Horrendous Devastation of Cameron Highlands due to Plainly Ugly Greed


November 23, 2014

Horrendous Devastation of Cameron Highlands due to Plainly Ugly Greed

by Tunku A  Aziz@www.nst.com.my

Sultan of PahangIF a picture, as the saying goes, is worth a thousand words, then the New Straits Times’ startlingly brutal depiction of the horrendous devastation of Cameron Highlands merits at least ten thousand drops of tears of anger, frustration and despair because those entrusted to protect our precious natural heritage have betrayed our trust.

 The wanton destruction of the environment and the disregard for human life all bear the hallmarks of human greed; we were jolted out of our complacency and forced to see corruption in all its ugliness.

No longer do we think that corruption is none of our business; no longer do we dare say, “Why all the fuss when only two parties are involved, the giver and the taker?” And no longer will we be able to dismiss the fact that there are victims whenever corruption rears its head.

The Cameron Highlands tragedy, both in human and environmental terms, has turned corruption on its head. The pristine hill station of the 1960s and 1970s is now a distant memory. My annual Christmas break was usually spent with my family in Cameron Highlands, with its promise of bracing mountain air and country walks in quiet, salubrious surroundings. This yearly ritual, sadly, started to lose its appeal with uncontrolled development that rapidly changed the character of the place.

Overnight, Cameron Highlands, the country’s premier Little England that once had trout in its mountain streams and rose bushes in every garden, took on an ominously grotesque aspect. It was transformed into a noisy, gaudy and boisterous bazaar that could give Petaling Street a good run for its money. I have not been back there for more than thirty years, preferring to treasure in the deep recesses of my memory the Cameron Highlands that I once knew and loved.

The recent tragedy has, as expected, produced a slew of responses, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. In my long and eventful existence, I have heard a few ideas that are clearly beyond the pale, but nothing has quite prepared me for the proposal, that I suppose, could only have been conceived in the cluttered mind of a politician: to plant a million trees over a three-year period as part of a programme to rehabilitate Cameron Highlands that many believe to have been damaged beyond redemption.

I say with all due deference to the Natural Resources and Environment Minister, Datuk Seri G.palanivel Palanivel, that we are not talking about transplanting hair on a vain politician’s head — a painful enough process as some who have resorted to this treatment will tell you.

A million trees? The mind boggles at the very idea. Audacious and out of the box, yes. But is it doable and at what cost? All this leads me to ask why, with all the empirical evidence staring them in the face, didn’t our enforcement officers do what they were employed to do — enforce the law, plain and simple?

There were quietly whispered hints of “interference from above”, which puzzles me quite a bit because the “Yellow Letters”, according to the sultan of Pahang himself, did not come from the palace because, for one thing, they were not written on the official palace note paper and did not bear his signature. Who is it then that enforcement officers were pointing the finger at?

Whoever the exalted personage might be, he must be exposed because it is vitally important to show our people that there is one law for all. The Sultan’s standing and reputation, no less, must be protected and not to be trifled with.

The drama that unfolded on the slippery slopes and the silted valleys of Cameron Highlands has brought us face to face with the debilitating effects of corruption on society.

The reality on the ground is not a pretty sight. It is corruption writ large: if that does not turn our stomachs, then I suggest we deserve more of the same. The time for whinging is over. It is about time we took ownership of the fight against corruption and its attendant problems. I do not think it would be wise to leave such an important matter as fighting corruption especially to politicians. There is no need for elaboration.

Pahang, of course, is not alone of the Malaysian states that can claim a long history of illegal logging and land clearing. Stories, both anecdotal and factual, of corruption in forestry and land offices up and down the country are legion. Sabah and Sarawak occupy top spots in the forestry corruption league table. But, that is a story for another time. It is refreshing to hear the new chief minister of Sarawak, Tan Sri Adenan Satem, warning illegal loggers that stern action would be taken against them and that he would not tolerate corruption in his administration. I am not, in a manner of speaking, about to put the champagne on ice, and neither am I holding my breath. I do not know of any head of government anywhere in the world singing his heart out in praise of corruption. All politicians would have us believe that they are part of the solution. I should like to see the colour of their money first.

Returning to Pahang, I wonder why enforcement agencies who are paid to prevent these breaches of the law have allowed the situation to get so wildly out of control? The short answer, on the evidence that has long been in the public domain, is that the State of Pahang has been ‘captured’ by influential, almost always, titled crooks with loads of money, howsoever acquired, to seduce greedy and corrupt public officers. If they had only carried out their duties honesty, a great deal of the damage could have been prevented, and the good minister of one million trees would have saved himself a few blushes, and the treasury a lot of money.

 Royal Commission should be set up now to inquire into the state of corruption in the country as a whole. It is in the country’s interest to gauge accurately the true reading of the nation’s corruption barometer, so that we would not be wasting time and money treating symptoms because we have no clear idea of the root causes of corruption in national life.

Anwar Ibrahim at Georgetown University, Washington DC


November 21, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim at Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Desperate Times for Democracy in Malaysia

by James Giggacher, Asia Pacific Editor

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2014/11/07/sodomy-and-sedition-desperate-times-for-democracy-in-malaysia/

As Anwar Ibrahim’s fate hangs in the balance, Malaysia’s democratic chances are slipping further away, writes James Giggacher. 

Malaysia’s long-time Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s fate still hangs in the balance; his political future as tenuous as the sodomy charges brought against him.

Since October 27 he has been fighting a five-year jail sentence for allegedly sodomising an aide handed down by the nation’s Appeals Court in March – itself an overturning of an earlier acquittal by the High Court.

It’s the second time Anwar faced sodomy charges, the first being in 1998 during the failed ‘reformasi’ movement. If the Federal Court upholds this latest conviction, Anwar will also lose his status as an MP and not be allowed to engage in politics for years.

anwar_ibrahim2

Anwar rejected the idea of living in exile to stay in Malaysia and face the charges. It’s his final appeal. A bold, courageous move; maybe a stupid one born from his unfailing naivety about the prospects for political freedom in his homeland.

It’s not the ‘crime’ he is charged with, or the evidence given in this final courtroom charade (underpants and KY jelly have featured), that is truly sordid. Rather, it is what the whole sorry saga says about the declining prospects for democracy in Malaysia.

Many inside and outside the country see the charges as nothing more than politically motivated and trumped up – the latest shot in a long running war against the most powerful threat to ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional.

“The ‘sodomy’ charges against Anwar Ibrahim are a blatant attempt by the Malaysian authorities to silence and undermine a critical voice,” said Amnesty International in a statement the day the court case started. “If Anwar Ibrahim is jailed, Amnesty International will consider him a prisoner of conscience.”

Anwar and his Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) coalition took incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak and Barisan Nasional to the line in last year’s general elections, winning 51 per cent of the popular vote, but only 40 per cent of seats in parliament. But while GE13 was billed as the democratic dawn many had longed for so long, Anwar once again found himself on the sidelines. With no one to take up the mantle, the 67-year-old still finds himself leader of Malaysia’s “rainbow” opposition.

The ‘gerrymandering’ of seats saw Barisan Nasional win the election by 133 seats to 89. The result, their narrowest parliamentary win and worst result ever, spooked those who have ruled Malaysia uninterrupted since independence in 1957 using a volatile mix of ethnic-based politics and emergency powers, all managed by the velvet glove of economic growth.

This was compounded by the election results of five years prior; Barisan’s eroding base is a trend which had begun in 2008, when it failed to win the ‘moral victory’ of a two-thirds majority in parliament. Yet, a general upswing in support since then, let alone winning the popular vote in 2013, wasn’t enough to see the opposition remove Barisan’s grip on power. It’s largely because the political deck is stacked in their favour.

While the elections were “partially” free, according to key regional think tanks, they were far from fair.

ANU political scientist Edward Aspinall points to gerrymandering, as well as the fuzzy line between the state and government as key reasons why Barisan held onto government despite losing the popular vote. More worrying, they are indicators of Malaysia’s increasingly less than democratic system.

His colleague Ross Tapsell has also highlighted how Barisan were able to maintain control and domination over the mainstream media during the elections, even in the face of apparent freedoms brought in by online and social media.

GE13 also saw widespread claims of electoral fraud and irregularities; particularly around the integrity of the electoral roll, postal and early votes, and polling – all pointed out by Bridget Welsh at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies.

Instances of vote-buying and fly-in voters corralled to cast their ballots for Barisan were clear on the day. Meredith Weiss, a researcher from SUNY monitored the election campaign as part of a research project funded by ANU.

“Today has been punctuated most notably by calls of Bangladeshis, Indonesians, Filipinos, and other migrant workers, allegedly gifted with identity cards, then transported by the plane load to wherever their votes (for Barisan Nasional of course)  are most needed,” she wrote for New Mandala last May.

But it’s more than dirty politics at play; at the heart of the Anwar case is a Malaysia where political freedom is in freefall.

Human Rights Watch says that since his shaky victory in GE13, Najib Razak has ushered in an era of deteriorating rights – including new and revised laws permitting detention without trial, arrests of opposition activists for peaceful protests, and attempts to shut down human rights NGOs.

Then there is the archaic Sedition Act.Provisions of the sedition law are extremely wide-ranging, and as Human Rights Watch notes, the way the law is worded makes it almost impossible to refute in court.

“The Sedition Act prohibits vague offenses such as uttering ‘any seditious words’ without defining what constitutes ‘sedition’ or ‘seditious words’. It broadly outlaws any ‘seditious tendency’ that would ‘bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government’,” reads an online statement.

Since May this year around 20 sedition charges have been laid or enquiries initiated, against opposition leaders, activists, university scholars, journalists and students – despite Prime Minister Najib Razak promising in July 2012 to repeal this catch-all act from a “bygone era”.

Legal proceedings are also still ongoing against two politicians and one NGO leader charged with sedition last year. Amnesty Intentional point to scores of others under investigation. Others say the number is as high as 40.

One of those is Rafizi Ramli – a 37-year-old politician from the opposition’s People’s Justice Party who has gained widespread prominence after a series of high-level corruption exposes.

Ramli is currently under investigation for writing about Anwar’s second sodomy case, and has also recently been charged under the Penal Code over a statement he made in February alleging political attempts to create racial and religious discord in Selangor.

In a recent interview with New Mandala Ramli pointed out the dire times for Malaysia’s democracy, opposition and Anwar. “Of course you have to be hopeful [for Anwar]. Being an opposition party that was born out of a personal tragedy that happened to him, we can only survive by remaining hopeful. So we remain hopeful that his ‘so-called’ legal problem orchestrated by the government will end very soon,” said Ramli.

“Yet at the same time we are very realistic that he will remain a galvanising figure against the ruling party, and so long as he is actively engaged with the public… we have to remain realistic that there is a high possibility he will be sent to prison again.”

Of course none of this touches on the economic stagnation that Malaysia is currently trying to beat off. Will the velvet glove finally slip? If Anwar and the broader opposition’s situation is anything to go by, it’s already been replaced by a clenched fist.

James Giggacher is Asia Pacific editor at the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. His views do not represent the University’s or the College’s.

A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy


November 18, 2014

Jamil Maidan Flores: A Template for the Crafting of Indonesian Foreign Policy

http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/opinion/jamil-maidan-flores-template-crafting-foreign-policy/

Retno MarsudiMy impression is that even during the New Order era, there was never a lack of debate on foreign policy. In seminars, media and think tank people often expressed views that didn’t support those of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the ministry, diplomats brought competing ideas to the attention of their superiors.

The debate eventually rose to the level of the directors-general vying for the approval of the Foreign Mminister.

Worth a revisit is the crafting of a policy on Timor-Leste, when it was Indonesia’s 27th province. At a late stage of the process, there was a three-way debate on the issue of East Timor involving Nugroho Wisnumurti, who at the time was the country’s permanent representative to the UN in New York; Hassan Wirajuda, Indonesia’s then permanent representative to the UN in Geneva; and then foreign minister Alatas.

Each had an “intellectual constituency.” Nugroho spoke for all who took a legalistic approach to the issue of East Timor; Hassan advocated a more pragmatic approach, which he would later call the “policy approach”; while Alatas took the middle ground. After much discussion, Alatas assigned Hassan to draft the policy paper on East Timor.

Hassan then wrote a policy paper following a format he learned in graduate school. The first part consisted of the history of the issue — not a detailed one but certainly a comprehensive history that includes a consideration of the various sub-issues (human rights in East Timor, for example).

This was followed by an analysis of the current situation, the challenges and the opportunities and “trends” emanating from it. A trend is a series of probable events from the current situation to a future one, considering the impact of the regional and global environments. Out of this analysis and consideration of the trends, five policy options were developed.

The first option was essentially for the status quo. Had this been chosen, Indonesia would have simply insisted that East Timor remained as Indonesia’s 27th province, and that was it. The second option was for the early holding of a referendum on the political destiny of East Timor, and if through this referendum the people of East Timor chose to separate from Indonesia, the separation would be carried out in orderly fashion.

The third option was for wide-ranging autonomy to be granted to East Timor and after seven years, a referendum would be held in which the people of East Timor would decide whether to remain or to separate from Indonesia. Meanwhile, the Indonesian government would try to win the hearts and minds of the East Timorese so they’d vote to stay with Indonesia.

The fourth and fifth options were variations of the third. The option recommended was the third. The rest of the paper dwelled on how this option could be carried out successfully.

The third option, although initially adopted by the Indonesian government, was not fully carried out. In the midst of the Asian Crisis of the late 1990s, Suharto stepped down and his successor, B.J. Habibie, took the second option.

The point is that if a debate on foreign policy could take place under authoritarian rule, there should be more of it in a democratic Indonesia. During the transition to democracy, Hassan Wirajuda, who had become foreign minister, could finally expand the debate to include other stakeholders — members of the House of Representatives, the media, the academe, the youth, etc. — through “foreign policy breakfasts” and other forms of consultation.

The practice has since been discontinued, but I understand that the new foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, intends to revive it. That’s good news to foreign policy buffs in Indonesia. The more views brought into the debate, the greater will be the public support for the resulting policy. It will then be a people-driven foreign policy.

Jamil Maidan Flores is a Jakarta-based literary writer whose interests include philosophy and foreign policy. The views expressed here are his own.

Malaysia: High Income Nation, but Low Income Rakyat


November 18, 2014

Malaysia: High Income Nation, but Low Income Rakyat

By Anas Alam Faizli

Anas Alam FaizliMalaysia’s current socio economic structure can be summed up in four words, “Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians.” Malaysia is blessed with abundant natural resources with petroleum being the most precious. Add the land, other commodity resources, large youthful population and the country has all the essential ingredients to flourish.

How then did this small nation of 30 million manage to end up with the unsolicited title of among the region’s most unequal nation between the rich and poor. What happened?

NEP: The Noble Intention, Initially

The NEP that was introduced in 1970 was the grand plan that were two things; our proactive action to begin developing the newly independent nation, and our reaction to the British Divide-and-Conquer system.

Textbooks tell us that the NEP strategy was two-pronged; eradication of poverty, and the restructuring of society. But what popular culture and the masses cannot help but to associate the NEP with is the deeply entrenched Bumiputera agenda at its core which target Bumiputeras to own 30 percent equity share in the Malaysian economy.

But “share of the economy” here apparently has broader connotations and implications. It expands from assets and equity ownership, right down to contract procurement, education quotas, and employment policies. Bumiputeras were the poorest of all ethnic groups. Thus the idea was to positively discriminate Bumiputeras, get them on their tracks, and realize a more equitable ownership of the economy. And thus we began traversing down this path of affirmative action.

As time went by and various development plans under the Malaysia Plan or Rancangan Malaysia were undertaken, tremendous improvements were made. Bumiputeras and Malaysians, in general, now own more assets than their parents. A middle class population burgeoned. Poverty rate, measured on an absolute basis, has gone from as high as 49.1 percent to 1.7 percent as reported in the latest Household Income Survey for 2012 published recently.

The Trickle-Down Disaster

Unfortunately, in the 1990s the equity target was still far off the target. Time was running out and Malaysia took a short cut with the ill-planned “trickle down” effect. Malaysia throttled down the road of enriching and empowering a few Bumiputeras who would go on to be successful entrepreneurs and asset owners and the subsequent multiplier effect will trickle down onto and propel the rest of the Bumiputera community. The philosophy was for this “trickle down” effect that surely, it was believed, would be inevitable.

The trickle down effect did not and does not work. Even the Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak himself acknowledged this in a recent interview with Martin Soong of CNBC. In fact, it perpetuated high inequality amongst Malaysians. It became something we so desperately clung on as an economic doctrine and still believed as true.

So even before we got there, we are now taking on a new “Malaysian Dream”. Surely, it is only natural that the next course of action is aiming for a bigger middle class. Or are we really achieving it?

Yet Another Missing Target?

We say High Income Nation is the way to go and have set a new target to achieve a per capita income of US$15,000 by year 2020. It means the Gross National Income (GNI) – a measure of the country’s production adjusted with net incomes from overseas – divided by the country’s population must equal US$15,000. That target, we are told, is achievable by 2017-2018. Currently, our per capital income is $US9,970.

Never mind that many of the relatively lower income-earners find themselves in pretty much the same position on a relative basis. Never mind that Bumiputera households are still the poorest on average in the bottom 40 percent rung of Malaysian households. Never mind that even if most of this nation’s income in year 2020 accrued to say, only 100 of the richest people in the country, we can achieve that $15,000 per capita target because it is grossly divided by the whole population.

Measuring income in US dollar term is already problematic. Many in the research community and the public have expressed concern about this as the US dollar is not the currency that most Malaysians earn and transact in. So when the Ringgit was stronger than the US Dollar last year, we have every reason to question whether GNI per capita measured in dollar terms, represented the true magnitude of growth per capita, and whether this target is truly achievable.

But even if we put this currency issue aside, the $US15,000 per capita income target cannot be that headline “dream” we can congratulate ourselves on when achieved. Here are some reasons why:

Rich Malaysia, Poor Malaysians

First, for majority Malaysian households, about 90 percent of their incomes are attributed to wage and salary, including self-employment. Even for those who can afford to own some assets, this is still true. What more those who do not even own assets, and thus do not have incomes from owning assets.

Note that Malaysian GDP (measured using the income method) will indicate the following breakdown: 28 percent wages and salaries, 67 percent business profits (including mixed income), and 5 percent taxes and subsidies. What does this mean? It means that out of total GDP, only 28 percent is attributable to the working Malaysian population.

For the past 15 years, the contribution of wages and salaries to Malaysian GDP has fluctuated between 26 to 32 percent and the only reason it hiked up to 32 was because of the recession in 2008 when corporate profits declined. In Singapore, this number is already as high as 42 percent in 1997.

In other developed countries such as Korea, Canada, the UK and Japan, the corresponding number is 46 percent, 51 percent, 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively. Malaysians are not getting the bulk of the country’s production into their pockets! This is set to worsen; the ETP’s document (A Roadmap for Malaysia: Chapter 2) itself indicated that forecast wages over GDP for the NKEAs will drop to as low as 21 percent in 2020! What are we smoking and what are our priorities, really?

In fact, for the past 15 years as well, the salaries of Malaysian workers have been lagging behind our productivity. Productivity growth rates were in line with rates of growth of salary circa 1998, but it has been slowly lagging thereon. As of last year, the productivity in the manufacturing sector is 45 percent above salaries. This roughly translates into the fact that our workers are under-paid by at least 45 percent. All this illustrates how GNI per capita will not represent well the incomes that majority Malaysians will enjoy as wages and salaries.

Second, more than 90% of the wage-earning workforce does not even earn much. Only 11.05 percent of government income is generated from personal income tax and only 1.7 million of the 12.4 million workforce is eligible to pay tax. EPF reported that 78.6% of its contributors database earn RM3,000 monthly or less. This is another illustration of how low the majority of the Malaysian people’s incomes are at the individual level. So what is this High Income Nation we are about to achieve in a few years? A High Income Nation with a low earning population?

Third, there is the grave issue of purchasing power. High income alone does not necessarily translate into better economic well-being and quality of life if that high income cannot purchase much. A simple analysis would show how a fresh graduate in 1980 could purchase more compared to today’s graduate. With an estimated pay of RM1,000 a graduate could afford an Opel Gemini costing RM12,400 or about 12 months of his salary and purchase a decent house, perhaps even in Taman Tun, costing at RM62,000 or 56 months of his salary.

Today, a graduate can have a basic pay of RM2,500 which is only 2.5 times higher than a graduate in 1980. But a comparable Mazda 6 now costs RM178,000 or about 71 months of his salary and a decent house far outside Kuala Lumpur, say in Nilai, would cost RM350,000 or 140 months of his salary. The cost of living has spiraled viciously upwards and the purchasing power of the average salary man has slumped.

Fourth is the issue of inequality, and this is by far the most compelling argument against a headline US$15,000 High Income Nation target. There is a reason that many academics, civil society groups and the people at large have recently been blowing the inequality trumpet; Malaysia has among the highest income disparities in the region. On August 3, 2013 the Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni has also acknowledged this.

Income growth measured from 1970 have shown that the Top 20 percent households far overtake that of the Middle 40 percent and the Bottom 40 percent households, while the income gap between them on average is widening. The GINI coefficient, which measures the degree of disparity between the highest income and the lowest income, remained rather stubbornly high without any improvement around 0.43 to 0.44 across the span of the past 20 years for Malaysia.

Earning RM10,000 a month on a household basis will already put you as the top 4 percent of Malaysian households, and essentially in the same group as even tycoons like Ananda Krishnan. 73 percent of households earn less than RM5,000, with an average of 2 income earners or workers per household. This alone shows how much disparity there is. Furthermore, it renders our $15,000 High Income Nation target achievable in form, yet void in spirit and substance.

How did this high and persisting inequality happen? The failure of that very “trickle down effect” that we hoped for is a major contributor. The continuous enrichment of the select few continuously fosters this gap in a long and perpetual cycle. The inequality in our education system also contributed to the large 77 percent of Malaysian workers being only SPM qualified and below thereby commanding low salary levels.

For the sake of profits, businesses are unwilling to invest in productivity and training of locals. We appease the business community by giving way to large influx of foreign workers, especially in factories, in place of relatively more expensive locals. The myth that locals are choosy and unwilling to work in factories is then proliferated, despite locals being able to work in factories if compensated adequately. This is proven in the oil and gas industry; hard laboring welders and fitters are all local Malaysians, despite having to work under scorching heat, as the compensation is rewarding.

So What is Really the Malaysian Dream?

We do not have one! But if we plan to have one, we cannot leave the average salary man behind, the man that forms more than 80% of the Malaysian population. We need a dream that is inclusive and holistic and addresses quality livelihood for Malaysians at large, and not just a select few.

Income inequality is a very serious impediment to our hopes for a truly developed nation. It would be a great irony if the majority of Malaysians do not truly experience that high-income status, once we reach that $US15,000 mark.

How are we to declare ourselves high income when the effects of inequality such as crime, unemployment, health and social problems as well depleting social goods will be so apparent? Even if we do make that high-income bar, problems that emerge out of inequality raise serious questions about the sustainability of that high-income status.

For as long as we do not come together, commit to say no to inequality in resolute, and help alleviate the bottom 60 percent potential economic producers, this problem will not solve itself and will come back to haunt us.

Moving forward our policies should be designed and constructed based on this understanding. We would have not proposed a regressive GST to increase our source of revenue if we understood this fact.

We would have instead tried to increase revenue from other sources that will not hurt the majority of our people like the inheritance tax, progressive taxation and capital gains tax.  But that argument, is for another day.

plato

Finger on the UMNO Pulse


November 17, 2014

COMMENT by Din Merican : Reading Jocelyn’s article allows me the opportunityNajib_Obama to add my observations on the coming UMNO General Assembly. I will try to speculate a little about Najib’s Amanat Presiden.

True, as Jocelyn says, Najib’s position in UMNO is secure. Not even the former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir and his loyalists in UMNO can unseat him at this point in time. Najib has done well to keep UMNO members under control, although that has come with a high price tag.

The fact that his popularity among Malaysians is at an all time low does not affect his hold on power in UMNO and the country. That makes him a smart politician aided by a group of loyalists, anyone of whom can succeed him when the time comes. Names like Hishamuddin and Zahid Hamidi have been mentioned as potential successors, if the incumbent Deputy President and Deputy Prime Minister decides to retire.

Coming to his Amanat Presiden 2014, I think he will be tough and uncompromising in his defence of Malay special rights and Islam.  He must as UMNO cannot deviate from its raison d’etre. But let us hope he will not overlook that he is also the Prime Minister for all Malaysians and must, therefore, tone down his rhetoric on Malay rights and UMNO’s defence of Islam.

His message should be a call for unity under a more enlightened and inclusive UMNO leadership. Neither the Malays nor Islam is under threat.There will, of course, be some goodies in store of UMNO members. More contracts and handouts, among other things.

With regard to the economy, he will likely crow about his achievements since his last speech before the UMNO General Assembly. A forecast real GDP growth of 5%+ is not something to be easily dismissed, given the less than optimistic outlook for the global economy, especially China and Europe and to some extent the United States.

Our growth will be domestic consumption driven, led by public expenditure. Najib will not talk about our mounting national debt and 1MDB borrowings. At the assembly, he cannot be a deliverer of bad news. He must rally the UMNO troops and sound upbeat about his economic policies which will remain Malay-bumiputra centric. After all, the UMNO general assembly is also fiesta time. And Najib must play to the gallery.

najib_razak_xi_jinpingOn foreign policy, he will have plenty to say. He has very good reasons to go to town on his achievements. Malaysia enjoys good relations with the United States, China and Europe. He is seen as a moderate and progressive Muslim leader. In ASEAN, he is well regarded. Our country will become a non-Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council in 2015.

In addition to that, Malaysia will assume the ASEAN Chair when it takes over from Myanmar next year. Both these roles give our country a very high profile in international affairs. Even his detractors will concede that Najib has done a good job on foreign policy.

Let us hope his domestic political plays and statements will not affect Malaysia’s image abroad. His speech will be listened to, analysed, and discussed at home and abroad. He has grown to be a regional leader with strong foreign policy credentials and must remain so.

Finger on the UMNO pulse

by Jocelyn Tan@www.the star.com.my (11-16-14)

The UMNO general assembly next week will have to take note of the growing restlessness among party members about UMNO’s direction and the way it is dealing with issues close to their heart.

IT has been quite a turnaround for Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. Athishamuddin-hussein around this time last year, the Defence Minister was lying on a hospital bed, recovering from “chest pains”, that euphemism that public figures use when they get a heart attack.The year 2013 had not been good for him. He had come under severe criticism for his handling of the Sabah incursions, his image was down and there was even speculation that he would be removed from his Defence portfolio.

The effect of all that caused him to come in last among the three UMNO Vice-Presidents and he was almost beaten by newcomer and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir.He had hit a low point in his career. But he became a grandfather shortly after that. His grandson is now a cute and chubby toddler while the new grandfather is looking fit and healthy. Hishammuddin smells better these days because he has stopped smoking, he eats fruit and biscuit for lunch and he works out.

A year is a long, long time in politics and the sun is shining again for Hishammuddin.  “His image has lifted following his role in two tragic disasters involving our national airline. He is probably one of our best known leaders overseas,” said publisher Juhaidi Yean Abdullah.

His mother’s death a few months ago was another rite de passage and that hehe-haha boyish style he used to be known for has disappeared, replaced by a more serious demeanour.  He has put a lot of effort into his role as chairman for the UMNO resolutions committee. He wants to bring greater meaning and result to the hundreds of resolutions that come in from UMNO branches and divisions every year ahead of the UMNO general assembly.

His committee has received a total of 755 resolutions from 191 UMNO divisions all over the country. These resolutions range from localised matters like calls for better roads to weighty stuff like defending Islam.

In previous years, the relevant resolutions were selected for debate at the assembly while the rest were usually acknowledged with a simple reply. This year, Hishammuddin has sifted through the resolutions and brought them before the relevant ministries for attention and action. His argument is that these resolutions reflect the needs, requests and aspirations of the party grassroots and must be acted upon. That was what the round-table meeting involving ministry officials on Wednesday was about.

“He is looking at the scenario beyond the general assembly. He wants the UMNO folk down there to know that issues which are of concern to them are being taken seriously by the party leadership. Taking action on views from the grassroots is a way of empowering them,” said Pasir Salak Youth chief Dr Faizal Tajuddin.

The man who had struggled to retain his Vice-President post is on a comeback and comparisons are being made with top Vice-President and Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The charismatic Dr Ahmad Zahid was the man of the moment a year ago, celebrated as much for his God-given people skills as for his tough stance on organised crime. The moment has passed, and his profile has slipped somewhat. But it is to his credit that gangland violence has also gone down and several states have reported lower crime rates.

Last year’s UMNO assembly had been a sort of mixed feelings type of gathering. The rank and file were euphoric that they had successfully conducted a landmark party election without too many boo-boos. There was a celebratory mood as they ushered in the new batch of leaders.

Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin retained their posts uncontested, a sign of the party’s stability despite a bruising general election.  They could also see the second echelon taking shape in the form of Vice-Presidents Ahmad Zahid, Hishammuddin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal.

KJ2In particular, Khairy Jamaluddin’s spectacular second-term win as UMNO Youth chief means that he is the one to watch in the years ahead. Khairy has brought the wow-factor to his position as Youth and Sports Minister, and he is one of the most watched UMNO politicians among those outside of UMNO.

His opinions on issues have shown that he is a cut above the rest and, more recently, many thought that he handled the doping issue involving Malaysia’s No. 1 badminton star with great maturity.

UMNO is still struggling between the old and the new. It wants to hold on to its traditional core values as a Malay nationalist party but it is also under immense pressure to adapt to the changing political landscape.

At the same time, there was the painful fact that UMNO is no longer the political powerhouse that it used to be and they were still hurting over what they saw as the “Chinese betrayal”. The hurt is still there and they are uncertain about what the future holds for UMNO.

The general expectation is that issues like the Sedition Act, vernacular schools and the attacks against Islam and the Malay rulers will dominate the debates.  “Warning shots” have been fired in the run-up to the assembly, with some politicians claiming that Chinese schools are creating “two nations in one country” while another politician urged that all Malay-majority seats should be contested by UMNO.

The euphoria of last year has dissipated. In its place is a restlessness for measures that can prepare the party to face the next big battle.

There is the sense that party members are impatient for answers and solutions. They are tired of excuses and inaction, they are not going to be satisfied with sweet talk and feel-good stories. They want the leaders to get tough and address issues in a concrete way.

In that sense, the debates should not be over-controlled. There was one year prior to the general election when the debate guidelines were so strict that everyone sounded like robots reading from the same script.

Frank views and reasonable criticism should be welcomed to help the leadership keep the finger on the pulse and also for delegates to let off steam.

The party has not moved forward very much since the last general election. The inability on the part of Barisan Nasional to present itself as the alternative in Selangor even as Pakatan Rakyat was fighting like crazy over the Menteri Besar post was testimony to that.

UMNO members were also incredulous that in Terengganu, a defiant Menteri Besar who was not ready to go, had arm-twisted the party and almost brought down the state government. It was so old politics.

The bright point was the UMNO win in the Pengkalan Kubor by-election. That was a real victory – a much bigger winning majority despite a lower voter turnout. The political fatigue seen everywhere is not only because of too much politicking over everything but also because people are disillusioned that the promise of new politics has not materialised.

“The PM’s political transformation is in danger of becoming a mere slogan. UMNO leaders need to put more beef into the transformation agenda or else it will become like Islam Hadhari. No one talks about that anymore,” said political analyst Dr Azmi Omar.

UMNO people are still adjusting to Najib’s political style. One of their grouses is that he is “too quiet”. They say it is important that he makes known the government’s stand and opinion on an issue so that UMNO politicians down the line know how to respond on their own part. It is also a form of taking the lead and shaping public opinion on issues.

Shortly after Najib took over as Prime Minister, Pakatan leadersMahathir Mohamad claimed that he wanted to bring back what they called “Maha­thirism”, whatever that meant. They insisted that Najib’s cordial relations with Dr Mahathir meant he was taking orders from the former Premier.

It was an idiotic story, yet so many people swallowed it. The fact that Dr Mahathir has withdrawn his support for Najib for not doing what the elder man thinks is the right thing, says it all. Ties between the two men are rather choppy at the moment. Dr Mahathir has openly criticised Najib but he still loves UMNO and wants the party to survive and recover its former glory.

It has been a challenging year for Najib who is now into his fifth year as UMNO president and Prime Minister. But despite everything, said Juhaidi, Najib’s position in Umno is solid, more so than most UMNO presidents in their fifth year on the job.

“Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was already shaky in his first term while Dr Mahathir had fallen out bigtime with his deputy Tun Musa Hitam. Tun Hussein Onn lasted only a term because of heart problems while his predecessor Tun Abdul Razak Hussein’s health problems took his life in his sixth-year in office,” said Juhaidi.

Only Tunku Abdul Rahman could declare that he was the “happiest prime minister in the world” but the happiness did not last. Najib, said Juhaidi, has won the general election and the UMNO election. “Internally, I don’t see any challengers to his leadership. The UMNO  general assembly will not be like what happened at the PAS muktamar where the guns were pointed inwards. The UMNO guns will be pointing outwards,” said Juhaidi.

To the so-called Malay Defenders: Stop Insulting the Malays


November 15, 2014

To the so-called Malay Defenders: Stop Insulting the Malays

by Dr. Azmi Sharom

Azmi SharomI find it amusing that those who label themselves as the defenders of Malays are also the ones who, whether consciously or not, view Malay people in a most disdainful manner.

Ideally of course, one would not have to write about topics such as this, but the reality is that ethnicity is still a major issue in any discussion on politics, society, religion, law and governance in Malaysia.

 And even on a personal level, although ethnicity plays a tiny part in my life, in the sense that it is not something that pre-occupies me, I would be lying to say that it has no effect on my life at all.

I was, after all, raised in a Malay family, and my cultural practices are based on Malay culture. Thus, when ethnicity is mentioned, it is always at the back of my mind that I am Malay.

This being the case, when reading comments made by these “Malay defenders”, I must then be a very weak, intellectually challenged, spiritually infantile, economically dependent and all-round pathetic human being.

I am unable to make any choices of my own regarding religious matters. I must be shown the way by people who declare themselves more able to determine what is spiritually good for me.

I must remember always that my capabilities as a man are worth nothing. I can’t take care of myself and my loved ones based on my own talents, strengths and merit.

Instead, I must always depend on a BN, sorry, an UMNO government. Without it, I will just die, I suppose. I have no ability to make any sort of political change. The only people who can change the government are the Chinese.

I am obviously unable to come to the conclusion that when one party has been in power for too long, their arrogance and lust for power then lead to poor governance that affects all Malaysians.

I also believe in stone-aged-style superstition, one which tells me that touching dogs can lead to tornadoes. So, who thinks Malays are so pathetic?Who says the things which imply all the statements above? It is the great Malay defenders of Malaysia.

Really, as a man who identifies himself as culturally Malay, I wish they would stop defending me because all they are doing is insulting me and pissing me off.

 http://www.rakyattimes.com/index.php/columnist/1458-am-i-so-intellectually-challenged-i-need-defending-dr-azmi-sharom