Lightning Strike Against Enemies in UMNO and Public Officials may yet save Najib


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Lightning Strike Against Enemies in UMNO and Public Officials may yet save Najib

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

najib-low-yat2

Whichever way one looks at the changing of the Attorney-General, the appointment of a new Special Branch head and the cabinet reshuffle, they have everything to do with that self-styled strategic development company that isn’t – 1MDB. Just what is the Prime Minister trying to achieve with the 1MDB reshuffle?

Yes, it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to reshuffle the cabinet and perhaps even to change the attorney-general and the Special Branch head. But if he hopes by this to show his strength, then he is mistaken. He exposes his weakness instead.

The cabinet reshuffle yesterday afternoon was preceded by the change of the attorney-general. Effectively Abdul Gani Patail was removed in an announcement by the Chief Secretary to the government, Ali Hamsa – the reason, health. But Abdul Gani himself was in the dark about the announcement and refused any comment to reporters.

So why was Abdul Gani so unceremoniously removed after his many years of service dating back to the time of Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister? He was lead prosecutor in Anwar Ibrahim’s first sodomy case and became Attorney-General in 2002. He has served under three Prime Ministers.

More recently he became head of the task force investigating 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). As attorney-general, he had the sole authority to decide on prosecution in the country. Others in the task force are Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, the Inspector-General of Police Abdul Khalid Abu Bakar, and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Chief Commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamad.

Right now the Prime Minister is facing allegations, not properly denied by him or his office, that some RM2.7 billion was deposited into his accounts at AMIslamic Bank. This was reported by The Wall Street Journal which has unambiguously stood by its story. Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that Abdul Gani is too close to Mahathir, a constant critic of him in recent times and especially over 1MDB, and therefore cannot be trusted.

The new Attorney-General is an UMNO loyalist and a former Federal Court judge. A change at this stage must raise questions as to whether it is being done to ensure that there is no prosecution of the Prime Minister in investigations related to him and 1MDB.

The change in heads at the Special Branch, which does a lot of undercover investigations, acts as the eyes and ears of the government and provides it with intelligence of what is happening on the ground, will raise similar questions especially about why the changes are taking place now.

And then there is the cabinet reshuffle which is related entirely to the 1MDB issue. First out was Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to be replaced by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. And out was also another Minister, Shafie Apdal. Their only ‘crimes’ were to question the way the Prime Minister was handling the multi-faceted 1MDB problems.

Echoing the feelings of a section of the public

Muhyiddin had at the UMNO Cheras meeting come out strongly against 1MDB. Admitting that he read the suspended The Edge for some of his information on 1MDB, he was merely echoing the feelings of a wide section of the Malaysian public when he reiterated strongly that 1MDB has to be answered, putting the onus squarely on the prime minister. Presumably, as a member of the cabinet, he was not getting enough information on 1MDB.

The Prime Minister’s response was that Muhyiddin and others have to stand behind the concept of collective responsibility of the cabinet and therefore since they could not, they had to go. It was generally expected that this would happen if there was a cabinet reshuffle and it should not have come as a surprise for either Muhyiddin or Shafie and the general public, too.

If Muhyiddin and Shafie expected this, then surely they have some other plans. One could be to force an extraordinary general meeting of UMNO, and the other to move a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister in Parliament. Both don’t seem that likely to succeed considering that few have broken ranks and gone against the Prime Minister.

Insiders are reading some things into Muhyiddin’s remarks post the reshuffle. “What you know about 1MDB, I would know a little more than that,” he told a press conference at his residence in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.

If that implies there will be more information coming out about 1MDB, it is not certain if it will be enough to significantly affect the Prime Minister’s position. But one can expect the playing out of a game plan by those opposed to the Prime Minister although it is not visible yet.

The general expectation was that Ahmad Zahid would replace Muhyiddin and he did, which is not to say that his appointment would be widely welcomed. It helps that he has wide grassroots support in UMNO but not that he is considered a hardliner who as Home Minister  was directly responsible for suspending The Edge.

Much more surprising than Muhyiddin’s ouster was the appointment into the government of four members of the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) investigation into 1MDB, including its chairperson Nur Jazlan Mohamed who was appointed deputy home minister. This leaves four Barisan MPs out of eight still remaining as PAC members.

Nur Jazlan himself said that the PAC investigations have been stopped pending the appointment of new members which can take place only after Parliament sits again in October. That means PAC’s interview of, among others, 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda next week will have to be postponed. However, opposition MPs, including DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, have commented that investigations can still go on despite some PAC members joining the government.

Observers feel that the Prime Minister’s appointment of four PAC members into the government was deliberate and aimed at postponing the investigations into 1MDB, buying time for 1MDB and for himself.

Yes, it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to make cabinet changes and perhaps even to change the attorney-general midstream, although legal opinion is divided on this, as well as the head of the Special Branch. But it certainly does not indicate strength.

It is because the Prime Minister’s position is weak that he has to resort to such strong-arm tactics to keep people supporting him. It is because his position is weak that he has to demonstrate that those who do not support him will have to be prepared to pay the price. It is because he is weak that he has to muzzle the press and stop them from reporting legitimately on 1MDB.

Emulating Mahathir

What he is doing emulates what Mahathir did in a bigger way in 1987 with Operation Lalang, when scores of people were detained under the Internal Security Act and The Star had its licence revoked. Mahathir even pushed members of the old UMNO out of his UMNO Baru, which he set up following a judicial decision against the old UMNO. He moved decisively against the judiciary the following year, raising questions of its independence till today.

He made numerous constitutional changes to the new UMNO, making it all but impossible for a candidate to challenge an incumbent president. Mahathir won very narrowly against Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 1987 in the closest battle for presidency in UMNO ever.

Razaleigh eventually set up the opposition Semangat 46 to challenge UMNO and Barisan Nasional but had little success except in Kelantan.

For now, the Prime Minister and UMNO President Najib Abdul Razak has the upper hand, and thanks ironically to Mahathir, his most vocal critic, it does not look like he will be dislodged anytime soon. Few who call themselves politicians will be foolhardy enough to go against Najib when they don’t see a viable game plan that can, well, overthrow him. Najib is certainly not popular in the court of public opinion right now but that does not mean that he will be exiting anytime soon.

Indeed despite the tide of public opinion against him, like Mahathir before him, he is likely to prevail. And then he will have to hope that people will forget or at least forgive, like they did Mahathir before him.

ASEAN Economic Community?


July 30, 2015

Foreign Affairs:  ASEAN Economic Community? 

By Pattharapong Rattanasevee

http://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/is-asean-ready-to-integrate-not-likely/

ASEAN EconC

…without a strong central authority and mandate, ASEAN integration will remain in a mess and the AEC remain an illusion. A single market across ASEAN nations requires a strong central authority that can harmonize and standardize regional regulations, and it must be recognized by all member countries.– Rattanasevee

With just six months left before the end of 2015 and the scheduled implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community, it is clear that the member nations of ASEAN are far behind in planning what is supposed to be the integration of the region into a close-knit community featuring free movement of goods, services, skilled labor and freer flow of capital.

It is a significant step forward and could be a crucial turning point for ASEAN. But without a strong central authority and mandate, ASEAN integration will remain in a mess and the AEC remain an illusion. A single market across ASEAN nations requires a strong central authority that can harmonize and standardize regional regulations, and it must be recognized by all member countries.

ASEAN will need a guardian of competition. It will need to significantly improve the current trade competition policy and arbitration. The scheme itself requires a consensual agreement among members that should be implemented as a bundle. That is, governments should not be allowed to pick and choose among components or sectors.

ASEAN is dealing with a colossal and ambitious task but with limited resources and capacity.But how limited are these resources? ASEAN has no intention to become a supranational organization like the European Union, where members coordinate within the context of inter-governmentalism. The internal dynamics of ASEAN institutions have been designed to uphold the roles of national governments and the norms of the association — known as the ASEAN Way.

The ASEAN Secretariat — the current central authority and only real institutional organ — remains at the margins of ASEAN policy making. It does not possess the mandate or power to command individual member states, or the power to devise common policies on its own. It is a glorified secretary, responsible for only administrative support, sorting out the daily paper work and arranging meetings for the organization.

There is no guarantee that the central authority will implement policy effectively and ASEAN will be unlikely to enforce compliance from obstinate members. Interestingly, Barry Desker pointed out that during the preceding 40 years of ASEAN, only 30 percent of agreements were actually implemented.

ASEAN will need to increase funding if it is to strengthen the Secretariat. The current operational budget relies on equal contributions by the member states, reflecting the norms of equality and stemming from the belief that different contributions might lead to a hierarchy of powers. The payment has never been increased substantially and has been kept low enough to ensure the poorest members can pay. ASEAN also receives substantial funding from dialogue partners and external donors — mostly through specific projects or operations — but this is not sustainable in the long run if ASEAN wishes to present itself to the world as a non-aligned power.

The Secretariat lacks professional staff, making it difficult for it to become a powerful central administration and the backbone of the association. It employs roughly 300 staff: 65 managers and experts, 180 local staff and 55 people from donor organizations. These figures are miniscule compared to other organizations with similar size and missions. They do not fairly represent a community of 625 million people and a nominal GDP over US$2.5 trillion.

The secretariat has also been facing difficulties attracting talented and capable people. Working for ASEAN is not seen as prestigious or well-paid, unlike other regional organisations that could offer up to US$74,000 for bright talent.

These problems raise the question about how prepared ASEAN is to implement the single market scheme, and how feasible that scheme will be. The region contains countries that are prone to financial shortfalls, domestic weakness, poor governance, corruption and coordination problems.

he member states lack an ‘ASEAN mindset’ to facilitate cross-national and cross-sectoral interactions. The AEC will not thrive unless there is a significant improvement to how ASEAN policy is implemented. ASEAN does not need to — and will not — depart from the ASEAN way to become a supranational or fully-consultative organization like the EU.

But its central administration is a basis of continuity. It needs to be given mandate and resources in order to acquire the capacity to encourage compliance and support its administrative functions. This could narrow the gap between ASEAN’s rhetoric of cooperation and its actual commitments. It could improve the poor implementation record.

Additionally, the contribution system should be substantially revised. It is not realistic nor applicable to the growing activities of the association and the excessive tasks of the ASEAN Secretariat. It should consider a GDP-based contribution system or seek other sources of revenue such as a share of taxes, import duties and licensing.

Finally, ASEAN awareness must be promoted among private sectors and ordinary citizens. The AEC could bring tremendous benefits to their daily lives. Improved ASEAN awareness would encourage public scrutiny and would put massive pressure on governments to focus on accomplishing the AEC in time.

ASEAN is not quite ready for the AEC. But with some significant improvements to how the ASEAN Secretariat is run, it may just be possible.

Dr Pattharapong Rattanasevee is a lecturer at Burapha University, Chonburi, Thailand. This was adopted from an article that appeared on the website of the East Asia Forum, This was written for the East Asia Forum, a platform for analysis and research on politics, economics, business, law, security, international relations and society centered on the Asia-Pacific region. It is based out of the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University 

From Malaysia back to Greece: No Free Lunch


July 30, 2015

Foreign Affairs

From Malaysia back to Greece: The Europe we don’t want

by Serge Halimi

The Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund have crushed the hopes of a youthful movement that sought to transform a nation and rouse a continent. Beyond the shock that events in Greece have given supporters of the European project, there are other noteworthy features. The EU is becoming increasingly authoritarian, as Germany imposes its wishes and obsessions unchecked. Though founded on a promise of peace, the EU seems incapable of drawing lessons from history, even when recent and violent; what matters most to it is sanctioning bad debtors, and the headstrong. This amnesiac authoritarianism is a challenge to those who saw the EU as the place to experiment with going beyond the framework of the nation-state, and achieving democratic renewal.

Alexis and AngelaNo Free Lunch for Greece

At the outset, European integration lavished material advantages on its citizens, against a backdrop of the East-West confrontation. In the immediate post-war period, the project was driven forward by the US, which sought a market for its goods and a buffer against Soviet expansion. The US recognised that if the “free world” wanted to compete effectively with the “democratic” republics of the Warsaw Pact, it had to win hearts and minds, which meant demonstrating its goodwill through social policies. Since this strategic lifeline disappeared, Europe has behaved like the board of directors of a bank.

Some participants in the cold war, such as NATO, survived the fall of the Berlin Wall by inventing new monsters to destroy on other continents. The EU’s institutions have also redefined their enemy. The peace and stability they claim as their objective now demand peoples be politically neutralised, and their remaining tools of national sovereignty destroyed. This means integration at the pace of a forced march, the burial of political questions in a one-size-fits-all treaty, a federal project. This venture is not new, but the Greek case illustrates the brutality with which it is now being pursued.

“How many divisions does the pope have?” was reportedly Joseph Stalin’s dismissive response to a French leader who urged him to deal tactfully with the Vatican. The states in the Eurozone now seem to be applying the same approach to Greece; reckoning that the government they find so exasperating would be unable to defend itself, they have destabilised it through enforced bank closures and import suspensions. Relations between members of the same union, who belong to the same institutions, return representatives to the same parliament and use the same currency, should preclude such machinations. Yet the Eurozone countries, with Germany at their head, safe in the knowledge of their superiority, imposed a diktat on a weakened Greece which everyone acknowledges will worsen most of its problems. This whole episode exposes just how deep the cracks in the EU go (1).

When Syriza won January’s election, it was right on almost every single count. Right to link the collapse of the Greek economy to the austerity programme administered for five years by both socialists and the right. Right to argue that no state with a crumbling manufacturing sector would be able to rebuild itself if it had to devote increasing sums to paying off its creditors. Right to point out that in a democracy sovereignty belongs to the people and that if a policy is imposed on them despite what they decide, it constitutes an act of dispossession.

Can’t pay, won’t pay

Syriza appeared to have an unbeatable hand, but success depends on who you are playing with. In the EU, Syriza’s aces were turned against it; Syriza was compared to southern Marxists, so out of touch with reality that they dared question the economic assumptions that underlie German ideology (see Germany’s iron cage). The weapons of “reason” and conviction are useless in such circumstances. What’s the good of pleading your case in front of a firing squad? During the months of “negotiations”, the Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis noticed his European counterparts stared at him as though they were thinking: “You’re right in what you are saying, but we are going to crush you anyway” (2) (see The defeat of Europe).

However, the success (for now) of Germany’s plan to relegate Greece to the status of a Eurozone protectorate is also the result of failed gambles by Greece’s leftwing majority, in the over-optimistic hope of changing Europe (3). The gamble that the leaders of France and Italy would help Greece overcome the German right’s monetarist taboos. The gamble that other European peoples, overwhelmed by austerity policies, would pressure their governments into a Keynesian reorientation (Greece thought it was the torchbearer for this). The gamble that this change would be conceivable within the eurozone; noexit scenario had been envisaged or prepared. And the gamble that intermittent hints of a “Russian option” would, for geopolitical reasons, contain Germany’s temptation to punish Greece and encourage the US to stay Germany’s hand. At no point did any of these gambles seem likely to pay off. It’s not possible to hold off a tank with violets and a catapult.

Greece’s leaders, guilty only of being too innocent, thought that creditors would heed the democratic will of the Greeks, especially the young. The legislative election of 25 January and the referendum of 5 July, however, provoked dumbfounded outrage among the Germans and their allies. They had only one remaining aim: to punish the rebels, and anyone who might be inspired by their bravery. Capitulation was no longer enough; there had to be apologies (Greece has admitted that its economic choices caused a breakdown in confidence with its partners) and even reparations: public assets, capable of being privatised, to a value equal to 25% of Greek GDP are to be pledged to the creditors. Everyone claims to be relieved: Greece will pay.

“Germany will pay” was the phrase French finance minister Louis Klotz whispered to President Clemenceau at the end of the first world war. It became the watchword of French savers who had lent to the Treasury during the conflict. They had not forgotten that in 1870 France paid the whole of the tribute demanded by Bismarck, though the sum was higher than Germany’s costs. This precedent inspired French Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré when, frustrated at not receiving the reparations stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles (4), he decided to occupy the Ruhr in 1923.

John  Maynard KeynesJohn Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes had already grasped the vanity of such a policy of humiliation and seizure of securities: Germany did not pay because it could not pay, and the same goes for Greece now. Only through time, with a positive balance of payments, could Germany have paid off its massive debt. France refused to allow its rival’s economic rebirth, which would have enabled it to pay, but also to finance an army, risking the possibility of a third bloody conflict. The economic success of the Greek left would hardly have had such dramatic repercussions for Europeans, but it would have scotched eurozone leaders’ justifications for austerity.

A ‘totally non-viable debt’

After a year, Poincaré had to raise taxes by 20% to fund his occupation, a cruel paradox for a rightwing leader opposed to taxation who had insisted Germany would pay. He lost the next election and his successor evacuated the Ruhr. No one has yet imagined such consequences in any of the countries that have crushed Greece to make it settle a debt that even the IMF admits is “totally non-viable”. Yet the Eurozone countries’ fixation on punishment has already obliged them to commit three times the sum (around €86bn) required had funds been released five months earlier; in the meantime the Greek economy had collapsed through lack of liquidity (5). So the price of German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s inflexibility will be almost as high as Poincaré’s. But Greece’s humiliation will serve as an example for other potential offenders. (Spain, Italy, France?) It will be a reminder of the “Juncker theorem” formulated by the European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, four days after the Greek left’s electoral victory: “There can be no democratic choice that is counter to European treaties” (6).

One bed is too narrow to accommodate 19 different dreams. It was an almost imperial undertaking to impose the same currency on Austria and Cyprus, Luxembourg and Spain, on peoples who do not have a shared history, political culture or standard of living, the same alliances or languages. How can a state conceive an economic and social policy that is open to debate and democratic negotiation if all the mechanisms of monetary regulation are outside its control? How can peoples who may not even know each other accept a degree of solidarity comparable to the inhabitants of Florida and those of Montana? The whole thing rested on a hypothesis: that federalism at an accelerated pace would bring European peoples together. Yet 15 years after the creation of the euro, animosity has never been greater. So much so that, when Tsipras announced his referendum, he used language like a declaration of war — “a [Eurozone] proposition in the form of an ultimatum addressed to Greek democracy” — and accused some “partners” of seeking to “humiliate an entire people”. The Greeks massively backed their government and the Germans rallied behind the quite opposite demands of their government. Could their destinies be any more closely linked without risking domestic violence?

But the hostility is no longer just between Greece and Germany. “We do not want to be a German colony,” insisted Pablo Iglesias, leader of Podemos in Spain. Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi — whose reticence throughout has been noteworthy — let slip: “I say to Germany: that’s enough. Humiliating a European partner is unthinkable.” According to German sociologist Wolfgang Streeck, “in Mediterranean countries, and to some extent in France, Germany is more hated than at any time since 1945. … Economic and monetary union, which was supposed to consolidate European unity once and for all, now stands a good chance of shattering it” (7).

‘You’ve done too little, too slowly’

The Greeks are attracting hostility, too. Junker is said to have told Tsipras: “If the Eurogzone functioned like a parliamentary democracy, you would already be out, because that is what nearly all your partners want” (8). Using a well-known conservative mechanism, now deployed at nation-state level, poor states have been encouraged in their mutual suspicion that others, like the proverbial “welfare chiselers” of Ronald Reagan’s speeches, are living at their expense. The Estonian education minister castigated Greece: “You’ve done too little, too slowly, and much less than Estonia. We have suffered much more than Greece. But we didn’t stop to complain; we just got on with it” (9). The Slovaks were aggrieved at the level of pensions in Greece, which should be “finally declared bankrupt in order to clear the atmosphere,” as the Czech Finance Minister kindly suggested (10).

Pierre Moscovici, the French Socialist and EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, eagerly repeated an anecdote to any listening journalist: “At a Eurogroup meeting, a Lithuanian socialist minister told Varoufakis, ‘It’s very nice that you want to raise the minimum wage by 40%, but your minimum wage is already twice ours. And you want to raise it with money you owe us, with debt.’ And that’s a pretty strong argument” (11). A strong argument indeed, especially coming from Moscovici whose party had announced only a year earlier: “We want a Europe which protects its workers. A Europe of social progress, not social roll-back.”

At a European Council meeting on 7 July, several EU leaders conveyed their exasperation to Tsipras: “We can’t take any more. Greece is all we’ve talked about for months. A decision needs to be taken. If you’re incapable of taking it, it will be taken for you” (12). Is that not already a rough and ready brand of federalism? “We must go forward,” Hollande concluded from this. In which direction? The same as always: “economic governance”, “a eurozone budget”, “convergence with Germany”. In Europe, when a medicine severely damages the economic or democratic health of a patient, the dose is doubled. Therefore, since, according Hollande, “the eurozone has been able to reaffirm its cohesion with Greece, the circumstances are leading us to speed up” (13).

To left wing activists and trade unionists, stopping and thinking seems a better option. Even for those who fear that an exit from the euro would encourage the break-up of the European project and the revival of nationalisms, the Greek crisis demonstrates that a single currency stands against popular sovereignty. Far from containing the far right, such an obvious realisation encourages it, since the far right mocks its enemies’ lectures on democracy. How can anyone imagine that the single currency could one day accommodate a progressive social policy, having seen the plans that the Eurozone states gave Tsipras to force this left wing Prime Minister to implement rigid neoliberalism?

Once Greece raised big, universal questions. Now it has revealed the true face of the Europe we no longer want.

Serge Halimi is President of Le Monde diplomatique.

(1) See Frédéric Lordon, La Malfaçon: Monnaie européenne et souveraineté démocratique (Production Defects: the European Currency and Democratic Sovereignty), Les Liens qui Libèrent, Paris, 2014.

(2) New Statesman, London, 13 July 2015.

(3) See Serge Halimi, “A modest and crazy dream”, Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, February 2015.

(4) See Serge Halimi, “A Versailles, la guerre a perdu la paix” (At Versailles, the war lost the peace), Manuel d’histoire critique, Editions Le Monde diplomatique, 2014.

(5) “Europe reaches rescue deal for Greece”, The Wall Street Journal, New York, 14 July 2015.

(6) Le Figaro, Paris, 29 January 2015.

(7) Wolfgang Streeck, “Germany can’t solve this alone,” Le Monde diplomatique, English edition, May 2015.

(8) Libération, Paris, 11-12 July 2015.

(9) The Wall Street Journal, 13 July 2015.

(10) Le Figaro, 3 July 2015.

(11) France Inter, 1 March 2015.

(12) Reported in Le Figaro, 9 July 2015.

(13) Le Journal du dimanche, Paris, 19 July 2015.

 

Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

by Dr Syed Farid Alatas

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

Syed FaridThe recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report alleging massive corruption involving the upper echelons of the political and corporate elite of Malaysia have once again raised the question of whether or not Malaysia is a kleptocracy. The term is derived from the words ‘klepto’ — (thief) and — cracy’ (rule) and refers to a government dominated by those who use their office to seek personal financial gain, power and status at the expense of the governed. The impact of kleptocratic rulers and officials on a country is devastating. They rule with unscrupulousness and hypocrisy, and distort development planning and policy. Such rulers do not seem to have any interest in the rights, opinions or sentiments of the people they govern. Under their watch a country would undergo large-scale resource depletion and experience a loss of talented human resources. Kleptocratic rule also has dire consequences for the freedom of expression in a country.

A vital means of combating corruption and preventing the emergence of a kleptocratic state is the maintenance of a free press. Although it is true that the irresponsible exercise of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in general can be harmful to the stability and security of a country, the muzzling of voices of conscience pose a greater danger. Excessive media control is a symptom of authoritarianism. The gradual imposition of high-handed governmental controls over the media takes place as rulers feel more and more insecure and vulnerable as a result of their misdeeds being publicised and debated by academics, activists and the population in general.

The kleptocrats impose restrictions and controls over the media in order to shield themselves from criticism, minimise public information and debate about their misadventures, and eventually prevent voters from acting against them at the polls. It is obvious that the freer people are to obtain information, analyse government decisions and actions, and criticise the perpetrators of illegal and despicable acts, the stronger those people become vis à vis their government. Is that not how things should be? After all, elected polit In fact, there is evidence from cross-country research to show that “a free press is bad news for corruption”.

In a study published in 2003, Aymo Brunetti and Beatrice Weber showed that having free media was positively correlated with better governance (A Free Press is Bad News for Corruption, Journal of Public Economics, 87). This is because press freedom allows for more information to be available to people which in turn enables citizens to exert more pressure on their governments.

Some days ago, the Malaysian Home Ministry suspended the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months starting from July 27, 2015. The reason given by the Home Ministry is that the reports of the two publications on 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

This is a claim that few thinking Malaysians would accept. Most Malaysians would also agree that the real danger to the nation is corruption. Furthermore, most people in Malaysia who support free reporting and public discourse on corruption would not condone the spread of rumours to destabilise our country. Those who do act in this irresponsible manner should be dealt with by the law. But, the media should not be gagged. This is because the media have a vital role to play in preventing instability.

Research has shown that it is corruption that results in instability. Sarah Chayes, in her book entitled Thieves of State: Why Corruption threatens global security (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), investigates how kleptocratic governance results in civil unrest and even provokes violent extremism. To the extent that a free media results in pressures on the government to clean up or at least minimise the incidence of corruption, it can be said that freedom of the press, far from being prejudicial to public interest, is necessary for the stability of the nation.  The probability that kleptocracy would be publicly debated and kleptocrats investigated, exposed and prosecuted, is higher in a country with a free press than in one with a controlled and irresponsible press.

In Islam, as in all the great religious traditions that make up Malaysia, there is the universal value of attachment to the truth. It is regarded as sinful to provide false information, particularly about events that one has personally witnessed. Equally sinful is the withholding of the truth. The Qur’an frequently exhorts humans to avoid concealing testimony and refrain from confounding the truth by lacing it with falsehood.

If it cannot be proven that The Edge reported falsehoods and violated journalistic norms or broke the law, the suspension is against both the standards of universal values as well as Islamic tradition. Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. Therefore, Malaysians expect the politicians and civil servants to rule with justice and integrity.

The Qur’an commands those entrusted with public and professional duties to carry out their rule with justice and fairness (4:58-59). The vizier and scholar of the eleventh century Seljuq Empire, Nizam al-Mulk, in his famous treatise, the Siyasatnameh or Book of Government, advised his sultan that he should listen to the grievances of his subjects directly, without intermediaries.  A thousand years later, this is still what we want from our leaders.

The fourteenth century Muslim social theorist, Abdul Rahman Ibn Khaldun, believed that government decisions were as a rule unjust. This was based on his study of West Asian and North African polities as well as his experience with the vicissitudes of political life. More than five hundred years later, the Spanish philosopher and intellectual leader of the Spanish Republican government, José Ortega y Gasset, referred to the state as the greatest danger. He believed that state intervention was the greatest danger that threatened civilisation. Malaysians want a strong state that can establish and maintain public order and run an efficient administration. But we do not want a dangerous state, one with disproportionate power such that its intervention results in rule by thieves.

* Dr. Syed Farid Alatas is the Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, in the National University of Singapore.

Malaysia: Can Najib remain Prime Minister?


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Can Najib remain Prime Minister?

by Greg Lopez

http://www.forbes.com/sites/greglopez/2015/07/29/can-malaysias-prime-minister-survive/

Rosmah and Najib nowThe  Staying Power behind the Prime Minister

It is one thing for the Prime Minister of Malaysia and President of UMNO to pick off his rivals within or without UMNO one at a time. But it is altogether a different ball game when the Rakyat, the opposition parties and significant segments of UMNO are united in scalping the Prime Minister’s head.

The President of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is always the Prime Minister of Malaysia. It is UMNO who decides who becomes the Prime Minister of Malaysia. Leadership crisis in UMNO always has serious implications to national leadership and Malaysia.

The leadership crisis within UMNO occurs almost every decade. The outcomes of these leadership crisis are balanced as the context is important in determining the survival of the incumbent.

The first leadership crisis happened almost as soon as UMNO was established. Leaders from UMNO’s Islamic Department left in 1951 to form the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party of Tanah Melayu, now known as the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party or PAS. Then, this group argued for the centralisation of Islamic affairs, something that the then leaders of UMNO were not prepared to do. The incumbent was not challenged directly and survived. 

The second leadership crisis was the resignation of Dato’ Onn Jaafar (Father of Malaysia’s Third Prime Minister and Grandfather to Hishammuddin Hussein Onn, a potential future prime minister), the prime mover behind the formation of UMNO and its first president. He resigned as president when his attempts to promote greater inter-racial cooperation to gain independence from the British were opposed by certain key leaders in UMNO. Tunku Abdul Rahman stepped in and led UMNO to greater heights albeit with the principle of UMNO as first among equals. The incumbent was not challenged directly but chose to resign. 

The third leadership crisis was the “palace coup” within UMNO. A poor showing by UMNO in the 1969 elections lead to a pogrom against Malaysian Chinese as segments of the Malay community vented their anger at the Malaysian Chinese minority in selected locations. The numbers are disputed but at least some 6,000 Chinese homes and business were destroyed and 184 were killed. Tun Abdul Razak (the father of the current prime minister) took over as prime minister replacing the liberal Tunku Abdul Rahman. A new “more assertive” Malay leadership group replaced the old “more accommodating” one. This “new leadership” included Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Musa Hitam and Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, launched the New Economic Policy (NEP) – an extensive affirmative action policy which covered all aspects of the Malaysian economy and society – aimed at reducing socioeconomic disparity between the ethnic Chinese minority and the Malay majority on the Peninsula as well as the indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak collectively termed Bumiputera (“sons of the soil”). The incumbent was forcefully removed. 

The fourth leadership crisis came about when a rival faction – led by Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and Musa Hitam – almost succeeded in toppling then incumbent President of UMNO and Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad in the 1988 party elections. Mahathir Mohamad then purged the leadership of the government and party of his challengers which included more than half the cabinet members (including Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia’s fifth prime minister. Anwar Ibrahim, Najib Razak and Muhyiddin Yassin sided with Mahathir). In the post party election tussle, the High Court declared UMNO to be an “unlawful society” following irregularities in the party elections that Dr Mahathir had just won narrowly. Dr Mahathir then founded a new party called UMNO Baru (New UMNO) with all the institutional resources of the old UMNO. The purged members would form a new political party called Semangat 46 in 1989.  In 1990, at the 8th general election, for the first time in Malaysian history, two formal opposition coalitions would be formed to take on the BN. Members of Semangat 46 disbanded in 1996 to return to UMNO. But the idea of opposition parties collaborating with dissidents from the ruling party and receiving strong support from the electorate was now a reality. The incumbent was challenged directly and survived. 

In 1998, Dr Mahathir had his deputy, and heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim put on trial for sodomy and corruption creating the fifth leadership crisis. This action, together with other social, economic and political development would polarise Malaysian society further between supporters of UMNO and supporters of Anwar Ibrahim. It would also give birth to the Reformasi movement that would catalyse the engagement of large swaths of Malaysians in politics for the first time.  Although short-lived, once again, opposition parties would collaborate through Barisan Alternatif. This collaboration between civil society, opposition parties, dissidents from UMNO and ordinary Malaysians would lay the groundwork for UMNO’s greatest challenge a decade later. The incumbent pre-empted a direct challenge and survived.

Keep Calm

Dr Mahathir resigned on 31 October 2003. There were growing signs that UMNO – let alone vast segments of Malays and Malaysians – were not happy with Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He accepted this signal and paved the way for his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take took over, thus averting a leadership crisis and revitalising UMNO’s fortunes. The incumbent averted a direct challenge by resigning.

Prime Minister Badawi performed well in the 2004 election. UMNO alone had 109 out of 219 parliamentary, just one seat shy of being able to govern in their own right. Badawi’s popularity and UMNO’s and the ruling coalition’s might did not go towards greater societal outcomes, as perceived by Malaysians. Instead corruption at the highest levels, rising religious and racial tensions, and other issues (such as crime, rising cost of living, etc.) began to erode Badawi’s support from the electorate. Also, after the 2004 elections, Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction for sodomy was surprisingly overturned in attempts to mend fences. However, upon his release from prison, Anwar launched a political campaign that saw the opposition coalition registering its best ever performance. At one point, he claimed that he had the numbers to form government in 2008. After Badawi’s dismal showing at GE12, he accepted the signals coming from UMNO and society. The incumbent averted a direct challenge by resigning.

At GE13 in 2013, Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition secured the majority popular votes but was unable to secure government due to systemic gerrymandering and what now appears to be widespread fraud.

UMNO’s current and sixth major leadership crisis – where Prime Minister Najib Razak has sacked his Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin – is likely to be its last. A key issue appears to be the inability of Prime Minister Najib Razak to “listen, hear, read or see” the signals.

DPM Zahid HamidiA Brutus –The New Deputy Prime Minister and Beleaguered Boss

Despite spending more than MYR58 billion (US$15 billion) , with the support of an electoral system designed to keep the ruling party in power against an opposition that various administrations have hounded since independence, and against an opposition leader that UMNO had sought to destroy for more than decade, 51% of the electorate voted against Prime Minister Najib Razak. He was unable to listen, hear, read or see this signal coming from the Rakyat.

More importantly, he is also unable to listen, hear, read or see the signals coming from within UMNO. This could be fatal. Powerful segments within UMNO are genuinely concerned that Prime Minister Najib is condemning UMNO to oblivion.

The alleged scandals linked to the current UMNO President and Malaysia’s current Prime Minister are simply too many and too large to ignore. That may be the primary reason why the Prime Minister is unwilling to go.

The opposition, the  Pakatan Rakyat, or segments of UMNO are no match for the office of the Malaysian Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s office is simply too powerful for any one group to challenge on its own. However, when united, it is a different story altogether.

The doors within UMNO also appear to be closing down for a direct challenge against the incumbent. This means the challenge will be taken outside the UMNO general assembly. This could be potentially disastrous for Malaysia.

Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

From MP Tony Pua

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

David CameronWelcome to Malaysia

Welcome back to Malaysia. It is an honour that you have decided to return to my country so soon after your last trip in April 2012.

Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on the recent successful re-election of your government.

For all its oft-cited shortcomings, the British democratic system remains among the most free and fair in the world, with the Westminster an institution most countries like ours look up to.

I am also extremely encouraged by the increasing assertiveness of UK’s foreign policy which seeks not only to serve the British national interest but equally to establish a minimum moral and ethical standards in a world increasingly dominated by greed and self-interest.

At a forum entitled “Building the world we want by 2030 through transparency and accountability” during the 69th UN General Assembly on September 24th 2014, you highlighted the fact that “the more corruption in your society, the poorer your people are.”

You admonished those who refused to deal with corruption. “Some people don’t want to include these issues in the goals. I say: don’t let them get away with it,” you said.

​Just last month, you wrote in the Huffington Post to implore the G7 to place priority on fighting corruption, using the FIFA scandal to provide the impetus. You argued eloquently that:

…at the heart of FIFA is a lesson about tackling corruption that goes far deeper. Corruption at FIFA was not a surprise. For years it lined the pockets of those on the inside and was met with little more than a reluctant sigh.

The same is true of corruption the world over. Just as with FIFA, we know the problem is there, but there is something of an international taboo over pointing the finger and stirring up concerns… But we just don’t talk enough about corruption. This has got to change.

You have since 2013 led a mission to ensure Britain’s network of overseas territories and Crown dependencies, like Cayman and British Virgin Islands, signed up to a new clampdown on tax evasion, aimed at promoting transparency and exchange of information between tax jurisdictions.

As you said, “we need to know more about who owns which company – beneficial ownership – because that is how a lot of people and a lot of companies avoid tax, using secretive companies in secretive locations.”

Yesterday, your speech in Singapore was pointed and direct. You told the listening Singapore students that “London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash”.

“I want Britain to be the most open country in the world for investment. But I want to ensure that all this money is clean money. There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere.”

You rightly pointed out that “by lifting the shroud of secrecy”, we can “stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property, without being tracked down.”

We, Malaysians need you to make the very same points in our country. Making the above points in Singapore is good, but it is like preaching to the converted as our neighbour is ranked 7th in the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

The leaders of the Malaysian government on the other hand, are embroiled in a financial scandal of epic proportions.In particular, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whom you are to meet has been recently accused by The Wall Street Journal that he has received in his personal account cash deposits amounting to nearly US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) in 2013.

It was a damning but substantiated allegation which he has steadfastly refused to deny.

Some, if not all of the money could be linked to state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which is crippled by US$11 billion of debt, requiring billions of ringgit of emergency bailout funds by the Malaysian tax-payers.

I am certain that you have been briefed on leaked documents clearly points to an incriminating trail of plunder and international money-laundering across Singapore, the Middle East, the United States, Switzerland and yes, the United Kingdom.

The New York Times and other media outfits have also raised questions about how his family owns properties, in New York, Beverly Hills and London worth tens of millions of dollars.

These properties were purchased with the same opaque “shell companies” which you have rightly censured.

The sheer scale of the sums involved makes the FIFA bribery scandal look like child’s play. This is the very reason for the drastic iron-fisted actions Najib has taken over the past two weeks.

As you would have found out by now, he has sacked the Attorney-General who was leading the investigating task force on the above scandals.

He has also sacked the Deputy Prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for questioning the 1MDB shenanigans in a Cabinet reshuffle designed to stifle inquiries into the subject matter.

The newly promoted Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is also the Home Minister, acted to suspend the country’s leading business papers, The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily last week because they played a leading role in uncovering the multi-billion dollar scam to defraud Malaysians.

Can you ever imagine the UK Financial Times being suspended? I have on the other hand, been in a relentless pursuit to uncover the conspiracy to defraud the country at the very highest levels since 2010. Earlier in March this year, I became the first Member of Parliament to be sued for defamation by a prime minister in the country in a blatant attempt to muzzle my strident criticisms.

When that failed, I have found out last week that I’ve also become the first MP ever to be barred from travelling overseas, without any reasons, valid or otherwise, being provided.

The only plausible reason for such a drastic action against my right to travel is that I will soon be arrested for my troubles to expose the truth and highlight the staggering size of embezzlement, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust.

If the local media’s Police sources were to be believed, I am most ironically being investigated under the recently amended Criminal Penal Code for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. It is a ‘heinous’ crime which carries up to a 20-year jail sentence.

Mr Prime Minister,

You have written that you “need to find ways of giving more support and encouragement to those in business, civil society and the media who are working to fight corruption”.

Malaysians need your “support and encouragement” today. While we do not need your interference over our sovereign affairs, we also do not need any pretentious praise embedded into polite diplomatic speak which will lend any legitimacy desperately sought by Najib’s administration.

We also hope that the worthy mission to increase trade relations between our two countries with great historical links will not relegate your goals to “make the global business environment more hostile to corruption and to support the investigators and prosecutors who can help bring the perpetrators to justice.”

We pray for your wisdom to speak resolutely on Britain’s zero tolerance against corruption and money laundering. For Malaysia, the façade of a moderate Westminster-like democracy masks many ugly truths of social injustice, political oppression and extensive corruption.

Like you, I’ve had the immeasurable privilege of completing my degree in the best university in the UK, which ranks among the best in the world (if not the best). We completed the same course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) but I was 6 years your junior.

While you received a first class honours and I missed the cut, I hope that our alma mater has embedded in us the moral fortitude to play our little roles in building a better world.

I will end my letter with a quote from our fellow alumnus and PPEtony-pua2 graduate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who most pertinently said, “sometimes I think that a parody of democracy could be more dangerous than a blatant dictatorship, because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing anything about it”.

Thank you for listening, Mr Prime Minister. – July 29, 2015.

* Tony Pua is DAP Selangor Chairman and Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara

–www.themalaysianinsider.com

Note: I congratulate my MP Tony Pua for penning this Open Letter to you, Mr.  Cameron. Your visit is poorly timed. One would have thought you would have postponed it to a much better time, not now because Malaysia is in a political crisis. The desperate Malaysian Prime Minister will use your visit to boost his image. However, now that you have come to our country those of us who were  educated in Malaysia in 1950s  and abroad have enough “British” manners to receive you and your delegation with respect. We warmly congratulate you on your recent electoral success. 

During your brief stay in Kuala Lumpur, we hope you will convey a message to your idiotic and insecure Malaysian counterpart that he must listen to the voices of the Malaysian people and serve them well.  Right now he cannot be trusted to do the right thing. When no one is watching, he puts his hand in the till to the tune of USD 700 million and maybe more. When he is caught, he fails to respond  with dignity.  He is not attempting to solve our country’s political, economic and social problems. In stead, your Malaysian counterpart is compounding them with his divisive politics.

Mr. Najib should be reminded that we put him there because we voted for his coalition in 2013, although his coalition lost the popular vote,  and we intend to throw his coalition out should he decide to hold our next general elections, barring massive rigging and cheating at the polls. In a democracy, power belongs to the people, that is Democracy 101. –Din Merican