Rebuilding Malaysia: Titanic Task


May 15, 2018

By John Berthelsen@ http://www.asiasentinel.com

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The defeat of the national ruling coalition (UMNO-led Barisan Nasional) in Malaysia was a remarkable political event.  But now seriously difficult work has to begin if the country is to regain its onetime position as one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive economies and indeed rebuild parliamentary democracy itself.

Virtually all of the country’s institutions have been debased, lots of them by Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former Prime Minister who has been greeted as Malaysia’s savior. In the atmosphere of relief and triumph that has swept Kuala Lumpur since the May 9 election, it is worth a look at how far the country has to go.  As Germany learned after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, rebuilding is a daunting job.

It was Mahathir, for instance,  who, prior to the 2013 national election, made his first break with the now deposed Prime Minister Najib Razak because he felt Najib wasn’t favoring ethnic Malays enough and was too easy on the ethnic Chinese.  Mahathir led his own nationwide tour built on Ketuanan Melayu, or Malays first, with a firebrand named Ibrahim Ali who stopped just short of threatening violence if the opposition prevailed in that election.  He hasn’t instilled a lot of confidence by saying he would restore press freedom — which he largely destroyed in his previous prime ministerial stint — but expects to retain the “fake news” bill put into effect right before the May 9 election.

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Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Mahathir’s new political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, translates literally as Malaysian Indigenous United. Its officers include Muhyiddin Yassin, one of the country’s most dedicated Malays-first figures and one with a background that includes considerable unexplained wealth. The newly re-minted Prime Minister Mahathir has named Muhyiddin Home Affairs Minister.

Other party leaders are former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, and Rafidah Aziz, the former Trade and Industry Minister. Its newest members are renegades who quit UMNO .  They have vowed to give up Malays-first politics and Rafidah herself in May made a speech saying she had “always hated racial politics.”

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All of them may have changed their ethnically-oriented political spots, as Mahathir says he has. If they have, it is an extraordinary turnaround. It remains to be seen, for instance, how they, so recently in Malays-first mode, will interact with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party. Rafizi Ramli, the Secretary-General of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by the jailed Anwar Ibrahim, has already complained that Mahathir is making decisions without consulting the three other parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.  Rafizi was immediately told to shut up by his colleagues.  But Rafizi may be remembering Mahathir as the autocrat he was as Prime Minister.

The country’s judges, all the way up to the Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, presumably will now have to relearn jurisprudence from top to bottom, or almost the entire judiciary is going to have to be sacked. For example the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim on bogus charges of homosexual activity that were clearly flawed. The complaining witness appeared to have been coached by Najib and his wife. Two hospitals found no evidence his anus had been penetrated. A full 50 hours elapsed before he found a hospital that would agree he had had sexual contact. DNA evidence that was supposedly Anwar’s was ruled by a lower court to be flawed.  Anwar had a convincing alibi.

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Nonetheless, the high court convicted Anwar in a case roundly condemned by international human rights organizations. That is only one of 30 years of skewed judicial decisions that began after Mahathir sacked Tun Salleh Abbas, the Chief Justice,  in 1988.  Presumably it is up to Mahathir, who has been on the receiving end of warped judicial decisions when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu was outlawed on a dubious technicality shortly before the election, to put the Judiciary right again.

The same goes for its Police Force, which showed little zeal in investigating a long string of crimes including the death of Kevin Morais, a deputy public prosecutor connected to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, whose body was found in a cement-filled oil drum in a river. Morais is believed to have been a major source for Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose Sarawak Report has excoriated Najib for the 1MDB affair with deeply researched and sourced allegations of corruption.

A report on corruption, apparently largely written by Morais, disappeared in 2016 – along with the previous Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail – who was replaced by Mohamed Apandi Ali, an UMNO lawyer, and promptly said there was no wrongdoing connected to 1MDB.

The Malay business community has largely depended for its success on having its snout in the public trough. Some of the country’s biggest companies are linked directly to the political parties. Presumably, if good government is to prevail, many of these contracts will have to be unwound, particularly for infrastructure spending. Will the companies now have to learn to compete on a level playing field, or will they seek out sympathetic figures in the new administration?

Other institutions that face wrenching change are all of the mainstream media including the two leading English-language newspapers, The Star and The New Straits Times, which are still owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) respectively and the superstructures of the newspaper remain in the hands of those two political parties. Utusan Malaysia, also owned by UMNO and which was virulently racist against ethnic Chinese and Indians still has the same editorial structure, as do all the other major television, radio and other media.  All have been bitterly opposed to the opposition for decades, with their slanted reporting increasing as the May 9 election approached.

The education system, again a creature that came into being under Mahathir, not only largely excludes minorities, forcing them to go overseas for higher education, but has resulted in what amounts to a free pass and graduation for ethnic Malays, a system in which striving is unnecessary. It has resulted in a largely uneducated population. The system, with all of its vested interests, is going to be extremely difficult to reform. But for the country to regain its competitiveness, it will have to be rebuilt.

Perhaps most difficult to fix is its religious institutions, particularly Islam, which have been bent to serve political ends, first by Mahathir and then by Najib as they exploited the delicate ethnic balance in the country to keep UMNO  in power. Through the newspapers and other media, they cast the Chinese as grasping and ready to take political power. Christians – which make up a sizable portion of the Chinese population as well as indigenous tribes in East Malaysia – have been demonized.

In 2017, a popular Chinese pastor, Raymond Koh, was kidnapped. He has never been found, nor has Joshua Hilmy, a convert from Islam, who was reported missing along with his wife, Ruth, who were reported missing in March.  Koh’s wife has questioned whether people in power were involved in his disappearance. Police investigations into the kidnappings have been described as lackadaisical.

Najib was on the edge of pushing through a law in Parliament that would have allowed Parti-Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, to implement Shariah law, including prescriptions for seventh-century punishments, in the state of Kelantan, which it then controlled. PAS has now expanded its political hold to Terengganu as well.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail

In a country where distrust of ethnic minorities has been ingrained for decades, particularly in the most recent one, rebuilding trust is going to be difficult. Learning to compete may be even more difficult. The Chinese are largely more dynamic than the Malays, especially since the Malays’ education system, their political system, their social institutions as exemplified in the affirmative action program known as the New Economic Policy,  have all conspired to give them a free ride.

7 thoughts on “Rebuilding Malaysia: Titanic Task

  1. Good analysis. Problematic but open competition, transparency , accountability & meritocracy can be catalyst to bring about mutual benefits for all. A needs based delivery system should be implemented. Past mistakes can be overcome if there is political will & multi racial Pakatan Rakyaat coalition should not miss this opportunity.

    • Yes. Four core values must be observed, otherwise Malaysia Baru will MATI:
      Meritocracy
      Accountability
      Transparency
      Integrity

  2. Johor MB announcing no allowance to opposition, suggestion of Abu Kassim for MACC, taking in frog who caused Perak coup, opposition to Ambiga as AG, etc. the road is certaintly long and hard. LGE looked shock after only first meeting with Finance Ministry staff. There are more skeletons than Wadi Al Saleem. The enforcement agencies are internal mafias build over decades with more snakes than in Snake Islands.

    • LGE is a good appointee and can be expected to clean up the place. Get rid of Irwan Siregar Abdullah, and make him accountable for 1MDB cover-up and Minister of Finance Inc. The Governor, Bank Negara must also be pensioned off and replaced by Dr.Sukhdave Singh, the Deputy Governor who resigned for professional reasons. For the clean up job, Guan Eng will need super-charged detergents and great cleaners. He himself should be like Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun H.S. Lee.–Din Merican

  3. ‘LGE is a good appointee and can be expected to clean up the place.’

    Really? He can’t even get appointed until he clears his ‘Bungalow-gate’ scandal – which was ultimately the result of crony capitalism. Why do you think Octo1 (which now refers to Old Conservative Top Official-1), chose him knowing full well his unresolved legal conundrum? LGE ain’t ‘clean’ and lacks the proactive traits of a good Finance minister. He can project whatever ‘firm’ and steadfast image he wants, but let’s watch his ‘true’ ability.
    ________________
    LGE is being given a chance to see what he can do as FM. I suggest we wait to so what he can come up with. But he needs to first appoint a new Treasury Secretary-General to replace Irwan Serigar and a new team.Remember the maiden Pakatan Harapan government’s budget will be in October, 2018. In the meantime, he has plenty on his plate.Pray patience, CLF.–Din Merican
    __________________
    Fiscal policies ain’t about Milo-tin finances. Abandoning wholesale, the GST for the sake of populist rhetoric and the wrong headed simpleton’s argument that it’s the Only cause for the peoples suffering and purchasing power deterioration – is irresponsible. It is fortunate that Oil prices have hiked, otherwise our fiscal deficit will exceed the limits imposed. The GST can be reduced as an initial step (say 4%), while efforts were made to review or revamp it’s implementation. If everything is okay, then let it drop further..

    It takes time and ‘tremendous’ effort to clean up the mess left by the Kleptos – but the Civil Service remains in the throes of a Kakistocracy – from the KSN to the lowliest clerk. Imagine continuing paying 1.6 million salaries – when most of what they actually implement could be done by 1 million or less?

    No, LGE and the DAPsties have not grasped the magnitude of the fiscal FUBAR. And as he said when just glossing over – he can hardly believe it..!

    It is fortunate he has Diam2 Daim and Zeti et al to watch over him – at least for the first 100 days. After that, if he’s still i/c, watch out for return of Cronyism, Nepotism and Alien-ism.

    • I’m sure you are aware that KSU Treasury will be appointed by Octo1 through KSN and the hamstrung MinFIn has no say?
      Octo1 will hold the MinFin post until LGE can clear his name.. When is the scheduled continuation of court case for Bungalow-gate?

  4. http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/unholy-alliance-kleptocratic-authoritarians-and-their-western-enablers
    “In kleptocracy, risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized”

    I pray the council of Elders, and the small cabinet has the wisdom to resist the temptation to take the easy route, in which previous administration has clearly failed to resist. Felda is definitely a case, after it began to come to its’ end as it is made to be the second biggest IPO after Facebook. I don’t want to demonize the creation of Felda. It is created with good intention. But, what we lack is the will and wisdom to distribute the fruit back to the participants, such that the entire organization could be made sustainable, and grow in efficiency. As an easy way out, Felda participants are robbed their opportunities to share the fruit of their own crops, as they are told to hate the nonBumi for no apparent reasons. It is mere psychological narcotics prescribed by the kleptocrats to ease the pain of Felda participants.

    Prof Jomo is an expert and has the right credential to put in place mechanism to resist such temptation. I am sure he will share his learning most effectively. But, the rest of the 30 million participants have to be willing participants in this. As with a lot of good medicine, it is going to be bitter. For me, it is only fair for all nonBumi to say to the Bumi, we will take half the reward, as long as you can expect us to work half as hard. Most of all, there will not be much for us to work on, if things continue the way it is. We are not Jho Low, stop making us as one. There is nothing evil behind GST. It is a mere result of our growing societal ill as we experience a diminishing pie, in the form of inflation. There is no magic to that. Stop blaming it on GST and beware of those politicians who tell us that killing GST alone will solve our problem with 💰.

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