US Foreign Policy: Obama’s Shift from the Middle East to the Pacific


November 30, 2011

US Foreign Policy: Obama’s Shift from the Middle East to the Pacific

by Christopher Hill

For two years, President Barack Obama’s administration has tried to convey a narrative in which it is winding up wars in Southwest Asia and turning America’s attention to its longer-term – and arguably more important – relationships in East Asia and the Pacific. In recent months, that narrative has gained the virtue of actually being true.

Now, the task will be to balance the need for responsible military drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan with a responsible buildup of activities in East Asia. And that means putting to rest fears that the United States is gearing up for confrontation with China.

Obama’s decision to break off talks with Iraq’s government for a new agreement on the status of US forces there means that, after eight years, those troops are finally coming home (perhaps in time for Christmas). Since US politics no longer stops at the water’s edge, Obama’s decision was greeted with howls of derision by those who argued that he was “uncommitted” to the Iraq venture and somehow did not make his best effort to keep troops there. Never mind that Vice President Joe Biden, the chief negotiator, traveled to Iraq more times than any senior US leader has traveled to any previous war zone.

Nonetheless, critics claimed that Obama’s administration had offered up Iraq to the Iranians. The “proof” was that Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki – a leader who may be called many things, but certainly not pliable or pliant – did not deliver the rest of the country’s political class to an agreement.

Early in the process, Maliki signaled two points to his American guests: he would like to see a continuing US troop presence in Iraq, but was unwilling to bear the entire political burden. He expected support from other Iraqi politicians; none came.

Sunni leaders, who tend to be grouped under the banner of the Iraqi National Party, Iraqiya, made clear that they would not support the continuation of US troops on Iraqi soil, denying Maliki the backing that he needed to forge a broad-based coalition. Sunni leaders have often expressed support for US forces’ presence in their country, but also believe that Iraq should no longer be a host to foreign troops. Polling data in Iraq, such as they are, reveal strong sentiments of the same kind: Iraqis appreciate US forces and what they have done, but nonetheless want them to leave.

The American writer Mark Twain once said: “Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Indeed, Iraq’s implacable anti-American radicals are now both astonished and confused. Iraq’s Sunni and Shia extremists agree on little, but one point of unison had been that the Americans would never leave their country voluntarily. Yet that is what is happening today.

Whether Americans will ever return to Iraq for exercises and training missions that exceed the scope of embassy-sponsored security-assistance initiatives remains to be determined. Iraq needs continued training programs to manage its airspace, and its land forces must still overcome the Soviet model of massed artillery and armored formations. But potential future missions, if they materialize, would be understood as emanating from a sovereign Iraqi decision, not as making a virtue out of a fact on the ground.

And so, with America’s withdrawal from Iraq paving the way for the administration’s tectonic policy shift on Asia, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed west, confident that they would have a smooth journey. They did not.

To the extent that Americans regard any foreign-policy speech as having relevance to their lives, Obama’s economic message at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Hawaii was on message and on target: jobs, jobs, jobs.

But, soon after, when Obama arrived in Australia and Clinton landed in the Philippines, what looked like a clean narrative about the economy abruptly unraveled: Obama promised his Australian hosts that the US would station fewer than a brigade of US Marines in far-off Darwin to train and exercise. No one could possibly believe that this step would be sufficient to allay whatever concerns the Obama administration and America’s Asian allies have about China’s growing military power, but that is how the US press played it.

When combined with Clinton’s crowd-pleasing appearance on a warship in Manila Bay, and her use of the term “West Philippine Sea,” the economic narrative stood little chance. The new storyline was that the US had started pulling out of Southwest Asia for the purpose of confronting China. Even the administration’s deft and courageous move to send Clinton to Burma, following Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from detention and decision to rejoin the political system, was portrayed as another effort to poke China in the eye.

America’s re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is welcome and overdue. Some of America’s partners in that part of the world ask very little, except for the US to pay attention now and again, attend meetings, and respect their consensual approach to problem solving. Just showing up, as the old aphorism goes, is half of life. In the Asia-Pacific region, it is sometimes even more than that.

But reengagement will come at too high a cost if it is widely seen as a path to confrontation with China, rather than overdue attention to everyone else. The US and the Asia-Pacific countries need to maintain productive relationships with China, which is becoming more complicated for everyone as China plunges into a period of internal introspection about its future.

How China emerges from this process, and how it behaves in its neighborhood – and globally – will determine much about what the world will look like in the medium and long term. We need to avoid creating self-fulfilling prophecies that stem from our deepest fears.

Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was US Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, US special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, and chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005-2009. He is now Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.
http://www.project-syndicate.org

Myanmar sheds that hermit image


November 30, 2011

http://www.thestar.com.my

Myanmar sheds that hermit image

Ceritalah
By KARIM RASLAN(11-29-11)

After decades of isolation, Myanmar is being brought back into the limelight by its military rulers led by President Thein Sein.

MYANMAR and Malaysia. It’s highly unusual for the two countries to be mentioned in the same breath – all the more so given Myanmar’s long-standing status as a “pariah” state. However, with the recent hotly-debated Peaceful Assembly Bill, it would appear that we Malaysians should be checking more closely with what’s going on in Myanmar.

Consider Tuesday’s closing ceremony of the SEA Games in Palembang and the extraordinary phrase emblazoned across the stadium: “See you in Myanmar.”

President Thein Sein has been cautiously testing the waters, releasing political prisoners, relaxing media coverage and allowing veteran politician Aung San Suu Kyi increased freedom of movement.

Moreover, last week’s summit in Bali resulted in the once hermit-like state being granted the chairmanship of the increasingly influential ASEAN grouping in 2014. What’s more is that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting in December – the highest-ranking American official to do so in decades.

All these would have been unthinkable back in 2007, when the military regime’s vicious crackdown on the Buddhist monk-led “Saffron Revolution” all but confirmed Myanmar’s pariah status.

At the same time, Myanmar’s new Peaceful Gathering and Procession Bill somewhat loosens restrictions on public meetings. Thein Sein has been intervening more dramatically, halting an unpopular Chinese-funded dam in Myitsone last September after local protests.

Could this be the signs of a responsive government? The generals have also made overtures to end Myanmar’s decade-old civil war with the country’s ethnic groups, like the Karen, Shan and Wa.

What gives these initiatives credibility is that they appear to have the support of Suu Kyi as well as her National League of Democracy (NLD), which won the abrogated 1990 elections. Indeed, NLD has since announced that it will register as a political party and contest in upcoming by-elections.

A “Myanmar Spring”? There’s every reason to be sceptical: Myanmar has tried to open up in the past, only to see a sharp conservative reaction. While the reforms are undoubtedly welcome, a lot more needs to be done before the country is truly re-integrated into the international community.

So what’s next for Myanmar? Personally, I can think of no better introduction to its history and possible future than my friend Thant Myint-U’s two books.

Grandson of the celebrated UN Secretary-General U Thant, Myint-U in 2007 published The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma, followed by this year’s Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia.

In The River of Lost Footsteps, Myint-U weaves Myanmar’s glorious but tragic history into his family narrative. It chronicles the many conflicts between the nation’s ethnic groups as well as attempts by foreign powers to impose order.

It’s hardly a cheerful read, but one is treated to the stoicism of Myanmar’s heroes, including independence hero General Aung San and his daughter Syu Kyi, the colourful post-colonial Prime Minister U Nu as well as U Thant.

Myint-U was fortunate enough to know or interview many of his subjects personally and indeed the book’s strength is its intimate feel.

Where China Meets India is a more geopolitical analysis. It traces China and India’s long history in Myanmar, particularly via bordering regions like China’s Yunnan province or India’s restive northeast.

Myint-U argues that Myanmar will be the site of the world’s next “great game”, as China and India battle for influence and natural resources in Southeast Asia. This is persuasive in light of the ongoing US$2.5bil (RM7.99bil), 2,380km-long Sino-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline that will link the port of Sittwe to Yunnan’s Kunming.

China hopes this pipeline will reduce its dependency on oil shipped through the Malacca Straits, which it fears India may be able to cut off with its burgeoning navy.

A recurring theme in Myint-U’s two books is that foreign nations cannot keep on isolating Myanmar, as its rulers have often simply turned their backs on the world. Indeed, the country’s current social policy may be conditional on the international community continuing to reward the regime for its good behaviour.

So while it’s probably wise to welcome the latest developments, the patient engagement of Myanmar ought to continue. However, a free and open Myanmar – with a population of 47 million, natural resources and strategic location – will be a strong rival for investment and influence.

The “Myanmar Spring” may well herald a new rivalry between mainland and maritime Southeast Asia. Finally, we Malaysians must ask ourselves: “Do we wish to fall behind ASEAN’s perennial human-rights laggard?”

UMNO Deputy President chides UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO Leadership


November 30, 2011

http://www.malaysia-chronicle.com

UMNO Deputy President chides UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO Leadership for Failure to capture attention of Gen-Y

Written by  Maclean Patrick, Stan Lee, Malaysia Chronicle

The manner in which Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin chided the UMNO Youth wing and Puteri UMNO is telling. Muhyiddin, the UMNO Deputy President, minced no words saying both wings had yet to capture the full attention of the younger generation. Hence, he said the two wings should work harder to be effective and remain relevant and of use to UMNO.

“I can’t deny that they have carried out many programmes and activities but the question is whether those programmes and activities have captured the attention and won the hearts of the young people,” Muhyiddin said in a recent interview with Bernama.

Muhyiddin said he also hoped that the younger generation of UMNO members would take advantage of this year’s assembly to raise issues concerning the aspirations of the “Generation Y’ as they made up 40 per cent of the country’s registered voters.

“So, they have to debate on the interests and the aspirations of this new generation, especially in terms of transparency, accountability, and whether what is being done will benefit them. All these aspects must be manifested in their debates at the assembly,” he said.

But Gen Y does not like UMNO’s caveman style of politicking

Indeed, Muhyiddin’s observation of the UMNO Youth wing led by Khairy Jamaluddin and Puteri UMNO under Rosnah Rashid Shirlin is not too far off the mark. But he is wrong in identifying the ultimate source of blame. Malaysia’s Generation Y has no issues with voting nor debating issues. It is with UMNO that Generation Y has an issue with! And neither Khairy and Rosnah have enough credibility to convince the extremely circumspect Gen Y into believing they are the salvation within a decadent UMNO.

Indeed, it looks like Khairy and Rosnah – both of whom despite their youth are already wealthy beyond the imagination of the masses – are unable to ‘lock minds’ with Gen Y, generally defined as those born after 1978. This group of privileged youngsters, due to better education and more prosperous parents, tend to extremely scrupulous, disdainful of gains not obtained through their own merit and take enormous pride in their skills and knowledge.

Certainly, it takes more than a YBs Can Jump basketball tournament or incessant, sharp-tongued twitters to hook in the young these days. Gen Y would expect KJ and Rosnah to stand up, draw a line and protest when the overly patriarchal UMNO such as Muhyiddin amd Mahathir Mohamad, sputter what they regard as sheer nonsense.

But neither KJ nor Rosnah have uttered a squeak even when it came to recent Peaceful Assembly Bill, which practically robs Malaysians of their fundamental right to gather and express their views. This Bill is a huge No, No as far as Gen Y is concerned. Yet, KJ and Rosnah pretend not to notice.

Not ‘real’

Both KJ and Rosnah can run all the activities and programmes they wish to get young people to support UMNO and thus, vote Barisan Nasional into power. But while the young Malaysia may attend the events, they are unlikely to vote UMNO given the huge question marks on how ‘real’ Khairy and Rosnah really are.

More likely, Malaysia’s Gen Y will see both these leaders as peddlers of poison ice-cream coated with Gen Y flavor. But once consumed, they will develop the same diarrhea that their parents and grandparents are now suffering.

During the July 9 Bersih 2.0 rally, there was a noticeable youth presence amongst the walkers. And these youths were came from all walks of life – rural or urban, female or male, rich or poor, tertiary or basic education.

Gen Y is aware of current issues affecting Malaysia and truly aspire for Malaysia to be the best that it can be. They can see through Najib’s bluster and bombast of making Malaysia “the world’s best democracy”. They sneer at him. So, it is UMNO itself which is clearly an obstacle to the aspirations of many Malaysian youths.

 To Gen Y, the UMNO patriarchs are out of touch

When Muhyiddin alluded to the failings of both UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO, he was kidding himself. He wasn’t looking at the whole picture. Really, Muhyiddin should understand Gen Y will not be interested as long as either wing support the racist and religious stance taken UMNO, the parent organisation.

Sad to say, neither wing has had the courage to break free and make its own stand reflecting what Gen Y wants. So far, both Youth and Puteri wings have gone contrary to parent UMNO only on select issues, and these only at the surface level.

For example, Khairy said when the wing decided to take a contrarian view on several controversial issues such as the Internal Security Act, freedom of the press and on the Universities and University Colleges Act, many in the party had questioned his move.

The right-wing in UMNO found it hard to understand UMNO Youth’s direction as the wing had previously played the role of the champion of the Malays and was very radical on ethno-centric issues.

“They said we were championing issues that were similar to the opposition’s agenda. But I kept explaining that we need to change because this is what the young people want. We can still be radical but we have to be radical progressive and radical moderates. Now our efforts have paid off,” a defensive KJ said.

The delusional Khairy

But have they really paid off? The delusional Khairy even seems to think that his Youth wing should be credited for the influencing UMNO to change and for helping to keep UMNO relevant. But to others, this was an example of why Khairy must go.

“He thinks he has done a lot but the fact is, he has done the least of any Youth leader in UMNO so far. To UMNO, the party as a whole, he is a washout and must be taken out. Frankly, I agree because Khairy is only putting on a show. He is preserving his own political reputation – not daring to be too ultra and yet not daring to really stand up and push for the reforms that UMNO needs,” a veteran UMNO watcher told Malaysia Chronicle.

As for Puteri UMNO, its chief Rosnah dismissed ‘rumours’ that she failed to get the full support of the “ladies in pink”.

“That is not true at all. We are as united as any movement can be. There are disagreements and there are times when some don’t agree with my ideas but otherwise, we are very close. To me, disagreements are part of the democratic process. It doesn’t distract us from our responsibilities in ensuring that UMNO remains relevant, especially to the younger generation,” Rosnah told the press last week.

Major shakeup in UMNO after GE-13

Indeed, the words of the two leaders of the youth wings in UMNO seem positive and they appear sure that they have done everything right and necessary for their party. So, why the negative comment from Muhyiddin?

As pundits say, interesting times are up for UMNO.With the 13th general election expected to be called in early 2012, chances are both Khairy and Rosnah will be allowed to save face so that UMNO as a whole can close ranks and fight the Pakatan Rakyat opposition with all their might. But the signal to the delegates at the ongoing assembly is clear.

The UMNO top leadership has acknowledged the failure of Khairy and Rosnah and will not oppose those who believe they can do a better job from contesting the posts of UMNO Youth chief and Puteri UMNO Chief at the party’s internal polls slated for the second half of 2012 – after GE-13! This is the writing on the wall for Khairy Jamaluddin and Rosnah Rashid.

Both are expected to make for the same exit as Women’s chief Shahrizat Jalil (picture above right), although the chances are high Shahrizat may announce plans to step down before the GE-13 in order to boost the BN’s chances. Rocked by a RM250 million corruption scandal involving the national livestock project NFC, Shahrizat has denied involvement but she is facing an uphill battle for political survival.

Malaysia Chronicle

Wanita UMNO’s Shahrizat at  her Incoherent Best


Tony Fernandes Versus Malaysia Airports on KLIA2 Cost


November 30, 2011

Tony Fernandes Versus Malaysia Airports on KLIA2 Cost

A leading local entrepreneur (left) and one of the country’s top GLCs are now locked in a face-off over the ballooning cost of the new low-cost carrier terminal (KLIA2) that could threaten Malaysia’s ambitions to be a regional transport hub.

Also at stake is whether the bad blood brewing between the two parties could affect the overseas growth of both Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) and one of its biggest customers and what is now Asia’s fourth-largest airline, AirAsia.

AirAsia CEO Tan Sri Tony Fernandes yesterday rubbished MAHB’s justifications for the doubling of the cost of KLIA2 from the original estimate of RM2 billion in 2009 to RM3.9 billion currently.

He said on Twitter that increasing the terminal capacity from 30 million to 45 million passengers made little sense as it would make it larger than “the whole of Singapore’s Changi Airport” and suggested that the cost would likely inflate even further.

“American Airlines just gone into bankruptcy. And Malaysian Airports spend 3.9 billion. I’m sure that’s not the final figure,” he tweeted, referring to the news that the US airlines’ parent company — AMR Corp — filed for bankruptcy yesterday.

MAHB maintains, however, that it needs to plan for future capacity as other airports are doing and expects KLIA2 traffic to hit 30 million as early as 2017. A check on Changi Airports International’s website also shows that Changi Airport has a capacity of about 70 million.

The price-sensitive airline magnate also told The Malaysian Insider that he doubted MAHBmanaging director Tan Sri Bashir Ahmad’s assurances yesterday that the increased cost will not result in higher passenger fees and other airport related charges, adding that he lost faith in the airport operator after it allegedly failed to live up to a previous “guarantee” to not increase in airport fees.

“I am very disappointed in MAHB. They guaranteed no increases even at the present terminal,” he said via text message, referring to the fact that MAHB recently started charging an extra RM7 per international passenger at the existing low cost carrier terminal (LCCT).

Bashir had pointed out yesterday that the airport charges and fees were regulated by the government and said that the fees for KLIA2 when it opens for business in April 2013 would be the same as that of the LCCT, at least until the next government review.

The MAHB managing director, whose contract reportedly ends in June next year, also touched a nerve when he announced yesterday that 80 aerobridges will be installed at KLIA2 despite much lobbying by Fernandes to omit the facility to help keep down costs. Bashir said that aerobridges would help the elderly, infirm and others who suffer restricted movement and said that the average extra cost per passenger was a negligible 25 sen.

Fernandes, however, seized on MAHB’s apparent defiance as an example of a breakdown in private-public co-operation.“Look across the Causeway and look at Singapore,” he said. “They listen to their airlines. Their budget terminal has no aerobridges.”

He also noted on Twitter that his flight to Boston, US where he is meeting investors also did not utilise an aerobridge. “Came off US Airways on steps just like AirAsia. Can’t believe how Malaysian Airports gets away. Worst run Malaysian company. Full of empty promises,” he tweeted.

Some MAHB executive, however, expressed private fears that the public spat between the two entities could harm the GLC’s image abroad where it is trying to expand its airport business.

Fernandes has built his business around keeping costs down and has often complained that the claimed lack of responsiveness of MAHB could threaten to derail AirAsia’s expansion plans to become the second largest carrier in Asia after Japan Airlines.

With AirAsia expected to be the largest budget airline flying out of KLIA2 by far, Fernandes’ response that he will not use the aerobridges despite Bashir’s public plea for support means this is a stalemate that could determine if KLIA2 takes off or simply crashes and burns.

UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin sets the tone for GE-13


November 30, 2011

http://www.malaysiakini.com

UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin sets the tone for GE-13 at UMNO General Assembly

by Hafiz Yatim (11-29-11)

UMNO has made a clarion call to its members from the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings to defend Putrajaya at all costs to ensure the sovereignty of the Malays.

NONEUMNO Deputy President Tan Sri  Muhyiddin Yassin, said UMNO is in a critical situation now.

He was speaking at the UMNO General Assembly tonight in Kuala Lumpur.

“The 13th general election is the mother of all elections as it would determine whether the Malays will fall or rise up. Will the political power remain in our hands or will it pass to others?” he asked.

“Do you want to see the political power to be lost and allow the opposition to win Putrajaya? Are we prepared to see the Malays losing their power on their own land? Certainly the answer is no,” said Muhyiddin in his joint speech to the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings tonight.

Muhyiddin urged all three movements to mobilise to defend UMNO and BN at all costs in the coming election.

The Deputy President also called on Wanita chief, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, to lead the female warriors of the party, and UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin to be the Malay warrior in leading his movement to be the defenders of UMNO.

“All votes from women are important as women have a strong influence in society. As for UMNO Youth we have the youngest warrior in Khairy, and he should move his members to fight in the strongest challenge the party is facing. Prepare yourself mentally and physically for the battle ahead.”

Muhyiddin said today’s landscape had changed where it now caters for the young, and UMNO must give its commitment and trust to the younger generation. “To UMNO leaders – give way to the younger generation for them to contribute in the party. Guide them as UMNO would not last without support from the younger generation,” he said.

Muhyiddin also had words for its new movement Puteri UMNO chief, Rosnah Sirlin, calling on her to play her role effectively.

“We have to remain united, have one mind, one prayer and one ambition to see the party remains strong. Disregard the differences and internal fights. “Believe that the party’s struggle is a jihad for the religion, race and country. It is a jihad for justice and protecting our rights. We have to believe that the coming election is important to our survival. The election is a fighting arena for all of you to become warriors. Do not retreat or surrender easily,” he said.

‘Let Leaders decide on candidates’

Muhyiddin said candidates were the weapons for the party and members should give their full trust and support to them.

“Let the Leaders decide on the choice of candidates. What is important is they have the calibre, are educated, are close to the people, clean, sincere, honest, have high morals and are accepted by society,” he said.

“Give your undivided support to the party and its leaders so that we could successfully promote the party president’s transformation agenda. The President is brave to introduce the political transformation, and change. This should be accepted by all UMNO members,” he said.

He urged members to defend the party at all costs and not to run away from the battle. “Do not retreat, do not sabotage, do not boycott, do not play dirty, do not close the party’s office during elections, and do not stab people from behind. Do not do anything that would hamper the party’s chances of winning. Remember the election is a contest to determine our survival. It is not to win individually but collectively as a party,” he said.

Focus on the problems faced by the people. Feel their pulse, hear their problems and go and assist them. We must be their eyes, ears and voice and most important we must be responsible to commit ourselves morally to assist the people,” said Muhyiddin.

Najib must deal with UMNO Warlords to win GE-13


November 29, 2011

Najib must deal with UMNO Warlords to win GE-13

by Baradan Kuppusamy@http://www.thestar.com.my

The pressing issue for UMNO is to hammer home the theme that the party’s warlords, division chiefs and apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

UMNO is mobilising its grassroots to stage its annual general meeting at PWTC in Kuala Lumpur this week in a great show of choreographed pomp and colour and with members pledging party unity ahead of the most crucial battle of all, the 13th general election.

The party is set to put on the biggest show ever and the media coverage will be overwhelming; a stark contrast to its rival PKR, which just concluded its annual general meeting in Pulai Springs Hotel, Johor, and whose assembly attracted less attention.

While for PKR, the debate in a nutshell centred on enemies from within, the UMNO debates are expected to centre on winning candidates – a theme Prime Minister and UMNO President Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has been broaching for some months now.

For the UMNO leadership, the pressing issue is to get the party grassroots behind this theme, that UMNO warlords, division chiefs and party apparatchiks are unimportant for the crucial battle ahead.

What is important would be winning candidates who will fight in the constituencies that UMNO will contest and in other constituencies where the party’s allies will do battle.

The challenge for the UMNO leadership is to convince the power brokers in the party and the division chiefs that the next election is a battle for  the party’s survival and that only a certain type of candidate will be allowed to carry the Barisan Nasional flag.

Najib has to convince the power brokers to voluntarily relinquish the decision to choose the candidates to the party’s top leadership.Once that is accomplished, this would ensure that the warlords and division chiefs work to ensure the party wins.

They must not, out of anger at not being chosen, simply abandon the election machinery in their areas, go for a holiday at the most crucial moment or even indulge in acts of sabotage.They must not, as party members, stand as independents and split the votes.

Everything hangs in the balance for the next general election: the number of seats that Barisan Nasi­onal can expect to win, the percentage of votes it can garner, the extent of transformation to society that has taken place and whether voters are convinced.

Najib has been preaching about winning candidates as he makes his rounds around the country.Deputy prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has also been spreading the importance of winning candidates.Above all, they want consensus.

An agreement from the party warlords that their candidate choices for the general election will be accepted and endorsed.

A division chairman or his deputy are not automatically the best candidates in their constituencies.The best candidates could be a humble teacher or a district officer or a doctor or just any ordinary member in the party hierarchy who has a certain degree of easy confidence and restraint and has no derogatory label at the local level.

This, then, is what Najib will set out to do – to establish the fact that party comes first above all else. The warlords will be asked to make sacrifices and not pull the party leviathan in different directions at the grassroots level. They will be asked to promise that they will strictly put party interest above self and support wholeheartedly the candidates that the leadership has chosen for the big battle.

Pakatan Rakyat is not an easy enemy to defeat. It might be wounded, it might have “enemies within” and it might have three different agendas.But they have a unifying figure in Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, no matter how beaten down, and a unifying vision of occupying Putrajaya.They are not easily defeatable.

Besides, UMNO has to carry the MCA, MIC, Gerakan and PPP into battle with it, at least in the peninsula.These parties are in various stages of reinventing themselves for a new generation of voters.

Except for the MCA, which is in a showdown with the DAP, the rest have to accept their defeated images and exist as feeders of votes to big brother UMNO in return for representation in parliament.

It’s a new reality that they will have to accept.Najib will spell out the realities of the altered political landscape at the UMNO general assembly that he is not just UMNO President but also the Prime Minister for all Malaysians no matter what their race, ethnic group or social status are.

Although badly mauled by defections, PKR has pledged to reinvent itself and fight UMNO.The DAP, on the other hand, is a strong, sleeping giant, sure of Chinese voter support.PAS, meanwhile, is struggling for Malay votes beyond its one-million card carrying members, having lost the political initiative to UMNO.

Its many liberal policies were designed to endear it to non-Malays but it has woken up late to the fact that it needs the Malay voters too and is fast catching up, ratcheting up a hardline stance.

If Najib can convince his party warlords to ease off and not battle him over his choice of candidates and to put party above self, then he would have won half the battle.

The other half is to convince voters that he has been working day and night since becoming Prime Minister in February 2009 while the “Prime Minister-in-waiting” Anwar has been giving speeches from India to Egypt and countries in between. Najib can win a new mandate from voters but he has to get his party warlords behind him.

The Situation in Myanmar is not without Hope


November 29, 2011

http://www.nst.com.my

The Situation in Myanmar is not without Hope, says Deva Ridzam

“ASEAN must pursue realistic goals with patience as well as perseverance, Myanmar can have a stable central government to hold the country together to ensure the overall development of the country. The decision to allow Myanmar to chair the regional grouping in 2014 is a far-sighted move by ASEAN”.–Ridzam

MYANMAR’S woes all these years have been a classic case of the leadership there being unable or unwilling to get its politics and economics right. Successive leaders, since 1962, never allowed parliamentary democracy envisioned by independence leader General Aung San to evolve and take root.

And in the context of both its own history and in terms of a politically evolving Southeast Asia, even the exercise of a flawed “democratic process” currently under way in Myanmar is better than what existed there until a few months ago.

Every member state of ASEAN must manage its socio-political and economic transition at its own pace. And this is what Myanmar’s new nominally civilian government seems to be attempting to do. Hopefully, its new constitution can provide the basis for a shift from authoritarianism towards a democratic path.

The junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), virtually gave up on ASEAN when it was forced to relinquish its chairmanship in 2006. The SPDC viewed it as an affront to Myanmar’s integrity. It created an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion of the regional bloc.

Asean’s so-called policy of “constructive engagement” failed miserably to start a dialogue with the junta. Hence, there was little understanding of the problems facing the generals there and the country.

Some ASEAN countries, while continuing their own business and other interests in Myanmar, tried to deflect lack of success by asking China and India to “exert influence” on the junta.

But these two neighbours of Myanmar also have their own national interests there. ASEAN and its partners should instead work on the basis of the junta’s seven-step plan.

The situation in Myanmar is not hopeless. Change there is inevitable sooner or later. Senior Gen Than Shwe is 74 years old. The generals  seem to accept the reality that the entire country  may not survive for long under intense domestic (monks, students and insurgencies) and international pressure.

The generals seem keen to move towards some sort of a “guided democratic” path, that is “soft authoritarianism” and may even find some sort of accommodation with the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party applied to re-register last week.

It would be wrong to view Myanmar solely through the lens of human rights and democracy or, for that matter, through any particular narrow perspective. More importantly, it is about “peaceful transition through national reconciliation”, which is key to solving their problems.

The point is to get all parties, especially the minorities, representing a third of the population, to talk together and explore common interests. Therefore, relying on  Suu Kyi alone and ignoring realities on the ground could lead to a Yugoslavia-type situation of civil war in Southeast Asia.

The international community should look to the future, nudge the generals towards greater flexibility, less negativity towards national reconciliation, better autonomy deals with insurgent groups as well as some arrangements with  Suu Kyi.

Instead of imposing external standards of democracy, the international community ought to be thinking in terms of transition from the present situation towards a “democratic path”, one that could lead to power sharing, multiparty elections and pluralistic democracy in the long term, with emphasis on capacity building and governance.

ASEAN should also encourage the generals to focus on the economy (investments to create jobs) as well as foster social cohesion, including social programmes relating to health and education, along with physical infrastructure. These are areas where the international community can and must help.

The evolving situation in Myanmar offers ASEAN and its dialogue partners a unique opportunity to allow the junta and all the other local parties to work out their own solution without outside interference or pressure.

ASEAN must pursue realistic goals and with patience as well as perseverance, Myanmar can have a stable central government to hold the country together to ensure the overall development of the country. The decision to allow Myanmar to chair the regional grouping in 2014 is a far-sighted move by ASEAN.