Tunku Aziz stands by his views on BERSIH3.0

April 29, 2012

Tunku Aziz stands by his views on BERSIH3.0

By Eileen Ng (04-28-12) | eileen@nst.com.my

DAP’s Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim will not apologise for voicing out his views against the BERSIH rally despite a public tick-off from the party supremo Lim Guan Eng.

In standing by his statement, the DAP Vice-Chairman said yesterday that he was merely voicing out his views on something which he believed in.

And at the same time, Tunku Aziz said Lim was entitled to issue any statement.”I made my point based on my personal opinion, belief and conviction. My conscience in this matter is clear,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

The 78-year-old Tunku Aziz said that while he was in full support of citizens’ right to assembly, it does not mean that he supported actions which were against the law.“I will not apologise for articulating values which I have always held — we must abide by the laws of the land.”

Tunku Aziz stressed that he had no quarrel with his party as his views were made based on personal conviction.“My quarrel is with BERSIH for insisting on a confrontation with the authorities. That to me is a non-starter. The issue is not where it is held but to voice out against unfair electoral practices, so does it matter where it is held? Don’t confuse the issue.”

Tunku Aziz acknowledged that he might have put DAP in an embarrassing light but stressed that he would not compromise when it came to the law.

“I support any movement to ensure free and fair elections but when it comes to breaking law, I draw the line.Lonely as it may be to be the lone dissenter, I value my conscience more than anything,” said Tunku Aziz, adding that he was prepared to face any disciplinary action from DAP.

Earlier, Lim accused Tunku Aziz of violating party processes when the veteran politician appeared to break ranks with the opposition by declaring in the Senate on Thursday that he opposed street demonstrations.

“Senator Tunku is alone among the entire DAP central executive committee in his stand on Bersih 3.0,” Lim said yesterday.He added that Tunku Aziz had not informed the party that he would make his stand publicly and as such, had put DAP in a bad light.

BERSIH 3.0: Reform storm gathers in Malaysia

April 28, 2012

asiatimes online: Bersih Rally

BERSIH 3.0 Reform storm gathers in Malaysia

By Simon Roughneen

Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square)

Almost 10 months after security forces forcibly broke up an electoral reform protest in the national capital, a chaotic repeat looms. The Malaysian government and city authorities will attempt to close off the city center square–Dataran Merdeka– where activists hope 100,000 people will gather this weekend to seek sweeping changes to the electoral system.

The rally organizers, known as BERSIH (Malay for “clean”) 3.0, are a coalition of  NGOs and human rights groups who say they want Malaysia’s electoral laws amended. Opposition members of parliament allege that tens of thousands of irregularities persist on the electoral register, while BERSIH has dismissed the election commission as toothless and called for the election commission to resign. The rally is being held ahead of anticipated snap polls later this year.

During a BERSIH rally last July 9, more than 1,600 people were arrested and scores injured, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. Police fired tear gas and water cannon at tens of thousands of peaceful protestors at various locations in Kuala Lumpur. The crackdown hit Prime Minister Najib Razak’s reform credentials and signaled his United Malays Nasional Organization (UMNO) party’s resistance to meaningful electoral reform before the next polls, which must be held by April 2013.

The stage is set for new clashes. Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail announced on Thursday that Dataran Merdeka, or Independence Square, will be closed from 6 am Friday to 6 am Sunday after Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said protesters had refused offers that four stadia elsewhere in the city could be used for the rally.

Cynthia Gabriel, Director of SUARAM, a human-rights organization and part of the BERSIH 3.0 steering committee, told Asia Times Online that the protesters should be allowed to convene at the square. “This is a last-minute effort to make it as difficult as possible for us logistically to hold the rally,” she said. “We have promised that the protest will be peaceful, and in any functioning democracy the right of citizens to stage a peaceful rally is enshrined in law.”

The government’s move is being seen as a test of BERSIH’s resolve. “Merdeka Square is a matter of principle – backing down at the last minute will obviously cause confusion and also a loss of momentum,” said Greg Lopez of Australian National University.

The rally comes almost a month after the Malaysian government proposed 22 electoral reforms that Bersih considers insufficient. Political analysts believe Saturday’s rally could take place less than six weeks before parliamentary elections that might be held on June 5.

Gabriel (left) said “only the issue of indelible ink has been addressed” (which would prevent voters from casting a ballot multiple times) in the proposed electoral changes. She and other BERSIH leaders advocate that an election not be held until the latest possible date, allowing the government sufficient time to pass and implement more substantive reforms into law.

Beginning in September 2011, Najib’s government announced a series of reforms, including of the repressive print media codes and notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) that allowed for indefinite detention without trial.

The changes “underline my commitment to making Malaysia a modern, progressive democracy that can be proud to take its place at the top table of international leadership”, said Najib, speaking on the eve of celebrations marking the founding of the modern Malaysian state in 1963.

However, Opposition Member of Parliament Dzulkefly Ahmad of the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) dismisses Najib’s reform drive. “What the big print gives the small print takes away,” he told Asia Times Online, suggesting that the reform announcements were more about electioneering than substantive change.

Electoral maneuvers

Analysts believe that a big turnout on Saturday could influence whether the government calls the elections soon. If the lockdown succeeds in keeping supporters away from the rally, a low turnout could give the impression of a waning desire for political change and thereby spur the government into holding an early snap poll. Under present laws, the government needs to give only a week’s notice before holding an election, giving the opposition little time to prepare a nationwide campaign.

The UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional (BN, or National Front) ruling coalition has governed Malaysia since independence. The present opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, a former UMNO insider, achieved its best-ever result in 2008, denting the government’s two-thirds parliamentary majority for the first time in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious state.

Around 60% of Malaysians are either ethnic Malay or other “indigenous” groups and are mostly listed as Muslim. Another 25% are ethnic Chinese and 7% mostly Tamil-speaking Indian-Malaysians. Party and voting allegiances have not traditionally been cast on strict ethnic lines, however, with UMNO and PAS competing for the “Islamic” vote and with separate Chinese-dominated parties in both the BN and opposition coalitions.

Earlier in the week, the Kuala Lumpur Mayor slammed BERSIH as an opposition front, something the protesters have consistently denied. “It is a natural consequence that opposition parties back any civil society drive for free and fair elections,” reasoned BERSIH organizer Gabriel “as the perceived cheating in any poll would be disadvantageous to them”.

On Friday, government-linked media played up opposition senator Tunku Abdul Aziz’s description of BERSIH as “irresponsible” for refusing to back down on the rally venue. The Democratic Action Party (DAP) representative’s comments highlighted that despite government claims BERSIH and the parliamentary Opposition are not locked in a seamless alliance.

Indeed, the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance) coalition itself is an unwieldy amalgam of Anwar’s centrist Keadilan party, the secular Malaysian-Chinese DAP and the sharia law-favoring PAS, whose divergent interests are perhaps only held together by the prospect of displacing BN from power.

Asked if the Opposition could win in a free and fair vote, Member of Parliament Ahmad said, “I don’t know,” conceding that “Najib is making himself look so earnest with all these reforms.”

Looking ahead to eventual elections, Yang Razali Kassin of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said BN would go all out to win back its previously held two-thirds majority and the four out of 13 federal states lost to the opposition in 2008.

“In that sense, the opposition will be on the defensive,” he said. The Prime Minister’s popularity has jumped after recent increases to civil service salaries, one-off cash transfers to low-income families and recent reform announcements.

After the negative response to last July’s crackdown on the BERSIH 2.0 rally, analysts believe it would be counter-productive and counter-intuitive for the government to back a similar crackdown on Saturday.

However, Home Affairs Minister Hussein was by early Friday speaking of the proposed rally as a security issue, hinting that a repeat of last July’s crackdown was possible if BERSIH tried to access Independence Square.

For now, political analysts feel that the governing parties are well placed to win any upcoming election. “The real issue is how big will BN win,” said Lopez, adding that the opposition had failed to make inroads into the government’s voter-heavy stronghold of east Malaysia, where the election could be won or lost.

Simon Roughneen is a foreign correspondent. His website is http://www.simonroughneen.com.

Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.

PRESS STATEMENT: DAP’s Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng chastises Tunku Abdul Aziz

With a politically-motivated Elections Commission (EC), Malaysians face the dirtiest general elections in history. As all other efforts to clean up the electoral process has failed, civil society has no other choice but to group under BERSIH to involve all Malaysians to press for clean elections in the BERSIH sit in protest tomorrow.

I am therefore compelled to publicly chastise Senator Tunku Abdul Aziz’s irresponsible remarks opposing BERSIH’s right to assemble peacefully and conduct a sit-in protest at Dataran Merdeka at 2pm 28.4.2012 to press for clean, free, fair and independent elections. Tunku’s remarks is not the DAP stand but his own personal view. Senator Tunku is alone amongst the entire DAP Central Executive Committee in his stand on BERSIH 3.0 at Dataran Merdeka.

Tunku has not notified the party leadership that he would be making his position publicly. By making his stand public, Tunku has contradicted the principle of collective leadership and decision-making where whilst one can disagree, but as leaders we all have to abide by the majority decision made by the party leadership.

This has placed the party in an embarrassing position of being criticized by our own Senator for fully endorsing BERSIH’s sit-in protest as an exercise of a basic human right of peaceful assembly.

By opposing BERSIH when so many Malaysians are working hard to effect change for a clean electoral process, Tunku has undermined their efforts and given a gift to BN and the tainted Election Commission.

I have conveyed to Tunku Aziz the party’s rebuke and the unhappiness of almost all DAP members at the public expression of his personal views against BERSIH’s sit-in protest. I have also impressed upon him that whilst DAP allow differences of opinion within the party, publicly opposing a policy decision taken by the party in the manner Tunku has conducted himself does more harm than good.

For the electorally abuses by a politically inclined Election Commission, where its top officials were UMNO members that has allowed itself to be used as a tool by BN, DAP fully supports and will mobilize its members for the BERSIH sit-in protest for clean elections on 2pm 28 April 2012 nation-wide. DAP urges all Malaysians to join the BERSIH rallies nation-wide, especially at Dataran Merdeka.

DAP strongly condemns the actions and warnings by the government, especially Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur, to ban this peaceful sit-in protest by instilling fear of untoward incidents.

The use of fear tactics only betrays the real character of the BN government as dictatorial and tyrannical. As American President Thomas Jefferson said,

When a government fears the people, there is liberty;
When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.

The time has come to ensure a bright and clean future for our children free from fear. Only a clean election process untainted by abuses committed by the EC can give birth to clean leaders who give hope to all Malaysians.

Press Statement by DAP Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng
April 27, 2012

April 28, 2012: The Day has come

April 28, 2012

Message from BERSIH’s Ambiga to Malaysians and Friends at Home and Abroad

Thousands of Malaysians around Dataran Merdeka

The Day has come. In a matter of 14 hours, the sit down rally will commence in Kuala Lumpur in the vicinity of Dataran Merdeka, and over the next 24 hours, Malaysians and friends abroad will act in solidarity for electoral reform by having similar sit downs in key cities around the world. Let us hope that the rally in Kuala Lumpur will be peaceful and free of incidents. –Din Merican

The Duo’s UMNO Affiliation tarnishes EC’s Image

April 27, 2012

The Duo’s UMNO Affiliation tarnishes EC’s Image

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

COMMENT: Referees must not only act impartially but must be seen to be so. Their bona fides as neutral interlocutors, favouring no side in enforcing the rules, must be beyond question. Otherwise their position as referee is untenable.

The old saw that justice must not only be done but seen to be done applies to any role requiring the mediation of a person vested with the task of holding the scales between competing interests in a balanced way.

In these roles, the appearance of being fair and doing what is fair are indivisible aspects of the same function, the one dovetailing nicely with the other – a seamless garment with no folds.

By these standards, the present chairman and secretary of the Election Commission (EC), Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (left) and Wan Ahmad Wan Omar respectively, now find their positions untenable.

The fact they are UMNO members straightaway renders their occupation of the top two posts in the body charged with running and refereeing elections in Malaysia as impossible to justify on grounds of natural justice.

The honourable thing for both of them to do is to quit their positions without delay. Their replacement by people with strong credentials for fair conduct must be effected before the next general election.

Now that it is not denied Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad (right) are UMNO members, nothing they say in extenuation can absolve them of their being in a caught-out situation – that is, they are not neutral interlocutors, and cannot be construed as having the capacity to be impartial.

In other words, their membership in a political party has encumbered them with the fatal flaw of partisanship.

The very fact that both, having been caught-out in a non-neutral zone, have said things in mitigation of their position as UMNO members only serves to highlight the defect in their capacity for fair dealing.

A proper conception of that capacity would have, by dint of their membership of a political party, prevented them from being eligible for appointment to their present positions in the EC.

But an UMNO-dominated government, steeped in a half-century’s habit of thinking its writ is beyond question, has blurred the lines of demarcation between state and party interests such that people like Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad don’t know the difference between the two even when they are appointed to positions that make it imperative they do.

Thus when they are caught out as they have been in this instance when it is undeniable they have lacked an important credential – non-partisanship – for their present position, they stumble into an orgy of extenuation, retailing one excuse after another.

EC’s partial conduct

Men of honour, when similarly caught-out, would apologise and tender their resignation. Even if they have a plausible reason that would mitigate their offence, they will allow a lapse of time before they say something in extenuation.

Tun Hussein Onns Nobility of Conduct

One of the better examples of such nobility of conduct was displayed by former Prime Minister Hussein Onn in the mid-1980s, some years after his retirement from the top post.

He tangled with the Dr Mahathir Mohamad administration over who was actually responsible for the Maminco Affair, the infamous episode in 1981 when the government tried to corner the international market in tin on the London exchange.

The affair incurred huge losses and was deeply embarrassing to the government. Incidentally, cabinet records showed that the decision to corner the market was made at the tail end of Hussein’s tenure as Prime Minister.

Apparently, Hussein could not recall the episode. In extenuation, it must be said that he was recovering from heart bypass surgery at the time the cabinet decision was taken and when his administration was virtually on auto-pilot.

Yet, when the relevant cabinet meeting minutes were publicly exposed and showed that he was in charge, he did not hesitate to offer his apology for the memory lapse.

Many sympathised with him, sensing his anguish at having to be saddled with responsibility for an action whose enormity could not be visualised at the point in time when it was made and about a matter whose initial contours were hazy at best and unthreatening at worst.

The ethos that UMNO has foisted on the nation’s politics, which has allowed someone to be Chief Justice who had earlier been the party’s lead counsel, has become so permissive that Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad could be forgiven for thinking that their membership in UMNO did not disqualify them for the posts they hold in the EC.

UMNO luminaries have been appointed to the governorships of states without hereditary sultans, a position that used to be reserved for renowned educationists and other non-politically affiliated society notables.

If such permissiveness has become the norm, how, then, could ordinary membership of the party be a disqualifier for signal posts in the EC?

The baffled reactions of Abdul Aziz and Wan Ahmad to the discovery they have been UMNO members are indicative of how matters to do with what is perceived as honourable and impartial conduct have deteriorated on UMNO’s prolonged watch. That watch is no longer sustainable.

In Honour of Tun Hussein Onn: A Son’s Tribute

April 27, 2012

Note to My Readers and Friends:

I may not go along with the politics of Dato’ Seri Hishamuddin Hussein, but I agree with his assessment of the legacy and achievements of his late Father, Tun Hussein Onn, our Third Prime Minister.

To me, Tun Hussein was a reluctant politician but when the nation was in crisis in 1976 following the untimely passing of Tun Abdul Razak in London, he accepted the awesome responsibility of premiership. He felt that it was his fervent duty to carry on and see through the vision and work of his fallen predecessor. But he did that in his own inimitable style.

To quote Dato Hishamuddin, “[W]hen Tun Hussein took the helm of the country after the untimely demise of Allahyarham Tun Razak, he was consumed with the awareness that his was a position of great responsibility. He did not shirk his responsibility, nor did he seek to benefit from the high office. He did his best in the only way he knew how, and that was by being careful and methodical. He valued and sought consensus.

Tun Hussein Onn was there when the country needed him most. His towering personality- a man with integrity, discipline and a sense of purpose– is indeed sorely missed in the Malaysian political landscape today.”

Yes, Tun Hussein was the first among equals and a patriot. I remember him with great fondness since we used to practise golf together as the Subang National Golf Club in the 1970s. He loved golf and worked hard at it.

Men of Tun Hussein’s generation put our country first and last. They are the forgotten heroes of Malaysia of my youth.

On the eve of BERSIH 3.0, I decided to post this speech which was delivered recently at the launch of the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at ISIS Malaysia.

I urge Home Affairs Minister Dato Seri Hishamuddin to walk in the steps of his beloved father, the late Tun Hussein, and protect ordinary Malaysians from harm’s way as they are gathering in Kuala Lumpur for the BERSIH3.0 rally on April 28, 2012. Their cause is electoral reform and civil disobedience is their means to get their message across to a recalcitrant UMNO-BN government–Din Merican

In Honour of Tun Hussein Onn: A Son’s Tribute

by Dato Hishamuddin Hussein Onn

Alhamdulillah, praise be to Allah SubhanahuWata’ala, for it is with his Grace and Blessing that we are gathered here today at the launch of the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies.

First and foremost, I would like to express, at the very outset, my deepest appreciation to the Noah Foundation and its Chairman, YBhg. Datin Paduka Dr Faridah Abdullah, for graciously committing to fund the Chair for an initial period of ten years. This generous support for the Tun Hussein Chair is indeed a testament of the Foundation’s commitment towards programs which benefit Malaysia at the macro-level.

I would also like to record my appreciation to the Board of Directors of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia and its Chairman, YBhg. Tan Sri Mohd Jawhar Hassan, for initiating the idea of establishing the Tun Hussien Chair in ISIS. The family of Allahyarham Tun Hussein Onn is deeply touched by this gesture to honour and remember a former Prime Minister who was also the first Chairman of this iconic Institute.

ISIS Malaysia

Indeed, Institute of Strategic Studies (ISIS) was very close to the heart of my late father, especially in his retirement. Some of you may remember, Allahyarham Tun used to spend Thursdays here, attending to official work as the Chairman and then spending the rest of the day borrowing books from the library and calling up ISIS research staff for discussions and briefings on major political issues. As you may notice, some of the books in the library, have their passages underlined and notes scribbled, that was indeed what my late father enjoyed most.

Allahyarham Tun Hussein also used to take active part in many of the major conferences and seminars that ISIS organized, very often as the keynote speaker. He saw in ISIS an institution that went beyond the world of diplomacy to build bridges and nurture people-to-people relations among nations.

It is my hope, that the present and subsequent holders of the Tun Hussein Chair will share the same vision with Allahyarham Tun, in building bridges and maintaining ties especially in this new post-globalization international landscape.

On that note, I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to YBhg. Dato’ Dr. Muthiah Alagappa for being appointed the first-holder of the Chair. I am confident that the Chair will benefit greatly from his outstanding scholarship and emerge as a significant source for new knowledge and fresh insight in the field of foreign policy and international relations. I envision, in the years to come, that this Chair will be the standard bearer for excellent academic scholarship in the field of foreign policy and international relations, for the benefit of our great nation.

Tun Hussein: A Towering Malaysian Personality

It has been more than two decades since the passing of Allahyarham Tun Hussein Onn and yet his contributions to our young nation are still fondly remembered and his presence dearly missed not just by the family, but by fellow Malaysians.

He was one of the finest sons Malaysia has ever produced and a father, a child looks up to in loving admiration and for inspiration.  The third Prime Minister of Malaysia was a man who dedicated his entire life to public service and championing causes close to his heart.

Whether it was in the army, the legal fraternity or later in politics: as a Cabinet minister, Deputy Prime Minister and then Prime Minister, he had but one goal- it was to see a nation that was free and independent, prosperous and united. Consistent he was in seeing through this goal, from youth to adulthood, the peak of his career and in retirement.  He was a Malay patriot and a committed Malaysian, someone who understood that nothing of value was attained without sacrifice.

His life-story has been about sacrifice- from helping his father, Dato’Onn, unite the Malays and found UMNO to being apart from his young family to complete his law studies in London and coming back to mainstream politics when he felt Malays were marginalized.  He once quipped “There is no nobler thing than to serve your country, what higher ambition can a man have?” It was indeed those words which subsequently pushed me into the foray of politics, to follow in his giant footsteps, to dedicate my life to public service and serving Malaysia.

Allahyarham Tun was a man who had convictions of steel and he was prepared to act on them. He was consistent in his struggles and at ease with his values and principles. At key junctures in his life, these would lead him to take different paths from what others would have liked. As you would know, he was the first leader of UMNO Youth and later Secretary-General. Yet, he left duty-bound to join his father, my grandfather, Dato’ Onn Jaafar, to pursue the latter’s dream of establishing a non-communal political party in Malaya.

Dato’ Onn believed deeply that communalism was something that could destroy the country’s hard won Independence. My father was consistent, later when he rejoined UMNO in 1969, and as Prime Minister from 1976 to 1981, he ensured that communalism was kept at bay and invested in strengthening race-relations in the country.  He will always be remembered for mostly as Bapa Perpaduan- a testament to his commitment towards fostering national unity and preserving harmony in our young nation.

Tun Hussein is remembered as a gentleman who was thoughtful and soft-spoken. His style was not to bedazzle for he was not a particularly fiery orator. His method was to communicate and reason simply, and never to simply communicate and reason. Ask anyone who knew him and they will tell you that as a man and as a leader, it was never all about him.

Many journalists and commentators have written about his gentleness and humility. Ego did not figure in what he did and said. The fact that he did not covet personal glory and power was often held against him. He once said “If I am trusted to serve, if the country wants me, I will not refuse at whatever cost to me. But to scramble for office at whatever cost, no.”

In a moving account that was written on my father’s passing, Allahyarham Tan Sri Dr Noordin Sopiee, the first Director General of ISIS Malaysia and one of the finest minds that Malaysia has produced, recounts what Tun told him on the eve of his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister in 1973. My father said, “People can be too easily led into wanting publicity more than achievement. … What I do is important. But me, I’m not important.”

Throughout his life, he held steadfast by his principles, and core values. He had a deep-seated fear of the corruption of power and of the tyranny of applause. To him his integrity is worth more than anything else. Once the trust is lost on a politician as he says, the premise to lead falters, and the sacred social contract between the people and the leader is broken.

When Tun Hussein took the helm of the country after the untimely demise of Allahyarham Tun Razak, he was consumed with the awareness that his was a position of great responsibility. He did not shirk his responsibility, nor did he seek to benefit from the high office. He did his best in the only way he knew how, and that was by being careful and methodical. He valued and sought consensus.

Tun Hussein Onn was there when the country needed him most. His towering personality- a man with integrity, discipline and a sense of purpose is indeed sorely missed in the Malaysian political landscape today.

Tun Hussein Onn: Internationalist and Malaysia’s International Relations

Having spent 8 years studying law in the UK and in 4 years pursuing a military career in India, Allahyarham Tun Hussein Oon was an outward looking leader with global perspectives. Indeed, the 1970s provided a strong test for his internationalist character.

During his tenure as Prime Minster, the international system took a hit- the world economy had still to recover from the global downturn that started with the Arab oil embargo after the Arab-Israeli War of 1973.

Globally, inflation was running rampant and unemployment was rising. Stagflation was recorded in Western economies. Currencies had become unshackled from their moors. In 1970, world inflation averaged around 6 per cent, which was already much higher than previous years. In 1979, it hit a peak of 13 per cent. Interest rates were in the double digits. That same year, there was another oil shock that sent economies, even high-growth ones like Malaysia, reeling.

Politically, the world was awash with conflict. For most of the decade, West Asia was in crisis, not only because of Israel’s occupation of Palestine but also internal discontent. Civil war raged in Lebanon during the second half of the decade and uprisings in Iran, which had begun in late 1977, culminated in the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. In Central Asia, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It set into motion a chain of events that continues to this day. The Soviet invasion re-intensified the Cold War with the West. Before then, relations had actually started to improve, with negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States to limit the number of nuclear weapons.

But there were positive developments as well. Perhaps most notable among them was the 1978 Camp David Peace Accord signed between Egypt and Israel. Although not liked by many Arabs, the Accord reduced conflict in the Middle East and provided the basis for a period of relative calm. Closer to home, China, which had been undergoing leadership struggles since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, finally saw Deng Xiaoping emerge as leader in 1978. Deng then initiated the ‘four modernisations’ which led to the opening up of the Chinese economy, with profound benefits for the global economy and regional prosperity.

However, the biggest challenge was closer to home- combating the threat of the rise of communism. Tun Hussein was an avid neutral, internationalist at a time when the world was divided into two separate spheres of influence between the West and the Communists. The period of his premiership was a period of political turmoil in Southeast Asia especially in Indochina.

Saigon fell in 1975 and the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot took over Cambodia in April 1976, rocking Indochina’s fragile and complex political landscape.  The threat of Domino effect sweeping the region became ever so real. Acting in concert with other ASEAN member states, Malaysia emphasized independence, non-alignment and peaceful cooperation. Thus, the First ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia in 1976 saw the Declaration of ASEAN Concord and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. The first of these pledged member states to work together to promote peace and stability, while the second put in place a framework for the settling of conflicts without the use of force. The subsequent year, Kuala Lumpur hosted the Second Summit, which my father chaired, and that celebrated the first decade of ASEAN.

Tun Hussein, a committed internationalist also visited  Deng Xiaoping in China and  Alexei Kosygin and Brezhnev in Moscow in 1979, to get the two Communist giants to respect the neutralization policy by ASEAN countries adopted under the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN).

Tun Hussein was a man committed to peace and harmony, and he was a champion of Malaysia’s foreign policy of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect with all countries, regardless of size and political systems. His commitment towards peace and national security, serves as an inspiration to me today in ensuring that our nation is protected at all time.

I have touched briefly on some of what I think were then the more important world and regional events to give a sense of the times surrounding Allahyarham Tun Hussein Onn’s term in office. To say that they were challenging is an understatement. Changes, both negative and positive were occurring, and key decisions had to be made. It was clear that a level head and a steady hand were needed, and the government that he led provided a significant measure of both.

Continuing on from the solid foundations laid by his predecessor, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Hussein forged a course of peace and stability that enabled the country to grow, develop and prosper for the decades to come. Indeed, he was a responsible leader and a visionary when it comes to international relations.

Importance of International Studies for Contemporary Malaysia

Let me now conclude by saying a few words about international studies. Dato’ Dr Muthiah will be delivering his Inaugural Lecture shortly and so I will be brief. Probably more than in the case of other disciplines, works on international studies have been dominated by Western scholarship. Asian and other non-Western scholarship has grown tremendously in recent decades, but the West continues to exert the primary influence on the discourse with regard to organizing concepts, analytical frameworks and, especially, the framing of issues.

Despite claims to universality and objectivity it is only understandable and even unavoidable that perspectives and approaches tend to be influenced to some extent by particular historical experiences, national interest and cultural background.

This of itself is not a major problem. The world owes a great deal to Western scholarship, much of which is indeed of universal relevance and applicability. Many non-Western scholars themselves are Western in their thinking and writing due to their training and reading. But perspectives from other historical, cultural and geopolitical contexts are nevertheless in relatively short supply and are greatly needed to enrich our understanding of international issues and inform our approaches to promoting peace, security and prosperity.

It is here that Chairs such as the one ISIS is establishing and scholars such as Dato’ Dr Muthiah, can make an invaluable contribution to the texture and body of knowledge available in international studies. It is our responsibility to chart out recommendations for  Malaysia’s foreign policy in the post-Globalization era, and figure out which frontiers we ought to master and engage in the years to come.

The International Studies Chair at ISIS Malaysia can play a pivotal role in contributing to this objective. I know that my late father would have been proud to be associated with it.  On behalf of my family and myself, I now take great pleasure in officially launching the Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at ISIS Malaysia.

High Stakes for BERSIH 3.0 rally

April 27, 2012


High Stakes for BERSIH3.0 rally

by Bridget Welsh

COMMENT As the buzz surrounding Bersih grows louder, the stakes are rising. As the week began, many wrote off BERSIH 3.0, suggesting that the outrage and momentum did not echo the sentiments of last July. They suggested that the playing the rally card again would backfire.

Yet, as the week unfolded, and with the DBKL’s (City Hall’s) response to the occupation of Dataran Merdeka and students calling for free tertiary education, the tide slowly began to turn. It was BN which appeared to be playing a bad hand.

NONEWhile there was a decentralisation of who was on the frontline for the BN this time, local authorities rather than national leaders, the end result was the same – a failure to address deep-seated concerns about electoral integrity and unwillingness to accept the protest that has arisen by the failure to address these concerns.

While many remain undecided, the ground is moving. Like the earlier two rallies, BERSIH 3.0 has evolved into an event that captures a broad range of concerns, from the environment, religious rights, 1Care health insurance scheme and corruption to electoral reform and free education.

The core of these issues involves a call for better governance and greater consultation with Malaysians. This has been the central nerve of Malaysian politics since 1998-1999, as leaders who are seen to be engaging in reform win power and those who don’t lose support.

This was the case in 2004 and 2008. The BERSIH 3.0 rally will shape whether this will be the case in 2012 (or 2013).Over the last few weeks, analysts have used online/social media and forums to highlight the need for electoral reform, pointing to serious problems in the electoral roll, electoral system, electoral rules and the independence of the Electoral Commission (EC).

By any measure and international standards, these problems are credible and cannot be dismissed. Many of these problems have been around for a long time; the EC’s independence was lost in 1962, for example. Gerrymandering and malapportionment have been serious issues for decades, and were exacerbated after the 1969 racial riots. What makes the ‘old’ issues more salient is the competitiveness of the upcoming polls, as these factors have been shown to influence outcomes in the past.

chart on gerrymandering 02

Malaysia has long been touted as an example of electoral authoritarianism, where the electoral system is used to buttress the support of the incumbent in power.

Foreigners could well decide General Election

What makes electoral reform even more potent this time around is the changes that have been brought into the system since 2008, often without proper review or adequate debate. Here is where the discussion of the electoral roll fits in. To my knowledge, there is no place in the world that allows this many foreigners to vote for the strategic purpose of winning office.

Few can understand why authorities would sell out the interests of its citizens as a whole by bringing in non-Malaysians to vote. This is especially hard to understand when so many Malaysians abroad are clamouring to vote, but were denied this by both the Election Commission and Malaysian courts.

azlanStrategic political citizenship is sadly not new in Malaysia’s history, as Sabahans can attest to. Little attention is given on its long-term impact on the country’s social fabric and the marginalisation of different communities as the right to vote is given to immigrants for political expediency.

Foreigners, new postal voters, procedures that limit transparency in voting and more have raised serious red flags about Malaysia’s electoral processes and the sad fact is that if elections are held in these circumstances, the victory would not be a genuine one. It would be a hollow mandate fabricated through manipulation.

To use an analogy that football fans can understand, there is no longer a referee. The opposition has been told that they can only stand in their own side of the field and all the players in the incumbent team are offside near their rival’s goal. This is not a fair fight, but a fixed one.

Where has the sense of integrity gone? Does the BN need a victory so bad that it would play on such an unlevel field?The reason these issues are so important is, to quote Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the next election will be “the mother of all elections”.

Of the 222 seats up for grabs, I believe 170 are competitive – a swing of 10 percent either way will make a marked difference given the new configuration of younger voters and changing terrain. Of these 170 competitive seats, nearly 90 of these are “highly competitive” – meaning that in the fluid conditions of Malaysian politics, either side can win. Up until BERSIH, it was my view that BN had the advantage.

Prime Minister Najib Razak – through his hard work and use of finances (another problematic area in Malaysian elections – BR1M’s cash handouts involved 5.3 million households at a cost of RM2.3 billion, for example) had made headway and was steering BN into a comfortable win, relying heavily on seats in Sabah and Sarawak.

While there were the unknowns of infighting within his party, UMNO, the inability of the opposition to formulate a unified message and move beyond capitalising on negative angst against the BN and UMNO, continued to work in BN’s favour. The big issue that boosted Najib was perceptions (not necessarily reality) that the economy was stronger than in 2008, as well as the impact of the attacks on Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Now, this dynamic is again in flux. The competition has risen sharply, as seats in the BN’s hands are less secure. The recent questionable changes involving the electoral process are even more important, and contentious.

The Battle for the Middle Ground

When BERSIH3.0 first began, it attracted the base that voted for the Opposition, those that have already made up their minds.The BN’s response – a hardline one that denied access to Dataran Merdeka, showcased the use of the Police via DBKL, involved denial of electoral problems through the EC’s explanatory report as “anomalies” and even featured taxi drivers linked to BN in an appeal to move the venue elsewhere – involved three key elements:

1) Denial of problems.

2) A traditional attempt to tar the protesters as a threat to stability.

3) The failed attempt to use the racial card.

It mirrored the well-honed old political style. At its core, there are some in UMNO who see similarities between Merdeka Square and Tahrir Square, and are worried this arena will be a focal point for change. These sort of concerns led to the siege mentality last July. Yet, it has evolved into a new dynamic. To understand Malaysian politics today, it is important to appreciate its diversity and pluralism.

The days where power can be decided by a group of leaders meeting in private are gone. It is the people who have the power, not the politicians. Both sides are using numbers and people to win support. The BN-linked NGOs have come out to voice their own concerns, as have some of their beneficiaries. The opposition too is using its own links.

Yet this rally involves many politically-engaged Malaysians who are not tied directly to any party. Their focus is on the issues they represent. Many of these form what in political science is known as ‘critical citizens’ – those who view both sides with scepticism and want the system as a whole to improve.

This is what makes BERSIH 3.0 so important, in that it is a reflection of Middle Malaysia – the middle ground led by critical citizens. In Middle Malaysia, there are four groups in particular that will shape the electoral outcome.

NONEThe first is youth. Young voters are crucial in the results, as they make up at least two million of the new voters. They are distributed across seats, although disproportionally less likely to vote as they are outstation.

Malaysia remains one of the handful of countries in Asia which have a voting age of 21, considerably higher than the global average and this disenfranchises its youth.

They have now become more politically active, reminiscent of the 1960s. Today the issue of free education and treatment of students has made BERSIH 3.0 highly emotive among many younger Malaysians, and their turnout will be a test for how the ground is moving.

The second group is middle-class voters. Many of these individuals had never been to a protest before July 2011 and if they show up in high numbers, then it will highlight the challenge the government faces in winning over key opinion leaders in various communities.

These are the doctors, the civil servants, the bankers and clerks, the community leaders who have social capital and can shape opinions. They make up the heart of critical citizens, informed and engaged in issues.

The third group that will matter this time round will be the regional events nationally and internationally, especially in East Malaysia.These are not only the ‘fixed deposit’ areas, but are where many of the electoral problems are most acute, especially foreigner voters. Greater activism outside of Kuala Lumpur will illustrate that the concerns are not confined to the urban core, but national (and international) in scope.

Finally, the fourth group that will matter is the police and other security groups such as Rela (Volunteers Corps), whose actions will reflect on their professionalism.

A crackdown will only serve to reinforce the sense of unfairness and the need for better governance that is essentially underlying the Bersih 3.0 rally.As such, tensions are high and anger has risen on both sides, making BERSIH 3.0 more intense than earlier rallies.

Competition for reform within UMNO

Even when the dust eventually settle on BERSIH 3.0, another fault line in Malaysian politics will be showcased – the ability of Najib to showcase himself as the champion of reform.

After BERSIH 2.0, he made promises and many of them took the form of new bills. Some of which opened up space and many of which only served to bring in more draconian measures. Whether it involved free assembly or electoral changes, the end result is that the measures introduced are not yet fundamentally about reform.

They focus on form not substance, taking away old laws such as the Internal Security Act, while introducing more questionable – although untested ones, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Bill. The same focus on form underscores the government’s last-minute conciliatory offer of four alternative locations for BERSIH 3.0.

NONEWhy this focus on form rather than substance? Cynics would suggest that this reflects the inability to trust Najib and his promises. Others would suggest that this reflects the reality in the system that he has to operate. He was a hardliner who is now claiming to be a reformer and/or adopting reformist rhetoric to win power. He is a product of UMNO.

The majority of leaders in his party still are hardliners, and the handful of reformist leaders such as UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin are facing challenges inside the system, especially as they are showcased to defend the system they are in.

The bigger question that comes out of the handling of BERSIH 3.0 will be whether UMNO is capable of reforming. What is interesting to date is that Najib has stayed largely out of the fray, handing over the spokesman role to his cousin, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. This issue is a national one and as a national leader, questions are being raised about his position.

He chose to go out of town in the last round, and the end result was that he came off as mishandling the event. Can he afford this again given that his campaign to date has been about his national leadership?

What happens tomorrow is not just about the Opposition or UMNO-BN. It is also not just about electoral reform, given the wide spectrum of concerns. Everyone will attempt to gain political capital. Politically, BERSIH 3.0 will reveal whether Malaysia will become more polarised or compromises can be reached. It will either provide momentum for the opposition, or signal an early election by Najib if turnout is low, in which he will win, in part due to the problems engendered in the system.

Ultimately this rally is not just about politics. The BERSIH 3.0 rally is about Malaysia’s future – about whether a national leader will lead, about whether the field will be fair enough to be respectable, about whether a government treats its people with a modicum of respect and about whether politics in Malaysia will be a politics of the street or effective dialogue with a reasonable leadership.

Too much of late in Malaysia has been about negativity, anger and insecurity. BERSIH 3.0 is moving politics away from that negativity to the promise of a better future for Malaysians, or at least trying to do so. Najib’s reaction to BERSIH 3.0 is perhaps his most serious leadership test yet.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University and she can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

Looking Back @BERSIH2.0

April 27, 2012

Looking Back @BERSIH2.0

by Political Observer

Last year the Bersih rally was a complete and utter disaster for the UMNO-BN government. The arrest of 2000 people and use of excessive force on so many left UMNO in an unenviable position with 2011 being the year of the Arab Spring. Immediately after the demonstration Prime Minister Najib Razak held an interview with CNN International Host John Defterios. 

(Remember that since this interview was conducted it was revealed that FBC communications, the company that John Defterios was the Vice President of) had been hired by the Government of Malaysia to place favorable content about the country in major international news outlets. BBC formally apologized for airing content that was essentially paid-for advertising by the Malaysian government. CNBC and CNN International have not admitting to any wrong doing, although the extent to which corporate sponsors fund those two organizations is fairly obvious and well known.)

In the soft-ball interview at around 2:00 in Defterios asks Najib about the demonstrations in Malaysia. Rather than make reference to the Police brutality, arrests, use of tear gas and water cannons, possible attack on a hospital, Defterios decided to completely shirk his journalistic responsibility and tossed a softball to Najib. Defterios’ demeanor also suggests he’s somewhat mocking or belittling the BBERSIH movement. 

Najib was then able to completely evade the issue and say that Malaysia is a democracy and the fact that UMNO lost 5 states in the  2008 general election is enough evidence as such. 

Defterios, rather than follow up with what was obviously the most important story of the day vis-a-vis Malaysia, and even raise some of the points BERSIH was demanding.The most hilarious part is immediately after airing clips of tear gas, water canon and police officers beating up demonstrators, Najib is asked if he was satisfied with the security response and he says, 

‘It was quite mild…because although they were taken in…they were released after eight hours and they were treated very well. There was no undue use of force and the demonstrators were dispersed using minimum force.”

Such comical detachment from reality can only remind us of the classic moment from BERSIH1.0 when Information Minister ZAM was on Al Jazeera opposite Anwar Ibrahim responding to questions about the use of force in 2007:

There seems to be a pattern emerging of Malaysian government spokespersons looking quite foolish on international media news broadcasts.