Obama in Malaysia: A Strategic Partnership?

by Joshua Kurlantzick via Council on Foreign Relations
April 8, 2014

During his upcoming late April trip to Asia, President Obama will visit two nations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to stops in Northeast Asia. The White House already has been briefing reporters on the overall messaging of the trip, and the specific themes the president plans to hit in Malaysia and the Philippines. In Malaysia, it appears from several news reports and from speaking with several administration officials, President Obama will add to the Malaysian government’s self-promotion that Kuala Lumpur is a successful and democratic nation, an example of other Muslim-majority countries, and a force for moderation in the world. The president apparently plans to hit these themes despite the regional anger at Malaysia’s handling of the Malaysia Airlines vanished plane, which exposed to the world many of the problems with Malaysia’s governance.

No matter, say some Southeast Asia experts. Some of Obama’s advisors, and many Southeast Asia experts, are urging the president to use the trip to cement a strategic partnership with Malaysia and establishing a roadmap for the kind of higher-level strategic cooperation that the United States already enjoys with Singapore and Thailand, among other countries in the region.

This approach to the Malaysia visit would mean downplaying – or simply not even discussing – serious regression in Malaysia’s domestic politics, including the recent sentencing of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to five years in jail for sodomy, the highly flawed 2013 national elections that barely kept Prime Minister Najib tun Razak in office, and the increasingly shrill, anti-Chinese and anti-Indian rhetoric and legislation of the Najib government, hardly the kind of sentiments a supposed leader of political moderation should be espousing. According to this logic, if President Obama were to bring up such unpleasant issues as the Malaysian government’s crackdown on opponents over the past year or its unwillingness to reform pro-Malay policies that have entrenched a culture of graft and self-dealing at many Malaysian companies, that would sink the visit.

Under Najib, Malaysia and the United States have, on a strategic level, moved beyond some of the acrimony of the Mahathir and Abdullah years, and have made progress on a wide range of military-military and diplomatic cooperation. Najib definitely deserves some credit for this rapprochement, though growing Malaysian fear about China’s South China Sea policies are probably the main driver behind closer strategic ties with Washington.

But simply ignoring the disastrous Najib policies on human rights, political freedoms, and economic liberalization would not be a wise move by Obama. For one, it would play into the narrative that Obama cares little about rights and democracy promotion, a narrative that has gained significant force not only in Washington but also among many Southeast Asian activists and young people in general. And ignoring Malaysia’s opposition politicians, who won the popular vote in the 2013 national elections and enjoy their strongest support among young Malaysians, would be alienating the biggest growing pool of Malaysian voters. As in other countries in the region, like Cambodia and Indonesia, these young voters are increasingly favoring opposition parties or new figures like Jakarta governor Joko Widodo, breaking from long-ruling, autocratic parties. The United States should be cultivating these young voters who will prove critical to the region’s democratization. This new generation will eventually power the Malaysian opposition, in some form, to the prime minister’s office. It would be a shame if the United States president had ignored them, and their party leaders, before then.

Rosmah’s Gifts and Ethics

April 28, 2013

Rosmah’s Gifts and Ethics


Recently Caretaker FLOM, Rosmah Mansor, said that she accepted all the gifts offered to her by foreign dignitaries because it would be rude not to accept them and what was a poor FLOM supposed to do?

“When people give you something, of course it’s not nice to reject it,” Rosmah wrote in a self-titled biography launched yesterday by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“And when I’m given the gifts, I wear them. Why would you want to just keep them in a safe when the items were given sincerely, are beautiful and can be used? It’s a waste if they’re just kept in a safety deposit box,” the wife of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak added. (from Malaysian Insider here)

Well clearly there is another way to handle these situations. The Daily Beast is reporting that the Sarkozy’s used to lavish their friends with expensive gifts. The Obama’s received from the Sarkozy’s over $41,000 worth of bags, towels, etc. Hillary Clinton received three Hermes scarves.

How does the United States handle this? It’s simple. Sitting elected officials are not permitted to accept gifts from anyone. There are Ethics Committees in all branches of the US government that regulate what employees of the US government are allowed to receive and not receive. For example here is a snippet form the Senate Ethics Committee website:

No Member, officer, or employee shall knowingly accept a gift except as provided by the Gifts Rule.

A Member, officer, or employee may accept a gift, other than cash or cash equivalent, having a value of less than $50, provided that the source of the gift is not a registered lobbyist, foreign agent, or private entity that retains or employs such individuals.  The cumulative value of gifts that may be accepted from any one source in a calendar year must be less than $100.  Generally, gifts having a value of less than $10 do not count toward the annual limit.  See Senate Rule 35.1(a)

The White House/Executive branch has similar rules outlined in detail here. It’s clear why such rules need to be in place. When you are in the seat of power, small (or large) gifts from foreign and domestic agents can be used as leverage in any sort of negotiation that comprise the integrity of the relationship. The onus should be on the public servant to want to defend his integrity to the fullest degree.

Which takes us back to Rosmah’s absurd statement. It speaks for itself when you’re talking about a party which is propped up by patronage and corruption. Accepting a few Hermes scarves, Rolex watches etc. is practically a non-issue when you think about the billion of dollars squandered away in no-bid contracts, flawed procurements and under the table deals.

The need for greater transparency in these dealings is essential. But fundamentally, people must elect leaders who they believe have a strong ethical compass that would make them think twice about these types of transgressions.

Parliament Dissolved Finally !

April 3, 2013

Parliament Dissolved Finally!

Yeah, This is the Way, Man

  I want a Responsible and Honest Government


After months of playing a guessing game with voters, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak has announced the dissolution of Parliament today, paving the way for the 13th General Election.

NONEHe said this in a 15-minute ‘live’ telecast on all television stations at 11.30am, following an audience with the Agong early this morning.

“This morning I had met the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and sought his permission to dissolve the Parliament. And he had given his consent for the same,” Najib announced.

However, Najib made a mistake during the live broadcast on the date of dissolution, reading the year 2013 as 2012. “This morning, I have sought an audience with the Agong and delivered the instrument of dissolution to His Majesty for the consent to dissolve the 12th Parliament today, April 3, 2012.”

Najib called on all state assemblies to be dissolved today as well, to enable state and parliamentary polls to be held simultaneously.

The Election Commission (EC), according to law, will have to fix the date for the election, which must be held within 60 days.

NONE“I advise all state leaders to face their respective heads of state to seek permission for dissolution of state assemblies as well so that we can have simultaneous elections across the country,” he said.

Najib, who was wearing a red tie, was flanked by his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, and made the announcement in the presence of all of his cabinet ministers.

The announcement falls on the fourth anniversary of Najib’s tenure as Prime Minister, and he asked the rakyat to remember the “transformation” that the government had been under way in the past four years under his leadership.

“In these four years you have witnessed the national transformation has taken place,” he said, stressing that his is a “responsible” government.

Only official media were allowed to broadcast the announcement from within Najib’s office in Putrajaya. Previous Prime Ministers who were known to take questions from reporters after declaring the dissolution of Parliament.

Reporters from other media waited in the rain outside the office, as they were not permitted to enter or take shelter in the security station’s waiting area.

However, the reporters – some of whom arrived as early as 8am – were told at around noon that there would be no press conference.

“We initially thought there was going to be a press conference. That is why we all came and camped outside, but then we were told at the last minute that we can only watch via ‘live’ streaming,” said a disappointed reporter who did not want to be named.

“It would have been okay if we were allowed to watch inside (instead of waiting in the rain).”

Over to EC

Contacted later, Election Commission (EC) chairperson Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof said the commission will call a meeting to decide the date for nominations and polling.

abdul aziz yusof spr chiefThis can only be done after the EC receives a letter of notification from the speaker of Parliament, he said.

Asked when he expects to receive the letter, Abdul Aziz (left) said: “Maybe today or tomorrow or Friday or Saturday.But once we receive the notification letter, we will meet to fix a date for the polls.”

Soon after Najib’s announcement, Selangor Menteri Besar Abdul Khalid Ibrahim revealed on his Twitter account that he will seek an audience with the Selangor Sultan in the shortest possible time.

“Thank God, finally the Parliament is dissolved. I will seek an audience with Sultan as soon as possible to discuss the status of Selangor state assembly,” reads his Twitter posting.

According to law, the general election must be held within 60 days of dissolution of Parliament.

Nevertheless, it is speculated that EC is likely to pick a date in early May.The minimum campaign period is 10 days, a new requirement imposed by the EC in line with a recommendation by the parliamentary select committee on electoral reform.

Najib will be seeking his first mandate since assuming the post of Prime Minister on April 3, 2009, after taking over from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Today marks the fourth year of Najib’s premiership.

In 2008, Abdullah had led BN to its worst ever electoral outing, losing five states as well as its long-time hold on a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

There are 222 parliamentary seats currently up for grabs, with the BN holding 135 seats, Pakatan Rakyat 75, and 12 in the hands of Independents and three other parties.

Pakatan controls four states – Selangor, Penang, Kelantan and Kedah – while BN has nine under its belt.

This time around, Najib is seen as facing an increasingly cohesive federal opposition, which aims to unseat the BN and install Anwar Ibrahim as Prime Minister.

This election will see a huge number of new voters – an increase of 3 million, or 25 percent, since 2008, making it the biggest spike in Malaysia’s electoral history.

Goodbye to 12th Cabinet

To 12th Cabinet,Thank You For Your Service

Other Paid Malaysia Bloggers Never Registered With U.S. Authorities

The best line in this article, other than the noose slowing tightening on APCO is this:

“Have you ever had a head of state make you breakfast? I found myself in that unusual position on Sunday morning, when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made me his unique Malay porridge.”

Other Paid Malaysia Bloggers Never Registered With U.S. Authorities

Conservative blogger Joshua Trevino’s registration as a foreign agent raises questions about his colleagues.

Rosie Gray

BuzzFeed Staff

Two of the main players in the campaign funded by the Malaysian governmentthat placed undisclosed propaganda in the American press did not file with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), an omission that lawyers say could place them in legal jeopardy.

David All, a Republican online operative whose David All Group originally contacted conservative writer Joshua Trevino, Trevino said, to conduct a PR operation on behalf of the Malaysian government, is not listed in the records. Nor is Jerome Armstrong, a pioneering liberal blogger whose MyDD was for a time a key site, and who took a leading role alongside Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas in Matt Bai’s 2007 book on how bloggers and billionares were remaking the Democratic Party, who Trevino says was engaged by All at the same time as him to run the website MalaysiaMatters.com as part of a paid media push that backed the country’s ruling party and attacked its critics.

A defunct “about” page for Malaysia Matters listed Armstrong among the founders: “Those working on this project include David All, Jerome Armstrong and Joshua Treviño,” the page said.

Trevino, who last week belatedly filed his own foreign agent registration, told BuzzFeed on Sunday that Armstrong was hired to be his liberal counterpart on MalysiaMatters.

“David All also brought in Jerome,” Trevino said. “I stopped working with him when I stopped working with APCO. He did not transition over to FBC [Media].” APCO Worldwide was in charge of the contract with Malaysia and ultimately David All and the writers, and continued working on Malaysia projects after Trevino’s editorial pursuits transitioned under the aegis of FBC Media.

Armstrong did not reply to repeated requests for comment. In 2011, he told BuzzFeed editor (then at Politico) Ben Smith in an email:

I worked on it and blogged about it back then, iirc [if I recall correctly], it was mid 2008, and it was with the former PM, not Najib. Mine was just a temp contract, did a trip over there as a precursor for having other bloggers there; and then they had a shakeup, it never materialized, and I moved on. I didn’t work for Trevino on it (he was there before and much longer after my brief stint), but through David All and …. (I can’t remember the DC PR group, but there was a big press dust-up about it in 09 iirc).

Malaysia has a really strong blogosphere, and I subsequently got involved on my own with continued conversations with some of the activists and political groups there, but is not a country with a free press. That all changed with the internet by the middle of the decade, and there as a brief moment when it was feared that things would go the way of Singapore. In 2008, bloggers were being thrown into jail, and Badawi was hearing from many that he should outlaw blogs/online political speech. So, when I was there talking with him, it was about praising his initiative, and telling him that would be a very good legacy for him to have initiated…. and showed him how Malaysia Matters worked, and tried to get across to him that it could be used by any political party; that he should be meeting with antagonistic bloggers and try to win them over. Badawi seemed to get it, but his communications director listened in, and by the ‘online outreach’ results of the next special election, and his subsequent blogger outreach, it definitely turned out that way.

Asked to comment further, Armstrong said ” I don’t recall the contract, and ours usually have a non-disclosure type of clause in there.”

The David All Group was partly owned by APCO before he closed it in October 2012, he told BuzzFeed.

All’s status as someone working on behalf of the client would normally have been registered with FARA either as a short form registrant or listed on APCO’s filings regarding the Malaysian contract.

“It’s so long ago,” All said when reached by phone on Monday. “The David All Group was owned in part by APCO Worldwide and [Malaysia] was their client, so I just worked with APCO.”

“I’m sort of gathering more information and looking into this a little bit more,” All said. “My goal is not to hide anything. It was not a covert operation.”

All corroborated Trevino’s account of being engaged on the project at the same time as Armstrong, though Armstrong’s involvement ended earlier than Trevino’s.

Armstrong and Trevino were in Malaysia at the same time, according to Flickr photos. They met with the Prime Minister.

The photos above picture Armstrong and Trevino in Malaysia and were posted to Armstrong’s Flickr feed, picturing a trip to Malaysia in June 2008. The Prime Minister at that time, Abdullah Badawi, made his guests porridge, according to an email from Trevino passed along to BuzzFeed by a source that describes the incident and links to a now-broken MalaysiaMatters post: “Have you ever had a head of state make you breakfast? I found myself in that unusual position on Sunday morning, when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi made me his unique Malay porridge.”

Cached versions of posts Armstrong wrote about Malaysia are still available online (see herehere, and here).

According to the FARA website, federal law requires that agents “register within ten days of agreeing to become an agent and before performing any activities for the foreign principal.”

The act specifies that “failure to register, keep accounts, mark informational materials, provide a congressional committee with a copy of the agent’s most recent registration, and agreeing to a contingent fee based on the success of political activity are violations of the Act.”

“If he’s employed by his own company he should have filed as an agent,” Joseph E. Sandler, a lawyer and FARA expert, said of All. “If he’s not an employee, if he’s a consultant, he should do his own FARA filing.”

APCO, he said, “should have shown their payments to him on their FARA filings.”

“And secondly he should have registered himself as an agent for him because he’s indirectly working for a foreign principal,” Sandler said. As for Armstrong, “if he knew they were acting indirectly on behalf of the Malaysian government, and knew that’s where the money’s coming from, he should have registered.”

Another lawyer who specializes in FARA law and who wished to speak on background said “It sounds like they’re at least close to the line.”

“Generally, you have a registration for the agent itself and for the persons who are directly providing a service for the foreign principal,” the lawyer said. “If you are writing informational materials at the direction or control of a foreign principal,” he said, registration is required.

Adam Williams, spokesman for APCO Worldwide, said the firm, which appears to have orchestrated the propaganda campaign, could not immediately commment.

“We’re looking into it so we make sure that we have all the facts straight. We want to make sure that we’re 100% honest and accurate.”


UMNO in survival mode

January 1, 2013

UMNO in survival mode

by Dr Johan Saravanamuttu

johan-saravanamuttuRacial sentiments ran high, tears flowed, the rhetoric became warlike, the May 13 ghost was resurrected and even Allah (God) was invoked during the 66th UMNO convention which wound to its close on the first day of December 2012.

Gearing up for the “mother of all elections” due to be held within months, UMNO leaders were striking out a posture of solidarity and rallying the troops. However, belying the pomp, decibels and camaraderie was an undertone of the dominant political party of Malaysia losing much of its “mojo” and somewhat in a survival mode.

Milling around the convention premises and listening to the emotionally charged speeches of delegates, one could not but palpably sense that UMNO was a party under siege. UMNO, as the political engineer of the unbroken 50-plus-year rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN), may indeed have been responsible for the loss of the ruling coalition’s customary two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament and five state governments in the 2008 general election, its worst electoral outing to date.

The fact that the UMNO’s President Najib Razak, who is also the Prime Minister, has held Najibback from calling a general election up until today suggests that UMNO and its coalition partners continue to have doubts that their performance in the forthcoming election would be up to par. The window to call the election closes completely on April 28, 2013 by which time the government would have served out its maximum term of five years. The Election Commission would then have the option to hold the election within two months.

Thinkable Opposition win?

On the final day of the assembly, Najib vowed to win back the two-thirds majority of seats in Parliament but all indications are that the BN will fall short in the upcoming election. Serious political analysts see the BN winning only a simple majority of the 222 parliamentary seats up for contest and unlikely to wrest back all the state governments of Penang, Kedah, Kelantan and Selangor lost in 2008. Moreover, it may stand the chance of losing Perak, which was turned over when three Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers hopped out of the opposition coalition in February 2009.

UMNO’s 79 seats constitute about 36 per cent of the total number won by the BN and if its peninsula coalition partners MCA, MIC and Gerakan fail to retain their current hold on 20 seats, this could spell real trouble. Further haemorrhaging could occur in Sabah and Sarawak, where non-UMNO coalition parties hold 41 seats for the BN. Indeed, if things turn out much worse than before, the scenario of an opposition win is not unthinkable.

The argument advanced here is that UMNO and its partners in BN have lost its “first-mover-advantage” as the ruling coalition in Malaysia for the last five decades or more and now faces decreasing returns on institutional arrangements and processes that it has pioneered, particularly when a new successful player, in this case, the PR, enters the scene.

This scenario has been given credence because PR has been gaining ground in Sarawak and Sabah since 2008, the two solid stronghold states of the BN. In the April 2011 state election in Sarawak, PR won a total of 15 seats which could well translate into six to eight parliamentary seats in the coming GE 13. In Sabah, two BN MPs, Lajim Ukin of UMNO and Wilfred Bumburing of UPKO, left their respective parties in July 2012 and have set up a PR-friendly entity. Earlier in 2009, the SAPP, led by former Chief Minister Yong Teck Lee, also weaned itself out of the BN. The BN’s total of 140 seats could well decrease significantly given these developments.

But what about UMNO itself, would it able to retain its current share of seats or increase them? Why does the party convention of 2012 evince an unmistakable tinge of defensiveness and insecurity?

UMNO’s predicament

To understand UMNO’s current predicament, it will be necessary to backtrack to 2008. UMNO held a little over half the Malay ground in terms of popular votes and seats in 2008. One estimate put Malay support for the BN at some 58 per cent. The BN itself won just over 50 per cent of the popular vote. It is hard to actually accurately measure the percentage of Malay support for UMNO throughout the country but on the basis of UMNO’s performance contra that of the Islamist party, PAS, in the Muslim heartland of the east coast and the northern Malay states of the peninsula, one could venture some more fine-grain interpretations of the Malay vote.

UMNO’s slippage in retaining Malay support has been evident over the years with the concomitant rising presence of PAS. An additional element is the PKR presence in the more urban Malay areas.

Perlis has remained an UMNO stronghold but even so there has been a slippage of 3.6 per cent of votes. The slippage in Kedah was particularly evident and this saw the government change for the first time to the PR. In terms of popular votes in Terengganu, the margin of change in the last election was low after a surge in 1999. The chances are that in the 13th GE, Kelantan will remain firmly in PAS’s grip and unless there is a reverse swing of votes in Kedah, it will remain under PAS leadership as well. There would be a distinct possibility for Terengganu to be back in the embrace of PAS.

After an unprecedented 16 by-elections held after the 2008 GE, it has been “even stevens” between BN and PR. This suggests that BN-PR strengths have largely remained unchanged and that the two-coalition system has continued to track.

Nizar JamaluddinOne particular by-election illustrating the weakness of UMNO vis-à-vis PAS was the contest for Bukit Gantang, a parliamentary constituency with an electorate of 55,471 voters lying on the outskirts of Taiping town. A former stronghold of UMNO, it passed into PAS’s hands at the 2008 election, the Islamist party capturing a credible majority of 1,566 votes. The death of the PAS MP forced the April 7, 2009 by-election which saw the charismatic Nizar Jamaluddin take on UMNO’s Ismail Safian.

In the event Nizar, the deposed Mentri Besar of Perak, won the seat with an increased majority of 2,789 votes. An analysis by PAS showed that Nizar may have won only 43 per cent of the Malay votes. The results showed that the more rural areas of Trong gave UMNO a majority of votes while the more urban regions around Sepang, Bukit Gantang proper and Kuala Sepetang gave Nizar sizeable majorities. Nizar won the seat by capturing a sizable portion of the Malay votes, but in Malaysian politics today, this is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success. Nizar had to win the non-Malay votes by a good margin and he did.

Thus, in particular constituencies, non-Malay voters have become kingmakers whenever the Malay vote is split down the middle. It was clear that Nizar swept the non-Malay, mostly Chinese, votes, sometimes to the tune of 80 per cent. A field trip to Kuala Sepatang (formerly Port Weld), provided the author with the distinct impression that the Chinese fishing community seemed totally supportive of Nizar, who in his short tenure as MB had legalised temporary operating licence (TOL) land to Chinese farmers and other tenants.

For a comparison, let us now turn to the Tenang by-election in Johor held on January 30, 2011. This 14th by-election witnessed a resurgence of voter support for UMNO, but fell short of the 5,000-vote majority that it had expected. UMNO took the seat by a majority of 3,707 votes, some 1,200 more than what it gained in 2008 with a voter turnout of 9,833, which is only 67 per cent of the electorate. Widespread flooding in the constituency on voting day accounted for the low voter turnout.

Tenang practically exhibits the Peninsula template of Malay-Chinese-Indian distribution (49-38-12, and 1 per cent “others”) and its result was seen by some as a barometer of the state of play in Malaysian electoral politics. The UMNO candidate Azahar Ibrahim may have swept more than 80 per cent of the Malay vote. The PAS challenger, Normala Sudirman, evidently won the Chinese vote, but the numbers may have shrunk somewhat since 2008. This was thought to be because of the low voter turnout among the Chinese. She was able only to win a majority in the 95 per cent Chinese polling area of Labis Tengah but lost in Labis Timor and in Labis Station, which had lower Chinese percentages.

The DAP claim is that she still picked up the majority of Chinese votes. DAP publicity chieftony-pua Tony Pua suggested that UMNO’s Azahar received 83.3 per cent of Malay votes, up four percentage points from 2008. This was helped by an 81 per cent turn out by Malay voters. The Indian vote also went to BN, but the community had a low 40 per cent turnout. The by-election was marred by massive flooding and many voters had to be ferried to polling stations in police boats.

The Tenang by-election result was already predictable before voting day and only the margin of victory was at issue. As such, the interesting points to be made concern the different styles, tactics and approach to by-elections of Malaysia’s twin coalition system: UMNO clearly optimised on a strategy of using its copious resources and electoral machinery with great effect, while PAS floundered under the weight of Umno’s monopoly of state resources.

The by-election outcomes beg the question of what is animating politics on the ground today and here is where we could turn to the recent Umno assembly for some pointers. (BN went on to win the final two by-elections on March 6, 2011 in Malacca, namely, in the state seats of Merlimau and Kerdau, previously held by UMNO. The Electoral Commission ruled in April 2011 that they would be no further by-elections as three years had elapsed since the last election.)

A considerable amount of time and energy was devoted by delegates to pillorying and mocking PAS for its inability of fulfilling its promise of an Islamic state and watering down its agenda to that of a negara berkebajikan (welfare state) because of the objection of its alliance partner DAP. Thus UMNO continues to target PAS as its main opponent. The delegate from Perlis, a religious scholar, Fathul Bari, played two video clips of the recent PAS convention, showing PAS spiritual leader Nik Aziz leading a prayer calling for UMNO’s destruction and allegedly dubbing UMNO members as murtad (apostates). The UMNO delegates jeered loudly, evidently scandalised by Tok Guru’s venom for the party.

But herein also lies UMNO’s Achilles heel; constituted originally as basically a secularist political party, it has increasingly been forced to meet the challenge of PAS’s Islamist politics and so far it has fared rather poorly. The more religious Muslims who support PAS consider UMNO’s attempts to be ersatz.

The contestation of UMNO with PAS on the Islamic terrain has to be understood in the context of PAS’s relentless critique of UMNO as a corrupt, unethical party and one incapable of implementing Islamic values and policies. UMNO’s riposte has been merely to up the ante on its own Islamic credentials. All UMNO Prime Ministers since Mahathir have attempted to implement a host of Islamisation policies, recruited religious scholars and proponents into the party, and have termed Malaysia an “Islamic state”.

Under Najib, the government has introduced the notion of wasatiyyah (moderation) which inter alia accepts the presence of other faiths but without putting them on par with Islam. Najib in speeches before and during this assembly openly rejected the notions of “liberalism” and “religious pluralism”. Delegates during the assembly attacked PAS for supporting LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender) rights and pointed to PAS’s support of Bersih chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan as evidence of this. (Ambiga, also a former Bar Council President, was slotted to chair a session to discuss LGTB rights in the Seksualiti Merdeka Festival in November 2011. The festival was stopped by the government.)

It is of supreme irony that UMNO, the erstwhile Malay secularist party, now postures itself as an Islamist party while PAS, the putative Islamist party, has begun to take on more progressive agendas and stances on contemporary issues.

A defensive UMNO

A defensive UMNO has evidently moved beyond its familiar attack of non-Malays — symbolised by the “keris rattling” of UMNO Youth — to a more frontal confrontation with its religious foe PAS. Put differently, UMNO’s polemical terrain appears to have shifted one remove beyond its preoccupation with the notion of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy).

This said, Malay supremacy still reared its head and remained as an important trope of the Shahrizat A Jalillatest UMNO assembly. It was clearly invoked in the speeches of the women’s chief Shahrizat Abdul Jalil (right) and Deputy Youth leader Reezal Merican Naina Merican. One spun out the familiar threat to non-Malays of the possible recurrence of a May 13 event should UMNO lose the Malay vote while the other famously announced that UMNO was a party anointed by God.

On a more defensive plane, a young delegate representing the UMNO clubs abroad struck a resonance with all and sundry when he started to sing a Biro Tata Negara (BTN) propaganda song lamenting the surrender of indigenous lands and possessions to foreign occupiers. (BTN or the National Civics Bureau organises orientation programmes for Malay students and civil servants.)

But the tear-jerking episode conveyed a subliminal message that UMNO Malays have lost sight of the multiracial politics advocated by its traditional leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak. Without doubt, Reezal Merican took racial politics to a new high when he implied that the Malays were God’s chosen people.

Predictably, the UMNO’s President opening address emphasised the crucial character of the 13th GE for the party’s future and its survival and he alluded to the significance of the 2.9 million new voters. Again, this suggests that UMNO is not at all confident that it has captured the youth vote. Indeed, young people were conspicuous by their low attendance at the UMNO General Assembly. Some 10 or so UMNO overseas club members were visible and the Puteri UMNO (young women’s wing) was clearly outnumbered by the UMNO makciks and pakciks (older folks).Speeches by Puteri representatives were underwhelming and drew little fire.

The President’s speech was devoid of new policies as he trotted out the successes of his policies of economic, political and governmental transformation. There was no mention of how the government has addressed the egregious problems of corruption and crime. He clearly avoided any reference to the cyber rumblings that linked the first family to a land deal involving the Ministry of Defence alleged by one Deepak Jaikishan.

Zahid HamidDefence Minister Ahmad Zahid (left) also demurred responding to the Deepak allegations. At the point of writing, Deepak, a businessman and carpet dealer, has sued Selangor UMNO women’s leader Raja Ropiaah Abdullah’s company Awan Megah for breach of contract and for allegedly cheating him of millions of ringgit. Awan Megah was awarded a RM100 million privatisation project to set up an intelligence centre by the defence minister, it was alleged. Deepak had also intimated that he was responsible for the recanting of a statutory declaration by private investigator P. Balasubramanian, which had stated that Najib had a relationship with the murdered Mongolian woman Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Najib’s 45-minute concluding speech provided hints of the problems afflicting the party. He spoke of finding “winnable candidates”, the problem of “saboteurs” and chose to praise in the same breath both ex-premiers Mahathir and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, known to be in different UMNO camps. Further cyber noise from former Inspector-General of Police Musa Hassan that the Home Minister had interfered in his handling of arrests of persons of standing over criminal activities also failed to draw any strong response from Hishammuddin Hussein, the minister in question. With the goings-on inside and outside the party, there were more than enough suggestions that the party was faction-ridden.

More tellingly, certain personalities appeared likely to be dropped as candidates in the KJcoming GE. It has been common knowledge for a long time that the UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin (left), Abdullah’s son-in-law, may not be selected to defend his Rembau seat because of alleged blocking by Mahathir, who would like to see his own son Mukhriz rise in the party hierarchy. There have also been incessant rumours circulating that Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin was “plotting” for the president himself to under-perform in the GE, while Najib’s cousin, vice-president Hishammuddin, awaits a leg-up to the next level should Muhyiddin falter.


As the 66th UMNO General assembly concluded and the impending 13th general election looms large, Malaysia’s de facto ruling party may not be able to find the means to check its path-dependent decline. After more than five decades of unparalleled success in helming Malaysia save for a hiccup in 1969, it now faces the prospect of a possible loss of control of the federal government following the disastrous electoral outcome of 2008.

Path-dependent decline has even been more evident in its coalition partners, the MCA and Gerakan, two Chinese-based parties which have lost their historical advantage to the DAP. Leadership problems and haemorrhaging in the MIC has meant a splintering of the Indian vote mostly mopped up by the Opposition front. Other coalition partners in Sabah and Sarawak have fared much better up till now but some decline is evident in last year’s state election in Sarawak and in recent party defections in Sabah.

UMNO itself faces the rise of an unprecedented number of young and more urbanised voters who have little appetite for neither its old-style racial politics nor its ersatz Islamism. Furthermore, factionalism within the party leadership despite an outward show of solidarity is bound to affect its effectiveness in securing desired electoral outcomes. — aliran.com

* Dr Johan Saravanamuttu, a long-time Aliran contributor and former Aliran trustee, is currently Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. –www.themalaysianinsider.com

Najib Razak at London Indig02

May 10, 2012

Najib Razak at London Indig02

by  Guest writer

Sarawak Report broke this story a few days ago with their usual timeliness and excellent research.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is going to be in London this week where among other things he plans to host a “Evening with the Prime Minister” at the semi-luxurious 02 Dome. The 02Dome is a famous venue that frequently hosts events with music icons, entertainers, and now Prime Ministers of Asian countries seeking reelection.

Najib Razak at London Indig02

Some of the ironies here are that the Government of Malaysia is spending a lot of money to host the event, provide free food and entertainment, and also, according to Sarawak Report, arrange for free transportation to bus Malaysians into London from all over the UK including as far as Edinburgh in Scotland.

“The Coordinator for the entire event is the Malaysian High Commission in London. They are targeting 1000 Malaysians to join in the gathering.

Travel by Coach to London will be provided. Refreshments and a Dinner pack will be served on the Coach. All branches are asked to confirm attendee numbers so that we will know whether to book one of two Coaches. Please pass this message to your local groups(?) and other Malaysians. Get back to me with the total number.

Ideally, let me know by Tuesday 8th May so that i can submit the Budget and total number of attendees to the High Commission.

This is not a formal gathering – the PM will just say a few words and will then mingle with the crowd throughout the evening.

If anyone is interested , please pass me your name, phone number and University. Thanks [email to student organisers]

So all this money is being spent, presumably, to win support of overseas Malaysians in advance of the 13th General Election. However, the reality is most of these Malaysians won’t be able to vote anyways because the government or the Election Commission is unlikely to implement any sort of process for allowing overseas Malaysians to vote short of returning to Malaysia on election day…which is itself a small feat because of the shortness of the campaign period. Everyone knows that buying airline tickets at the last-minute can be a costly endeavor.

One student in the UK commented:

“Why is Najib spending this sort of money on a foreign PR event”? asked one bemused London student.  ”Does he think it plays back home, because hardly any Malaysians living in London are allowed to vote?  The only people who can vote are government workers and they are forced to vote BN anyway!

Furthermore, it’s a bit offensive, in my mind, to go courting students just two weeks after Malaysian embassies around the world issued a blatant threat cautioning students against attending the global BERSIH protests.

The email says “Please think and use your wisdom carefully before making any rash action that could adversely affect your own self, sponsoring department and nation in general.” Basically the Embassy is telling students to demonstrate at your own risk.  In countries premised on the notion of free speech, freedom of expression, the Malaysian government believes it is appropriate to extend the tentacles of its fascist policies across oceans. Yet, when the Prime Minister goes fishing for votes among overseas students everything is supposed to be OK. The message this sends is awful and my guess is it backfires.

So now the question is will people actually go to the event and will there be a protest organized by Malaysians outside the event…and how much coverage will any of this get in the media.  Another person that Sarawak Reports interviewed said:

“This is a party political electioneering event that will have cost millions to stage. It is not correct to spend public money on this sort of PR event and I don’t think people will be impressed that it is being held in Britain either.  Perhaps he just does not dare hold a rally in KL anymore after the turn out for BERSIH 3.0!”

Amanat Presiden UMNO at 61st General Assembly

October 22, 2010

Amanat Presiden (Presidential Address) at 61st UMNO General Assembly (October 21, 2010)

by Prime Minister and UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak

Empowering Malaysians to achieve prosperity

I BEGIN my speech by inviting you to ponder two edicts of Allah. In Surah al-Baqarah, verse 143, reads: “And so we have made you a Muslim, part of the community at the centre in order that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger, who is Muhammad, to be a witness of your actions.”

Surah a-li Imran, verse 159, also contains the edict which says: “It was by the grace of Almighty Allah, you deal gently with them. If you are being hard-hearted, they would stay away from you. In view of that, do pardon them. Ask forgiveness for them and engage with them.”

Ladies and gentlemen:

Indeed, we are grateful to Allah for His blessing that we are gathered once again in this august hall. Let us pray for the blessings of Prophet Muhammad the venerable leader and for always showing us the way.

If we are to undertake a count, then this 61st general assembly marks the 25th time that the assembly is being held since 1985. Therefore, UMNO has come a long way into adulthood since it started with tiny steps and then marching along the way over time.

In the meantime, whether consciously or not, for over six decades UMNO has lit the torch for the advancement of the Malays and safeguarding the interests of the nation. In this regard, we wish to state emphatically that over the past 64 years, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has been the only shining torch looking after the interests and souls of the Malays.

For this reason, no one can deny the massive influence and role of the party for generations where its leadership had faced various odds and challenges while being the driver of change in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What we are striving for today, is not something new. Instead, it is a continuation of the aspirations of the Malays and Malaysians when we made the decision to seek independence. Therefore, since then, three major principles and beliefs that we have been consistent is that Malay unity is at the core of national unity. Second, Islam as Addin, and thirdly, the prosperity of the nation as the pillar of social justice.

If we are to ascertain this, it was in the early 50′s that the president of UMNO then, the late Datuk Onn Jaafar promoted the idea for the party’s membership to be opened to non-Malays as he saw the reality, in that independence could not be achieved without the various races agreeing to share power.

However, Onn’s proposal at the time was deemed as too progressive for UMNO members who felt the position of the Malays was still not that strong. As a result, it was opposed by the majority of UMNO members and leaders. In the end, Onn left UMNO and went on to set up the Independence of Malaya Party to continue with his goal.

In spite of this, the people in UMNO have this to say: Hidup sebumbung, di bawah teratak, Berlain bantal, satu hati, Bercerai kasih, bertalak tidak, Ibarat rambut, bersimpul mati. On the other hand, although the idea by Onn at the time was not acceptable by UMNO, his successor, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, was aware of the importance of multiethnic political cooperation to achieve independence. Tunku then took on a strategy that was more realistic and acceptable by the majority of the Malays and others by pioneering an alliance among the various races.

The partnership which came into being in 1955 through a power-sharing partnership via the Alliance was by gathering UMNO, MCA and MIC, respectively to represent the interests of the Malays, Chinese and Indians. After the tragedy of May 13, 1969, the country’s leaders then realised that unity cannot be nurtured by only using political mechanisms without being underpinned by socio-economic foundations and social justice.

As such, the late Tun Abdul Razak formulated and implemented the New Economic Policy (NEP) with the aim of addressing the socio-economic disparities between the races that nearly destroyed the fabric of national unity. This new economic approach was made possible by the dynamism of the market system laid down by the late Tunku earlier.

Brothers and Sisters:

Here, I would like to draw the attention to some of us and others who might have overlooked that the New Economic Policy was in fact based on the principle to foster national unity. The only difference was that the basic tools used were socio-economic in nature, and not purely political as was done previously by the leadership through the Alliance.

In the same breath, Tun Razak did not forget the importance of political mechanisms as tools to foster unity. He enlarged the base from the Alliance to establish Barisan Nasional or the National Front.

Through this foundation of cooperation and sharing of power between the races, it was also extended to the states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Let us not forget that the first “bridge” built between the states in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak over the South China Sea was the political bridge of Barisan Nasional, 11 years after the establishment of Malaysia. It was later reinforced by the presence of UMNO in Sabah, the Land Below the Wind, in 1991.

When the NEP ended in 1990, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the prime minister at that time, defined a policy directing the country towards becoming a developed nation by 2020. Through a working paper entitled “Malaysia: Moving Forward”, which was delivered at the launch of the Malaysian Business Council on Feb 28, 1991, he envisioned that Malaysia will become a developed country within three decades.

At that time, the aspiration was such that by 2020, Malaysia will enjoy the same living standards as the United States. The per capita income of the United States at that time was about US$20,000 (RM62,145). Although we do know that there were certain quarters who claimed that the goal was a mere fantasy like that of the proverbial Mat Jenin, Dr Mahathir’s argument was strong and neat. He had stated that during the NEP period, the average annual growth of the nation was 6.7 per cent. If within a period of 30 years to 2020 when growth could be increased to 7.0 per cent, which was 0.3 per cent more than the years between 1971 and 1990, then that aspiration was not impossible.

In addition to economic aspects, he also outlined nine more socio-political challenges before Vision 2020 could be realised. The most important was strengthening national unity to forge Bangsa Malaysia. The experience from the NEP showed that equitable distribution of wealth can only happen amidst a robust economy.

What is very clear here, in order to ensure national unity, two mechanisms, political and socio-economic, should converge. This means that national unity would not be effective without social justice and social justice cannot be created without political stability and economic prosperity based on national unity. In short, these three elements are complementary, interrelated and will mutually reinforce each other.

Brothers and Sisters:

Having been entrusted to lead the party and country about 18 months ago when Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi handed over power in line with the Umno tradition of harmonious continuity within its leadership, I have decided not to reinvent the wheel but to take the examples of the wisdom and foresight of the past leadership in the party and country through a formula that has already been tried and tested over time.

As such, this gave birth to the philosophy of 1Malaysia, a pragmatic continuation of the vision of our forefathers in the party and government. National unity is a dynamic thing. It should always be fertilised and nurtured, if not, it will soon be in tatters. The Alliance was formed in line with the needs of the times, but after the tragedy of May 13, 1969, saw to that model being revitalised through Barisan Nasional and the elements of social justice via the NEP.

The result was that the foundations which were laid down by the late Tunku were continued by the late Tun Razak through BN and the NEP. The late Tun Hussein Onn, who is also known as the Father of Unity, was firm and sincere in undertaking his duties. Later, Dr Mahathir proceeded with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia. Tun Abdullah then followed suit with the building of human capital and strengthening the country’s National Mission.

Brothers and Sisters:

If national unity, prosperity and social justice are mutually binding and intertwined, then, in addition to 1Malaysia, we have introduced the Government Transformation Plan, or GTP, and six National Key Result Areas (NKRAs) and Economic Transformation Plan, or ETP, to further build the prosperity and well-being of the people.

As presented earlier before this, the ETP is a comprehensive plan, covering major guidelines of the New Economic Model and eight strategic initiatives. It also contains a clear direction to 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) and precise mechanism of the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plans.

Again, in this respect, 1Malaysia is also in line with Islamic values and the spirit reflected by Prophet Muhammad in nation-building as well as the early foundations of the Islamic civilisation in Medina. Communities of various races and religions in Medina then lived in harmony from rules based on a constitution which prioritised and defended the religions of all parties and provided justice for all. The Constitution also protected minorities and accorded the freedom of religious practice to those non-Muslims as well.

Brothers and Sisters:

Clearly, this is not a new dream. This is the eternal aspiration of the country in the past and in time to come. It was the idea of the late Onn, the ideals of the late Tunku, the hopes of my late father, Tun Hussein’s desires, aspirations of Dr Mahathir and Abdullah’s goals. Certainly, it has become my vision, together with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and colleagues in UMNO, BN and the government.

I am confident and believe that it is a noble intention backed by you, ladies and gentlemen who are in this hall and outside this hall, and by all the people of this beloved country. In short, by all, wherever you are, we are 1Malaysia.

On top of all this, if we visualise, in the Malay culture, leadership comes in many forms. Starting from the leadership in the households, villages right up to the leadership of the community and nation. Due to their important influence in life, leaders are entrusted with the responsibility of leading the people as reflected in the phrase “the custom holds on to the trust of the people, never backstab, the custom holds on to the belief of power, never destroy, and never forget your boundaries”.

At this juncture, although there may be ups and downs, bitterness and criticisms heaped upon Umno by the opposition, history has clearly shown that we have lasted more than 60 years of service, assistance and devotion towards the development of the Malays as well as the nation. In addition, the ability and integrity of UMNO was not only acknowledged in this region but the world over.

Indeed, for over decades, what was said by us was not empty promise. This can be seen from the records in the country, this party has transformed disunity into unity, from colonial mindsets of the past to independent thoughts, from a lack of self-confidence at one time to one of self-confidence now of which we are all proud of, and from one of despair to full of hope for the future.

Let us not forget, this party has been tasked to change Malays who were not politically conscious before World War 2 to a nation that was able to gain independence through negotiations with one of the world’s major powers, Britain.

In addition, the neatly-arranged records in the country will also show that UMNO had raised the consciousness of nationalism, patriotism and political democracy. In the big picture, it has been proven that the Umno leadership had succeeded in leading the speedy transformation of the Malaysia that we enjoy today.

In listing the stories of our achievements, we would like to ask, who had successfully led in this great struggle? What was the value system? The question here is that we do not want to be pondering over our past successes, but examine what had been the strengths and factors that had been fundamental to the sturdiness of our organisation. In this context, it would be appropriate if I recited some poetry by National Laureate, the late Usman Awang, and some gurindam by another literary giant, Effendy Tenas, who wrote about the Malays.

Melayu itu, kaya falsafahnya

Melayu itu, orang yang bijaksana

Akal budi bersulamkan daya

Jawa itu Melayu, Bugis itu Melayu

Banjar juga disebut Melayu,

Minangkabau memang Melayu,

Keturunan Acheh adalah Melayu

Jakun dan Sakai asli Melayu,

Arab dan Pakistani, semua Melayu

Mamak dan Malbari serap ke Melayu

Malah muallaf bertakrif Melayu

Kadazan, Bajau, India Muslim dan Siam, Melanau, Bidayuh dan berpuluh suku kaum,

Kita bersama dalam serumpun,

Watak Melayu menolak permusuhan

Setia dan sabar tiada sempadan

Maruah dan agama dihina jangan Hebat amuknya tak kenal lawan

Menjadi pemimpin sifatnya agung Syarak dipakai adat dijunjung

Hidupnya mengabdi kepada rakyat

Taat setia membela umat

Dijadikan induk kuat berdiri

Umat sentosa bertuahlah negeri.

Based on the lines that I just recited, it just goes to show that in psychology, in the behaviour or the character of the Malay, the fundamentals are reflected in the seeds of moral leadership. If explored further, the Malays accord a high placing on the refined attitude of leaders and their leadership in the community.

Evidently, the Malays have stood the test of time. Their character has also enabled Malays to be accepted as leaders in a multicultural society. Their moral leadership has also enabled them to take on the leadership of the nation.

What is more important is that the features of Malay leadership that I am talking about, had been further refined with the arrival of Islam that had called for and supported the wasatiyah approach, which is a principle of the practice of life by individuals and society in a balanced and comprehensive manner in all fields, especially in matters concerning unity and nationhood.

Since then, and from time to time, the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah had been embroidered and woven neatly into the daily lives of the Malays.

According to scholars, those who practise the wasatiyah or middle way are those who are not only noted for their ability to work hard for their well-being in this world but the hereafter also.

Subsequently, the most important thing to remember is that, in determining the survival of a nation, we need the right leadership style and honest understanding of its concept, especially in a unique country like Malaysia.

In this regard, we should be grateful that Malaysia, a multi-racial and multi-religious country, remains stable and free of any major conflict. Hence, every person should accept that racial diversity is a blessing and a gift from Allah.

Indeed, pluralism is a source of strength for us. This is how the world has always been and how it will remain forever. What is important is how do we leverage this asset for the country’s success.

In this context, all parties need to open their hearts. Although we practise affirmative action to ensure social justice, the success of an individual is limited only by his or her creativity, innovation and willingness to work hard and take risks.

For example, non-Bumiputeras, after 39 years of affirmative action, are still the ones with the greatest wealth. We are aware that certain quarters claim that affirmative action had caused hardship. However, empirical evidence showed otherwise. In fact, the attitude of beneficiaries, methods of implementation and the landscape of action were source of the problems.

Furthermore, when certain quarters began to question the position of the Malays as a race that is protected by certain rights, it caused anger and discontent among us who are noted for our accommodating nature. Like an ember in a padi husk, this feeling is starting to burn and may spread to damage the harmonious race relations that have long been forged.

Unfortunately, after 53 years of Independence, today the people of Malaysia face a relentless onslaught on the foundations of sound relations among communities that have existed for so long. If the national polemics is not handled well, we fear it might threaten national unity.

For this reason, brothers and sisters, we must remain vigilant, we must continue to remind ourselves that the success of our beloved land has been made possible by the contributions, ideas and sacrifices of the various races. It was not the deeds or ideas exclusively of one race but the collective efforts of all communities from which we reap the harvest.

What will become a problem is when history is ignored and irresponsible parties try to reinterpret it to suit their narrow interests or agendas.

Opportunistic leaders, fishing in troubled waters, are really wolves in sheep’s clothing, playing with fire to manipulate the situation, are to be rejected in leadership. They are not qualified to be called leaders.

Brothers and sisters:

Be mindful of the dream merchants who tell fairy tales, becoming swashbucklers who twist falsehood, weave hatred, trade defamatory, blend honey with poison, and ridicule sacrifices and without any shame invite us to enjoy the low-hanging khuldi fruits to the extend of gambling everything.

Brothers and sisters:

Taking off from there, the Malays are particularly hurt that the pledge sealed at the advent of Independence is recant. Whereas it was on the basis of this pact that we were willing to make major sacrifices, sharing Malaya with the other races, to achieve Independence.

At the same time, the acceptance of citizenship that is based on the principle of jus soli or right over the birthplace of jus sanguinis principle, that is the blood right, has transformed overnight the Malay socio-political landscape forever.

That is why, we can no longer be imprisoned in the story of the past without looking to the future. The basic question here is the principle of integrity, any contract made under the rule of law, if not respected, will mean no certainty at all even for basic things that have been agreed together. The business analogy is that the parties that break promises will no longer be trusted.

Furthermore, if a pledge of loyalty is discarded as one pleases when it no longer suits certain tastes or interests, mutual trust and respect will be destroyed and we will be infected with suspicion. It is endemic and dangerous, I repeat, very dangerous to a country with diverse races, religions and cultures such as Malaysia as it can destroy all that was built over the past 50 years.

One thing is for sure, the counterbalance to all this is not only from the Malays but other races as well. It is manifested through moral consensus, that is, in exchange for citizenship, the non-Malays were willing to accept the principle of special privileges as provided under the provisions of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution. Then Malaysian citizen-ship was in principle no longer based on equal rights and opportunities but has been adapted to the existing reality for the sake of long-term national goals and interests.

Brothers and sisters:

This is actually the core of the contract sealed by consensus by our founding fathers who represented the various races at the start of Independence. It was later enacted as a national social contract, sealed in the Federal Constitution which is the supreme law of the country. Like it or not, we must respect the noble consensus since that is the key to national survival.

Now, as the present generation of leadership, we have been entrusted to cope with the demands of this monumental era, as the first generation of leaders who are faced with the challenge of building a foundation of diversity. Therefore, it is highly irresponsible if we chose to fold our arms and sit passively without doing anything. Worse still, if we leave these responsibilities to future generations of leaders to shoulder.

As such, we must build a new runway in Malaysian race relations by taking into account two important principles. First, it should be based on a shared future, and secondly, it must take into account the realities of history without losing sight of today’s and the future’s potential.

Brothers and sisters:

Mankind cannot escape from reality and the environment. Malaysia is a country based on the principles enshrined in the Constitution and the rule of law as the national ideology as espoused in the five principles of the Rukun Negara.

As we know, the position of the Malays and the Bumiputeras and other races in terms of politics has been clearly enshrined in the Constitution. It is neatly locked in Article 3 on citizenship, Article 38 on the Conference of Rulers, Article 152 on the national language and Article 153 which include, among others, reserve quota services and permits for the Malays.

Next, ladies and gentlemen, we must understand and acknowledge that the amendment to these articles cannot be done without the consent of the Conference of Rulers in accordance with Article 159 of the Federal Constitution. It is strengthened by Article 10 Clause 4 which empowers the Parliament to enact a law prohibiting questioning any matter, rights, status, position, privileges, sovereignty or sovereign rights protected by the provisions of Clause 3, Article 152, Article 153, and Article 181.

In relation to this matter, let us be informed of how the great polemics today evolved, either on nationality after Independence or special rights of the Malays. In fact, the debate has become academic. This is because in terms of legislation, its provisions have already been expressed and soldered.

Even a two-thirds majority in Parliament would not enable any party to change anything without the consent of the Conference of Rulers, which comprises nine Malay rulers. In other words, battle cries will be in vain as capitalising on the provisions of citizenship to threaten other races will not work as these are concrete and cannot be repealed even if an emergency is declared.

Overall, like it or not, there are very strong reasons why these things are not allowed to be amended, except with the consent of the Conference of Rulers. The wisdom is that such provisions are placed outside the forum of discussions. If it is open for debate, we fear that it would spark unrest and incite primordial instincts or natural instincts existing among ethnic groups.

Above all, Malaysians must realise that history has shown no matter how advanced an economy, how revolutionised a civilisation, how clever humans are and how high the level of tolerance, if primal instincts are not managed properly, we may, as a consequence witness extreme cruelty fuelled by the darker human traits.

What I say is not surprising. In the 20th century, we have been shown cases of punishment without trial in the United States, the holocaust tragedy in Europe, the slaughter of Palestinians in West Asia and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda. So, one can imagine the result, if each generation of Malaysians take a stand to question the fairness of the national social contract that had been previously sealed by consensus by our predecessors.

The consequences will be much faster, especially in the borderless world with sophisticated information and communication technology system that is constantly evolving. The crux of the matter, brothers and sisters, why do want to change what has worked so well. Let us not allow what is good to be broken, and what is joined to be cut.

Brothers and sisters:

Beyond this situation, as Malays who are the majority, we have a leadership responsibility. The moral responsibility of leadership that extends beyond the interests of our own community. This responsibility has naturally been bestowed on us Malays as the majority forming 67 per cent of the population. As I said at the outset of my speech, this provision is validated by historical factors and the attitude of the race itself.

Thus is the fate of a race chosen to lead a plural society. The continuous trust of the other races should encourage the Malays to constantly improve themselves and become the leading facilitator among the races.

In other words, amid modernism and accelerated globalisation, the question of rights, dignity and origins will not have any meaning if the community is backward and left behind. Consequently, the courtesy shown to us and hope placed upon us by others, will fade away. As such, we now have to get up and run quickly to justify our role as Malays with prudence and professionalism.

Brothers and sisters,

Looking ahead, since the general assembly in March last year, various plans and careful planning and strategies had been devised. Therefore, we can no longer procrastinate. To overcome all obstacles, our focus now is on the party’s modus operandi. UMNO’s modus operandi as a political party must change. Even so, Umno must remain steadfast to its original purpose as a Malay mass party expounding the aspirations of the community.

Admiral Hang Tuah said the Malays will not disappear from the face of the earth. The Malays, especially those from this region, has traversed centuries of ebb and flow. Let it be known, the forthcoming year is not an ordinary year. It marks 500 years since the fall of the Malacca empire. Here, we should learn why a great empire in the Malay Archipelago, once a trading transit point between two continents, had fallen to the Portuguese.

Ironically, many quarters only focus on the collapse of the Malay empire due to internal betrayal. True, this was part of the reason. But no less important was the great difference in military might and the weapons used.

What I mean is that the Portuguese had used modern weapons of the time with rifles and artillery while the defenders of Malacca at that time were still using weapons of a bygone era. Although daggers, bows and arrows and spears were a symbol of heroism they could not match guns and cannons. That was the convention, the way the world turned.

Therefore, the Malays of the third millennium, the 21st century Malays, must be ready for the era. Rather than being obsessed with rights, the Malays of the 21st century must prepare themselves to take advantage of existing rights. What is the use of quotas, reserves and permits if everything is being wasted. What good is a chance if it is forfeited for short-term profits.

Hence, the Malays of the 21st century must work hard to build capacity and capability, instead of just thumping their chests exerting that they should be successful as it is their right to succeed. Like it or not, the Malays must face the reality of this century to achieve success.

We should be global Malays. Brothers and sisters, I want to ask, what is lacking of the Malays? The Malays should be able to compete with the best. The Malays should be able to fight with the most powerful. The Malays must be the greatest on the international stage.

Therefore, as President of Umno I do not want to hear any excuse that the Malays are still weak because of nearly five centuries of colonialism. I, as president of UMNO, and my colleagues in the party leadership, are not willing to see the Malays become a nation which goes begging, we do not want to see the Malays become a complacent race. As the maxim goes “small gains will not become a fortune”.

Let me stress, I would like to remind all that the fight today is a battle of the minds and skills. Whoever is wiser, whoever controls information influences the situation. Therefore, do not take the easy way out by becoming dogmatic and satisfied with the form rather than the content.

Brothers and sisters, to all parties: Is it not what had been achieved for 53 years since Independence the result of efforts and leadership of the Malays? Thus, we become suffocated and restless these days when we hear discordant voices that try to belittle the achievements of the Malays. Very true, it is very easy to make insulting remarks as the tongue is boneless. They like to allege that the public service is a pit of inefficiency.

On the contrary, if the public service is not competent, we would have become a failed nation a long time ago, we will not have developed from a low-income agricultural nation to a modern industrial nation.

We have proven all these years that we have succeeded without the need to have foreign military bases on our good earth to give us a security umbrella. We also succeeded indisputably as an independent and sovereign nation. We have also succeeded with the various races in building this sacred land.

Certainly, we have weaknesses, but we have still been able at all times to overcome challenges through our own efforts and in our own way without relying on other countries.

In facing all this, UMNO will deliver on the trust it has been entrusted upon to uphold the interests of the Malays, religion and country. We will not do so merely by poetic words but with various concrete initiatives, programmes and policies.

Umno will never allow the Malay race to be helpless and strangers in their own country. We are committed to doing not only what is best, but what is right for the Malay diaspora. We cannot afford to sink amidst our awe of the past. In fact, we not only have to deal with external challenges but also challenges from some of our own people who appear willing to gamble everything away for the sake of power.

As a lesson from all this, UMNO members should not lose hope or be filled with despair. Islam strictly prohibits us to give up hope. As members and people of UMNO, we should not allow ourselves to be dispirited and wallow in of defeat nor allow UMNO to be easily destroyed.

Hence, in building for the future and in our quest to strengthen the race, we need to go through three phases of recovery. The first and most important phase is to acknowledge the weaknesses and problems faced by us. The second phase is to reflect upon them and find effective remedies to overcome the deficiencies. The third phase is to start working on the recovery plans. What is important is that all three phases must be done properly with attention to detail. Otherwise, the changes and reforms will not succeed.

Umno is not an ordinary party. UMNO was born from the conscience and aspirations of the Malays. Tracing its journey, UMNO has gone through many trials and tribulations. In 1951, the President and founder of UMNO left the party. Subsequently, PAS was established by a presidential candidate who lost to the late Tunku in an election to replace Datuk ”Onn as the new leader of UMNO.

By 1969, UMNO and its partners lost its grip on a two-thirds majority for the first time in Parliament, and at the same time we were confronted with racial riots, and democracy had to be suspended. The world at that time appeared to bid farewell to Umno. 1987 also saw the splitting of the party and racial tension again hit the nation.

A year later in 1988, we felt very saddened as if we were hit by a bolt of lightning, swooped upon by an eagle, or that we had lost our shelter, when we were forced to receive the bad news that Umno, a party which had done a lot of good in the past, was declared illegal.

In the late 1990s, not only did we face the international financial crisis, we also saw a political downswing when many Malays no longer supported the party. We were then hit by the frightening political tsunami of 2008.

Alhamdulillah, despite whatever obstacles or tests, I believe that for those who plod on, persevere and have trust in Allah the Almighty, victory would definitely come. In every crisis, Umno has managed to bounce back and stabilise the situation where all odds seemed stacked against us.

All this is because the members and leaders of UMNO continued to have their feet planted firmly on the ground. All this is possible because the members and leaders of UMNO never for a moment lost confidence in the true struggles of the party or lost hope in its leaders. The basic fact was that the noble principles of UMNO had not only benefited the Malays but all Malaysians as well.

In fact, we are the first political party that had dared to expand the voting block – increasing the number of electors to 140,000.Even before we amended the constitution, we had been known for our highly competitive elections.

These are our noble aims. These are the transparent and noble steps of UMNO these are the heights of Malay aspirations.

Therefore, can we believe that the prosperity of Malaysia can be sustained if the opposition parties, which are in disarray, were to hold the reins of power? Can the people of Malaysia place their trust on people who think of nothing else but to seek power in the seat of government? Can we leave Malaysia to the traitors of our people and of this beloved nation?

Indeed, to our members, we place our party’s destiny in your hands. Under your watch, we will endeavour to protect Umno. On your shoulders will the legacy of the United Malays National Organisation live on.

Ayuh.. Jangankan gerimis, hujan pun mari kita redahi Jangankan ribut, taufan pun mesti kita harungi Jangankan air bah, gelombang badai pun harus berani kita renangi Jangankan gerhana, kelam gelita pun pasti kita terangi.

Therefore, let me remind you all, let us not be hit by the poisonous darts from the theatricals of the Opposition which can only bring about failure. Stay steadfast to the party. Be loyal to the banners of Barisan Nasional. Even if we are broken or divorced from the life of the body, brothers and sisters, we must defend Putrajaya at all costs!

(What’s a drizzle when we can brave a downpour. What’s a storm when we dare face a typhoon .What’s a flood, when we fear not a tidal wave What”s an eclipse when we can light up pitch darkness)

For the sake of Islam, for the sake of the Malays and for the sake of Malaysia. Let us come together to strengthen the race and lead in prosperity. Intoning Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, I hereby declare open the 61st Umno General Assembly 2010. — Bernama

Read more: 61st Umno General Assembly:<br>Empowering people to achieve prosperity http://www.nst.com.my/nst/articles/16njs/Article/#ixzz133Sfh7gw

Malaysia’s Development Strategy Revisited

October 20, 2010

Malaysia’s Development Strategy Revisited

by Dr. Mohamed  Ariff*

Malaysia has turned 180 degrees since Independence in 1957, transforming itself into a thriving modern economy and leapfrogging from a low-income to a middle-income trajectory. The country owes its prosperity to its economic openness, with trade as the lifeblood and foreign direct investment (FDI) as the Continue reading

Malay corporate chiefs acted under instruction from TDM, court told

by Debra Chong
September 2, 2010

Perlis prince, Tan Sri Syed Anwar, as he goes to testify he received ‘instructions’ to act for Umno.

Businessman Tan Sri Syed Anwar Jamalullail’s court testimony today appeared to suggest that it was not uncommon for Umno to “instruct” Malay corporate captains to act as their nominees in the management of Malaysia’s top companies.

The brother to the Raja of Perlis, Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail,

Tan Sri Syed Anwar Jamalullail Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail

was the second defence witness to testify today in a civil suit launched in 2005 by former Realmild director Datuk Khalid Ahmad to gain the second half of a RM10 million payment of five per cent of the company’s shares, which took place during a shake-up and buy-out said to be related to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking from government.

Abdul Rahman had claimed he had received “instructions” to transfer blocks of shares, amounting to some seven million, to Syed Anwar who was to hold them in trust for the powerful Malay ruling political party.

Questioned by defence lawyer Alex De Silva, Syed Anwar said he had been approached by former Finance Minister II, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, and “instructed” to turn around conglomerate Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB) sometime around mid-2001, just before the former’s brother rose to become the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.

Syed Anwar added that further instruction was later given by Nor Mohamed – on behalf of then prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – and to transfer Realmild shares to another businessman, Datuk Abdul Latif Abdullah, in September 2006.

De Silva: When you were given instructions, were you in any position to refuse?

Syed Anwar: No. But I didn’t see any reason not to.

De Silva: What was Nor Mohamed’s position then?

Syed Anwar: I think at that time, he was appointed the Minister of Finance II.

Syed Anwar added there was “nothing in writing” either from Nor Mohamed or any other party to indicate the shares were being held in trust by him for Umno.

Pressed further, he said “it was implied” to be so.

De Silva: Were you aware the true beneficiary was Umno?

Syed Anwar: It was implied, but I was not interested.

In cross-examination from Khalid’s lawyer, Ahmad Fadzil Mohd Perdaus, Syed Anwar said he had never received any “cash considerations” for his role in the corporate dance, but was spurred purely by the challenge to turn around a troubled conglomerate – as Abdul Rahman described in court the debt-ridden MRCB at that period in time.

Ahmad Fadzil: This indicates you had to wait for instruction from the PM?

Syed Anwar: Ya. I suppose that would be right.

Ahmad Fadzil: Effectively, these shares you held were only on instruction from the PM?

Syed Anwar: Yes.

The one-time director of Realmild said he was “surprised” when he was given instructions but had been “mandated” to turn around MRCB and was proud he accomplished his job.

“Actually, it’s not for me to ask. I’d just been given the mandate to turn around [MRCB]. To me it was not strange at all,” he told the court when asked if he did not find it strange to be “instructed” to turn around a conglomerate without any “cash considerations” being discussed.

The court case reveals the chain of command between Umno and certain Malaysian conglomerate leaders in the past.

Syed Anwar, or his full name Syed Zainol Anwar Ibni Syed Putra Jamalullail, has been group chairman of Cahya Mata Sarawak (CMS) Berhad since 2006 and is also currently chairman of EON Bank Berhad, EON Capital Berhad and Nestle (M) Berhad.

Before joining Realmild, the 58-year-old had helped to turn around the Lembaga Urusan dan Tabung Haji (Tabung Haji), the state-run central fund for Muslim Malaysians, also after being approached by Nor Mohamed.

A certified accountant, Syed Anwar kicked off his professional career as a financial accountant with Malaysia Airlines System Berhad (MAS) in 1975 and has worked for global accounting firm, Price Waterhouse in Australia and has held senior posts at several other top companies in Malaysia, including as chairman of MRCB, Media Prima Berhad, DRB-HICOM Berhad, and as a director of Maxis Communications Berhad.

Day of Reckoning has come for Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim?

June 25, 2010

Day of Reckoning has come for Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim?

Yes, the day of reckoning  may have come for the recalcitrant Khalid Ibrahim, Selangor’s Menteri Besar since March, 2008. Call it a coup, mutiny or revolt if you like, but the fact is that Khalid has proven to be naive, ineffective and to top it all arrogant, aloof and inaccessible. These are qualities that  can ruin anyone’s political career.

Khalid’s political career is at risk. Maybe, he does not care because he has achieved his personal ambition. Maybe, he knows the tsunami (of 2008) will be not strike twice now that  the politically savvy and hard working Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, not NATO (No Action Talk Only) Abdullah Badawi, is in power.

These aforementioned attributes also do not make a good manager whose job is getting done through people. Even as a manager, Khalid will fail in these times when autocratic managers are  resented by an increasingly intelligent work force. Authoritarianism ended with the end of the Mahathir era in 2003. Today, people look to managers and leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ), courage and integrity.

Khalid was schooled in the traditions of the Tun Ismail Ali School of Management ( a term my friends and I as ex-Bank Negara officers used to describe the autocratic management style of  central bank governor  Ismail Ali in 1960s and 1970s). He served as PNB’s Chief Executive with Tun Ismail Ali as its legendary chairman.

Khalid is now too set in his ways and must now pay the price for his recalcitrance. It should, however, be remembered that Tun Ismail , a man of integrity and conviction, was already on the wane when Khalid worked with him. The Tun Ismail of late 1980s when Khalid joined PNB was not the man I served in the 1960s.

This revolt by PKR leaders and grassroots is a serious one. They feel that despite his pledge at the Kota Baru convention to do better, the Menteri Besar has abandoned their struggle for good governance.  The handling of the Semesta Sand issue using the Selcat mechanism turned out to be one big joke and an embarrassment to the PKR stalwarts and diehard supporters.

The general feeling is that PKR must do something dramatic (and demonstrate that it is serious about leading Pakatan Rakyat to Putrajaya), if Selangor is to remain in Pakatan Rakyat’s hands come the next General Elections.

President Wan Azizah and Ketua Umum Anwar Ibrahim are being to the test. Will they measure up to challenge having lost a number of Parliamentarians and State Assemblymen over the last year? In Parliament, there is now a new force, Konsensus Bebas.

My sources within PKR indicate that nothing much can be expected at the retreat this weekend. It will be just talk and Khalid will remain as Menteri Besar. That makes me wonder what the mutiny leaders will do next?

Wan Azizah has asked Khalid to appoint her close associate to replace the erudite and astute Nik Nazmi as political secretary to the Menteri Besar. She is also seen as the main backer of the besieged menteri besar together with a group of PKR Exco members who are obligated to Khalid.

As for Anwar Ibrahim, I have reason to believe that he will avoid getting involved in making this tough call against his  own appointee. He will not admit that he has made the wrong choice from the outset. I know for a fact that Anwar has ignored all complaints about Khalid from his inner circle, especially the brutally frank Member of Parliament from Telok Kemang and Anwar’s Malay College classmate, Dato Kamarul Bahrain Abbas.

The fallout from this would not, of course, lead to the demise of PKR, but it would in all probability result in Selangor reverting to UMNO-BN in the next elections if Khalid Ibrahim remains the Menteri Besar of Selangor. Will there more crossovers to Konsensus Bebas in Parliament and independent State Assemblymen? Well, your guess as good as mine.–Din Merican

COMMENT by Terence Netto:

Reasons behind Selangor PKR mutiny

There is not as much doubt as to whether there is a revolt brewing in PKR against Khalid Ibrahim’s stewardship as Selangor menteri besar as there is about the reasons for the mutiny.

Given the propensity of conspirators in the drama to ‘baling batu, sembunyi tangan’ (Malay for ‘fanning the flames but concealing the culprit’), and the disclaimers of Khalid’s cohort that rebellion is imminent, it is difficult to say for sure that two years of rumblings against the MB have reached ignition point.

But it’s not in doubt as to why he is unpopular among PKR state and federal legislators.The man is not a politician. He is blasé about the reality that politics is also about jobs, rewards and recognition for stalwarts who have struggled for the party in the teeth of repression by the powers-that-be.

Khalid likes to say that when he joined PKR in the middle of the past decade and was made its treasurer and then secretary-general, the party had only one MP and little in the kitty. On the face of it, that statement is true but if by that he meant that he came into the party when it was bare of representation and financial support, he would slight the early phase of PKR’s history which entailed struggles, deprivations and repression endured by its steadfast and early supporters. To this core of party faithful, Khalid, despite his status as a stellar entry into PKR, is a Johnny-come-lately.

Lack of political acumen

Though their perception of Khalid was out of sync with PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim’s parading Khalid as confirmation that Anwar’s decision to break away from UMNO in protest at its plutocratic emergence was sound, initially the dissonance did not matter.

PKR faithful understood that Anwar would want to seek vindication in Khalid’s breaking ranks with an establishment from which he hugely benefited.  However, the lack of synchronicity started to trouble when Khalid, after having lost on a PKR ticket in the Ijok state by-election in April 2007, expressed a preference to stand in Kapar in the March 2008 general election.

Kapar, in PKR’s reckoning, was the ideal staging ground for the party’s strategy of drawing away Indian support from MIC by fielding an Indian candidate to unseat the MIC incumbent. In the event, PKR’s S Manikavasagam, an ex-MIC Youth leader, was successful in toppling the MIC incumbent in the general election. Insignificant as that episode was, it depicted Khalid’s lack of appreciation of the larger PKR picture.

Party faithful strike back

Khalid compounded matters by talking to PAS’ Hasan Ali about the latter being deputy to him as MB on the day after the coalition of PKR, DAP and PAS won a comfortable majority of seats in Selangor in the March 8, 2008 general election.

PKR insiders were appalled because Hasan was reportedly propositioned by UMNO’s Dr Mohd Khir Toyo about a possible coalition between BN and PAS. The talks between Khir Toyo and Hasan reputedly broke down over who was to be menteri besar.

These miscues by Khalid, and the misgivings about him that this occasioned among PKR insiders, did not seem to give him pause.

Unperturbed, he proceeded as MB to do a fairly good job as CEO of the country’s most economically vibrant state, but still showed little appreciation of what PKR control of this entity implied for the party faithful.

The faithful are now striking back, it seems. If anything, Khalid’s saga suggests that corporate roles are poor preparation for political ones and vice versa, as former UMNO stalwart Musa Hitam is perhaps discovering in the Sime Darby imbroglio.

Whether a revolt against Khalid is set to go off or not, the upside to all this is the discovery that the worlds of politics and business are different realms. The twain do not fuse.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for close on four decades. He likes the occupation because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them.

I will not tell lies for Pakatan, says Karpal

June 22, 2010

By Clara Chooi

DAP chairman Karpal Singh has defended himself for insisting that PKR’s Chua Tian Chang is disqualified from his Batu parliamentary seat, saying that he would not “tell lies” to save his Pakatan Rakyat comrade.“I am not against the PR. I am just stating what the law is. I must be frank. “I cannot, just because it is the PR, I must tell lies,” he told reporters when approached at the Parliament lobby this evening.

When Chua, a first-term MP, was sentenced to a RM2,000 fine in default two months’ jail for biting a police constable in 2007, Karpal (picture) had immediately said that the fine had spelled out Chua’s doom. He had noted that Article 48 of the Constitution, which states that an MP should be disqualified from his seat if he is fined not less than RM2,000 or jailed not less than one year, stipulates that Chua’s RM2,000 fine meant that his Batu seat was as good as vacant.

Karpal’s stand goes against that of Chua himself, however, who insisted that his status as Batu MP should no longer be disputed based on the judge’s reason for delivering the sentence. High Court Justice Datuk Ghazali Cha had reduced Chua’s earlier sentence of a RM3,000 fine in default six months’ jail to a RM2,000 fine in default two months’ jail in order to avoid a by-election in Batu. However, Karpal continued to stick to his guns today despite this and insisted that Chua should be disqualified.

He even said that the Speaker of the House was compelled to declare the Batu seat vacant once he received the sealed order of the court. “I may be from PR but this is the law. I cannot lie and speak otherwise just because I am in the PR,” he said. Karpal added that his comrades in the PR were welcome to blame him for speaking against a fellow PR man as he would not change his stand. “The law is clear. I do not know why there is a controversy, I hope all this will end. “The law states not less than RM2,000 fine which means it is RM2,000 and above (to disqualify an MP),” he said.

Karpal said that if Chua or the judge insisted on interpreting the law otherwise, both parties were wrong. “The lawyers should have stood up and said no, please reduce the fine to less than RM2,000. “I am not saying that it was the fault of the lawyers but it would have been the best thing to do. “I would have done it,” he said. Karpal insisted that his words did not mean he was “anti-Pakatan” or that he wanted to join the Barisan Nasional.

“I am not joining the BN by giving this interpretation… please,” he said. He noted that the probable reason why none from BN was disputing Chua’s validity as an MP was because they were attempting to avoid a by-election. “If there is a by-election, PR will win, hands down. It is a safe seat,” he said.

He however expressed regret however that if a by-election were to be held, by-election laws would prohibit Chua from recontesting the seat.

SIME DARBY: A Conglomerate Gone Awry

Sime Darby under Musa Hitam: A Conglomerate Gone Awry

by Tunku  Abdul Aziz

June 22, 2010

There is a place for conglomerates in the business world. However, as with everything else, some are good, but mostly they invariably become unwieldy and difficult to manage effectively. Many come unstuck, leaving behind a trail of miserable examples of management failures, human greed and frailties. As always, there is a lot of cleaning up to do after the party is over.

The sad truth is that we do not as yet have what it takes to run a complex business successfully, and a conglomerate is hellishly difficult to keep on a straight course because the temptation to wander off into the unfamiliar is often irresistible, and most conglomerates find themselves up a creek.

There have been many instances of major failures in the Sime stable. There was the case of the insurance business in the UK in the eighties, a member of Lloyds, which was in such a bad shape because of mismanagement that it had to be bundled with a very profitable money broking company into an attractive package and sold for a song. Sime Darby naturally had to be responsible for all the liabilities resulting from claims on policies transacted up to the time of the sale of the company. For the next several years after the sale of the company to the new owners, Sime Darby continued to send out to the UK enormous sums of money to cover the claims.

Then there was the Sime Bank debacle. Banking was a business in which it had no expertise and had to rely on the management that came along with the bank when it was acquired. The integrity of the many of the top executives running Sime Bank was questionable. What happened to the bank should have been a lesson to the board of Sime Darby about sticking to what it was good at.

I well remember in Windsor, England, saying jocularly to Tunku Tan Sri Ahmad Yahaya, then Group Chief Executive, when he told me Sime Darby had acquired a bank that he would be better off getting a casino licence. Later he admitted that I was right.

I also recall the factory ship fiasco in the early eighties. The Sime Darby-owned vessel operating in the North Atlantic off the coast of Africa found itself in rough seas financially. Sime Darby decided to sack its two British employees claiming that they had got into this business without the approval of the board in Kuala Lumpur. This was patently untrue.

The Brits would not be bullied into submission, and they sued Sime Darby and its Chairman, then Tun Tan Siew Sin, for wrongful dismissal, and won a very substantial sum of money in an out of court settlement. Zubir, the dismissed Group Chief Executive, should not have allowed the board of Sime Darby to treat him so shabbily.

I personally believe that with a loss of this scale of magnitude, an honourable board would have resigned because obviously it has failed to discharge its fiduciary and other related responsibilities of stewardship. Zubir has been used as a scapegoat in the Anglo-Malaysian corporate tradition. If Sime Darby had been an American company, the chair would have accepted responsibility and resigned or been forced to go without ceremony.

I find Musa’s logic for staying put, saying that he would resign if required to do so by the shareholders, disingenuous and self-serving to say the least. He must know he has failed as chairman, and based on the principle of collective responsibility, his board must exit with him. This is the honourable thing expected of a responsible board, and this is what I expect the much trumpeted Sime tagline, ‘Developing Sustainable Futures’ to be all about.

My advice to Zubir is to consider taking Musa and his board to the cleaners. Sue them. We need in this country boards that are principled, and we can also do with a little honour and integrity in our business leadership.

Sime Darby in the meantime must take a good, hard look at itself to see if operating on the present model is sustainable. It is obvious that Sime Darby has become largely unwieldy, unmanageable, and unsustainable. It is showing all the signs of having become a conglomerate in the worst possible sense. The worst is not over yet.

(The writer is a former Group Director of Sime Darby, 1979-1985)

Move to larger realm of Halal Economy, says Prime Minister Najib

June 22, 2010Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak: Move to larger realm of Halal Economy

By Zurinna Raja Adam (zurinna@nst.com.my)

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak yesterday called for Muslim nations to unite and form a new economic model and to think beyond conventional frameworks and wisdom.

Najib said Muslim nations need to think beyond industries and move into the larger realm of a halal economy.  “Halal has thrived and will continue to thrive on innovation,” he said when opening the World Halal Forum (WHF) here.

The forum falls within the Halal Malaysia Week which began yesterday and ends on Sunday. The event is targeted to bring in RM3.8 billion worth of deals and transactions. The Halal Malaysia Week has been a focal point for global industry players and had registered some RM3.23 billion of transactions in 2009.

The WHF will end tomorrow and will be followed by The World Halal Research Summit from June 23-25 and Malaysia International Halal Showcase from June 23-27.

“Halal Malaysia Week firmly positions Malaysia as a beacon of the Global Halal Industry, highlighting Malaysia’s thought leadership credentials and its strong statement on intent to be the World Halal Hub,” Najib said in his speech.

“As a Muslim leader, I am reaching out to Muslims and those of other faiths globally. Join us in this altruistic endeavour and together we can benefit from the halal economy, which has enormous and largely still untapped potential,” Najib added.

At the event, he also witnessed the exchange of documents between Penang state government halal agency, PIHH Development Sdn Bhd, and a Yemen-based group Investmy International Ltd, to establish a macro and micro consultancy in developing Halal Industrial Park in Yemen.

Muslims account for one fifth of the global population, with between 1.4 and 1.8 billion spread across 148 countries worldwide. Islam is also the fastest growing religion through birth and conversion.

This fact, coupled with larger acceptance of halal by other faiths, has helped the halal industry to evolve from merely being just food to a whole lifestyle driving demand in other non-food areas like consumer products, Islamic finance, logistics and tourism.

The global halal products is estimated at US$2.3 trillion (RM7.3 trillion), excluding banking. Research carried out by WHF secretariat found 67 per cent or US$1.4 trillion of this market is comprised of food and beverage. Pharmaceuticals make up 22 per cent or US$506 billion and cosmetics and personal care totalling US$230 billion.

The fifth WHF this year carries the theme “State of The Industry: International Trade and Market Access” which aims to evaluate the initiatives that were undertaken across the globe to strengthen and address the challenges faced by halal industry. The forum hopes to take a more bold and critical stand to address some lethargic issues that have slowed the progress of the industry.–http://www.nst.com.my

Sime Darby must rely on Hope

June 22, 2010

Sime Darby must rely on Hope

By Azmi Anshar (mishar@nst.com.my)

THERE’S little to argue with the Sime Darby bashing crowd, whether it is the mainstream media, the blogosphere or the politicians, when they boil in outrage against the premier government-linked company caught bleeding badly from cost overruns and other questionable foreign deals.

The blogs, many of them pro-government domains, have had a field day since the April dismissal of group chief executive Datuk Seri Ahmad Zubir Murshid, elucidating in sordid details the what, how and when the losses were engineered, and the veritable who’s who responsible for the staggering financial seepage.

Musa Hitam and the Entire Board must go

The mounting calls for the heads of the entire Sime Darby Board, led by chairman Tun Musa Hitam, to assume the honourable move and step down took an acute dimension when it was made crystal clear in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

In redirecting the call in the house, Wee Choo Keong (independent-Wangsa Maju) also stepped up allegations that losses in two projects in Qatar were made known to the board since 2007, but which the company repeatedly denied.

“I am puzzled how Musa can issue a statement saying that the  Board of Directors do not know about the losses,” Wee said while debating the 10th Malaysia Plan. “This is an embarrassment because Sime Darby is the largest plantation company in the world,” he added.

Wee’s demand, while resonating strongly with the public consensus that Musa and his board of directors ought to go, must take into account first the ongoing forensic audit of all Sime Darby transactions, including the imminent appearance before the Public Accounts Committee to officially explain the losses.

Since the move to indict and pin blame is already in motion, the serious question here is: what about the Sime Darby of the near future? The one that needs to recoup losses, regain moral fibre and begin to operate sensibly like any major corporation should?

For starters, Sime Darby appears to have no future, at least in its name which should be relegated to the backburners of corporate history the same way Bank Bumiputera and Southern Bank were consigned to dust after the great bank mergers of the last two decades.

Newly-minted GCE Datuk Mohd Bakke Salleh has a gargantuan task to rebuild Sime Darby, but he may start thinking like the planter he is; hive off the non-plantation loss-making entities (heavy industries, energy and utilities, properties) to interested parties and retool the company to what it was really designed to do after Sime’s 2006 merger with Golden Hope Plantations Bhd and Kumpulan Guthrie Bhd — to be the biggest plantation company in the world.

Bakke may need to dump the Sime name and restore the Golden Hope name, which had been the true plantation core on its way to achieving its targeted RM1 billion pre-tax profits before it was ignominiously scuttled by the merger.

Then, he could recall many of the senior management executives alienated or expelled by Zubir, especially the planters whose departure had weakened the plantations’ operations.

Bakke will realise that to get the plantation operations going, he must immediately rehire the right people, especially those who had proven their worth in Golden Hope and Guthrie, to help him revitalise the company.

Anything less would only drag him further into the quagmire of a corporate black hole called Sime Darby. http://www.nst.com.my

New Players in International Diplomacy

June 21, 2010

New Players in International Diplomacy

by Jaswant Singh*

MAO Zedong once famously called for the Chinese to “let a hundred flowers bloom”. Soon, however, he was recoiling from what he saw as a chaos of competing ideas.

Today, the world seems to be entering a period when, if not a hundred, at least a dozen varieties of “Weltpolitik” are being pursued by great and emerging powers alike.

Reconciling these competing strategic visions of the world, in particular of global crisis, will make international diplomacy more complicated than ever.

The intervention by Turkey and Brazil in the globally-divisive issue of Iran’s nuclear programme is but the latest, and also the clearest, sign of this new element in global affairs. Last month, the Iranian, Turkish and Brazilian leaders met in Teheran to conclude an agreement that would supposedly have Iran deposit 1,200kg of lightly enriched uranium (LEU) in Turkey, which, in exchange, would send 120kg of enriched fuel to be used in Iran’s research reactor.

Russia proposed this kind of swap earlier, but Iran declined the offer, and the version agreed with Brazil and Turkey was likewise intended to forestall Iran’s ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), which can be used for nuclear warheads.

But its other intention was probably to stymie American efforts to adopt new United Nations sanctions on Iran.It is too soon to tell if Iran’s desire to obtain nuclear weapons has been delayed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has not ruled against the agreement, and the Brazilian/Turkish-brokered deal apparently does not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran, as a signatory, is obliged to adhere.

Nevertheless, the effort to preempt American strategy clearly failed, as new UN sanctions were implemented earlier this month. As the deal was intended to avoid a nuclear standoff with Iran, why was there so much outrage in the US and the West?

It could be because the US found itself denied its primacy in setting global policy on Iran. Instead of trying to explore the possibilities presented by the Brazilian/Turkish opening, the US quickly pushed the UN Security Council for more sanctions (the fourth round) on Iran.

This forced Brazil and Turkey, both currently non-permanent members of the Security Council, to vote against the sanctions resolution. The result? This vital vote was robbed of unanimity; Lebanon also opposed it. The UN sanction vote was also heavily influenced by another small country with a Weltpolitik: Israel.

In February, a high-level Israeli delegation visited Beijing to present the Chinese leadership with “evidence” of Iran’s atomic ambitions. The Israelis then explained to their hosts in considerable detail the potential economic consequences for China if an Israeli strike on Iran should become necessary to stop Iran from fulfilling its “nuclear ambitions”.

China appears to have taken the message to heart, as it voted in favour of sanctions on Iran for the first time. Iran responded by calling China’s vote “two-faced”.

The emerging stew of Weltpolitik thickened even more with Israel’s preemptive move in international waters to stop a flotilla supposedly bringing relief aid to blockaded Gaza. For it was on a Turkish-flagged ship that Israeli forces killed nine people, causing a near-rupture in Israeli-Turkish relations.

To be sure, this complex web of interconnected events reflects the declining global role of the US. But it also demonstrates the robust assertion of national interest by new players on the global scene. Brazil, Turkey and, yes, Iran are all clearly keen to demonstrate their political and foreign-policy independence.

Brazil wants to prove that it deserves a permanent seat on the Security Council. Turkey seeks to reestablish its Islamic identity and “Ottoman” influence over the Middle East, thereby flexing its diplomatic muscle for a European Union that has all but rejected Turkish membership. And Iran simply wants to show once again that it will not kowtow to the “Great Satan”.

All of these motivations critically challenge US global diplomatic primacy. But America had better get used to these types of diplomatic cat’s cradles.  For there are other powers, both emerging and established, with global foreign policies of their own — India, Indonesia, Japan.

And regional players such as South Africa, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and South Korea will also have to be reckoned with in future regional disputes. This increasingly complex web of intersecting national interests is the face of international diplomacy in the 21st century.

Ancient rivalries and atavistic feuds may or may not be part of this; only future crises will tell. But this amalgam of competing strategic visions probably marks the end of America’s post-Cold War power. With the entire world affected by turmoil in the Persian Gulf and greater Middle East, perhaps that is all to the good.

Surely, the national interests of the US and the West are not the only ones that matter. Why, then, should the rest of the world leave the resolution of these disputes to America alone? The era of US diplomatic hegemony has drawn to a close.

And it would be a grave mistake to think that a condominium between the US and China will impose global order in the way that the Cold War-era US/USSR superpower rivalry did.

Too many powerful countries now feel able to flex their diplomatic muscle in defence of their interests. Mao’s hundred flowers may have bloomed only briefly, but today’s myriad species of Weltpolitik are certain to bloom perennially. — Project Syndicate/http://www.nst.com.my

*Jeswant Singh is a former  Indian foreign minister, finance minister and defence minister.