The Persecution of Kassim Ahmad: A-G Gani Patail loses again


July 24, 2014

The Persecution of Kassim Ahmad: A-G Gani Patail loses again

by Din Merican

In the past two weeks, the mainstream media have been screaming the news that Kassim Ahmad had lost in his attempt to get leave to sue the Minister of Religious Affairs, the Syariah Chief Prosecutor and the Jabatan Agama Islam Wilayah Persekutuan (JAWI). It is as if they were gleeful that Kassim Ahmad had initially lost in the High Court and then failed to get a stay in the Court of Appeal.

The Malay media, especially Utusan Malaysia, portrayed that Kassim Ahmad will finally meet his doom in the Syariah Court for “menghina Islam”. That immediately made the already controversial Kassim Ahmad Islam’s Public Enemy No.1 in Malaysia.

But what stunned me most was that the Malay Muslim public was even quicker to label the counsel whoRosli Dahlan acted for Kassim Ahmad as also “bersubahat” or an accomplice to an enemy of Islam. Thus it was that my young friend Lawyer Rosli Dahlan who acts for Kassim Ahmad ended up being painted negatively as if he too was an enemy of Islam. I know Rosli to be a deeply religious person, and that such remarks would hurt him.

What most people do not realize is that Rosli is the 1st batch of the law graduates of the International Islamic University (IIU). I know Rosli is proud of his alma mater and fiercely loyal to the concept of justice taught by his mentor, the late Professor Tan Sri Ahmad Ibrahim.

I know that because on the occasions that I get to speak to him about civil rights including when we had lunch with the former US Ambassador John R Mallot, Rosli was passionate about the Rule of Law and justice and insisted that these two concepts are not just Islamic concepts but are the demands of the Syariah. John and I found that very refreshing that a UIA graduate is not insisting on the importance of implementing Hudud but was more concerned about the justice that an Islamic system would bring.

That gave me an insight as to why Rosli would defend Kassim Ahmad and persevered even as he faced initial failures when the High Court rejected his bid to seek Judicial Review against the Minister Agama, the Chief Prosecutor and JAWI. But today is a different story.

Today, most alternative media reported that Rosli succeeded in persuading the Court of Appeal that Kassim Ahmad should be given leave to challenge Minister Agama, the Chief Prosecutor and JAWI. Today, the Court of Appeal unanimously directed the High Court to hear the judicial review application filed by scholar -researcher and public intellectual Kassim Ahmad.

Today, Rosli perseverance in fighting for Kassim’s case paid off. Today, Rosli won against the A-G in Kassim Ahmad’s case (Malaysiakini’s report below).

But, one of the reporters also whispered something to me that many people may have forgotten. This is the end of Ramadan. In 2007, at this time of Ramadan, Rosli was brutalized by the MACC and that started his on-going battles since then with the AG and others whom he called the “rogues in government”.

What the reporter whispered to me was that after Judge Vazeer Alam ruled that the AG is not immuned from legal action brought by Rosli, A-G Gani Patail has been avoiding going to trial. And yesterday, A-G Gani Patail succeeded in getting a Stay Order so that Rosli’s case against A-G Gani Patail and 11 others will not see the light of to trial. READ : http://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2014/04/11/a-g-gani-patail-is-not-above-the-law/

I was sad for Rosli, here he is successfully fighting Kassim Ahmad’s case, but , unknown to many he suffers another personal tragedy when his own case against AG Gani Patail cannot go on. But I know Rosli, he will not yield. He will not surrender. He will persevere. He is a fighter and I know he will fight to the end until he thinks justice has been served!

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Malaysiakini article on Kassim Ahmad’s Judicial Review bid

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/269747

High Court must hear scholar’s review bid

by Hafiz Yatim@www.malaysiakini.com (07-24-14)

The Court of Appeal in a unanimously decision today ordered the High Court inKualaLumpur to hear the judicial review application filed by scholar Kassim Ahmad.In ruling that the civil court has jurisdiction to hear matters pertaining to questionable actions by Islamic religious authorities, the appellate court ordered the case to be remitted to the High Court to hear its merits.kassim-ahmadJustice Balia Yusof Wahi, who led the three-member panel, did not make an order as to costs. Sitting with him were Justice Mohtaruddin Baki and Justice Rohana Yusof.

Justice Balia said the court was satisfied that Kassim had passed the low threshold in establishing a prima facie case for the judicial review to be heard.He said the application related to the defendant (the religious authorities), being a public body, for initiating proceeding against Kassim, after he was charged under the Syariah Criminal Offences (FT) Act.

Appellant should not be shut off from remedy’

“The High Court judge concurred (in her judgment) that the issue is not confined solely to jurisdiction. The appellant is challenging the enforcement and administration of a public body. On this, the appellant should not be totally shut off from his remedy for judicial review and from ventilating the challenges,” the Judge said.The court, Justice Balia said, is also guided by the 1988 Supreme Court decision in the case of Mamat Daud, that an offence against an Islamic precept can be challenged by way of judicial review. “We therefore allow the appeal and order is granted for leave (permission) to hear the merits. We set aside High Court order (that it does not have jurisdiction),” he ruled.

Kassim, was represented by Rosli Dahlan , Bahari Yeow and Ahmad Khubayb, while senior Federal counsel Nor Hisham Ismail appeared for the Attorney-General’s Chambers.  Rosli also applied to the appellate court for a stay of Syariah High Court proceedings against Kassim, but this was objected to by Nor Hisham.

Following this, Justice Balia said he would order that an early date be fixed by the High Court. High Court judge Justice Zaleha Yusof on July 14 rejected Kassim’s application for a judicial review, following a preliminary objection by the Attorney-General’s Chambers that the court has no jurisdiction to hear the matter.

Kassim, 81, named Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom, the Chief Syariah Prosecutor of the Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI)  and the Malaysian government as respondents when he filed the judicial review application last month.

He complained that JAWI acted overzealously in breaking down the door of his house in Kulim, Kedah, to arrest him and take him to Kuala Lumpur in March this year.

JAWI has not authority in Kedah’

The octogenarian complained that JAWI had no authority to make the arrest as it  should be confined to the Federal Territory and the fatwa against his book was only applicable there and not in Kedah.

Kassim was charged in the Syariah High Court in Putrajaya on March 27 for with deriding Islam, under Section 7(b) of the Syariah Offences (Federal Territories) Enactment 1997, in his talk at the Yayasan Kepimpinan Perdana seminar, which was organised by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya in February.

The scholar is charged with stating that people appear to idolise Prophet Muhammad and that the aurat of a woman does not include her hair. He is also charged under Section 9 of the same enactment with violating the instructions of the religious authorities in delivering those views and for citing two books he authored, which have been banned by the Federal Territories Islamic authorities.

On May 6, the authorities levelled another charge against Kassim, but the charge was not read out in court when recording his plea.

In his judicial review application, Kassim is seeking several declarations: to quash the actions taken by JAWI, which includes the issue of the warrant of arrest against him; to set aside the charges he faces; to compel JAWI to give him the relevant documents pertaining to the charge; and to stop the authorities from prosecuting him.

He also sought a declaration that JAWI’s action was contrary to the Federal Constitution and a declaration that the Federal Territory fatwa is only applicable to those who live there and not in Kedah.
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An Eminent former Judge and Chief Justice cannot tell the truth


July 8, 2014

A Tragedy when even an Eminent former Judge and Chief Justice cannot tell the truth

I was afraid I would become a ‘traitor’ to the Malays and Islam,” Former Chief Justice Tun Abdul Hamid Mohamad said. He was not truthful; he was not offered a place in a unity council, says source –www.themalaysianinsider.com

CJ of Malaya Hamid

Kadir Jasin on Najib’s Cabinet and Najib-Muhyiddin Partnership


June 25, 2014

DM at 75

COMMENT: Veteran newsman A Kadir Jasin has mocked Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak over his latest cabinet reshuffle, which apart from the appointment of new faces, did not witness the much speculated shake-up. In truth, there is little that Najib can do with regard to changes to his Cabinet for two reasons.

First, he has to make sure that his support among UMNO ministers is solidly with him ahead of the impending UMNO General Assembly to prevent a no confidence vote against his leadership of the party, government and the country. Second, there is in reality a dearth of talent and competence in the Barisan Nasional coalition making it difficult for him to make any radical change. 

John Maxwell on Leadership

Najib must take decisive action on pressing issues facing our country, and prove his critics like me and  others  of my generation wrong. He has been at the helm of our nation since 2009, and that should be time enough for him to learn the ropes of governance, and do what is expected of him. He should lead our nation, and that means he should not pander in the name of politics to extremists, bigots and ultra-nationalists since he is Prime Minister for all Malaysians.–Din Merican

Kadir Jasin on Najib’s Cabinet and Najib-Muhyiddin Partnership

In line with his policy of appeasement towards the Chinese, making everybody happy and keeping things big, Prime Minister  Najib added three more Ministers to his cabinet and retained the rest.

The new Ministers are MCA President Liow Tiong Lai, his Deputy Dr Wee Ka Siong, and the Gerakan President, Mah Siew Keong. Liow is Transport Minister while Dr Wee and Mah are ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department.

With the new additions, he now has 34 Ministers to lord over. Ten of these people are in his department. There are 35 including him. This is not counting 28 Deputy Ministers. The MCA, despite its mediocre performance at last year’s general elections, also received three Deputy Ministers’ posts. The appointees are Vice-Presidents Datuk Lee Chee Leong (International Trade and Industry), Datuk Chua Tee Yong (Finance) and Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun (Women, Family and Community Development).

So all the talks and speculations about Muhyiddin leaving and Hishammuddin going up are a waste of time and space. The Prime Minister and his merry men march on! Apologies: Mohd Najib was Finance Minister under Abdullah.

ORIGINAL POST–June 24, 2014

najib and his deputy

They need each other

NOT long before last year’s UMNO election, Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin, made known to allies that he would not challenge Mohd Najib Abdul Razak for the post of president and gave “tiredness” as his reason. When I asked him some time later, he repeated the same reason – penat. – Additionally he did not want to be accused of being unable to work with any Prime Minister having been instrumental in hastening (Tun) Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s resignation as Prime Minister in 2009.

The excuse that he was tired was flimsy. I would have given some credence had he said he was to challenging Mohd Najib because the latter was doing a good job or something like that. I could not remember him saying such a thing. This latest talk that he wants out could have been members’ interpretation of his recent statements at party meetings that UMNO must prepare for succession and take steps to train younger leaders.

Muhyiddin isn’t exactly old. He is 67 and is not known to have health problem. The late (Tun) Abdul Ghafar Baba became Deputy Prime Minister at 61 and (Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad remained PM until he was 78.

Even if Muhyiddin has differences with Mohd Najib, it should not be an excuse for him to step down. Many UMNO leaders, including ministers, have issues with Mohd Najib. They should stay and fight for the party instead of forsaking it out of distaste for Mohd Najib.

PM Needs Muhyiddin

ON the other hand, Mohd Najib may shudder at the thought of not having Muhyiddin by his side in the cabinet. This is even more so if Muhyiddin’s intention is to spend time building up UMNO. That could be a dangerous proposition for Mohd Najib.

He needs Muhyiddin close to him for two reasons. First, Muhyiddin is popular with UMNO members. For that reason, Mohd Najib has left much of party work to him. Second, because of Muhyiddin’s popularity with UMNO members, it is risky for Mohd Najib to let him take charge of the party away from his scrutiny. He has to keep Muhyiddin in his sight. That could have been the reason why Mohd Najib came out strongly to deny that Muhyiddin was leaving the Cabinet.

But we have to take such a denial with a pinch of salt. Dr Mahathir too denied strongly the allegations against Anwar Ibrahim by Ummi Hafilda in 1997. Muhyiddin’s aides acknowledged that their boss had raised the matter of his “advancing” age with Mohd Najib.

According to them Mohd Najib told Muhyiddin that he needed him.But now there is a new twist to the issue. According to aides, Muhyiddin had started to feel uneasy when speculations that he was leaving the Cabinet began to spread in the press. He felt that there might be attempts to pressure him to leave or to make Mohd Najib feel that he can no longer rely on him (Muhyiddin).

The Hishammuddin Factor

Surely Muhyiddin is not unaware that there are others in UMNO who aspire to take over his job as DPM. hishamuddin-husseinFor a start, talks are rife that Mohd Najib is preparing his cousin, Hishammuddin Hussein (right) to take over the post although Hishammuddin himself is said to be uncomfortable with the speculation.He is said to have told friends that such a speculation could have a negative effect on his chances of advancing in the party and Cabinet.

Like Muhyiddin, Hishammuddin is a Johorian. It is well-known that Johor UMNO leaders do not always get along well with each other. And talk about Hishammuddin’s being groomed as Muhyiddin’s successor does not help to calm matters down.

Whether this is true or not will depend on where Hishammuddin goes when Mohd Najib finally reshuffled his Cabinet. It is widely speculated that Hishammuddin would take over the Finance Ministry from Mohd Najib.Whether or not Hishammuddin is a Finance Minister material is debatable. But if he is given the post he will automatically become very powerful although not a single Finance Minister had risen to become PM.

The unofficial version of the story had it that Muhyiddin had told a very senior Supreme Council member that he was leaving because he could not anymore cope with the goings-on in the government.Muhyiddin may remain DPM but may let go of the Education Ministry and take on a smaller portfolio so that he can spend more time managing UMNO but on condition that he remains loyal to Mohd Najib. Furthermore, under Mohd Najib’s 1Malaysia, Muhyiddin is its Malay face. His “Malay first” assertion is popular with the Malays, especially those in UMNO.

 

On Taiwan


 

June 20, 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

On Taiwan

by Din Merican

image

My wife, Dr. Kamsiah, and I spent the last few days in Taipei and its surrounds and met a number  of her Taiwanese counterparts. We asked them a lot of questions about their history, culture, their economy and government. While my wife was occupied with her course, I was  able to interact with them. Although those  we met and talked to were hampered by their limited English vocabulary and  we have zero knowledge of their language (Mandarin), we are able to understand why they are very proud of their country and its economic success but they are critical of their government. Off the bat, we can say that their society is an open one founded on democracy. They are a very hardworking and disciplined people.

I searched google and found a report from the Heritage Foundation, which confirms our cursory impressions of the country.  See below:

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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.

Malaysia: One Year after GE 13, lost in sea of politiking


May 6,2014

Malaysia: One Year after GE 13, lost in sea of politiking

Bridget-Welsh-2by Bridget Welsh@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: Today marks the one year anniversary of the historic 13th General Election. This election was pivotal in the country’s history as the incumbent BN coalition held onto power, with the Opposition calls for ‘change’ unfulfilled.

Scholars have highlighted the fundamental shifts in the power of UMNO, the imbalance of the opposition parties, the rise in influence and political awakenings of East Malaysia and the electoral irregularities, among many profound structural changes.

In other ordinary ways, Malaysian politics has also changed, with greater cynicism, insecurities and anger more prominent in public life. This is across the political divide. News reports feature troubling reports of increased racial tensions, political polarisation and continued shortcomings in governance.

This article highlights some of the ongoing dynamics in contemporary Malaysian political life, which are both worrying and offer promise ahead.

Hisham, Najib, and Muhiyuddin MH370 Heroes

There is no question the last year has been a difficult one for Malaysia.  Globally, the country came under the full glare of the international spotlight in what arguably will be the story of the year – the loss of MH370. Now everyone in the world knows where Kuala Lumpur is, and the seas and oceans around it.

The persistence of this issue in international headlines for over two months is a reminder of the lack of closure for the families of loved ones on board the missing plane and the country as a whole.

Malaysia has been blessed historically by a comparative lack of crises but MH370 shows the need for better preparation and the need to learn. What is of concern in the failure to properly release even the preliminary investigation report of the tragedy is an apparent unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes and strengthen the country’s responses in future.

The context of post-GE13 contributes to this childish stubbornness to embrace improvements. Political wrangling and insecurities are dominating the terrain, with those in power obsessed in staying there and those in the opposition myopically focused on getting there.

Even one year later, the country is still electioneering, with the focus on power rather than the people. This is perhaps one of the most serious losses of GE13 – a distancing of the interests of citizens and political leaders.

Even basic needs are being ignored, as evident by the water rationing. This issue is being used in a seemingly never-ending political game of blaming and one-upmanship. When will the federal and government leaders sit down and figure out a proper solution to the country’s water shortages? The sense one gets is: when the dams freeze over.

The impression is statesmanship is sorely lacking. It is not only MH370 that is missing. Some of this is a product of Prime Minister Najib Razak doing a disappearing act when a controversial issue emerges. When he reappears – usually well after an issue has evoked tensions and frustrations – his interventions are too little too late.

Power at all cost

For its part, the opposition has continued focusing on bringing out the country’s problems, with little attention to solutions to these problems. Many of their messages are often stale, and returning to old solutions. Their main goal aims at changing the government, a refrain that only perpetuates the sense among ordinary citizens that leaders are focused on power, not people. Quality leadership is lost in the sea of politicking.

This void has been enhanced by the loss of important national leaders from political 1Malaysialife, from the tragic deaths of Karpal Singh and Irene Fernandez to the quiet voices of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and other leaders who can bridge the divided communities.

This lack of statesmanship is enhanced by the fact that both political sides are wracked in ongoing internal struggles for power.

For UMNO, united it its desire to hold onto power at any cost, Najib continues to navigate challenges inside his party, led by none other than his mentor, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

While the current premier appears to have neutralised any immediate challenge, the sense of competition for position is ongoing in UMNO, with shifts in positions a constant dynamic.

Najib has proved adept at managing the levers of this party with offers of projects, contracts and other rewards regularly used as appeasement. The reality is that Najib and his associates continue to watch their backs, distracted from governing.To accommodate the need for funds, Najib has opted to implement the Goods and Service Tax (GST), a measure that has widespread public opposition as shown in recent polls.

While some recognise the need to improve the country’s revenue position, especially given the rising debt the country is absorbing and questions arising from that debt (as shown in the 1MDB scandal), ordinary people are only seeing the impact of rising inflation on their already strained finances.

UMNO knows that the GST has the potential to be its death knell – a reason it is doing everything it can to break up the opposition through hudud and other religiously divisive issues and the use of institutions such as the Judiciary to marginalise political opponents and parties alike.

UMNO rightly fears that the GST will undercut the base of its political support, effectively betraying its base by imposing a higher cost of living and greater suffering. In their fancy cars behind guarded houses, they have lost perspective, unaware of even the price of kangkung.

Hudud returns–PAS Kelantan

If UMNO is violating its promise of rising incomes and improved welfare, the Opposition has also moved down the road of disillusionment. This is occurring with PAS’ Kelantan government’s call for hudud.

pas-keadilan-untuk-semuaIn GE13 the Opposition offered the promise of a multiracial country, a place for everyone under the Malaysian sun. The exclusionary path of Kelantan PAS has already lost the trust of non-Malays as shown with recent polling, as decades of trust building have evaporated. Many non-Muslims feel a sense of betrayal.

The party has effectively signaled that it is no longer interested in being a leader of the nation as a whole, but appears focused on securing its base in the rural heartland, especially in Kelantan where its performance under the new state leadership has been lackluster.

Its public rationale is that the move is for political power, to win support among Muslims. History has shown in that when PAS opts for a more exclusionary path, it is punished at the polls as occurred in 1986 and 2004.

By turning to religious law before better governance and the welfare of the broader community, Kelantan PAS has taken a path that is appealing to its core and distancing itself from the middle ground, especially younger voters.

More attention could be centred on deliverables, increasing jobs and welfare in the state to allow Kelantanese the means and opportunities to stay away from the crimes hudud is supposed to prevent. As shown in Egypt, the party would be better served by working on providing jobs and raising incomes, but this lesson appears not to be have been absorbed.

As in UMNO, party divisions in PAS have contributed to this undemocratic move. There appears to be ongoing positioning people in the party, especially by those that did not do well in the party polls last November.

While clearly provoked by UMNO, PAS has taken a parochial, exclusionary route that not only threatens the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition, but has the potential to tear at the fabric of Malaysian society in a way that will only bring greater tensions and conflict.

In falling for Umno’s bait, DAP has also escalated tensions. The Opposition is now struggling to move away from zero-sum politics, as ordinary Malaysians look on in dismay or glee depending on their side of the political divide.

Kelantan PAS’s exclusionary path severely weakens the Opposition’s ability to represent the nation, as does Najib’s similarly divisive move to implement an unpopular policy that will erode his political base, sharpen class and generation divisions (as the young are the most affected), and has the potential to deepen the trend that has featured in Najib’s tenure – the continued politicisation of political institutions to maintain political power, from the Election Commission to the judiciary.

Concerns are particularly acute in that both PAS’ and UMNO’s moves place strain on the ability of institutions to govern fairly for all Malaysians. Pressures are already clearly evident. The rule of law especially is being challenged, with now multiple incidents of the police failing to uphold judicial decisions.

Wake-up call from youth

Given the worrying trajectories, is there any reason for hope? Increasingly the frustrations of citizens have featured centre stage, with the silent majority deafened from the political noise – much of it lacking decency and direction. The answer is a yes, but one couched in realism and caution.

GST Rally
The GST rally last week was full of young people urging change signals the expansion of a political awakening in Malaysia. GE13 did not mark the end of this process, but rather served as a marker for new paths and patterns of engagement.

Neither side did a good job of mobilising young Malaysians as shown in the split voting patterns among younger voters, but nevertheless the youth are finding their voice. The anti-GST rally was less about one side or another of the divide, but a loud wake-up call for fairer governance, one in which a younger generation is now leading.

Amidst the 50,000 crowd are leaders for the future, joined by a growing cohort of younger leaders in the political divide that are putting forward important issues such as education, security and the Rule of Law.

It is important to note that amidst the politicking are voices that are indeed focusing on meaningful issues and appear less obsessed about who is holding what position, be in the chief ministership of Selangor or a cabinet post.

My faith lies most with the young in Malaysia, who along with the sage wisdom of leaders who were socialised in the post-Mahathir era and national oriented civil society leaders, are speaking out and engaging important issues. They offer light in the darkness of the current political scene.

In 2008, I wrote that Malaysians were ahead of their politicians. I also wrote that change would not be a linear process. We continue to see these observations in current political life.

The opposition has the responsibility to move beyond focusing on attaining power and developing capacity to solve the nation’s problems by working together and forming a shadow cabinet. Even Cambodia’s Opposition coalition that has refused to sit in parliament due to election irregularities have one. If the opposition is going to focus on its divisions it might as well get out of the business for running for national office.

For Najib, who has yet to become the label of reformer he has portrayed himself to be, Malaysians are awaiting your reforms, meaningful changes. Your clock is ticking, and already half of the country have decided you have passed your prime. Many in the other half were on the streets last week.

Malaysians on the whole deserve better than they have at the moment, and are rightly frustrated by the exclusionary turns of their leaders, but the fact that they are speaking out and sending clear messages of dissatisfaction offer promise, even if it is less promising than many hope for.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg .