Dr Kua Kia Soong: An Insider’s View of Ops Lalang (October 1987)

October 29, 2017

Dr. Kua Kia Soong: An Insider’s View of Ops Lalang: Closure to this dark episode in our history

No, Mahathir may not owe these elite any apologies. But he certainly owes an apology not only to all the victims of Ops Lalang, but also to the former Lord President and the Supreme Court judges that he sacked in 1988, and to the Malaysian rakyat for all the financial scandals since the 1980s that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit.–Dr. Kua Kia Soong

by Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com


As with the pattern of ISA detentions under the Alliance and then the BN government, the mass arrests and detentions without trial of innocent Malaysian dissidents in 1987 was an attempt to create a climate of terror as a backdrop for Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s other agenda.

It was the prelude to the sacking of the Lord President (Tun) Salleh Abas and the suspension of five Supreme Court judges, who were about to judge the case brought up by Team B of UMNO challenging the party election results.

Geoffrey Robertson, a leading UK barrister said of the sacking that “the Tribunal Report recommending the sacking of Tun Salleh Abas is among the most despicable documents in modern legal history.”

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The reality was that if the highest court in the land had judged in favour of Team B in 1988, it would have been the end of Mahathir’s tenure as prime minister. Thus survival was Mahathir’s main agenda, and we the victims of Operasi Lalang were just the pawns in his game.

Did the human rights of innocent Malaysians matter to him? Does he need to apologise and show remorse now that he claims to have seen the light and become a born-again democrat?

Harapan leaders held Dr M responsible for Operasi Lalang

This was the declaration by all the Ops Lalang detainees including myself, Karpal Singh and the other Pakatan Harapan leaders today on the first anniversary of their detention in 1988:

“The year since this dastardly Operation Lalang has been an outrage for all freedom-loving and democratic-minded Malaysians. The Mahathir administration has made even more brutal attacks on the democratic institutions in this country.

“The doctrine of separation of powers has been dealt a serious blow by the threats to the judiciary not only through legislative changes but also by the scandalous suspension of five Supreme Court judges as well as the lord president.

“The subsequent dismissal of the Lord President and two of the judges demonstrated the depths to which the Mahathir administration is prepared to go to stay in power.

“Civil liberties have been further eroded by new changes to the law. It is quite clear, therefore, that this so-called Operation Lalang was a signal for calculated repression and intimidation of the Malaysian people and to divert attention from the irresolvable problems confronting the ruling party and coalition.”

Dr M cannot erase history

Mahathir cannot escape from the historical records in, among others, my “445 Days under Operation Lalang,” DAP’s “The Real Reason,” Carpa’s “Tangled Web,” Amnesty International’s “Operation Lalang: Detention Without Trial under ISA,” K Das and Suaram’s “The White Paper on the October Affair and the Why? Papers.”

And judging from the comments on the “Black October “affair by eminent persons both local and international, we can see clearly who they held responsible for this dastardly affair – it was certainly not the inspector-general of police!

In the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman himself:

“UMNO was facing a break-up. Prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s hold on the party appeared critical when election rigging was alleged to have given him a very narrow victory over Tengku Razaleigh (photo).


The Evergreen UMNO loyalist

“The case alleging irregularities brought by UMNO members was pending in court. If the judgement went against him he would have no choice but to step down. So he had to find a way out of his predicament.

“A national crisis had to be created to bring UMNO together as a united force to fight a common enemy – and the imaginary enemy in this case was the Chinese community…

“It’s a police state when you can go and arrest people at will without giving any reason other than they think they are a security risk. I do not concede Dr Mahathir’s contention that his measures are predicated solely on the extreme tension between Malays and Chinese last month which brought the country close to serious racial rioting…

“It’s not a question of Chinese against the government but his own party, UMNO who are against him.”

Tun Hussein Onn, Amnesty International, Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Commission of Jurists, Asiawatch, European Parliament, Australian parliamentarians,  Malaysian Bar Council – they all held then Prime Minister responsible for the detentions.

Closure on this dark episode in our history

What is an apology after all? We are not asking for compensation. Let me remind Mahathir that Malek Hussein was awarded RM2.5million as compensation for his ISA detention by a High Court judge. Multiply that a hundred times and it would still be insufficient to compensate some of us who were detained for more than a year.

An apology on this occasion is for Mahathir to declare his regret, remorse and sorrow for having inflicted pain and suffering on victims of Ops Lalang, the top-ranked judges of the judiciary and other democratic institutions in Malaysia.

For any closure on this dark episode in our history, and any hint of humility towards reparation, such an apology is vital to:

  • Document and confirm the facts surrounding what actually happened;
  • Specify the harm done to victims and their loved ones through Mahathir’s actions;
  • Highlight the ways in which democratic institutions and human rights were violated;
  • Demonstrate Mahathir’s acceptance of moral responsibility for what he did in 1987/88;
  • Express publicly Mahathir’s regret and apology for what was perpetrated on the victims; and
  • Demonstrate specifically what kind of reform Mahathir is now committed to.

The leaders of Harapan who insist that Mahathir does not need to apologise for his arrest and detention of more than a hundred innocent Malaysians in October 1987 do not seem to realise the consequences of their actions.

Pakatan Rakyat betrayed Freedom loving Malaysians by associating itself with the man who destroyed our Constitution.

Now if Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak decides to step down in the light of the 1MDB scandal or after GE14, will the Harapan leaders then “forgive” him just like they have “forgiven” Mahathir?

If they think there is no need for Mahathir to say sorry, why does Najib have to say sorry if he decides to go? Why does Najib have to step down if he is charged with corruption since the Penang CM has not stepped down?

No impunity for kleptocrats

This is what I am getting at – in human rights, democracy and justice, miscreant autocrats and kleptocrats cannot get away with impunity. Impunity refers to the failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations, rule of law flouters and the corrupt to justice and constitutes a denial of the victims’ right to justice and redress.

Let us not forget that some of our elite did rather well under Mahathir – some got favoured contracts including legal contracts, others gained from his privatisation policies in all areas from energy to private higher education; some politicians who were not physically tortured under Ops Lalang actually wore their ISA detention as a badge of honour to boost their political careers. They might even want to thank Mahathir for his autocratic reign.

As one of these Harapan leaders has recently confessed: “Under Mahathir, we could hold our heads high, not like now under Najib…”

No, Mahathir may not owe these elite any apologies. But he certainly owes an apology not only to all the victims of Ops Lalang, but also to the former Lord President and the Supreme Court judges that he sacked in 1988, and to the Malaysian rakyat for all the financial scandals since the 1980s that have cost the rakyat billions of ringgit.

Mahathir can be seen as the “Father of Crony Capitalism” in Malaysia. According to journalist Barry Wain, Mahathir squandered close to RM100 billion during his reign as Prime Minister.

The leader of the opposition knows of these scandals more than anyone else in this country – during the 1980s, he called Mahathir’s privatisation of our national assets, “piratisation” which is a ruder word than “kleptocracy.”

This is not to mention the billions lost through the Proton fiasco and its costs to the environment and the failure of a public transport system in the country.

And don’t forget the RM5 billion arms deal that Mahathir signed with Margaret Thatcher in 1988 also led to allegations of “commissions” paid to UMNO which led to the “arms for aid” and “buy British last” furore in 1994.

Sorry is all that he can’t say

Leaving all that aside – all we are asking for now is for Mahathir to say “sorry” for that dastardly deed in October 1987 when he took away so many days of our freedom (445 days of my life) and made us withstand torturous days. And he can’t even do that?

Sorry does seem to be the hardest word for some autocrats. According to law professor Andrew Harding, “What Dr Mahathir has done in 1987 is to sacrifice, for the sake of a transitory, temporary and possibly illusory political advantage to himself and his supporters, the priceless asset of judicial independence…

“It is the Constitution, as the supreme law, entrusted to the judges, which is the best guarantee that the executive, once elected, will not act dictatorially.”

Thus, on this 30th anniversary of Operation Lalang,

  • We call on all Malaysians who cherish justice, human rights and the rule of law to demand the end to detention without trial and to restore the rule of law in Malaysia.
  • We demand a public apology and a sincere expression of remorse from Mahathir for depriving so many innocent Malaysians of their freedom and making them endure the torture of detention under Ops Lalang.
  • We call on the BN and Harapan to commit to setting up the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission and to ratify the UN Convention against Torture in the first 100 days after GE14. Suaram demands a thorough investigation into all allegations of torture and for the torturers to be accountable for their actions.

KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

Crapitalism versus Conmunism

October 28, 2017

Crapitalism versus Conmunism

by Dean Johns


The state of global power-economics these days seems to me to pretty well illustrate the truth of John Kenneth Galbraith’s famous remark that ‘under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism it’s just the opposite’.

Image result for john kenneth galbraith quote on capitalism and communism

In other words, capitalism at its crappiest, in the form of so-called ‘neoliberalism’, is devoted to the greater enrichment of the rich and the further impoverishment of the poor by many means including the process of privatizing profits and socializing losses, as witnessed most spectacularly in relatively recent times by the splurging of public money to prop-up the predatory profiteers that precipitated the global financial crisis of 2007-8.

While Communism, having already been revealed as a monstrous con by decades of murderous Stalinist and Maoist totalitarianism and the collapse of the USSR in 1991, has been spurred by its decades of failure to achieve world domination by military means to finally embracing money as the way to beat the crapitalist West and its allies at their own game.

This strategy looks like a winner so far for Conmunist and now also crapitalist China, as it already has the US deeply in its debt, and is busily making countries like Australia, for example, as dependent on it as possible through trade, while outright buying those that, like Malaysia, have ruling regimes that are allegedly for sale to the highest bidder.

And, in recognition of the well-known fact that capitalism/crapitalism is driven by fear as well as greed, China continues supporting the Kim regime in North Korea to keep its competitors nervous.

Meanwhile, the exponents of crapitalism everywhere else seem to imagine that it’s business as usual, and continue to try and excuse their execrable excesses by quoting the observation by Adam Smith (1723-1790) in his classic work on economics, The Wealth of Nations, that ‘it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.’

But they take care to selectively ignore the fact that, while he identified self-interest as the motivation for capitalist entrepreneurship, Smith deplored self-interest so excessive as to constitute neoliberal-style crapitalism.

Stating, for example, that ‘our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains.’

And also declaring that ‘no society can surely be flourishing and happy of which by far the greater part of the numbers are poor and miserable.’

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By about a century after Smith had written these cautionary words, however, capitalism if not outright crapitalism had rendered the vast majority of people in most societies so poor and miserable that Karl Marx called for the abolition of not just private profiteering, but private property.

Instead proposing public or ‘collective’ or national ownership of each country’s natural resources, land, agriculture, manufacturing, trade and commerce, and the equal participation of all citizens according to the principle he famously stated as ‘from each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.’

This, Marx predicted, would lead to the elimination of not just economic and social inequalities, but even, eventually, to the ‘withering-away of the state.’

But unfortunately he placed far too much faith in G.W.F. Hegel’s ‘dialectic’ proposing the paradoxical reversal of the master-slave relationship, and too little, if any, in Immanuel Kant’s perception that one crucial factor that differentiates us humans from other animals is that we’re driven by not just by potentially satiable physical needs but also by our capacities for insatiable psychological wants, or greeds.

So the idealism of Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’ quickly manifestered into fake Marxist, Leninist and other ideologies according to which, as George Orwell famously remarked in his classic political allegory Animal Farm, ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.’

And, catastrophically worse, as Orwell went on to expound in his subsequent novel 1984, the state, far from withering away as Marx had predicted, became utterly dictatorial, or, in a word, totalitarian.

Single-party dictatorships used Marx’s all-too-true observation that ‘religion is the opiate of the people’ to force their people to forsake their worship of traditional deities in favour of omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent communist parties and their quasi-divine premiers like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and others of their accursed ilk.

Of course, except in cases like that of the Christian so-called ‘right’ and those nations ranging from Saudi Arabia to Malaysia led by lying, repressive and clearly corrupt regimes falsely claiming to be genuinely Islamic for the purpose of keeping the ‘faithful’ supporting them, religion is not so much of an opiate of the people these days as it was back in Karl Marx’s time.

Image result for Najib Razak quotes

Najib Razak– People First in Words, but he robs state money and puts Rm2.6  billion into his personal bank account, making him Malaysia’s First crabitalist in Action

But there are lots of alternative people-dumbing opiates available now than Karl ever dreamed of. In Australia, for example, the country I happen to inhabit, the list of alternative addictions to religion to keep as many people as possible from focusing on the fact that the nation is cursed with as crapitalist a neoliberal government as any on the planet is virtually endless.

Ranging from actual opiates like heroin and opioid prescription painkillers through alcohol, sport, poker machines, celebrity worship and ‘reality’ television to the entire web of potential addictions awaiting the unwary online, from pathological levels of social networking through gaming and gambling to internet porn.

Personally, as a recovering workaholic, reformed capitalist and long-time fan of Karl Marx’s ideal of ‘from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs’ but an enemy of its perversion by ideological communism, the only refuge from crapitalism, conmunism and popular opiates that I’ve been able to find is my favourite alternative Marxism.

Image result for Groucho Marxism

Groucho Marxism, that is. As the great Groucho himself famously remarked, I have no desire to join any club that would have me as a member. Especially if it was a club that thought it could club me into claiming complete, unquestioning faith in crapitalism, communism, nationalism, patriotism or indeed any other economic, political religious or social –ism you can think of.

Ops Lalang, ISA, and a Certain Mahathir Mohamad

October 28, 2017

Ops Lalang, ISA, and a Certain  Mahathir Mohamad

by Azmi Sharom

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad, Isa and Op Lalang


TUN Dr Mahathir Mohamad gave an interview to an online news portal a few days ago about Operation Lalang in 1987.

I found the interview to be infuriating and here is why. Firstly, he tried to absolve himself from any blame by saying the detention was done by the Police and on Police advice. Gosh, I had no idea he was such a malleable Prime Minister.

Let me explain how the Internal Security Act (ISA), which was repealed in 2012, worked. When they detained a person initially, it was done at the discretion of the Police.

This was when you got a bunch of cops, normally heavily armed, arresting you, usually in the middle of the night.

This detention could last up to 60 days. After those 60 days the detention could be extended to another two years, and another and another ad infinitum.

This longer detention was done at the discretion of the Home Affairs Minister, who was Dr Mahathir at that time.

Image result for Kassim Ahmad and Universiti KeduaKassim Ahmad (second from left) as a young socialist with his wife and fellow leftists visiting Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery, London.
Image result for Universiti Kedua

Nowhere in the law did it say he must obey the advice of the Police. The discretion was his and he must take the responsibility of locking people up without trial and putting families into a terrible state of affairs. Anything else is cowardly.

Then he went on to make light of the detentions, saying that most were released quickly. Yes, sure. This is true, if you were a Barisan Nasional member who was detained. If you were an opposition member, then you were detained for close to two years.

This may seem like nothing to some but let me say this: when you are detained without trial and the length of your detention is uncertain, as it is totally within the discretion of some minister, this is no small matter.

Can you imagine how distraught a person would be, not knowing when they would be released and being helpless and unable to care for their loved ones?

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What about the spouses and the children who don’t know when they will see their father or mother free again? And for what? Com­mitting a crime? No, because some people accused them of being a threat to national security, with not one ounce of evidence proffered before an impartial court.

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The ISA was an unjust law used in an unjust manner. But oh, apparently the ex-PM thought so too and he tried to get rid of it. But the cops wouldn’t let him. My God, how disingenuous can you get? You had the power, not the Police, and you had 22 years to do something about it.

He went on to say that he had vilified some people to win elections. Did he also lock people up without trial to win elections?

After all, those who were locked up longest were primarily his direct political opponents. There will be those who will tell me to shut up. These are the pragmatists, who would rather the past be forgotten so that there can be victory today.

Yeah well, I can’t stop them from acting and behaving as they wish. We are living in an age of pragmatism winning over principle, after all.

And I know with certainty that the ex-PM will never apologise. It is not in his character to admit ever being wrong. But for goodness sake, don’t insult us with the garbage that he has been spouting.

It presumes we are stupid, and it is an unforgivable insult to the detainees and their families who suffered so much.

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget

October 28, 2017

Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget

COMMENT | I remember vividly the day when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then Prime Minister cum home minister, revoked the publication licenses of two dailies, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and weekly newspaper Watan on October 27, 1987.

Just earlier on that day, opposition leaders Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang, as well as Chinese educationist Lim Fong Seng and Kua Kia Soong had been arrested under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA).

Image result for Ops Lalang

At 18, I was old enough to appreciate Mahathir’s autocratic act.

Shell-shocked and in disbelief, I reached for the phone and called Sin Chew‘s head office in Petaling Jaya. The guy answering my call couldn’t tell me what was really going on other than that there would not be any Sin Chew newspapers in circulation the following day and suggested that I wait for further developments.

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Anwar and Mahathir’s Requiem for Malaysia– a little too late. But an apology is required from Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

It was a sleepless night for me. Never a fan of Mahathir and growing angrier at the hawkish rhetoric of Anwar Ibrahim, then Education Minister who was widely seen as equally responsible for the crackdown, I had vowed never to support Umno/BN for the rest of my life.

Things became worse the next day as the Mahathir regime spread its dragnet far and wide. Soon, I learned that another well respected Chinese educationist, Sim Mok Yu, was also detained. In total, 106 Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds became the immediate victims of what came to be infamously known as Operasi Lalang.

Sim was already 74 years old at the time; which politician would subject an increasingly frail septuagenarian to arbitrary detention and constant fear, except for one who was heartless and power-hungry?

It was no doubt the nadir of Malaysian politics since May 13, 1969.

Outraged and feeling helpless, few classmates and I paid a visit to the staff at Sin Chew Jit Poh’s office in Jalan Maju Jaya, Johor Bahru and offered our moral support.

One Mr Foo received us and kindly advised us to focus on our studies and leave politics to others.

“The time will come for you to shoulder your responsibility as citizens of Malaysia.” Mr Foo said gently.

The rest is history.

Operasi Lalang indeed marked my political awakening. If more than 100 ordinary citizens who had done nothing more than exercise their civil rights could be detained without trial, what guarantee would there be for me to live in this country with dignity and pride?

Later on, I read from books and articles how the Operasi Lalang detainees and their family members suffered mentally and emotionally – parents, siblings, spouses, children all living in profound fear with no certainty over the future. What a heavy price to pay to speak up for injustices, I thought to myself.

After 30 years, Mahathir finally admitted that Operasi Lalang was meant to win elections, but at whose expense?

Image result for kua kia soong detained under ISA in 1987

When the remnants of Pakatan Rakyat decided to form an alliance with Mahathir more than a year ago, many saw it as a historic opportunity to defeat Umno in the next election, but I was among the very few who actually thought they were going to be beset with a host of challenges and internal feuds.

The reason is simple – Mahathir has too many skeletons in his closet and Harapan leaders just cannot attack Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak without some of the issues rebounding at them.

For instance, one risks being reminded of the lop-sided deals on Mahathir’s watch when one chastises Najib for toll hikes on highways.

And how can Harapan accuse the judges of being beholden to Najib yet expect the public to not remember how Mahathir sacked six supreme court judges in one go and subjected the judiciary to parliamentary rule?

Which is perhaps why Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, once critical of Mahathir’s obsession with our national car project, now chooses not so subtly to overlook Mahathir’s role in making Malaysia a car-dependent society with haphazard public transportation systems nationwide.

Lim Kit Siang used to call for Mahathir to own up to Operasi Lalang, and vociferously so, but has since fallen silent. Does he think Malaysians are malleable and stupid to not see it as being opportunistic?

How ironic, that an Operasi Lalang victim like Kua Kia Soong is derided as being ‘naïve’, ‘vengeful’ and ‘makan dedak whenever he writes of the need for Mahathir to face up to his political sins.

Don’t the detractors know Kua is also the one who untiringly pursued Najib for an answer for the dodgy Scorpene-class submarine deals and the tragic death of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu?

What is wrong if a former ISA detainee seeks justice from the perpetrator?

Harapan would say the timing is not right because we must all unite and work towards getting rid of Najib.

So when would be the right time for an apology from Mahathir over Operasi Lalang?

Truth be told, every Malaysian has the constitutional right to demand an apology from Mahathir, and when and how this should be done should not be dictated by any partisan considerations. Malaysia does not belong to any political party but to the people.

If a so-called government-in-waiting can procrastinate on the restoration of justice on dubious grounds, how can I not be concerned that there would be myriad of excuses to delay institutional reform upon regime change?

It is truly pathetic that many civil society leaders, mindful of the ‘big picture to save the country’, are now hesitant to endorse the statement that calls for Mahathir’s apology. If we only speak up when it is our material interests that are at stake, how different are we from the powers-that-be?

Perhaps this is why many maintained their elegant silence when Mahathir was clamping down on dissent in a merciless manner. After all, the economy was ‘booming’ and radical Islam had yet to rear its ugly head.

It does not mean that I hate Mahathir. Far from it.I merely hold Mahathir responsible for the moral decadence so prevalent in our country today – the haste to get rich and economic growth trumping human rights, to name but two.

Mahathir must, therefore, first repent before we can move on as a nation, following which we would need a real transformation of the country in which we no longer value material achievements more than human rights, for the two are not mutually exclusive to one another as either Mahathir or Najib would have us believe.

True reform cannot come about without the dark legacy of Mahathir being addressed, and a sincere and collective acknowledgement of the injustice of Operasi Lalang is the first step towards national reconciliation and restoration.

Didn’t we often cite the famous quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

Let’s not prove Mahathir right when he said Melayu, or Malaysians, mudah lupa.

JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.


Political Fatigue deepens as Azmin Ali turns Pakatan’s Brutus

October 27, 2017

Political Fatigue deepens as Azmin Ali turns Pakatan’s Brutus


by Jocelyn Tan

    There is still a sense of uneasiness about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad among many voters. They cannot decide whether they can trust someone who can change his political alliance and views the way people change their clothes. 

    POLITICIANS sometimes become the news even when they are not around and that was what happened with Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

    His “absence” at the Pakatan Harapan rally became a talking point at the event. The rally was in Selangor and everyone had expected Azmin to play a prominent role and use the gathering to strengthen Pakatan’s hold on the state.

    He did turn up as the sun was about to set and he was mobbed by those who saw him. It was what one would call a “cameo appearance”. He was in a red sports shirt but it was not the anti-kleptocracy T-shirt that everyone, including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was wearing.

    He did not speak on the stage and left after about 30 minutes because he had to attend a dinner organised by some Islamic NGOs.

    By evening, word got back to him that people at the rally were asking, “where is Azmin?” So he tweeted pictures of the dinner held to raise funds for the Rohingya cause.

    Many have noticed that he seems to have scaled back on party politics to focus on his Mentri Besar duties. He is aware that Selangoreans are tired of the politicking and gimmicks.

    He wants the track record of his state government to take precedence over the politics of Pakatan.


    Azmin: He made a cameo appearance at the rally.


    Besides, his team has been burning the midnight oil to prepare the state budget which will be presented at the state assembly next month. To compound things, three of his most senior and experienced officers were suddenly transferred out to the Federal Government while his state financial officer reached retirement age.

    Of course, some thought that he did not wish to be too closely associated with the gathering because he could see that the turnout was embarrassing to say the least.

    The venue is in the heart of Petaling Jaya, it is next to the Federal Highway, there is a LRT station across the road and ample parking. The organisers had predicted a crowd of 100,000 and there have been all sorts of excuses for the poor turnout – it was the Deepavali week, young people prefer to rally on the streets and the weather was too hot.

    No matter how they explained it, the rally was a failure compared to the PAS show of force in Terengganu. The PAS rally was a sea of people in green outfits whereas at the Pakatan rally, one could see more green grass than people.

    “This is what it is like without PAS. If they cannot get PAS to come back, they are heading for defeat. But you know, it is like a football match – even though you know your team cannot beat the other team, you still got to go in and kick around,” said Andy Lim, a PKR supporter from Sungai Besar.

    PKR big names like Nurul Izzah Anwar were there but kept a low profile while others like Rafizi Ramli were noticeable by their absence.  Another PKR leader from Penang said he “clocked in” and left shortly after.


    Lim: They are heading for defeat without PAS.

    The sense is that PKR leaders were not 100% committed to the event. The PKR flags were not put up until late in the afternoon because someone forgot to bring the flag poles.

    “It laid bare what had till then been doubts about whether we have exhausted the 1MDB issue. We have misread the ground in our hurry to make gains, we have lost the young vote. But I want to read it positively, people have made up their minds, they don’t need more convincing,” said a DAP politician from Penang.

    This was Dr Mahathir’s first rally as Pakatan chairman and he looked rather tired by the time it was his turn to speak. His adrenalin would have been pumping had there been a big crowd but it was far from the Malay tsunami that Pakatan leaders had been boasting of.

    He stuck to the script and the crowd reserved their loudest cheers and claps for him even though everything he said had been said before.

    His repertoire of topics have been slowly shrinking. His claim that Malaysia is a failed state cannot be used anymore given the steady growth rates in the past few years.

    Neither is Malaysia going bankrupt given the inflow of investments. As such, it was basically a hate speech about his nemesis Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak whom he described as “musuh negara” or national enemy.

    And that is now one of Pakatan’s biggest problem. They are so focused on denigrating Najib and the ruling coalition that they come across as selling the politics of hate rather than the politics of hope.

    There is so little that is positive in their messaging and it explains why the youth cohort has lost interest in politics. No one in Pakatan wants to ask the question whether Dr Mahathir has become a liability rather than an asset.

    Petaling Jaya, where the rally was held, is a bedrock of DAP support. A survey by a Chinese vernacular paper a few days after the rally indicated that more than 80% of those who read the publication want a change of government.

    It reflected the Chinese sentiment yet they did not come out to show their support.


    Khaw: Dr Mahathir has too much baggage.


    “They support Pakatan but the urban Chinese middle class are not with Mahathir. His appeal is not in the city,” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.

    Pakatan leaders thought that he would be able to stir the Malay ground and unite people with his star power. But there has been this sense of uneasiness about Dr Mahathir. Can they trust someone who can change his political alliance and views the way people change their clothes?

    Many out there are still evaluating him. They see him as a bag of contradictions, someone who has brought great change to the country but who is also the cause of many lingering problems.

    For many voters, his message to topple Najib and change the government is like asking them to follow him across a fast-flowing river. He has been unable to assure them what it will be like on the side of the river, he is unable to tell them who will be the Prime Minister if Najib goes.

    Most of all, it is difficult for a 92-year-old man to inspire hope for the future because he belongs in the past. His leadership of Pakatan also failed to impress advocates of democracy abroad. The Economist wrote a strong editorial titled: “Mahathir’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics”. It is quite sad that it has come to this.

    As he stood on stage that night, his diction was slurred, he stumbled several times over his words and in what some thought was a rather Freudian thing, he said: “Not sure how long more, I want to finish this work.”

    It has been a demoralising weekend but the old tiger is fighting on. A day after the rally, he was chairing a Pakatan council meeting to discuss their alternative budget.

    Azmin was present at the meeting. His flitting appearance at the rally had come on the heels of that strange exchange of tweets between him and the Prime Minister.

    Najib had tweeted a picture of him and a smiling Azmin on the sidelines of the Conference of Rulers, with the cryptic caption: “Senyuman ada makna tu” (a smile full of meaning).

    The pair was surrounded by the Mentris Besar of Perak, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis and Melaka as well as the Chief Minister of Sarawak. It was quite a powerful photo but the most striking thing about it was the camaraderie of the group.

    From their big smiles and comfortable body language, it was as though the Barisan Nasional leaders regarded Azmin as their equal and someone they can work with.

    A few hours later, Azmin retweeted the picture with an equally cryptic reply: “Smile, what’s the use of crying? Take action, what’s the use of sighing?”

    What on earth was that about? His government is the most successful among the three opposition states. He has carried himself well and even a former Selangor Mentri Besar had praised his political style.

    Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar told an online news portal that UMNO needs leaders like Azmin. He said Azmin is strong and well-liked in his constituency but is in the wrong party.

    Of course, Azmin was flattered. He thanked Abu Hassan but said that “I am not a frog”.

    In hindsight, it is apparent why Azmin was less than thrilled about the rally. Pakatan will struggle in the general election without PAS.

    Negotiation over seats between PKR and PAS has broken down and PKR seats are in danger in the event of three-corner fights.

    The uninspiring turnout at the rally showed that Pakatan has been unable to plug the big hole left behind by the exit of PAS. It was like announcing to the world: Look, look, this is all we are left with now that PAS is gone. Azmin certainly did not need that at this point in time.

    Trump EAS Philippines Miss: Does It Matter for US Asia Policy?

    October 27, 2017

    Trump EAS Philippines Miss: Does It Matter for US Asia Policy?

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    Earlier this week, reports begun surfacing that U.S. President Donald Trump, while preserving his ambitious inaugural five-country trip to Asia next month, would cut short his trip and miss out on some mulled engagements including the annual East Asia Summit (EAS) in the Philippines. Though Trump missing the EAS would unquestionably be an unfortunate development, it also needs to be put into proper perspective within the broader context of U.S. Asia policy and where this new administration is.

    Trump’s EAS Philippines miss would no doubt be both an unwelcome challenge and a missed opportunity, as I have argued before (See: “Why Trump Should Go to EAS and APEC in the Philippines and Vietnam”). Even though he may only be missing some of the engagements on his trip, given the skepticism surrounding whether or not the administration would follow through with its announced visit in May, any deviation from the schedule was almost sure to exacerbate uncertainties about a new administration’s commitment to multilateralism in general and in ASEAN in particular. Trump will also have lost a valuable chance to personally show up and advocate for the kind of more action-oriented EAS that Washington has been pushing for over the past few years.

    And though Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and even Barack Obama have all canceled Asia engagements before as well, there arguably could not be a worse time for such an unwelcome challenge and missed opportunity. This year marks both the 50th anniversary of ASEAN’s founding and the 40th anniversary of U.S.-ASEAN relations. And with Chinese President Xi Jinping coming off the high of the 19th Party Congress, the sensationalist headlines about Chinese inroads in Asia in the face of U.S. uncertainty would write themselves. Though the actual picture is far less dire and much more complex, this would not be the first time that perceptions have created their own reality (See: “China: New White Paper, Old Asia Conundrum”).

    At the same time, the significance of Trump missing this year’s EAS in the Philippines also needs to be put into proper perspective that takes into account the wider progress the United States has made on multilateralism in its Asia policy over the years, the broader shape of the Trump administration’s commitment to the region to date, and the challenges inherent scheduling U.S. presidential travel to Asia under the unique set of circumstances the Trump team faces.


    Understanding the Historical Context 

    First, Trump’s EAS miss should not detract from the wider progress made in terms of where the United States stands on multilateralism in its Asia policy. For decades, Southeast Asian officials had to live with episodic U.S. attention to and involvement in regional multilateral institutions as a fact of life, with U.S. officials not only missing parts of ASEAN summitry but even privately and at times publicly chiding the slow pace of their development. This tendency was rooted not just in a series of scheduling difficulties, but ambivalence by Washington about the extent to which it wants to prioritize multilateral approaches relative to bilateral alliances and partnerships as well as those that lie in between these two extremes, including minilateral ones.

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    Though that debate continues today, the Obama administration deserves credit for significantly narrowing its contours by institutionalizing some U.S. commitments to multilateralism (See: “Why the US-ASEAN Sunnylands Summit Matters”). Joining the East Asia Summit and annualizing U.S.-ASEAN Summits effectively added an annual Southeast Asia visit to the calendar of the U.S. president, settling a contentious issue over whether Washington would ever agree to arguably the most valuable indicator of high-level commitment to multilateralism: the president’s time. The tradeoff, recognized even then by U.S. and ASEAN policymakers, was that there would essentially be an annual debate about whether a sitting U.S. president would and could follow through on this commitment, grafted on to the U.S.-China scorecard that has tended to dominate the headlines over the past few years.

    That is a tough bar for a president to clear, as even Obama discovered when he had to miss EAS once back in 2013 in the wake of a government shutdown. Trump’s miss no doubt carries greater weight given his personal skepticism about multilateralism at the outset and the fact that this is his first Southeast Asia voyage. But the silver lining is that as a result of the Obama administration’s institutionalization of this commitment, it now allows Southeast Asian officials greater room to hold Washington accountable for a single miss rather than it simply being dismissed as a scheduling problem as it had been prior to that, and to keep it engaged subsequently.

    As a case in point, visiting Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., politely framed Trump’s EAS miss in terms of this annual institutionalized commitment, noting that he hoped that the Trump would attend next year. Though whether this will occur or not is still unclear, Trump’s acceptance of a visit to Singapore in 2018, the miss this year, and the centrality of Singapore to wider U.S. Asia policy, would seem to suggest that the odds are quite good on the face of it, which would at least be a corrective for the miss this year (See: “What’s Next for US-Singapore Ties Under Trump?”).

    The Evolving Shape of Commitment

    Second, Trump’s EAS miss should also take into account that the U.S. president’s visits and engagements therein are just one manifestation of any administration’s commitment to multilateralism and Asia more generally. Given the doomsday scenarios set out by naysayers at the outset of the Trump administration, the level of engagement with Southeast Asia and ASEAN has actually been quite good, with four Southeast Asian leaders given White House meetings in under a year, a Special U.S.-ASEAN Ministerial convened in Washington, D.C. in May, and key U.S. officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis emphasizing the importance of ASEAN to Trump’s Asia policy while out in the regions (See: “The Truth About Trump’s Asia Commitment Problem”).

    The engagement record extends to the ASEAN chair and EAS host the Philippines as well, which is now being led by President Rodrigo Duterte (who himself has not exactly been a huge fan of multilateralism) (See: “The Truth About Duterte’s ASEAN South China Sea Blow”). Though challenges remain and uncertainty over the potential fallout from a Trump-Duterte summit lingers, U.S.-Philippine ties themselves appear to be on a relatively more stable trajectory due to some hard work done at the working level since the rocky start when Dutere first came to power (See: “What Will US-Philippines Military Exercises Look Like in 2018?”).

    Keeping a single engagement in perspective is important not only get a broader sense of the administration’s commitment to multilateralism so far, but also to hone in on the more serious limitations beyond a visit. As I have been arguing for months, the chief challenge for the Trump administration’s approach to Asian multilateralism is not the absence of individual engagements, but how these will fit into a more coherent strategy that has a broader role for ASEAN (See: “The Ticking Clock on Trump’s Asia Strategy”). To its credit, the administration appears to have recognized this, with ASEAN increasingly being incorporated into a wider conception of a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific which Trump is expected to outline in Vietnam.

    To be sure, this approach to multilateralism pales in comparison to both the breadth and depth of the engagement we saw under the Obama administration. But it is worth emphasizing that it is still early days. As I have noted before, though administrations are often caricatured as being “bilateral” (George W. Bush) or “multilateral” (Barack Obama), in practice these are not as mutually exclusive as they are portrayed and all presidents tend to find their own balance of different approaches over time. Bush, for instance, started with securitizing APEC and selective attendance at ASEAN meetings but ended by knitting bilateral trade deals into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and paving the way for greater U.S. diplomatic engagement with ASEAN that deepened far more under Obama, a nuance often missed in some superficial accounts.

    The Dynamics of Presidential Travel

    Third and finally, those familiar with the planning around U.S. presidential travel know that any assessment of the significance of a Trump EAS Philippines miss needs to take into account the unique set of circumstances that this new administration finds itself in along with the personality of Trump himself. Given the Trump administration’s lack of progress on its domestic agenda with the 2018 midterm elections looming and with so many challenges in a tumultuous and fragmented world – including a weakened but still dangerous Islamic State, simmering Middle East, resurgent Russia, and a frail Europe – some were surprised when the White House unveiled earlier this month that Trump would be spending nearly half a month – from November 3 to November 14 –on a crammed five-country trip across Northeast and Southeast Asia. For perspective, Obama, a bigger fan of these sorts of overseas trips and likely a performer at ASEAN-led summits than Trump, had even his longer Asia voyages last around just a week.

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    Beyond the length of the trip itself, U.S. presidential trips are scrutinized all the way down to particular legs or engagements, and this one is no exception. Even when the White House had announced the schedule earlier this month, some had already begun to worry that one of the Southeast Asia legs would end up being cut entirely, that there would not be enough time for some of the bilateral engagements, and that Trump might be too worn out to last through some regional meetings (a true test of stamina, as those who have attended them know well). Seen within this context, if Trump ends up just missing EAS, preserving some of the other existing engagements that are encouraging including the delivery of a strategy speech in Vietnam and bilateral meetings in the Philippines and Vietnam (the latter requires additional travel from Danang where APEC is held), that would actually still be quite a strong message of U.S. commitment to Southeast Asia given the circumstances.

    Trump missing the EAS would unquestionably be an unfortunate development for his administration’s evolving approach to multilateralism and overall Asia policy. But a true and fair assessment of its significance so early on in a new and unconventional administration is also not possible without sufficient attention to historical context, wider current developments, and the structural constraints of policymaking.