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results

Speech at the Emergency Session of Parliament (July 23, 2014)

Prime Minister Najib in ParliamentPrime Minister Najib Addressing MPs on MH17

“No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia…

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire”.–PM Najib Razak

MR Speaker Sir,

At about 11pm on Thursday, July 17, 2014, corresponding to 19 Ramadan, 1435, Hijrah, a date that will not be easily forgotten, I received a telephone call from the chairman of Malaysia Airlines, Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof, about MH17.

As it turned out, even before the MH370 tragedy had abated, the unwelcome MH17 tragedy had happened.With divine provision, a tragic event had taken place. The world, in general, and Malaysians, in particular, were shocked by the unexpected tragedy of the reported crash of a Boeing 777-200 commercial aircraft of Malaysia Airlines, flight MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In less than two hours, I arrived at the MAS operations rooms at KLIA (KL International Airport), along with several ministers. We were briefed by the MAS management on what had happened. Without wasting any time, I was in touch with several world leaders, among them President Obama of the United States, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.

At about 2am, I decided to send a special team to the crash site. Then, at about 5am, I called a special press conference to inform Malaysians and the rest of the world about what was happening at that time.

For the information of this august house, the flight had left (Amsterdam) at about 12.15pm local time and was scheduled to arrive at KLIA at 6.10am Malaysian time. The flight had on board 298 people, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew (members). Forty-three of them, including two infants, were Malaysians.  Malaysia Airlines confirmed having been informed by the Ukraine Air Traffic Control that it lost contact with flight MH17 at 10.15pm local time, about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Message of Condolence

On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed profound sadness over the tragedy that had befallen the passengers and crew of flight MH17.

 I also extended condolences and profound sympathy as well, especially to all the family members, friends and acquaintances of the victims. It is hoped that all of them will remain steadfast and resolute in facing this most challenging moment of grief.

The government also declared that from 18 to 21 July, 2014, the national flag will be flown at half mast nationwide.Let us Muslims say the Al-Fatihah and the non-Muslims, observe a moment’s silence.

Important Facts

Some important facts for the scrutiny of this august house.

 Fact No. 1: The total number of deaths. For your information, Malaysia Airlines listed the passengers and crew based on nationality. The updated list as at July 18, 2014, based on nationality is as follows:

Netherlands — 192

Malaysia — 43 (including 15 crew and two infants)

Australia — 27

Indonesia — 12 (including one infant)

United Kingdom — 10 (including one dual national from UK/South Africa)

Germany — four

Belgium — four

The Philippines — three

The United States — one (dual national United States/Netherlands)

Canada — one

New Zealand — one

This brings the number of people killed to 298, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew. The number includes 83 innocent children and three infants.

Fact No. 2: The MAS flight path was certified safe. As for the flight path used by MAS, I have to explain that the flight path of MH17 was one that was certified safe and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, as well as Ukraine, the air space of which it traversed. Furthermore, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, had also stated that the air space traversed by the flight was safe.

For example, 15 of the 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines used this route to get to Ukraine. European airlines also used the same flight path and traversed the same air space. In fact, several hours before the tragic incident, several commercial aircraft of several Asian nations also used the same flight path.

For your information, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quoted a report from Eurocontrol, 400 commercial flights, among them 150 international flights, traverse the air space over eastern Ukraine daily. In fact, two days before the tragedy, 75 flights of various airlines used the flight path that was used by flight MH17. Even on that day, flight MH17 did not receive any instruction to alter the flight path.

Fact No. 3: MAS flight in good physical and technical condition. As for the physical and technical condition of the flight, MAS issued a statement on July 18, 2014, verifying that flight MH17 was in good condition. MAS also confirmed that all systems of the flight were in good working order, particularly the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the transponder.

Fact No. 4: International Law. The shooting down of the aircraft was not only a cruel act, but one that violated the principles of international law by way of the Convention on International Civil Aviation or better known as the Chicago Convention and which is recognised by the United Nations as per Resolution 1067 (1996).

In this matter, the UN had unanimously approved a resolution to urge the separatists to provide unrestricted access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine. It also called for all military activity, including by the armed groups, to be stopped immediately in the vicinity of the site to enable the international investigation to be conducted in safety.

I have instructed the Attorney-General to look into this matter thoroughly to ensure that any action to be taken by Malaysia is in accordance with the international law applied in matters of such a nature.

Malaysia’s Demands and Call

For the information of honourable MPs (Members of Parliament), on July 17, 2014, several hours after the crash of MH17, officials in the United States and Ukraine claimed that the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine.

If these claims are true, we strongly condemn this inhuman, uncivilised, barbaric, savage and irresponsible act by those who are believed to have shot down the ill-fated flight MH17.Nevertheless, for the moment, we are not pointing fingers at anyone until the facts have been obtained.

I am made to understand that the region where the tragedy occurred is under the control of a separatist group. Nevertheless, I felt angry and disappointed over two matters:

Firstly, when I was informed that they did not regard the crash site as a prohibited area and did not adhere to the international standard practice of ensuring that evidence is not removed or impaired.

Secondly, the delay in attending to the tragedy, which resulted in the failure to accord the bodies of the victims the honour and dignity they rightly deserve.

In addition, Malaysia called on the ICAO, as the guardian of civil aviation security worldwide, to issue a resolution strongly condemning the attack on flight MH17, as had been done in cases of a similar nature. Furthermore, the shooting down of the flight MH17 commercial aircraft is a most cruel act and a brutal and violent crime.

As stated in Annex 13 of the ICAO Convention, the government of Ukraine has to assume responsibility to undertake an investigation as to the cause of the crash. A report on the investigation has to be given to the next of kin of the victims as provided for in the ICAO guidelines.

Of course, Malaysia would offer unwavering support to participate in this investigation. For the record, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, and Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, were among those who had gone to Kiev, Ukraine.

Malaysia also welcomes the call for an investigation by an independent international team on the crash and urges all quarters to cooperate to ensure that the probe can be completed. We demand and support an independent international investigation into the tragedy. Those responsible for this tragedy have to be brought to justice.

Last Friday, we sent a plane with a special team of 133 people, comprising a SMART (Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue) team, technical officers, a medical team and Jakim officers to the crash site. A special investigation team was also set up, comprising representatives from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States.

MAS sent 40 staff to Amsterdam to provide assistance and moral support to the families of the victims.Furthermore, I received many telephone calls from world leaders who expressed their support and sympathy and promised to extend aid in whatever form that they can. On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed thanks for the support they and the world community have extended to Malaysia.

MH17 Crash Site 3The Crash Site

Three Successful Deals

In principle, the treatment accorded to the bodies of the victims was wrong, but following consultation with the head of the separatist group, we managed to avert further damage. It is unnecessary for us to announce every action taken. Sometimes we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome, especially when negotiating with the head of a separatist group, with the desire to ensure that the bodies of the victims can be retrieved and given a decent burial, even though time has passed.

On Monday, July 21, 2014, under difficult circumstances, I was forced to make a risky decision in the best interests of the bodies of the victims of the tragedy and to be certain of the reality of what had happened.In this matter, I consulted Alexander Borodai, the head of the pro-Russia separatist group, because the region is under their control. The consultation yielded three deals:

First, all the recovered bodies of the MH17 tragedy victims, estimated to be 282, were taken from Torev to Kharkiv in Ukraine by train before being flown to Amsterdam, along with six members of the Malaysian recovery team at 1am on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, and arriving there at 11am local time. Following forensic work in Amsterdam, the bodies of all Malaysians will be brought back to our country as soon as possible. I undertook to do this and will do everything I can because I had promised the families of the victims when I met them that, as far as possible, the victims can be laid to rest before Syawal. Only then will the families of the victims have peace of mind.

Second, the two black boxes of flight MH17 were handed over to the Malaysian team in Donetsk at 9pm Ukraine time on Monday, July 21, 2014. Without the black boxes, it will be difficult for us to carry on with the investigation. The black boxes have been handed over to the investigation team led by the Netherlands and will be sent to London for further investigation.

Third, all the members of the independent international team of investigators are to be given access to the crash site and a guarantee of safety to undertake a comprehensive probe into the MH17 tragedy. However, this has yet to be fully realised.

Solidarity and Unity

MH17We Malaysians Mourn the Loss of Lives on MH17 and MH370

In fact, this has been a very tragic calendar (year) for us. Nevertheless, in this difficult period in the month of Ramadan, we must strengthen our solidarity and unity in facing this situation. God willing.  No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia.

Therefore, do not engage in any speculation that can cause embarrassment to the victims of the tragedy and their families. This is not the time to splash on the social media stories which can be factually wrong or false.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Opposition leader (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) and the Gelang Patah MP (Lim Kit Siang) and the leaders of other political parties for having likened the MH17 tragedy to genocide and for calling for the murderers to be brought to justice.

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire.


Although we have done a lot, much more remains to be done. We may be up against challenges and various obstacles, but we will never give up halfway.

As such, we urge that the investigation must be conducted by an independent team to ascertain the cause of the crash of flight MH17. Some questions demand immediate answers, such as to whether the aircraft was fired upon with a guided missile, who was the perpetrator of the crime and what was the motive for the attack.

Furthermore, was the shooting premeditated, with the intention to shoot down a commercial flight, or a mistake? All of these require clear and authentic proof.

No matter what we do, we cannot bring back the dead. Imagine how a 1-year-old child will grow up without the love of its father, namely Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi, the co-pilot who perished in the tragedy. More saddening is that the mother has lost her husband.

What about the fate and future of Amarpal Singh? How depressed will this medical student be whose cost of study had been borne by his father who was a victim of the tragedy?Just imagine what grandmother Jamillah Noriah Abang Anuar of Kuching, Sarawak, would be feeling, having lost six members of her beloved family.

Personally, I am able to feel what they are going through. My step-grandmother was one of the victims. More saddening is the fact the world has lost a group of scientists who were involved in AIDS and HIV research. These people were on their way to attend the International AIDS Conference in Australia.In fact, there are many more stories that I cannot mention here. For example, the Netherlands lost 192 of its people in the tragedy. The number is very large when taken as a ratio of the population of that country.

I am of the opinion that geopolitical upheavals do not benefit anyone. They just make people suffer when they lose their loved ones and the world stands to lose competent human beings.

As for the families of the victims of the MH17 tragedy, I wish to tell them not to be worried because, so long as we do not have the answers, we will not stop seeking the truth. No matter how difficult it may be, we will demand justice for the sake of the families of the victims.

Let us walk through this difficult time together, united in grief. Hopefully, God will give us assistance and enlightenment for a solution in the end.Above all, during this blessed final days of Ramadan, let us indulge in more prayers and hope that God will guide us to a solution through our efforts. We must believe that any period of hardship that we pass through will be followed closely by a period of ease, as set by God. –BERNAMA

dm-1205Our Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has shown that when he takes charge, matters can be resolved expeditiously. As in all things, leadership with decisive action matters. I congratulate him for a task well done. He must now know that he has to take charge in times of crisis. More of the same, Sir, when crisis and tragedy beckons. Take charge and Malaysians will stand with you. Together, we shall overcome as we Malaysians are a strong people in body and spirit.–Din Merican


MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted

July 20, 2014

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted

by Neil Khor (07-19-14)@

MASPride of Malaysia dented by Tragedy

COMMENT: The loss of 298 lives as MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine has come too soon on the heels of the loss of MH 370. An airline that had a near perfect record for the past 30 years since its inception is now suddenly the most blighted in the aviation industry.

Crying for Loss of Loved OnesThe manner in which we recover, and there is no doubt that we will, shall determine our collective destiny as a nation. Like many Malaysians, I was in shock and disbelief at midnight on Thursday as news of the loss of MH17 filtered through social media. Since the loss of MH 370, I have made it a point to fly MAS whenever possible come what may.

I have grown up with MAS, as a toddler traveling from Penang to Singapore in the 1970s right through my student days at UM, when the airline was kind enough to extend to students with AYTB (Asian Youth Travel Bureau) cards tremendous discounts allowing us to go home on the cheap.

In those days, it was a grueling nine-hour bus ride down Malaysia’s trunk roads from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. A MAS flight not only provided comfort and speed, it assured that students got home safely.

Like the airline, those of us born in the 1970s, have come of age to find a world changed beyond all recognition. It is not that we cannot adapt to change but the changes have come so rapidly and so brutally that nobody has had the time to make sense of it all. We may have been brought up to believe in God and Country (Rukunegara) but globalisation have altered our allegiances.

Similarly, the aviation industry, too. has not fared too well in this globalised world. The pacific period, from the 1960s to 2000, is over.

In those days, emerging nations like Malaysia personified themselves through national airlines. We broke away from Singapore to form MAS, which not only flew the flag but also assumed the burden of unprofitable but necessary domestic routes. The growing up years was characterised by good service, which by the 1980s, was amongst the best in the world.

Flying on MAS was a privileged and entire families would go to the airport to receive or send relatives off. It was definitely not the era of “everybody can fly” but rather “now you have arrived”. Cheap fossil fuels and better-designed plans made flying cheaper and more accessible. By the time the budget airlines appeared in the sky, the entire attitude towards aviation had changed as well.

MH17 Crash Site2 National carriers had to compete like any other in the industry resulting in spectacular bankruptcies, including that of Japan Airlines! With this fundamental change, attitudes towards flying also transformed. Malaysian society changed the most in the last 15 years. The Internet continues to be a great leveler. No single Prime Minister, no matter how powerful, can decide with impunity or set the tone of discussion on national issues like Dr Mahathir Mohamad.In short, MAS like many other “national” organisations has continued to come up short, never meeting the rising tide of expectations. Since September 11, 2002 when two planes slammed into New York’s Twin Towers, air travel has never been the same. I remember traveling from Minneapolis to Louisville in Kentucky with a guide dog as a fellow passenger.

There was hardly any security with checkpoints that were no more stringent than at a bus stop.  That was in 1999 but today the US is imposing full body scans, check-ups on laptops and security scanning of mobile phones. Soon security procedures will take as long as inter-continental flights in all major airports.

From the sad and painful experience of losing MH370, we have learned that the aviation industry itself has not kept up with technological change, with planes entering blind spots and much dependent on 1940s radar technology. There is also very little improvement on how to track planes to ensure better monitoring. Till this day, black box technology still relies on batteries that only last a maximum of 30 days.Now four months onwards, we have lost MH17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over a route that was deemed officially safe by the IATA. Yes, some airlines have avoided this route over the Ukraine but many airlines flying from Europe to Asia were using this prescribed route.

Political maturity in short supply

How high an airplane fly is also dictated by the air traffic controller of the country whose territory one is flying across presumably they know what other flying objects will be flying over their airspace at the same time. As someone who flies on MAS, Emirates and SIA regularly from Malaysia to Europe, this route above the Ukraine is very familiar.

I have also flown frequently to neighbouring Georgia, crossing the Caspian and Black seas. There was really no way to have anticipated that a civilian plane would be shot down. If the European authorities had red-flagged the area as two other Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down, they should have banned all commercial flights over Ukraine airspace.

Having lost two aircraft involving the loss of more than 500 souls is a very bitter pill for Malaysians to accept. For the longest time we have developed and made giant progressive strides forward. Yes, political maturity is still an on-going battle.

Religious and racial extremism is on the rise but most of us have enough to eat, some even able to share with the less fortunate by supporting soup kitchens.

Never take things for grantedMalaysia is still a great country, blessed with natural resources and a cultural diversity that is the envy ofMH17 Crash site 2 the world. But the loss of our two MAS flights has taught us never to take things for granted. Whilst we can plan and make the best preparations, we cannot foresee how these plans will unfold.

In the case of MAS, some hard decisions may have to be taken to make it viable again. There is no loss of face if we have to start again from scratch. To all those who have lost friends, families and loved ones in MH370 and MH17, my most heartfelt and sincere condolences.

Malaysians the world over are united in grief and sorrow. But I am sure we will emerge stronger and better, at least strive to be better people to ensure a stronger nation going forward.

NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia’s future.



A Critic Returns to Malaysia

A Critic Returns to Malaysia

by John R. Malott

27 MAY 2014

After the long journey from Washington, DC, I approached the immigration officer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was Friday, May 16, 2014, and the moment of truth was at hand. Would they let me, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, into the country? Or was I – someone who Asia Sentinel calls one of the Malaysian Government’s severest foreign critics – going to be barred from entering, when all I wanted to do was attend a wedding?

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

In February 2011, I wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal-Asia (here).The basic theme was that the international image of Malaysia as a harmonious, multi-racial, multi-religious society was no longer valid. Instead, the Malaysian government was condoning and sometimes even provoking racial and religious tensions in order to shore up its political base among the Malay population.

I explained that many Malaysians, and especially the Chinese minority, were tired of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country and were leaving for better opportunities abroad. In fact, according to government statistics I cited, almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas.

I thought it was important to tell the world to wake up and pay attention. Things were changing in Malaysia, and not necessarily for the better. The Journal editors attached the headline, “The Price of Malaysia’s Racism.” I knew that the article would be controversial, because it ran counter to the government’s carefully cultivated image promoted by a multi-million dollar public relations campaign in America and Europe. So the op-ed was well-documented.

Then all hell broke loose. While I was accustomed to being attacked by the so-called UMNO cybertroopers who stalk the internet, this time the comments were especially vile and even obscene. A few days later I read that Nazri Aziz, then a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said he would propose to the cabinet that I be banned from entering Malaysia. Nazri said that because I had not visited Malaysia in years (actually I had been there just a few months before), I did not know the true situation. So his cure for my ignorance was to prevent me from ever visiting Malaysia again.

Two months later, the World Bank published a major 150-page report on Malaysia’s brain drain. It confirmed in great detail what I had said about Malaysian migration and its consequences. The Bank said that one million Malaysians (over 3 percent of the country’s population) were living overseas, including two out of every ten college graduates.

These people had the skills that Malaysia needs to escape the so-called middle income trap and take their country to a new level of development. The World Bank survey showed that the migrants still felt a strong personal attachment to their country, but their talents were no longer available to Malaysia.

When the Bank asked members of the Malaysian diaspora why they were working overseas, 66 percent cited career prospects and 54 percent said compensation. But the second most cited reason was social injustice (60 percent). When asked what might entice them to return to Malaysia, the No. 1 answer, cited by 87 percent of the respondents, was there would have to be a change in Malaysia’s affirmative action policies from a race-based to a needs-based approach.

Three years later, racial and religious tensions continue to rise in Malaysia. If I were to update my Wall Street Journal op-ed today, there would be even more examples, which the Asia Sentinel has reported so well. There is the ban on the word “Allah” and the confiscation of Bibles. There is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’sreference to the “Chinese Tsunami” that voted against his party in the last general elections, and his party newspaper’s screaming headline, “What More Do the Chinese Want?”

The government has admitted that it has provided funds to the Malay chauvinist group Perkasa. While it has charged a Chinese-Malaysian Member of Parliament with sedition over a satirical video, the government has done nothing about the far more serious (and dangerous) anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, and anti-Christian remarks of ISMA, a Malay Muslim organization.

After Nazri said in 2011 that I should be barred from Malaysia, I sometimes wondered whether he carried through on his threat. But because I had no intention to travel there, it did not matter.

But a month ago Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, emailed me to say that one of her daughters would be getting married, and that I was invited to the wedding. Over the past 15 years, after I retired from the US Department of State, my wife Hiroko and I grew close to Anwar, Azizah, and their family, especially during the time that they lived here in Washington, DC. Their six children called us Uncle and Auntie, and they were frequent visitors at our home. Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

I knew it was a long way to go for a wedding, but Azizah had travelled those thousands of miles for Hiroko. I thought of Nurul Iman, the beautiful bride-to-be, and how she had studied Japanese in high school here, due to Hiroko’s influence. I thought it might be my last chance to see Anwar before the government locked him up again, this time for five years. There were many things going through my mind, but overriding everything was one basic concern: if I travel halfway around the world to Kuala Lumpur, will the government let me in the door?

I called the Malaysian Embassy in Washington and informed them that I was going and why. In the interest of total transparency, I gave them my flight details and told them where I would be staying. I said I would do “nothing political” during my time in KL. The officer said he would check with KL to see if there was a problem. I then made a comment for the record: “I hope they understand that if they bar a former American Ambassador, who only wants to go to a wedding and visit with friends, it will be very bad publicity for Malaysia around the world.”

Meanwhile, American friends in Malaysia also were making inquiries, but they never got a straight answer whether I was on a blacklist or would be admitted. They were told, however, that if the decision were made to bar me, “We will not put him in a cell. We will put him in a nice room until we can arrange for a flight to take him out of the country.” I thought what a remarkable commentary that was – they would not lock up a former US Ambassador in a jail cell.

I told my children and friends about my decision to go, and the risk that the trip involved. I explained that this was not some paranoid fantasy on my part; in 2013, the Malaysian government had banned an Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, from entering, detaining him for eight hours at the airport. Later that same year the Sarawak government deported Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and an environmental activist, who had come to Malaysia to defend herself in a lawsuit.

Nevertheless, a common reaction among friends was that the Malaysian government would not be so foolish as to prohibit the entry of a former American Ambassador, especially just two weeks after the visit of US President Barcak Obama. In reply, I quoted a Malay proverb, katak bawah tempurong, about the frog who lives under a coconut shell and comes to believe that that his coconut shell is the entire world. There have been so many cases where the UMNO government gets a black eye internationally but doesn’t seem to care (although in reality they do). The most important thing for them is to assert their power and authority inside their own little world, their own coconut shell.

So on Friday, May 16, I approached the immigration officer and waited, looking like any other elderly foreign tourist. He scanned my passport, and then his eyes got big as something appeared on the computer screen. He started reading, and reading more, and then went to get his supervisor. So yes, I was in the system. After 5 or 10 minutes, the supervisor told his officer to write down my passport number, and then they stamped me into the country.

When I left Malaysia four days later, a similar incident took place at the immigration departure counter. After five minutes, I was permitted to leave the country.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

But at the same time, to stand before a Malaysian immigration officer and realize that the UMNO regime has placed a red flag next to my name has only strengthened my resolve to carry on. If this is the kind of government it is, then the world needs to hear more about it.

John R. Malott was the US Ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998.

ASEAN-US Security Relations Moving to a New Level

Number 256 | April 15, 2014

ASEAN-US Security Relations: Moving to a New Level

by Mary Fides Quintos and Joycee Teodoro

Chuck Hagel -The United States has just completed hosting a three-day forum with the ten ASEAN Defense Ministers in Hawai’i, fulfilling US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s invitation to his ASEAN counterparts during last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The agenda of the US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum included a roundtable discussion on humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR), site visits to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the USS Anchorage–an amphibious transport dock ship designed to respond to crises worldwide–and discussions on various pertinent security issues in the region.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum marked the beginning of Secretary Hagel’s ten-day trip to Asia which included visits to Japan, China, and Mongolia and is his fourth official visit to the region in less than a year, all part of the ongoing US rebalance policy to Asia. This event was the first meeting that the US hosted, as previous gatherings were conducted on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) Retreat and ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Summit.

The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum was conducted under the ambit of the ADMM-Plus which was established in 2007 to serve as a venue for ASEAN to engage with eight dialogue partners–Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, and the United States–in promoting peace and security in the region. To date, ADMM-Plus has established five working groups for practical cooperation covering maritime security, counter-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster management, peacekeeping operations, and military medicine.

This most recent meeting was held amid another wave of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and in the South China Sea. For ASEAN, a recent water cannon incident near Scarborough Shoal involving Filipino fishing vessels and Chinese Coastguard ships, the standoff at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal again between the Philippines and China, and China’s naval exercises at James Shoal which is claimed by Malaysia are all issues of concern.

Indonesia’s strengthening of its military presence in the Natuna Islands which China included in its nine-dash line is another indication of the increasing insecurity and instability in the region. The meeting provided a good opportunity for informal dialogue on the overall security environment in Asia and the possible implications of developments in Ukraine for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity within the international order. It also served as an opportunity for the United States to reemphasize that it can be relied upon by ASEAN members in supporting the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with international law and in upholding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.

With regard to humanitarian assistance and disaster response, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines Hishamuddin Husseinlast year and the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has demonstrated the lack of capacity of individual ASEAN countries or ASEAN as a bloc to immediately respond to a crisis. Not disregarding the efforts made by the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia, these incidents highlighted the need for the participation of other states particularly in terms of sharing of expertise, technology, and information. The US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum explored areas where cooperation in these areas can be further strengthened. It was a reiteration of the need for multilateral cooperation in non-traditional security challenges that do not respect territorial boundaries.

The increased frequency of high-level visits by US officials to Asia, the provision of resources to its allies in the region, the reallocation of military hardware, along with ongoing military activities demonstrate that the US intent is to have a closer engagement with the region over the long term. These actions are also manifestations of the US commitment to Asia despite fiscal restraints and the looming crises in other regions where the US is also expected to be involved.

Moreover, they send a strong signal that the United States remains the region’s security guarantor regardless of doubts on its capacity to perform that role. However, the US-led hub-and-spokes alliance security model can be perceived as an act of containment against a particular country, hence the importance that bilateral alliances are supplemented by a multilateral institution that is open and inclusive such as ASEAN in shaping the regional security architecture.

The conclusion of the first US-initiated US-ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Forum highlights the growing importance of ASEAN to the United States, especially if the event becomes more institutionalized. The message is that the United States views ASEAN as a central and strategic player, not only in the US rebalance to Asia but more importantly in the building of a strong and credible regional security architecture for the Asia-Pacific.

The move by the United States to actively engage ASEAN in its rebalance also shows the maturation of ties between them. By acknowledging ASEAN as an important regional actor, the relationship between the two has clearly been elevated. This also raises a key point with regard to respecting ASEAN’s centrality in the region. Economic power and military size notwithstanding, major powers need to recognize that any credible regional security architecture must include ASEAN.

These deliberate and sustained efforts involving ASEAN in devising the region’s security architecture are clear manifestations that the United States is actively engaging more actors in the region for maintaining peace and stability. More importantly, by involving ASEAN, there is the added assurance that the region’s security environment will work under a framework that is not dominated by a single power.

ASEAN, for its part, should see changes in the regional security environment as both opportunities and challenges. While ASEAN has been successful in engaging the major powers in the region, its centrality must continuously be earned. First, it needs to maintain unity amid differences; it should not be influenced by any external actor that seeks to advance its national interests at the expense of regional interests. ASEAN members must learn how to pursue their respective interests not only through national strategies but also through regional unity.

As a community, ASEAN is expected to act as a bloc championing the group’s interests and not only those of the individual member-states. Second, there should be greater commitment to cooperation not only in HA/DR but also in other non-traditional areas of security. Non-traditional security challenges are often transnational in scope and include multiple stakeholders. ASEAN must continuously enhance regional cooperation and coordination in times of crisis, although individual countries must also develop domestic capacity to respond to security challenges.

ASEAN should start addressing this deficit now otherwise institutional mechanisms will remain only on paper. These challenges will force ASEAN to build and improve on its usual practices and move beyond its comfort zone, in the long run benefitting the bloc as it matures institutionally.

About the Authors: Ms. Mary Fides Quintos and Ms. Joycee Teodoro are both Foreign Affairs Research Specialists with the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies at the Philippines Foreign Service Institute.

The views expressed here belong to the authors alone and do not reflect the institutional stand of the Philippines Foreign Service Institute. Ms. Quintos can be contacted at and Ms. Teodoro at

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MH370: Is the story credible? Watch this lengthy video–30-Day Update

April 16, 2014

MH370: Is the story credible? Watch this lengthy video–30-Day Update

Presented by Lauren Moret (Part 1)

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world. If so, why are you, Mr. Prime Minister, keeping things from us, your citizens? The truth will be known eventually and you will answer for this.

MH370 exposes Hall of Shame

April 8, 2015

MH 370 Exposes Hall of Fame

By Mariam Mokhtar @

The grand self-proclamation of “Malaysia, the Best Democracy in the World”, with its fantastic education system which rivals the British, American and German systems is a myth designed for die-hard UMNO Baru supporters. This fairy-tale was shattered by the disappearance of MH370.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s “best democracy in the world” claim with Malaysia’s 2014 Press Freedom Index falling to the lowest point in nation’s history, even below that of Myanmar.

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s “best democracy in the world” claim with Malaysia’s 2014 Press Freedom Index falling to the lowest point in nation’s history, even below that of Myanmar.

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, like the prime ministers before him, has let down the nation, but the investigation into MH370 has trashed Malaysia’s reputation.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia’s democracy is best in the world.

We need a cull of the political class to regain our credibility as a nation. We should start with the following initiates of the ‘Hall of Shame’. Politicians head the list, then civil servants. If the civil servants were to be replaced before the politicians, the new ones would be corrupted by their political masters, who dictate to them.

Malaysia has been on auto-pilot for several decades and the nation has been performing like a rudderless aeroplane. MH370 signals the beginning of the end of UMNO Baru.

The Malaysian Hall of Shame

Number One: Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. Two words describe the MH370 “investigations”: Mismanaged. Mishandled. (MM).

The Malaysian authorities have come under fire following conflicting accounts on the last known position of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 before it went missing.

The Malaysian authorities have come under fire following conflicting accounts on the last known position of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 before it went missing.

MH370 may have been an unprecedented incident but the crisis management team was shambolic, with several people issuing contradictory official statements. Our confidence and trust have been shaken to the core despite all the big talk and the hundreds of billions of ringgits spent on military hardware and sophisticated equipment. We may have the best machinery that money can buy, but are monkeys operating them?

In the first few days of MH370’s disappearance, Najib and his wife,Rosmah Mansor, the self-styled ‘First Lady of Malaysia’ (FLOM), sought to gain cheap publicity by “weeping with the families of the passengers and crew of MH370”.

Did Najib make a premature announcement that MH370 had crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean, based on one mathematical interpretation by one company? The local press are conditioned not to ask awkward questions but foreign journalists demand answers.

Number Two: Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Hishammuddin justified Malaysia’s mismanagement of the MH370 investigations by saying that history will judge Malaysia well.

Putrajaya refused today to brief Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, even after the opposition coalition submitted a formal request as required by a minister previously.

Putrajaya refused today to brief Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, even after the opposition coalition submitted a formal request as required by a minister previously.

People ask, “Who writes the history books if not the Malaysian cabinet and their proteges?” Hishammuddin told the families of passengers and crew of MH370 that miracles do happen. The act of giving false hope is as bad as trading on people’s grief.

Number Three: Home Minister Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. His response to the stolen passport fiasco at KLIA is symptomatic of a sick nation. He told Parliament, “Furthermore, Interpol’s information of lost (passports) may slow down the process of immigration checks at counters.” Zahid prefers speed to efficiency and safety/security concerns. Interpol has since given Zahid a dressing down and said the checks take 0.2 seconds per passport.

Malaysia is a hub for human trafficking and people have alleged that our Police andIimmigration officials are involved. Will Zahid clean up his department?

Number Four: Deputy Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Bakri. Abdul Rahim told Parliament that the RMAF “assumed” that Flight MH370 had been ordered to turn back by the civilian air traffic controllers.Following a public outcry, he backpedalled and said that HE had made this assumption. So did the RMAF make this assumption or was Abdul Rahim forced to retract his statement. His U-turn is typical of the tactics of the government of Malaysia.

Lack of communication

Number Five: The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman. Azharuddin contradicted the statements of the Home Ministry and the Inspector-General of Police (IGP Khalid Ashburn). More worrying than this is the lack of communication between the military and civil aviation authorities.

From "alright good night" to "goodnight Malaysian three seven zero"  ??

From “alright good night” to “goodnight Malaysian three seven zero” ??

The MH370 investigation has lacked transparency and is mired in intrigue. This incident has reminded us of the question, by the Opposition MP Nurul Izzah Anwar in June 2012, about the roles of the DCA and the Transport Ministry in the award of the contract for the supply of the RM128.4 million air traffic control system to a Minister’s family through “closed tender”.

According to a company search produced by the lawmaker, AAT is half owned by Tirai Variasi, whose largest shareholder is Ikwan Hafiz Jamaluddin, the son of Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis, who is now Special Envoy to the United States with ministerial status.

According to a company search produced by the lawmaker, AAT is half owned by Tirai Variasi, whose largest shareholder is Ikwan Hafiz Jamaluddin, the son of Datuk Seri Jamaluddin Jarjis, who is now Special Envoy to the United States with ministerial status.

Three weeks ago, we were told that the final words from the cockpit were “All right, good night”. In the past few days, the DCA issued a correction and said the final words were “Good night. Malaysian Three-Seven-Zero”.

How can the public be expected to put their faith in the DCA or the investigative bodies with such a simple error as this? So what else is wrong?

Number Six: MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya. When the reputations of the pilot and co-pilot on MH370 were being trashed, Ahmad Jauhari (right) failed to defend his men. Although he did speak on their behalf, he waited several days and the damage was already done. His failure to act immediately demoralised all of the MAS employees.

The sending of a text message to the families of the passengers and crew of MH370, ahead of Najib’s announcement that MH370 had gone down in the southern Indian Ocean, is symptomatic of the poor customer relations in MAS. Many people have previously stated that their complaints are rarely acknowledged or addressed.

Number Seven: Chief of the Armed Forces Zulkifeli Mohd Zin (He should be asked to retire gracefully). He despatched ships from Lumut on the night MH370 disappeared. He then claimed that a C-130 plane was sent to scout the area the following morning.

What made Zulkifeli confident that he was scouring a potential crash site, thousands of kilometres from where Najib had directed others in the search and rescue (SAR) operations? Is Zulkifeli hiding something from us?

It took four days to wake up and reveal this. Not surprising when the army is more concerned on indelible inks !!

It took four days to wake up and reveal this. Not surprising when the army is more concerned on indelible inks !!

Number Eight: Chief of the RMAF Rodzali Daud (He should be sacked). An unidentified plane was picked up by military radar around 200 nautical miles northwest of Penang in the Straits of Malacca, at about the time MH370 went missing. The military failed to act on this information, wasting both time and opportunity.

Number Nine: IGP Khalid Abu Bakar aka Khalid Ashburn. When asked about the contradictory descriptions of the men using stolen passports, a dismissive Khalid said, “Why ask me? Ask Immigration, or ask Interpol.”

The Defence Minister asked everyone to avoid speculation, but Khalid said that his policemen were analysing all the speculation on the Internet to help in the MH370 investigations. The IGP should focus on facts, rather than investigating speculation and rumour. He should chase criminals, rather than hound opposition politicians and NGOs.

Number Ten: Witch-doctor Ibrahim Mat Zain, or Raja Bomoh. This shaman heaped ridicule on the country when, at the entrance to KLIA, he used his bamboo binoculars and two coconuts to divine that MH370 had been hijacked by elves and the plane was either suspended in mid-air or had crashed into the sea. He should be jailed if he refuses to say who sent him to KLIA, to mock the suffering of the passengers and crew of MH370.

Bonus: It is reported that Najib’s favourite number is 11. When former PM Mahathir Mohamad resigned, he continued to make his presence felt by refusing to hand over the controls of the airship Malaysia, which he was flying to mediocrity. Mahathir completes the list by being the eleventh member of Malaysia’s Hall of Shame.


MARIAM MOKHTAR, is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane

Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane

March 12, 2014

Hishamuddin HusseinWith an international team of investigators still seemingly baffled about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared over the weekend, relatives of the passengers and diplomats from countries touched by the mishap have vented their frustration with the Malaysian government.

For days, it seems, Malaysian officials and the state-owned carrier have released almost no information about the flight or working theories of why it vanished. Malaysia Airlines did not even inform relatives for 15 hours that the plane had disappeared, sending the distraught families to a hotel in Beijing to wait, and Kuala Lumpur’s envoys still have mostly kept the relatives in the dark days later.

More than 100 friends and relatives of the vanished passengers signed a petition on Monday calling on the Malaysian government to be more transparent and answer questions. Several of the relatives threw bottles at Malaysia Airlines employees who came to speak with them in Beijing, where the missing plane had been headed, but mostly the officials maintained their tight-lipped approach.

The frustration felt by families of the missing is understandable and reasonable, but no one should have expected much better from the Malaysian government. Although theoretically a democracy with regular, contested elections, Malaysia has been ruled since independence by the same governing coalition that has become known for its lack of transparency and disinterest—even outright hostility—toward the press and inquiring citizens. For a relatively wealthy country, Malaysia is also unusually prone to corruption. Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the revelations that al-Qaeda members had convened planning meetings in Malaysia, the government has become intensely controlling of any information about potential terror threats while maintaining a liberal visa policy for arrivals.

Malaysia’s actual air safety record is, according to aviation experts, relatively strong. That achievement is unsurprising for a country with a per capita gross domestic product of about $10,400, which has become a global hub for electronics production and other high-tech manufacturing. Before the disappearance of Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines had not suffered a fatal crash since 1995. Kuala Lumpur, where the plane originated, has an even higher GDP per capita than the rest of the country—about $18,000—and boasts a vast, modern skyline, efficient transport, and gleaming new suburbs.

But Malaysia’s politics have not kept pace with its economic expansion. The long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has continued to win elections through massive gerrymandering, outright thuggery, and opposition parties’ inability to stop squabbling and make connections with rural voters.

In the most recent national elections, held in May 2013, the Barisan Nasional coalition won the largest number of seats in parliament, although the opposition actually won the popular vote; only gerrymandering, massive handouts to voters, and many election irregularities ensured the Barisan Nasional’s victory. In addition, the ruling party squeaked home by appealing primarily to the most hardline elements within its coalition, politicians and voters disdainful of the country’s multiethnic identity and the incremental freedoms of expression and social life that have developed in the past 20 years.

So even though Malaysia is far richer than neighboring Indonesia or the Philippines, those countries’ histories of democratic politics have made their politicians more accountable and more attuned to public expectations. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has had only six prime ministers and the senior ranks of the ruling coalition have gained little fresh blood. In the current crisis, Prime Minister Najib Razak has made few substantive comments on the plane, while Malaysia’s major state-controlled media outlets, which in theory could have been ahead of the plane investigation story, have been very timid in their reporting.

This lack of accountability filters down, especially at state-owned enterprises such as Malaysia Airlines, which are notorious in Malaysia for insider dealing, corruption, and lack of transparency. Even before the crash, Malaysia Airlines’ parent company had lost money the last three years, including a huge loss of more than $350 million in 2013, in part because of its terrible management. One comprehensive study of government-linked companies, conducted by a group of economists in Australia and Malaysia, found that Malaysia state-run firms had worse corporate governance than publicly traded Malaysian companies not controlled by the state. Partly because investors understood that state-run companies were so poorly managed, the study found lower overall valuations on the Malaysian stock market. In other words, these state companies traded at a discount because of their mismanagement.

Malaysia’s lack of transparency and weak institutions have made graft and corruption endemic, making it easy for people to be smuggled in or out of the country, often on stolen passports.

The watchdog organization Global Financial Integrity has ranked Malaysia as one of the countries with the biggest illicit outflows of money in the world, while corruption monitoring organization Transparency International ranks Malaysia 53rd in the world in terms of clean government, below many poorer nations with fewer potential resources to combat graft.

At least two of the people on the vanished flight, and possibly more, apparently traveled on stolen passports and may have been migrants using people smugglers to get through Malaysia and on, eventually, to Europe. The Head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, has expressed surprise at how easy these people with stolen passports boarded the plane.

Malaysia’s fraught relationship with other Muslim-majority countries and the U.S. has made Kuala Lumpur’s leaders, never very transparent, even more opaque when it comes to intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism. Although no one seems to have determined whether the flight’s disappearance is related to terrorism, do not expect the Malaysian government to be the one providing any answers to the public if it turns out terrorism was involved. Malaysia has long had a relatively liberal visa policy toward Muslims from other countries, in part because it needed foreign workers and in part because this policy had traditionally been popular. (That policy, in part, is why Osama bin Laden recommended Malaysia as a place for terror operatives to meet and for wounded fighters to recover.)

But at the same time Malaysia has maintained a relatively liberal visa policy, it has cooperated closely with Britain and the U.S. on intelligence and security matters. This cooperation has always been extremely unpopular with the majority of Malaysians, and so successive Prime Ministers have worked hard to conceal it from public discourse. Unfortunately for the relatives of the vanished plane, the prime minister’s natural secrecy seems to have become so normal, for him and other government officials, that he cannot break the habit even in times of horrible tragedy.

Kurlantzick is Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government.

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche

January 4, 2013

Arshad Ayub: Liberator of the Malay Psyche

by Dr A. Murad Merican@

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub with FriendsTan Sri Arshad Ayub and Friends

WHEN Tan Sri Arshad Ayub visited Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, on June 23, 1970, he made known his interest in establishing a journalism and communications programme at the then Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM). The early syllabus was based on language, liberal arts and professional specialisation.

Even before he visited Ohio’s College of Communication and its School of Journalism, Tan Sri Arshad had advocated the teaching of journalism in Malaysian higher education as far back as the mid-1960s.

Graduates from what began as the School of Mass Communication (popularly known in Bahasa Melayu as Kajian Sebaran Am) and now the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, should realise that their intellectual “father” is Tan Sri Arshad Ayub.

This dawned upon me while researching the beginnings of journalism education in Malaysia some years ago at Universiti Teknologi Mara archives. I met Tan Sri Arshad on several occasions. Once, we were on the same panel on the topic of education in Malaysia, and the other, having the honour of the man chairing a session in a seminar where I delivered a paper on life-long learning.

Many know of Tan Sri Arshad as a pioneering educationist. He was instrumental in ITM’s growth. He was a paradigm basher. He opened up minds, identities and values. Many know him as a task master.

But perhaps not many know him as an early advocate of the liberal arts and the humanities in Malaysian higher education. He introduced Russian, French and Arabic. Mandarin was made compulsory for business courses, and Tamil for plantation management. Then there was Logic, Literature, and History.

In one of his speeches some years back, Tan Sri Arshad stated that education is not a special copyright of any one individual organisation. It knows no boundaries. And there was no boundary when he was nurturing ITM back then. He was given a free hand to plant the seeds of education for the rural Malay: “The ‘how-to’ was entirely up to me.”

With the trust and vision for the future of the Malays given to him by Tun Abdul Tun Abdul RazakRazak, Arshad’s slogan for action was: “Just do it.” There was not enough time to think of a formal education system as it evolved. He reflected that the expansion was “too rapid that thoughts for a real system came after the deed”.

He attributed the brilliance in the vision of social engineering to Tun Razak. Tan Sri Arshad was not only the strategist, but also the thinker. He once recalled Tun Razak’s message in the first issue of Utusan Pelajar, an Utusan Melayu publication in 1970. Tun Razak stated that “The present young Malaysian must be developed into a scientific race.” The words “scientific race” caught Tan Sri Arshad’s attention.

Tan Sri Arshad takes the term “scientific” to mean “educated” — middle-class professionals and entrepreneurs that could transport Malays into more viable occupations in the private sector.

“Scientific” could also mean that it was “incumbent on us to change mind sets” — from accepting a general education system to a more precise and analytical one that can help develop the country’s resource with its nation building interest at heart.

To change mind sets, Tan Sri Arshad developed strategic alliances with foreign universities and funding bodies in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Human capital assistance came from the participation of Australian Services Abroad, the US Peace Corp, British Volunteers and the Canadian University Service Oragnisation.

Courses like accountancy, architecture, business administration and management, engineering, hotel catering and management, library science, and mass communication were initiated — the first of such courses offered in Malaysia at that time.

Tan Sri Arshad was a pioneer in the “twinning” concept — a process in capacity building. His long and illustrious career as a public servant deserves an appropriate recognition, as suggested by Azman Ujang (Letters, NST, Jan 1). He pioneered the pragmatic “hands on” approach to meet industry, manpower needs and economic advancement of the nation. At the same time, he was the first to introduce the concept of the humanities in Malaysian university education.

The little known journal ITM Quarterly, published in the early 1970s, contains some invaluable discourse in the intertwining nature of education in nation building, Arshad’s vision in the development of higher education in Malaysia and his ideal of the student as the new Malay intellectual.

Tan Sri Arshad Ayub liberated the Malay psyche.

Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection

December 5, 2013

Favourites from the Zain Azahari Collection @ The Edge Galerie

MY COMMENT: This is the first time I feature art on this blog. HavingKamsiah and Din2 been to the Opening Day of this excellent art exhibition at the Edge Gallery in Mont Kiara with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah, I cannot not resist posting this review (

Apart from the fact that Zain Azhari is my friend and golfing mate, and  I have  the highest regard for the many fine human qualities of this septuagenarian, I felt this review reflects exactly how I felt as I saw the paintings on display.

I have seen some of them before at Zain’s home and office, but not collectively ina  single place. In my view, it is a sample of the finest art collection by an individual in Malaysia.Thanks, The Edge Gallery and Zain for making it possible for members of the public to see them.

Zain is passionate about everything he does from his legal work, music, golf, reading, and art. He is an amazing man. –Din Merican

Favorites from Zain Azahari Collection

Pastoral, sensual, vigorous – these common descriptions surmise the prominent art collection of Zain Azahari, where a selection of 38 pieces are displayed at this exhibition. Large works by Ibrahim Hussein and Hendra Gunawan greet the visitor with titillating intent, where Fauvist colours and sinuous contours excite primitive human senses. Flanking both sides of the lobby, Latiff Mohidin and Anuar Rashid arouse the spiritual with abstract illustrations of great control and harmonious beauty, easily subjugating works by young artists hung in the same area.

Ramlan Abdullah’s aluminium sculpture also blends into the gallery’s medieval design, as the contemporary takes a back seat to master artists belonging to the Modern era. Earth and human form an unbreakable bond in these works, implying the collector as one whom possess deep faith and a resilient outlook of life.

Zain No 1Kampung truths: Jalaini Abu Hassan – Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati (2011)

This philosophy is clearly specified in Jalaini Abu Hassan’s meditative ‘Di Murahkan Rezeki, Di Berkatkan Hati’, a minimal juxtaposition of objects (by Jai’s standards) beautifully rendered, where words elucidate Malay sayings and its connotations. When utilised correctly, writing creates additional dimensions on a canvas, Mangu Putra’s picture of utter despair being a good example. Academic painting typify depictions of toil and hard work, contrasting with the creative expressions of Mount Merapi by Affandi and Srihadi Soedarsono.

Illustrations of human feet seem to captivate the collector, who own a couple of high-priced watercolour masterpieces by Chang Fee Ming. Among the elegant dancing figures shown, including Latiff’s curious ‘Bird Dance’ sculpture, a menacing ‘Barong’ by Popo Iskandar emerges proudly from the shadows.

Zain No.2Crimson tide: Latiff Mohidin – Malam Merah (1968)

Zain’s collection boasts many works by the renown Latiff, none more significant than ‘Malam Merah’. Lively strokes of purple, yellow, and white, provide an inherent energy to the amalgamated Pago-pago, as a single horizontal line allows the sun / moon to set. The remaining areas are painted crimson red, while darker brush strokes sketch movement that augments the powerful picture. Cheong Soo Pieng’s tender ‘Mother & Child’ follows in the Nanyang tradition, which the pioneer artist updates via a rare oil painting.

Zain No. 4Why brown? Ibrahim Hussein – Farewell to New York (1969)
Previously unseen to the public is Ib’s ‘Farewell to New York’, a witty nude done in his characteristic Pop manner, where the curious usage of brown as its background has me polishing my chin while pondering the rationale. More sensuality is exhibited in Anthony Lau’s ‘Exstacy’, a wooden pair of smooth forms that recall natural contours, its overt tension depicted in the horizontal gap.
Zain No. 5Gliding sarongs: Dzulkifli Buyong – Four Friends (1964)
Hung low to provide viewer clarity, many works from this collection are museum-worthy, with the occasional odd gem standing out beyond Nusantara motives. Dzulkifli Buyong’s quirky ‘Four Friends’ “captures that single moment that is the birth of our Malaysian Modern art movement”, as described by curator Anurendra Jegadeva. Simple pastel colours, gliding sarongs, lily buds in the air, and innocent human gestures – I will not be surprised if the artist was in fact drawing 4 versions of his self.

Moving from flying figures to floating heads, Agus Suwage’s brilliant red fields pay tribute to artistic influences in an unconventional manner, the depiction like a tinted collage filtered through a computer program. Singling out figurative subjects is Ahmad Zakii Anwar’s contemporary approach, the huge portrait of a hippopotamus beckoning the viewer to come closer and swat flies, while the logical me clamour to inject meaning into a successful aesthetic.

Despite having a shorter tradition in picture making, the Malaysian works hold their own when compared to the diversity displayed in the Indonesian paintings. Among the many natural landscapes, a hazy wetland and a vertically-stretched Batu Caves signify personal importance, the former a nostalgic memory and the latter being Zain’s first collected artwork (a wedding gift!). Zain’s stories and passion are expounded and repeated across few essays in the catalogue, inspiring all who appreciate art.

Zain No.3From Kahli, Van Gogh, Bueys, Sudjojono, Freud to Hiroshige: Agus Sugawie– Agus SuwagePemandangan Dunia Wi (Earthly Landscape) (2011)

Having amassed 400 works over the past 50 years, Zain Azahari’s collection is a testament of one’s relentless pursuit of art on one’s personal terms. Not a luxury item, never an asset type, consistent in vision, absorbing one’s soul and intellect. I may not share Zain’s taste in art, but I do share a similar passion, which makes him my Art Collector idol for years to come.

Political Polemics: a threat to National Unity

November 30, 2013

Political Polemics: a Threat to National Unity

by Razali Ismail@

Razali IsmailPOLITICAL polemics — the art of using the power of words to maliciously and divisively influence public opinion over contentious issues — functions unlike spirited debates and honest discourse that enhances the public sphere and work towards the negotiation of common understandings.

The former drives vindictive wedges between groups and individuals, and retards any advance towards integration of ideas and acceptance of differences.

From time immemorial, it has been strategically used to the advantage of a few; to enflame emotions and unqualified support that run counter to any sense of logic or rationality.

Recently, we saw the power of polemics that nearly brought the United States to the brink of collapse. We also saw how polemics can be used to sway long-held sense of tolerance to one of intolerance like the banning of the building of minarets in Switzerland.

Political polemics are successful because people are intrinsically insecure. The tendency to prepare for the worse as a survival instinct or “negativity bias” is fully exploited, as it preys upon our emotions and fears.

At home, our multicultural context is fertile ground for polemics. Despite efforts at strengthening national unity, boiling resentment over what has been perceived as increasing marginalisation of interests along ethnic lines fueled political polemics.

Successive waves of disputes over the past decade and recent polemics on democracy, human rights, intra and inter ethnicity, the call for a clean and fair elections and a more equitable distribution of economic wealth have started to shake the harmony and tranquillity that many have worked tirelessly to transform into reality.

Some factions that claimed to champion enshrined privileges and entitled rights can tilt the country towards unwelcome extremes and develop fault lines that cut across religious, cultural, and ethnic boundaries.

However, polemics in and of itself is not totally divisive. It can also play a positive role in resolving differences and conflicts. The key lies in reviewing disruptions as focal points for drawing collective energies together to confront a common enemy or cooperate towards a mutuality of interests. The critical element is winning mainstream acceptability.

This is why political polemics today poses such a difficult conundrum.

On the one hand, judiciously exercised, carefully applied and effectively employed, polemics can be used to transform a minority opinion into a common cause, bring together diverse groups into a united front and animate whole populations into collective action, like what Sukarno did for Indonesia and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad did for us.

But even with the best of intentions, and especially when lacking the appropriate restraint and prudence, the intrinsic appeal, persuasive muscle and formidable presence of polemics has the potential to bring about strife and ruin just as much or reinforce uncommon ties under shared convictions and beliefs.

While we worked hard to make sure that our nation enjoys a measure of security, stability and prosperity by careful implementation of workable and effective socio-cultural policies to recalibrate structural imbalances and redress systemic inefficiencies, we are aware of the polemics that tend to negate every positive action that we take.

Few countries, especially those with largely homogenous populations, will understand or appreciate the complexities of leading culturally diverse nations like ours and the sacrifices we made to stay on course.

The growing concern is how recent developments will affect the younger generation, especially Bumiputera youths who seem resistant to government efforts and policies related to freedom of expression, freedom of association and affirmative economic action like the New Economic Policy.

Given this polemics of resistance, can we rival other countries in the region that are well on their way in fortifying their own economies to attract foreign investments and ramp up production for competing in both the Asean and wider global economy?

The polarising polemics and acrimonious debates today present themselves more often than not as disruptive forces. Unfounded allegations of corruption in the government, for example, have tainted our image and impaired our ability to inspire confidence among foreign investors.

These challenges are further compounded by the presence of social media that has exponentially magnified the power of polemics. We are no longer afforded the luxury to sensibly mull over their implications, to carefully confirm their veracity, and to reasonably evaluate their arguments.

More has to be done to strengthen the spirit of enterprise and the penchant towards hard work among the younger generation — qualities that have always been there irrespective of their cultural backgrounds — to further hone their technical competencies, harness their inborn potential and encourage them down the path of self-improvement and global competitiveness.

In the face of uncompromising realities of the international marketplace, we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of welfare dependencies that lull us into a false sense of security and complacency.

We must go back to our roots that inform our culture of the values of moderation that have been cultivated over centuries of intermingling and interaction, that continue to guide our relations as the natives of this region.

The most salient elements of these principles may have been articulated by our Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak, when he introduced the notion of a Global Movement of Moderates to the General Assembly of the United Nations three years ago.



High Court throws out Halim’s RM1.8 billion suit

October 31, 2013

MY COMMENT:  This is a bizarre decision by the Judge. The first defendant in this case is Nor Mohamed Yakcop who was the person who negotiated with Halim Saad on the instructions of former Prime Minister (Tun) Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to enable Khazanah to restructure the Renong-UEM Group. There were exchanges of letters between the parties concerned. Otherwise, Halim would not have  resorted to the courts for justice. He would not waste the court’s time if he did not feel that he had been fraudulently misled by Nor Mohamed. There was never any intention on the part of defendants to honour representations made to Halim. I hope Halim will not be discouraged from appealing against this court decision. –Din Merican

High Court throws out Halim’s RM1.8 billion suit

HalimSaadThe High Court in Kuala Lumpur today struck out the RM1.8 billon lawsuit filed against the government by former Renong Bhd chairperson Abdul Halim Saad.

Halim, a former majority owner and executive chairperson of Renong, filed the suit against Khazanah Nasional Bhd, former Minister Nor Mohamed Yakcop and the government of Malaysia.

Khazanah Nasional is the strategic investment fund of the government entrusted to hold and manage its commercial assets. In making the decision, judge Hanipah Farikullah said there was no cause of action for Halim to file the suit.

“There was no fraud and fraudulent misrepresentation committed by the defendants. “The plaintiff (Halim) has been sleeping all these years and appeared suddenly have woken up by filing this action this year,” Justice Hanipah said.

She said this in her ruling that Halim had also filed his action out of time. The court found the agreement among the parties to have been made in 2003 and the action filed by Halim was way out of time of the six years that aggrieved parties have to file their cause of action.

With the suit being strucked out, the matter will not go to trial. Justice nor-mohamed-yakcopHanipah also ordered Halim to pay costs of RM25,000 to former Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nor Mohamed and the government, and another RM25,000 to Khazanah Nasional.

The court made the decision today after hearing the application by the defendants to strike out the suit on the grounds it was filed out of time.

Lawyers Gopal Sreenevasan and Ranjit Singh appeared for Halim, while Nitin Nadkurni appeared for Khazanah Nasional and senior federal counsel Amarjeet Singh and Suzana Atan for Nor Moahmed and the government.

Once blue-eyed boy

Halim, once the blue-eyed boy in the corporate world like Tajudin Ramli who took over Malaysia Airlines, was brought in during the government’s privatisation programme in the 1990’s.

Renong has 100 percent ownership of Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (Plus), Prolink Development Sdn Bhd and Putra LRT, and has substantial stakes in United Engineers (M) Bhd, Faber Group Bhd, Park May Bhd, Kinta Kellas PLC, Cement Industries (M) Bhd, Time Engineering, Time dotCom Bhd and Commerce Asset Holdings Bhd (now CIMB).

In his statement of claim dated April 17, 2013, Halim alleged there was a breach of the Renong purchase obligation where he held a majority stake, and Nor Mohamed, the government and Khazanah had committed fraud in having him relieved of the post.

He is seeking RM1.3 billion, general damages for breach of the Renong purchase obligation, another RM508 million being value of paid up capital of Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd in settlement of Halim’s losses for rescuing Fleet Group and damages for fraudulent misrepresentation.

The statement of claim reflects the period of the Asian financial crisis of 1997 where on or about November 17, 1997, UEM announced it had acquired 722,882,000 shares in Renong. However, in January 1998, Halim acted in his personal capacity to purchase the Renong shares from UEM and paid the first installment under a ‘put option’ on Feb 14, 2001.

The first installment was funded through a financing facility.

Summoned to meet Mahathir

drmHalim claimed in July 2001, Mahathir summoned him to Putrajaya where the then-PM informed him that he should allow the government to take over his shares in Renong and UEM group and asked him to meet with Nor Mohamed, then his special economic adviser.

Halim said he met Nor Mohamed (right) on July 12, and the meeting was also attended by his lawyer Rashid Manaff.  During the meeting, Nor Mohamed allegedly told him not to proceed with the put option and indicated that the government would purchase his shares in Renong and UEM.

He summarised these statements in a letter dated July 16, 2001 to Mahathir and wanted the Premier to reconsider his position.

Subsequent meetings were held and an agreement reached between Halim and Nor Mohamed on behalf of the government, where Khazanah as the acquirer would pay RM1.3 billion in cash and kind, purchase his 372 million shares in Renong for RM465 million and procure the transfer to Halim the entire equity of Kualiti Alam Sdn Bhd which is free of encumbrances worth RM508 million.

Halim claimed the terms were confirmed in a letter dated July 18, 2001 to Dr Mahathir. He further alleged a repayment agreement was reached orally between him and Nor Mohamed between July 2001 and June 2002.

He said Khazanah honoured the repayment agreement by paying RM165 million that includes compensation for his losses due to foreclosure of various assets pledged by him to various financiers following its initial takeover.

‘All UMNO’s assets’

“After receiving the RM165 million from Khazanah, I attended a meeting with Nor Mohamed at his office in Putrajaya, where Nor Mohamed orally agreed that the defendants would perform its obligations under the 2001 agreement.”

Halim claimed that between 2003 and 2010, he tried repeatedly to meet Nor Mohamed for him and the government to comply with the 2001 agreement, but was unsuccessful.

On April 23, 2010, Halim met Mahathir to seek a resolution of the matter but was informed by the former premier that he had been informed by Nor Mohamed that all along the assets that Khazanah were to take over were owned by UMNO.

“Mahathir said there was never any reason to pay me. Rashid was also present at the meeting. I contend that the said assets were never owned by UMNO. A meeting was arranged by Mahathir, I finally met Nor Mohamed at his office and was informed that there would not be any forthcoming payments for the reasons mentioned by Mahathir,” Halim claimed.

Halim claimed that he had been induced by Nor Mohamed as an agent representing the government for him to take up the deal for his exit from Renong and UEM. “These representations by Nor Mohamed were false in that the government and Khazanah never had any intention of entering into the 2001/or 2003 agreement to pay or perform,” he alleged in his statement.

Practise Good Journalism

October 9, 2013

Practise Good Journalism

Silence is no longer an option for those who choose to call themselves journalists. For our dignity and pride, we have to stand and say our piece on those who choose to ride roughshod over us.–R. Nadeswaran

by R. Nadeswaran@

Nadeswaran. RWHEN mobile telephones and their related technology landed on our shores more than two decades ago, they were deemed as “telecommunications equipment” which enabled the people to stay in touch with each other without the need for telephone exchanges, wires and the other trappings of a land line.

Some of them at that time appeared to be weapons of destruction, one of which was the size and weight of a brick! Over the years, with the advent of modern technology, they have become smaller and have a host of applications.

The technological advancement has not stopped. What could be classified as an innovation today could become obsolete the next day. Instead of just being used to make calls, the mobile telephone can be used as a camera, a voice recorder and even a video player. And images and voices can be sent out at the press of a button to hundreds of people instantaneously.

It is because of this that certain countries chose to ban certain brands and applications because of the threat of abuse and for security reasons.

Many holding positions and those in high office take cognizance of these existing and innocent-looking gadgets and choose to be guarded when speaking in private knowing very well that the mobile telephone has other uses.

That was perhaps what Home Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi did not ZHtake into account or deliberately chose to ignore when he made the threat of closing down newspapers in a speech last Saturday.

Unknown to him, someone in the audience had made a complete recording of his nonsensical tirade and his innocuous links to a secret society which had been banned by none other than his own ministry.

That audio recording has now gone viral and no one is paying any heed to his threat and the Chinese Newspaper Editors Association has urged Zahid to retract his threat.

The threat aside, what was more shocking was his endorsement of the Tiga Line underworld group, calling them his friends and urging them to do what they needed to do.

Tiga Line, he thundered, weren’t thugs and were in fact some form of benevolent gangsters that only turned up at festivals.

“I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done,” he can be heard in the recording, which has now been made available in several internet sites.

His remarks drew loud cheers from the room, and he took it further by taking a racist line when he declared that Malays were the usual victims.

“The largest drug dealers are Chinese, the smaller ones are Indians and the users are Malays. In internet gambling, the bosses are Chinese, operators are Indians and patrons are Malays.

Therefore the victims are Malays,” Zahid is heard saying, adding that he is Home Minister due to Malay support that made him UMNO Vice-President.

It is understandable the Minister is in the race for a senior party post but to take a racial stance on victims of crime is certainly the bottom of the pits.

Using crime to pit one race against the other is not acceptable. Crime has no race barrier. Using imagination and not foresight, the Minister has chosen to conjure his own reasons without any facts or figures, just to win a few brownie points for the sake of his career and political expediency.

It is obvious that he has little respect for the law; pays no heed to common sense; lacks good judgment and has no self-esteem by resorting to such levels of disgusting popularity-gaining efforts.

Besides, the threat to close newspapers goes against the basic grain of the Prime Minister’s promise of easing up on press freedom. What message are we sending out to the people when the Minister openly defies and derides the country’s No. 1 and his own plans for a fully-developed nation?

How will the PM face an international audience when a member of his own cabinet makes such unwarranted threats and attacks? How will he be able to defend his policies when renegades start putting their foot in the mouth?

I am writing this article from the heart – fully aware of the consequences. I am well aware that a fellow journalist was arrested for “her own protection”. I very well know that I could incur the wrath of the Lord and Master.

Silence is no longer an option for those who choose to call themselves journalists. For our dignity and pride, we have to stand and say our piece on those who choose to ride roughshod over us.

Politicians should no longer be allowed to use journalism as cannon-fodder for their actions or the lack of them. Or for that matter, for political gain and political glory.

If we want to practise good journalism to serve as the eyes, ears and mouths of fellow Malaysians, we cannot be practitioners with the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

R. Nadeswaran believes that bullying and threats have to stop to allow journalists to practise their craft. Comments:

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult

August 29, 2013

MY COMMENT: I am stunned after reading Aidila’s report.  How can a piece of art criticising President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq be regarded as an insult to Islam? What has become of us, especially our Police? We seem to have lost our sense of perspective. It is perhaps too much to say that we are heading towards a Maoist Cultural Revolution which led China into an psychological abyss, only to be saved by Deng Xiao Peng in 1978. But we are getting close. We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police. –Din Merican

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult

by Aidila Razak@

Police have taken a piece from the M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia art exhibition as part of its investigation into an alleged religious insult by artist Anurendra Jegadeva.

The piece ‘I is for Idiot’, part of the ‘ABC For The Middle-Age Middle Classes’ body of work, was taken this afternoon from the Publika Mall where it is being displayed.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813Curators have taken down the rest of Anurendra’s work, that was showing at the mall’s throrughfare, for safekeeping.

It is understood that a police report was lodged yesterday against the piece for an alleged insult to Islam, as it included Arabic words commonly used in Islamic prayer, which mean ‘In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’.

Anurendra has not been detained but he may be called in to give a statement to Police on the matter tomorrow. The artist is expected to release a statement on the matter soon.

The work features a chimpanzee in a helmet and jacket riding a bicycle while in the background is a military pilot and the words “Mission Accomplished”.

Under the bicycle is a flag with red and white stripes, skull and crossbones and stars, and the Arabic words printed in mirror image.

NGO sees multi-layer of insults

However, Islamic NGO Muafakat which lodged the report, perceived the flag as the Malaysian flag and that the chimpanzee as a depiction of Islam or Muslims.  In his blog, Muafakat secretary-general A Karim Omar said that the work “appears to say that Islam is for idiots”.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813He added that the Arabic words printed in mirror image “clearly show that the artist’s ill-intentions” as the works ‘J is for Jesus’ and ‘K is for Krishna’ “did not have any elements of insults”.

He said that police are investigating the matter under Section 298A of the Penal Code which deals with insults to religion.

The M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia show features 50 Malaysian artists, touching on a broad range of subjects including thorny issues of corruption and poor governance.

It is co-organised by Balai Seni Visual Negara, MapKL@Publika and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Earlier, landscape artist Ng Sek San’s work Malaysian Spring which was adopted by pro-Pakatan Rakyat individuals in the lead-up to the 13th general election was not allowed to be part of the M50 show. As a compromise, his work is showing at the mall’s Art Row, next to the M50 exhibition along with two other artists.

Malaysia under Prime Minister Najib: Only SLOGANS

August 25, 2013

Malaysia under Prime Minister Najib: Only SLOGANS





photo 5

Malaysia-Endless Possibilities



Happy Birthday Malaysia

August 25, 2013

MY COMMENT: Mr Hussin, I would like to support your idea that we should beDM latest positive about this “Endless Possibilities” campaign and regard it as an effort to brand our nation. 1Malaysia was a brand too, although it is not an original idea.

In the 1980s when I was with Sime Darby in Singapore, the Government there had a national day theme song, One People, One Nation, One Singapore and went on to create a united Singapore. Israel too had a similar campaign and now they have this EP concept. Don’t forget Altantuya’s Mongolia. What has become of Najib’s 1Malaysia? It is a sham. We are today very divided along lines of race and religion.

Both Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah had their share of slogans. Slogans are meaningless. Hiding behind slogans, Tun Mahathir, for example, destroyed the civil service, subdued the  Judiciary, humiliated our Rulers, and weakened other institutions of governance. He created an all powerful Executive Branch and subjugated our Parliament. So, you cannot blame Malaysians for being cynical.

I for one would like to see this government get down to managing our economy, fighting rampant corruption and crime, and stopping those who use race and religion for political ends. Let us in stead celebrate our rich diversity; let us recognise the contributions and sacrifices of all Malaysians, irrespective of race, religion and creed, and  let us galvanise our creativity and talent to build a truly united nation. To achieve this goal, we need an enlightened and responsible leadership. That is what is lacking today. Slogans won’t help.–Din Merican

Malaysia Branded with Endless Possibilities

by Rahman Hussin

Malaysia-- Endless PossibilitiesAs the world becomes more globalised, countries need to develop a clear brand proposition to communicate national identities abroad.

Nation branding is becoming increasingly important as countries compete for a share of the world’s consumers, tourists, exports, investors and the ever important talents.

Much ado has been said at the recent unveiling and leaked national campaign undertaken by PM Najib’s Administration, “Endless Possibilities”. Meme, jokes and ridiculed follow suit since then with many taking it to social media to air their grievances that the campaign was another sloganeering effort with no real substance.But is it without substance? Is the act of ridiculing justified?

“Endless Possibilities” or EP for short is a nation branding campaign aimed at not only attracting tourism but also expanding the Malaysian brand into various sectors including business, culture, lifestyle and sports.

In short, nation branding is an effort to infuse the values that we Malaysians take pride in and expanding them into other facets of the country to ultimately create an edge in the global arena.

While not arguing about whether the slogan and tagline used in this campaign is a result of masterful word wizardry, I would like to invite everyone to take a step back.

I believe that more important than finding the answer is to ask the right question. Thus, I pose this to the esteemed readers of this website, instead of arguing and asking about who has first dips on the slogan, shouldn’t we instead focus on finding ways to galvanise Malaysians to partake in this national effort to create a Malaysia brand.

The Future Brand Country Brand Index (CBI) report 2012-2013 puts Malaysia at the 36th place in terms of country brand rankings and the same report also listed Malaysia amongst the future 15 nations that will be tomorrow’s leading country brands.

By my account, I think it’s timely that we embark on this nation branding effort today. No country has done this before you say? In the same report, our neighbour down south is amongst the 25 top country brands in the world, together with the likes of Sweden, Denmark and The United Kingdom. Not only that, it has also won praises in its leaders single minded effort to undertake nation branding effort.

Now that we have established that other nations are doing it too, shouldn’t we instead find ways to contribute to “Endless Possibilities”?

While I am suggesting that we support EP, I am also against supporting in blind faith.Moving forward, as a concern citizen of this country, I am pushing for greater transparency in our nation branding effort.

Details such as cost and benefit analysis must be made available. On top of that, any engagement and discourse to explain EP must be undertaken and it has to be as inclusive as possible. Let us not feel that we have been excluded in the roll out of this nation’s branding campaign.

Let’s go beyond the slogan, rhetoric and the divisive politics that has reared its ugly head post GE 13.EP’s essence is reflected in the drive towards achievement against all odds, backed by belief that we have what it takes to get there.

Looking back, this country has demonstrated time and again, our ability to emerge resilient after financial, political and health crisis. We’ve learnt and matured from our prior challenges and are now well on our way to realise Vision 2020.

I urged the good people of this country to hold back just a little until the official launch of the nation’s branding exercise, “Endless Possibilities” and suspend our judgment. After all, aren’t we all a courteous lot who pride ourselves in our ability and intellect to make sound judgment after deducing all the fact?

Until the facts are out there, any analysis and induction of the campaign remains a hypothesis, a guess at best. Again, until all the facts are out there, the best we all can come up with are “endless” guesses.

* Rahman Hussin reads The Malaysian Insider.

Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore?

August 16, 2013

Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore?


Thorstein Veblen’s vision of a society run by “engineers” has been realized  in contemporary Singapore: a country increasingly ruled by economists, engineers, and other technocratic experts with First Class Honours undergraduate degrees, Oxbridge and Ivy League Masters degrees and PhDs. Whether this society truly fulfills his dreams and meets his expectations is a question worthy of debate.

by PHUA Kai Lit, PhD


Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857 – 1929) was an unorthodox American economist of Norwegian ancestry. He was an economist of the institutional school who made a distinction between “industry” (production for the satisfaction of human needs) and “business” (profit maximization through market manipulation, restriction of production and other similar practices). He hoped that “engineers” – a group dedicated to productivity and not profit maximization  – would seize power from the vested interests and run society for the good of all (Borus, 1995).

 Other intellectuals have also envisioned societies run by elites who are civic-minded and dedicated to the creation of the “good society” or to the improvement of societal welfare. Plato’s “philosopher kings” and H.G. Wells’ “Samurai” are useful examples.

 Interestingly enough, Singapore’s present political leaders are composed heavily of technocrats (economists, engineers and other technically-trained experts in contrast to the lawyers of the U.S. Congress). They are also some sort of  “philosopher kings” in the sense that they are almost invariably high academic achievers and come from the ranks of the “best and the brightest” (with each succeeding generation of leaders, the ruling elite has become even more and more technocratic).

Singapore’s first generation of political leaders such as Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S. Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye and C.V. Devan Nair were initially followers of Fabian socialism – just like H.G. Wells (in this essay, Chinese names are listed in the East Asian manner, i.e., last names first). However, the ruling political party in Singapore, the People’s Action Party (PAP), gradually drifted away from Fabian socialism towards technocratic pragmatism and finally quit the Socialist International in 1976 as the effort of some of the other parties to get it expelled from the organization was gathering steam. Ironically, C.V. Devan Nair published a book called “Socialism That Works – The Singapore Way” in the same year! Today, there is no more talk of socialism and brotherhood/sisterhood among the leaders of the PAP – instead, there is continuous pressure on its people to compete with each other and excel.

Some American conservatives regard Singapore as an example of a “Capitalist Paradise”. The Guru of monetarism, Milton Friedman, was actually invited to speak in Singapore as an honored guest in the lecture series named after Lee Kuan Yew. Nothing can be further from Fabian welfare state socialism than Friedman’s brand of libertarianism and monetarism of course.

 “First Generation” Leaders

 Lee Kuan Yew: the first Prime Minister of independent Singapore and currently “Senior Minister” in the Singapore Government. He graduated in law from Cambridge University and the Middle Temple, London with highest honors. He helped to found the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and became Prime Minister when he was only 35 years old.

Goh Keng Swee: one of the prime architects of Singapore’s highly successful economic development programs, he received a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He has served as economic adviser to the post-Mao Government of the People’s Republic of China.

Toh Chin Chye: He served as Deputy Prime Minister under Lee Kuan Yew. A PhD holder in one of the biological sciences, he eventually became an internal critic of the People’s Action Party and its increasing authoritarianism.

S. Rajaratnam: Educated at King’s College, University of London, he became a journalist and the first Foreign Minister of Singapore.

 CV Devan Nair: He was an activist in the teachers’ trade union and built links between the PAP and the trade union movement. He fled into exile after his fallout with Lee Kuan Yew and is now a strong critic of the Singapore Government.

 “Second Generation Leaders”

 Goh Chok Tong: He graduated with First Class Honours in economics from the local university before completing a Masters degree in economics at Williams College. He managed the state-owned shipping company, Neptune Orient Lines, before being recruited into politics by the PAP. He was selected by his peers to take over as Prime Minister from Lee Kuan Yew although Lee had always made it known that Goh was not his first choice as a successor. He has been Prime Minister since late 1989.

BG (Brigadier-General) Lee Hsien Loong : The eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, he received First Class Honours in mathematics from Cambridge University. Subsequently, he earned a Masters degree in computer science from Cambridge University. He is one of the leading contenders to succeed the current Prime Minister of Singapore Goh Chok Tong.

Tony Tan Keng Yam: He was a PhD science lecturer at the National University of Singapore and subsequently, Chairman of the local bank Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC). He was recruited into politics by the PAP.

Richard Hu Hsu Tau: Dr Hu was a former Chairman of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (the central bank) who was recruited into politics and into the position of Minister of Finance by the PAP.

Ong Teng Cheong: Educated as an architect in Australia, he served as President of Singapore from 1993 to 1999 (a largely ceremonial position until the PAP enhanced the powers of the Presidency just before Ong contested for the position). Apparently, he was keen to run for a second term as President but did not gain the support of other top political leaders in the PAP. After leaving the position, he made known his unhappiness to the public and traded sharp exchanges with his erstwhile former political colleagues.

 Wong Kan Sen: A graduate of the local university, he also received a Masters degree from the London Business School. He worked as a teacher, civil servant and human resources manager with a leading multinational corporation before becoming a politician.

 “Third Generation Leaders”

 BG (Brigadier-General) George Yeo Yong Boon:– He received a degree in engineering with First Class Honours from Cambridge and an MBA from Harvard University with high honors. He is one of the more philosophically-minded of the PAP’s top leaders.

Lim Hng Kiang – Another top PAP leader with an honors degree in engineering from Cambridge University. He served as the top manager of the Housing and Development Board (HDB – Singapore’s highly successful public housing entity) before being recruited by the PAP.

Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean – An engineer by training, he studied at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Imperial College and Harvard University.

David Lim Tik En – One of the newer technocrats recruited by the PAP. He studied engineering at the University of Melbourne. He was the Chief Executive Officer of the Jurong Town Corporation before entering politics.

As with other things in Singapore, the process of leadership renewal has to be a thoroughly planned operation. (Then) Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his associates were entirely certain that the key objectives of state policy, and the broad strategies to achieve them, that they had devised and introduced were the only correct ones, the only ones suited to the realities of Singapore. Therefore, what was required was a second generation leadership that had the necessary technocratic-managerial skills and capabilities to be able to pursue those objectives and strategies effectively. They did not see any special need for new leaders who possessed political skills, who were “word spinners” in the words of S. Rajaratnam.

As Vasil indicates, the PAP has established a unique system of recruitment of its top political leaders and Ministers. Talented individuals are “spotted” and have to pass through a barrage of observations, interviews, attachment to a veteran MP and allegedly, even psychological tests before being offered safe parliamentary seats to contest (under the PAP banner) in General Elections. After winning these safe seats, they may be offered responsibility as junior ministers and if they pass this test, they would then be offered higher level positions with greater responsibilities. Individuals who fail to perform would be unceremoniously dropped back into political oblivion. This would effectively spell the end of their careers as would be politicians and ministers.

Singapore’s Achievements

 By conventional economic indicators, Singapore’s economic development program has been a great success. When the PAP first came to power in 1959, unemployment was a major problem. By the early 1970s, high rates of economic growth had led to the resolution of this problem. Today, there are many foreign workers in Singapore. These range from Filipino maids and Thai construction workers to Malaysian, Indian, Australian, Hong Kong, Japanese, European and American professionals and managers. A high percentage of service sector workers such as hotel employees in Singapore are Malaysian citizens.

Recently, an American was hired to run the government-owned Development Bank of Singapore. Economic growth rates have been consistently high and Singapore’s foreign exchange reserves are certainly impressive relative to the size of its population. Its per capita GNP is among the highest in the Asia-Pacific region. It is not uncommon to find Singaporean women working as professionals and holding high level managerial positions in both the government and the private sector.

 When Singapore was expelled (after only two years) from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, its economy was heavily dependent on the entreport (transshipment) trade through its excellent natural harbor. It was also heavily dependent on the economic effects of the British Naval Base in the northern part of the island. Today, it has managed to diversify its economy and has built up a thriving export-oriented electronics industry and a significant banking and finance industry.

Singapore’s economic growth is also reflected in its other socioeconomic indicators such as those pertaining to health, education, housing, and transport and communications. Its infant mortality rate is lower than that of the United States. The life expectancy of its citizens is comparable to those of the richest Western countries. There is universal literacy among its younger generation.

The public schools are excellent: it is not uncommon for parents from the neighboring Malaysian state of Johor to send their kids to study in Singaporean public schools – including the primary and secondary schools. The National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University are two of Asia’s leading universities. Singapore is also one of the most wired nations in the world.

Singapore’s housing program is one of its great success stories. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has been instrumental in relocating the population from the overcrowded and unhealthy slum housing of the colonial era to high rise apartment blocks in the many satellite townships scattered all over the island nation. Although some of the lower end HDB-built apartments may be small, all of them are built with flush toilets and piped water supply and this has contributed to the improvement in health indicators. The newer, high end HDB apartments in the township of Pasir Ris at the eastern tip of the island are of such high quality and design that they can almost pass for the condominiums built by private sector developers.

Singaporeans who live in HDB-built high rises (more than three quarters of the population) own their apartments and pay for them through usage of part of their CPF funds (the Central Provident Fund is Singapore’s compulsory, publicly-managed retirement scheme financed by payroll deductions and employer contributions into individual accounts). Only a small percentage of Singaporeans are so poor that they have to rent apartments from the HDB.

The transport and communications systems of Singapore are excellent. The road and light rail system (MRT or Mass Rapid Transit) and Changi International Airport are efficiently maintained and well run. Singapore’s port facilities are also well known for their efficiency. Road traffic volume is kept under control by a deliberate policy of making ownership of a car beyond the financial capability of the majority of Singaporeans.

All these undoubted successes are impressive when contrasted with the problems of the 1950s and early 1960s:

When Singapore achieved its Independence in the mid 1960s, there was political instability and ethnic tension. Unemployment was a serious problem. There was industrial unrest in an economy heavily dependent on entreport trade and the British Naval Base in the northern part of the island. There was even some doubt about whether Singapore could survive its expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew wept bitter tears at a televised press conference as he broke the news of the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia to his people.

A great contrast with the Singapore of today indeed: “politically stable” under the dominance of the PAP, full employment, little labor unrest and relatively harmonious interethnic relations. The economy is diversified and becoming increasingly high tech and sophisticated. The Singapore bureaucracy is also famed for its efficiency and lack of corruption.

The Dark Side of Singapore

“When I see my leaders do what they have done, I feel like an outcast – that this is no longer my home – that it is PAPs (sic) home and that I am only their guest and have to play by THEIR rules or get out”.

Paul Sands (quoted in The General Elections are Over, 3  January, 1997)

The Government of Singapore is strongly authoritarian and paternalistic by Anglo-American standards. Although things have loosened up under Goh Chok Tong (e.g. male Singaporeans can now openly sport long hair whereas they could not do so when Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister. During the Lee era, male foreign tourists were even required to get their locks shorn before they could enter the Republic), the regime continues to maintain tight control of its citizens. Resident foreigners who wrote critically on the Lees or the regime such as Christopher Lingle have had to flee from the country in haste when the authorities started investigating them. Singaporeans like C.V. Devan Nair (a former President), Francis Seow (a former Solicitor-General) and Tang Liang Hong (a former election candidate for the opposition Workers’ Party) have had to go into exile after falling foul of the Governments of Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. Nevertheless, to be fair to the PAP government, “responsible” opposition politicians, i.e., those who manage not to antagonize the Government such as Chiam See Tong and Low Thia Kiang are tolerated in Parliament. Foreign newspapers and periodicals such as the International Herald Tribune, the Far Eastern Economic Review, Time, Asian Wall Street Journal, Asiaweek and the Economist have been either forced to eat humble pie and publish apologies to Lee Kuan Yew or the Government for allegedly publishing libel or have had the permitted circulation of their periodicals slashed to small numbers within the island Republic from time to time for “interference” with Singapore’s domestic politics (see Lingle, 1996). The PAP politicians have been accused by the opposition of continually devising ways to put the latter in positions of disadvantage: these range from old-style gerrymandering of electoral districts and restriction of access to the mass media, to the creation of Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs), multimillion dollar libel suits against certain opposition politicians and latterly, threats to withhold public spending in districts which elect opposition Members of Parliament. For opposition political candidates to contest in multi member GRCs during the election (in contrast to the traditional single member electoral districts), they have to come up with a team of between three to six candidates. The ethnic composition of the teams was even specified when GRCs were first introduced in 1988 (see Ooi, 1998). GRCs put the opposition parties at a significant disadvantage since most Singaporeans are reluctant to participate openly as candidates for opposition parties in the elections.

In the area of economics, although official statistics claim low rates of inflation, these are probably underestimated because certain goods are not included in the basket used to calculate the index of inflation. Singaporeans routinely complain about the high cost of car ownership and the high prices of private, landed property and privately-built condominiums. The counter-argument is that high housing prices in the private sector are not surprising because of scarcity of land in Singapore and also that HDB-built apartments continue to remain affordable for most citizens. The Government has recently identified the emerging problem of increasing income differentials between highly educated employees (including those who work for multinational corporations) and those who are lowly educated and possess low skills. This problem, however, is attributed to the globalisation of the economy and the “digital divide”. The use of Government powers to reduce income differentials through increased income redistribution is not favored as the PAP leaders believe that this would promote an undesirable “welfare mentality”.

In social matters, the Malays are the most disadvantaged of the major ethnic groups in Singapore. They are over-represented (in terms of their percentage composition of the total population) among the less well educated and lower paid and among “problem” sub-groups such as drug addicts and educational underachievers. The Malays are also subjected to de facto discrimination as a high percentage of job ads openly state ethnic preferences (as well as gender and age preferences) for the job being advertised. Unskilled foreign workers are another category of underprivileged residents of Singapore. Cases of abuse of maids (domestic workers) from the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and so on are reported from time to time in the local mass media.

The education system of Singapore is openly (and proudly) elitist and there is considerable pressure on schoolchildren to excel in their studies. High achievers are rewarded well, e.g., as Presidential Scholars and Singapore Armed Forces Scholars and sent for further studies at top knotch universities overseas. These Scholars are likely to end up eventually in high level positions in the bureaucracy, Government-linked corporations (GLCs) or the armed forces. Thus, high achievers like Lee Hsien Loong and George Yeo were sent to places like Cambridge and Harvard for tertiary-level studies and served as high-ranking officers in the Singapore military before moving into politics.

One of Singapore’s most popular comic book characters is “Mr. Kiasu” – a personification of Kiasuism, i.e., a person who hates losing out to others (“kiasu” literally means “afraid to lose” in a local Chinese dialect), are overly competitive, highly envious of the success of others and eager to sabotage, backstab and undercut others so as to protect one’s position or chances for advancement. The motto of Mr Kiasu in Singaporean English is “Everything Also I Want”, i.e., “ I Want It All For Myself” (and perhaps even “And I’ll be Damned if Anyone Tries to Stop Me”).

Ask Singaporeans what the “5 Cs” are and they will tell you with a snicker that it refers to Cash, Car, Career, Credit Card and Condominium. My belief is that the rise of Kiasuism and materialism in Singapore is directed related to the Government’s constant exhortations to students to excel in academic studies, in its promotion of elitism, e.g., schools are regularly ranked – even secondary schools – and the list of rankings are published in the local newspapers), its strong emphasis on economic growth and constant reminders to Singaporeans of potential competition from neighboring countries and so on. The pressure on Singaporeans to excel is so great that significant numbers of Singaporeans (in relation to its population) emigrate every year.


I have discussed Singapore’s undoubted and widely-recognized economic success. I have also discussed its less well known “dark side”. Veblen’s “engineers” are indeed in firm control of the Singaporean polity. With each new generation of PAP politicians, Government ministers becomes even more and more technocratic in composition. Singapore functions like a well-oiled piece of sophisticated machinery. Perhaps this is why some Singaporeans feel like they are just like cogs in a highly efficient economic machine overseen by highly qualified and brilliant (and even arrogant) engineers.  The Veblenian “engineers” of Singapore have ensured that the basic needs of Singaporeans are being met. But this is at a price. The price is having to live under a hierarchical system and having to follow the directives handed down by the technocrat-politicians. Veblen’s “engineers” in Singapore, interestingly enough, have collaborated with multinational capital to mutual benefit in the building of a dynamic economic machine – a case of successful collaboration between national technocrats and international capitalists. Singapore’s economic growth depends on investment by multinational corporations and well-run Government-linked corporations (GLCs). Local capitalists are weaker and subordinate to the technocrat-politicians of the PAP.

Veblen also came up with the concept of  “conspicuous consumption”. This is very obvious in Singapore. Badges of “conspicuous consumption” are literally worn with pride in Singapore. These are the “branded goods” or “designer goods” with conspicuous labels especially favored by Singaporeans. Those who can afford to own cars prefer luxury models. In short, Veblen’s “engineers’ have taken over in Singapore and have created a dynamic, highly rational and efficient society. But they have also created a society which functions in ways that Veblen never envisioned. Indeed, contemporary Singapore can be better labeled as “Max Weber’s Singapore” rather than “Thorstein Veblen’s Singapore”, i.e., a society which emphasizes (overemphasizes?) instrumental rationality to the point where the “iron cage of rationality” is a real threat to the social and mental well-being of individual Singaporeans and resident foreigners.

K.L. Phua is a sociologist who teaches public health at the International Medical University in Malaysia. He has also lived and worked in Singapore as a manager for a number of years.

If you are interested in Singaporeana, check out Sintercom – Singapore Internet Community


Asiaweek 2000 The Next Generation, August 1, 2000

Borus, D.H. 1995 Thorstein Veblen in Fox, R.W. and J.T. Kloppenberg eds. A Companion to American Thought Blackwell: Cambridge, Massachusetts pp. 702-703

Leifer, M. 1995 Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia,London: Routledge

Lingle, C. 1996 Singapore’s Authoritarian Capitalism Barcelona: Edicions Sirocco and Fairfax: The Locke Institute

Ooi, C.S. 1998 Singapore in Sachsenroder, W. and U.E. Frings eds. Political Party Systems and Democratic Development in East and Southeast Asia Volume 1: Southeast Asia pp 343 – 402,Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited

Sands, P. 1997 in The General Elections are Over. Singaporeans Share Their Joy, Their Pain and Their Thoughts on the Results

Selvan, T.S. 1990 Singapore: The Ultimate Island Melbourne: Freeway Books

Vasil, R. 1992 Governing Singapore Singapore: Mandarin

Reject the Politics of Race and Religion

August 10, 2013

Reject the Politics of Race and Religion

by William Leong Jee Keen, Lawyer and MP for Selayang

William LeongIn my speech at a fund raising event in Rawang on August 8 to build a new Church to be named Saint Jude, the patron saint for lost causes and those in hopeless despair, I referred to the state of racial politics in the country.

The 13th General Election appears to have made the struggle for a just and equitable society a lost cause and put those wanting to end racial politics in hopeless despair.Reverend Father Frederick Joseph, like the patron saint his parish is named after,gave us hope when he said building a new church, is not about the building of brick and mortar but the building of a community in our multi-racial and multi-religious nation founded on love and mutual respect filled with the courage to stand up for truth and to act against oppression.

By beating the racial and religious drums sufficient numbers were frightened back into BN’s fold to win 133 parliament seats. At what cost? Churches were burnt, Gurdwaras stoned and Hindu temples demolished. Christians were not allowed to use the word “Allah”. Racial and religious diatribe was allowed to take center stage. Calls were made to burn the bible, Hindu Gods disparaged, the Pope asked to recall his envoy, Muslim opposition leaders branded as supporting Shites.

Racial and religious baiting has continued after the elections and is increasing, from calls to boycott Chinese businesses to the closing of Jonker Walk in Malacca. The headmaster in Sungai Buloh Sekolah Kebangsaan Sri Pristana closed the canteen forcing the children to eat in the shower room. The mother who posted the photograph in the internet received threats. She is applying to transfer her daughter to another school because of harassment. What has happened to our people’s sense of right and wrong?

The yearly disappointments in university admissions have been repeated. Top students with perfect score of CGPA 4.0 are not able to get into public universities to study medicine, dentistry or courses of their choice. The authorities said it is only 1%, 39 out of 3,985 students that did not get a place. The question is not how many did not get a place but why are the best left out?

LKYLee Kuan Yew in his book, “One Man’s View of the World” said Malaysia is prepared to lose talent in order to maintain the dominance of one race. We, Malaysians know that and are fighting for change. However, racial and religious politics have proven to be a successful strategy and have taken a toll on us.

Today, Malaysians are less tolerant and more suspicious of each other. The raging public debate on making Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies (“TITAS”) a compulsory subject in private tertiary institutions is an example where emotions and mistrust have gotten in the way of objective and rational arguments. Those who oppose it say it is an attempt at Islamization of the students. I am sure no Buddhist, Hindu or Christian will convert to Islam because they took the course. The students will acquire more knowledge. My concern is whether the cost is worth the benefits.

This debate comes after the proposed Administration of the Religion of Nelson MandelaIslam Act 2013 to allow one parent to convert his children into Islam. Respect and consideration for other races and religion is not learned through university course; it is learned from leadership by example.  South Africa did not have university courses, their leaders worked on truth and reconciliation. They had Nelson Mandela and F. W. de Clerk, men of compassion and wisdom. We have Mahathir and Najib.

Dr MThe divide between Malays and Non-Malays and between Muslims and Non-Muslims are growing wider by the day and tolerance is drawing thin. Political entrepreneurs for their own selfish ends are driving the wedge between the different races and religions deeper and deeper, dividing our nation. On 505 racial politics won. Will we be able to bury racial politics or will racial politics bury us?

How can we convince those who have been cowed, shackled by the chains of economic dependency, subsidies, licenses and scholarship, dumb down by an education system that teaches them not to think, how can you make a person who is taught into believing he needs a crutch to get up and throw it away?  How are we going to build trust between the different races and between the different religions?

To do this, we have to remember four things. The first thing torichard-m-nixon remember is that those who peddle racial politics feed on hatred, discord and fear. As Richard Nixon said,

“Never allow those who hate, who use hatred for personal gain to win. They may hate us but we must never hate them. Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them then we have allowed them to destroy us.”

We must counter hate, fear and discord not with hate and violence but with compassion, empathy and understanding. We need to debunk the lies. We need to contain the fears they have spawned. We need to correct the misinformation. We need to show by clear overt demonstrations of credible commitment and assurance that by sharing no one will get less but all will get more because the pie is bigger when we all work together.

The second thing to remember in this long walk for justice and equity is that you will not walk alone. Lee Kuan Yew in the same book said that there is no difference between UMNO and Pakatan because PAS will not allow the Malay agenda to be replaced. There may be some who did think like that, but they have been rejected, expelled and cast-off. This thinking is completely out of step with right-thinking Malaysians, 53% of the voters rejected racial politics.

I am proud to say that Keadilan and Pakatan Rakyat will stay true to our policy and belief in a multi-racial society founded on liberty, justice and equity. Our detractors are warned Keadilan and Pakatan Rakyat will continue with our struggle and we will not waver. They are reminded that our goal of reaching Putrajaya is not to be the government at any price. Our goal is to reform. Keadilan is a political party and Pakatan a coalition that cannot be all things to all people. Keadilan and Pakatan will never compromise on our fundamental beliefs. Those who cannot subscribe to these principles, we will let them go their way and we will go ours.

The third thing to remember is that we cannot co-operate with those who preach hate, discord and oppression. I am not saying that we should do anything illegal to them. We should do what Mahatma Gandhi taught:

“Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as co-operation with the good.”


A student of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, whose famous speech “I have a Dream” on August 28, 1963 gave impetus to the civil rights movement had his dream realized in 2008 when Americans elected and in 2012 re-elected their President based on the content of his character and not the colour of his skin. If we follow what Gandhi taught us, we too can overcome some day.

The fourth thing to remember is that our forefathers may have come from different lands but we and our sons and daughters who come after us share a common destiny. This is our land, we have no other. We have to learn how to share it.

We may have different faiths and we may pray to different gods but I have been taught to believe that they are all the same God only with different names and all teach us the same lesson of love and respect for all mankind. I want to say to each and every one of you that with God’s blessing, we will prevail. We must persevere knowing that with courage, kindness, wisdom and vision, we will fight the good fight and God will walk with us in every step on the long hard road to equality and justice.

Mahatma GandhiI am convinced that if we are strong, strong in our hearts, strong in our souls, strong in our belief and strong in our willingness to sacrifice we will prevail,because as Mahatma Gandhi said:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.”

So I hope Malaysians will continue the struggle for a just and equitable Malaysia, for a country where respect is accorded to one’s religion, where racial differences are not weaknesses to be shunned but strengths to be celebrated, where our children will be judged not by the colour of their skin or manner they practice their faith but by the strength of their character, where love, peace and harmony will prevail over hatred, violence and discord. Martin Luther King Jr reminds us that losing one battle does not mean we have lost the war. He said:

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why, right, temporarily defeated, is stronger that evil triumphant.”



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