MH17: Prime Minister calls an Emergency Parliamentary Session


July 19, 2014

MH17: Prime Minister calls an Emergency Parliamentary Session

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com (07-18-14)

MH17 Crash Site2

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has called for an emergency Parliament session on July 23 to condemn the irresponsible acts by those who caused the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine yesterday.

Making an official address to the nation from Angkasapuri, in a telecast that was carried live by government broadcaster RTM, he also announced that the national flag will be flown at half mast from tonight until Monday as a sign of mourning over the loss of life in the incident.

He, however, added that until credible evidence surfaces, there will be no finger-pointing towards any party involved, despite the widespread believe that the flight with 298 passengers and crew onboard was shot down.

He also expressed condolences and deep sympathies to the family and loved ones of the victims on behalf of Putrajaya. “We condemn this despicable and irresponsible act and as Prime Minister I will be calling an emergency Parliament session to debate this motion,” he said of this second tragedy involving a Malaysia Airlines flight in the past four months.

Crying for Loss of Loved OnesMH17- Crying for Loved Ones

Najib said that he had also put forward three demands to United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. “First, we want to ensure that evidence relating to the incident is not tampered with or disturbed; second, we hope for the safety of rescue personnel during the operations to be guaranteed. And third, if the investigation finds that MH17 was indeed shot down, we demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

“I have put forward these three demands to UN chief Ban Ki-moon,” he said at a special address today, adding that Malaysians are facing some very challenging times.

Acknowledging that “we are in the last days of the fasting month”, Najib also called on Muslims, regardless of political affiliation, to come together to pray so that Malaysia will be safe from harm.He also called on other faiths to pray for the same in their own way.
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Brasil 2014, Football and Germany


July 14, 2014

Brasil 2014, Football and Germany

by Josh Hong@www.malaysiakini.com

Germany's players lifts the World Cup trophyI once saw a picture at the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, the capital of the former West Germany. Dated July 4, 1954, it depicted a group of men with broken teeth, crutches and in worn-out clothes shouting for joy over West Germany’s victory at the FIFA World Cup Final.

The West Germans had just barely recovered from the horrific World War II, and Hungary had been widely tipped to win the title. Still, West Germany went on to claim the crown as a dark horse, and the game is known historically as ‘Das Wunder von Bern’ (‘the Miracle of Bern’; Bern is the Swiss capital where the final was held).

The 1954 World Cup was particularly meaningful to West Germany for several reasons: it was the first time that Das Lied Der Deutschen (the Song of the Germans) was played at an international sporting event since the end of WWII, signifying the return of the country into the world community, while defeating the then communist-ruled Hungary was hailed as an ideological triumph.

Two decades later, West Germany was showered with greater global recognition when it hosted the 1974 World Cup and was crowned champion. If 1954 symbolised West Germany’s international acceptance, 1974 probably took on a greater significance in that the country demonstrated proudly to the world its reemergence as an economic power, rising from the ashes of the catastrophic Nazi regime (which hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin), preceded also by the 1972 Olympics.

It was most ironic that, while Britain and France, the two WWII victors, were mired in incessant labour strikes as industrial production came to a virtual halt, West Germany’s economic development and standard of living continued to improve by leaps and bounds.

Then came the eventful autumn of 1989, when the Eastern Blocs were on the verge of drastic revolution. Berlin Wall, 1989Many East Germans drove their Trabants right up to the Berlin Wall and demanded that the gates be opened.

When their calls went unanswered, they took out sledgehammers and chisels and started dismantling the wall themselves, and the (in)famous wall did come tumbling down within weeks. Welcoming the Ossis was not only the far advanced Volkswagen produced by the Wessis, but also the abundantly available commodities in the shops in West Berlin.

When West Germany beat Argentina to claim the World Cup title on  July 8, 1990, East German fans erupted in euphoria publicly for the first time. Three months later, East and West Germany became history.

Rebranding the country

When the reunified Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, the German government at the time made use of the opportunity to rebrand the country as a Land of Ideas (Land der Ideen), seeking to promote to the world Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Beethoven, philosopher Jürgen Habermas and many other modern achievements alongside football.

It represented a conscious effort on the part of the Germans to remind the international community that, having faced up to historical issues squarely, it was time that Germany should be free to celebrate its achievements for and contributions to the world.

The reunified Germany failed to win the World Cup in 2006, but many a European country was impressed with a new Germany that was not only confident and forward-looking, but also warm and hospitable, so much so that the British tabloids, usually relishing in insulting Germany with WWII references, toned down their wording and English fans could be seen waving the German flag during the semi-final between Germany and Argentina.

Now that Germany has once again made it to the final, the question whether the reunified country will win a historic World Cup is again in the mind of many, for a win on this coming Sunday (Brazilian time) would go a long way in affirming Germany’s coming of age, and I wish them all the best.

After all, no other competition arouses one’s nationalistic sentiment and sharpens political differences more than football – with the exception of an actual war. Seen in this light, what Germany destroyed last Tuesday was not just Brazil’s world status as a land of football, but it’s very national identity as well.

For historical reasons, the Germans are not used to overt symbols of nationalism, but it does not mean they should tolerate idiotic insults such as Bung Mokhtar’s ‘Hitler tweet’ in the wake of Germany’s thumping victory over Brazil. It is outrageous because no other countries have demonstrated so much goodwill and sincerity in dealing with historical baggage as Germany, especially when the country has shown no signs of relenting in pursuing justice for the victims.

Bung Mokhtar’s brainless tweet is more than a personal gaffe because it exposes the quality (or the lack thereof) of UMNO politicians. The fact that he continues to be a wakil rakyat is an utter shame to Malaysia.

NOTE: Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in extra time on Sunday July 13, 2014 in Rio . It was thriller. witnessed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and a strong contingent of German fans while the rest of the world witnessed a spectacle of great sportsmanship and fine football. –Din Merican
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JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

Malaysia–the best predictors of electoral outcomes


July 14, 2014

Malaysia–the best predictors of electoral outcomes

Malaysia’s future is a choice, not a fate.


July 13, 2014

Malaysia’s future is a choice, not a fate.

by Ahmad Zakie Shariff (received by e-mail from the writer)

Malaysia2

Can You See Our Future?   This is for all you out there trying to make sense of the environment around you – the social worker whose soup kitchen has been directed to close down, the CEO who’s looking for ways to better the company he’s been tasked to improve, the mother who’s wondering why the Ringgit does not stretch as far as it did.

Look around you – at current events that, if left unchecked will evolve a future none of us are prepared for – the high profile statements that some of our leaders have mouthed off recently; the sometimes heavy handed actions of some people in authority. I cringe at how little forethought is used before something is said or done. They must surely have considered the potential impact of their actions.

You see, anyone who is a leader must understand that their every word, their every action is scrutinized and analysed, and as such amplified.

Now ask yourself: do these people have a clear and broadly shared understanding of our nation’s ability to shape the future? Are they ‘lighthouses’ shining far enough to guide distance ships or are they merely weak ‘torchlights’ shining the very few dark metres ahead? If like me, your answer is the latter, then let me tell you that there is hope: we CAN collectively influence and own our future.

As with companies, I believe that every nation has the opportunity to shape its own destiny. I believe it is possible to create a broad and enticing new opportunity horizon for the people; a lack of resolute leadership (read weak) need not limit a nation’s ambition nor its accomplishments.

These beliefs are not a product of simple-minded optimism, but of deep conviction that Malaysians are meant for better things.

At the time of independence, Malaysia’s leaders were clearly ahead of the people. The creation of a new democratic monarchy with universal suffrage, anchored by a well-thought out constitution, was a leap of faith the government took with a trusting, young country.

Fifty-seven years on, however, it seems that the roles have reversed. The people have gained more confidence and are reaching for the stars. Some of Malaysia’s leaders however, seem more timorous – happy to be stuck in an outmoded past, unwilling to change – our politics have become more tactical than visionary.

But there has been a transformation in Malaysia over the last decade. It did not involve the people toppling a monarch or bringing down a wall, but it did involve a society throwing off something huge – throwing off the shackles of comfort zones and a ‘government knows best’ mentality and replacing it with energy and boundless aspirations.

Anyone can spawn a revolution. Yet many Ahmads, Ah Chongs and Anthony Dasses today, inclined to regard themselves as victims, have lost confidence in their ability to shape the future of the nation. They have forgotten that historically it has been the dispossessed – from Gandhi to Mandela – who have led revolutions. Notwithstanding all the sombre incantations that “change must start at the top,” one must ask how often monarchy has led a revolution.

We are evolving as a nation and we suffer from growing pains – no nation is spared that throughout history – Malaysia is no different.  But I know this: I know the shape of Malaysia’s future is a choice, not a fate.

That is why I believe that we need loud, engaging, spirited arguments about how and why Malaysia and Malaysians need to go about influencing the right choices – and never resign themselves to fate.

But we need to do it in a spirit of respect for one another. We are many trying to be one and we need to hear representative voices from all constituents in order to shape our collective future.

The American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “There are always two parties, the hj-ahmad-zakieparty of the past and the party of the future; the establishment and the movement.” A substantial truth lurks in this observation: the future belongs not to those who will not tinker with things that ain’t broke, but to those willing to challenge the biases and prejudices of ‘’the establishment’’. The future belongs more to “the movement”, the unorthodox and the unreasonable than it does to those who are afraid to challenge the unknown.

I write this in the spirit of gently prodding my fellow Malaysians to imagine and deliver on a different future by refusing to settle any more for a Malaysian politics and governance that falls short of the talents possessed and needed by the Malaysian people.

No matter what ills have beset our nation in recent times, I am an optimist, a sober optimist, but an optimist nonetheless about the future of my country.For did someone not remind us that it is better to light a candle than to continually curse the darkness?

 

“Friendly” Advice to Najib on Leadership


July 12, 2014

“Friendly” Advice to Najib on Leadership

by Nigel Aw@www.malaysiakini.com (07-11-14)

Taking a shot at Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s comparison between Brazil’s devastating defeat in the World Cup semifinals and the need for strong leadership, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad offered some pointers.The former premier said a strong leader would reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

“I think it is Najib himself who said we need strong leaders. What is the qualification of a strong leader? It is the ability and willingness to stand up against foreign pressure and protect the interest of this country. If you don’t do that then you cannot be considered a strong leader,” he told a press conference in Shah Alam.

Tun Dr. MahathirMahathir was speaking to reporters after launching a book entitled ‘TPPA: Malaysia is not for sale’ by the Malay Economic Action Council (Mtem). Asked if he thought Najib was a strong leader, Mahathir, who celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday, replied: “I don’t know.” “Because it all depends on the test or challenges he faces and how he handles it,” he said.

Asked if Najib’s stance last Friday that Putrajaya intends to go ahead with the TPPA but on Malaysia’s terms was assurance enough, Mahathir insisted the agreement should be scrapped altogether.

“In the first place, why is it (TPPA) done in secret if it is not to cheat people? I think the mark of a goodThe Silent One leader is the ability to reject what is not good for this country,” he said.

Earlier in his speech, Mahathir repeatedly made references to Najib’s statement on the need of strong leaders in making his case against the TPPA. He added that the country had been able to develop well even without free trade agreements in the past.

Mahathir was also asked about Pakatan Rakyat’s leadership in Selangor but he appeared to have mis-heard the question and instead commented on BN’s leadership in the state.

“I’m sorry to say, we should have done better in the last election but we did worse in 2008.There is a lack of leadership there or the system we used was all wrong and we should not continue to do wrong things,” he said.

Abide by the Constitution

On another matter, Mahathir said the country should abide by the constitution which provides for a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy.

“If you break that, people will break other parts of the constitution then there will be chaos,” he added. He was asked to respond to readers’ comments in his latest blog posting which raised concerns about the Johor royal family’s involvement in the Iskandar region.

In the blog posting, Mahathir had weighed into the rapid development in southern Johor but expressed concern that it might become a region of foreigners like Singapore.

Asked what he thought about the comments to his posting on the royalty’s involvement in business, he replied: “If people feel we are a free country, we are very liberal, people can speak their mind, no more ISA so people can say what they like.

Brazil’s defeat shows the importance of Leadership says who but Leadership lacking Najib


July 9, 2014

Brazil’s defeat shows the importance of Leadership says Leadership lacking Najib

by http://www.malaysiakini.com

Brazil’s catastrophic 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semi-final shows the importance of leadership, said Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak. Referring to the host nation’s defence during the match being in tatters, Najib said a nation would suffer a similar fate in the absence of leadership.

“If that can happen to a football team, imagine what can happen to a country without leadership, vision and a commitment to strive for the rakyat’s fate. The answer is that the outcome would be like the Brazil team,” he is quoted as saying by news reports today.

The Prime Minister was speaking at a ceremony to present Perdana Fellowships to cabinet ministers in Putrajaya. Ironically, Najib’s critics have said the same thing about his leadership, claiming that the nation is on auto-pilot weathering a series of storms.

On various occasions, he had been chastised for his silence on controversial issues, with Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian noting that the Prime Minister preferred to take photos with pandas and US President Barack Obama.

Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin, upon studying Najib’s tweets for first 100 days since the last general election, had concluded that Najib has lost focus while UMNO conservatives hijacked issues. Even former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad (above) had weighed in and acknowledged that the government is “weak”.

Isn’t it ironic?

Meanwhile, DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang deemed Najib’s analogy “ironic” and “tragic”, implying that the Prime Minister himself is also risking Malaysia on the fate of absence of leadership.

“Where is Najib’s leadership in his Global Movement of Moderates for ‘the voices of moderation to drown the voices of extremism’? In the past year, there has been an incessant stoking and incitement of racial and religious hatred, tension and conflict in the country,” said the Gelang Patah MP in a separate statement.

He also questioned Najib’s leadership in the war against corruption, with Malaysia recording its worst ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index during his term.

Not Easy to be the PM’s Wife–Rosmah Mansor

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution


July 2, 2014
Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 270 | July 1, 2014
ANALYSIS

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution – Issues New “Interpretation” of Article Nine

By Andrew L. Oros

AbeJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed his nation at a 6pm press conference on July 1 to announce a much-anticipated Cabinet decision to reinterpret a constitutional prohibition related to Japan’s military forces working together with other states, setting the stage for a series of changes to Japanese law when its parliament reconvenes in the fall.

Protestors opposing this effective change to Japan’s constitution–which has never been formally revised since its implementation in 1947–have gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence all week. An estimated 5,000 protestors gathered outside the prime-time press conference where the prime minister argued that the reinterpretation did not represent a fundamental departure in nearly 70 years of Japanese security policy, but rather was a modest update to current policy in response to a changing international security environment.

He repeatedly touted Japan’s postwar identity as a “peace state” (heiwakoku), arguing that now is the time for Japan to make a greater international contribution to international peace–in line with the national security strategy released by his government in December 2013 that called for Japan to make “proactive contributions to peace” internationally.

The issue of “collective self-defense”–engaging in military action with allied states even if your state itself is not directly threatened–has been a topic of debate in Japan all year. Japanese government policy for over half a century has been that although all states have an inherent right to engage in collective self-defense, as rooted in long-standing practice of international law, Japan would refrain from exercising that right in deference to Article Nine of its postwar constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

Prime Minister Abe has long argued that Japan should engage in collective self-defense activities with like-minded states, both together with its alliance partner the United States as well as with other states and through United Nations peacekeeping operations. Abe’s coalition partner in government, the New Komei Party, has been opposed, however. As a result, the issue was set aside during the first year of Abe’s return to power in December 2012.

Critics of the Abe government argue that this decision is rushed, is taking place without debate in Japan’s parliament, and that no elected leader has the right to reinterpret the constitution. There is widespread misunderstanding about the power of this cabinet statement, however: it does not have the force of law.

Only legislation passed by Japan’s parliament has the force of law–and, indeed, this was one of the subjects of Abe’s 10-minute prepared statement to the nation: that his government would be creating a team to draft bills to establish the necessary legislation to submit to the Diet for its deliberation. Still, the cabinet statement does reflect unanimity among the cabinet, which includes one member from the New Komei Party. It took months of negotiation and substantial compromises by Abe to achieve this support, leading to a much watered-down mandate to exercise the right of collective self-defense only in highly constrained circumstances and even then only using the minimum necessary force to restore the peace.

The Abe government prepared 15 examples to share with the nation illustrating situations where it saw Japanese security at risk due to Japan’s decision not to exercise its right of collective self-defense, which Abe debuted in an earlier televised prime-time press conference in May. Famously pointing to a sketch of a mother holding a small child while fleeing hostilities, Abe explained cases such as the challenges of evacuating Japanese nationals from a war zone, or Japan’s need to cooperate in de-mining critical sea trade routes in the event an enemy were to lay such mines (as happened in the 1991 Gulf War). In fact, the most likely cases where Japan would exercise collective self-defense are together with its only formal military ally, the United States.

It was announced last October that the two states seek to formally revise their 17-year-old guidelines for defense cooperation by the end of 2014, making a decision on the issue of collective self-defense time sensitive. The two states’ goals of cooperating to combat cyber threats and to improve defenses against ballistic missiles both require a pre-commitment from Japan to work together with the militaries of other states, even in cases where it is not clear that Japan itself is being attacked. In addition, the long-standing fear of a new outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula would also put great pressure on Japan to offer assistance to US and South Korean military forces–even if Japan itself was not directly attacked, something prohibited under the prior cabinet interpretation of the Japanese constitution.

This new policy on collective self-defense should thus be seen, in part, as a way to show Japan’s commitment to the US-Japan military alliance–and to seek to secure US commitment to the alliance in the wake of growing Japanese concerns about China’s designs on the remote and uninhabited Senkaku Islands that Japan administers but China claims (and which China calls Diaoyu), and that Japan would need the United States military to help protect in the event of hostilities.

The new policy should also been seen as part of a set of initiatives of the Abe government to re-craft Japanese military activities as the sort of conduct any “normal” state engages in without suspicion. In this sense, it is part and parcel of his broader efforts to move beyond the criticism of Japan’s militarist past and to a new status quo where Japan’s “proactive contributions to peace” are welcomed on the contemporary international stage. The policy also should be understood at face value: as a way to address potential security contingencies Japan may face in the future.

The Abe government is correct about international law: that all states inherently possess the right of collective self-defense. But his public statements belie the substantial change in policy that Japan choosing to exercise this right would represent. Critics over-state the significance of the cabinet statement, however. Nothing has yet been changed in Japanese law, and even if new laws are passed in the fall based on this cabinet statement, the agreement within the ruling coalition places substantial barriers on Japan exercising this right in the years to come. Abe has thus not yet realized his dream of Japan becoming a “normal” state–and based on the scale of criticism both at home and abroad about this policy push, it will take many more years of policy evolution to achieve this goal.
About the Author

Dr. Andrew L. Oros is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He is author of Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice and can be contacted via email at aoros2@washcoll.edu.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated. For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

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Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore


June 30, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–a perspective from Singapore

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYFor Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway.

If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

In the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965, the emotive dimension of Singapore’s view of Malaysia was dominant. Even though this has largely dissipated, it is not totally absent. Still, the pragmatism with which both states have moved forward is definitely a milestone achievement in bilateral ties in Southeast Asia.

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections. The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two prime ministers and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

Most of the past issues have been addressed or settled such as relocation of Customs and Immigration Complex, land reclamation and even water. Most importantly, has been the breakthroughs that both leaders have made vis-à-vis two issues, namely, the resolution of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the land exchange deal as well as Singapore’s support for the Iskandar Development Project in Johor. Other positive developments in ties include the holding of annual leader’s retreats, re-establishment of links between both countries’ stock exchanges, Malaysia’s agreement to sell electricity to Singapore, the agreement to build high speed train link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the amicable post-Pedra Branca technical talks to resolve legacy issues over the islands’ dispute and finally, the establishment of a Singapore consulate in Johor Baru.

ST-Iskandar

If there is one key factor that has brought bilateral ties to a new height, it is the cooperation in the Iskandar Project. Not only is the Singapore Government supporting investments in the project through Government-linked companies such as Temasek Holding but also playing an important role in encouraging the private sector to invest in the project. Additionally, thousands of Singaporeans are expected to be permanently based in the Iskandar region and Johor as a whole, bringing interdependence to a level that was never seen before. To that extent, Iskandar has been the key game changer in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties of late.

The breakthrough in bilateral ties was a function of a number of factors. First, the decision by both sides to adopt a new approach to bilateral ties in order to garner win-win results. Second, the personal warmth of the top leaders was extremely helpful. Third, the calculation of the mutual benefits that would be gained by both sides in view of the increasing regional and global competition. Fourth, over the years, there has also been increasing economic interdependence with Singapore as one of the top investors in Malaysia over the last two decades or so. Two-way trade and investments are among the highest between the two states. Fifth, there is also the realisation of increasing security indivisibility of both states. Finally, the ideological pragmatism of both sides has also helped in boosting bilateral ties.

While Singapore expects Malaysia in 2014 to have a largely ‘normal’ year barring any unexpected events – all the more to be the case as the UMNO annual assembly has opted for status quo – the Republic is also mindful of the many uncertainties that can unexpectedly crop up to affect bilateral ties. While 2014 can expect the warming of ties to continue, this cannot be taken for granted. First, the warm ties of two prime minister, both of whom are sons of two former prime ministers  who were not close, may not survive personalities if a more nationalistic prime minister takes over in Singapore or Malaysia. Second, tensions could surface if the promised cooperation proves futile or produces one-sided benefits, say in Iskandar Project. Finally, growing domestic tensions in Malaysia, especially among the Malay and Chinese communities in Johor or in Malaysia could spill over into Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Hence, for Singapore, while Malaysia in 2014 is expected to continue ‘good business as normal’, there are also potential minefields that might explode, and hence, the need for caution. ‘Special relations’ are important but can never be taken for granted, and this also holds true of Singapore’s view of Malaysia in 2014.

Bilveer Singh is associate professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and President of the Political Science Association of Singapore. 

Leave US alone, says UM Academic Staff Association


June 30, 2014

Leave US alone, says UM Academic Staff Association

BY JAMILAH KAMARUDIN–The Malaysian Insider
Published: 30 June 2014

Academic staff of the University of Malaya today hit out at the Education Ministry over its role in the removal of Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Redzuan Othman, saying it was clear Putrajaya did not rate academic freedom highly.

Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom (pic), who heads University of Malaya Academic Staff Associationazmi s (PKAUM), said if the ministry had leaned on Redzuan, then it is clear that decisions are made based on political importance and not academic reasons or interests.

“This is one of the reasons why Malaysian universities find it difficult to develop because there is political interference,” he said.

“Leave the academicians alone, our studies and methodology are done according to academic standards. If the government is facing problems or has issues, it is not our problem.”

The Malaysian Insider reported today that the Education Ministry had told Redzuan to quit as director of Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel), while his tenure as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the university was also not renewed.

Azmi said Putrajaya should stop mouthing platitudes about academic excellence. “Close your mouth and keep quiet. Do not dream of delusions of academic grandeur and Malaysian universities making the Top 100 institutions of higher learning in the world rankings,” he said, adding that academic freedom was the basis of a top university.

Dr Amin Jalaludin“The top universities are free of political interference, especially in matters concerning research. However, the Education Ministry appears to have failed to understand this particular point,” Azmi said. On the issue of Redzuan’s tenure not being renewed, Azmi said the UM’s Vice-Chancellor (left) had the full power to determine the most qualified individual to hold the position.

“Even if the votes are in Redzuan’s favour, the V-C has the final say. The academic staff can only propose who they like. We do not know how many of the faculty staff supported Redzuan.Even if Redzuan wins the popular vote, the final decision lies with the V-C. However, if it is true that Redzuan won the popular vote but failed to retain his position, then it will be another example of Putrajaya’s interference at play,” he said.

The Malaysian Insider also reported that Putrajaya was uncomfortable with UMcedel’s research which was seen as favouring Pakatan Rakyat during last year’s 13th general election.One such research was a survey which indicated greater support for PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, compared to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The research conducted by UMcedel was later proven accurate when PR won the popular vote during the 13th general election.

Attempts by The Malaysian Insider to meet Redzuan was in vain as he was said to be busy in meetings and refused to speak to the media. Following Redzuan’s removal, former higher education deputy minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said he was quitting his post as a senior research fellow in the university.

The Constitution must be supreme


June 28, 2014

Ceritalah

Published: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 7:03:13 AM

The Constitution must be supreme

Karim RaslanBy Karim Raslan@www.thestar.com.my

“We are a polyglot nation. We cannot suddenly rid ourselves of our diversity and complexity. Yes, it is messy but it is also a fact of life and embedded in our national DNA.Until and unless we amend our Constitution – the fact remains that Malaysia is not completely secular, but neither does it allow one faith to run roughshod over the other.”–Karim Raslan

A FEW weeks ago, I wrote about my opposition to the implementation of hudud in Malaysia. Since then, it appears that the on-going debate about the role of religion in our country has become even more complicated, whether over child custody, raids on weddings and funerals as well as the issue of Malay-language Bibles.

To me, the challenge for Malaysians is simple enough.We must decide what kind of country we’re living in. Is it secular or religious? A constitutional monarchy which practises Westminster democracy or something else altogether?

Our leaders have shied away from answering these questions for far too long, allowing opportunists and extremists to dominate the discourse.This has left Malaysia in a permanent state of flux. We cannot become a developed nation when one group of citizens thinks the only way they can be protected is to relegate another into an inferior state.

That is at the heart of the various disputes: Malay versus non-Malay, Muslim versus non-Muslim and so on. At the same time, this dichotomy fails to acknowledge the many Malay-Muslims who feel uncomfortable with the idea of living under a theocracy.

Still, the fundamental question remains this: should people be treated equally in Malaysia? If not, why?If it is because this will somehow denigrate the position of Islam and the Malays – why is that so?The solution, I think, is to go back to Malaysia’s founding document – our Consti­tution.

Unlike Britain, Malaysia’s Constitution is written.This makes us a nation of laws, which gives us a framework for how we deal with each other. And what does the Constitution say? It is true Article 3(1) states that Islam is the religion of the Federation but also provides that other faiths may be practised in peace and harmony.

Every mainstream voice in Malaysia has accepted this.But does this article mean that the rights and values of non-Muslim Malaysians are completely irrelevant the moment Islam comes into any matter? Let us also not forget that Article 3(4) also states: “Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of this Constitution.”

I might be wrong here, but I think this also means that Islam’s special position does not abrogate the force of other provisions, like Article 8(1): “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.” Malaysians – it seems – are being forced to choose between two very unpleasant extremes.

One is that we must remove religion from our public lives altogether.The other is that a certain understanding of Islam must take priority over everything else.But if people truly took the time to read the Constitution – they would realise that neither of these paths meet the spirit in which our nation was founded.

We are a polyglot nation. We cannot suddenly rid ourselves of our diversity and complexity. Yes, it is messy but it is also a fact of life and embedded in our national DNA.Until and unless we amend our Constitution – the fact remains that Malaysia is not completely secular, but neither does it allow one faith to run roughshod over the other.

Anyone who says that provisions of the Constitution or other laws can be ignored simply because they think Islam is under threat is going against the law of the land. Does believing this make someone a bad Muslim? I humbly submit that faith is better served through doing justice rather than by causing fear and ill-will. Our leaders must show collective wisdom and courage in these difficult times.

HRH The Sultan of Selangor is to be commended for stating that his state’s religious authorities should seek redress for their grievances only through legal means.However, we live in a democracy. As such, our elected officials should lead the way.

They must draw on the collective wisdom of our nation to find the path forward.Leadership is not about being silent in times of crisis. It is about decisiveness and courage.I am no fan of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but at least he always understood the need to lead.

image

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet must step forward. They must lead from the front.If they don’t have the guts to do so – Malaysians will turn elsewhere.

 Karim Raslan is a regional columnist and commentator. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. His online documentaries can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/user/KRceritalah

We Allow Thugs to set the National Agenda


June 25, 2014

Brave New World

Published: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 7:14:57 AM

We Allow Thugs to set the National Agenda

by Dr. Azmi Sharom@http://www.the star.com.my

Azmi SharomMALAYSIA is turning into a hateful country. Hate; it is such an ugly word. Yet I can’t think of anything else to describe what is happening here, the land where I am to spill my blood.But then, why should I care? I am after all an intruder and immigrant.

Yes, I realise that when the racists speak about intruders and immigrants, they mean non-Malay intruders and immigrants; this despite the fact that many so-called Malays are actually of foreign origin. But I am not a hypocrite like them.

 I know my roots and they spread to Yemen, to Medan, to Singapore. I wasn’t even born here. Yet I believe that I have as much right to be here as anyone else and my fellow Malaysians have just as much right as me. And still the question remains: why should I care? I don’t have the answer to that question because I am not a very philosophical man. Yet I know this; I have no desire to live in the Yemen, or Medan or Singapore. And as much as I loved my significant time in England, I always knew that I would come home. And home is here, Malaysia.

Forgive the overly sentimental tangent this article is taking, but I am trying to make sense of my world as I write. It is hard to be purely analytical when one’s home is being slowly destroyed by the bigoted, small-minded, cruel and vicious.

This place is my home because I grew up here. My memories and therefore my identity are tied up to this place.My tastes, my relationships, my way of thinking, in short everything that makes me the individual that I am, are due to this place. But what kind of place is it now? It looks to me like the kind of place where the vicious can threaten to behead people, where those who are meant to be the final arbiters are unwilling or incapable of making judgments based on the principles they have sworn to uphold.

It is a place where cowardly leaders think only of their votes and not of making a stand against vile people and their vile deeds.There is so much going on which is going to affect our basic needs of hearth and security. While the wheels of capitalism turn, we the ordinary folk are going to find it harder and harder to just make ends meet. Yet we allow thugs to set the agenda. We allow non-issues to become national debating points. We allow the vicious to go on screaming malicious words with God on their lips and hatred in their hearts.

ayn-rand-We have lost our capacity to Reason

All this when we are living in a country with so much potential and wealth. If we can ensure that the truly needy, regardless of their creed or colour are protected and helped; if we can move our education system towards one where we produce thinking people and not well-educated automatons; if we can create a government in all its guises which is dedicated to honesty and the rule of law.If we can do all these things, then the future will be more secure for all of us. It is there, within reach.

Instead there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel and all I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers.It does not need to be like this. If the face of this country is as twisted and ugly to you as it is to me, we can still do something.

We can challenge our elected representatives into a corner. Force them to tell us where they stand.We can support the downtrodden. We can gather together in huge numbers to make a stand not for any political reason, but to show the bigots that they are not the only ones in this land and that their cruel philosophies are not welcome.

We can think for ourselves and not simply allow those with so-called authority to dictate our thoughts for us. We can be fearless in deed, words and thoughts to uphold the values that surely any country needs to hang on to – fairness, compassion, kindness, freedom and justice.This country is becoming so hateful; that is true. But I am not yet ready to hate it. Are you?

http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Brave-New-World/Profile/Articles/2014/06/25/Thugs-allowed-to-set-agenda/

 

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.

 

Who is in Charge of Malaysia, asks The Malaysian Insider


June 24, 2014

Who is in Charge of Malaysia, asks The Malaysian Insider

the-chimp-paradoxPerformance since 2009 Grade F

Who is in charge? What is happening in Malaysia? What’s going on? How can this happen?

Any of these questions or all of the above occupies the minds of many Malaysians these days, coming to the fore with vengeance every time there is a misstep by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his comrades or when the Rule of Law and provisions of the Federal Constitution are supplanted by racial and religious supremacists.

Increasingly, the sense is that these inmates are running the asylum. The PM and elected representatives are too afraid to put the extremist elements in their place because their cupboards are full of skeletons or they are unsure if their religious credentials can stand up to scrutiny. So they go with the flow directed and dictated by fringe groups and Islamic religious authorities.

hype_najib1The result: a heap of a mess and more questions than answers. Questions that keep Malaysians awake deep into the night such as:

* Who is in charge? Definitely not the man in Putrajaya. He may live in the plush residence of the Prime Minister; may have a large security detail and the use of a luxurious jet to travel around the world and may even chair cabinet meetings but Najib is not leading the country.

On any issue from conversions to body snatching to the abysmal state of education in Malaysia to the flexing of power byUMNO-ISMA-PERKASA sultans, he is a follower. Often he takes a position after the discourse has been influenced and driven by Perkasa, Isma, bit players in UMNO, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

His apologists argue that Malaysians have to expect this ambivalence because the voters did not give him the strong mandate he craved and needed at GE13.That’s a sorry excuse. Anyone who puts himself up to lead Malaysia has to lead once given the mandate, no matter the size of the mandate.

If he believes, that he can only lead with a two-thirds majority control of Parliament to function, then step aside. But as it stands today, the consensus is that Najib has abdicated decision-making to fringe groups and those who threaten him. As a result, on any given day, it seems that those who shout loudest are setting the agenda for Malaysia.

* What’s going on?

Khalid Abu BakarInspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar finally ordered the Police to go after a Muslim convert for flouting a civil court order. The Inspector-General of Police, who had earlier said police would not interfere as two court orders were in force in the interfaith custody battle, has instructed Perak Police Chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani to return Muhammad Ridzuan Abdullah’s daughter, Prasana Diksa, to kindergarten teacher M. Indira Gandhi .Why did it take the Police so long to get their act together? Perhaps, after 200 years of being the Police Force, they don’t know right from wrong.

That the Malaysian judiciary still has its powers and directives that must be followed. If the Police won’t take action after getting a court order, who else will respect the law? Anyone out there can just ignore the Police as much as the Police ignore the judiciary.Won’t that lead to a breakdown in law and order? Or do the authorities care? Are we going by rule of law or rule by fear of religion?

As it is, anyone can threaten to slap or behead anyone else and that is not seen as an offence. Are the politicians convinced that most Malaysians are as full as hot air as they are?There is the law. But it does not get the respect it deserves and only used when convenient.

* How can this happen?

Billions of ringgit are allocated for welfare programmes in Malaysia and there are substantial number of welfare officers and non-governmental organisations. So how come we had to read this sad story of Muhammad Firdaus Dullah who was found covered in his own faeces and so malnourished that he could not stand up or even sit down.

The 15-year-old would have died had he not been discovered by chance by Immigration officers conducting checks to nab illegal immigrants in Seremban on June 21.Yes, the boy’s mother has to bear a chunk of responsibility for leaving him in that sorry state. She has been arrested and could face up to 10 years in jail or be fined RM20,000.

But there are other questions that are troubling. Why didn’t she reach out to welfare organisations or NGOs? Did she seek help and was turned away? Are there other children out there suffering from malnourishment in the land of plenty?Did the neighbours know about his condition but choose to look the other way? This sad, sad story is an indictment of the abject state of the Malaysian system.

See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/is-anyone-running-malaysia#sthash.f9oqJXud.dpuf

Altantuya, Private Investigator Bala and all that


June 23, 2014

Altantuya, Private Investigator Bala and all that: The Facts

Just listen to Lawyer Americk Singh Sidhu and decide what you think. Like the disappearance of MH370, this truth as to who is behind this dastardly act will remain a mystery. The reality is that someone’s daughter had been blown up with C-4 in the belukar at a secluded place in Shah Alam, Selangor.

Raja Petra and I met Altantuya’s Dad some years ago at The Delicious Restuarant, Bangsar New Village when he came to Kuala Lumpur to plead his case to Members of Parliament over her disappearance. I was also present when the Mongolian doctor held a press conference at Anwar Ibrahim’s Office in Section 16, Petaling Jaya. –Din Merican

 

Kassim Ahmad Urges Najib: Show Political Courage and put things right


June 18. 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

Public Intellectual-Scholar Kassim Ahmad Urges Najib:  Show Political Courage and  put things right

by FMT Staff@www.freemalaysiatoday.com.my

kassim thinker

Malaysia appears to be at the “brink of anarchy”, controversial scholar Kassim Ahmad said today in reference to recent actions by Islamic authorities.

Explaining why he had instructed his lawyers to ask for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s intervention in the case brought against him by the Federal Territories Islamic Department (JAWI), he said he was concerned that Islam was being unjustly dishonoured.

His lawyers’ letter, sent out last Friday, was also addressed to Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir and de facto Religious Affairs Minister Jamil Khir Baharom. In a message to FMT, Kassim, often referred to as Pak Kassim, wrote:

“There were many wrong things that were done by JAWI to me. They came in 13 cars and raided and searched my house, seized my personal belongings, dragged and bundled me into a van and drove me from Kedah to Penang Airport and then flew me out of the state of Kedah to KL against my will.

“Then JAWI kept me up awake the whole night interrogating me and the next day charged me in the Putrajaya Court in such a spectacular manner.

“Was all that necessary? I am a harmless 80-year-old man. The accusation against me is that I gave an opinion different from the mainstream opinion. Is difference of opinion a crime? That’s why I am asking Brig-Gen Dato Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, the minister overseeing JAWI, to address and correct these wrongs.

“I addressed my letter to the PM because lately Malaysia seems to be on the brink ofKassim and Rosli anarchy. The PM took an oath to uphold the Federal Constitution. Thus, the PM must clarify these issues so that JAWI and their like do not act in a manner that dishonours Islam as a great religion and, more importantly, that JAWI, which is under the PM’s Department, does not breach the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.

“It is the PM’s constitutional duty to ensure that every agency act within the bounds of the law. They cannot be a law unto their own.

“I also addressed the Menteri Besar of Kedah because I am a citizen of Kedah. The MB has a duty to protect me under the concept of federalism so that agencies of other states like JAWI cannot do as they please in the state of Kedah. Kedah has its own laws and fatwas.

“JAWI has charged me for an offence that has no equal in the Kedah Syariah Enactments. Yet, JAWI dragged me from Kedah and forced me to come under JAWI’s jurisdiction. That is disrespecting the concept of federalism and violating my fundamental rights.

“The Kedah MB must answer to my plea for protection, especially since DYMM Sultan Kedah is now the Yang Di Pertuan Agong. I hope these ministers will discharge their constitutional duties and have the moral and political courage to put things right.”

Weathering the storm in Johor


June 15, 2014

Weathering the storm in Johor

by Jocelyn Tan@www.thestar.com.my

For a while it looked like Johor was heading into a constitutional crisis but the storm has passed thanks to a daring Malay newspaper, the groundswell of public opinion and a Mentri Besar who was willing to listen.

Sultan of JohoreIT was one of the biggest political storms to have blown over Johor and it all began with the stunning frontpage report in Utusan Malaysia. The paper’s bold headline “Wajarkah?” alongside a prominent photograph of the Sultan of Johor in his ceremonial uniform sent shock waves through the country, especially among Malay circles.

Utusan Malaysia, long seen as the champion of all things Malay, had taken the daring step of questioning the Sultan’s role in the administrative affairs of the state or as stated in the paper’s headline: “Is it proper?”

 The issue in question was the Real Property and Housing Board Enactment that would have given the Sultan the final say over the operations and composition of the body that will oversee the state’s housing development.

In the following days, people up and down the country voiced their opinion on the issue and, for a while, it looked like Johor was headed for a constitutional crisis.But the state government reacted quickly and the storm passed together with the tabling of an amended version of the enactment that excluded any direct role for the Ruler. All 38 Barisan Nasional assemblymen voted for the Bill while the opposition bench, which had demanded a deferment, voted against it.

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. Any issue involving the Malay Rulers is regarded as ultra-sensitive. Very few people want to be on the wrong side of the Rulers even though a 1993 amendment to the Federal Constitution has eased some of the dos and don’ts of commentary about the royals.

The Malay politicians in Johor shrank back from commenting on the enactment and some of them were petrified. One Johor-based Malay journalist said he had goose pimples when he saw the Utusan Malaysia headline.The Chinese vernacular papers were the first to report on the controversial Bill and this was picked up by a pro-Pakatan Rakyat news portal.

Everyone was tip-toeing on eggshells until Utusan Malaysia stepped up to the plate. The game changed after that and the other media took the cue. From then on, the issue snowballed and acquired a life of its own.

The amended enactment was a compromise of sorts – the people sent the right signals, the powers-that-be read the signals and acted on it.“It ended appropriately,” said one corporate figure with Johor ties.

Johor Palace officials have been at pains to explain that the Sultan had no role in the drafting of the Bill. Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli, President of the State Royal Court Council, insisted that the Sultan did not ask for the word “ruler” to be added to the enactment nor did he interfere in the state administration.

The Sultan himself has personally quashed rumours that he would not give royal assent to the Bill. At a late evening meeting with representatives from The Star and another English daily on Wednesday, the Tuanku said he was ready to sign the Bill at any time. He also stressed that he had agreed to the amendments and has asked the state government to go on a roadshow to explain to his subjects and clear the confusion.

The controversy has been a baptism of fire for Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Khaled Nordin.The Johor Mentri Besar’s job has never been easy even from back then. The Johor royals are known for their big and outspoken personalities, they have clear views about the state and they are also rather business-minded.

For instance, former Mentri Besar Tan Sri Ghani Othman’s ties with the Palace were quite tense towards the end of his term and that was a chief reason why he could not continue on. Ghani’s relations with the late Sultan Iskandar Sultan Ismail was also quite choppy in the beginning and only warmed up as time went by. Ghani was not the typical politician and did not play political games, but his respect for and loyalty to the Sultan were beyond question and he would sit for hours by the hospital bed when the late Tuanku was often unwell.

The present Mentri Besar appeared to have settled into his job without many hiccups and the Sultan had even praised him during the opening of the State Legislative Assembly.

Khaled and the Sultan were classmates in secondary school although that should not be taken to mean that they are friends because the royals move in their own rarefied world.

The perception is that Khaled misread the ground when he tried to rush the Bill through.“The opinion out there was that the enactment was not consistent with the principles of constitutional monarchy. There was a sense that a line has been crossed,” said the above corporate figure.

Everyone agrees that the enactment was needed to facilitate Johor’s housing needs, especially in the area of affordable housing.And, as some have pointed out, the original enactment that gave the Sultan a big role was no different from the rules governing Johor Corporation, the state development arm better known as JCorp. The parallels are there except that JCorp deals with commercial development whereas the current enactment involved state land and also Malay Reserve Land which can be a sensitive issue.

But more than that, Khaled had overlooked the undercurrent of misgivings about land and development issues in Johor arising from the impact of the Iskandar Malaysia regional scheme.

Gossip about multi-billion ringgit land transactions have been the stuff of kopitiam chatter. Khaled did not seem to realise that the land deals in Johor were being discussed and dissected on the Internet. Almost every Tom, Dick and Harry in the state was aware of what is going on, they were talking about it in a very critical tone.

Among many nationalistic Malays, there was concern about land falling into the hands of Singaporeans and China nationals. Land carries quite a bit of emotion for many Malays – after all their national bumiputra status comes from the word itself.

The Malay blogs had been abuzz about a Singaporean billionaire owning a piece of land along a strategic stretch of the Causeway that has national security implications. All this provided the backdrop to the groundswell of opinion over the problematic enactment. Rightly or wrongly, many people inside and outside Johor were already uneasy about what was happening and the enactment sort of tipped the scale of public opinion, the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Some have unfairly blamed Utusan Malaysia for instigating the uproar. One Barisan assemblyman has even demanded that the paper apologise to the Palace.aziz-ishak Utusan Malaysia group editor-in-chief Datuk Aziz Ishak is an intense and serious-minded journalist but he is at heart a Malay nationalist.

There is little doubt that his paper got the greenlight from “up there” to pursue the issue. But the paper has earned renewed respect for rising to the occasion – to defend national interests and also to protect the good name of the constitutional monarchy.

Some have even blamed Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad for fuelling the issue. The former premier had penned a cryptic piece entitled “Jual Tanah” in his Che Det blog on May 30. He did not name names but everyone knew where he was coming from.

A week later, he wrote a more forthcoming piece on the Federal Constitution where he said: “There is already a feeling of disrespect for the royals. This may lead to other forms of disrespect. Although, by and large, the Malays are for the institution of the monarch, when their ability to defend is eroded, they might forego their adat (customary norm).”

TDMMany more said they would have been shocked if Dr Mahathir had kept quiet. After all, this man had dared to bell the cat, so to speak. He had clipped the wings of the monarchy in 1983 when he was struggling to make his mark, and again in 1993 when he was at the height of his power and popularity.

“Tun Mahathir wanted to make the concept of constitutional monarchy very clear. He was not against any particular sultan. His argument was that if the royals respect their own role, the people will respect them,” said publisher Juhaidi Yean Abdullah.

Every monarch wants to be loved and to be known as the people’s sovereign. It was easier in the old days before the era of the Internet where almost everything and every one is regarded as fair game. It is something that those who hold public office have to note.

Khaled was very stressed out and taken aback by the uproar. At a war room meeting a night before the Bill was tabled, the Mentri Besar had insisted that even if there were no revisions, it did not mean that the Sultan would be in charge.

Johor is a modern state but Johoreans have a very strong sense of the powers of the monarch. What happened was a test of the Malay psyche of Johor. There has always been this tension between the concept of daulat (royal sanctity) and derhaka (treason) in Malay society and the contestation between the two concepts was put to the test when Utusan Malaysia took up the issue. But these age-old concepts are also being challenged by public opinion on the role of a constitutional monarchy and the desire for transparency and accountability in the affairs of state.

There is a much more informed and sophisticated society out there which is not afraid to be heard. And that was why it responded to Utusan Malaysia’s daring move.

 

A Gathering Storm over Johor Sultan’s Commercial Dealings (Part 3)


June 12, 2014

A Gathering Storm over Johor Sultan’s Commercial Dealings

PART 3: Is another constitutional crisis brewing in Johor?

by Khairul Khalid@www.kinibiz.com

khaled-nordinEven though Johor Menteri Besar (MB) Mohamed Khaled Nordin has pared down the Sultan of Johor’s proposed executive powers in the controversial new housing bill, many observers wonder if this is just the lull before the storm.

Could there be another constitutional crisis in the making similar to the one in the 1980s?

Although the constitutional crisis in 1983 that led to the diminishing of the monarchy’s powers occurred under different circumstances, compared to the current uproar over the Johor housing bill there are basic underlying themes.

In both cases, the executive and monarchy are trying to exert power and control over one another.

Although the previous constitutional crisis in 1983 was at a bigger national scale, it is not entirely inconceivable that a wider tussle between royals and state government could develop following the current situation in Johor.

“I wouldn’t call it a constitutional crisis just yet, but we have to keep monitoring the situation closely,” said According to Senai state assemblyperson Wong Shu Qi. Another observer says that there are very slim chances of it happening only because the current Prime Minister (PM) Najib Razak is not likely to go against the royals.

“In the previous crisis in 1983, there was Mahathir Mohamad (former Prime Minister) who campaigned aggressively against the royalty. I don’t think Najib is strong enough to do that,” said an observer.

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