Dr. Bakri Musa’s Reflections on the Sixtieth Anniversary of Merdeka

August 31, 2017

Dr. Bakri Musa’s Reflections on the Sixtieth Anniversary of Merdeka

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The deadly white supremacists’ riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12, 2017, and the much less lethal but no less dangerous fracas at the Nothing-to-Hide 2 Forum in Shah Alam the following day, may have occurred at literally opposite ends of the globe and in a diametrically different cultural milieu, nonetheless the underlying racial and socio-political dynamics share many eerie and frightening similarities.
 Factoring time zone differences, the two events took place at about the same time. There were other similarities but before pursuing them it is worth recalling the differences.
While mega terabytes were consumed by tapes of and commentaries on that Charlottesville riot, as befit a tragedy that shook and shocked the comfortable core assumptions of America, the Malaysian fracas was remarkable for the silence of the establishment and mainstream media, reflecting their tacit approval. Only with the vigorous alternate media was this shameful and glaring deficit exposed.
In America, no commentary touched me more than the brief and prescient essay by Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Written last November for The New Yorker’s series “Mourning For Whiteness” following President Trump’s marginal electoral victory, she foresaw early the link between that and the future Charlottesville riot.
To me, born and raised in Malaysia but now domiciled in America, Morrison’s “Making America White Again” illuminated as much about my adopted country as of my native land.
 “The choices made by white men who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women,” Morrison wrote, “suggest the true horror of lost status.” The status referred to is white privilege in America.
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Melayu Harapan Bangsa–The Friends of Prime Minister Najib Razak
This “true horror of lost status,” even the hint or threat of, is also what drives Malays to a frenzy of abandoning their humanity out of fear of their fellow non-Malay Malaysians. It prompts young Malays into slipper- and firebomb-throwing riots while their leaders brandish their kerises, threatening to soak them with the blood of non-Malays.
Substitute “white privilege” for “special privileges,” or Ketuanan Melayu in local lingo, and the underlying dynamics are comparable and no less ugly.
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Inflammatory words are uttered and crude gestures mimed by UMNO and PERKASA leaders invoking Ketuanan Melayu, not in the heat of emotional electoral debates or idle coffee shop talks but in the lofty air-conditioned halls of party headquarters and modernish ministerial suites at Putrajaya. Those in our public universities too are afflicted by this virulent virus.
“Immigrants to America know (and knew) that if they want to become real, authentic Americans,” observed Morrison, “they must reduce their fealty to their native country and regard it as secondary, subordinate, in order to emphasize their whiteness.”
 “… United States holds whiteness as the unifying force,” she continued. “Here, for many people, the definition of ‘Americanness’ is color.”
The “whiteness” equivalence in Malaysia is not skin color (thank Allah, for Malaysians come in various hues!), rather its equally sinister correlate–race. In Malaysia that is also tied to religion, making for an extra toxic and very volatile brew.
In America during slavery, color ranking was obvious; there was little need to be explicit. Non-whites “knew their place,” or ought to! Breach that or in any way be seen as being uppity, and you would pay the terrible consequences.
In today’s post-civil rights America, “white people’s conviction of their natural superiority is being lost. Rapidly lost. There are ‘people of color’ everywhere threatening to erase this long-understood definition of America,” wrote Morrison.
We already had a black President. What more do blacks want, mocked Morrison. Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.
 What more do blacks want? That recalls Prime Minister Najib’s earlier chilling threat “what more do the Chinese want?” following his party’s near-death experience with the “Chinese tsunami” of the last general elections.
 As in pre-emancipation America, racial identity (and the inevitable ranking) in Malaysia is explicit, enshrined in her constitution and institutions. At least our past leaders rationalized that on the need to ameliorate the socio-economic marginalization of Malays, the country’s largest ethnic entity. Today that provision is being exploited with a vengeance to ape the old colonial “divide and rule” imperative and imperialism.
 With norms of human rights and racial equality becoming universal, Malays’ conviction of our natural superiority is being challenged, and fast being lost, echoing Morrison on white privilege.
Everywhere, Malaysia and America included, economic power and political realities on the ground trump established legal provisions and pat historical assumptions. Non-Malays, from the peninsula to East Malaysia, threaten to erase this long understood and accepted definition of Malaysia.
 I do not presume to know what non-Malays want. A non-Malay Prime Minister? Appeals Court packed with non-Malay judges? Predominantly non-Malay cabinet ministers? As in America, the threat is both real and frightening.
Witness the raging controversy, public as well as in the rarified chambers of the Bar, to the extension of the due-to-retire Chief Justice Raus Sharif, an ugly manifestation of the fear that the top judicial post could go to a non-Malay, and from East Malaysia to boot.
To limit this possibility of untenable change, and restore Malayness to its status as a marker of national unity and defining character of Malaysia, a number of Malays are sacrificing themselves, like white Americans over their privileges. Malays have begun to do things we clearly don’t really want to be doing, as with abandoning our sense of human dignity and risking the appearance of cowardice, all in the pursuit of making Malaysia Tanah Melayu (Land of the Malays) again.
 Much as Malays hate our behavior, and know full well how craven it is, we are willing to let, for example, Malay babies be abandoned rather than be adopted and showered with love by non-Malay families, desecrate the venerated symbols of other faiths, and engage in obscene behaviors in front of homes of non-Malay leaders. As shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are (make no mistake, those are expressions of weakness and desperation, not of courage or wisdom), we continue doing so.
 To keep alive this Ketuanan Melayu illusion, Malays tuck our heads under the banner of Malay sultans and legendary heroes like Hang Tuah, while shunning the necessary hard work needed to prepare for modern realities and current challenges. No surprise then that we are over-represented among the socially dysfunctional. To them, Ketuanan Melayu remains a titillating tease at best and a cruel hoax at worse.
 What Malays have done, egged on by our leaders, are not acts of courage or deeds of the wise. Quite the contrary. Only the frightened would do that, and the dumb.
Just as America of the Confederacy was very different than today’s Union (for one, it is considerably larger, with most states joining in after the Civil War; for another, more diverse), likewise today’s Malaysia is far different from the old Tanah Melayu. There is minimal Malayness today or in the past in Sabah and Sarawak, or Penang for that matter.
 The path to genuine, laudable and enviable Ketuanan Melayu, in contrast to the mirage of Tuan perpetrated by our leaders or the crippled-on-crutches caricature portrayed by those contemptuous of us, may be difficult but is no secret. Get a good education, pursue something productive, and contribute to society. Then we could become Tuan even in lands other than Tanah Melayu and live Hang Tuah’s immortal words, Takkan Melayu Hilang Di Dunia! (Malays shall not be lost in this world!) Anything less and we are doomed to be hamba (slave) even in Tanah Melayu.
To the sons and daughters of my native Malaysia, on this the sixtieth anniversary of Merdeka, do not be led astray by the false prophets and delusional aspirations of Ketuanan Melayu. Unshackle yourselves. Modify the rallying cry of our forefathers from “Merdeka Tanah Melayu” to “Merdeka Minda Melayu!”


Think For Yourself

August 31, 2017

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COMMENT: Normally, I will join fellow Malaysians to watch television with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah Haider to celebrate  Merdeka Day.  However, this milestone year, the 60th Anniversary of Independence, we choose to spend our time together in stead of witnessing a farce at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. Kamsiah and I feel there is nothing to rejoice.

Our Malaysia today is not what I had expected when my teenage friends and I–I was 18 years old– welcome Merdeka on August 31, 1957. My generation listened to Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj’s Independence Proclamation in a newly built Merdeka Stadium amidst pomp  and ceremony with excitement and hope.

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Today we are divided, unequal in terms of rights, opportunities, and widening income disparity. We are identified by race and religion; and we are being governed by a corrupt and inept Najib’s UMNO regime which disregards the rule of law. Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn would be disappointed to see what we have become.

Dr. Kamisah and I would like to advise millennial Malaysians  to “Think for Yourself”. The future of a wonderful country is in your hands. You can make a difference. You can work to achieve Tunku Abdul Rahman’s dream that “We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us” come true. That bond is broken  by the present generation of political leaders.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

Ivy League Scholars Urge Students: ‘Think for Yourself’

by Conor Friedersforf


As the fall semester begins, 15 professors from Yale, Princeton, and Harvard have published a letter of advice for the class of 2021.


Fifteen highly accomplished scholars who teach at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard published a letter Monday with advice for young people who are headed off to college: Though it will require self-discipline and perhaps even courage, “Think for yourself.”

The “vice of conformism” is a temptation for all faculty and students, they argue, due to a climate rife with group think, where it is “all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion” on a campus or in academia generally.

They warn that on many campuses, what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” doesn’t merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views:

It leads them to suppose dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them. Since no one wants to be, or be thought of, as a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies. Don’t do that. Think for yourself.

They go on to explain what that means: “questioning dominant ideas,” and “deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions,” even arguments “for positions others revile and want to stigmatize” and “against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”

They go on to explain what that means: “questioning dominant ideas,” and “deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions,” even arguments “for positions others revile and want to stigmatize” and “against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”:

Monday’s letter argues that “open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate” are “our best antidotes to bigotry;” that a bigot is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;” and that the only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate “are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.”

The letter’s signatories are Paul Boom, Nicholas Christakis, Carlos Eire, and Noël Valis at Yale; Maria E. Garlock, Robert P. George, Joshua Katz, Thomas P. Kelly, John B. Londregan, and Michael A. Reynolds at Princeton; and Mary Ann Glendon, Jon Levenson, Jacqueline C. Rivers, Tyler VanderWeele, and Adrian Vermeule at Harvard.

FA Abdul remembers Humanist Thasleem Ibrahim

August 30, 2017

FA Abdul remembers Humanist Thasleem Ibrahim

“For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught,
To say the things, he truly feels
And not the words, of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
And did it my way…”

– Frank Sinatra, “My Way”


COMMENT–FA Abdul | Dato Thasleem Ibrahim was my teh tarik and chatting buddy. The first time I was in contact with Dato Thasleem was in early 2015 when I received an unexpected text message from him.

“Assalamualaikum. I read your article ‘I Like Keema And Not Kimma’ and I nearly fell off my chair!”

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Dato Thasleem Ibrahim and Datin Dr. Yazmeen paid a courtesy call on Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam at his residence in New Delhi on 26th.July 2010. The discussions centered mostly on education and youths.

We both had a good laugh chatting about the Malaysian Indian Muslim Association (Kimma), which claimed to be representing the Indian Muslims but was seeking for them to be acknowledged as Malays. As an ex-advisor to Kimma for many, many years, Dato Thasleem surely had a lot of stories I found interesting.

Following that first text message, more conversations through phone calls as well as over teh tarik and vadai at his favourite mamak place in Taman Tun Dr Ismail ensued.

I learned that Dato Thasleem was born in Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu and came to Malaysia when he was five years old. Having been schooled in Ipoh until he was in Form 5, he regards himself as an Ipoh boy.

Oh, how can I forget the time when he joked – “I have banyak girlfriends in Ipoh. But now they’re all grandmothers!”He was such a jovial chap with a remarkable aura.

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Dato’ Tashleem Ibrahim seen with DAP’s Theresa Kok

One of the issues both of us passionately talked about from time to time was how religion, which was supposed to promote unity among all, was being used to break us apart. Dato used to warn me that if nothing is done now, in the future we might end up in separate hospital wards and mortuary freezers according to our race and religion.

Dato Thasleem’s dream was to create a better world for our children, a world full of values of humanity, fairness and equality – a dream he never gave up on.

“I lost the case, my dear. Punished for speaking the truth and seeking justice but the civil servant got promoted. Malaysia is truly Bolehland,” he told me not too long ago regarding a senior Malay civil servant who had sued him for defamation for calling him an ultra-Malay racist. “But I cannot give up. The fight must continue.”

As much as I looked up to Dato Thasleem as a wonderful being with a great soul who was ever willing to fight for justice, for he believed every true Muslim had a responsibility to defend what is right and resist what is wrong, I also saw a father figure who was kind and loving and always gave a shoulder to lean on upon sensing the need for one.

The last time I spoke to him was the morning he was admitted to the hospital.

“I have been following all your articles. Been unwell for the past six months. I was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease in 2009, yet I’m not giving up and I’m pushing myself against medical advice and now I’m paying a heavy price. Too many battles to fight, it really hit me hard.”

He told me how he regrets not taking better care of himself. And he spoke of the need for him to keep his mind active by continuously hammering the corrupt politicians, although at the time, he was not feeling well.

And even as his health deteriorated, he texted me, “Ma, you will always be in my prayers.”

With him now gone, it is up to those who loved him dearly and those who recognised his jihad, to carry on fighting for justice.

Dato Thasleem devoted his life to fighting for what he believed in and, in the midst of doing so, touched so many lives.

Jihad for justice is his legacy. The fight must go on. It has to.

FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.


Bad news on Thailand’s Constitution

August 30, 2017

A year after referendum, only bad news about Thailand’s constitution

by Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang


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Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra–A Victim of Brutal Military Regime in Thailand

In the referendum of 7 August 2016, Thais voted in favour of the junta-backed constitution draft that would later would become the 2017 Constitution. The referendum marked a victory for the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO, the official term for the junta), the generals having finally managed to convince the majority of Thais to overlook the democratic activists who opposed its “democratic” roadmap. Much has happened since then. The draft took a few unexpected detours before coming into effect on 6 April 2017. To commemorate the 2016 referendum, this post reflects on what this Constitution really means for Thailand over the next few years.

First and foremost, the lack of public participation during the drafting process and in the post-referendum amendments clearly show that this is not legitimately the supreme law of the land. It is not drafted according to the general will of the citizenry—whose supremacy the government does not respect. As a result, except for political parties and a handful of ardent observers, the public have distanced themselves from the current constitutional debates over election and political party laws, leaving it to the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to chart the country’s destiny.

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Look beyond the calm and beauty of the floating market in Bangkok for the reality of Thai democracy. The military junta makes a mockery of the new Constitution

This is not to say that the 2017 Constitution’s drafting was a farce. Far from it: the regime put its collective heart and mind into delivering the law, framing it as an operating manual to govern the country into the future. But this “manual” is not a constitution in the liberal democratic sense. This is not a document of a common goal of the people, nor is there public respect for it, unlike the 1997 (or even the post-coup 2007) Constitutions. If necessary, the military is ready to replace this manual with another one that suits its interests better—and the public is unlikely to protest against such an action.

We don’t see much of an afterlife for the 2007 Constitution in the 2017 Constitution—unlike the 2007 document, which inherited much from its 1997 predecessor. Rights and liberties, which were the selling point of the two most recent constitutions, are almost neglected. The general impression of the 2017 charter is that it is a potpourri of local innovations and adapted foreign transplants, all of which aim to cripple the next administration.

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The most notable feature is the drafters’ obsession with constraining the incoming civilian government’s powers. For the first five years, the law permits a non-MP outsider (e.g. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, junta leader and the current Prime Minister himself) to be nominated as prime minister. The first Senate would include ex officio military commanders and possibly some members of the junta’s handpicked NLA. The new mixed member proportional representation (MMP) electoral system is designed to create a fragmented parliament and a coalition government.

Moreover, the government would further be destabilised by a long policy to-do list as set out in the constitution, and a complex web of scrutiny by the judiciary and watchdog agencies. Administrative mistakes, corruption, and conflicts of interest can result in disproportionately harsh punishments. For example, one minor mistake in consideration of a financial bill can see the whole cabinet ousted on conflict of interest charges. While an effort to eradicate corruption is commendable in principle, the unrealistic goals set out in the constitution will hamper the government’s effectiveness—not to mention raise the chances of these anti-corruption safeguards’ being a pretext to harass political foes.

Here there is a paradox. In the 2017 Constitution, the CDC has designed a constitutional amendment procedure in which it is almost impossible to change the rule of the game. But the excessive constraining mechanisms outlined above deal mainly with the immediate government after the first election. This reflects the NCPO’s uncertainty about the prospects of post-coup Thailand. In their view, Thaksin Shinawatra and his men must not return to power. But in case they return, the NCPO wants to be sure that they are not free to run the country.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, salutes members of the Royal Thai Army at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand on September 30, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

The 2017 Constitution limits the next government’s ability to formulate its own policy, as it has already provided a list of preferred policy choices. Chapters on the Duty of the State and the Basic Policy Guidelines address a wide range of topics, from religion to national security, from education to environment, from Thai traditional medicine to satellite frequency. Formerly, these used to be policy guidelines with no legal authority. Now these government duties are enforceable in the courts.

In addition to a policy agenda enshrined in the Constitution, the NCPO appointed the technocrat-led Reform Committee and the bureaucrat-led National Strategy Committee, both of which will prepare the National Strategy Plan for the next 20 years. In 2014, the NCPO promised Thais a massive reform to overhaul the country. It has not delivered anything substantial, but these committees serve as easy way out. The NCPO has created a platform for the reforms that shall be carried out by its civilian successor. If the reforms fail, the incumbent government would be liable to be sanctioned according to the law. But if it works out, the backseat drivers—that is, the junta—can take all the credit. Ironically, most of these experts have been engaging, again and again, in reform projects throughout the past decade. These professional reformers are unlikely to bring about any innovative changes.

Disappointingly, the 2017 Constitution avoids addressing the real cause of Thailand’s political crisis: the accountability deficit among the constitutional watchmen. Since 1997, several independent agencies (for example, the Constitutional Court, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, and the National Human Rights Commission) have been created to enforce accountability on elected bodies. The charter is still based on a false premise that only civilian politicians are corrupt, so it imposes severe punishments on them for misconduct. The Constitutional Court and other watchdog agencies are assigned a greater role in keeping politicians’ legal and moral standards in check, but there is no attempt to effectively hold these unelected bodies to account. The drafters trust these watchmen’s personal integrity and moral standards, which have historically proved inadequate. Without better accountability, watchdog agencies will continue to suffer a legitimacy crisis, a result of their seemingly unfair exercises of power since 2007. Peace and prosperity under the new Constitution, as propagated by the NCPO, is nowhere in sight.

At present, the CDC is drafting other relevant laws, such as those on elections, political parties, and watchdog agencies. Some of the legislative proposals are even more radical than the 2017 Constitution itself. A person who fails to vote will be banned from voting for two years. Members of a political party must pay a membership fee in order to prove their genuine belief in the party’s ideology. A primary vote is also introduced, a mechanism which is impractical for most small to medium-sized parties.

Interestingly, there seems to be some inconsistency, or a lack of consensus, among the political elites regarding how to use their “operating manual”. The CDC is considering using different numbers for candidates from the same party in different districts. This proposal will surely generate voter confusion, and contradicts the CDC’s earlier statement that the constitution would direct voter’s focus from each individual candidate to one party. The numbering system is opposed by the Election Commission, but the CDC insists that the measure will force parties to work harder to win the people’s support.

Inconsistencies are also apparent in the case of the watchdog agencies. The NLA dismisses the current members of the Election Committee and the National Human Rights Commission, but spares the Ombudsman and the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The discrepancy in “set zero” of these agencies likely has more to do with each watchdog’s political leverage, and willingness to obey the NCPO, than real legal issues. The Election Commission is again upset, and has threatened the CDC with a court case.

The full effect of the 2017 Constitution will not be felt until the first post-coup general election, which is supposed to happen in late 2018. The unusually lengthy transitional period of 15 months, and the death of the beloved King Bhumibol, has allowed the NCPO to stay in power and arbitrarily exercise dictatorial powers under Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Charter for another year. Thailand is thus currently under two overlapping constitutional frameworks: that which was voted upon in 2017, and the 2014 Interim Charter. The two are completely different. The presence of the latter erodes any credibility of the former. The NCPO is blessed to not have to respect the rights and liberties of Thais as Section 44 supersedes any constitutional guarantees.

But an election has to come one day. A new government will navigate the roadblocks put in front it by the 2017 Constitution. After a year-long barrage of propaganda, the outcome is the possibility of a crippled and unstable civilian government dictated to by a band of unelected elites. Under the 2017 Constitution, Thailand’s political future does not look promising.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is a constitutional law scholar. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University before earning his LLM at Yale Law School. Currently he is a PhD candidate at University of Bristol’s School of Law.


Tun Razak would be disappointed with Malaysia today, so are we Malaysians

August 29, 2017

Tun Razak would be disappointed with Malaysia today


If Abdul Razak Hussein was still breathing, he would be disappointed to see the four scenarios happening in the nation at present, said Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

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Abdul Razak, who was conferred the honorific title ‘Tun’, was Malaysia’s second Prime Minister and father of the current premier, Najib Abdul Razak.

The first scenario, said Sultan Nazrin, was the unity among the people which Abdul Razak emphasised as vital for the country’s future. However, the ruler said in their earnestness to garner support, political parties appeared to be inclined towards fanning religious and racial issues.

Sultan Nazrin pointed out that Abdul Razak also underlined the important role schools played in fostering racial ties through national education as contained in his education policy.

“The implementation of the national education policy appears to be failing in achieving the objective of the school as a nurturing ground to unite the people. The younger generation of various races who go through various education mediums will not have the opportunity to interact and become acquainted, on the contrary, growing up in isolation in their own racial groups,” the Ruler was quoted as saying by Berita Harian.

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Tun Razak would be disappointed this son who turned out to be most corrupt and racist Prime Minister of Malaysia. Malaysia is today Malusia

The Sultan was speaking at the launch of the book ‘Fulfilling A Legacy – Tun Razak Foundation’ by Shahreen Kamaluddin in Kuala Lumpur. Also present was Abdul Razak’s widow Tun Rahah Mohd Noah.

The Perak Ruler said the third scenario which Abdul Razak would regret was related to the implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), especially the abuse of the opportunity in the distribution of wealth.

The Sultan said this resulted in a large-scale erosion of the bumiputera’s economic share, which not only created misunderstanding among the bumiputera who considered it as favouritism but also causing anger among the non-bumiputera. 

Sultan Nazrin cited corruption and integrity as the fourth scenario. “Tun Abdul Razak’s heart would be crushed in following the exposure after exposure, arrest after arrest because of widespread corruption involving top officials and educated individuals which have tainted the country’s good name,” he said.

Therefore, the Sultan called on the people to appreciate the vision and the sacrifices of Abdul Razak. “Let us pray together to Allah that his vision and spirit of sacrifice will not fade from the hearts and minds of the people,” he said.

Who decides whether Trump is unfit to govern?

August 29, 2017

by Peter D. Kramer and Sally L. Satel


The mental health of Donald Trump has been under scrutiny since he began running for president. Now 28 Democratic Congress members have signed on to a bill, introduced in April, that could lead to a formal evaluation of his fitness.

The bill seeks to set in motion a part of the 25th Amendment that empowers Congress to establish a body to assess the president’s ability to govern. The commission created by the bill would have 11 members, at least eight of whom would be doctors, including four psychiatrists. If the commission doctors found Mr. Trump unfit to govern and the vice president agreed, the vice president would become acting president. Since the 25th Amendment was written to address temporary disability, it allows the president to announce that he has recovered — presumably Mr. Trump would do so immediately — and force a congressional vote on the finding of unfitness.

The role of psychiatry in this process would be problematic. One of us is a lifelong Democrat, the other a Republican (if an increasingly ambivalent one). But as psychiatrists and citizens, we agree on this point: The medical profession and democracy would be ill served if a political determination at this level were ever disguised as clinical judgment.

Much has been written lately about the Goldwater Rule, the American Psychiatric Association’s prohibition against members’ evaluating anyone they have not personally examined. The rule dates to 1973, when analysis of patients’ unconscious processes drove diagnosis. Today, diagnosis is often linked to observable traits, making evaluation at a distance plausible. Even if Mr. Trump refused to cooperate, diagnosis might be the easy part — perhaps too easy. Whether or not they can say so, many experts believe that Mr. Trump has a narcissistic personality disorder. He is grandiose, entitled, desperate for admiration and so on.

But any number of presidents have remained in office despite some level of mental impairment. Historians believe that Abraham Lincoln, for example, had clinical depression. A president can have a mental disorder and, overall, function admirably. In the absence of disability, a president may be inexperienced, indecisive or inept. Psychiatrists would be alarmed if mental illness were considered an absolute bar to public service.

The 25th Amendment is imprecise, but clearly the intent is to cover impairment arising from illness. Once an impairment is diagnosed, doctors on the panel would need to determine whether the president is incapacitated and whether the incapacity results from the disorder. For grave conditions like psychotic episodes, severe dementia or massive strokes, the connection is easy. But what of less automatically disqualifying ailments?

The traits that might earn Mr. Trump a diagnosis of personality disorder were on display during the election campaign. His supporters judged that egotism was compatible with leadership. He is governing as he campaigned. He is impulsive, erratic, belligerent and vengeful.

But is Mr. Trump unfit to govern in the meaning of the 25th Amendment? If so, its provisions might have been invoked the day he took office. If not, when did the incapacity arise? Would the commission monitor a president’s behaviors, judging which is the last straw?

In practical if perhaps not in moral terms, these decisions might be less troubling if Mr. Trump were found, say, to have Alzheimer’s disease, with a resultant coarsening of longstanding personality traits. To the extent that the president’s supporters accepted expert opinion, they might be less resistant to the removal of a demented commander in chief than a narcissistic one.

But considering personality disorder only: How does it relate to fitness? Can erratic behavior be strategic? Decisions at this level of refinement become ever less scientific, less medical.

However flawed, the Goldwater Rule saves psychiatrists from the temptation to misuse diagnosis for partisan purposes. The establishment of a standing oversight commission reintroduces this concern, in spades. Assuming that doctors confirmed that Mr. Trump was egotistic, would they then declare him unfit based on established patterns of conduct — on Trump being Trump?

That result would strike those who elected him as elitist and anti-democratic. Don’t the people have the right to choose an exceedingly narcissistic leader?

For a President who is unfit but not impeachable and who still has the support of his cabinet, the Constitution offers Congress only this one way out, a declaration of impairment presented by a deliberative body of its choice. But that body need not be dominated by doctors. Senator Birch Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who drafted the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967, specifically opposed relying on physicians to make what he considered a political determination.

If the time comes that Congress finds Mr. Trump unable to discharge his duties, its members should appoint a bipartisan commission dominated by respected statesmen to set the removal process in motion. Obviously, if a president’s health deteriorates drastically, medical consultants should be called in. But when the problem is longstanding personality traits, a doctor-dominated commission simply provides cover for Congress — allowing legislators, presumably including those in the majority, to arrange for the replacement of the president while minimizing their responsibility for doing so.