Tribute to Che Guevera: A Movie

My favorite icon is now a movie about revolutionary change and a man’s struggle against imperialism and his quest for justice. He lost his life in the jungles of Boliva. He is now being immortalised by Argentina, the country of his birthday, where it all began for him. Adieu, Che.—Din Merican

From My Friend Ghani:Transit Malay nationalists wait and see
A Ghani Ismail (May 29, 2008 )
Time in UMNO, having entered a state of transit since former party president and premier, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, bailed out on Wesak Day (May 19), is taking the party on a drift that feels like it is dragging endlessly.


Mahathir walked out on a spur after the cabinet decided to have him and party secretary-general Tengku Adnan investigated for crimes they may be charged with following the Lingam tape the Royal Commission found believable and hence, incriminating.

mahathir quits umno pc 190508 01In making his final appeal to deputy party president, Najib Tun Razak, to contest for number one, Mahathir is applying for the only certain course to defeat Pak Lah, but tearing to pieces Tengku Razaleigh’s hope to get the qualifying number of nominations (58 ) to enable him to contest for president. Ku Li is now regarded only as a reserve, a consequence of the former strongman’s move that must have appeared in his mind as unavoidable.

The Kelantan prince’s gutsy doggedness, however, is critically keeping the effort for leadership change alive in UMNO, Najib being as slow as a snail to warm up to the popular assumption in UMNO that he will surely win if he [finally] decides to contest against Pak Lah.

Najib’s uneventful calculative nature is forcing everyone to have to wait until nominations begin in July when the party holds the divisional meetings and begins the process of nomination. Each nomination carries with it 10 “bonus votes”.

Problems aplenty for Pak Lah

While theoretically it is possible for Najib to knock out Pak Lah by the count of the “bonus votes” alone the way Anwar had wrested the number two position from Ghafar Baba in 1993, Najib’s slowness in this winner-take-all is observably causing the worst state of nervousness in the party’s living memory.

Mahathir’s decision to depend solely on Najib taking the plunge has become to many somewhat illusionary and thus stretching time in UMNO simply because of the wait to see to believe that Najib will accept the nominations to contest.

Pak Lah, driven deeper and deeper into a horrid mess he caused himself is still unable to resolve Sabah’s poor representation in his new cabinet, that’s making Anwar Ibrahim’s claim to early regime change more and more credible.

The premier is now saddled with yet another eye-popper. Billions in oil royalty that ought to have been paid to Trengganu as “Wang Ehsan” are missing, apparently vanished from the books either by an act of great magic or by high-tech thievery.

A police report has been made, an amount of RM3 billion mentioned when the missing money could be as much as RM6 billion.

Prices, meanwhile, having climbed more than four percent in April, are still going up like the controls are not anywhere beyond the talking.

With subsidies now surpassing RM50 billion and have exceeded the development expenditure, Pak Lah must either find the means to effectively address the need for inflation moderation and manage the currency and food crises or Malaysia, it is generally felt, will soon be drifting on the current of investors’, consumers’ and workers’ nervousness that will soon qualify the nation as a failed state.

The premier is seen as trying to make much of the investments entering Malaysia Iskandar (Development Region) in Johor. But how relevant are these to the challenges the crises are posing?

Floor staffers of joints like MacDonald, Pizza Hut, Mr Tappanyika, Sushi and Kenny Rogers are merely paid an average of RM800 per month, in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, and if lucky, they get an extra RM100 every three months as “incentive”.

Are we to seriously believe these workers can survive on that sum in Kuala Lumpur now? How will they be faring 12 months hence, while these outlets have to be striving against lower volumes because of the price hikes?

The problems we currently face are complex and they will stay for years to come.

The price of oil having reached US$135 per barrel and should surpass US$200 even without Iran being invaded is only one thing.

Singing the same mantra

It is the rising commodity prices and the manipulation of the food supply and distribution that are making the economic woes run into trends worse than those of the Great Depression of the thirties.

It is really useless to be repeating Malaysia is not affected by the sub-prime and the unsecured loans messes that are turning the world’s finances and economy into a wicked and painful game of profiteering. We know the big players are trying to recoup great losses by the manipulation of the commodity, food and currency trades.

But the point is about what we can do and what we will immediately do to avoid and to moderate the impacts of the deliberate disorderliness, and not over and over again repeat the useless mantra that our banks are not hit by the sub-prime scuttle and thus expect people to somehow feel good.

It is alright if the government is not going to be a party to the rising demands to find a peaceful world solution, like going for a new Bretton-Woods. But it is not alright to be singing the same mantra repeatedly since that is like saying clearly you have hit a mental block and should, indeed, quit as a government.

umno 2007 opening day 081107 najib and pak lahWe need to know how you plan to drive for self-sufficiency in the sectors that will be badly bashed, and underlining food which we are importing more than RM15 billion per year currently.

That sum can triple within the space of two years in the given circumstances, meaning Malaysia can become a bankrupt individual if the trends continue unabated.

The purchasing power of the ringgit is being squeezed in many more ways than the inflation. Consumption is already straining and will shortly worsen the negative effects on production, the upshot of which will translate into recession with inflation and yet continue showing positive growth, a poser nobody has yet dared to name beyond the 1985-87 coinage we know as “stagflation”, which is old hat.

It’s almost a surreal world event, except that the forced-sales of shares and bonds plus the properties the banks are auctioning are indeed real.

In other words, unless we quickly do something intelligent we are surely headed for a crunch.

We would be better off attending to national self-sufficiency and regional and inter-bloc economic co-operations by barter than to be securing marks in showing how good we are in complying with the WTO and the cosmo-global companies so we can get serially patted on the back from the big shots, before international TV.

Seeing we have no answers forthcoming from Pak Lah and his cabinet that can provide us with a reason to hope we’d be getting any better, rather than for Mahathir and Razaleigh to be wasting their accumulated experiences in this critical transit of time, surely we can gain much if they were to leave the distasteful aside and help guide the nation to secure the society from the decided drift that’s taking us towards breakdown.

People have come to assume as given that Pak Lah has bogged himself down and is in no shape either to rehabilitate Umno or to plan and manage the country’s needed economic adjustments. Everywhere people are saying the political puzzlement in UMNO and BN is simply arising from the fact he does not want to let go and would rather see the ship sink with him.

UMNO, as a mass organisation that has become power and money absorbed, cannot be expected to regain the spiritual quest of the early years that would be needed to move the members to act as Mahathir is asking them to do, which is to bail out and shout from the outside to demand Pak Lah quit before they will return to the party.

ku li tengku razaleigh interview 241106  smileHe may have done the right thing for himself, and with him his wife and a son, Mokhzani.

As for party members, some say they would be losing the means they have to aggress against Pak Lah should Najib choose to contest and/or if it has to be Ku Li they must back the chance for change.

Najib has said he fears the party will be divided should he contest for number one. Party members now say that will not happen unless Pak Lah lets the power go to the opposition and the horror of a president of that sort crashes the meaning and worth of UMNO like a mirror being smashed on the floor.

Sense of futility

Najib has successfully gained for himself the biggest single disappointment many can trace in the history for UMNO. He is seen not at all as a fighter, they say, and not as someone who places the nation and party above self.

He has lost for nothing a lot of goodwill and respect while the party is heavily inclined towards him no matter the Altantuya murder trial casting a wild shadow over him and his wife, Rosmah.

The popular belief is, unless a regime change actually happens, UMNO will not fragment beyond what has already occurred.

Any significant bleeding can only be expected to happen if Pak Lah were to stay as president beyond December, which would seem to be reflecting the sense of futility among the immortally impotent majority in UMNO’s 3.5 million members.

The nationalist Malays have apparently successfully castrated themselves.

Meanwhile, until the nominations for president and deputy president are made beginning July, time in UMNO will still be skirting reality and shunting in transit, bearing little hope to reduce the gigantic frustration and sense of self-defeat that has become almost second nature to the Malays in UMNO.

The zeitgeist has long been saddled on the fear of the “orang asing” (the aliens) and acknowledged little about internal rot and incompetence as causes of terminal political and economic failures.

The present crop of Malay nationalists in UMNO, caught in a bind such as now and fearing for Malay survival, can become very vocal in the evenings at coffee-shops but leaves to Mahathir the ravings and rantings in the attempt “to remove the gangrene”.

In 2004, most of the UMNO delegates that chose the current list of UMN supreme council members, had accepted bribes we were told. It was the first UMNO supreme council election held under Pak Lah’s leadership. The delegates were corrupt!

Now we learn anywhere between RM3 billion and RM6 billion of Trengganu’s oil royalty had not been paid to the state government. Where on earth did the money go?

No wonder time in Umno is in transit and waiting for something to happen, and which will, of course, probably from July. Hidup Melayu! Long Live the Malays!

ICJ On PBP: Sovereign Claims Must Be Defended

By Datuk Deva M. Ridzam*

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague last week delivered judgement on the competing territorial sovereignty claims by Malaysia and Singapore over Pulau Batu Puteh (PBP) and two other features of Middle Rocks (MR) and South Ledge (SL).

Both countries, winner and loser alike, are bound by the decision of the ICJ. Otherwise, why did both countries go to the World Court in the first place if they had no intention of abiding by the Court’s judgement?

Even before the date of the verdict (May 23), both countries must have contemplated the Court’s would be one of the following scenarios, that:

1. Malaysia has sovereignty over PBP, MR and SL, but Singapore is allowed to continue operating and managing the Horsburgh Lighthouse;
2. Singapore has sovereignty over PBP while Malaysia has sovereignty over MR and SL; and
3. Singapore has sovereignty over PBP, MR and SL.

Now that the Court has rendered its decision, it is clear that Malaysia was right all along. The ICJ found that sovereignty over Pulau Batu Puteh (PBP) had always rested with Johor.

Singapore’s arguments, among others, citing the doctrine of terra nullius (empty land or no man’s land) and even the construction of the Lighthouse did not mean that Singapore ever had sovereignty over PBP.

Just to illustrate the point, no international or national courts have ever upheld the notion of terra nullius.

In the case of the Australian Aborigines, they won their most significant legal battle, when the nation’s highest court rejected the claim of terra nullius and ruled that Aborigines could be entitled to reclaim some of their land.

Be that as it may, Malaysia, however, failed to impress the ICJ on two crucial points.

For over 100 years, we did nothing to positively assert our ownership over PBP in any significant way, leaving every thing to the Britain. Then, we wrote that ‘give-away letter’ in 1953 giving away this piece of real estate in our waters to Singapore.

That ‘give away1953 letter’ was actually the first step in the slippery slope, which led Malaysia to virtually ceding sovereignty to Singapore.

Things did not stop there. Subsequently, the lack of action on the part of Malaysia to show that we wanted to continue to assert sovereignty over PBP only further went to undermine our position and thus did us in yet more.

Simply put, Singapore got PBP by the flimsiest of evidence. Essentially, it built up a case out of nothing. Why should it not do so? It has nothing to loose.

And we, on the other hand, failed to assert our claim through any manifestation of effective control. That would have meant we moving ahead in areas such as aids navigation, marine conservation, tide and current surveys, hydrography, etc, which we did not.

That is what sovereignty is all about – developing the means to effectively control what is rightfully ours – and establishing the reality that others who use our territory do so on our terms.

And this is what we precisely did in regard to Pulau Pisang (PP). Singaporeans operating the Lighthouse there are well regulated and they do so on our terms.

In other words, sovereignty claims unexercised or one that a country didn’t defend will gradually and eventually disappear. That precisely is what happened to our ownership or title to PBP, since that letter of 1953.

Though Singapore deemed the maps published by Malaysia in 1962, 1965, 1975 showed that PBP belonged to Singapore, the ICJ came to the conclusion the maps were not material in it arriving at its judgement.

However, the Court inferred that our production of those maps were part of a consistent pattern of behavior that gave the impression that we were acting in accordance with the spirit of the 1953 letter.

Singapore tried to convince the ICJ that there was a total rupture in history that changed fundamentally the sovereignty of PBP as well as the two other features. But that line of reasoning did not impress the Judges and, therefore, it failed to get all that it wanted.

As Middle Rocks does not have any structure built on it by Britain or Singapore, the original sovereignty remained with Johor/Malaysia. The status of South Lodge, however, is to be determined.

We should look at things in their proper context.

Malaysians should give credit to our team led by Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Mohamad, the Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs, for having, in the first place, salvaged the country from a very bad situation.

They cannot be held responsible for the 1953 letter nor for acts of omission and commission of our leaders and officials since that date. In fact, our team tried their best in a difficult situation.

But we have, at least, now restored or reconfirmed our sovereignty over Middle Rocks, which is 0.6 nautical miles south of PBP. By doing so, we have been able to limit Singapore’s ability to act freely in the vicinity, including engage in reclamation works, which is one of its strategic goals.

In fact, we now have an equal standing in that part of the South China Sea.

We will eventually prove that South Lodge too belongs to Malaysia. This feature lies in the territorial waters of Middle Rock as it is merely 1.7 nautical miles south of it. Also the combined fishing area of MR and SL is quite considerable.

All told, the ICJ judgement went beyond a winner/loser scenario or, even, a winner-take-all verdict. It was a mid-way judgement of sorts.

In the 2003 International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) case on the Malaysian objections to Singapore’s land reclamation works, a provisional ruling was made that met the interests of both countries – a kind of win-win judgement – even if the ruling was clearly in Malaysia’s favour.

Kadir Mohamad was the same senior official who led our team in the case involving Sipadan and Ligitan and at the ITLOS tribunal.

On PBP, he and his team presented a most compelling case and conducted the debate (submissions and rebuttals) with restraint, forwarding arguments that made a lot of legal, historical and political common sense.

In the light of the foregoing, to criticise the Government for taking the matter to the ICJ without a strong case is also unfair to say the least.

There are, of course, risks to be run in bringing the matter before the ICJ. But the question is was there any other practical alternative?

Refusing to let our case be heard at the World Court is to suggest Malaysia is not confident in its claim.

More importantly, it will have also meant leaving Singapore in total de facto control as the have since their illegal naval blockade in 1986 over the entire area, thinking – as the Israeli’s do – that occupation is two-thirds of the law.

Also, is it in the larger interest of Malaysia and that of ASEAN – regional peace and security – to allow the hitherto situation to remain unresolved in perpetuity?

For some 150 years Singapore – and before that Britain – has been in effective – though illegitimate – control of Batu Puteh.

Malaysia, however, chose not to ‘militarily’ confront Singapore when it blockaded the area, preventing, among others, our fishermen in these waters or seek shelter on the three features.

Here again, this was not because we doubted our sovereignty over the features. Rather it was, on our part, an act of self-restraint and wisdom – something done in the letter and spirit of ASEAN.

Foreign affairs are normally a place for extreme caution. It is also, uniquely, an arena where countries speak and act for themselves and, in that process, reveal their true nature by their actions.

While Malaysia took the moral high ground by abiding with the principles of the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), Singapore ignored them by taking a hostile stance with its naval blockade. Singapore certainly lost some credibility as a result.

All told, under the United Nations Conference on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), Malaysia would negotiate with Singapore starting from the ‘base point’ that PEDRA BRANCA (BATU PUTEH) is nothing more than a rock, a geologic feature. It creates only territorial waters. It has nothing to do with the question of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or Continental Shelf.

What is even more important now is that Malaysia should from now on be extremely careful about the way we do things with Singapore.

For example, decisions on Iskandar Development must be carefully and transparently undertaken.

We should be vigilant so that we do not give semblance that it can be concluded in, say, 50 years hence that Malaysia had somewhat unwittingly and unilaterally deem that both Malaysia and Singapore had joint sovereignty over the Iskandar Development area.

This may seem far-fetched today. However, it does contain a few nuggets of possibilities. Close-door discussion and back channel deals could lead us to such a situation.

Remember, the Singapore Prime Minister during official talks last year in Langkawi wanted a ‘joint consultative body’ to be established to operate and manage Iskandar Development as though this too should be treated as a ‘Lighthouse of sorts”.

We should also resist and even reject outright any attempt to bring on broad extraneous issues about ‘this’, ‘that’ or ‘the other’ so-called “outstanding issues”: Water Agreements, the Points of Agreement (POA), the Bridge Saga, and the more recent fast train proposal.

After some 150 years, including 28 years of bilateral dispute, common sense, which often is in short supply, prevailed and both countries have brought the matter to closure.

* Datuk Deva M. Ridzam is a former ambassador and an occasional commentator on Foreign Affairs. The article appears in The Edge Malaysia (June 2, 2008), FORUM Page 54.

Che Det’s Rule of Law

Posted by Din Merican

By Che Det ( 24, 2008 )

Malaysia is a country which practices the rule of law. Our laws must cover every aspect of our societal life, so we will know exactly what we can do and what we cannot do. Prime Ministers in particular must have everything spelt out for them in this respect. This will enable them to be charged if they had breached the rule of law long after they had retired.

Governments, serving Prime Ministers and Ministers are well placed to initiate action against others. But when the Government, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister do something wrong, like cover-ups for example, then police reports may be made against them. But how can the person reporting be sure that the police will investigate without fear or favour.

I believe some reports have been made but so far there have been no results. Public confidence would be undermined if investigations by the proper authorities are not made. If the investigation is only to clear the name, then can we say the rule of law is being properly practised?

We therefore need to have more Royal Commissions manned by people of impeccable character like the ones on the Lingam tapes. The Commissions can then make proposals based on speculations and possibilities can then investigate the possibilities and probabilities and help clear those in power. When this is done we can say that this beloved country practises the rule of law.

Pulau Batu Mahathir: Another Perspective

Posted by Din Merican (May 30, 2008 )


Pulau Batu Mahathir
Neil Khor

May 29, 2008

There are three ways to maintain power, or rather three ways to convince others to submit to one’s will. The first strategy is to provide them with an alternative that motivates them to submit. The slave would rather toil under the hot sun than suffer the pain of the lash. Similarly, people prefer to be obedient to religious leaders rather than suffer in hell.

Second, provide them with compensation that will buy their submission. We get big bonuses for spending 12 hours a day in a ‘monkey suit’ and smiling at our bosses. Politicians may vote or even cross the floor for such compensatory benefits.

Third, and perhaps most effectively, power can be maintained by conditioning people to think in a particular way. Malays are ‘weak’ and if not adequately protected, they will ‘fall victim’ to their fellow Malaysians. Over time, Malays no longer differentiate between their own legs and the crutches that hold them up.

In my last letter, I mentioned that we are currently witnessing the ‘endgame of the Mahahtir myth’. The Mahathir myth is made up of a combination of threats, compensation as well as conditioning. It is all held together in the personality of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Let us take the Pulau Batu Puteh case as an example of how Mahathir maintains power. His first act upon returning to Malaysia from Japan on Tuesday was to create a smokescreen. Anyone who believes that 300 people turned up at Subang Airport spontaneously is very naive. Mahathir’s statement nails his successor as both weak and a sell-out. ‘Abdullah is more afraid of Singapore than of UMNO members,’ the former premier said.

This was followed-up the next day by his comments on his website. There he accuses Abdullah of being basically an ungrateful traitor tonthe Malay race. What Mahathir is doing is to transform Malaysian national sentiment over the Batu Puteh incident into a cogent example that Malays are losing their grip on power. But instead he reveals that Abdullah is ungrateful to him and that it is Mahathir who is fast losing power, not the Malays.

A simple recounting of facts soon dissipates this smokescreen. The Batu Puteh incident was sparked off in 1980. Coincidentally, marking Mahathir’s rise to the highest office in the land. In the succeeding
22 years, the public knew very little about the lighthouse or the island. Now we learn that in 1994 Dr Mahathir decided to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) after bilateral talks ground to a halt.

From 1994 till 2002, Mahathir, Malaysia’s greatest prime minister ever and presumably the most powerful Malay leader the world has even seen, helmed the case. Old treaties were found in London’s Public Records Office to establish the ownership of the island.

But at the same time, Mahathir allowed Singapore to continue managing the lighthouse, stake its claim over shipping incidents and compile data showing proof if its de facto ‘ownership’.

What did the Mahathir administration do from 1980 till 2002 as evidence of Malaysia’s ownership of Pulau Batu Puteh? Did we ask Singapore for joint administration of the lighthouse? Plant a flag in Middle Rocks? Negotiate on behalf of our fisher folk? In 2002, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi inherited Batu Puteh, a legacy which came with the premiership.

We have lost Batu Puteh and most Malaysians have accepted the verdict rationally. But we all feel a sense of loss, the kind Indonesians felt over Sipadan and Ligitan. Abdullah must publish a chronology of what his predecessor did that would have made a difference in the ICJ. The public must be told that rhetoric and secret maps do not impress ICJ judges.

Here is a perfect example of how Mahathir maintains power by manipulating public sentiment. But if we have lost Pulau Batu Puteh, and if Mahathir use the incident to his advantage, we must remind him that he shares some of the responsibility. It was his belligerent style of diplomacy and refusal to listen to professionals which led the case to fall into the lap of the ICJ in the first place.

So behind the smokescreen, we see Mahathir’s tactics laid bare. He made a claim in Johor that the Malays were losing power. Then he resigned from Umno and left for Japan. There, he gave a speech warning of racial strife owing to the ‘weakness’ of Abdullah Badawi.

Knowing full well that Batu Puteh might fall to Singapore, he arrives back in Subang to cheering crowds presumably a hero, a Malay patriot indirectly blaming Abdullah for losing Batu Puteh.

Facts have a way of exposing synthetic personalities and their naked grip on power. It was Mahathir’s diplomacy that led us up the path to the ICJ and to the outcome we see before us. So, as an old song goes, the Malaysian public is ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered…no more!’