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.

Lim Guan Eng’s Institutional Economics 101: Good Governance

April 15, 2012

Lim Guan Eng’s Institutional Economics 101: Good Governance

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng gave a little homily on institutional economics on the occasion of state government awards to top students and schools in the 2011 STPM examination.

Lim told his audience of proud parents and top-scoring students at the award ceremony in Komtar today that the Pakatan Rakyat government’s clean and effective administration conduced to higher rewards for its citizens.

As example, he cited the RM500 rewards to the 50 top-finishing students in the state in the STMP examination of last year, up from RM400 given to top scorers in 2010.

The monetary awards were inaugurated in 2009, a year after the DAP-led Pakatan government came to power in Penang.“The reason we can give more this year is simple: we run a government that is not corrupt,” he said.

“Because our governance is competent, accountable and transparent, we can show a surplus of income over expenditure enabling us to plough back progressively higher benefits to the people,” he explained.

Lim went on to list the escalating range of recipients of annual state government handouts to Penang residents, from senior citizens (60 years and above), the bereaved, university entrants, and year one and four schoolchildren, and year one and four secondary school students.

He said that it was not for nothing that Penang was the top state in terms of gaining the highest quantum of manufacturing investment among Malaysian states for the years 2010 and 2011.

“We have gained that ranking because of our clean governance and we intend to stay that way to make Penang a clean, green, healthy and safe place for people to invest, work and live,” he claimed.

Malaysian students fail to enter Harvard

Lim derided the view that the education system in Malaysia was superior to ones in United Kingdom and Germany and noted as reproof the failure of Malaysian students to gain entry into Harvard University for the second year in succession.

He said that Thailand and Vietnam had bested Malaysia in this respect, sending more students to the world’s premier tertiary institution.

He urged the top-scoring STPM students, whom he envisaged would proceed to the study of medicine, law, engineering, accountancy and architecture, to pursuits that would require a multidisciplinary orientation.

To fortify his point, he cited US President Barack Obama’s nominee for the post of World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, a medical doctor who went on to head the World Health Organisation HIV/AIDS programme and to co-found Partners in Health, an NGO that did good work combating the scourge of tuberculosis in the Third World. Jim went on to be President of Dartmouth College, a prestigious liberal arts academic institution in the US.

Lim told students that the “world was their oyster” and that they should steer by a compass that would lead them to be trailblazers, more than just successful professionals.

“After your have qualified, come back to Penang to make this state a green, clean, healthy and safe place in which to live and work,” advised Guan Eng.

The bulk of the 50 recipients who all obtained 4As in the STPM were from Jit Sin Secondary in Bukit Mertajam, the top scoring school in the state, and from Chung Ling chapters in Georgetown and Butterworth.

Without Democracy, China’s Modernisation is Incomplete

March 24, 2012

The New Straits Times-Frank Ching

Without Democracy, China’s Modernisation is Incomplete

By Frank Ching  | Frank.ching@gmail.com

“China’s leaders should realise that without democracy, the country cannot be culturally advanced; without democracy, it cannot really be modern, and without democracy, the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be incomplete”.–Frank Ching

WEN Jiabao, beginning his 10th and final year as China’s premier, again called for political reform and warned that failure to make progress may bring tragedy, such as the eruption of another Cultural Revolution, which tore the country apart for a decade.

But the Premier, speaking at the annual press conference at the end of the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp Parliament, emphasised the need for gradual change, without indicating when, if ever, Chinese would be able to choose their own national leaders.

Asked about the prospect of direct elections in China, Wen (right), speaking slowly and deliberately, declared: “If people are able to run the affairs of a village well, eventually they’ll be able to run a township, and a county.

“I believe China’s democratic system will, in accordance with China’s national conditions, develop in a step-by-step way. No force can stop this,” the Premier said. The words were spoken with evident sincerity. Unfortunately, they have all been heard before.

Eight years ago, at a similar press conference, he had asserted with great earnestness: “We should promote primary-level democracy by ways of self-governance among villagers, direct elections at the village level and greater transparency in government affairs at the county and township levels.”

Village elections began after a trial  in 1987 and, since 1998, villages across the country have been mandated by law to hold elections every three years. But, after almost 25 years of experimentation, the  authorities have not moved them to the township and county level yet.

At the NPC meeting, it was disclosed that beginning next year, there would be a reduction in the proportion of Communist Party and government officials among the roughly 3,000 deputies, with more seats allocated to workers and farmers.

This was hailed as “major democratic progress” even though all the deputies will continue to be screened by the party. It is telling that when Wen was asked about the progress of democratisation, he did not even cite this step.

More than three decades ago, then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping decided to make economic development the country’s top priority. However, he also made democracy a goal, albeit a more remote one.

Deng had a three-stage development plan for China. The first step was to double gross domestic product from 1981 to 1990. The second was to double it again in the following decade. Both those goals were achieved ahead of schedule.

The third and final step, which China’s leaders are engaged in now, is to achieve modernisation by the middle of the 21st century so that Chinese people will enjoy a lifestyle similar to that of people in medium-sized developed countries.

In 1997, months after Deng’s death, the Communist Party held a congress in which it adopted Deng Xiaoping Theory as the party’s guiding ideology. As a result, the party constitution now says that the party’s goal is to “turn China into a prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious modern socialist country.”

It is important to note that one of the characteristics of a strong, modern China is that it will also be democratic.

On the eve of the 21st century, then President Jiang Zemin,  in an interview with The Times of London, declared: “The main objectives for China by the middle of the next century are to achieve modernisation by and large, turn China into a strong, prosperous, democratic and culturally advanced socialist country, and realise the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Fifteen years have passed since Deng’s death, years during which China has made remarkable economic achievements. Modernisation has been achieved in many spheres and China is increasingly strong militarily and prosperous economically. China is now the world’s second largest economy and is poised to overtake the United States and become No 1 probably before the end of this decade.

And yet, in the area of democratic reform, not much seems to have been done. Deng is hailed by China’s leaders as the chief architect of reform. And yet, three decades after his  plans were first unveiled, part of them appear to be missing — those relating to democracy.

China’s leaders should realise that without democracy, the country cannot be culturally advanced; without democracy, it cannot really be modern, and without democracy, the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation will be incomplete.

Elizabeth Taylor dead (1932-2011)

March 23, 2011

Farewell Miss Taylor, we will miss you

Farewell Miss Taylor; you were great and ravishingly beautiful and talented. Our representative in Bronx, New York, Mongkut Bean originally from Bakaq Bata, Alor Staq, Kedah, will be there with some flowers.–Din Merican

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Nuclear Crisis in Japan

March 15, 2011

Japan’s Nuclear Crisis deepens

By Steven Mufson and Chico Harlan of The Washington Post

Japan’s nuclear emergency turned more dire on Tuesday after the third explosion in four days rocked the seaside Fukushima Daiichi complex and fire briefly raged in a storage facility for spent fuel rods at a fourth, previously unaffected reactor.

Officials from Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the nuclear complex, said radioactive substances were emitted after a 6:14 a.m. explosion, which took place in the unit 2 reactor. The blast took place near or in the suppression pool, which traps and cools radioactive elements from the containment vessel, officials said. The explosion appeared to have damaged valves and pipes, possibly creating a path for radioactive materials to escape.

A grave Prime Minister Naoto Kan told the nation Tuesday morning that radiation had already spread from the reactors and there was “still a very high risk of further radioactive material escaping.” He advised people within 19 miles of the plant to remain indoors. He urged calm.

Tokyo Electric, which over the weekend said it had 1,400 people working at the complex, said it was evacuating all but 50 workers. Kan hailed those workers, who he said “are putting themselves in a very dangerous situation.”

A no-fly zone was declared covering a 19-mile radius from the facility. The setbacks came as Tokyo Electric was still wrestling to regain control of ultra-hot fuel rods in two other nuclear units, nos. 1 and 3, by flooding them with seawater.

Tuesday began with a fire that broke out in a pool storing spent fuel rods at the base of unit 4, which had been shut down for inspection before last Friday’s earthquake. Experts said the fire most likely broke out because the pool water had run low or dry, allowing the rods to overheat. Radioactive substances spewed outside from the fire, officials said, because the structure housing the pool was damaged by Monday’s explosion at unit 3.

Half an hour later, the explosion at unit 2 took place. Experts said that, unlike the two previous explosions that destroyed outer buildings, this explosion might have damaged portions of the containment vessel designed to bottle up radioactive materials in the event of an emergency.

The explosion — more serious than the earlier ones — was followed by a brief drop in pressure in the vessel and a spike in radioactivity outside the reactor to levels more than eight times the recommended limit for what people should receive in a year, the company said. Japanese government officials later said it was unclear whether the spent fuel fire or the explosion had caused the spike in radiation.

The new setbacks came on the heels of a difficult Monday at Fukushima Daiichi unit 2, one of six reactors at the site. Utility officials there reported that four out of five water pumps being used to flood the reactor had failed and that the other pump had briefly stopped working. As a result, the company said, the fuel rods, normally covered by water, were completely exposed for 140 minutes.

That could have grave consequences, worsening the partial meltdown that most experts think is underway. By comparison, in the 1979 Three Mile Island, Pa., nuclear plant accident, it took just two hours for half the plant’s nuclear fuel to melt.

According to a report by the Kyodo news agency, the fifth pump was later restarted, and seawater mixed with boron was again injected in a desperate bid to cool the reactor, but the fuel rods remained partially exposed and ultra-hot. On Tuesday morning, Tokyo Electric said that 2.7 meters, or less than half, of the rods were still exposed.

The other four pumps were thought to have been damaged by a blast Monday that destroyed a building at the nearby unit 3 reactor, Kyodo reported. That blast, like one on Saturday at unit 1, was caused by a buildup in hydrogen generated by a reaction that took place when the zirconium alloy wrapped around the fuel rods was exposed to steam at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that injections of seawater into units 1 and 3 had been interrupted because of a low level in a seawater supply reservoir, but the seawater injections were later restored.

A commercial satellite photo of the complex showed piles of debris on top of units 1 and 3, which raised new fears about the condition of the pools where spent fuel is stored, especially at unit 1, where a design by General Electric placed the pool on top of the reactor but below the outer structure that was destroyed. In the satellite photo, there was no sign of a large crane that had been sitting on the roof before the blast. The ability of workers to assess the damage was hindered by fears that another explosion might occur.

In March 2010, 1,760 tons of spent fuel was stored in the six pools — 84 percent of capacity, according to Tokyo Electric. After Monday’s explosion at unit 3, Japanese government officials were quick to assert that it did not damage the core containment structure, and they said there would be little increase in radiation levels around the plant. But the explosion prompted Japan’s nuclear agency to warn those within 12 miles to stay indoors. The blast also injured 11 people, one seriously.

The string of earthquake- and tsunami-triggered troubles at the Fukushima Daiichi plant began Friday, when a loss of grid power (caused by the earthquake) followed by a loss of backup diesel generators (caused by the tsunami) led to the failure of cooling systems needed to keep reactor cores from overheating.

The IAEA reported that Japan has evacuated 185,000 people from towns near the nuclear complex. The agency said Japan has distributed 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centers from the area around the Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini nuclear power plants. The iodine has not been administered to residents; the distribution is a precautionary measure. The ingestion of stable iodine can help to prevent the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid.

The U.S. 7th Fleet said Monday that some of its personnel, who are stationed 100 miles offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had come into contact with radioactive contamination. The airborne radioactivity prompted the fleet to reposition its ships and aircraft.

Using sensitive instruments, precautionary measurements were conducted on three helicopter aircrews returning to the USS Ronald Reagan after conducting disaster relief missions near Sendai. Those measurements identified low levels of radioactivity on 17 crew members.

The low-level radioactivity was easily removed from affected personnel by washing with soap and water, and later tests detected no further contamination. The political fallout spread all the way to the United States and Europe. German Chancellor Angel Merkel said Monday that she was suspending a deal that would have extended permits for 17 aging nuclear plants.

Many nuclear experts also called for a tougher scrutiny of U.S. plants, noting that the Japanese nuclear crisis exposed the limits of human ingenuity and imagination and pointed to the possible failure of the best-laid backup plans.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and director of the Nuclear Safety Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a conference call that in certain respects, the U.S. nuclear plants are not as prepared as the Japanese ones for a catastrophic power outage. After the earthquake and tsunami knocked out the electrical grid and backup generators, the Japanese engineers switched to batteries that could last for eight hours, he said.

“In this country, most of our reactors are only designed with battery capacity for four hours,” Lochbaum said. “Many of our reactors are in situation where earthquakes, or hurricanes in the gulf, or ice storms in the northeast, or a tree in Cleveland, can cause an extensive blackout,” he said.

The August 2003 blackout that affected 52 million people across the upper Midwest, New York and parts of Canada was triggered when overheated wires sagged into trees in northeastern Ohio. Nine nuclear units switched to diesel backup generators, which are the size of locomotives without wheels.

Despite the cascade of equipment failures at the Fukushima Daiichi complex, some nuclear experts noted on Monday that the fuel rods there, whose temperature could have risen to as high as 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, would lose some of their heat over the next few days and would probably remain encased, even in the worst-case scenario, in a secondary containment structure with several feet of steel and concrete walls.

But the new explosion raises new questions. With it impossible to see into the reactor vessels, officials were in large part speculating about what is happening inside by using a variety of gauges and indicators.

“Let’s hope they can get these reactors under control,” said Richard Lester, head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They’re not there yet.”

mufsons@washpost.com and harlanc@washpost.com


Will Next Time Be Different?

March 13, 2011

Will Next Time Be Different?

by Raghuram Rajan

Chicago–Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, in their excellent, eponymous book on debt crises, argue that the most dangerous words in any language are “This time is different.” Perhaps the next most dangerous words are “Next time will be different.”

These words are often uttered when politicians and central banks want to bail out some troubled segment of the economy. “Yes,” one can almost hear them saying, “we understand that bailing out banks will subvert market discipline. But you cannot expect us to stand by and watch the system collapse, causing millions of innocent people to suffer. We have to live with the hand we are dealt. But next time will be different.” They then use every tool they have to prevent economic losses on their watch.

The government’s incentives are clear. The public rewards them for dealing with the problem at hand – whether building levees to protect houses built on a flood plain or rescuing banks that have dodgy securities on their balance sheets. Politicians and central bankers gain little by letting the greedy or careless face the full consequences of their actions, for many innocent people would suffer as well. A sympathetic press would amplify their heart-rending stories of lost jobs and homes, making those counseling against intervention appear callous. Democracies are necessarily soft-hearted, whereas markets and nature are not; government inevitably expands to fill the gap.

To the extent that the rough justice meted out by markets or nature teaches anyone to behave better, it has consequences far beyond the horizon of anyone in power today. When asked to choose between the risk of being known to posterity as the central banker who let the system collapse and the intangible future benefits of teaching risk takers a lesson, it does not take genius to predict the central banker’s decision. Democracy tends to institutionalize moral hazard in sectors that are economically or politically important, such as finance or real estate, allowing them to privatize gains and socialize losses.

Even though the authorities insist that the next time will be different, everyone knows that they will make the same decision when confronted with the same choice again. So, knowing that next time will not be different, the authorities try their best to prevent a “next time.” But risk takers have every incentive to try their luck again, knowing that, at worst, they will be bailed out. In this cat-and-mouse game, risk takers have the upper hand.

For one thing, risk takers are typically small, cohesive interest groups that, once rescued, have a powerful incentive, as well as the resources, to buy the political influence needed to ensure a return to the status quo ante. If risk takers were allowed to face more serious losses, they would have fewer resources to fight political attempts to constrain their risky activities.

Moreover, the public does not have a long memory, a long time horizon, or an appetite for detail. Even as the United States’ voluminous Dodd-Frank bill tried to ensure that bankers never subjected American taxpayers to undue risk again, public attention had moved on to the state of the real economy and unemployment. Why focus on financial regulation when the risks of an immediate collapse are small, and when the details are so tedious? As technical experts and lobbyists took over, and the public lost interest, Dodd-Frank became friendlier and friendlier to the banks.

So how can this one-way betting be stopped? The scary answer may be that it does not end until governments run out of money (as in Ireland) or the public runs out of sympathy (as in Germany vis-à-vis the rest of Europe).

To avoid that fate, governments should start by recognizing that the system is programmed to respond to deep distress, and that they can do nothing about it. But they must try to ensure that they do not destroy incentives by doing too much. And they must offset the distortions created by intervention in other ways.

For example, the US Federal Reserve has essentially guaranteed the financial sector that if it gets into trouble, ultra-low interest rates will be maintained (at the expense of savers) until the sector recovers. In the early to mid-1990’s, rates were kept low because of banks’ real-estate problems. They were slashed again in 2001 and kept ultra-low after the dot-com bust. And they have been ultra-low since 2008. Senior Fed policymakers deny that their interest-rate policy bears any responsibility for risk taking, but there is much evidence to the contrary.

It would be difficult for the Fed to respond differently if the financial sector gets into trouble again. But it does not have to maintain ultra-low interest rates after the crisis has passed, especially if those rates have little impact on generating sustainable economic activity. Doing so merely rewards banks for their past excesses – and taxes savers.

More importantly, if the Fed wants to restore incentives for risk takers and savers, it should offset the effects of staying “low for long” in bad times by increasing interest rates more rapidly than is strictly necessary as the economy recovers. This will, of course, be politically difficult, because the public has been programmed to think that ultra-low rates are good, and higher rates bad, for growth, without any consideration for the long-term sustainability of growth.

Finally, the pressure on governments to intervene would be lower if individuals had access to a minimum safety net. Official US policy is so activist in downturns (regardless of its effectiveness) partly because unemployment is so costly to workers – who have little savings, unemployment benefits that run out quickly, and health care that is often tied to a job. A stronger safety net for individuals might allow politicians to accept more corporate or financial-sector distress, and help bolster their claim that next time really will be different.

Raghuram Rajan, a former chief economist of the IMF, is Professor of Finance at the University of Chicago and the author of Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

Anwar’s Credibility Gap widening or a J-Spin?

March 13, 2011

Anwar goes on the defence


By Joceline Tan@http://www.thestar.com.my

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is at his lowest ebb since March 2008 and he is turning to the ceramah circuit to defend himself against multi-pronged attacks. 

ONE of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s oldest and most loyal friends ended his days as a widower on Thursday night.Tumpat MP Datuk Kamaruddin Jaffar, better known as Datuk KJ, remarried a year after his first wife died of cancer and the guests of honour were Anwar and Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

But the honour of making the speech was given to PAS politician Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad of Terengganu. Dr Syed Azman was the matchmaker for Kamaruddin and his Malacca-born wife and he almost brought the house down when he teased the newly-weds: “Last week, we failed to capture the Merlimau seat but, never mind, Datuk Kamaruddin has successfully conquered Malacca.”

On attack mode: Anwar, seen here in Penang, has hit the ceramah circuit again. He is training his guns at his long-time nemesis Dr Mahathir, whose memoirs touch on Anwar’s sex life.

It was a relaxing affair for many of the Pakatan Rakyat politicians that evening, and particularly for Anwar who has been increasingly under siege.

The PKR de facto leader is at his lowest point since his post-2008 political comeback. For a couple of years after the March 8 “tsunami”, it seemed like Anwar could walk on water. But very little has gone right for him in recent months, be it his party affairs or the sodomy trial.

PKR people still insist he is Pakatan’s Prime Minister-in-waiting. But most PAS and DAP leaders have stopped talking about the road to Putrajaya. They are more concerned about whether they can hold on to their seats now it is clear they are unable to hold on to the Malay vote.

Anwar has just climbed back from the precipice in the sodomy trial. The trial had been inching towards revealing the identity of Lelaki Y (Male Y), the term investigators used for the mystery man whose DNA was allegedly found in Saiful.

On Tuesday, the courts ruled that several items with the DNA of Lelaki Y could not be tendered as evidence. It was a big win for Anwar’s legal team because the evidence would have tied him to Lelaki Y.

He must have felt great relief because his detractors had begun taunting him as Lelaki Y when he campaigned in Kerdau. He was greeted with banners that said, “Mr Y, selamat datang ke Kerdau” – and that was one of the more polite banners.

UMNO's Matahari

On top of that, he had to endure a “joint ceramah” with his female nemesis Ummi Hafilda Ali who was speaking just a stone’s throw away from him. People on his side of the ceramah could hear quite clearly what she was saying about him, and it was not pleasant stuff.

PKR secretary-general and Machang MP Saifuddin Nasution denied that Ummi rattled his boss that night.“Anwar has been through a lot. It takes more than that to upset him,” said Saifuddin.

But PKR politicians are rather wary of her given the crowds she pulled in Kerdau and Merlimau. Besides, who else apart from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has spoken so explicitly and daringly about Anwar?

Anwar’s detractors would like to think that his downward slide began after he failed to deliver on his September 16, 2008 claim.But the real slide started after PKR’s trouble-ridden elections last year and the defections from his party. It gave the impression that he could not control PKR and that his priorities were too wrapped up in his court case.

” A Doctor in the House” revives 1998 Sodomy Story

Timely Released to Inflict Maximum Damage to Anwar's Reputation

Some think that Anwar is in the midst of one of those perfect storms. Apart from the trial, the publication of Dr Mahathir’s memoirs has sort of switched things up. It could not have been worse timing for Anwar. Dr Mahathir has repeated his accusations about Anwar’s sexual exploits, this time in print.

At the book launch, a mischievous Dr Mahathir said he was “trembling” at the thought of being sued. Of course, he was telling Anwar to “bring it on, man, bring it on”. The people around Anwar are furious about the book.“I’m not buying the book. It’s a story we have heard before,” said Muaz Omar, an aide of Azmin’s.

Target Mahathir

At the PKR political bureau meeting two nights after the book launch, several party leaders felt that Anwar should not let Dr Mahathir get away with what he has written. “Anwar’s stand is that he had long ago decided to move on where Dr Mahathir was concerned. He said he’s not interested in challenging an old script and he doesn’t want to be stuck in another court case,” said Saifuddin.

Anwar prefers the court of public opinion rather than the court of law. He has been on a ceramah blitz ostensibly to promote the Pakatan manifesto, the Buku Jingga, but also to counter the renewed attacks against him.

Dr Mahathir has become a central target of his attacks the last few days. He does not rebut what Dr Mahathir is saying about his sexuality but he has hit out at the former premier’s cronies and his children’s businesses and wealth. He seems to be steering clear of Ummi, though.

A Clinton Snub

Anwar also suffered a setback when a hoped-for meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not materialise. Shortly before Clinton’s visit, a news portal reported that a meeting was being lined up. It was a rather strange report because the meeting was apparently never on the cards.

There has been a cooling on the part of the US administration towards Anwar’s cause and Clinton’s stance during her recent visit was in sharp contrast to that of Vice-President Al Gore at the height of Sodomy 1.

Moreover, Clinton’s visit follows improved ties between the United States and Malaysia. The Obama administration sees Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak as a Muslim leader with whom they can sit down and have a dialogue.

In that sense, Anwar’s crusade against APCO may have more to do with APCO’s role in presenting Anwar’s sodomy case to US lawmakers than APCO’s so-called Jewish connections.

The lobby group has explained the trial in a way that Americans can relate to, that it is an alleged sexual harassment involving an employer and a subordinate and the trial is a result of a report lodged by a complainant, unlike the first trial where the Government was the main initiator.

But the most damaging strike has been the Wikileaks report quoting Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew as saying that Anwar knowingly walked into a trap. Singapore has played down the report but has not denied its contents.

Najib’s Moderate Islamic Brother: Turkey’s Recep Tayyib Erdogan

The success of Najib’s visit to Turkey was another blow to Anwar who counts Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a friend and supporter.

Erdogan had welcomed Najib in Ankara, saying, “this is my brother Najib and I am happy to have him here.”

Their scheduled 10-minute four-eyed meeting over-ran into 45 minutes and Erdogan insisted on a joint press conference. The Turkish Premier also eschewed protocol and insisted that Najib ride in the same car as him. It was a political coup of sorts for Najib.

All these events add up to a challenging time ahead for Anwar and his party.“I can’t blame Anwar if he feels he is all alone. He has been consumed by successive crises and there are now less people whom he can count on to defend him and do the attacking. To him, the trial is to stop his political ambitions and his goal of power, and it is taking a lot out of him,” said Merdeka Centre director Ibrahim Suffian.

Reporters covering his trial said he seems to be holding up well and is still able to see the lighter side of things. For instance, when a witness was asked to identify him, Anwar, who was sitting in the dock, playfully dodged as though trying to hide.

He is reportedly upset that PKR members have not been turning up in court to show him their support. Recently, party members received the following SMS from PKR Tanjung Karang chief Yahya Sahri: “Salam, sokongan DSAI di mahkamah amat merosot hampir tiada. Saya ingin mencadangkan agar kita atur kawan-kawan kita drp cabang turun beri sokongan moral, klu kita bergilir pun ok, satu cabang klu hantar 20 org pun dah ok. Jadual mahkamah akan saya sms.” [Greetings, support for DSAI in court has dwindled significantly, nearly none. I wish to suggest that we arrange for our friends from the (PKR) divisions and branches to give moral support  even in batches of 2o people in turn would be fine. I will sms court times.]

Yahya was urging PKR divisions to send members whether in rotation or groups of 20 to show moral support for Anwar because the number of supporters in court had dwindled to almost nil.

PKR de facto Leader in a “Distraction Mode”

Anwar is the ultimate political animal. A lesser person would have cracked under the pressure. He told Saifuddin that when he goes on the ground and sees a big crowd, he feels motivated. The crowds at his ceramah have indeed been growing and a lot of it has to do with his trial approaching a critical stage and the sensational evidence coming out.

Anwar, said academic Prof James Chin, is in “distraction mode”.“He cannot devote his full time to Pakatan or PKR. The trial is taking away his attention and focus. But everything hinges on the next general election. If Najib does not get his two-thirds majority, he is in trouble. If Pakatan does badly then they are in trouble,” said Chin of Monash University Sunway Campus.

The attacks by Dr Mahathir, said Chin, has impact among rural Malays but less so among the urban crowd.

Anwar: A liability for Pakatan?

Anwar’s supporters also bristle at the suggestion that he has become a liability for Pakatan. But privately, PAS and DAP leaders are frustrated that Anwar has overwhelmed their political agenda.

Anwar, said blogger Syed Azizi Syed Aziz who is better known as Kickdafella, has image problems in the rural Malays areas and that becomes a problem for PAS. Outwardly, DAP and PAS still stand by him but, privately, they are riddled with doubts about the trial and his ability to hold things together.

Moreover, Generation Y, the youth cohort born between the mid 1970s and 2000, is not rallying around Anwar the way Generation X took to the streets to support him during his first trial. Generation Y is neither loyal to Anwar’s politics nor affiliated with the ruling coalition. They are as critical of Pakatan politicians as they are of those in Barisan.

As such, Pakatan’s claim that young voters are with them is not exactly true. The young voters are still out there and their vote will go to the party that can offer them a better future – and that means education, jobs, homes and a lifestyle of their choice.

Anwar is in a difficult political situation and he will be fighting many fronts in the months ahead.

Machiavellian Economics

March 6, 2011

Machiavellian Economics: Stop Massaging the Truth

by Harold James

PRINCETON – When is it legitimate to lie? Can lying ever be virtuous? In the Machiavellian tradition, lying is sometimes justified by reference to the higher needs of political statecraft, and sometimes by the claim that the state, as an embodiment of the public good, represents a higher level of morality. That tradition is once again in the spotlight, as the question of political untruth has recently resurfaced in many bitter disputes.

Did German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg have to tell the truth about the massive plagiarism that pervaded his doctoral thesis, or could a lie be justified because he was performing an important government job? Was the 2003 United States-led invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq illegitimate because it was predicated on a falsehood about the existence of weapons of mass destruction? Or were conservative US anti-abortionists justified in sending actors with a false story into the offices of Planned Parenthood in order to discredit their opponents?

The economic variant of Machiavellianism is as powerful as the claim that political untruth can be virtuous. Lying or hiding the truth in some circumstances can, it appears, make people better off. Deception might be a source of comfort. We might find ourselves warm and contented in a cocoon of untruth.

One of the most famous examples concerns the Great Depression – an epoch that policymakers frequently drew upon in trying to come to terms with the post-2007 financial crisis. Many countries in the early 1930’s had terrible bank runs, which inflicted immense and immediate damage, decimating employment by bringing down businesses that were fundamentally creditworthy.

There was one exception to the general story of Depression-era bank runs: Italy, where Mussolini’s fascist government controlled the press, including the financial press. Although the major Italian banks were constructed on the same model as the German and Austrian banks whose collapse had ignited the global conflagration, and although the Italian banks were just as insolvent, the press never discussed these unpleasant problems. Financial journalism was soothing. There were no bank panics, and the depression was milder.

Since confidence plays a large part in financial crises, Mussolini’s example immediately took hold. States could apparently almost magically create security and trust simply by imposing it. Adolf Hitler liked to say that the ultimate cause of the Reichsmark’s stability was the concentration camp.

Deception is instantly appealing to many individual businesses. Would it not be desirable just to hide losses until uncertainty passed and confidence returned? In that case, new profits could quickly be used to plug the gaps, and no one would ever know about an apparently successful deception.

Massaging the truth is eternally appealing to modern governments as well. They anticipate revenue in order to appear creditworthy. They reclassify foreign borrowing as domestic debt in order to look better in the International Monetary Fund’s statistics.

For individual businesses, financial misrepresentation is illegal. Most people can easily see why. The legal enforcement of honesty in keeping and reporting financial records is an indispensable feature of a well-functioning market economy. Without some degree of certainty that financial statements are meaningful, there would be a complete loss of confidence.

But government dishonesty is not that different. Deceptions, when they are revealed and the untruths unravel, are deeply disturbing. Indeed, misrepresentation by governments – driven by the belief that political ingenuity can stabilize expectations – is actually at the root of many financial crises.

In 1994, Mexico shook the global economy when the extent of its domestic (but dollar-denominated) debt in the so-called tessobonos became apparent. The Greek government’s misstatement of its fiscal position, coupled with the realization that the European Commission had overlooked or tolerated the Greeks’ accounting legerdemain, triggered the euro crisis in 2010. The revelation of deception makes it impossible to believe that governments are really enforcing rules adequately and fairly.

But misrepresentation is not just at the heart of financial and economic crises; it is also the stuff that drives revolutions. The immediate cause of the protests against President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia was WikiLeaks’ revelations of US diplomatic cables detailing the regime’s corruption. The domino effect from the Tunisian revolution has produced further vivid accounts of corruption and deception, from Egypt and Libya to the Gulf, in each case stoking even greater anger and making more regimes vulnerable.

There is a powerful pragmatic argument against Machiavellianism, as well as a principled one. Given modern communications, a cover-up of the kind engineered by Mussolini in 1931 would most likely be unsustainable today. Moreover, any attempt to misrepresent requires further and more complex misrepresentations, which have serious consequences as subsequent decisions come to be based on erroneous assumptions.

To revert to the example of Depression-era Italy: the state holding-company edifice created to save the banks and maintain confidence proved to be an increasingly bureaucratic and costly burden on the Italian economy. A nearly indestructible behemoth outlasted Mussolini’s regime and survived for 50 years.

Markets work by a process of continuous discovery of information. Choking off the flow of information leads to distortion, not confidence. And, as we are now witnessing in the Middle East, the same is true of political systems. Still, no economic crisis or political revolution is likely to change governments’ inherent proclivity to think that they can know better.

Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and Professor of History at the European University Institute, Florence. His most recent book is The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

A Triumph of Bipartisanship in Malaysian Politics

March 3, 2011

A Triumph of Bipartisanship in Malaysian Politics

by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com

A conference in Kuala Lumpur next week, called the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Consultation on the International Criminal Court (ICC), represents a rare triumph of bipartisanship in Malaysian politics.

The conference on March 9-10, to be held in Parliament House, has resulted from the collaboration of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz and DAP MP for Ipoh Barat M Kulasegaran, who has parlayed his interest in the law to deterrent effect against “crimes against humanity”.

Initially adverse to each other – Nazri had in one speech in the term of the 12th Parliament (2004-08) called Kulasegaran a racist 36 times – the two MPs from Perak have shed their reflexive partisanship to come together on the issue of the universality of the ICC.

In May last year, ‘Kula’, as he is commonly referred to, who handles the international affairs portfolio in DAP, succeeded in getting Nazri, minister in charge of parliamentary affairs, to attend a conference in Kampala on the ICC.

The MP for Padang Rengas sat throughout the two-day conference in the Ugandan capital and took notes on the deliberations of delegates who were mainly from Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), the international NGO that has become a pressure group for wider acceptance of statues of the ICC.

In other words, PGA wants all 200-plus members of the United Nations to become signatories of the ICC, the body that since its setting up in 2002, has become the chief vehicle for the prosecution of individuals thought to be guilty of “crimes against humanity”.

Malaysia not signatory of ICC

According to Kulasegaran, some 80 percent of UN members have already signed up as ICC members. Malaysia, like the United States, China and India, has reservations about the ICC and are reluctant to join.

Kulasegaran is cautiously optimistic that Nazri’s interest and assiduity at the Kampala conference last year augured well for a change in the Malaysian government’s position on the ICC.

“As far as the former minister of foreign affairs, Syed Hamid Albar, was concerned, the Malaysian government’s reservations about the ICC were that acceptance of its jurisdiction would detract from our status as an Islamic country and a constitutional monarchy,” said Kula.

“He felt that as an Islamic country we cannot accept another legal jurisdiction and as a constitutional monarchy we derogate from the supremacy of our law under our monarchial disposition,” Kula elaborated.

“But I told him that a country like Jordan which is an Islamic country and an absolute monarchy has become a member and so there is no reason for Malaysia to stay away,” he asserted.

“Nazri appears to keep an open mind about the issue of our membership but the critical person is the attorney-general whose opinion would be decisive in this matter,” offered Kula.

AG to attend conference

Attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail is scheduled to take part in the conference whose keynote address will be delivered by Sang-Hyun Song, the famed Korean jurist who is president of the ICC.

The conference is being held at a crucial moment in world affairs because of the “crimes against humanity” perceived to have been committed in Sri Lanka, when that country’s armed forces obliterated the Tamil Tigers’ insurgency in 2009, and presently in Libya, where the Gaddafi regime has resorted to brutality in a, thus far, unsuccessful attempt to quell widespread unrest.

The thrust of ICC statues requires members to institute internationally monitored mechanisms for the prosecution of “crimes against humanity” that are reported to have been committed within a nation-state.

The ICC will institute such mechanisms if the nation-state declines to carry out their own – internationally monitored – investigations and prosecutions.

All it requires is for a resolution of the United Nations Security Council for an ICC investigation-cum-prosecution to proceed.

Dictators in need of medical treatment

In recent years, Sudan’s ruler, Omar Bashir, has been indicted by the ICC for genocide in Darfur. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, and Charles Taylor of Liberia, have been hauled up before the ICC for similar offences.

Suffice to say, the impunity once enjoyed by brutal dictators for “crimes against humanity” is becoming a thing of the past.One has only to recall the famous case in 1997 when former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet was placed under house arrest in London by then British home secretary Jack Straw on the strength of a warrant for his arrest issued by a Spanish judge under European Union strictures.

The case became an international cause célèbre as both sides to the issue debated the proprietary of the EU statues with regard to a man who had repaired to London for specialist medical treatment.

Pinochet was finally released but the contretemps did have a deterrent effect of sorts. Sometime shortly afterwards, Izzat Ibrahim, then deputy to Saddam Hussein in running the Baathist regime in Iraq, checked into a hospital in Austria for treatment.

When a judge in Vienna applied for a warrant of arrest, the leukemia-stricken Izzat slipped out of the country before the order could be served on him.

Who would discount that among the effects of the Regional Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Consultation of the ICC next week in Kuala Lumpur would be that ailing members of the Burmese junta would think twice before checking into a Singapore hospital.Burma’s dictator Than Shwe sought treatment in Singapore a few years back. Unlike Izaat, he was unfazed, but for how long more.