PROTON: “Melayu-developed car of pride”(?)

August 31, 2011

PROTON: “Melayu-developed car of pride”(?)

by Dr.KJ John@
Aug 30, 11

Ahmad Talib is a mainstream media personality having served as the former managing editor of the NST. I first met him when I gave a lecture at the Ministry of Information about the National IT Agenda.

Ahmad Talib wrote a recent column where he talked about a conversation he had with Proton CEO Syed Zainal about the story of a Proton taxi-cab which Syed Zainal took from KLIA to go home.

During the trip, twice the taxi driver did not open the power windows to pay his toll but instead opened the entire door. When asked why, the driver complained that he was told that if he used the power window too often, it could easily get spoilt. Therefore, he chose to do it the more difficult way.

Syed Zainal, as reported by Ahmad Talib in his column, told the driver who he was and requested that he continue to use the power window instead and that he would personally get it repaired if it really got spoilt. The Proton CEO even gave his card but to date he had not heard from the taxi driver.

Maybe the advice worked, but in the mean time, Ahmad Talib has since reported that many other Proton owners called to confirm the hypothesis of the taxi driver, based on their own experience.

NNONEow, what is the real problem here? I once had the privilege of visiting Tengku Mahaleel Tengku Ariff in his office when he was CEO of Proton. At a briefing he gave us, he informed the group of visitors from Mimos Berhad that the real problem with Proton was that inadvertently it was positioned and marketed from the beginning as “a people’s car”.

Therefore, Proton was never really able with that brand reputation to reposition its image to compete with the imported versions of other saloons or others of an equal class and quality.

My take on this issue is however somewhat different. My view is that Proton was postured and positioned originally as a national car but over time, with many decisions and many related supplier-vendor crony relationships and concerns, the same car has been redefined as a matter of a “Melayu-developed car of pride” but no more as a Malaysian people’s car.

In fact, today, even the definition of what is a national car, I believe, has now been revised to suit this identity crisis. Today, if I am not mistaken, even an ordinary distributor of cars and marketer of foreign-made cars is even classified as a “maker of national cars”.

Crony interests among suppliers

NONEI remember vividly the day Proton was revealed. Dr Mahathir Mohamad (TDM) had sold it to the nation as a matter of national pride and part and parcel of his pet Bangsa Malaysia agenda.

I did participate with pride in wanting to visit a showroom and see the car for myself. TDM had promised it would be delivered within two years. I even touched and pounded on it to feel the car and see if was made from “Milo and Ovaltine cans”.

But, sadly when real production began in Malaysia, market competitiveness took a back seat as “cronies of the mainstream agenda got the contracts to become vendors and suppliers.”

I speak with sincerity and no malice to anyone. I was faced with some real life cases when I tried to help a good friend from the Sikh community who was already in the curtain tape business and had secured an Australian supplier who could support the development of Proton’s safety belt development at very reasonable costs.

NONEMy friend’s family had been in this business for many years.

But, with many crony interests and other small but petty considerations, my friend had to finally give up after a few years of waiting and trying to become a Proton supplier.

With many ‘bad decisions’ like these, slowly but surely, the entire Proton supplier-vendor network in Malaysia may today come from only one community.

Therefore, my reflective question today for all readers is: Is Proton a still a Malaysian car or has it become a psychological symbol to project a Ketuanan Melayu identity?

The same can be asked of Malaysian batik. There was a time in public service when we would be frowned upon if we did not wear authentic Malaysian batik and instead wore Indonesian batik.

Today, I do not drive a Proton but I love Malaysian batik but do not really care whether someone wears Indonesian or Japanese batik. As long as our batik designers make excellent quality of Malaysian batik, I will pay for and wear them.

In my previous two columns, I have raised a similar identity crisis issue in different ways. For one of them, I received a lot of negative and emotional feedback from writers who could not understand or appreciate the need for a concept of nationality. Distinguished Prof AB Shamsul argues, “we are still not yet a nationality but only a state”.

Only one class of citizens

My question to all citizens and Proton, the corporate entity – when are we all ever going to become first-class citizens of the nation-state called Malaysia?

Can we really expect Lee Chong Wei to win the Olympic gold for badminton when there are those who say, “why bother to watch the finals of the badminton, because whether they are Indonesian, or Malaysian, or from China, these are all only Chinese players”. We have to see things beyond race and ethnicity for quality and excellence to be nurtured.

When are we really going to grow up and become proud to be Malaysian, whether Indian, Chinese or Malay or Kadazan or Iban? Or even not care, whether we were originally Javanese, Malayalee, or Cantonese, or Orang Sungai, or Orang Laut, or Orang Asal?

Come on Malaysia, we need to decide who we are and what we want to make out of life, while we make ends meet in this country of ours.

My argument, first made at the Perdana Leadership Talks, was that we all have multiple identities but we are all Malaysians first and foremost. If someone claims he is not, we should ask him to shape up or ship out.

Secondly, we all have a heritage of faith, which defines our worldview. That we cannot deny and this defines our belief systems. Thirdly, we all have an ethnic heritage which defines our culture, a mother tongue and our taste-buds.

Fourthly, we all have a personality. Some are extroverts and others introverts. Some are judgmental and others are feelings driven. Depending on which personality profile instrument you use, you can still learn some very interesting things about yourself and about others. Finally, from my dignity thesis, and the nature of human nature, we get the fact that we all have a human conscience.

Therefore, I dare say this: no one can convert me or force me to do anything that I would not want to do willingly. In the literature this is called free will. All humans have free will. That does not take away the sovereignty of God or what can be called God’s Will. God exists at a different paradigm level and too often we cannot know or understand God because we reduce Him to our level of thinking.

Let God remain God and man stay man. A pot cannot question the potter. What we truly and actually need is to understand who we are and what our purpose in this life is. Once that is clear, then we can move on with the business of living our short life for the glory of our Creator. Our identity cannot be shaken or disturbed only because some called us names or even called us the wrong names.

My take is that if you are an anak Bangsa Malaysia, then you are a first-class Malaysian and no one – yes, no one, and not even the government – can deny you that right, unless you wilfully do something wrong.

May God Bless Malaysia and Selamat Hari Raya to all Malaysians.

Dr. KJ JOHN, who has a PhD from The George Washington University, was in public service for 29 years. He is now dean of the Faculty of Economics and Policy Science at UCSI University, Malaysia. The views expressed here are personal views of the writer and not those of the university or any other institution he is involved with. Please write to the columnist at, if you have any feedback or views.

The Lessons of Singapore’s Presidential Election

August 31, 2011

The Lessons of Singapore’s Presidential Election

Author: K Kesavapany, ISEAS  (08-30-11)

The results of Singapore’s 27 August Presidential Election were a cliff-hanger. In the four-way contest, the government’s preferred candidate, former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan, won 35.2 per cent of the valid votes after a recount. That represented a razor-thin victory of 0.34 of a percentage point over his nearest contender, former Member of Parliament Tan Cheng Bock. Both were previously members of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

The third contestant, former civil servant Tan Jee Say, took a quarter of the vote, and the last contestant lost his election deposit after having obtained only 4.9 per cent of the vote.

The break-up of votes is an interesting throwback to the results of the General Election held in May 2011. Then, the PAP secured 60.1 per cent of the vote in what was seen as a setback for the party, particularly since it lost a Group Representation Constituency for the first time as well. The thin margin of Tony Tan’s victory in the Presidential Election suggests that the anti-incumbency factor was at play, for Tan Cheng Bock ran on a platform distancing him from the government.

The substantial 25 per cent of votes that went to Tan Jee Say, who had contested the General Election as a candidate for the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, reinforced the sense of anti-incumbency sentiments. In a first-past-the-post system, a victory by even one vote is a victory: Tony Tan’s margin was 7,269 votes. Critics of the government, however, were quick to point out that almost 65 per cent of Singaporeans did not vote for him.

Elections are divisive by nature. What matters now is whether Tony Tan can unite the people behind him. Here, there is reason to believe that the new president can do so. His long years in Parliament have given him an instinctive understanding of what unites citizens over and above the necessary divisiveness of democratic politics.

He realises that he has to reach out to the 65 per cent who did not vote for him because he is their president as well. He has promised not to be an ivory-tower president, just as his predecessor, President S R Nathan, was not. Charitable and other projects were an area in which President Nathan made his mark. Tony Tan will no doubt do the same.

This is not to say that Tan will be the kind of interventionist president that the other three candidates, in different degrees, offered to be. Singapore has an elected presidency, not an executive presidency. Tan is keenly aware of the constitutional parameters within which he must function. These restrict him from blocking actions to five key areas: the spending of Singapore’s past reserves; key public service appointments; detentions under the Internal Security Act; restraining orders under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act; and investigations carried out by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

That said, the ‘new normal’ in Singapore politics will require the new president to listen more keenly to sentiments on the ground. The next six years, in which Tan occupies the highest position in the state, will show how well he uses his power and authority to make a difference to the lives of Singaporeans, whatever their background.

Ambassador K. Kesavapany is the Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia.

Malaysia-Australia Refugee Swap Deal declared illegal

August 31, 2011

Malaysia-Australia Refugee Swap Deal declared illegal

UPDATED @ 03:28:27 PM 31-08-2011

The refugee swap deal between Australia and Malaysia was deemed illegal by Australia’s High Court today.The hugely controversial arrangement has been popularly referred to as the “Malaysia Solution” in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an Australian Associated Press report that quoted Chief Justice Robert French as saying that “the declaration made… was made without power and is invalid.”

The court barred asylum seekers held by Australia from being sent to Malaysia, a ruling that will likely derail the swap deal intending to send 800 boat people to Malaysia in exchange for 4,000 already-processed refugees to Australia.

The move was put on hold earlier this month after Melbourne lawyer David Manne won a High Court injunction to prevent deportations pending a decision on the deal.

He argued that Australian-held asylum seekers had rights to refugee protection assessed in Australia, and that the High Court could review Bowen’s declaration that Malaysia was a suitable destination for offshore processing.

With Canberra agreeing to pick up the RM1 billion bill for the swap, the Gillard administration’s popularity has sunk under pressure from opposition leaders and human rights activists in both Pacific nations.

But Australia’s Labor government insists the swap will stem human trafficking despite a Parliament motion condemning it due to concerns over Malaysia’s treatment of refugees.

There has also been concerns that a biometric system used in Malaysia to register migrants is “riddled with problems” and reports of scalps taking advantage of an ongoing amnesty programme for illegal immigrants have raised further questions over its ability to deal with incoming asylum-seekers.

According to the AAP, refugee lawyers asked the High Court to strike down the deal, arguing that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen (right) did not have the power to send asylum seekers to a country that has no legal obligations to protect them.

They also argued that sending unaccompanied minors to Malaysia would breach the minister’s duty of care as their legal guardian to act in their best interests.

But the Australia’s Solicitor-General Stephen Gageler had argued the government could lawfully declare Malaysia a safe third country even though it had no domestic or international legal obligations to protect asylum seekers.

Happy 54th Birthday and God Bless Malaysia

August 30, 2011

Happy 54th Birthday and God Bless Malaysia

“The essence of the messages (of Al-Qur’an) over time is always the same: a guidance on how to live a just, equitable and peaceful life; how to make the world a better place for everyone. Human perversity as well as ignorance can turn what is open and available to all into intricate, complicated means to divide people. Instead of God consciousness and guidance being the moral principles which bring people together , it becomes the embodiment of the most irreducible differences, the cause of irreconcilable dispute.”–Ziauddin Sardar, Reading the Qur’an (pp.103)

Make Malaysia a Better Place

Tomorrow, August 31, 2011, we celebrate 54 years of Independence and congratulations are in order. While we congratulate ourselves, we must also reflect.  With that in mind, permit me to quote what our Father of Independence and Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman proclaimed on August 31, 1957:

NOW In the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, I TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA ibni AL-MARHUM SULTAN ABDUL HAMID HALIMSHAH, PRIME MINISTER OF THE PERSEKUTUAN TANAH MELAYU, with the concurrence and approval of Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu that as from the thirty first day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty seven, the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu comprising the States of Johore, Pahang, Negri Semblian, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu, Perak, Malacca and Penang is and with God’s blessing shall be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.”

There is no doubt that we have achieved considerable progress in terms of economic and social development over the last 5 decades. That has unfortunately come at a price, that is, at the cost of our fundamental liberties. In terms of achieving Tunku’s vision of a democratic state…” founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”, we are lagging behind, and today our democratic state is under threat.

We are faced with an authoritarian and hubristic leadership which is bent on retaining its right to rule at whatever cost. Not necessary to do that. The government has just do the right things, and put service above self-interest and greed. Because it has failed to do that, it must  now work hard to regain our trust and confidence.

Malaysia is increasingly divided along racial and income lines; we have rampant corruption; our fundamental liberties are being trampled upon and our institutions of governance are dysfunctional, including our system of justice. Economic growth is slowing down and we face a serious threat of inflation.The ship called Malaysia is today rudderless.

But  we can change all that, and I believe that as Malaysians, we can make it happen. We should get our politics right. We cannot allow politicians both in government and the opposition to exploit racial sentiments for their own benefit. Failure to do so, we risk being losers by allowing national harmony to fritter away. Peace and stability are critical. Underpinning that is national unity.

We must use this Merdeka Day to reflect on our successes and failures so that we can work together to achieve the vision of our Father of Independence of a truly democratic state founded on the principles of liberty and justice.

May God Bless Malaysia. And may we live in peace and harmony as Malaysians.–Din Merican

Eugene K.B. Tan reviews Singapore’s Presidential Election (PE) 2011

August 30, 2011

Eugene K.B. Tan  reviews Singapore’s Presidential Election (PE) 2011

It was a pulsating finish to Singapore’s fourth presidential election. A mere 7,269 votes separated Dr Tony Tan from Dr Tan Cheng Bock. The hustings, which fired up the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, portend what future PEs could be like. What can we make of the results?

The influence of the May general election should not be over-exaggerated. To be sure, there is residual unhappiness after the so-called “watershed election”. My sense, however, is that the majority of Singaporeans distinguished between the parliamentary and presidential polls.

What the GE (General Election) demonstrated, reinforced in Saturday’s poll, is that the voter is keen for more political competition and diversity. But as the PE (Presidential Election) results illustrate, the average voter is not going to throw caution to the wind and cast a ballot for a candidate just because he comes with an opposition accent. The People’s Action Party branding still carries cachet. Voters can discern form from substance.

International media reports have characterised the outcome as a sign of “many still upset with long-ruling PAP”. This reading is premised on viewing the polls in partisan terms, with Dr Tony Tan flying the PAP/Establishment banner, and Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian collectively the non-PAP/non-Establishment flags. According to this view, the score was PAP — 35 per cent; non-PAP — 65 per cent.

That is probably reading the results simplistically. Many Singaporeans did not see the contest in purely partisan terms. They carefully scrutinised candidates’ track records, their campaign promises, and how they would work with the PAP Government.

In a crowded race with three serious contenders, it should not be surprising that the votes were split. The results, if anything, confirm that the political landscape is more diverse, more competitive. The Singapore electorate is maturing and is more than capable of making up its own mind. The endorsements by the trade unions, business groups and others seem to have had limited effect.

Both Dr Tans, as former PAP stalwarts, can be regarded as the Establishment camp. They also espoused a moderate reading of the roles, functions and powers of the elected president.

Combined, they polled 70 per cent of the popular vote. To these voters, the past PAP affiliation was not a deterrent — there was confidence they would exercise the executive custodial powers independently.

The support for both men also indicates Singaporeans value stability, in the sense of an elected President being able to work with the elected government. It suggests that many may be uncomfortable with the office being an alternative power centre.

Tan Jee Say and Tan Kin Lian, seen as the non-Establishment camp, together garnered 30 per cent of the ballots. Their support base is primarily the staunch opposition voters, who prefer a president not so closely aligned with the ruling party. All in all, the election appears to indicate the PAP enjoys a loyal support base of about 35-45 per cent of the electorate (safely assuming the bulk of Dr Tony Tan’s supporters are Establishment loyalists) and the opposition a 30-35 per cent loyal following.

A significant 25-35 per cent form the middle ground, often described as the swing voters. How is one to understand Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s strong cross-camp appeal? His ability to reach out to both pro-Establishment voters and those less so is a political craft honed through his many years as a popular grassroots MP. His commitment to unify people was a strong and persuasive selling point; his common touch, his signature ability to engage Singaporeans from all walks of life, was vital in bringing those of different political persuasions together.

All said, the winner’s razor-thin victory margin points to the need for the elected presidency to evolve in tandem with Singaporeans’ expectations of the roles and functions of the office. Amid the new normal of more competitive political landscape, much will also be expected of the President-Elect’s promise of seeking to heal the country’s political, economic and social divisions.

Where the late President Ong Teng Cheong had sought to demonstrate purposefully the role of the EP (Elected Presidency) within our parliamentary system, Dr Tony Tan’s presidency is likely to be characterised by the imperative for a people’s president to unify Singaporeans of whatever political inclinations. I believe he is conscious of the need for him — more than for any of his predecessors — to not only work with the government but also with all political parties and civil society.

In this regard, he will have to play a more “activist” role. I am reasonably confident that Dr Tony Tan will attempt to build bridges with the various groups, but he cannot get the different camps to work together if they are not prepared to do so in the first place. Before the non-PAP will work with him, he will have to establish to them his credentials as being non-partisan and independent. But with sincerity, impartiality and determination, there is no reason why bridge-building cannot take place.

The need to evolve the office of the president in a manner that is in sync with Singaporeans’ expectations has to be on the “to-do” list of both the incoming president and the government. They will have to manage the competing, and perhaps even conflicting, visions of the presidency — the process of electing a head of state as well as the latter’s roles and function.

Dr Tony Tan will have to throw light on what he does in his custodial roles, notwithstanding the confidentiality of those actions. Removing the myths and misperceptions is essential to the standing and legitimacy of the EP.

There is also a growing expectation that the presidency should be a watchdog that can both bark and bite. The sense is that the current reactive powers of the EP results in a watchdog that can only bark, and in limited circumstances, and that this is not good enough. In short, there is the imperative to manage voters’ expectations and keep faith with the constitutional parameters.

Can we expect dialogues and discussion — behind closed doors for a start — on how to maintain the relevance and legitimacy of the office?

To ignore the current ground sentiments and concerns may result in the PE in 2017 becoming a proxy political contest in which the raison d’etre of the EP will be challenged, and the office’s authority and legitimacy suffering as a result. That would be a pity, since the elected presidency can enhance our system of governance. — Today

* Eugene K.B. Tan is assistant professor of law at the Singapore Management University School of Law.

Najib’s Approval Rating Drops

August 30, 2011

Najib’s Approval Rating drops to 59 Per Cent

by Nigel
Aug 29, 11

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s approval rating has declined six points to 59 percent, according to the latest report by independent pollster Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Merdeka Center attributes the decline to increased concerns over the spiraling cost of living as consumers begin to feel the impact of recent increase in fuel and electricity prices. The pollster also acknowledged that the way the government handled the Bersih 2.0 rally had generated some “adverse” negative perceptions and eroded the Prime Minister’s support.

The latest announcement puts the Prime Minister’s approval rating at its lowest point in nearly two years. Najib’s approval rating has been on a steady decline since June 2010, after having achieved a record high of 72 percent.

This is the first time that his approval rating hits below 60 percent since September 2009 when he scored 56% – his second lowest after his not-so-impressive showing of 45% in May, a month after he took the helm from Abdullah Ahmad Badawi [see below].

On the up side, the number of people who are dissatisfied with the Prime Minister remained unchanged at 27 percent.The survey period was between Aug 11 and Aug 27 which coincided with the announcement of the proposed parliamentary select committee on electoral reform, and a month after the Bersih rally of July 9.

Down three points

The survey, based on 1,027 respondents, found that slightly more than half – 51 percent – felt that the country was going in the right direction, down three points. Along ethnic lines, Najib’s support among ethnic Malays declined slightly by four points, down from 73 percent, whereas support from the ethnic Chinese tumbled, dropping a whopping 11 points to 38 percent.

The outlook of Indian Malaysians on the direction the country has taken also took a dive from 54 to 39 points, but interestingly, they are the only group to have increased their support for Najib, up two points from 67 percent.

Based on the survey, almost one third of respondents are worried about the rising cost of living, a concern that cuts across ethnic lines.

Najib had on July 27 announced that the seventh National Key Results Area will be introduced to the Government Transformation Programme to address the spiraling cost of living, but the Government appears to have done little to soothe concerns.

NAJIB’S POPULARITY RATING (2009-2011)       


May – 45%
June – 65%
July – 64%
Sept – 56%
Dec – 66%


March – 69%
May – 72%
Nov – 69%


March – 67%
May – 65%
Aug – 59%