Auf Wiedersehen, Not Goodbye Malaysia

April 30, 2015

Auf Wiedersehen, Not Goodbye Malaysia


My friends,

As of tomorrow May 1, I shall be in Phnom Penh to take up my appointment as Associate Dean, Techo Sen ( Hun Sen) School of Government and International Relations, University of Cambodia. I am grateful to my colleagues at the University, especially President-Minister of State Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, for accepting a soon to be 76 year old activist, who is considered to be irrelevant in his own country, and allowing me to partake in this major assignment. I feel appreciated and shall get on with the challenging task of building this School, which bears the name of the Prime Minister of Cambodia, HE Samdec Techo Hun Sen, into an academic and research center of  excellence.

Phnom PenhThank You for Your Support

Fortunately, I am not alone. Even before I board to the plane, I have been assured of collaboration with The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, Nanyang Technological University where I will have the opportunity to work with Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Emeritus Secretary-General of ASEAN and former Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia and Ambassador Murshahid Ali, former Singapore Ambassador to Cambodia.

In Malaysia, Tan Sri Mahbob Sulaiman, Chairman, Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) where I am a Associate Fellow has expressed interest in a research and consulting tie-up with the School and the University of Cambodia. Dato Dr. Paul Chan, Vice Chancellor, HELP University and his colleague, Dato Dr. Zakaria Ahmad have concrete collaboration proposals with the University of Cambodia. Upon arrival in the Cambodian capital by the Mekong, I will brief Dr. Kao on these matters.

This blog will be active as usual and I hope you will continue to support it with your comments andDin Merican@facebook ideas. You have contributed a lot to making it a well visited site. According to the 2014 Annual Review by, it is read in 206 countries throughout the world and in 2014, it had 2.5 million visitors. It is most gratifying to have your support. I welcome your suggestions which can make this blog a home where ideas matter.  So it is auf wedersehen, not goodbye Malaysia.–Din Merican

Kleptocratic Governance: The Case of 1MDB

April 30, 2015

Kleptocratic Governance: The Case of 1MDB

Investigators into the Malaysian development fund 1MDB’s 2009 joint venture with the company PetroSaudi International have concluded that the partnership lied to its banks and Bank Negara Malaysia by confirming that the company Good Star Limited was a 100% subsidiary.

In fact Good Star Limited is a third-party concern, controlled by the businessman friend of the Prime Minister, Jho Low, whom we have shown was secretly directing the fund’s investment decisions.It leads to possible charges of “cheating”, write the investigators in a document in our possession.



Yes indeed. we are governed by a bunch of kleptocrats led by none other idris guitarthan Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak. Of course, he disagrees by claiming that his administration is transparent. He thinks he is a paragon of good governance with very qualified professionals like Idris Jala and Paul Low guiding him. If so why this mess! RM42 billion is not peanuts.  Mr Arul, the 1MBD CEO has a lot to answer for this latest development.

What is the Auditor-General doing? Wasn’t he supposed to be looking into the matter as a matter of top priority.  Mr. Transformation Blues from Sarawak, why have you been silent on this issue? It is time  also to remind our Cabinet ministers that they are equally accountable for the 1MDB scandal. It is Governance 101 and they should know that they have a joint responsibility for any wrongdoing made by the Najib administration.–Din Merican

NO Surrender, says Bugis Warrior Najib

April 29, 2015

NO Surrender, says Bugis Warrior Najib

Najib the Bugus WarriorNajib–The Bugis Warrior

Faced with continued calls for his resignation, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tonight declared he will never back down or surrender, and stressed that his government was transparent.

In his speech during the launch of the Performance and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) Annual Report at Angkasapuri in Kuala Lumpur, Najib said that he was aware of the mounting criticism against him, but added that he would not be alone as long as his “noble goals” remained alive.

“Even though we are pressured and criticised, as a transparent government, I, as the Prime Minister, with Deputy Pime Minister and the ministers as well as my colleagues in the administration, will not budge or surrender, but will instead remain steadfast and continue to fight, and carve a million new pathways for the sake of the rakyat and the country.” he said.

Najib’s remarks come amidst calls by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has asked for his resignation over scandals involving government-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), for continuing the 1Malaysia People’s Aid (BR1M) and also over the murder of a Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu.

‎In his speech tonight, Najib drew on Greek philosophers, Muslim scholar Imam Ghazali, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King whom he said had warned that those who fought for the right cause would face a variety of challenges.

He said that famed Indonesian novelist, religious scholar and philosopher HAMKA, or Dr. Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, had advised that it was always better to stand and fight rather than give up and go home, no matter how high the odds were stacked against them.

“Hence, as long as our noble goals remain alive, we are not alone, we have not lost our way. Let us come together with the same fighting spirit‎ and move forward, towards a more developed Malaysia that is revered by the entire world.”

He also urged Malaysians to “think maturely” and not be overcome with emotion when judging the government and its “noble efforts”.

Najib said that no words could describe how important it was for everyone to be magnanimous (berjiwa besar) in their fight to develop the country.

“Because of that, I urge for everyone to avoid all the conflict (sengketa) and find a point of similarity (titik persamaan), for the sake of peace in Malaysia.”Believe me, when the truth shines out and reveals itself, all insults and imputation will disappear.”

Recently, Dr Mahathir took his criticism of Najib up a notch, going beyond telling him to resign and asking the Malay ruling party, UMNO, of which Najib is President, to remove him instead or risk losing the next general election.

What did ASEAN Summit 2015 achieve?

April 29, 2015

What did ASEAN Summit 2015 achieve?

by Prashanth Parameswaran

With the conclusion of the 26th ASEAN Summit chaired by Malaysia, what did this series of meetings achieve?

Leaders at ASEAN Sunnit 2015When evaluating ASEAN summits, it is useful to consider not only measures actually adopted – whether in the form of documents, housekeeping items, or proposals being forwarded on to other bodies – but also established ideas put off until future meetings and newer ones tabled for discussion in order to get the full picture. Since the ten-member grouping operates by consensus and rotating chairmanships, there are usually different speeds at which it moves depending on the issue in question and the extent of agreement or disagreement therein.

Aside from the chairman’s statement usually adopted – with the obvious exception of Cambodia in 2012 – a few other documents were adopted at the 26th ASEAN Summit. One was the Langkawi Declaration on the Global Movement of Moderates, an initiative championed by Malaysia over the past few years to promote moderation as a tool for bridging differences. The Declaration was viewed as one of ASEAN’s contributions to global peace and security. Another was the Declaration on Institutionalizing the Resilience of ASEAN and its Communities and People to Disasters and Climate Change. This builds on the ASEAN Joint Statement on Climate Change 2014 adopted at least year’s summit in Myanmar. The region is also extremely susceptible to natural disasters, and Malaysia was on the receiving end of this last year with the worst flooding in decades affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

Malaysia also continues to use its ASEAN chairmanship year to strengthen regional cooperation against the Islamic state threat, which it has been busy countering at home including during the run-up to the summit itself. As I have written earlier, Malaysia was already set to convene a Special ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Radicalization and Extremism in October. But there were also discussions over the past few days about potentially holding an informal ministerial meeting with Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand next month as well.

Some measures that some had hoped would move forward were put off until future meetings. One of these was the proposal for a common ASEAN time zone. ASEAN currently has four different time zones, and the idea would be to get other ASEAN members to adjust their time to a single agreed one, most likely the current time zone in Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, which is GMT + 8 and similar to the one in China. The alignment would facilitate business dealings and would help forge a more cohesive ASEAN Community expected by the end of 2015. The idea was originally proposed by Singapore back in 1995, but differences still remain within the grouping on the matter.

IMT - GTOther ideas were also floated that were significant. According to Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, several proposals in the form of “non-papers” were discussed. Among these was an idea to streamline ASEAN meetings – including reducing the number of ASEAN summits from two to just one per year – which is reportedly still under discussion. Another was on strengthening the East Asia Summit (EAS), which I touched on briefly here. This year is the 10th anniversary of the EAS, and several countries have been suggesting ways to make it a more effective institution, which they hope will take place under Malaysia’s chairmanship.

As expected, the South China Sea question received significant attention but saw little progress. The media did release parts of a draft ASEAN statement where the group did share concerns expressed by some states on China’s extensive land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, which it said threatened peace, security and stability. And Najib also repeated the call for an “expeditious resolution” of a code of conduct while stressing that ASEAN would engage China in a “constructive way. But beyond these steps, little progress looks likely at this stage, which is not surprising considering ASEAN’s lowest common denominator position on the issue, China’s continued stonewalling on a code of conduct, and the balance Malaysia tends to strike in its own policy, all of which I have addressed before in separate pieces (see here, here and here).

Religious diktats?

April 28, 2015

Religious diktats?

by Dr. KJ

I am one of the G40; and no apologies either. I signed to communicate to the nation that the Eminent 25 speak for all moderate Malaysians. What then is this creeping backdoor Islamization which we all warn against? Who are these ‘idiocratic religious zealots’ who force us to “live by the rule of religious diktats, where decrees of religious bureaucrats have legal and punitive effect?”

The above words, for me, encapsulate how very accurately but increasingly insidiously, and through the backdoor, profligates the spread of ‘so-called’ Islamic values which are not really common to the public spaces of our secular society. What do I mean?

One ordinary case story

When my oldest son was in Year Six; he was made a prefect and so Mum bought him three new pairs of blue shorts and white shirts for uniform for the new school year.  Of course he was growing taller, too.

But, one day he came back from school rather upset and told his mother that he has been told by his class teacher that he was not permitted to wear shorts any more.  He had to get long pants for school and to do his duties as a prefect.

Shocked at this new rule, I went into the school next morning to find out the logic of its appearance. The principal was not in and I met the deputy, a Chinese gentleman who wore a cowboy hat. He explained to me that they had a new ustaz in school and it was his ‘new ruling.’

I insisted that the deputy open a new complaints book and in it I wrote that my son would not be wearing any long pants for the whole year, as my wife had already bought the shorts for the current year! And let us not even try and guess who the education minister was then.

Limits of jurisdiction

Our G40 statement states: “As a rainbow nation of many peoples’ with diverse religions, we charted our destiny upon a civil and non-religious national legal order resting firmly on the twin principles of the supremacy of the constitution and rule of law.”

My question to the rising but unconstitutional squad of religious bureaucrats is – do they even understand the above statement of fact as a historical truth about life intended for the new Malaysia? If you they do not, then they do not understand the limits of their jurisdiction.

Pewaris That is why I call them, ‘idiocrats;’ which means idiotic bureaucrats who do not know the rule of law and instead live by their ‘own rule by law’. Of course, it Is their understanding and interpretation of their own rules; and, not the country’s laws or even their sacred books.

My teacher of Islamic Values for Life, Dr SH Nasr, used to say: A veil reveals as much as it hides. Generalising that principle, my problem with these religious bureaucrats is that they do not know the limits of their jurisdiction, and therefore they lose their integrity in the missteps of their over-zealousness.

In Malaysia, Islamic religion is a state and not a federal matter. That means, for example, as is the case in Sabah and Sarawak, the federal system cannot insist that Islamic religion be made compulsory religion in their school system.

Even though education is currently a federal matter, such does not give federal authorities jurisdiction of the substance and practice of Islamic religion in Sabah and Sarawak. This was explicitly their concerns stated in their 18 and 20 point demands.

In my mind and heart, the same also goes to the now so-called ‘Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) bureaucrats,’ as they are running wild with the views and their values about public spaces, and how every other Malaysian can conduct themselves in public. Excuse me, but you are out of your jurisdiction. “Tolong jangan jaga tepi kain orang lain.”

One Sunday Mail headline recently roared: ‘Uproar over Jakim’s Concert Rules’. Now, mine is therefore an even stronger legal and constitutional response to that same loud protest.

First, some foundational questions. Under what legal jurisdiction is JAKIM created as a department of the federal government? In my understanding, religion in Malaysia, is a state matter and comes directly under the jurisdiction of the sultans and the state religious authorities. Moreover, its jurisdiction only covers Muslim personal and family matters and theological issues.

So, can I know why and under what legal authority can JAKIM exist as a formal federal authority, and secondarily how can they dictate rules for good conduct and behaviour in the Malaysian federal public spaces; over which they have zero jurisdiction?

Malaysian public spaces are common federal spaces for all Malaysians to mix and mingle deploying common universal public values. To safeguard these modes of conduct, some guidelines are given and these are willingly and voluntarily adhered to within our civil spaces of moral life.

Can these now be “enforced by law, unless they are criminal in nature?” Can Islamic religious state enactments be criminal in nature? Can they therefore become criminal law only by the abdication of such spaces by the Article 121 (1A) amendments? If not, how else?

My constitutional and human rights

I have a God-ordained human right to live a life of dignity in this world and prepare myself therein for the hereafter. No human can deny me, or any other human, that right. Consequentially, I also have some other legally secured human rights of conscience, ethnicity, religious belief and citizenship.

In our families, we secure and apply all these human rights within the privacy of our homes. The more relevant question is what can we do when these rights are not followed by me and my family in our public spaces? For example, in our family home we do not drink liquor. Does that stop me from drinking outside the home as well? Therefore, if I still do not drink outside the home, is it not a personal value system, and as not one merely dictated by either my family or my religion?

Now, how can I go to the common spaces, for example in my Old Boy Association Building; which we all helped establish, and then dictate that only ginger beer and root beer be served? Is that not my denial of the right of others to choose any other brand of beer, whether I drink it or not? Is that not what true religion is about; not one dictated by outsiders?

True religion is one which is adhered to in one’s heart by the willing and voluntary compliance which comes from the desires of one’s heart and not by fears about the external environment and their religious diktats. May God Bless Malaysia with true religion.

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at with any feedback or views.

Malaysia’s ISIS conundrum

April 27, 2013

Malaysia’s ISIS conundrum

Joe ChinJoseph Chinyong Liow is the inaugural holder of the Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies and senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. He is concurrently Professor of Comparative and International Politics and Dean at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Liow’s research interests lie in the fields of Muslim politics and civil society in Southeast Asia and the international politics of East Asia. He is the author and editor of 11 books and monographs including Muslim Resistance in Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines: Religion, Ideology, and Politics (Washington D.C.: East-West Centre, 2006), Islamic Education in Southern Thailand: Tradition and Transformation (Singapore: ISEAS, 2009) and Piety and Politics: Islamism in Contemporary Malaysia (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). He is also co-editor of the four volume Routledge Series Islam in Southeast Asia.

Liow has also published in numerous peer-reviewed academic journals, including Pacific Review, Pacific Affairs, Asian Security, Asian Survey, Journal of Islamic Studies and Modern Asian Studies. In addition to his scholarly works, Liow has also published in major policy journals such as Foreign Affairs, The National Interest and NBR Analysis. He has also consulted for several MNCs including Shell, Statoil, BHP Billiton, Monitor 360 and Chevron International, and is a regular commentator in the international media.

Liow serves as co-editor of the Routledge Asian Security Studies book series and associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Asian Security. He is also on the editorial board of South East Asia Research, Journal of Defense Studies and Resource Management, Journal of International and Global Studies and the ASAN Forum. He has just completed the 512-page fourth edition of the Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia, and is currently working on two book projects; one on religion and nationalism in Southeast Asia and the other on U.S.-Southeast Asia relations since the fall of Saigon.

Liow holds a doctorate in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science.


The recent emergence of an ISIS recruitment video featuring young Malay (possibly also Indonesian) speaking boys attending religious classes and engaging in weapons training in ISIS-held territory has caused a furor in Malaysia. Estimates of the number of Malaysian fighters in ISIS vary from between 60 to almost 150, depending on who you ask. The high end of these figures approximates the number of Indonesian fighters that are also believed to be in Syria and Iraq. Yet the population of Malaysia is barely one-tenth that of Indonesia. In other words, Malaysians seem to be joining ISIS at a higher rate than Indonesians.

This state of affairs is all the more perplexing given how often Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Tun Razak, waxes lyrical on the international stage about moderation and how Malaysia is the epitome of multi-ethnic and inter-religious harmony, as he continues to press a nebulous “Global Movement of Moderates” agenda. What accounts for the appeal of ISIS in “moderate” Malaysia? To answer this question, let us start with the official Malaysian view on the causes of international terrorism, especially religiously-motivated terrorism.

Malaysia’s Muslim leaders have frequently pinpointed American foreign policies that affect the Muslim world – particularly the invasion of Iraq, Washington’s unstinting support for Israel, lack of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and war in Afghanistan – as one of the main causes of terrorism today. To be sure, much can be said about how these factors have inflamed Muslim sentiment worldwide. But my interest here is to look specifically at the challenge that religiously-inspired terrorism in general, and ISIS in particular, poses for Malaysia. To that end, I argue that while “external factors” are important, the main causes for concern may well originate from within Malaysia’s own borders.

Four observations can be drawn from the Malaysian domestic context, which I believe speak to the conditions that exist for virulent ideologies like that of ISIS to potentially find sympathy and following:

First, in a 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, it was noted that “in Malaysia . . . roughly a quarter of Muslims (27 percent) take the view that attacks on civilians are sometimes or often justified.” However, if we add to this number the 12 percent who take the view that violence is “rarely justified” in defense of Islam (as opposed to never justified), essentially 39 percent of the Malaysian Muslims surveyed believed that violence can be justified against enemies of Islam. Significantly, Indonesians polled only 18 percent on the same question (1 percent “often,” 5 percent “sometimes,” and 12 percent “rarely”). In an earlier poll on The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics, and Society, a mere 8 percent of Malaysians expressed concern about Muslim extremism while 31 percent were concerned about Christian extremism.

ISIS MalaysiaNow, I am not a big believer in surveys, which to my mind often raise more questions than answers. But reading this survey, I could not but come away with one thought – 39 percent of the Malaysian Muslims surveyed believed that violence can be justified against enemies of Islam. What is the relevance of the figures in the Malaysian context? I will return to this in a moment.

Second, Islam has unfortunately become heavily politicized in Malaysia. Malaysia’s dominant political party, UMNO, is a Malay-Muslim party that was created with the main objective, at least in theory, of promoting and defending Malay-Muslim supremacy. According to the party’s narrative, this supremacy is coming under siege from various cultural (read: non-Malay vernacular education) and religious (read: non-Muslim) quarters and hence has to be staunchly defended.

Given that Malaysia has a Malay-Muslim majority population, it should come as no surprise that UMNO’s chief political opponents are also Malay-Muslim parties who equally brandish religious credentials as a source of legitimacy. To the extent that there is political ideology at play in Malaysia today, it is Islam, and specifically Islamism, that dominates.

Let me be clear: Islam casts a pale shadow over Malaysia today not because it is Islam, or even Islamism, per se, but because its proponents (and “defenders”) are articulating a particularly exclusive brand of Islam that is divorced from the religion’s historically enlightened traditions, and which has no intention to encourage pluralism or compromise. The net effect of this is that non-Muslims Malaysian are marginalized by as Islamist parties try to “out-Islam” each other. As UMNO struggles to cling to power by focusing on its religious credentials above all else, religion has become heavily politicized and is viewed as a zero sum game.

Third, this politicization of Islam is taking place against a backdrop of an exceedingly strong state which has taken upon itself to police Islam and curtail any expression of faith that departs from the mainstream Shafi’i tradition. Yes, the ummah may be universal and Islamic confessional traditions may be diverse, but in Malaysia there is very little room for compromise beyond the “Islam” sanctioned by the state. The Shi’a tradition is legally proscribed, and several smaller Islamic sects are deemed deviant and hence, banned. All this happens despite the existence of constitutional provisions for freedom of worship. Needless to say, attempts by various fringe quarters in Muslim society to move discourse away from an overly exclusivist register have run up against the considerable weight of the state, which defines and polices “right” and “wrong” Islam.

Fourth, rather than extol the virtues and conciliatory features of Islam’s rich tradition, many Malay-Muslim political leaders have instead chosen to use religion to amplify difference, to reinforce extreme interpretations of Malay-Muslim denizen rights, and to condemn the “other” (non-Muslims) as a threat to these rights. For fear of further erosion of legitimacy and political support, the Malay-Muslim leadership of the country have in their public statements circled the wagons, allowing vocal right-wing ethnonationalist and religious groups to preach incendiary messages against Christians and Hindus with impunity. In extreme cases, they have even flippantly referred to fellow Malaysians who are adherents to other religious faiths as “enemies of Islam.” Even state-sanctioned Friday sermons have occasionally taken to referring to non-Muslim Malaysians as “enemies of Islam.” It is against this backdrop that the findings of the Pew surveys cited earlier take on greater, more disconcerting meaning.

Of course, we must acknowledge that not all in the Malay-Muslim leadership engage in this kind of narrow religio-political discourse. I know for a fact that a few of them privately sympathize with non-Muslim consternation about how their rights to freedom of religion are being blatantly undermined. The problem is, they dare not speak out publicly, thus creating the impression that they support the majoritarian narrative of exclusion of non-Muslims.

So how is all this related to ISIS and Malaysia’s concern for the group’s growing influence on its shores? My point is basically this – is it any surprise, given the four observations enumerated above, that the climate of religio-political discourse in Malaysia today would lend itself to the pull of extremist ideas of a group such as ISIS?

To be sure, Malaysia has a very competent internal security apparatus. But security measures alone are insufficient to deal with the threat the country currently faces. Indeed, without changing the way Malaysian society views and articulates Islam to allow for critical engagement of extremist ideas, the utility of security measures is limited at best. Worse still, they might have a contradictory effect of feeding an extremist mindset. While critical engagement will not eradicate the problem, I believe it will go some distance in reducing it. But in order to set a new tone for public discourse on Islam, pluralism, and critical engagement of extremist ideas, it will require political will and leadership at the very top.

It was reported recently in the Malay Mail that Malaysia’s top counter-terrorism official opined that an ISIS attack on Malaysia “was just a matter of time.” If so, Malaysian authorities would be well advised to consider that the appeal of ISIS may not be attributed only to developments in Syria or Iraq, or American foreign policy in the Muslim world. It could well start at home, where the political and social climate that allows exclusivist right-wing groups and politicians to speak and act with impunity is the same one that will provide recruits and sympathizers for insidious organizations such as ISIS.