GE-13: It’s All About Najib

April 30, 2013

GE-13: It’s All About Najib

by Jose Barrock  & S Ashwiinie

Premier Najib Abdul Razak, comes across as a well-bred gentleman – he speaks well, is very polished, always in pristine suits and the hint of a clipped English accent adds to his allure. But he wasn’t always this way, so polished— he has in the past played many roles, an angry young man, the king maker, and many others, some of which we at KiniBiz will explore.

Najib-money-300x175Turn back the clock, it’s October 1987— trendy Malaysians from all walks, hang out at the Tin Mine Discotheque in the Kuala Lumpur Hilton, (now the Crowne Plaza), the Bee Gee’s “You Win Again” is atop the charts, while the late Michael Jackson’s “Bad” has just been released—ripping speakers everywhere.

Despite the apparent calm in the streets, there were serious racial problems sprouting up in Malaysia.

An angry young man 

The appointment of non-Chinese educated personnel in Chinese schools resulted in a gathering of some 2,000 odd Chinese led by the association of Chinese school teachers and trustees or Dong Jiao Zong, in Kuala Lumpur. This group was joined by politicians from the Malaysian Chinese Association or MCA, Democratic Action Party known as DAP, Gerakan and other Chinese associations and parties.

Politicians from both sides of the divide—the MCA being the second largest member of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and opposition stalwarts DAP—quickly charged up the crowd, racial slurs were made and a plan was put in place to boycott Chinese schools.

Interestingly enough Dong Jiong Zong and some of the other Chinese associations were asking for the resignation of then Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim.

This occurred on October 11, 1987. Six days later— in retaliation—- a 34 year old Najib who was the head of UMNO Youth led a 10,000 strong rally, in the TPCA (Tamilians Physical Cultural Association) Stadium in Kampung Baru and is purported to have called for the Malays to bathe the keris (a Malay dagger) in Chinese blood.

This eventually led to Ops Lalang (weeding ops) on October 27, 1987— where 106 individuals were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA), and two publications, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh’s  had their publishing licenses revoked.

Najib however has denied this entire Chinese blood and keris episode, saying he never urged the unrest. “Many think that it is his cousin Hishammuddin (Hussein) who started the keris brandishing and waving act at UMNO Youth gatherings….it was actually Najib who started it… It’s an UMNO Youth thing,” a local politician, and a Ketua Bahagian of UMNO said.

A seasoned politician at 34

“It is like that…when you go for an MCA or DAP meeting they (the members) are very racist as well, you think they are singing the praises of Malays at their meetings?

“If you go to an MIC meeting also it’s the same, but somehow when Malays do anything it gets blown out of proportion,” the UMNO politician said.

While some may attribute the episode of Chinese blood and keris to Najib being young, the fact of the matter is at 34 years old, he already had plenty of experience in politics.

In 1976 when his father Abdul Razak passed away, Najib who was 23, was selected to run for the Pekan parliamentary seat left vacant by his father’s death. And of course he won.

His first stint in the Cabinet was at the age of 25 when he was appointed Deputy Minister of energy, telecommunications and post in 1978—making him the youngest deputy minister in the country. He had a whole host of ministerial portfolios from the age of 32.

Also at the age of 29, he was Menteri Besar of Pahang, a position he held for four years from 1982.Nevertheless some have also questioned who Najib’s political mentors are. This question arises due to his closeness to Anwar who he faces as the head of the opposition today in the 13th General Elections.

Closeness to Anwar  

Najib has had good ties to Anwar before. His position in 1987 as UMNO ???????????????????????????????????????????????????Youth head was a result of Anwar moving up the food chain, going for an UMNO Vice President’s position, and thus nudging Najib up.

Interestingly enough Najib was part of Anwar’s Team Wawasan in 1993, together with Muhammad Muhd Taib and Muhyiddin Yassin. All three were UMNO Vice Presidents, while Anwar strengthened his position to Deputy President of UMNO, when incumbent Ghafar Baba withdrew from the fight for the number two position.

Some also say that Najib’s meagre 231 seat victory in Pekan in the 1999 General Elections was a result of many showing their unhappiness with him supporting Premier Mahathir Mohamad, and parting ways with Anwar who had since been sacked.

Najib plays kingmaker

There was massive infighting in UMNO in 1987, and Najib was involved in the thick of action. A year ago, in 1986, Musa Hitam the Deputy Premier stepped down saying Mahathir no longer trusted him. Then in April of 1987, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and former deputy premier Musa Hitam took on Mahathir and his Deputy Ghafar.

Dr Mahathir-nstMahathir won by a mere 43 vote majority—-garnering 761 votes while Razaleigh  managed 718 votes. A swing of a mere 22 votes would have altered Malaysia’s history.

Insiders say, Najib had privately backed Razaleigh, but at the 11th hour he switched camps to support Mahathir, giving the incumbent the win. They add that Anwar had played an important role in turning Najib against Razaleigh and Musa, and thus benefit Mahathir.

“I’m sure many wonder what would have happened had Najib not switched allegiances…Mahathir may not have won—Malaysian history would be very different from what it is today,” a local politician said.

While his political life panned out well in the early years, the later part of it has been tumultuous to say the least, with accusations that he was involved with a Mongolian model who was murdered.

Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder

In 2006 the entire nation was shocked when details of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu’s murder came about— especially the use of explosive substances such as C4, which are close to impossible to get on the open market, and the involvement of policemen who were assigned to the Prime Minister as bodyguards.

Najib’s aide and associate Abdul Razak Baginda was among those charged but was later acquitted. The prosecution did not appeal. Stories circulated that Altantunya was also known to Najib but Najib strenuously denied this.

Altantuya and Razak Baginda, who were emotionally attached, were said to be involved in an arms deal where Malaysia acquired Scorpene submarines from France, with the latter making high commissions from the deal.

“When you talk about arms deals there is a lot of secrecy, it’s all classified under OSA (Official Secrets Act) so there are no questions asked….it all falls under defence spending, so it’s easy money to be made…some say the whole Altantuya fiasco, is a deal gone bad,” a politician said.

Certain quarters have tried to link Rosmah Mansor— Najib’s wife to the murder, but there is no evidence to prove this.

Rosmah, an albatross around Najib’s neck

“In any political exchange, or discussion her name keeps coming up, and notRosmah Mansor in a flattering manner…earlier UMNO politicians defended her….now they don’t bother,” the politician said.

She has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. There is talk about her being involved in decision making at the highest levels, brokering deals, and living it up spending on accessories and jewellery.

Some say she is also close to the likes of Desmond Lim’s wife Tan Kewi Yoon, and steel magnate William Cheng’s wife Chelsea as well, explaining to a certain extent why the two businessmen can’t seem to do any wrong in corporate Malaysia.

Also through the grapevine was her purported involvement in awarding of the RM8 billion Gemas-Johor Bahru double tracking rail job.

As one official from a public listed company said, “It’s very seldom that almost the whole country is united against someone…strangely enough in this case it’s the PM’s wife.”

Other issues—1MDB, FELDA

More recently Najib’s 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 1MDB has issued some RM20 billion worth of bonds with very high coupon rates, but has little or nothing to show for it. The company has come under fire.

Some of its partners such as PetroSaudi International are just as opaque, leaving many questions unanswered. Also 1MDB has come out to say that it has RM7 billion in investments in the Cayman islands—- which is safe. This has irked the investing community even more, as they wonder why the money is not transferred back to Malaysia, and with some even questioning why 1MDB was set up in the first place.

Meantime there have been mixed reactions to the Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV)’s floatation exercise, which was the second largest IPO after Facebook last year, and raised some RM9.9 billion. According to certain quarters the settlers, although they received cash, were given the shorter end of the stick with the massive ownership dilution of the company.

Profundo Economic Research in a report released in June last year, prior to FGV’s floatation exercise stated that, “Our analysis shows that an accumulation of environmental, social and governance risks will result in serious financial risks for investors.” It had an avoid call on FGV’s stock.

Since a surge to almost RM5.50 after its RM4.60 IPO, FGV’s stock has tapered off and been largely trading below that for most of the the year.

Good deeds— too few and far in between?                     

The UMNO politician said, “Who is the President of MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), who is the President of MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association)….I tell you it’s all Najib….he’s the only hope for Barisan Nasional,” the politician said.

It is true, Najib has been in the forefront, using his own popularity to prop up both the MCA and MIC which are ailing parties.

Also to Najib’s credit economy-wise, Malaysia has been performing better than many other countries in the region. This year Malaysia’s growth is estimated to be in the region of five percent.

Last year the economy expanded by a 5.6 percent quantum as domestic demand recorded the highest rate of expansion over the decade buoyed by strong consumption and investment spending.

According to reports, overall investment by the private sector was the key driver of domestic growth in 2012. Private investment was strong contributing about 15.5 percent to GDP (gross domestic product – goods and services produced) and registering growth of 22 percent, while public investment grew 17.1 percent from higher capital spending by public enterprises.

In contrast global growth moderated in 2012, amidst the challenging economic climate. Much of these can be atrtributed to Najib’s plannning. From January 2010 to March 2013, he set up several programmes under the economic transformation project (ETP), slated to benefit the people and rightly targeting the lower income group.


The ETP which is under the belt of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit is tasked with creating a Gross National Income of US$523 billion by 2020, and increase per capita income to US$15,000 from US$6,700 in 2009.

He also set up several other initiatives which directly benefit the general populace. Among others, 1Malaysia Clinic was set up whereby treatment and medication cost only RM1, the 1Malaysia People’s Shop and the 1Malaysia People Housing Project (PR1MA), for those aiming for their first home.

Under Najib’s watch as well, work on the RM30 billion— Mass Rapid Transit System or MRT— has started.

The 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) is another of Najib’s trademarks, where cash payments of RM500 were made to needy individuals. From 2011 to 2012, approximately 1.1 million job opportunities were created.

Perhaps the landmark decision of his career is the abolishment of the Internal Security Act which is now replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measure) Act 2012 (Sosma). Najib also comprehensively reviewed the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 as well as the Sedition Act.

Malaysia also fared better in Transparency International’s 2012 Bribe Payers Survey.Thus Najib seems to have done well on some fronts.

Some of the unaddressed, unanswered issues 

However during Najib’s watch as well, household debt to gross domestic product (GDP) reached RM667 billion or 77 percent of GDP which is high.

More recently questions of national security arose, after some 200 militants parked themselves down in Sabah and declared parts of the region theirs.“Imagine if you and I and a few friends walked into Singapore, bearing arms….we’d be dead in minutes,” a market watcher said.

There are also those who wonder why under Najib’s watch one individual, Syed Mokhtar Albukhary has amassed so much wealth. One of his flagship companies, DRB Hicom Bhd is based in Pekan, Pahang, which is also Najib’s constituency.

Recently there was a huge hue and cry that tycoon Robert Kuok Hock Nien had bought a parcel of land in Johor, and is to develop property in the Iskandar Malaysia. Is it really a big deal when Kuok who was born and bred in Johor buys a plot of land to develop?

Looking forward

Moving ahead, Najib’s plans for the country are already largely in place with heavy investments in rail projects, oil and gas, construction, property and water among others. However for Najib, his long term plans for the country could be derailed by his current deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin.

PTJ04_070110_TPM-2010Certain quarters in UMNO say that Najib’ has to either gain two thirds majority or win back Selangor, both seemingly tough targets to achieve, to continue being prime minister. Otherwise he is likely to be challenged by Muhyiddin.

It is also clear that Muhyiddin has the support of former premier Mahathir which is very important, and to top it all Muhyiddin’s grass root support in Johor is strong.

While Muhyiddin has always been coy, and never openly said he was after Najib’s position, he could be thrust into the number one seat, if he garners more support than Najib.

However much of the fight at the UMNO level will be sorted out in the third quarter of 2013 at the UMNO General Assembly.  Najib seems to have his hands full, having to look over his shoulder at Muhyiddin, campaign for UMNO, MCA and MIC, and running the country.

He has been Prime Minister for four years without a direct mandate from the people. Will the people now endorse him for the next five years?

Norodom Sihanouk’s Legacy

April 29, 2013

Norodom Sihanouk’s Legacy

26 February 2013

Samdech Euv

No-one in the modern history of Southeast Asia has had such a continuous and lasting effect on the politics of their country than the late King Father (Samdech Euv) Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia (above). His cremation on 4 February in Phnom Penh brought to an end a career reaching back to his coronation on 3 May 1941. Since then, in one form or another – king, prime minister, head of government in exile, guerrilla leader, king again and finally King Father after he abdicated for the second time – Sihanouk bestrode Cambodian politics.

Sihanouk’s cremation was an extraordinarily lavish affair. Rumours circulating in Phnom Penh reported that the current Cambodian strongman, Hun Sen, was “shocked” by the spontaneous outpouring of grief by the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Cambodians who lined the processional route when Sihanouk’s body was returned from China, and concluded that his government would gain popular approval by giving the King Father a right royal send-off.

Whether this is true or not, Hun Sen’s order to conduct a full-scale royal cremation sent officials to scour the archives to find out proper procedures. The whole ceremony thus became an occasion to restore and celebrate Khmer traditional culture. No expense was spared in constructing the five-storey high central  Phra Meru  (within which the body was burned) along with its surrounding gardens, pavilions, cloisters and walls – all of which will eventually be dismantled.

All the streets converging on the cremation site beside the palace were blocked off and people kept well away. But as invited VIPs left in their fleet of cars and night fell, the barriers were drawn aside and crowds surged into the open space in front of the palace to make offerings of flowers, burn incense, pray, or just sit quietly in groups remembering – what? What did Sihanouk represent for ordinary Cambodians?

Judging by the documentary footage shown repeatedly on Cambodian TV channels, Sihanouk’s great achievements were gaining independence from France in 1953, and instituting a building program in the 1960s that converted Phnom Penh into a modern city. But there was surely more than that in the minds of those who mourned his passing.

Cambodia–An Oasis of Peace in Troubled Indochina

For those in their 70s, the Sihanouk years are mostly remembered as an era of peace and prosperity before war and revolution tore the country apart. In idealised form, survivors have passed on this version of history to successive generations, a version reinforced by the horrors of the decade of civil war and Khmer Rouge tyranny that followed the removal of Sihanouk from power in 1970.

For some the revival of the monarchy under United Nations auspices in 1993 and the return of Sihanouk to the throne was a powerful symbol, along with the re-emergence of Theravada Buddhism, of the survival of Cambodian culture and society in face of terrible adversity.

Most Cambodians are aware of, and proud of, their Angkorean heritage. Those with even limited education know the names of one or two of their great kings, if little else. As their direct descendant, Sihanouk connected them to a glorious past that anchors Cambodian identity in the present. Even the Khmer Rouge placed the outline of Angkor Wat on their national flag.


For every Cambodian, it is the person of Sihanouk who represented the monarchy, even after he relinquished the throne to his son, Norodom Sihamoni – just as he continued to do after he placed his father on the throne in 1955. For abdication is a constitutional act that in the Theravada worldview in no way diminishes the store of merit that ensured royal birth in the first place. In fact it may increase merit, as for example, when a king steps down to become a monk.

Sihanouk’s evident compassion for his people and concern for their welfare added to the store of his merit in the eyes of his people. The respect paid to Sihanouk by ordinary Cambodians was for his accumulated merit, which they believe ensures rebirth directly into one of the Buddhist heavens.  Its basis, therefore, is identical to the respect shown for monks and nuns.

The question most frequently asked with Sihanouk’s passing has been where does this leave the Cambodian monarchy? Well, we shall see, though at present the institution does not seem to be under threat. But if we cannot peer into the future, we can look back at the past. The more interesting question to ask, therefore, concerns Sihanouk’s historical legacy. What have his years in politics bequeathed to his country?

Between his coronation in 1941 and his overthrow in 1970, Sihanouk made two decisions that were crucial not just for his personal career, but for the history of Cambodia. These were his decision to take the leading role in Cambodia’s struggle for independence from France, and his decision to abdicate in order to assume political leadership of the country.

The first of these has been widely acclaimed by both Cambodians and historians, but its celebrated outcome exacerbated two persistent weaknesses in Sihanouk’s character – his craving for adulation and his conviction that he alone had the foresight, the wisdom, and yes, the semi-divine power that comes with the possession of great merit, to guide and develop (modernise) his country. Yet Cambodia would still have obtained independence from France without Sihanouk’s dramatic exodus to Angkor, though it is true that Sihanouk’s actions took the wind out of the sails of the so-called Khmer Vietminh, enabling Cambodia at Geneva in 1954 to escape division into separate areas of control for government and insurgent forces (as in Laos).

Sihanouk’s abdication and creation of his own political movement, the Sangkum Reastr Niyum, had by contrast a much more baleful effect on modern Cambodian history. Sihanouk had already shown himself to be no friend of democracy when in 1952, with French collusion; he dismissed the popularly elected Democratic Party (DP) government, and jailed several DP leaders without trial. Those leaders were French-educated. For all their squabbles they admired French democracy.

Sihanouk disliked the DP because it aimed to make Cambodia a constitutional monarchy, which would have relegated him to a largely ceremonial position. Parties further to the left were overtly republican, but particularly after 1953 they attracted limited popular support. Immediately upon independence Sihanouk could have used his considerable influence and stature to support multi-party democratic government. Instead he sought personal power.

The Sangkum masqueraded as a political party, but in reality it was an entirely different animal. Sihanouk built the Sangkum as a royal patronage network whose lofty purpose was to unify the country, but whose modus operandi was to eliminate all political opposition, or drive it underground, while concentrating power in the hands of Sihanouk as legitimate, if ex, king.

The structure of the Sangkum derived from the ‘mandala’ model of the kings of Angkor, whose power rested on the loyalty of regional rulers and court officials, given in return for favours ascribed to the beneficence of the king in the form of delegated administrative authority and status. Educated urban Cambodians flocked to join the Sangkum to facilitate access to such benefits as government employment and contracts, entry to top schools and universities for their children, overseas scholarships, and useful contacts with government officials. Peasants supported the Sangkum because it was led by their meritorious king, though they got little in return.

As a political movement the Sangkum was remarkably successful. Elections were still held, but became formalities in which the Sangkum won up to 85 per cent of the vote. Such a degree of popular support fed Sihanouk’s craving for adulation and reinforced his conviction that his leadership was indispensable for the future of his country.

If Sihanouk had a motto at this time, it surely was “Cambodge, c’est moi!” What was less apparent was that in establishing the Sangkum as a royal patronage network centred on himself, Sihanouk had sealed off the tiny window of opportunity that existed to create a modern democratic political order in Cambodia. Instead the Sangkum drew upon traditional Cambodian political culture to provide a model of how to concentrate and exercise political power.

Perhaps that small window of opportunity to create a democratic system in Cambodia that Sihanouk slammed shut in 1955 never really existed. Perhaps if political parties had been permitted freely to contest elections they would sooner or later have degenerated into rival patronage networks. What is certain, however, is that the very success of the Sangkum as a patronage network centred on Sihanouk as leader destroyed any possibility of instituting an alternative political order. All subsequent Cambodian leaders have applied the Sangkum model in consolidating their power.

Phnom Penh City–Symbol of a Modern Cambodia

Sihanouk used the power he gained from leadership of the Sangkum to pursue his vision for his country. That vision was of a modern Cambodia, proudly taking its place among the nations of the world. The symbols of that modernity were concentrated, however, almost entirely in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk set out to create a capital he could proudly display to international delegations and visiting heads of state.

In this too he was following in the footsteps of Angkorean kings, particularly his favourite role model Jayavarman VII, who built the last great city of Angkor Thom. The boulevards, monuments, government buildings, universities, theatres and sports stadium that he built remain impressive architectural achievements for which Sihanouk will long be remembered.

Two other areas Sihanouk promoted were education and the arts. Phnom Penh came to boast seven universities, devoted to separate disciplines (medicine, law, fine arts, etc.), and a number of good secondary schools. Primary education came much lower on his list of priorities. Sihanouk had genuine compassion for the peasant families he rather disparagingly called his ‘children’, especially compared to subsequent Cambodian rulers, but did little to provide them with opportunities for economic or social advancement. Economic development was tied to government. The Sangkhum system did not promote entrepreneurship, but rather dependency on opportunities provided by working political connections.

Ironically, in the end it was the failure of tertiary education that was in large part responsible for Sihanouk’s political demise. Urban supporters of the Sangkum expected admission to universities for their children, irrespective of their abilities – and expected them to be awarded degrees. Standards fell as a result, and universities turned out graduates of poor quality in numbers too large to employ in government jobs.

Avenues for advancement for the bright and ambitious were limited by the employment of the children of the politically well-connected. As popular dissatisfaction grew, Sihanouk turned to film making and the arts. For Sihanouk these were another arena to showcase Cambodian modernity, but in the process he took his eye off the political main game, and was destroyed by the weakness that makes all patronage systems inherently unstable – which is the ability of clients to shift their allegiance to another patron.

Sihanouk has been much lauded for his efforts to shield Cambodia from the war in Vietnam – and rightly so. But his commitment to neutrality and his activism within the non-aligned movement were not sufficient of themselves to insulate Cambodia from all repercussions of the Cold War – and Sihanouk knew it. So he used every means at his disposal: the media, open threats and denunciations, and secret agreements of the kind with Hanoi that guaranteed Cambodia’s borders and kept the Khmer Rouge on a leash in return for infiltration rights for Vietnamese guerrillas through Cambodian territory. At the same time his suspicion of the intentions of the Vietnamese communist regime, which he rightly believed would win the war, led him to build close relations with China as the only power with the capacity to keep Vietnam in check.

As a strategy this was remarkably perspicacious: Sihanouk foresaw likely developments in Indochina more clearly than anyone in Washington. This led him, however, to pursue a left-leaning neutrality that eventually led to a rift with the United States that deprived Cambodia of considerable US aid. This was an avoidable error on Sihanouk’s part. Neutrality works best when it is balanced, thus ensuring a competitive flow of aid from both sides.

Relations with the US

Breaking relations with Washington reinforced Sihanouk’s credentials in Beijing, but it deprived him of a significant source of projects and funds with which to ‘oil’ the Sangkum patronage network. The lack was felt most severely in the military. It would have required astute diplomacy to keep American aid flowing while currying favour with China. But it was not impossible, even under the prevailing circumstances. Relations were re-established after four years in 1969, but the damage had been done, and was an additional factor behind Sihanouk’s overthrow.

Sihanouk’s gravest error of judgment came in 1970 when he angrilyKhieu Samphan and Sihanouk responded to his removal from power by calling upon the people of Cambodia to join with the Khmer Rouge to overthrow those who had deposed him. Sihanouk acted out of hurt pride, and his egotistical belief that he alone could lead Cambodia. So blinded, he misread the situation that was unfolding, and entirely failed to understand how his action would affect his people. With Sihanouk removed, his tacit agreement with North Vietnam collapsed. Hanoi not only unleashed the Khmer Rouge, but poured in support for the insurgency – just as Sihanouk’s call to arms massively increased recruitment to the revolutionary cause.

Did Sihanouk really think that from exile in Beijing he could control the course of events in Cambodia? If so, he was delusional. Despite his friendly relations with Chinese leaders, he had always distrusted and repressed the revolutionary left inside Cambodia. Was he so ill-informed that he only realised the true nature of the Khmer Rouge once he returned to Cambodia to become their prisoner at the end of 1975? His resignation in April 1976 as titular head of what was by then the KR regime left him under palace arrest and vulnerable. That he survived the KR years was thanks to his Chinese friends.

The Vietnamese invasion that overthrew the Khmer Rouge at the end of 1979 realised Sihanouk’s worst fears: Cambodia effectively became part of an Indochinese union dominated by Vietnam. This time backed by an unholy de facto alliance between the US, ASEAN and China, Sihanouk once again found himself in coalition with the Khmer Rouge – though this time leading his own separate guerrilla force. There was no alternative, as he explained to journalists in his engaging trademark way, with Gallic shrug, upturned palms, and perplexed expression, plaintively asking: “What could Sihanouk do?”

When Vietnamese forces finally withdrew a decade later, and the United UNTAC ChiefNations moved in, Sihanouk found himself in the position he had so determinedly refused to accept forty years before: that of constitutional monarch. But democracy in the new Kingdom of Cambodia was almost bound to fail. To begin with there was no precedent. No-one except perhaps Sihanouk himself remembered that brief period of democratic government installed under the French that the Sangkum had effectively destroyed.

After Sihanouk had been overthrown, Cambodia had had one military and two single-party governments, all of which concentrated power at the apex of a hierarchical organisation that brooked no political opposition. A combination of coercion and fear kept members in line and loyal to the leadership.

From the point of view of Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the imposition of multi-party democracy in 1993 threatened their hold on power. The election result giving a narrow victory to Prince Ranarridh’s FUNCINPEC Party was perceived not as an expression of the hopes and desires of the Cambodian people, but as a call to political struggle. The CPP response was not to formulate more appealing policies, but to extend the tentacles of its social power. And its model of how this should be done was the Sangkum.

The CCP set out to build a patronage network that would draw in clients through the lure of promised benefits for them and their extended families. But for this strategy to work the Party needed the wherewithal to buy client loyalty. At the same time FUNCINPEC was building its own rival patronage network, also modelled on the Sangkum, though Ranarridh was no Sihanouk. Real political competition, therefore, was not for votes, but for control over resources – in the form not only of exploitable natural resources such as timber and minerals, but also government revenues and the perks associated with foreign aid. The outcome over time was pervasive corruption – and victory for the CPP.

ranariddh-and-hun-senThe CCP is not organised as and does not function as a Marxist party modelled on the Chinese or Vietnamese communist parties. Its exemplar is the Sangkum. Hun Sen does not exercise power as Chinese or Vietnamese leaders do, by virtue of the offices they hold within their respective parties, but because of his position at the apex of a vast patronage network. Hun Sen will not be deposed by a vote at a CCP congress. The only way he could lose power is through the erosion of client loyalty and their ultimate defection to alternative patrons – just as happened to Sihanouk.

Hun Sen has been the most successful Cambodian political leader over the last twenty years in large part because he modelled himself closely on Sihanouk, even down to how he comports himself in public. Sihanouk owed his political status to his birth and his achievement of independence from France; Hun Sen can only advert to his role in freeing Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge through alliance with Vietnam. He has therefore had to rely more on greasing the strings of patronage. This is why it took so long to pass an anti-corruption law, which is in any case ineffective. It was passed to ensure the continuation of foreign aid (so avoiding Sihanouk’s mistake), which is necessary if revenue is to be freed up for patronage.

The patronage network that keeps Hun Sen in power has produced massiveHun Sen and Mahathir maldistribution of wealth, most of which has been concentrated in Phnom Penh, plus a few regional centres like Siem Reap. Few resources have trickled out to rural areas, not even for basic health care or primary education, because too much revenue gets siphoned off into private pockets.

This is unlikely to change while Hun Sen maintains his patronage network in place. Like the monarchy (or North Korea), Hun Sen reportedly wants his position to become hereditary, to be handed on to one of his sons. This makes even more evident the extent to which Hun Sen has taken Sihanouk and the Sangkum as his political paradigms. Sihanouk’s lasting legacy, one can only conclude, has been the system of government Cambodia currently enjoys. 

Akhirnya kita sendirilah yang kena putuskan

April 29, 2013

Akhirnya kita sendirilah yang kena putuskan

kadir-jasinoleh Pak Kadiaq

Seorang pelawat blog ini yang berupa seorang usahawan/kapitalis Melayu yang berjaya bertanya saya, mengapa lama tidak menampalkan rencana baru.

Saya katakan kepada beliau, fikiran saya buntu. Buntu bukan kerana ketiadaan idea, tetapi kerana lambakan maklumat yang berlebihan. Susah memilih yang mana satu hendak didahulukan.

Kalau kita membaca, mendengar dan menonton media arus perdana (MAP), semuanya baik dan lancar bagi Barisan Nasional (BN) dan semuanya buruk dan buntu bagi Pakatan Rakyat (PR). BN akan menang besar dan PR kalah teruk.

Kalau baca Rocket, Suara Keadilan, Harakah dan Selangor Times tentulah semua yang berkaitan PR baik dan harum; semua mengenai BN buruk dan busuk. Akhbar percuma The Sun dan akhbar-akhbar Cina lebih seimbang.

Portal berita utama memberi liputan yang lebih saksama walaupun pengulas dan pembaca mereka mirip kepada PR.

Di kalangan blogger pula, kurang sekali yang bebas dan tidak memihak. Hampir sama dengan dikotomi dalam MAP — pro atau anti — tidak ada laluan tengah. Maki hamun menjadi hidangan utama oleh pemblog dan pembahas mereka. Demokrasi alam siber bertukar menjadi anarki.

Maka tidak hairanlah kalau banyak pembaca, pendengar, penonton, pengulas dan pembahas tidak ketahuan lagi apa yang hendak dihujahkan sehingga pilihan raya nampak seolah-olah ibu kepada segala matlamat dan bukan lagi cara untuk mencapai matlamat, iaitu pemerintahan yang unggul.

Apa isunya?


Saya pun tidak pasti lagi apakah yang dikehendaki pengundi atau apa yang ditawarkan kepada mereka oleh parti-parti yang bertanding. Terlalu banyak dan bercelaru.

Jadi saya tidak berani dan berasa sangat tidak layak untuk bercakap bagi pihak orang lain. Justeru itu, saya hanya berani bercakap bagi pihak diri saya sendiri kerana akhirnya setiap orang daripada kita terpaksa putuskan sendiri apakah isu dan perkara yang akan mempengaruhi cara kita membuat pilihan.

Bagi saya, berikut adalah isu, hal dan ketetapan yang akan mempengaruhi pilihan saya:

1. Falsafah memilih kerajaan. Kita pilih kerajaan untuk buat kebaikan. Kita tidak pilih kerajaan untuk buat keburukan. Apabila kerajaan yang kita pilih melakukan kebaikan kita tidak perlu memujinya melangit atau berasa terhutang budi. Tetapi kalau kerajaan yang kita pilih itu melakukan keburukan, kita wajib menegur dan mengkritik. Kalau ia tidak berubah, kita tarik balik sokongan kita dan kita gugurkannya apabila tiba pilihan raya.

2. Kita bukan hamba Wakil Rakyat, Menteri dan Perdana Menteri. Merekalah “hamba” kita kerana kitalah yang memilih mereka dan memberikan gajian kepada mereka dengan duit cukai kita. Tanpa undi kita, mereka tidak akan menjadi Wakil Rakyat, Menteri, Menteri Besar, Ketua Menteri dan Perdana Menteri.

3. Secara peribadi, batang jerami pertama yang mematahkan belakang kerbau (meminjam dan memadankan ungkapan the straw that broke the camel’s back) adalah penghapusan Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) dan disusuli oleh pemansuhan Akta Keselamatan Dalam Negeri (ISA), Ordinan Darurat dan Akta Buang Daerah (Tanggungan Kerajaan Pusat dan Parlimen).

4. Bandar dan pekan yang kotor penuh sampah-sarap, tikus dan anjing liar. Longkang yang ditutup dan dilupakan — busuk dan melimpah apabila hujan lebat. Pokok ditumbangkan ribut tidak dipindahkan berbulan-bulan lamanya (Jalan Klang Lama) kerana pegawai tinggi kerajaan lebih sibuk ampu Yang Berhormat daripada berkhidmat untuk rakyat (Kerajaan Pusat dan negeri).

5. Keselamatan awam yang semakin meruncing. Jenayah yang semakin menjadi-jadi walaupun KPI dan NKRA kononnya tercapai. Pengarah Kastam mati ditembak siang hari buta di Putrajaya dan Pengarang Urusan akhbar arus perdana yang menguar-uarkan negara aman, negara selamat, KPI hebat, NKRA mencapai matlamat, dirompak di khalayak di kawasan kelas menengah Taman Tun Dr Ismail. Apakah kita sudah lupa kepada janji SAM — selamat, aman dan makmur ketika PRU lalu? (Kerajaan Pusat).

6. Kalau kita makmur dan KDNK berkembang pesat, inflasi rendah dan mata wang Ringgit kuat, mengapakah ratusan ribu rakyat jelata berpusu-pusu berebut mendapatkan BR1M, orang merempat semakin banyak di ibu kota dan roti canai semakin kecil ukurannya? (Kerajaan Pusat).

7. Terowong kenderaan di bawah NKVE berhampiran Tropicana banjir setiap kali hujan lebat sejak dibuka untuk kegunaan umum lebih dua tahun lalu dan Jalan Syed Putra bersebelahan Sekolah Kuen Cheng berubah menjadi tasik setiap kali hujan lebat sudah bertahun-tahun lamanya. Alahai hebatnya jurutera JKR dan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (Kerajaan Pusat dan Negeri Selangor).

8. Keamanan negara dinodai oleh penceroboh bersenjata Filipina dan pemubunuh upahan bermaharajalela kerana ada Menteri-Menteri yang terlena. Tauke judi haram, pengusaha rumah pelacuran, ketua sindiket along dan samseng jalanan yang bebas lepas kerana tidak ada Akta Buang Daerah dan Ordinan Darurat kini, saling berbunuhan dan memangsakan rakyat jelata (Kerajaan Pusat).

9. Dan campur tangan anak bini, peniaga permaidani, tukang serapah dan tukang jampi, kawan rakan dan teman dan taulan dalam urusan pentadbiran.

Sekatan dan imbangan penting

Zaman kerajaan kuat dan monopolistik sudah berlalu. Semakin maju negara, semakin kita memerlukan sistem sekatan dan imbangan (checks and balances) yang kuat bermula dengan Parlimen dan Dewan-Dewan Undangan Negeri.

Kalau ada pindaan Perlembagaan atau undang-undang yang memerlukanNajib needs divine help sokongan dua pertiga, eloklah dilakukan melalui proses tolak ansur dua pihak (bipartisan). Itulah antara beberapa isu yang akan menjadi pertimbangan saya menjelang tibanya hari mengundi 5 Mei.

Undi katanya rahsia walaupun nombor siri ada. Nombor siri saya ialah Ee Say Say (244). Kalau nak tikam ekor bolehlah cuba. Tapi orang Islam tak boleh, berdosa.

Saya mengundi di Selangor di mana kerusi DUN ditandingi BN (Umno) dan PAS. Dalam PRU 2008, PAS menang. Bagi Parlimen, BN (MCA) bertemu DAP. Pada 2008, DAP menang. Siapa akan menang kali ini? Wallahualam. —

* Ini adalah pandangan peribadi penulis.

GE-13: A Hung Parliament Is Not Necessarily Bad

April 29, 2013

GE-13: A Hung Parliament Is Not Necessarily Bad (Last of Four Parts)

 by Dr.M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Najib and His Manifesto

Many fear a hung parliament as they think that would lead to chaos and uncertainty. Yes, there may be both but neither is inevitable. On the contrary I see many potentially redeeming aspects that could benefit citizens, the permanent establishment, and yes, even those politicians.

For citizens, seeing these freshly-victorious politicians brazenly jockeying for positions would be both instructive and revealing. It would be quite a sight to watch them behave worse than hookers. At least hookers are consumed with satisfying their present customers first, and would solicit new ones only after they have done that. More importantly, they do both discreetly.

Hung PoliticiansThose politicians on the other hand would be openly and lustily auctioning themselves to the highest bidder without even a promise of satisfactory performance to their current customers – citizens who had only recently voted for them. Those politicians would whore themselves brazenly. What matters to them would only be the price their new customers would be willing to pay, regardless how filthy and disease-ridden they are. Damn the consequences, for them or the nation

The jockeying would be intense, shameless and endlessly shifting, threatening both Barisan and Pakatan. It would not be below MCA for example, to align itself with DAP and throw their weight behind Pakatan, demanding an outrageous price in return. Or MCA could demand a stiff price for remaining in Barisan. Not to be outdone, as alluded earlier, PAS could bolt Pakatan and align itself with UMNO in an ugly chauvinistic attempt at reviving Ketuanan Melayu.

UMNO would sell its soul to get PAS support, and PAS in turn would readily sign a pact with the devil given the right price. There would be only one certainty; our politicians would finally be exposed for all their corruptness and hideousness. In the end unfortunately, citizens and Malaysia would be paying the terrible price.

Perhaps the nation needs such a sordid spectacle to jolt it into realizing that elections have consequences, and that the politicians and leaders we have today are far different from the earlier generation that brought us merdeka.On the other hand, our politicians may well surprise us.

Without being unnecessarily Pollyannaish, a few might discover that politics is after all a noble profession, and at its best and essence, a fine exercise in the art of compromise in order to get things done for the good of all.

At the very least a hung parliament would prompt us to be more prudent on our voting and not be so casual with this important exercise of democracy. If that would also encourage otherwise thoughtful Malaysians to offer themselves as candidates, then the whole exercise would not have been futile.

A hung parliament would also have a salutary effect on the permanentThe Crossbenchers establishment.The last time there was a similar debacle, in Perak following the 2008 elections, the permanent establishment including the sultan, did not acquit themselves well.

Who could forget the spectacle of the Speaker being hauled out of the Assembly desperately clinging on to his chair, or the Raja Muda, the Sultan’s representative, being forced to cool his heels in an adjacent room while waiting out the mayhem? It was not pretty. The stench stained all, and stayed to this day.

You can be certain that this time, with the real possibility of Barisan being toppled, members of the permanent establishment would be more circumspect for their own selfish reasons. Thus I do not expect blatant displays of partisanship as we saw in Perak. To add flavor to that, the King today, DYMM Sultan Abdul Halim, was the Sultan of Kedah when PAS took over from UMNO. Thus working with a non-UMNO chief executive would not be a novelty for him.

Once we have established this fact at the Federal level, all the other Sultans at the state level would follow suit. They would, out of concern for their own survival, no longer be so blatantly partisan. That can only be good for them and the country.

A hung parliament is nothing to fear; it is just another though less clear-cut expression of a Barisan defeat. Stated differently, a hung parliament is a not-so-pretty Pakatan victory.

GE-13 and hopes for a new Malaysia

April 29, 2013

GE-13 and hopes for a new Malaysia

27 April 2013

The 13.3 million Malaysian voters, including the 3.9 million first timers, will soon exercise their democratic right in  the ‘mother of all elections’ this coming Sunday May 5, 2013. It is D-Day for the future of Malaysia.

BN BluesMalaysians of various ethnic groups have traversed the twists and turns of nation building over the last five decades since Independence, and have now reached a critical crossroads: Which way to go? And what kind of future holds for Malaysia in the next fifty years? The public sphere has been expanding, and there is a deepening of democracy thanks to the relentless struggles of popular forces.

The two political coalitions that have emerged in the political system are now furiously contending with each other to win the rakyat’s support: Barisan Nasional (BN) with their promise of transformation, stability and progress, and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) with their promise of hope and change for a better multiethnic future. Both parties in their manifestoes promise to take the rakyat beyond the crossroads: one with the politics of development, and the other the politics of change and youthful vitality.

Taking note of the historic significance of the 13th General Election for Malaysia, the New Mandala conducted a brief survey among 23 Malaysians and Malaysianists of different political persuasions and ethnic groups to solicit their responses on six important questions.

Four such questions are stock-taking in nature, probing their assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of both BN and PR, while the remaining two are forward-looking: one, on what they think the new government must address, and the other, on their hopes for Malaysia’s future.

While the views are by no means comprehensive, they constitute an important barometer of what thinking Malaysians and observers of Malaysian politics have on their minds, a reflection of the deep undercurrents as well as the open contestations and debates in the public domain.


What are the issues they feel the post-May 5 elected government must address? There is a laundry list, but the urgent and important ones are: the government must promote inclusive and dynamic growth, fair distribution of wealth, address rising cost of living, and ensure the transition from an upper middle income to a high income economy.

To do that, some of the interviewees feel the government must address the education system to ensure quality education, a prerequisite for successful transition. Two other urgent important issues raised are crimes and corruption, which need to be effectively tackled by the government who “must improve efficiency in the administration”.

On another plane, it should be noted that the country for far too long has been caught in divisive race politics, and politicians including some extremist NGOs have pandered to race and religion for political ends. This is an obstacle to social cohesion and for both political and economic transition.

Thus it makes sense when the interviewees demand that the new government exercise political will to overcome the divisive politics of race and promote national unity; ensure a more multi-ethnic civil service; and address “entrenched special interests” that stand in the way of the country’s progress.

Certain opportunist politicians have been sowing seeds of fear, raising theShahrizat A Jalil spectre of May 13, and promoting the siege mentality among the Malays; unfortunately, this tactic is still being used again during the current election’s campaigning. A number of the interviewees are very concerned about this.

As   observed by one of them, “the prolonged campaign for GE13 has created an ugly environment” and “this must be mended immediately.” In the same vein, another stresses that it is absolutely necessary to put out “the ghost of May 13”. The ethnic politicking in particular has created negative perceptions about politics. This is summed up by one interviewee who maintains that “Politics was never dirty; politicians make politics dirty”.

During the last few decades, the credibility and integrity of state institutions have been called into question, thus a number of interviewees feel there is an urgent need to “restore popular trust in government”, “reliability and integrity of political leaders”, and “credibility and legitimacy” of state institutions. For this, it is necessary to undertake urgent reform of state institutions such as the Ppolice force, and ensure effective transition from a “soft authoritarian state to a liberal democracy”.

What are their hopes for a new Malaysia? Some of the interviewees are very forward looking; they have high ideals. They raise the question of how to “rise to the challenge of the next fifty years”? It is clear the interviewees are quite unanimous in wanting “a developed Malaysia with equal opportunities for all Malaysians” in the coming decades towards and beyond 2020.

They want a nation in which Malaysians learn to respect each other, take care of the country’s resources, protect the environment, and tackle climate change. But they note that the issue of climate change does not seem to feature in both coalitions’ manifestoes. One interviewee laments that “We have squandered a lot of our natural wealth, and have to face the coming years without that buffer.”

Implicit in the responses of many of the interviewees is the nagging feeling that something has been sorely lacking in Malaysia, that is, the need to build bridges across the ethnic, religious and cultural divides. It should be noted that Malaysians have lived with diversity, they take pride in it, and maintain that it is  an asset. But as a number of observers have noted, many Malaysians in their daily lives still live and remain in physical and mental silos. How to overcome this syndrome and move forward in the next fifty years?

It is the hope of many Malaysians that something must be done as part of national reconciliation and healing process. Malaysia is not just Peninsular Malaysia; the people of Sabah and Sarawak matter just as much as those in the Semenanjung (Peninsular Malaysia); their feelings should not be hurt, as reminded by one of the interviewees.

On the way forward, one of the interviewees puts it succinctly thus: we need to generate a “New Conversation on the state of the nation”, we need to “practice new politics”, “widen the public sphere” and “put an end to the culture of fear”. And very importantly, “let the best prevail”.

Racist UmnoBut who can take us successfully towards 2020 and beyond, to the next fifty years? Many place their hope on the outcome of GE13. It is the electorate who will decide the next government at both the Federal and State levels.

It is worth emphasising that what we badly need is a future-oriented, credible people centred government, a government with vision and imagination beyond the five-year span, a government driven — not by vested interests of powerful elites and their lobbies — but by integrity and the larger interest of the multiethnic nation and of future generations.

As one interviewee aptly puts it: “We need a government that has the courage and imagination to lead Malaysia through these challenges – and the courage to help initiate bottom-up rather than top-down democratic initiatives”. If the newly elected government falters or fails to do so, the people will push them to undertake it.

The trend is there for all to see and is irreversible. As articulated by another interviewee, “motivations and avenues for cooperation and debate among diverse oppositional forces over reform agenda is increasing” and we need “political imagination beyond the dominant ethnic and racial frameworks” institutionalised by the ruling government.

Indeed, if the “national conversation” suggested by one of the interviewees is at all to be meaningful, it has to address the dominant racial or ethnic paradigm and put forward alternative paradigms that can transcend race, religion and divisive politics for Malaysia to successfully make transition towards 2020 and beyond.

Rahman EmbongAbdul Rahman Embong is Emeritus Professor in Sociology of Development & Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

Malaysia’s Ruling Party Gets Desperate

From the Huffington Post

By Azeem Ibrahim

Malaysia has in reality been a one party state for over 55 years with the ruling UMNO party winning a string of elections without much opposition. However, with the stellar rise of Anwar Ibrahim, the ruling party is facing its most tightly contested election in its history. In the final days of campaigning in an election which many pollsters now believe the government will lose, it seems to be pulling a number of desperate stunts.

Firstly is the amount of money the prime minister’s office is spending on advertising. Industry experts have identified over 50 million USD in advertising buys by the prime minister’s office alone. Sources say that the amount of money being spent on advertisements exceeds one million, a virtual buy out of all ad space on Microsoft networks (which include Skype and Bing) for the last 10 days of the campaign. On Facebook the PMO’s office, again according to sources, is spending upwards of $200,000.

Last week various websites in Malaysia reported servers being blocked. The popular and independent online news portal Malaysiakini reported that its IP address was being blocked within the country in activities that could only be explained by the deliberate obstruction by local ISPs. The website which reported a ten-fold increase in traffic on Wednesday was subsequently hacked. The Digital Task Force running the website sent out an email indicating the severity of the attack, which was launched immediately after it reported a dramatic increase in online activity and support for Anwar Ibrahim.

During Malaysian elections it is nothing new for opposition sites to be targeted with DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. It appears this year is no different. With a virtual monopoly on the mainstream media, one wonders why the government feels the need to disrupt other forms of communication.

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.