Anwar Backs Penang Chief Minister

January 31, 2010

Anwar Ibrahim backs Penang Chief Minister

By Adib Zalkapli and Neville Spykerman

PKR de facto chief Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim  today took steps to paper over cracks in his Pakatan Rakyat coalition by declaring his support for Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and sending his critic to be disciplined.

Anwar said Bayan Baru MP Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohamed Hashim, who called Lim a “dictator” and “communist-minded”, will join another PKR MP, Zulkifli Noordin, and Datuk Zaid Ibrahim to face the disciplinary committee.

“We reject and condemn his views on the Penang chief minister,” he said, adding that Zahrain’s attack was uncalled for.

The Oppositon Leader added that Zaid, who criticised the party leadership for not taking immediate action against Zulkifli, will also have to explain himself to the disciplinary committee.

“Some of us have called for immediate actions, but here in PKR and Pakatan, we have to adhere to the party constitution and allow due process to take place,” said Anwar, adding that he hoped that the committee would convene as soon as possible.

He also said the DAP-led Penang government had also given PKR a list contracts awarded by the state to dismiss Zahrain’s claim that the state government has been unfair in awarding contracts.

“It is not that we don’t like to be criticised, it is ok to criticise, but it is not right to attack Guan Eng calling him dictator, chauvinist, communist as he has always consulted others, sometimes he reviews his own decision, but at the end of the day, he is the Chief Minister,” said Anwar.

DAP leaders have responded to Zahrain claims saying that the former Umno man was unhappy as a company linked to him has failed to secure a government contract.

Zahrain is also said to be a leading a group of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) MPs who intend to help Barisan Nasional (BN) regain its two-third majority. He denied the allegation.

It is not about the Malays being divided as a race, it is about the Malays (and Malaysians) being divided by class

Suara Keramat Pak Sako

Friday, January 29, 2010

In a speech yesterday, Mahathir Mohamad blamed PAS and PKR for dividing the Malays, putting this down to greed for power amongst different Malay factions consisting of disgruntled political aspirants desiring political positions.

If Mahathir’s logic is correct, then the split amongst the Japanese in Japan between supporting two different political parties with different cultures, experiences and policies must be a bad thing. These Japanese political parties are the centre-right LDP which had governed Japan and is noted for entrenching patron-client relationships between politicians and corporations; and the DPJ, a reform-minded, social-democratic party that claims to be more people-centric. These parties more or less reflect the distinction between Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

Going by Mahathir’s argument, then, this split would have seriously enfeebled the Japanese race, resulting in civil strife or at least hard rancour amongst them, or exposing them as a whole to “attack”, “manipulation”, “subjugation” or “domination” (or insert other terms to taste) by citizens of non-Japanese ancestry (smaller than in Malaysia as a proportion but growing) or by neighbouring nations such as North Korea, Russia or China (recall how we are made to fear Singapore).

But this has not been the case. Japan has not collapsed by having an ‘inexperienced’ ruling political party. Japan as a country is richer for having this new-found choice in being able to switch between alternative politics. Japan’s socioeconomic “evolutionary potential” is rejuvenated by the competition that the DPJ poses for the LDP. We, too, should ask ourselves, as the Japanese have, whether we wish to stick with the stale ways of the old guard whose interest it is to maintain the status quo, the old socioeconomic arrangement which benefits powerful special interests/elites; or whether we want renewal, a restructuring of socioeconomic arrangement that liberates us from the stranglehold of the elites so that the ordinary person can demand and receive a greater share of the nation’s wealth without being held at ransom by threats of unemployment (or inflation) and have a bigger, freer say in how we country to be like and how our social freedoms are defined?

The Malays are not not dividing themselves; they are opening themselves up to choices

In Malaysia, the Malays are beginning to explore choices, and there is nothing wrong in wanting a Greek salad over a nasi lemak. It could in fact be a healthier choice.

Accordingly, many Malays have taken the brave leap for change, to embrace newer values that enables them to bond better with fellow citizens and to rightfully ask for a fairer share of the nation’s “cake”. The Malays and other Malaysians demand this not from any particular race group, but from the politically influential — the governing/aristocratic/corporate class consisting of a mix of the various races. And in doing so, the new lower and middle-class Malays are forging a more harmonious and united relationship with their non-Malay counterparts. In doing so, they are not at all submitting their rights to the ‘others’; they are enhancing their collective rights as citizens in solidarity. The key point to note is that the problem is primarily an issue of socioeconomic class and class domination, not an issue race domination.

But this point is precisely what Mahathir’s and UMNO’s racial rhetoric is attempting to mask. The Malays that are vulnerable to such scare tactics cling on out of fear and ignorance to old, outdated values promoted by certain powerful groups. These groups dangle candies to society (government handouts or more shopping malls) to lull them, and bring about a basic level of ‘political stability’ through restrictive, questionable rule and extensive control of public apparatuses. This enables powerful groups and elites to appropriate the lion’s share of a nation’s wealth.

Why care about the elites? A snapshot of Malaysia’s political economy

So far in the history of Malaysia as an independent state, the majority of the people have conditioned to be content (‘puas hati’) with the moderate amount of income and wealth and fairly restricted social liberties that they have been accorded.

This situation was made possible because Malaysia has been blessed with an exceptionally high level of natural and human resources per capita, i.e., we have had an overabundance of resources relative to our small population size. Each Malaysian in theory could be very well off, with hundreds of thousands of ringgit sitting in their bank accounts, for example, or have superior social services such as those in countries like Canada, Australia or Sweden.
But this has not been the case.

What has been happening is that out of the total economic profits our country generates annually, most of the ordinary Malaysians have been apportioned the minimum amount of income, infrastructure and amenities necessary to placate or satisfy them while the remainder is reserved for the elites, a capture made possible by:

(i) widespread rent-seeking, which includes the collusion of politicians and the corporate and social bigwigs to apportion for themselves the nation’s capital to derive supernormal profits (defrauding by power and capital);

(ii) restrictive labour laws that discourage unionisation and wage bargaining power and keep real wages down (economic oppression);

(iii) distracting society with cheap entertainment, restricting free reporting of the actual state of the nation, and threatening possible imprisonment if the status quo is questioned using excuses such as “this shall destabilise racial and religious harmony”, etc. (dumbing down).

For comparison, observe that this has not been possible in Indonesia because given its resources Indonesia has a large population and so it is harder to create this critical mass of satisfied, contented middle class citizens. This has also not been possible in Thailand which has not been endowed with plentiful high-value resources like us (and they have a substantially large population too).

In this view, Malaysia is indeed economically unique and blessed. But it also means that a braver, more vigilant and empowered society is all the more crucial to prevent easy abuse by those who govern it (elite capture).

As Malaysia’s resources run out (the depletion of its natural resources from its wasteful, inequitable squandering and the loss of human capital as a result of severe “brain drain”), sudden belt-tightening policies are proposed and instituted. These policies ranging from the imposition of the GST, the drastic removal of subsidies, and the scaling back of government expenditure on public services such as healthcare. There is an acceleration in the rate of liquidation of natural and environmental resources such as our remaining forests and wetlands in a desperate bid to generate cash.

In connection with this is a rash of license issuance to foreign commercial and investment banks either inject more liquidity into our financial markets and/or to allow foreign investment in various development projects the details of which we know precious little of. At the same time, there is a stagnation of real incomes; the nominal wage of a fresh engineering graduate in 2000 was on average RM1700 and this has remained more or less the same in 2010, ten years hence, even as the prices of goods increased.

The bulk of the burden of these actions fall on the ordinary rakyat, whether Malay or not. It may fall disproportionately on the ordinary rakyat depending on how the “economic pie” is cut. It is possible that Malaysians are suffering the economic pinch a little excessively because:

(i) the elites may be trying to maintain their cut of the economic pie and their present standard of living, without having to reduce the amount of gains or profits that they have been receiving, or by only slightly sacrificing these gains, or by eliminating contenders (e.g., the shooting down of people linked to the previous prime minister): and

(ii) the government is unwilling to appropriate and repatriate past gains and profits (that may be squirreled away overseas) made illegally and through corrupt rent-seeking, or stem practices such as the excess resource allocation or rent-seeking for the influential interest groups concerned

This issue of the influential class requires highlighting because not only is it the crux of the matter, it is also a matter of justice. It is about whether you feel that some groups deserve to enjoy super normal profits, political privileges and positions at the expense of the rakyat’s welfare. One could even ask whether they are intentionally distracting the rakyat from thinking about this question by conditioning them to believe that their enemies are their fellow citizens of a different skin colour (or that they risk being enslaved by other races if they aren’t united as a race themselves).

So is PKR and PAS bad for giving Malays and Malaysians as a whole the choice to alter the socioeconomic arrangement of Malaysia?

Those groups offering the Malay choices in styles of governance (greater transparency, responsiveness and reduced corruption and rent-seeking) and different opportunities for improvement (e.g., greater social empowerment and alternative modes of development besides the build-malls-and-shop-all-day approach) should be praised and supported. Those who try to instill fear in the Malays in an attempt to hold them back from thinking broadly and limiting them from freely expressing choice should be censured.

The fact is that the Chinese or Indians are not going to take over Malaysia and turn the Malays into slaves. Although there are safeguards, these groups do not intend to do that to begin with. Believers of social Darwinism should rein in their alarmist attitude and understand that social cooperation and fair and equitable rules improves everyone’s lot and that not all the needy belong to a single race group. These social Darwinists should also not underestimate the potential for adaptation and improvement or cooperation of any race group.

As we can already see by what is happening on the ground, especially post-March 2008, the ordinary Chinese and Indians want to and are willing to live and work together with the Malays if given the chance. This is evident from the momentum of the Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) movement, to cite an example. The Perkasa group which Mahathir extols is precisely the type of groups fomenting division amongst the Malays. They frighten off the Malays from contemplating choice and taking a leap and they do this for various self-interested reasons. That they are lobbying the sultans to support their partisan political stand is disturbing.

Mahathir is in essence barking up the wrong tree. If he is indeed worried about the division of Malays, then he should encourage them to unite under the more reformist and progressive umbrella of Pakatan Rakyat. Their fellow non-Malay Malaysians are waiting for them there.

Note: Read also Suflan Shamsuddin’s The Fallacy of Malay Unity.

Fissures fester in PKR

by Terence Netto
January 31, 2010

That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

This is what is being touted about PKR in the wake of the continued insolence of Zulkifli Nordin and the attacks on Lim Guan Eng by the party’s MP for Bayan Baru, Zahrain Mohd. Hashim.

The antics of a pyromaniac were followed by the reaction-baiting broadsides of the party’s former Penang chief. There is the scent of mutiny in the salvoes let loose by Zahrain  in recent days at the Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary general.

He is upset with Anwar Ibrahim but apparently can’t bring himself to train his guns on the PKR supremo. It appears Guan Eng would do nicely as vicarious substitute.

A little over two weeks ago, Zahrain was nowhere to be seen when Anwar visited Permatang Pauh, to hand out free spectacles to poor residents, attend a DAP dinner in Bukit Mertajam, and then speak at ceramah in Cherok Tok Tun and Sungai Bakap.

Usually, Zahrain would be around to accompany the PKR supremo, though on this occasion he was less duty bound to. Last October, Anwar picked Mansor Othman, the present Deputy Chief Minister, to replace Zahrain as PKR chief for Penang.

Zahrain had wanted to be the PKR candidate for the Penanti by-election in late May 2009, a poll that was called because the incumbent Mohd Fairus Khairuddin resigned at Anwar’s behest following a painfully embarrassing run in the deputy chief minister’s role.

Anwar chose former his political secretary, Mansor, as the candidate for the by-election, to Zahrain’s chagrin. For Anwar’s January 15 visit, Zahrain, no more the state chief, was not required to be in attendance. But telltale signs of a rift were inferred when Anwar let on to state party insiders that he had not heard from Zahrain in some time and, having misplaced his Blackberry, was at a loss to contact his old Penang buddy.

Friends of some 30 years’ standing don’t usually have any problems getting each other’s contact numbers from mutual acquaintances. There then followed the spectacle of the public rants of Zulkifli Nordin over supposed threats to Islam.

Zahrain must have been unimpressed with PKR’s vacillations in the face of Zulkifli’s shenanigans, considered hugely damaging to the party’s image as multi-denominational. The barbs Zahrain aimed at Guan Eng are calculated to coerce his party to take action against him when it is already hard put to do just that to Zulkifli.

Angling for action to be taken

Meanwhile, Zulkifli has defied a PKR gag order by claiming that he knows of ulterior motives behind Christians wanting to use the word ‘Allah’.

Court approved use of the word is the subject of controversy, so it is said by some quarters, while others maintain the hubbub is contrived to serve the aims of elements conniving to forestall Umno’s prospective loss of power.

In sum, the darts now hurled by Zahrain on Guan Eng come at a time when PKR has drawn withering fire for having been woefully supine towards Zulkifli.

Today the decisions of a combined PKR Political Bureau and Leadership Council meeting in the morning followed by a Pakatan Rakyat presidential council meeting in the afternoon are not likely to impress Zulkili , neither Zahrain, if at all their outcomes impinge on PKR’s malcontents.

Ostensibly, the earlier meeting was called to discuss Zahrain’s fulminations against Guan Eng. The latter has wisely elected not to dignify them with comment.

Both Zulkifli and now Zahrain are angling for action to be taken against them, the better they can make alternative arrangements with power brokers who are intent on the next item in Malaysian political gamesmanship: the re-delineation of parliamentary boundaries.

Their redrawing, held every 10 years and which never failed to favor the powers-that-be, has to be endorsed by two-thirds majority in Parliament which the ruling Barisan Nasional were denied at the last general election and could now secure by default, with the help of some new-found friends.

Presumably, Zahrain’s prospective departure would not be unaccompanied. If he is joined by the PKR MP for Nibong Tebal, Tan Tee Beng, the charade will be complete in its turn towards farce.

For only last June, Tee Beng led nine of 13 PKR divisions in Penang in a petition to party headquarters demanding Zahrain’s removal as state chief.

Like they say, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

The Fallacy of Malay Unity

January 30, 2010

The Fallacy of Malay Unity

by Suflan Shamsuddin*

They say, that when a stick is on its own, it can be broken. But when many sticks are bound together, they become strong and unbreakable. So for Malays to be strong and unbreakable they must unite. For if not, then the non-Malays, and all those who wish to undermine the Malay race and Islam, will break them. This is what Perkasa and others like them peddle to the Malays. What a load of hogwash! And I say this as a Malay and a Muslim.

In reality, this call for Malay unity is the opposite of what is needed to bring members of my community out of its despair. And the reason is simple.

The price Malays pay for this unity is their individuality. If you belong to a herd, and your strength comes from the herd, then as an individual, you are weak. No capacity for self determination when left to your own device. You become subservient to a set of values that is driven by the elite, who will act as your protector, and who will demand your obedience. You will have no capacity to challenge the elite, and you will cower to those in authority, happy to be either an underachieving dependent of the system, or aspiring to join the ranks of the elite, to do that which once was done unto you.

The outcome of continued dependence on Malay unity is obvious. A select, strong and powerful elite will remain in control of wealth and power; and a mass of happy ignorant followers will continue to be dragged along with what is pronounced by those with authority, never daring to question, never daring to challenge, and ever willing to fight the fight, if called upon by their leaders.

As a community, you might say (but hardly unequivocally) that you are strong. But as individuals, you would be weak, with no sense of personal accountability, no understanding of the importance of individual freedoms, no desire to self-improve and work hard, no desire to play fair.

The world has moved on. Today, national boundaries help determine where we pay our taxes, and under which legal jurisdiction are we subject. But with the revolution of information and technology, territorial national boundaries do nothing to keep global market and socio-economic forces from affecting each and every one of us as individuals every single second of the day.

No matter who we are, whether we be Malays, Chinese, Indian, the responsibilities are the same. We each need to be fully contributing and responsible individuals, who will add value to that part of society to which we belong (whether we define that territorially, religiously or culturally), and to care for and look out for the happiness and welfare of those whom we love.

And for us to be able to do this effectively we must be individually capable. Each of us must build the right set of values, priorities and character, and not simply belong to a herd, following aimlessly with everyone else. Because market forces don’t affect the herd in today’s global world. It affects the individual. And a weak, non-contributing and continually dependent Malay, no matter how strong his community might be as a united force, is no good to anybody.

I shudder to think of the kind of Malays that will be created if Perkasa had its way.

*The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist. Suflan qualified as a barrister at law from Middle Temple and has been called to the Malaysian Bar. He is currently working in a Fortune 500 company as a senior counsel and is based in London. He is also author of the book “RESET: Rethinking the Malaysian Political Paradigm”.

MP Zahrain says he has enough PKR colleagues to give UMNO-BN 2/3rd majority in Parliament

January 30, 2010

Zahrain: I have the Numbers

by G.Manimaran

Disgruntled PKR MP Datuk Seri Zahrain Mohd Hashim has reportedly offered enough Pakatan Rakyat colleagues to Barisan Nasional as to enable their full legislative control of Parliament, but his colleagues dispute he has such numbers.

It is understood that the Bayan Baru MP has offered some 10 lawmakers, including himself, to add to BN’s 137 for a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

Such a majority allows the government to pass any law despite opposition from their rivals. BN needs 11 more seats in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat for the psychological majority, and it is learnt that Independent Pasir Mas MP Datuk Ibrahim Ali or even Kulim Bandar Baharu MP Zulkifli Noordin is expected to join the group if the defection happens.

Zulkifli has supported Zahrain in his diatribe against Lim.“I have heard that [there are] three or four who want to leave the party. BN really wants him, too,” Penang PKR chairman Dr Mansor Othman told The Malaysian Insider, referring to his predecessor whom he replaced after winning the Penanti seat and being made deputy chief minister last year.

Zahrain was not available for comments despite several attempts to reach him. He had previously said it was mere speculation that he would leave PKR for former party UMNO or the newly set-up Parti Cinta Malaysia.

Several other PKR and DAP leaders confirmed they have heard news that Zahrain was now gathering allies to make the jump.

“I don’t think he has the numbers. From what I know, it’s just three of them,” a senior DAP leader told The Malaysian Insider. Pakatan Rakyat now has 82 MPs, of which 31 are from PKR including the four from Penang: Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (Permatang Pauh), Tan Tee Beng (Nibong Tebal), Mohd Yusmadi Yusoff (Balik Pulau) and Zahrain.

Mansor said he was not sure if the MPs are from Penang, other states, or they included those from allies DAP and PAS. “I don’t really know… All I know is that there are some MPs who have expressed an intention to leave the party,” he added.

Speculation that Zahrain could be leaving peaked again when he restarted a simmering feud with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng this week, by calling the DAP leader “a dictator, a chauvinist and communist-minded” and earning brickbats from party colleagues and allies.

He had previously criticised Lim when former Penanti assemblyman and deputy chief minister, Mohamed Fairus Khairuddin quit his post and seat last year.

Mansor said that while the bad blood between Zahrain and Lim was long-standing, news that the PKR leader wanted to quit began very recently and added the matter would be brought up at the party’s special supreme council meeting tomorrow.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the issue will also be discussed at the PR joint leadership council meeting due to take place after tomorrow’s PKR meeting.

DAP parliamentary leader and representative at the PR meeting, Lim Kit Siang, today called for the formation of a disciplinary committee to discuss the cases of intransigence within the pact, saying these cases have dented the coalition’s recent hard-won gains.

Mansor yesterday lamented Zahrain’s statement, which was critical of Lim. “The words were uncalled for and I regret his statement. That is certainly not the way to address our fellow partners in PR,” he said and declined to elaborate further.

The PKR leader said the party will issue a statement on Zahrain’s criticisms against Lim, but coalition insiders believe Anwar might not take action after having failed to admonish his fellow Penangite last year.

Anwar has also been seen as soft on Zulkifli, who has ignored a party gag order by continuing to make comments on the “Allah” issue.

PKR’s Zahrain on Penang DAP Leadership

January 30, 2010

Zahrain blames DAP for defection speculations

by Athi Shankar (January 29, 2010)

Bayan Baru parliamentarian (PKR)Dato Seri Zahrain Hashim blames the current defection speculations among PKR MPs on the party’s submissiveness to DAP’s political demands. He said due to disgruntlement among PKR leaders and members, talks of defections have surfaced among party elected representatives.

NONEZahrain was rumoured to be leading a handful of PKR parliamentarians out of the party to become Barisan Nasional-friendly representatives. He has neither denied nor confirmed the speculation.

Zahrain claims that the majority of PKR’s elected representatives and members, especially from Penang, were frustrated with their party’s subservient attitude to Pakatan Rakyat ally DAP.

Their anger, he alleges, was more towards DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

The former Penang PKR chief is particularly annoyed with PKR’s ‘virtual surrender’ to Lim and partly blamed it on a weak state party leadership. He said the current PKR representatives in the state Pakatan government were meekly giving in to DAP at the expense of party interests, rights and benefits.

“They dare not stand up against Lim. PKR has compromised its original reformasi agenda to suit the whims and fancies of DAP’s political game,” he told Malaysiakini.

‘PKR doesn’t need DAP’

Zahrain believes that PKR could survive without DAP, being a multiracial party. He called on PKR supremo Anwar Ibrahim to review the party’s ties with DAP before it was too late. “If defections happen, it will be due to DAP’s dominance over PKR,” said Zahrain.

He also rubbished the Lim government’s CAT principles based on competency, accountability and transparency. Instead he claims Lim’s motto of governance was “it must be my way or no way.”

Zahrain says he is prepared to face the music for publicly criticising another Pakatan leader, calling Lim a “chauvinist running the state government like his own backyard.” He described the DAP secretary-general’s style of governance as taking the island-state “backward rather than forward.”

“Being a multi-racial party representing all communities, PKR has to take the rap for Lim’s failures,” Zahrain said. Among the ‘failures’ Zahrain alluded to were the contentious Kampung Buah Pala and Kampung Melayu Tanjung Tokong incidents.

Penang ‘better off’ without Lim

NONEZahrain also lambasted Lim for fast tracking the construction of the much-opposed Penang International Convention Centre (PICC) in Relau, which ironically sits in his constituency.

He said Lim has also failed to practice political unity and power-sharing by sidelining PAS from the state administration. Zahrain also alleged that Lim was against holding local council elections in Penang for fear of losing control over municipalities, despite being a central figure in DAP’s ‘third vote’ campaign.

He said Penangites were also growing restless with Lim’s statements blaming the previous BN administration for everything.

“He should stop complaining and start to look for money to carry out people-orientated programmes. Until today, he has not done anything worthy for Penangites,” lamented Zahrain.

Since the much-hyped initial foreign investments in 2008, the PKR man said Lim’s government had failed to attract any notable foreign investments despite spending millions in public funds in frequent foreign trade missions.

He also slammed Lim’s hypocrisy of ‘advocating’ press freedom on one hand, while banning certain media groups and reporters from his functions. “It’s because Lim cannot take criticism,” he said.

Zahrain also opined that Lim has failed to comprehend Penangite sentiments and aspirations as the latter was ‘parachuted’ in from Malacca; he believes that Penang should be led by a local-born chief minister. “Penang would be better off without Lim,” he said.