Najib’s UMNO is not the party that gave us Independence

November 30, 2014

Najib’s UMNO is not the party that gave us Independence

Commentary by The Malaysian

Najib and his gangUMNO was the party that moved for Malaya’s independence and later the formation of Malaysia together with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore. Back then, UMNO was a party of civil servants and intellectuals that advanced the cause of the Malays.

But if after the first couple of days of the UMNO General Assembly, Malaysians still believe in this party that gave us giants such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, Tun Hussein Onn and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, they must be: a) suffering from permanent brain damage; b) illiterate; c) recent “citizens”; d) UMNO members ; e) all of the above.

It is not only the ridiculous fighting talk that has been nauseating, but the sheer obtuse nature of the debate and for want of a more palatable word, stupidity at display.

It is the ruling party since Merdeka, that is some 57 years ago, and yet it talks of an economic jihad  as if the government it controls has done nothing for the Malays and Bumiputera. It is the ruling party with access to all security information and yet one leader can brazenly say a Quran has been burnt in Kedah without any proof, and with a denial from no one less than the Kedah Menteri Besar.

It is a party obsessed with trivial issues such as the girth of its members rather than the shrinking wallets of Malaysian citizens – be it the urban worker or the smallholder facing a crunch from falling commodity prices.

It is a party that should discuss big ideas for the future but yet it still wants to talk about the past or show slides of the May 13 riot. How has this grand Malay nationalist party sunk to be a caricature of itself where intelligent debate has given way to shrill laments and calls for unity or solidarity? Isn’t it ironic that these calls for unity are for a party named the United Malays National Organisation?

Dr Mahathir urged delegates to criticise the leadership for theirThinks, says Mahathir missteps while Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned that laws such as Sedition Act, 1948  is no guarantee to keep UMNO in power forever.

Yet, was any of this discussed or debated? Instead, it has turned into an orgy of blame against everyone but themselves over issues such as the economy and the drift of young Malays to other parties.

The reality is simple. This is UMNO Baru: a pale shadow of the real UMNO that had everyone’s respect and support in first few decades of Malaysia’s existence. And in today’s UMNO, jokes get recycled, and some get elected too.


UMNO GA–The Assembly of Sirens


Let us enjoy Simon and Garfunkel this Weekend

November 29, 2014

Let us enjoy Simon and Garfunkel this Weekend

It has been a depressing week for me. Dr. Kamsiah is away in Taipei, Taiwan. I was there at KLIA2 to see her off this afternoon. The UMNO General Assembly 2014 is over. It should have been a relief; unfortunately it is not. The politics of race and religion continues with renewed vigour as our Prime Minister has succumbed to the pressure of right wing elements in his party.  That said, let us enjoy ourselves to songs of Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park, New York City.–Din Merican


At UMNO 2014 GA: Najib in Abject Retreat

November 29, 2014

Najib in Abject Retreat: A Case of a Leader who leads by being led

by Terence

Najib at UMNO 2014 UMNO GAHe shouts Solidarity In utter Desperation

The premiership of Najib Abdul Razak is now where his predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s, was when faced with a threatened revolt of senior Police Officers to his signature reform – a revamp of the management of one wing of our criminal justice system.

Instead of being resolute for the reform of the Police Force, Abdullah backpedaled when confronted with the threat of an insurgency. His premiership never recovered from that vacillation.

Najib’s almost certainly won’t recover from his now craven acquiescence to the demands of the Malay right wing that a hoary, old holdover from the colonial era, the 1948 Sedition Act, be retained and worse, is going to be fortified.

Three times in the past few years he had said the law would be replaced by a National Harmony Act, a replacement that would, albeit feebly, signal he was staying the course of liberalisation he pledged to undertake at his administration’s start in April 2009.

More than Abdullah,  Najib started his tenure as Prime Minister on a promise of change to a country beset by the economic stagnation and political sclerosis that was behind voters’ denial to UMNO-BN of its traditional super majority in Parliament a year before the new PM took charge.

Almost immediately he began to pussyfoot as the waves of reaction beat against a package of reforms he proposed on the economic front.These concerned changes to the ubiquitous ethnic quotas that governed rules on equity in the private sector.

These efforts at economic liberalisation were accompanied by the use of the savvy jargon of modern management methods. Terms like ‘Key Performance Indicators’ (KPI) and ‘National Key Result Areas’ (NKRA) were liberally sprayed to adorn a campaign of broad ranging change which would make the use of the word ‘transformation’ to describe what would take place as not just a publicist’s hyperbole; it would be for real.

Wide ranging change to the administration and the economy was intended and indeed ‘transformation’ was touted as the conceivable outcome.

A modernisation-thirsty claque, in the private sector especially, must have been elated at the economic and administrative reforms initiated by the man at the helm of the country. Of course, a certain amount of the hype was attributable to the ‘new-broomism’ that accompanies the advent of a new leader.

The public allows a new helmsman to set the terms and markers for the paradigm change he wants to ring in. It takes special qualities to be able to lead a party and the nation it rules into a major shift of direction. The turn can only be accomplished through the personality of the leader and the ideas he stands for.

Ascent paved by pedigree

In both aspects, the new PM was lacking: his ascent in UMNO was paved by pedigree than actual performance, depriving him of the experience of adversity that is often a wellspring for creative response.

Also, his ideas were notable only for their aura of ‘new-broomism’, not for their perceptiveness in how to get the party and country to go in a direction he wanted them to.

He seemed unaware of the utility of the first office in the land as ‘bully pulpit’, the platform available to anyone at the top of the pole of national leadership, to persuade, cajole and beguile a people to follow the leader’s vision.

Worse, when the waves of reaction rose to thwart Najib’s attempts at liberalisation on the economic front, he did not think that he had to fight for his vision against its doubters.

William Shakespeare Quote

Leadership to him did not entail a measure of front running; he thought he could lead by following from behind rather than setting the pace upfront. He should have swapped the management books he had read for chronicles of inspirational leaders who battled for their vision of things against formidable odds.

Perhaps the PM felt he could wait out the reactionaries, by dint of blandishments hurled their way, and then rely on the people’s tendency to give a new helmsman a generous serving of time to realise his vision, to move and outflank opponents.

Najib shouts SolidarityRhetoric about abolishing the Internal Security Act and moves like the creation of the National Unity Consultative Council helped to keep alive the notion he was for liberalisation and that it was only a matter of time before the raft of measures aimed at attaining that goal would overcome reactionary opposition to it.

Absent a desire to engage in grand persuasion of the public by the use of the ‘bully pulpit’, this view relied on optimism about the pliability of reactionaries, a rose-tinted view unsupported by examples from history.

Once emboldened the reactionaries became, when Najib backpedaled on his economic liberalisations, espousers of the regressive on the political front, such as maintaining the Sedition Act.

Holdover from the colonial era

Never mind that selective prosecutions under the Act had given it a bad name besides its reputation as a holdover from the colonial era when it was used to defend colonial economic interests from  the rising threats of communists.

A country can hardly be considered politically modern if it has on its statute books a law that was formulated to combat an ideology and force that has perished in the very countries where it incubated and rose.

Matters are worse off when instead of being jettisoned, the law is fortified to counter sundry new threats. The jury can come in with a final finding on PM as liberal. It is likely to be that the emperor has no clothes.

UMNO GA 2014 is a challenge for Prime Minister Najib Razak

November 28, 2014

UMNO GA 2014 is a challenge for Prime Minister Najib Razak

No open rebellion, but Prime Minister faces a rebellion over Malay privilege

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak opened the United Malays National Organization annual general meeting Tuesday under siege, partly from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and partly from his own Deputy Prime Minister and party Deputy Chief Muhyiddin Yassin, who openly seems to be challenging him.

DPM MalaysiaGiven Malay politics, where frontal opposition is rare, the attacks are opaque. But the messages from both are clear: under the party’s current leadership, the ruling Barisan Nasional will lose the next general election because UMNO, the biggest component of the ruling coalition, is being deserted by ethnic Malays.

The conclave is expected to run through Saturday and will likely feature the usual fire-breathing attacks on other races and religions  from the dais. But a source close to Mahathir say this gathering is also expected to see rank-and-file efforts to pass a resolution telling Najib he can’t do away with the country’s colonial era sedition laws, as the prime minister has promised.

“That is a blow to the PM, who has pledged to abolish it,” the source said. The factions likely won’t raise a growing scandal over the sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Bd., he said, “because it is now a national problem. We don’t expect it to be discussed because most members don’t know what is going on. It’s too complicated.”

1MDB, however, is the elephant in the room to the leadership, a disastrously managed fund that has accumulated debts of RM36 billion, apparently because of a calamitous investment in a Saudi Arabian oil venture in which RM7.2 billion appears to have disappeared altogether. Subsequent attempts to cover the failed investment have driven debt through the roof. Mahathir has assailed the government over the operation of 1MDB, as has former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and several bloggers who are loyal to Mahathir.

A source close to the Mahathir wing described the 1MDB investment as the biggest scandal the country has ever faced, a tall statement given that billions have been lost through disastrous and crooked loans from the state-owned Bank Bumiputera Bhd, the modernization of the Port Klang seaport, attempts to corner the tin market, a failed steel mill and many others.

The bigger issue now is Malay privilege. Ethnic Malays dominate almost all of the top positions in the civil service, the military and the police. Malay-owned companies are given the lion’s share of government contracts. They are given preferential treatment in the number of positions in government universities, receive 7 percent discounts for new houses, have special reserve land in housing settlements and burial plots. A minimum of 30 percent equity must be given to Malays in all listed companies. Mosques and Islamic places of worship are fully funded.  They receive special share allocations for new applications.

Nonetheless, Najib and the coterie surrounding him are under fire from Mahathir and organizations such as PERKASA, a Malay superiority group headed by Ibrahim Ali, once described by a critic as “Mahathir’s Brown Shirts,” for giving away too much to other ethnic groupings, particularly the Chinese. The Chinese continue to dominate the economy.

Dr.MahathirMahathir and his close associate, Daim, lambasted Najib for attempting to reach out to minorities prior to the 2013 general election, in which a three-party coalition headed by Anwar Ibrahim won a vast majority of the Chinese votes. Anwar’s coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, won a majority of all votes in the election but lost parliamentary seats through gerrymandering and the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.

Political rumor mills are buzzing over indications that Muhyiddin would make a move for the top job, although change is unlikely during the current meeting. But for  months, Muhyiddin, a Johor-based Malay nationalist, had been telling associates and friends that he would like to retire. He is 67 and has said he is tired. He recently went on the haj to Mecca, however, and came back to say he feels rejuvenated.

Last week, he gave a series of interviews to local papers, saying he is afraid the party will lose the next election, which must be held before May 2017, because of continued infighting and corruption.  He singled out UMNO Youth and the women’s division for criticism, which is interesting because both are headed by Najib allies. The youth wing is headed by Khairy Jamaluddin, a close lieutenant of Najib’s, and the women’s division is headed by Shahrizat Abdul Jamil, whom Najib saved from a massive scandal involving the loss of millions of dollars from a national cattle feeding scheme.

Najib and 1MDB

Mahathir, in his blog Che Det, urged the rank and file to criticize party leaders, saying warlords are blocking fresh blood from entering the party ranks and that ethnic Malay voters are losing faith in the party. Implicit in that attack is that Najib has given away too much political and economic power to ethnic Chinese, who make up 22.9 percent of the population against 60.1 percent for ethnic Malays.

PERKASA, which has become quite influential within UMNO, held its own AGM recently to say that if UMNO continues to ”fail Malays,” Malays will teach UMNO a lesson by leaving the party in the next election.

Unfortunately these statements betray ignorance of the fact that Malays are turned off not so much by UMNO’s failure to protect them as by the fact that the party has grown sclerotic and is characterized by rent-seeking and outright corruption on a vast scale, with the party’s leadership enriching themselves while leaving villagers with few benefits except at election time. One of  Muhyiddin’s family, for instance, is rumored to have grown rich enough via government contracts to afford a private executive jet.

Most recently, costs for the construction of a new terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport  is believed to have ballooned from RM1.7 billion to RM4 billion because of contract irregularities.

UMNO cannot use the Sedition Act to stay in power, says Tun Abdullah

November 27, 2014

UMNO cannot use the Sedition Act to stay in power, says Tun Abdullah

–saya mendengar pendapat dan cadangan daripada Timbalan Presiden, Wanita,Pemuda, Puteri, usul-usul daripada bahagian, keresahan suara-suara akar umbi, serta pandangan-pandangan NGO, maka dengan ini saya sebagai Perdana Menteri memutuskan bahawa Akta Hasutan 1948, akan terus dikekalkan.

Malah, akta ini bukan sahaja akan dipertahan, tetapi akan diperkuat dan diperkukuhkan lagi sekurang-kurangnya dalam 2 perkara. Pertamanya, kita akan masukkan peruntukan khas untuk melindungi kesucian agama Islam, bahkan agama-agama lain juga tidak boleh dihina.

Keduanya, kita akan mengenakan tindakan keras ke atas sesiapa yang cuba menghasut supaya Sabah dan Sarawak keluar dari Malaysia. Ertinya lagi, apa-apa jua perkataan, perbuatan mahupun ucapan yang bersifat menghasut serta menghina Islam, Melayu dan Raja-Raja akan kita halang dan kita tentang habis-habisan.”–Najib Tun Razak on the Sedition Act 1948 at the 2014 UMNO General Assembly

Amid UMNO’s jubilant greeting over the retention of the Sedition Act 1948, former Party President and Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi warned that the law should not be abused to help the party stay in power.

abdullah badawi2UMNO needs People’s Support to stay in Power

Writing in his blog soon after his successor Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced a U-turn on his promise to repeal the act, Abdullah reminded UMNO members that the party could only stay in power with the people’s support.

“In our enthusiasm to retain the Sedition Act, I remind UMNO members that the act is not to be used to keep UMNO in power. UMNO’s power and strength comes from the people’s support. Remember, if the people no longer support us, there is no law on God’s earth that can save Umno from losing power,” Abdullah said.

The former Prime Minister, however, agreed with the decision to retain the colonial-era law. He also noted the enthusiasm with which UMNO delegates had shown when Najib said the act would remain in his policy speech earlier today.

“I support the decision to retain or amend any laws that protect national harmony, that uphold our constitution, that affirm the social contract forged by our forefathers.And that ensures that the federation of Malaysia is not destroyed by irresponsible people. All this, I support,” he said before stating his caution.

At the UMNO General Assembly, Najib had said the Sedition Act would not only be retained, but strengthened with amendments to protect the sanctity of Islam, curb insults against other religions and to punish anyone who called for the secession of Sabah and Sarawak from Malaysia.

Najib said he decided this after considering feedback from UMNO Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Wanita UMNO, Pemuda UMNO,Puteri UMNO, the grassroots, as well as non-governmental organisations.

“Hence I, as the Prime Minister, decided that the Sedition Act 1948 will remain,” he said, amid roars of approval from the delegates gathered at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

He said this was UMNO’s wish, adding that he believed their friends in Barisan Nasional (BN) would be with them. Gerakan President Datuk Mah Siew Keong, however, issued a nuanced protest in a statement this afternoon, noting public dissatisfaction over the abuse of the act against academics and public intellectuals.

“Gerakan’s fervent hope is that the Sedition Act will eventually be replaced with a comprehensive National Harmony Act. The new framework must include a set of punitive and positive measures to ensure societal stability but at the same time promotes national unity and harmony,” he said.

Noting the “long struggle” of 20 years to repeal the Internal Security Act, Mah said he believed a repeal of the Sedition Act would be done “when all parties are ready and open minded”.

“In line with the growing tide of democratisation, I believe this will eventually happen. In the meantime, I urge the authorities to act without fear and favour and do not abuse the Sedition Act to silence legitimate political dissent.”

Mah noted that the failure to charge PERKASA President Datuk Ibrahim Ali over the call to burn the Malay language Bibles had fuelled perceptions that the act has not been used in a fair and just manner.

Political Will and Drastic Action against Warlordism in UMNO

November 27, 2014

COMMENT: Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has said what should have been Din Merican lastestsaid a long a time ago. UMNO must change, not in small doses (as Azmi seems to suggest) but drastically if it is to regain the confidence of Malaysian voters, not just the Malays.

I can say with confidence that none of us question UMNO’s mission to defend the special position of the Malays, Islam as the official religion of our country and our system of constitutional monarchy. These matters are embodied in our constitution. At issue is the means of accomplishing its mission and the quality of its leadership.

In recent years, under Najib as Prime Minister we see that Malayness has been taken to extremes and our country is divided along race and religious lines. It has become Us (Malays) Versus Them (The Pendatangs and Kafirs). The Prime Minister has allowed PERKASA and ISMA to dictate the Malay agenda and run amuck with Islam. It is time for him to show that he is Prime Minister for all Malaysians.

While claiming to be a Moderate, he has allowed extremism to fester, necessitating the tabling of a White Paper on ISIS in our Parliament just a few days ago. Even JAKIM and JAIS have been permitted to persecute those who disagree with them on religious matters.

Patronage politics and endemic corruption continue unabated. Helping the Malays has been used to justify national policies when in reality these policies benefit  only cronies and a select few, usually members of the UMNO elite. There is a lot for UMNO to do, if it is to remain relevant.

Now we must hear what our Prime Minister has in mind when he delivers his Amanat Presiden to the UMNO General Assembly. Will he contradict his Deputy Prime Minister who has set a conciliatory tone for UMNO delegates? Embrace Malaysia with its rich diversity and face the challenges of intense globalisation with strong faith in our own people.–Din Merican

Political Will and Drastic Action against Warlordism in UMNO

by Azmi

DPM MalaysiaDeputy Prime Minister sets the Tone for UMNO GA

UMNO Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin delivered a humdinger of a speech on Tuesday night that startled critics because of its “confessional” nature — part plea, part reconciliation, part therapeutic and part self-criticism — as he earnestly examined the party’s prowess of rights and litany of wrongs.

He was unapologetic in defending the rights that UMNO has fought and struggled for, notably, the special Malay position, Islam as the official religion and continued constitutional monarchy, blended within Malaysia’s unique form of political stability and socio-economic equality, buttressed by well-meaning, long-standing affirmative action.

He stood aghast at the lagging Bumiputera disparity in property ownership, income and employment, and, despite a 44-year run, the New Economic Policy designed to level the odds for the Bumiputera lot is still sputtering, unable to fly on cruising speed as idealised.

He was also unapologetic in critically judging the wrongs plaguing UMNO, notably the unfavourable perception of the young against the party and its infamously unruly warlordism, whose depravity for power and wealth threatens the party’s cherished values.

Muhyiddin didn’t air his thoughts in a fit of frustration, although frustration was the heft in his lengthy tome: he offered hardened statistics, rock-solid studies and unassailable research on the maladies afflicting Bumiputeras, not just lamenting on their deprivation, but also their unconscionable inability to get out of the rut.

His list of Bumiputera listlessness was jarring: unemployment is highest among ethnic groups, as high as 70.3 per cent; unfair treatment of Malay graduates vying for private sector jobs despite equal qualifications; lowest paid among the races as much as 20 to 40 per cent less; and, comparatively lowest in property ownership.

Muhyiddin’s dirge is inescapably true yet, there is a simple explanation: to wit, a newly-minted director-general of a statutory body dealing in the arts was recently making his familiarity rounds, inspecting his communications unit, whose key task was meeting and dealing with foreign clients.

When a group of Americans came by seeking details of facilities and services, the communications people unfathomably “disappeared”, leaving nobody to assist the visitors.

When the Director-General investigated the fiasco, what he discovered infuriated and saddened him: the communications people “vanished” for no other reason than none were able to speak fluent English, fearful of embarrassing themselves with their malfunctioning grasp of the international language of doing business.

Ironically, when it comes to business trips to English-speaking countries, everyone in communications is able and willing to travel, never mind their linguistic lethargy.

Yes, unfairness, prejudice and preferential treatment is the dirty cost of doing business in the real world, but even then, many firms desperately wish they could recruit the dream Bumiputera candidate — if only he or she could speak and write decent English, a crucial non-negotiable prerequisite.It is an alarming blotch in the whole Bumiputera debacle that education — education in English, to be precise — has jacked up the statistics of the unemployable.

Why this stubborn resistance to learning English? The education system, for one, which has relegated English to a bottomless pit that only urbanites dare to dive into gladly in their ease of accepting Western culture of books, music, TV and movies, something which the “village” Bumiputera are loath to embrace.

It also does not help that certain politicians and activists campaigned ruthlessly against teaching Maths and Science in English while decrying such “yellow culture” in case it “infected” impressionable youngsters. As Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister, Muhyiddin holds the magic wand to reverse this English proficiency malaise. He knows what needs to be done.

In reaffirming the spectre of UMNO warlordism, Muhyiddin needs committed help to defang the warlords who, while enriching themselves silly, are also subconsciously killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

UMNO could start small: impose term limits in party elections and in key government posts, just to neutralise the warlords’ dominance while protecting their “dynastic heirlooms”, to be succeeded by only by their kin or crony.

True, it will take a gutsy manoeuvre to outwit these warlords, especially the entrenched ones, but there is a working precedent: the government’s direct 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) to youngsters, circumventing these warlords effectively, denying them power, control and commissions.

The warlords will undoubtedly retaliate with threats and thuggery but that’s chicken feed compared with the long-term damage to the party, if not the nation.

Muhyiddin is right about young prospects not being wrong in perceiving UMNO’s hierarchical peculiarities, having laid out the problem head-on.

All that needs coaxing is for strong political will to adopt the adage that UMNO has to be ruthless in order to be kind in defeating all that is bad in the party. It could be that simple but the reality is something else.