Anti-Corruption Reform In A Setting Of Widespread Corruption — The Case Of Malaysia

September 2, 2015

Anti-Corruption Reform In A Setting Of Widespread Corruption — The Case Of Malaysia

by Greg Lopez

FT NajibThe Most Tainted Malaysian Prime Minister

Why is Transparency International surprised that levels of corruption has reached crisis point in Malaysia?

Melanie Manion’s “Corruption by Design – Building Clean Government in Mainland China and Hong Kong” provides one methodical way to analyze widespread corruption in Malaysia, and why reforms have failed. The excerpt of the book provides a nice synthesis of her framework:

 …where corruption is already commonplace, the context in which officials and ordinary citizens make choices to transact corruptly (or not) is crucially different from that in which corrupt practices are uncommon. A central feature of this difference is the role of beliefs about the prevalence of corruption and the reliability of government as an enforcer of rules ostensibly constraining official venality (dishonesty). Anti-corruption reform in a setting of widespread corruption is a problem not only of reducing corrupt payoffs but also of changing broadly shared expectations of venality (dishonesty).

Corruption is widespread in Malaysia. In a discussion, Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan – the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of governance and integrity, and Ravindran Devagunam, Performance Management and Delivery Unit’s (PEMANDU) anti-corruption director, captures succinctly the fact and the reasons why corruption is widespread in Malaysia.

Datuk Paul Low: If you have a Government that is in power for a long time, there tends to be a situation where it takes things for granted. If they have all the powers where people will not question them, then it is likely that abuse will occur. Therefore, we deteriorated in our fight against corruption. The best way is to have a check and balance. Not only in a system by itself, but also politically, where it should have a counter-balance with different views and debates on issues.

Ravindran: Corruption in this country has become an accepted norm. We have corruption in schools, kids have basically said it’s okay to take or give. It has become pervasive and society has become accepting of it.

Manion identifies the crucial first step on why Hong Kong was successful in its anti-corruption reform despite corruption being widespread.

The crucial first step was the creation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), an anti-corruption agency independent of the police force and civil service, accountable solely to the Governor, with its commissioner appointed by and reporting directly to the Governor. In creating the ICAC, the Governor signaled his recognition of the public confidence problem posed by an anti-corruption agency based in the police force, the government department perceived as the most corrupt in the territory. This argument is what Blair-Kerr characterized as the “political and psychological” rationale for an independent agency. The structural change was aimed not only at better enforcement but also at producing a shift in public perceptions, to challenge the prevalent view about government complacency.

Reforms in Malaysia fail because the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) is not independent. It is a department under the Prime Minister’s Department from which it receives funding for its operations. The position and tenure of the Commissioner is not secured under the Federal Constitution.

More critically, the crucial first step – of making the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission truly independent – is not possible in Malaysia for two structural reason: (i) the political economy of Barisan Nasional and (ii) the general attitude of the majority of Malaysians towards patronage and corruption.

Barisan Nasional is a patronage machine. The line between patronage and corruption is grey. Former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir has alleged that Najib Razak had ‘bribed’ all the parliamentary members of UMNO. Was the ‘bribe’ patronage or corruption?

Prime Minister Najib Razak himself reminded his UMNO supporters that the RM2.6 billion was for them. It is not surprising that the cabinet and Barisan Nasional leaders remain steadfastly behind him.

Beyond these quips, there is consensus in the political science field on the nature of Barisan Nasional as a patronage machine. Publications by acclaimed academics such as Nicholas J. White’s, “British Business in Post-Colonial Malaysia, 1957-70: Neo-colonialism or Disengagement” and “The Beginnings of Crony Capitalism: Business, Politics and Economic Development in Malaysia, c.1955-1970”; E.T. Gomez and Jomo K.S., “Malaysia’s Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits”; Barry Wain’s, “Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times”; but also the works of other eminent academics such as William Case, Harold Crouch, Thomas Pepinsky, Meredith Weiss, Bridget Welsh and countless others has demonstrated the centrality of patronage politics in Malaysia.

1MDB is simply an evolution of an entrenched system. The number of corruption scandals involving Barisan Nasional has grown in frequency and scale. That Malaysians had continued to vote [only in 2013 did the ruling party lose its majority] in the majority for Barisan Nasional is a testimony that patronage and corruption is accepted in Malaysia.

The fiasco surrounding the 1MDB also demonstrates why Barisan Nasional cannot initiate and implement anti-corruption reforms. It undermines the basis of Barisan Nasional’s access and control of patronage and power.

Barisan Nasional will not reform until the attitude of the majority of Malaysians towards corruption change. Until then widespread corruption is a reality of Malaysian life.

Post Najib Reforms needed for a better Malaysia

September 2, 2015

Post Najib Reforms needed for a better Malaysia

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Najib and RosieGoodbye Najib and  FLOM Rosie

Despite the bravado, Najib Razak’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. Last weekend’s massive Bersih 4 demonstrations are only the latest and most public expressions of citizens’ disgust and contempt for him and his ilk.

I hope Najib is spared the ignominious fate of many corrupt Third World leaders. The visceral hatred for him not just as a leader but also a person is palpable. The sentiment is worse for his obscenely ostentatious wife. Judging by the extraordinarily tight security around him these days, Najib too is aware of this.

If Najib were to suffer a Marcos, or worse, a Ngo Dinh Diem, that would plunge Malaysia into an abyss; likewise if Najib were to execute an Assad. Assad is still in power but I shudder to imagine the images of his last days, as surely that would come. I saw enough gory details of Gaddafi’s.

Regardless of Najib’s fate, prudence calls for Malaysia to be ready for a post-Najib administration. Those arguing for patience have it wrong. Nothing in the constitution precludes the removal of a sitting prime minister between elections. It has been done.

If Najib’s successor were to be chosen in the manner of recent past, meaning, by UMNO power brokers, that would only ensure another mediocre pick. Najib is worse than Abdullah (who would have thought that possible!); rest assured that Najib’s successor chosen thus would be even worse. This Ahmad Zahid character, Najib’s current deputy, is fast living up (or down) to that low expectation.

Mahathir has apologized for his role in picking Najib, and Abdullah before that. It is not productive to continue blaming Mahathir; he retired over a decade ago. Malaysia should be able to recover from his blunders by now. At least the man recognizes his error and is trying to rectify it. He succeeded in ridding us of Abdullah; let’s hope he would be too with Najib.

Najib's 2015 CabinetNajib’s 2015 Cabinet

It is not enough to dump just Najib. His entire cabinet too has to go, plus half a dozen top heads in the permanent establishment. To redress Najib’s legacy of endemic corruption, I propose granting temporary amnesty to corruptors who confess. To discourage future such acts, I propose a permanent body to scrutinize all gifts and public contracts awarded to the top 100 officials. They would also have to declare their assets annually to this body. Anything less would condemn Malaysia to “business as usual.” It cannot afford that.

Transition Prime Minister and Unity Cabinet

Najib’s successor should be chosen through consensus by the parties now in Parliament. That would be the only way to get a unity leader. That individual would of course have to be ratified by Parliament. As UMNO has the largest number of representatives, it is only right that the Prime Minister should be a current UMNO MP. His cabinet however, should comprise nominees of all parties.

The new Prime Minister and his ministers should commit to three stipulations. One, they should not be candidates in the next general elections; two, give up their party positions (if they have any) in the interim; and three, agree to stay out of government for at least a year immediately following their tenure.

Reduce the cabinet to about a dozen ministers, as with Tunku’s original team back in 1955. The current bloated one is inefficient, designed less to pick the best candidates more to bribe compliant and none too bright supporters. Former Parliamentary Accounts Committee Chairman Nur Juzlan tasked with investigating 1MDB, now a junior minister, is Exhibit A.

The first stipulation would ensure that ministers focus on their cabinet responsibilities and not be sidelined with jockeying to be candidates in the next election. Without this stricture those new ministers would begin their next political campaign right away, mocking the unity theme of the cabinet.

The second — decoupling cabinet appointments from party positions – could prove to be a worthy precedent for future administrations. The duties of a minister are onerous enough without the added burden of party obligations. This stipulation would also widen the talent pool beyond career politicians.

Najib’s current ministers have to go with him. They have either explicitly or implicitly by their silence endorsed Najib’s corrupt ways. They do not deserve to lead the nation. Firing them would impress upon new ministers that while they may serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister, their ultimate paymaster and thus clients are the citizens.

Tengku Razaleigh HamzahThe Prime Minister In Waiting–Good for Malaysia

One standout candidate for Prime Minister is Tengku Razaleigh. He commands instant respect at home and abroad. Untainted by the many sordid UMNO scandals, he is also highly regarded by the opposition as well as ordinary citizens. At age 78 we can believe him when he says that he would not stand in the next election, as he informed Najib last week. He is robust physically and mentally. No other candidate comes close to Razaleigh.

If reluctant leaders make the best ones, then the Tengku is the embodiment of that principle. With his accomplishments he does not need yet another accolade, especially now that the Prime Minister’s post has been soiled.

Fire Key Leaders in the Permanent Establishment

One least-noted but very revealing aspect to the present 1MDB scandal is the less-than-admirable to downright despicable performances of many heads in the permanent establishment.


Bank Negara Governor, hitherto distinguished by her sterling professional reputation, was reduced to saying that her duties were done with the handing in of her report on 1MDB to the Attorney General. She was not in the least interested on whether her findings would be acted upon, using the Jamaican excuse, “It’s not my job, mon!” She felt no compulsion to protect the integrity of her institution. She also failed in her obligation to the public, her ultimate paymaster.

It gets worse. Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, the top civil servant, announced the retroactive retirement of Attorney-General Gani Patail while he (Gani) was in the final stages of investigating Najib’s scandal. Not to be outdone, Hamsa’s new appointee as A-G, Apandi Ali, announced even before being sworn in that Najib was cleared of any wrongdoing!

Apandi ampuThe Man behind the Sapuman

If you want to bodek (suck up) at least do so in a credible way so as to spare yourself and your master needless embarrassment. In case the point is missed, Apandi, a retired judge, was a former state UMNO treasurer. A political hack, essentially.

Meanwhile the number one and two at the Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) chose to be on elective medical leave in the midst of the crisis. To top that, Inspector-General of the Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar made himself the subject of international ridicule when his request to Interpol for the arrest of the Sarawak Report editor was rebuffed. In an unusual departure, Interpol asserted that its Red Alert is meant to nab terrorists and dangerous criminals. The smack to the IGP’s face was heard around the world.

The IGP tried to keep that rebuff secret. The first blunder was bad enough, but a second one so soon! Sheer incompetence and lack of professionalism personified.

Low and AbuLow and Abu–Corruption Busters

At a minimum Chief Secretary Ali Hamsa, IGP Khalid Abu Bakar, MACC Chief Abu Kassim, and new Attorney-General Apandi Ali should be fired. They should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice with respect to the 1MDB investigation.

There are many capable Malaysians who could replace those four, and others. However, with citizens now so deeply polarized, it is unlikely that any local replacement could command the confidence and respect of the populace. Thus the new administration should initiate a global search to get the best talent without regard to nationality.

An important task for these new appointees would be to groom their local successors, to impress upon them the importance of protecting and enhancing the integrity of their institutions. They should not be handmaidens to their political superiors. This is especially critical now as our public institutions, even religious ones, are hopelessly corrupt and politicized.

Consider that Najib was embarrassed enough to withdraw his previously arranged address to an international conference on anti-corruption. The urbane and sophisticated audience would laugh him off. Not so at local mosques. There he was in his long white jubbah a la the Grand Ayatollah, Najib leading a congregational prayer with the compliant local media in full force with cameras on hand. Next the man would go for umrah and announced that he had a vision that the RM2 billion “donation” was rezeki, and the donor a descendant of the Prophet!

Samuel Johnson had it off; religion, not patriotism, is the last refuge of scoundrels, at least Malay-Muslim ones.

Amnesty for Corruptors and Asset Declaration

Corruption is now endemic in Malaysia; it is the norm at all levels. The only reason Najib’s RM 2 billion “donation” raised a raucous was the sheer colossal amount (even in today’s devalued ringgit) and the utter brazenness of the man.

It is hard to gauge the extent of or aggregate loss from corruption. Its corrosive consequences are of course beyond quantification, from collapsed buildings endangering their occupants to watered-down academic standards depriving the young their rightful opportunities.

One suggestion would be to grant amnesty to encourage corruptors to come forward. That would give some insight as to the extent of the blight as well as its infinite variations. There is no limit to human ingenuity in disguising corruption, from friendly “wagers” at golf games to the funding of Hajj pilgrimages. Nothing is sacred to the corrupt.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Amnesty would also create a prisoner’s dilemma between the corrupting parties that could potentially be exploited. If one side confesses and the other does not, you now have the evidence to prosecute the other party.

To reduce future opportunities for corruption, there should be a permanent body to scrutinize all gifts and contracts given to the top 100 public officials and their immediate families. This 100 would include the sultans and governors, cabinet and chief ministers, top civil servants and heads of major statutory bodies, as well as Federal Court judges. They would also have to declare their assets annually to this body.There are many excellent models of such bodies out there; there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Von Mises

Meanwhile Bersih 4 and other protests against Najib must continue until the man is finally booted out. However, dumping only Najib without the other needed changes would only condemn Malaysia to business as usual. The nation can ill afford that.

Bersih 4.0: Persuasion at a Premium

September 2, 2015

Bersih 4.0 Mattered

by Terence Netto

…[T]here’s a premium now on persuasion. Threats or coercion don’t work to convince people to do or not to do a thing. Absent persuasive reasons, you can’t make headway. You lose out, you have to retreat in embarrassment at your lack of persuasive power.–Netto

COMMENT After the gathering comes the reckoning.Now that the Bersih 4 gathering is over, the debate has begun on whether it all mattered.

It has in one respect: there’s a premium now on persuasion. Threats or coercion don’t work to convince people to do or not to do a thing. Absent persuasive reasons, you can’t make headway. You lose out, you have to retreat in embarrassment at your lack of persuasive power.

Take the ban issued on the eve of the gathering on the wearing of yellow Bersih 4 T-shirts and also the announcement that the protest was illegal.

Both the T-shirt ban and the march’s proscription had to slink away in embarrassment because of their lack of persuasive power.It must have been that even their enforcers were too abashed at the bans’ lack of cogency to want to impose them.

In Bersih 4’s immediate aftermath, the bans’ chief proponent, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, is seen to appeal to journalists to help the BN persuade non-Malay voters in Selangor to vote for the BN.

That’s quite a turn from not so long ago when he was more likely to lament the “spin” he alleged some journalists working for web news portals constantly subjected whatever it was he said.

Bersih 2.0, the protest gathering’s organisers, has shored up the paradigm shift to persuasion by appealing to the rakyat who turned up for the march not to sit on their laurels now that they have made emphatic the point about the legitimacy of the people’s right to assemble.

Bersih 2.0 urged voters to persuade their MPs to vote for a no-confidence motion against the government of Najib Abdul Razak at Parliament’s sitting next month.

No doubt, voters, especially the marchers who came out on the first day to show their support for Bersih’s goals, will be encouraged to resort to that persuasion simply from discovery that the largely non-Malay turnout on the first day had spurred diversity in the second day’s turnout.

Good demonstration of persuasion

Talk about persuasion, there was a good demonstration of its power in the second day’s racially diverse turnout in comparison to the first day’s.

Clean Malaysia.2015

Possibly, nobody gave the persuasive force of a huge demo a bigger assist than former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed who appeared for six minutes on the first day and for an hour on the second.

His detractors argued that it was only tepid support he lent the gathering in a fleeting presence on the first day. As if to prove them wrong, Mahathir appeared for an hour on the second day.

Would he have done that if the crowds had not been bigger and racially diverse on the second day? Score another point for the power of legitimate suasion.

For persuasion to work, listeners must be sensitised to nuances into the actions and arguments deployed in the public square.In response to criticism that he had crossed over to the opposition, Mahathir argued that his two appearances at the Bersih protest were not in support of the NGO’s goals but that he was backing the people’s desire to see Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak ousted by a vote of no-confidence.

He was careful to make the distinction between support for Bersih’s primary goal of electoral reform and its incidental one of removal of Najib from office.

The Bersih marchers are not going to quibble over these nuances; they were just glad to receive the backing of someone who hitherto had been an arch-foe of street demos.

Mahathir was compelled to make further distinctions, those between his anti-street demo stance of before and his current support for them.

He said his opposition of before was premised on the availability of channels for the expression of the people’s grievances against the system.He argued that such channels under Najib have been closed up and resort to street demos was the only available option.

Hence he, having for long chafed at the bit and found no recourse, could not help but make common cause with the street protesters of Bersih 4.

Nuanced distinctions

The thing about all this reasoning by Mahathir is that he makes them and in making them is constrained to make nuanced distinctions.This will compel aficionados of the Najib administration to do the same.

Already they are out to nab what they term as the ‘masterminds’ of the Bersih 4 gathering. They like to infer that there were ‘masterminds’ when all along the people behind the quest for electoral reform and for clean governance have openly displayed their bona fides.

Creating red herrings and chasing after ghosts are the weaknesses of those without persuasive cause and reasons.Bersih 4 has made the curtailment of their tenures easier by reason of their apparent lack of cogency.

Those against the no-confidence motion must ready their case; the other side has offered theirs backed by persuasive reasons.


A Participant’s Perspective on Bersih 4.0

September 2, 2015

Dr Wong Chin Huat: A Participant’s Perspective on Bersih 4.0

by Dr. Wong Chin Huat@Facebook


The question most frequently asked on Bersih 4 is: why are they so few Malays? I do not buy the two most common answers: first, PAS does not participate and Harapan Baru does not have the clout; second, Malays are worried of violence and chaos.

For me, the answer is straightforward: the Malays feel politically vulnerable because three main Malay-based parties – first PKR, then PAS, now UMNO – are split while the Chinese are seemingly so united behind the opposition especially DAP.

Wong Chin Huat Bersih 4.0bMalaysian Malays at Prayers –Bersih 4.0

To discourage the Malays to join Bersih 4, one may just need to warn them: if Malays join in enthusiastically, then not only Najib will go, UMNO will lose power too and the now politically assertive Chinese will dismantle NEP and weaken Islam.

Against this backdrop, even if PAS has mobilised, Malay turnout will still be weak because of this anxiety. And “violence and chaos” cited in the Merdeka Centre is but the code word for the collapse of UMNO’s one-party state.

Will I blame our Malay friends who don’t join us? Of course not. Everyone has every right to want the country to be cleaner, freer and more democratic. That needs not have anything to do with ethnicity or religion.

Wong Chin Huat Bersih 4.0Sleeping on the Street for Bersih 4.0

I will not even blame them on their anxiety. Can people force themselves to not be anxious? Simply because the dismantling of UMNO’s one-party state is a colossal change, all of us need a soft landing, not only the Malays who have been told that they will be “bangsat” without UMNO.

Malaysia’s political system has been so winner-takes-all, with losers not only marginalised but often also persecuted. Clearly, this is the fear many UMNO members harbour.

We cannot have a smooth transition until we can convince fellow Malaysians in UMNO this: the party(-state) is over but UMNO can choose to transform itself into a competitive democratic parties — like Indonesia’s Golkar, Taiwan’s KMT and Mexico’s PRI.

It is more realistic to ensure you can come back after losing than insisting you will have lost.

In full recognition of the political reality, Bersih 2.0 makes it clear while pressing for Najib’s resignation is necessary for the institutional reforms we need, Bersih 4 is not a rally to end UMNO’s rule and will not force Najib out ala the Philippines’ People’s Power or Arab Spring.

Wong Chin Huat Bersih 4.0aResting at Bersih 4.0

We will end the rally peacefully tonight (August 30) with the Merdeka countdown.We aim to empower Malaysians so that independence is a psychological reality that they fear neither each other because of differences nor the authoritarian government.

If everything ends well tonight, this goal would have been achieved although the push for Najib’s exit remains an uphill battle.

Coming back to the low Malay turnout, while we certainly need to work harder to get more Malays to the streets, should we go this far to border lamenting: why are there so many Chinese? Should the Chinese feel sorry that there are too many of them?

It is time we break this myth that we cannot do anything legitimately until we get the all ethnic representation, or worse, in the right composition: 1 Malay, 1 Chinese, 1 Indian, 1 Sarawakian, 1 Sabahan, etc.

I slept on the pavement on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman last night. It was like a refugee camp with many people — mostly in the illegal yellow Bersih 4  T-shirts — sleeping on not only the pavements, but also middle of the road. Some brought sleeping bags, some used newspapers as their mat, others just slept on the road.

Why did they sacrifice their comfort in bed? Many of them, like me, have booked hotel room for refreshing but chose to sleep on the streets just to show our yearning for change. Most of them were Chinese while there were also some Malays — middle-aged men, youth and a couple.

Woke up at about 6 am, I saw a good group of volunteers giving away free coffee, with placards printing “Tak mau duit kopi” and chantings: “minum kopi, tak mau duit kopi”. I was so moved by their creativity.

Have I forgotten to mention this? They were all Chinese. So were a bunch of volunteers I bumped into last night busy collecting rubbish — they were all Chinese too.

I examine my own anxiety which appeared since the beginning of the rally — that there were too few Malays. I ask myself: what’s wrong that most of them are Chinese? Should I feel sorry that some of my bedfellows on Jalan TAR are not Malays? Should I wish that some of the volunteers should not be there because they are not Malays?

Din and Kamsiah at Bersih4.0

No, why should all the good things they do be less good just because they happen to be in one ethno-religious category and not the other? Why? Aren’t we hypocritical if we let our pragmatism go mad to the extent that we judge one not by one’s behavior but by one’s colour or creed?

BERSIH'S demands5 Bersih Demands

I see two positive implications in the phenomenal Chinese turnout in the Bersih 4 rally, beyond their patriotism and sense of political efficacy.

First, most of them probably have not been exposed to Malay language and culture from indie musics, poetry reading to prayers in the open in such intensity. Many may have yet to remember not to blow their vuvuzela and chant during Muslims’ prayer time.

Some may have overlooked cultural sensitivity in their rejection of corrupt leaders. But this is a learning process, isnt?

Second, if Bersih 4 ends well and peacefully, this will set a precedent that grand rallies can be peaceful, inclusive and strengthening our nationhood, even when the ethnic composition of protesters is skewed.

There will be a long warfare of perception after tonight finale. On one end, UMNO’s mouthpiece will do their best to portray Bersih 4 as a Chinese plot to topple UMNO and sideline the Malays.

On the other end, naysayers will repeat the old tune that Bersih 4 is a failure because Najib will not resign after tonight. I urge all friends out there in Bersih 4 to tell your own story, best with powerful pictures worthy of thousand words.

We have two stories to tell to every other Malaysian whom we may encounter in daily life or on social media:First, the Bersih 4 rally is dominated, not by ethnic Chinese, but patriotic Malaysians.

Second, the Bersih 4 rally is  a great success, no by any means a failure, because we find hope and solidarity in each other.We are Malaysia.


Tunku A Aziz on Bersih 4.0

September 2, 2015

Gandhi quote

Best wishes from Phnom Penh. May God Bless, my country and  Fellow Malaysians. Please stay on our course as change will come sooner than we care to contemplate.

At first I thought it was not necessary  for me to comment on Tunku Aziz’s article. But upon reading it again, I have decided to say my piece.

BERSIH'S demandsThis man who I knew  and respected since my days in Bank Negara and Sime Darby is definitely a changed man. He has thrown his principles aside by becoming an apologist for the Najib administration. This occurred after he resigned from DAP some years ago.

How he can be so taken up with Najib never ceases to amaze me. He knows that Najib is the most tainted Prime Minister in Malaysian history. Yet he condemned Bersih 4.0 pre-Merdeka Day rally in the name of adopting  this “I am more patriotic than you” attitude.Is he suggesting that those of us who were at the Bersih 4.0 rally are not loyal to our King and country?  Who gave him the right to comment in this manner when the Police made it possible for loyal citizens to demonstrate against the corrupt Prime Minister.

Is he suggesting that the Police condoned an illegal event.? The Police, in fact, respected our right to dissent and they went out of their way to cooperate with the Bersih 4 organisers. As a result, the event held on August 29 and 30 was peaceful and orderly. The conduct of the Royal Malaysian Police was exemplary.

The rally participants unanimously thanked them and called them “Abang Polis” for their kindness,  consideration, patience and astute handling of the situation. Did Bersih 4 disrupt the Merdeka Celebrations on the following day? Were Malaysians who wanted to be part of our national day parade prevented from exercising their rights? They were not, if we can believe what we saw on national television. How can Tunku Aziz say that. I quote him:

In our society, regrettably, there has developed an attitude of mind that seems to view human rights as rights without any obligation to reciprocate on our part. That is a serious fallacy because in the enjoyment of our rights, we have an obligation not to trample on the rights, or intrude into the privacy, of others.

It can only be a figment of his imagination. In truth, we Malaysians know our rights and obligations;Din and Kamsiah at Bersih4.0 but I am not sure if our leaders in government understand these rights and obligations. They have often acted in contravention of our constitution and have done so with impunity. My fellow Malaysians, my wife Dr. Kamsiah, and I did not take to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on August 29 and 30, if we did not believe that our government led by Prime Minister is corrupt  and incompetent in managing the affairs of our country–Din Merican

Malaysia: At what cost the greater good? 

by Tunku Abdul Aziz

I MAKE no apologies for some plain-speaking on this Merdeka Day. I write today more in sorrow than anger, fully mindful that my views will be taken amiss. I am not beholden to anyone and to me, as a citizen of this, the country that I love and cherish, Malaysia’s interests come above all other considerations.

Von MisesHow True

No one can deny us the exercise of our rights as enshrined in our Constitution. These are inalienable rights enjoyed by every member of a democratic society. However, nowhere in the world are these rights absolute. For the greater good of society, they have to be regulated. The rights that we enjoy as citizens of a country are guaranteed by law, but they come with certain obligations or responsibilities that we are expected to fulfil in return. In our society, regrettably, there has developed an attitude of mind that seems to view human rights as rights without any obligation to reciprocate on our part. That is a serious fallacy because in the enjoyment of our rights, we have an obligation not to trample on the rights, or intrude into the privacy, of others.

Organisers of Bersih 4 were well within their rights to take to the street to protest against real or imagined grievances, but for the sake of good order, they were obliged to be guided by, and to obey the legitimate orders of the Police who have a duty to protect the rights of others not participating in the demonstration. The Bersih 4 demonstration was declared illegal by the police because their permission had not been obtained as required by law. Bersih had decided to take the law into its own hands. This declaration by the Police that Bersih had acted illegally really had nothing to do with perceived human rights violations on their part, but merely to ensure that the demonstration routes were agreed beforehand in order to avoid causing disruption and unnecessary inconvenience to members of the community going about their normal business. Then, there was the question of the final destination.

Why the insistence on Dataran Merdeka, where preparations for the Merdeka celebrations were known to be under way? Several stadiums and other venues were offered by the authorities but were rejected. The reason for demanding that they be allowed to form up on the historic Selangor Club Padang, now renamed Dataran Merdeka, was obviously to draw maximum international media attention, and to cause acute embarrassment to the government in the week in which rehearsals for the Merdeka parade were being held daily.

Alleged (?) USD700 million in Prime Minister’s Personal Bank Account

Al Jazeera, the cable news network, smelling blood, was back in town to broadcast to the world in its usual over the top breathless fashion that at least 80,000 demonstrators were on the streets of the Malaysian capital who were angered by the theft of huge sums of money by the Prime Minister, not even bothering to use the word “alleged”.

The electoral process and the state of the economy were proffered as justification for people taking to the streets. That the actual number was closer to 25,000 than the figure they had been tossing about repeatedly was neither here nor there. The world was no doubt enthralled by the prospect of Malaysia joining the ranks of dysfunctional states. If they were expecting an Arab Spring east of Suez, they were sorely disappointed. That was the main purpose of Bersih wanting to gather at Dataran Merdeka, even if it meant breaking the law. In this diabolical endeavour, Bersih had the open support of opposition, especially DAP lawmakers, who, as we have often seen, are happy not only to break the law themselves but worse, in my view, to encourage and instigate ordinary men and women to do the same, as was the case with Bersih 1.

Tunku_Abdul_AzizFormer UN Diplomat

I have no intention of being politically correct when I say that it is obvious that this undeniably Chinese funded and organised demonstration had chosen carefully the dates to flex their muscles and to show their complete and utter disdain for an event of great emotional and spiritual significance for millions of Malays. That the Chinese have never identified with Merdeka through our 58 years of independence is not in dispute. That is their right, but this provocative and racially insensitive act is arrogant by any reckoning and something which I will long remember as a deliberate challenge to Malay sentiments and sensitivities.

I am not a racist

I am not a racist: my record in fighting against any form of discrimination against non-Malays in employment and in the award of scholarships speaks for itself. I put great store by Sino-Malay unity as a basis for nation-building and I am saddened by the reckless decision to sacrifice the prospect for sustainable long-term racial accommodation for immediate political gratification. Nation-building is a long and tedious process.

Bersih, under Ambiga Sreenevasan, set out with an agenda for free and fair elections. I supported it as long as it operated within the law. Ambiga was unable to control events once the opposition’s political heavyweights muscled their way into the act. What should have been a non-partisan movement had been turned into an opposition tool. Today, Bersih 4 has completely dropped any pretence of fighting for free and fair elections. It has allowed itself to become pawns in a high-stakes political game of chess played by dark forces with deep pockets to promote a hidden agenda; using illegal street demonstrations to bring down a legally elected head of government.

Maria Chin Abdullah must know what she is doing, and I hope she will be able and prepared to deal with the consequences of her actions. She is already, by all accounts, out of her depth. Given Bersih’s vastly changed complexion, and bearing in mind the threat posed by its activities to public order and security, and inter-racial harmony, no less, the government must re-examine Bersih’s legitimacy from the standpoint of the law. While it is the duty of the government to respect human rights provisions under the law, it cannot neglect its duty to protect the country from subversion by forces using democracy as a cover for their activities against the state. Bersih has made its intentions absolutely clear — bringing down the Najib administration by resorting to illegal means in the name of democratic rights.

bersih4.0xBersih 4.0

Bersih can do its damnedest to dishonour Merdeka, but Malays up and down the country will celebrate the 58th anniversary of Merdeka, as they have celebrated all other Merdeka days, with joy and pride: confident in the knowledge that but for the courage, sacrifice and fortitude of their people in those dangerous and trying days of Chinese-led insurgencies, when the future of Tanah Melayu hung in the balance, there would have been no Merdeka to commemorate on Aug 31 each year.

The writer is a director of the International Institute for Public Ethics and chairman of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Advisory Board


The Unsung Heroes behind Bersih

September 1, 2015

The Unsung Heroes behind Bersih

And after that came Bersih 2 and  Bersih 3, and now, Bersih 4. But the Bersih that came after the 10th November 2007 Bersih march was not what we had in mind. It was not a political movement. It was neither pro-government nor pro-opposition. It was a reform movement, first for electoral reforms and then for political reforms.


by Raja Petra Kamarudin

RPKI did not write anything over the last one week because Malaysia was experiencing Bersih fever and no one really wanted to read anything that had nothing to do with Bersih. But then if you do write about Bersih people would expect you to write something pro-Bersih and in support of Bersih. Any article that does not ask people to come out in support of Bersih would be seen as anti-opposition.

So I thought better I do not write anything and allow Bersih to end first before writing, although a number of people did ask me why I am so quiet after sometimes coming out with three articles a day.

So, yes, people are still talking about Bersih till today. Many are analysing Bersih from this or that angle. So I, too, will write about Bersih, but not from the pro or anti angle. I will just write about…Bersih.

Bersih was first mooted in 2007 after the launch of the anti-Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi movement in 2006. Of course, it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was behind that movement so understandably we did not get the support of the top leadership of PKR and DAP. The PAS leaders, however, did not seem to have much problems working with Dr Mahathir.

Soon after the 2006 ‘Get Badawi’ movement was launched, Dr Mahathir suggested that the pro-government and pro-opposition Bloggers unite. We had our first meeting at the Press Club attended by Bloggers from both sides of the political divide where we formed a committee. They suggested that I become the President but I declined. I suggested instead that Mahathir loyalist Ron should take that post but he, too, declined. So finally another Mahathir loyalist, Rocky, was appointed the President instead.

It was soon after that when PKR held its annual assembly in Penang, which I also attended but only as a ‘reporter’ and not as a delegate or party member. Azmin Ali took the stage and in front of hundreds of PKR delegates he shouted, “All those who are collaborating with Dr Mahathir can fook off!” Anwar Ibrahim was smirking as he looked at me, giving me a very clear message that that meant people like me who were now working with Dr Mahathir.

t was DAP leader Ronnie Liu, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Bersih, who contacted me to ask me to get involved. They needed someone who could reach the palace because the plan was to march to the Agong’s palace to hand over a petition for electoral reforms. I then contacted the late Tunku Vic and asked him to also participate because I would need his help to talk to Istana Negara.

It was around that time that UMNO Youth organised a blood donation drive at the Kampung Baru mosque and I asked Ronnie to mobilise a group of DAP supporters, of course all Chinese, to go and donate blood at the mosque, which they did. I felt if DAP could bring along a group of Chinese to donate blood at Mukhriz Mahathir’s event in Kampung Baru that would be good for the planned cooperation between us from the opposition and those pro-government supporters.

We had a number of meetings leading to the 10th November 2007 Bersih march, some in a DAP chap’s house, Uncle Lee, and some in Ron’s house. I even brought along some UMNO supporters to the DAP meeting. Clearly Bersih was not an opposition effort but a joint effort between pro-opposition and pro-government people. Ron even arranged for someone to donate Bersih T-shirts and baseball caps.

The key to the whole thing would be to get His Majesty the Agong to agree to receive the petition from Bersih. And this was the work of Tunku Vic and Din Merican who made numerous phone calls to the right people to obtain the consent of Istana Negara. We made it very clear that Bersih was not a political movement but a non-partisan movement that was supported by opposition as well as government supporters, the UMNO supporters in particular. Basically it was a peoples’ movement with no political affiliations and one that was only interested in electoral reforms.

We eventually received consent from Istana Negara and were told that only ten representatives would be allowed to enter the palace. The rest, which we expected to number in the tens of thousands, would have to remain outside the palace gates. And with that the police, which had initially classified the planned march as an illegal gathering, reluctantly had to agree to let us march.

Bersih was now a movement officially recognised by the government and Istana Negara. We then sat down to prepare our list of electoral reforms that we wanted to hand to His Majesty the Agong.

On 10th November 2007, we marched to the palace but on reaching the palace gate we were told to wait outside and not go in yet. The palace representative came outside to meet us and said that our ten representatives are welcome to enter the palace and we replied that we had been told to wait because some of the party leaders were on the way.

The crowd that had been waiting for almost an hour began to get restless. Some walked up to me to ask what was going on. Is the palace now refusing to allow us in? No, I replied. In fact they came out to invite us in. But we had been told to wait for the party leaders.

Eventually the party leaders arrived and immediately took the petition from us and walked into the palace. After handing over the petition to the palace they came out and started making speeches. We could see that the police were becoming agitated because we had assured them that this was not going to be turned into a political rally.

After the party leaders finished giving their speeches we broke up and went home. The Bersih rally, which had originally been intended as a peoples’ march to the Agong’s palace to hand a petition calling for electoral reforms, had been turned into a political rally. Understandably Tunku Vic was not too pleased because that had more or less violated the trust that the Agong had placed in us when we assured His Majesty that this was not about politics but about electoral reforms.

After that, of course, came the 2008 general election, which could be said to be partly influenced by Bersih and the Hindraf rally that same month. It also cannot be denied that Pakatan Rakyat’s success was also because the pro-government and pro-opposition Bloggers united to send the same message to the voters, which is vote for change.

Never before in history had those from both sides of the political divide united under one cause.

2008 was the year when we came under the banner of Barisan Rakyat and not Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat. We even had our own poster. After the 2008 general election we decided to take the Bersih effort one step further. Bersih was about electoral reforms. However, to be able to see electoral reforms we need to first see political reforms. So we met, yet again, in Tunku Vic’s house together with Umno and DAP supporters to come out with a document that listed down what political reforms were needed.

Basically, electoral reforms would be part of or a component of political reforms. If we can see political reforms then electoral reforms would come as well. It is not enough we just see electoral reforms. We need more than that. We need political reforms first, which would include electoral reforms.

But by then those in Pakatan Rakyat no longer wanted to talk about this. They had already won five states and had denied Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in Parliament. They were confident that in the next general election in 2013 they would be able to win the federal government.

Those in Barisan Nasional, such as Dr Mahathir, also no longer needed to fight for reforms. Their only interest was to oust the Prime Minister and that had already been achieved. And that was the only objective they had in mind. Reforms were the excuse they were using just to get rid of the Prime Minister.

So we found that the fight for political reforms was no longer on the agenda of both sides of the political divide. So this meant electoral reforms would also no longer be on the agenda as well. And this meant we would need a third force if we wanted to achieve the reforms we were seeking. And this would have to be something that the civil society pushes for.

Barisan Rakyat-2007Barisan Rakyat not Pakatan Rakyat

And that, of course, was when we came out with the idea of a civil society movement that we called the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement or MCLM. But that is a story I have told many times so no need for me to repeat myself.

And after that came Bersih 2 and  Bersih 3, and now, Bersih 4. But the Bersih that came after the 10th November 2007 Bersih march was not what we had in mind. It was not a political movement. It was neither pro-government nor pro-opposition. It was a reform movement, first for electoral reforms and then for political reforms.

But I suppose that is something that can now never be achieved. Anyway, to me, the unsung heroes who made Bersih back in 2007 a success were Tunku Vic, Ronnie Liu, Din Merican, Ron, Uncle Lee, Jad, and many more from UMNO, DAP, PAS and PKR, Bloggers included, who put aside their political differences for the sake of seeking reforms.