Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Last Stand

April 18, 2018

Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Last Stand

by Dr. Khoo Book Teik@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for dr. mahathir bin mohamad and anwar ibrahim

COMMENT | Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim had their historic meeting on September 5, 2016.

Since then much has been written on their reconciliation, Pakatan Harapan’s formation and Mahathir’s nomination as Prime Minister if the opposition wins the 14th general election (GE14).

About Mahathir’s political return we now know many things except the puzzle that is the man himself, around whom an amazing turn of events revolves.

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We can tackle the puzzle by raising two questions: what is the underlying motif of his intervention? What are his deep personal motivations for fighting Najib Abdul Razak and the UMNO-BN regime?

Looking back, it seems surreal that all the opposition’s roads lead to Mahathir.

“Mahathir’s aura,” Mazlan Aliman of Anak Felda claimed, reassured Felda settlers that a Pakatan government would restore Felda and resolve the settlers’ financial burdens. Indeed, one Pakatan slogan for Felda areas is “Selamatkan Felda, Selamatkan Malaysia” (Save Felda, Save Malaysia).

Amanah leaders, such as Mohamad Sabu and Salahuddin Ayub, are confident that Pakatan Harapan’s nomination of Mahathir as ‘prime minister-in-waiting’ shattered UMNO’s propaganda that an UMNO defeat would mean “Chinese DAP domination”.

Mahathir has brought many advantages to the Harapan side. But his unsuspected value lies in his persona of a saviour. Historical circumstances and his exertions conferred that upon him.

The challenge

He was involved in the anti-Malayan Union movement that Malays regarded as the definitive event in saving Tanah Melayu and the special position of the Malays from colonial perfidy and immigrant domination.

As a young doctor, he built up a good reputation for treating the sick, an esteemed way of saving lives. As was “Dr UMNO”, he was an ideologue for the mission of saving the ‘Malay race’ from poverty and economic backwardness.

Abdul Razak Hussein co-opted Mahathir for his project to recover Umno’s pre-eminence that was battered in the May 1969 elections. In 1988, Mahathir “saved” the de-registered UMNO by forming UMNO Baru.

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He risked his own political survival to rescue the national economy in two crises. In 1986 he “held the New Economic Policy in abeyance”, one reason for Team B’s challenge to his leadership of Umno. In 1998 he imposed capital controls against economic orthodoxy and international condemnation.

In ‘Menghadapi Cabaran’ (The Challenge), a book he wrote when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, he endlessly lectured the Malays on their ‘unworthy values’, their tendency towards religious obscurantism, and indifference to new forms of colonial subjection. It was tiresome to them but Mahathir meant to save the Malays from themselves!

One begins to see how a man with this background offers himself as a rallying point to rescue the economy from bankruptcy, the people from suffering and the nation from continued shame.

When Mahathir began talking to the PKR leaders, Tian Chua said simply to me that, “Ultimately Mahathir’s a nationalist”. The opposition leaders made a tacit bow before his saviour’s persona when they allied with him to fight Najib and Umno-BN.

The ruling regime’s spokespeople mocked at Mahathir. They pronounced him too old and infirm. They chided him for not relaxing with his grandchildren. Such insensitivity only raised the sincerity and value of Mahathir’s sacrifice in the public eye.

Wisdom and epiphany

Mahathir did not act from political motives alone. He was probably driven by deep personal motivations between the 13th general election (GE13) and the exposé of the 1MDB scandal in 2015.

He was contemptuous of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and scarcely believed that Najib would lead UMNO-BN to a worse performance in GE13. For the next two years, Mahathir was preoccupied with UMNO’s weaknesses.

Dreading the thought of Anwar’s eventual triumph, he went to the ridiculous extent of patronising so-called ‘Malay-first’ bodies like Ibrahim Ali’s Perkasa.

On hindsight, Mahathir pulled himself back when the 1MDB story broke across the world.


With his intelligence in different senses of the word, Mahathir grasped the reality of the Najib Razak-1MDB entanglement. He foresaw the destruction of all that he had worked for his entire life.

His 22-year premiership was imperfect but it brought successes that he valued: Malay progress, economic transformation, political stability, and, dearest to him, national dignity. We were admired abroad as an ‘Asian tiger’ before, he nostalgically told his audiences.

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He found Najib’s record appalling: setbacks for Malay society and business, economic stagnation, social divisiveness and globally exposed national shame. If we are asked today where we come from, we lie that “We’re from Brunei,” he sorely joked with his audiences,

Mahathir claimed that Najib rejected advice on 1MDB and other issues. “I spoke to Najib because many people asked me to do something”, said Mahathir, “but Najib bragged that he could buy support because ‘cash is king’.”

Mahathir claimed Abdul Razak for his “idol” because of the latter’s contribution to rural development. But Razak’s son, Najib, only looked after himself, his wife, their children and their cronies. He showed not a drip of national interest, a prime minister’s ultimate sin in the eye of the ultimate nationalist.

Filicidal wrath

Is it far-fetched to think that the wisdom which comes with age came to Mahathir as an epiphany? In a flash, he saw the double injustice of his treatment of two protégés who looked to him as their political father.

On one of them, Anwar, he had visited filicidal wrath. He had elevated the other, Najib, to power. The one stood for reformasi, the other was kleptocracy itself.

The rest is not hard to grasp. It was not too late for Mahathir to atone for both dreadful errors but, past 90, he had to hurry.

He publicly humbled himself to who in power made it a point not to admit a mistake. Mahathir flayed himself for misjudging Najib: “He was not even a bit like his father.” And so, Mahathir reconciled with Anwar, apologised to him and his family for their suffering, and declared himself indebted to Anwar for accepting his leadership of Harapan.

In the ways he knew best, which he knew better than anyone else, Mahathir set out to re-enact his previous ‘destroy-and-promote’ drama. This time he would reverse the characters: he would depose Najib and he would resurrect Anwar.


From Mahathir’s lenses (without belittling Harapan negotiations) that must be the meaning of the Mahathir-Wan Azizah-Anwar sequence for the post of prime minister.

Even Mahathir cannot unilaterally determine how his new drama will end. GE14 will decide that. But as always when he set his mind on a project, he put his (somewhat ailing) heart and (probably pained) soul into leading Harapan’s charge against Najib and Umno-BN.

Yet all this might have lifted a big load off his conscience, for he is unusually light-hearted at many ceramah.

A Harapan victory will be his finest hour. He can clear up many problems and allow Wan Azizah and Anwar to succeed him. He will retire after that, forever remembered for the truly noble legacy of delivering the nation from kleptocracy at his last stand.

It is a strange scenario to contemplate. Mahathir is no more immune to hubris than other ‘patriarchs’ who cannot distinguish between their lives and those of their nations.

But if he succeeds, we will understand why that sharp and irreverent blogger, SakmongkolAK47, was awed into calling Mahathir ‘The man who can walk on water’.

Part 1: Dr Mahathir dissects kleptocracy

Part 3: Once Mahathir, always Mahathir?


KHOO BOO TEIK is the author of ‘Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad’ and a member of Aliran.

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

New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest

April 13, 2018

New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest

by Ross Tapsell


What does a 92-year-old former prime minister and a smartphone have in common? Both have become critical factors in deciding who wins GE14 next month.

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Najib Razak–Baca Doa, invoking God’s Help!

Kampung Tok Senik is a leafy wooden-hut resort in the middle of Langkawi island, off the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Built during Langkawi’s tourism boom in the 1990s, its website proudly claims it’s “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”. Today, paint strips off the walls, tiles are broken, the waterslide looks like it would distribute splinters rather than exhilarating rides. Various websites now list the resort as “haunted”. So when the 92-year-old former prime minister arrived for a campaign strategy meeting, foreign tourists would be forgiven for thinking they had seen the resort’s resident ghost.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is indeed back from the dead, and Prime Minister Najib Razak is spooked. Dr Mahathir is making meaningful inroads in the northern peninsula states of Perlis and Kedah, which includes Langkawi, where he’s seen as the island’s “father”. Many people I speak to recall the “boom” days which saw resorts like Kampung Tok Senik flourish as solely Mahathir-inspired; the resort’s now stale, dishevelled appearance seems a metaphor for the Malaysian state. Over on the mainland in Guar Chempedak, 3000 people watch Mahathir speak at an opposition rally, a further 1000 attend a similar event in Perlis a day later. In response, Najib has promised several grandiose government programs for the region, including five projects for Langkawi worth RM1.3 billion (A$430m). As Muhamad Sanusi, Deputy Commissioner of the Islamist party (Pas) in Kedah said, “UMNO’s biggest concern is to make sure Mahathir doesn’t win. Mahathir back in parliament would be a dangerous thing. By hook or by crook, they will try to stop him. If Mahathir stands in Kedah, UMNO Kedah will be given a special job and loads of money to try to stop him.”

Yet it would be wrong to see Dr Mahathir’s persona as the only factor in voting here. His messages, and his party, Bersatu, are predominantly an anti-Najib machine. Almost all Bersatu party members are disgruntled former UMNO [Najib’s party] cadres fed up with Najib’s rule, which they see as corrupt and self-serving. One cadre in the Bersatu Women’s Wing tells me, “UMNO people are stupid [bodoh], always blindly following Najib”.

There’s little in Dr Mahathir’s campaign speeches to suggest that if he does miraculously become Prime Minister again, he or any of his senior party members have a visionary plan for the country’s future. Rather, his speeches are piercing analytical take-downs of the current administration, linked to corruption, taxes, the rising cost of living, and a flailing economy. Would a Mahathir-led opposition in alliance with a freed Anwar Ibrahim bring about comprehensive changes to the system? After all, Bersatu is being described as “UMNO 2.0”. But for UMNO, an “alternative UMNO” with a more popular leader is a serious problem.

While the resurgence of the “old” Mahathir is a key factor in this election, another game changer is the emergence of the “new”: the smartphone. Cheap, Android mobile phones are ubiquitous in Malaysia. In 2016, according to Malaysia’s Multimedia Commission, 77% of Malaysians had access to the internet, and around 90% of those users were using Facebook on a smartphone. But it’s the growth in Malay semi-rural and rural areas that matters here. Prior to the last election in 2013, only around 58% of internet users were ethnic Malay. In two years, that number had grown to 68% and continues to grow. In rural Kedah, most people I talked to under the age of 40 were all using a smartphone with Facebook and WhatsApp installed. This matters because they have access to a wider array of information and disinformation (90% of respondents said they used their phone to “get information”). As one local candidate told me, “we have problems understanding the decision of first-time voters, and this is because they all have smartphones. We can’t rely on them to vote the way their parents voted or other family members vote because they are more individuals in terms of the information they receive through these devices.”

When Kedahans I spoke with discussed the election, invariably they began to talk about Najib and the 1MDB wealth fund controversy. When I subsequently asked where they got their information (given Malaysia’s mainstream media mostly avoids reporting this issue), they would almost always say “Facebook”. For all its serious flaws around data privacy and the spread of disinformation, Facebook and WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) are the two most common ways that ordinary citizens receive alternative news and views on their smartphones in Malaysia.

Their usage and impact are central to understanding Southeast Asia’s rapidly shifting information society. One newspaper has already described GE14 as the “Whatsapp election”. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s parliament passed the highly controversial Anti-Fake News Bill. Analysts watch with concern as to whether the bill will be used to negate the spread of anti-government information online, in particular with further details about the 1MDB saga.

But let’s return to Kampung Tok Senik, “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”, because it’s the ethnic Malay vote in places like here, in semi-rural and rural areas of the peninsula, that will decide the election. The opposition wants to win 100 out of 112 seats on the peninsula—it holds out little hope of winning many seats in Sabah and Sarawak—and to do this, they need a so-called “Malay tsunami”, where an enormous swing of Malay voters, abandoning UMNO and Pas, vote for the opposition. Senior local operators and pollsters in Kedah’s UMNO-led government remain confident of keeping the state. They have campaign teams using WhatsApp and Facebook, and small groups of campaigners on the ground countering Mahathir’s messages. Pas says its loyal voters will not budge, and they claim the arrival of Bersatu is good because it reduces UMNO votes and could place Pas in a better position. Of course, everyone is talking a big game prior to the campaign.

What they all agree on however is that the arrival of new parties Bersatu and Amanah (a splintering of Pas) means ethnic Malay voters have more choice in this election. And coupled with smartphones allowing for more personal interaction with individual parties and candidates, the local candidate is crucial. As one villager in southern Kedah told me, “things are changing. My grandfather voted for Pas his whole life. My father voted for UMNO his whole life. But me? I will choose the best candidate.”

A common saying amongst pollsters when assessing winning seats here is “tengok calonlah”, meaning “wait and see who the local candidate is before assessing who will win the seat”. Of course, personal and family ties to parties, as well as effective party machinery, still matter in how people choose the “best” candidate. But this suggests an unlikely “Malay tsunami” solely to the opposition or indeed to any one party, given all parties have decent hard-working candidates, as well as complete duds. At least prior to the official campaign period, I did not see signs of an enormous swing towards the opposition. Perhaps it’s no surprise that technology allows for more individual choice of news and views, and an individual candidate’s performance trumps entrenched party loyalty.

Despite Malaysia’s entrenched authoritarian regime with a ruling party which has won every election since Merdeka in 1957, there is still much uncertainty and anxiety around the precise outcome of the election—and what kind of outcome is best for Malaysia’s future.


Najib Razak: A Deft Power Politician

April 11, 2018

Najib Razak: A Deft Power Politician

by John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel’s Editor


The odds-on favorite to govern Malaysia for the next five years has governed the country for the past nine – Najib Razak, the son of former Prime Minister Abdul Razak.

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The Deft Power Politician–Najib Razak, UMNO President

Despite what may be the most concerted effort by the opposition in the country’s recent history to unseat him, most political analysts in Kuala Lumpur believe the ruling Barisan Nasional, or national coalition headed by Najib’s United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, will return to power, although by a slim margin.  The opposition, now headed by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, has charged that gerrymandering and government restrictions on politicking will make their chances to win the election almost insurmountable. Nonetheless it is running an energetic campaign against extremely difficult odds.

Zimbabwean tactics


But what the country would be getting in Najib, if the Barisan wins, is a man who since the start of his political career in 1976 has been devoted to corruption, deceit, philandering and venality on a Zimbabwean scale, beginning almost from the time he entered public office, playing havoc with his country’s treasury.

Najib, to be sure, is also a deft politician who has maneuvered to split the opposition by romancing the rural-based fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia, which has spent decades in the opposition, into believing he will allow the party to implement Shariah law in the only state it controls.  He has played on the fears of ethnic Malays, who make up 61 percent of the population, that ethnic Chinese will assume political as well as economic power in the country.

Sometimes he is more direct than deft. Opposition politicians have been threatened with prosecution for sedition and other crimes. Zunar, the news portal Malaysiakini’s irrepressible cartoonist, faces 43 years in prison on sedition charges, mainly for making fun of Najib and his wife.  Rafizi Ramli, the 41-year-old vice president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, faces 30 months in prison for violating the Banking and Financial Institutions Act for exposing details relating to what became known as Cowgate, one of the country’s most embarrassing scandals in which a top United Malays National Organization official and her family – and a Najib ally —  were accused in 2012 of misusing RM250 million (US$63.5 million at current exchange rates) from the National Feedlot Corporation, an ill-starred project that never fulfilled its purpose to supply religiously-approved, or halal beef for Malaysia’s Muslims.

Well-dressed wife

In the meantime, over the past 20-odd years, a long series of stories has appeared in both the local and international press about Najib’s depredations and those of his portly wife, who has been photographed awash in enormously expensive jewelry including a US$27.3 million pink diamond necklace that the US Justice Department would like to get its hands on.  Her affinity for Birkin handbags costing up to US$300,000 is legendary.

Najib has managed to beat back all opposition within his own party, the United Malays National Organization, corrupting it unmercifully, reportedly by bribing the party chieftains who vote for the UMNO presidency. He has sacked his party opponents including former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and his allies.  There is hardly a government contract that has been awarded over the past decade and more that didn’t go to politically connected businessmen, assuring him the loyalty of the Malay establishment.

Two Gigantic Scandals

He is the author of the two biggest scandals in Malaysian history. The first is the US$1.2 billion purchase of Scorpene submarines from the French munitions maker DCNS, which netted a kickback of €114 million (US$141.3 million at current exchange rates) that was funneled to the United Malays National Organization. Although the purchase was finalized in 2002, it is still going on, with Abdul Razak Baginda, a former Razak close friend and ally, under indictment in France today for bribery. Two officials of a DCNS subsidiary have been indicted specifically on charges of bribing Najib Razak.

The case was given additional notoriety over the 2006 execution of a jetsetting Mongolian translator and party girl named Altantuya Shaariibuu, believed to have been the lover of both Razak Baginda and Najib. After a protracted trial, two of Najib’s bodyguards were found guilty of killing the 28-year-old woman. One of the two, in a recorded confession, said they were to be paid RM50,000 for her execution. However, that statement never came up in the trial and enormous effort went into concealing the names and activities of anyone who might have offered the money.  Razak Baginda was turned loose by a judge without having to stand trial and fled the country, although he has since returned.

The second, of course, is 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which opposition spokesman Tony Pua called “the mother of the mother of the mother of all scandals,” and which was looted for at least US$4.5 billion in what the Swiss Attorney General called a “Ponzi scheme.” It has been called by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions the biggest kleptocracy case ever brought by the US Justice Department.

Attempt to Bribe Trump Justice Department

The case popped to the surface again in March with a report by the Wall Street Journal that Elliott Broidy, a top Republican fundraiser close to US President Donald Trump apparently asked as much as US$75 million from Najib’s confederate, businessman Low Taek Jho, to get the US to stop investigating the 1MDB scandal. So far the US Justice Department has confiscated at least US$1.2 billion in stolen property, but hasn’t got its hands on US$681 million that appeared temporarily in Najib’s own bank account before it was hurriedly transferred out to somewhere unknown.

Messages now in the hands of the US Special Prosecutor looking into Russian influence on the 2016 election “include draft agreements” between Broidy’s wife’s California law firm and Jho Low’s representatives “that explore a US$75 million fee if the Justice Department quickly drops its investigation.” Although Najib visited Trump  at the White House, the odds that the investigation will be dropped are minuscule to nonexistent.

The US Justice Department’s confiscations of stolen property are astonishing, including, on Feb. 28, Jho Low’s 300-foot superyacht the Equanimity, worth US$250 million. The Justice Department has sequestered millions of dollars in profit from several movies produced by Red Granite Productions, co-owned by Riza Aziz, the son of Najib’s second wife Rosmah Mansor, as well as  Jho Low’s Bombardier Global 5000 jet in Singapore, jewelry worth millions of dollars gifted to celebrities Australian Miranda Kerr and Taiwanese Elvia Hsiao, and several properties in New York, artwork, film rights and a US$107 million interest in EMI Music Publishing and a Picasso to Leonardo DiCaprio, plus an Oscar once owned by Marlon Brando that was gifted to the actor by the Red Granite owners.

The start of a long and winding career

But Najib’s first depredations began when he was appointed chief minister of the state of Pahang, the once heavily-forested state directly to the east of Kuala Lumpur where, according to sources in Malaysia, he began making land and timber deals that benefited him directly.  He is said to have been close to a now-defunct company whose representative was Rosmah Mansor, a sociology graduate of Louisiana State University in 1968.

The two divorced their respective mates and married in 1987, after he joined then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet as minister of culture, youth and sports. While married to Rosmah, he did take time out to be caught in a hotel room in the town of Port Dickson, according to the website Malaysia Today, with an actress-model. As Malaysia Today reported, a photographer caught pictures of Najib clad only in a towel with the woman and turned the pictures over to Mahathir. They have never surfaced.

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It was in 1991, when Mahathir made him Minister of Defense, that Najib’s career as a kleptocrat really got underway. Despite the fact that the country’s borders have been largely secure for 40 years, Malaysia’s Defense Ministry embarked on a whirlwind round of purchases that allegedly provided a river of money for the ruling United Malays National Organization and helped to solidify his position as an eventual prime minister contender.

Three Corrupt Contracts

Three separate contracts stand out. All three, approved under Najib, have been widely cited by the opposition. Opposition and defense figures told Asia Sentinel in 2007 that the three, one for Russian Sukhoi jet fighters, a second for the French submarines and a third for navy patrol boats, appear to have produced millions for UMNO cronies, Najib’s friends and others – and Najib himself.  The “commission” for defense purchases across Southeast Asia was estimated to range from 10 to 20 percent by Foreign Policy in Focus, a think tank supported by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.

In 2007, opposition DAP leader Lim Kit Siang pointed out that the 18 Sukhois had cost US$50 million each for the same plane models that Vietnam purchased for US$25 million each, while the Indian Air Force had paid US$40 million.

“That is US$10 million more (per plane) compared to India, so times 18, you get US$180 million or about RM600 million entering someone’s pocket. But if you compare with price paid by the Vietnamese government, it would be a cool RM1.8 billion (US$460.8 million at current exchange rates). I wonder whose pocket is that?” Lim asked. The question has never been answered.

The second case was detailed by Malaysia’s Auditor General in a report that alleged that a contract to build naval vessels given to PSC-Naval Dockyard, a subsidiary of Penang Shipbuilding & Construction Sdn Bhd, which is owned by another UMNO crony, Amin Shah Omar Shah, was hopelessly botched. It involved PSC-Naval Dockyard, which was contracted to deliver six patrol boats for the Malaysian Navy in 2004 and complete the delivery in 2007. They were supposed to be the first of 27 offshore vessels ultimately to cost RM24 billion plus the right to maintain and repair all of the country’s naval craft.

But only two of the barely operational patrol boats had been delivered by mid-2006. There were 298 recorded complaints about the two boats, which were also found to have 100 and 383 uncompleted items aboard them respectively. The original RM5.35 billion contract ballooned to RM6.75 billion by January 2007. The auditor also reported that the ministry had paid out RM4.26 billion to PSC up to December 2006 although only Rm2.87 billion of work had been done, an over payment of Rm1.39 billion, or 48 percent.

In addition, Malaysia’s cabinet waived late penalties of Rm214 million. According to the Auditor General, 14 “progress payments” amounting to Rm943 million despite the fact that the auditor general could find no payment vouchers or relevant documents dealing with the payments.

Financial Mismanagement, Incompetence

The auditor general attributed the failure to serious financial mismanagement and technical incompetence stemming from the fact that PSC had never built anything but trawlers or police boats before being given the contract. Once called “Malaysia’s Onassis” by former finance minister Daim Zainuddin, Amin Shah was in trouble almost from the start, according to a report in Singapore’s Business Times in 2005. The financial crisis of 1997-1998 meant he was desperate to find funds to shore up ancillary businesses, Business times reported. After a flock of lawsuits, the government ultimately cut off funding in 2004 amid losses and a net liabilities position. Boustead Holdings effectively took control from Amin Shah, reducing him to non-executive chairman.

In 2008, opposition leaders complained in Parliament that Najib’s defense ministry had vastly overspent for 12 Eurocopter Super Cougar EC727 helicopters to replace their 40-year-old helicopter fleet. Brazil paid only RM84 million for the same helicopters bought by Malaysia for RM141 million. Opposition leaders alleged that the aircraft weren’t shortlisted before they were purchased and that the price had zoomed, nor did the air force test-fly the craft.  A demand for the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee investigate the purchases resulted in a full exoneration of the deal, as every other single scandal has ended.

Those are only a few of a never-ending list of scandals. (It should be noted, however, that Najib is hardly alone. Malaysia has been visited by so many scandals that Wikipedia maintains an exhaustive list. They can be found here, ranging into the billions of dollars.)

Najib’s various subsidy cuts, while sound economic policy, have contributed to soaring living costs, while fluctuating oil prices and a threat to palm oil prices as the European Union has voted to ban the oil, as well as other issues,  have led to a steady depreciation of the ringgit from RM2.993 to US$1 in 2013 to RM3.90 today. According to the Merdeka Centre opinion research firm, “Economic issues, comprising worries over rising cost of living, economic hardship, jobs and other related matters, remained the top most concern voiced by 72 percent of voters across the country.”

Image result for Trump snubs Rosmah Mansor

Najib’s English public-school manners and accent and his reputation as a moderate Muslim leader have stood him in good stead internationally despite the scandals. But although US President Donald Trump welcomed to the White House last year – as Malaysia described billions of dollars in commitment to purchase US airplanes and other items, the President visibly turned away from Najib and Rosmah at the APEC meeting in Manila last November.  It remains to be seen if Malaysia’s voters do the same.

John Berthelsen is Asia Sentinel’s Editor


Malaysia: Makan Rasuah, not Chicken Rendang

April 11, 2018

Malaysia: Makan Rasuah, not Chicken Rendang

by Mariam Mokhtar


COMMENT | Last week, two half-baked English judges decided that the chicken rendang cooked by Zaleha Kadir Olpin, in the MasterChef competition, did not pass muster, because it was not crispy.

Pandemonium broke out, when Malaysians, and expats, throughout the world, took to social media, to defend the cook and the humble rendang.

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If only Malaysians would show the same anger and contempt for leaders who makan rasuah (accept bribes); we would not be in the deep mess that mires the country, now.

The rendang-gate scandal showed that deep down, neither class, race, religion nor nationality mattered. So, real unity was displayed because of a makanan rendang (rendang dish).

Ask anyone about Malaysia, and he will talk about the food. Never the sun-swept beaches, the pristine jungles or the multi-cultural people. It is always the food.

Makanan (food) is the root word but the simpulan bahasa (idioms) associated with makan, are apt descriptions for current day Malaysia. Makan darah. Makan diri. Makan gaji. Makan jalan. Makan rasuah. Makan suap. Makan tidor.

Back to the MasterChef judges. If they wanted crispy chicken, there must be umpteen KFCs to satisfy their cravings. Perhaps, the nearest KFC had run out of chicken, but that is no reason to denigrate both the cook and the chicken rendang.

If the judges were to visit Malaysia, they could gorge on MFC – Mamak Fried Chicken, a more spicy and Malaysian version of KFC, at any of the mamak stalls.

Image result for Najib Razak with Malcom Turnbull

The corruption destroying Malaysia is not an overnight phenomenon. The seeds were sown during the tenure of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but the 93-year-old has admitted his mistakes and is willing to right his wrongs. That is no mean feat. A man, as arrogant as he, is willing to eat humble pie and work with his former adversaries, to save and rebuild Malaysia.

During the height of his powers, Mahathir was the man with the plan to industrialise Malaysia, in a hurry. He may have left the details to his lieutenants, who then abused his policies. Who knows?

Fast forward to today. So much for Najib Abdul Razak and UMNO-Baru, who keep harping on about the seeds of discord sown by Mahathir.

If Najib had any credibility, he would have overturned the NEP, the affirmative action policies, eliminated nepotism and cronyism, and all the problems which he blamed on Mahathir. The fact that Najib did not change anything, just shows his insincerity.

Najib holds all the power, but he has done nothing to stop corruption. The institutions which could have stopped money politics, such as law enforcement agencies, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), Registry of Societies (ROS), the judiciary and the investigative bodies, have been compromised. Their ineptitude has exacerbated the problem.

We see this in everyday situations

Some people in power, makan suap (accept bribes) from those who want to escape prosecution. We see this in everyday situations, such as people who want to escape traffic violations or prosecution.

You’ve read about people overtaking and pushing others off the road, or heads of department who use the emergency lane, when they are impatient with the gridlocked traffic. People who makan jalan are breaking the law, but more often than not, the heads of government departments are let off with a minimal fine.

The goods and services tax (GST) causes much suffering among people who makan gaji (ordinary wage-earners). Some companies charge excessively high prices for services or goods. This makan darah (overcharging) adds to the burden of the ordinary taxpayer.

The Mat Rempit, or Red Shirts, are under Najib’s patronage, via Jamal Yunos, the Red Shirts leader. Malaysians fume because we are subsidising all these people who we know are makan tidor (do not work but who reap benefits, nevertheless).

Why do manifestations of the various “makan” idioms, fail to elicit a response from the rakyat?

Image result for aung san suu kyi

When the Heads of States of the ASEAN nations met in Sydney on March 17, the various Southeast Asian communities – Vietnamese, Cambodian, Laos, Burmese and Filipino, organised demonstrations against their leaders, for example, Aung Sun Suu Kyi (pic above).

Najib must have been the most talked about and most vilified ASEAN leader on the international stage, but there were no Malaysian-led demonstrations. Why? The PM’s makan rasuah, and alleged theft of billions of ringgits of the taxpayer’s money made little impact, unlike the makanan ayam rendang debacle.

Come on Malaysians! With GE14, let us start on a clean slate and start publicly shaming those who makan suap, makan rasuah and makan darah by first hounding out the corrupt politicians who makan tidor.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

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


The Pakatan Harapan Cabinet

April 9, 2018

The Pakatan Harapan Cabinet

Malaysia will have 2 Deputy Prime Minister if Pakatan Harapan  takes over Putrajaya after GE-14. Malaysians are wondering what will be the fate of Najib Razak and his bunch of Ministers and top civil servants who spent nearly 10 years buttering up their corrupt boss.–Din Merican

A Specter is Haunting Asia – The Specter of Authoritarianism

April 6, 2018

A Specter is Haunting Asia – The Specter of Authoritarianism


This guest post is published around the Association for Asian Studies conference in Washington D.C., occurring March 22-25, 2018. #AAS2018

by Claudio Sopranzetti, author of Owners of the Map: Motorcycle Taxi Drivers, Mobility, and Politics in Bangkok


In 1848, Karl Marx opened his manifesto with an eloquent sentence: “A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of communism.” One hundred and seventy years later, Laos and Vietnam are among the fastest growing economies of twenty-first century capitalism and the Chinese Communist Party plans to abandon the post-Mao doctrine of putting its assembly above any individual leader. Communism, which once materialized so prominently in East Asia, is little more than a faded ghost, haunting no one. Yet another specter has taken its place in Asia- the specter of authoritarianism.

Whether in terms of China’s attempts to establish a life-long chairmanship, Philippine’s systematic dismissal of habeas corpus or— as my work Owners of the Map analyzes—Thailand’s new forms of constitutional dictatorship, a new wind of authoritarianism is blowing over East Asia. Contrary to existing theories of the “end of history” or of “democratic transition” this wind does not waft against the wish of the middle classes, but rather with their support, and it is not a temporary breeze, destined to died out, but rather a stable wind, one that carries forward an alternative system of governance.

Much has been written on this trend as the result of geo-political, military, and economic push and pull between the patronage of the United States and that of China. These explanations, while important, miss a central element evident to anyone who spends time with office managers, business executives, and traditional elites in Thailand: the growing popularity of authoritarian ideology among local middle class, a popularity that finds its roots in the shifting local meaning of words like corruption, good governance, and rule of law.

Image result for Corruption in Thailand


During the last decade, the understanding of corruption among Thai middle classes underwent a radical transformation. Corruption today does no longer refer to someone misusing public office for private gain. The word’s semantic universe has expanded to include three major components. Firstly, a traditional understanding of corruption as taking advantage of your position to steal money or gain. Secondly, an idea of moral corruption, related to the intrinsic immoral nature of one’s personality. And, thirdly, a vision of electoral corruption that reframes any redistributive policy favoring the working masses as a form of vote-buying. Under these new meanings, elections themselves become a corrupt practice, one that favors populist leaders who, through policies, gain popular support without necessarily producing “good governance.”

The discourse of good governance itself has become central to Thai middle-classes ideological flirtations with authoritarianism. This mantra entered the country after the 1997 economic crisis, pushed by the IMF and the World Bank. These institutions understood the concept as a technocratic category, one that mostly meant efficient and transparent governance. In Thailand, however, the concept was translated by conservative political ideologues as thammarat, the governance of Dhamma, transforming good governance into righteous governance, a governance that does not rely on electoral support but rather on alignment with the monarch, the thammaraja.

While these semantic shifts in ideological categories may take local forms, they do not occur in an international vacuum. Previous authoritarian phases in Thailand—particularly the period between 1945 and 1992—had been supported, both economically and ideologically, by the United States and its anti-communist rhetoric. Since the 2014 coup, the junta has been looking to China for similar patronage. The alignment between the two governments has not just been the result of real politic and shifting international alliances but also rooted in parallel claims about the rule of law and corruption. In 2002, the 16th Chinese Communist Party Congress endorsed a new rhetoric of legalism, as a more efficient system to deal with equal and fair participation. Political scientist Pan Wei, in a famous article that took the shape of a political manifesto for legalism stated that “rule of law directly answers the most urgent need of Chinese society—curbing corruption in times of market economy. Electoral competition for government offices is not an effective way of curbing corruption; it could well lead to the concentration of power in the hands of elected leaders.” While not as sophisticated as Professor Pan, and not with the same ability to govern as the Chinese Communist Party, the system emerging in Thailand since the 2014 coup looks quite similar: a legalistic system in which non-elected officers create and enforce the law, above and beyond the electoral will of their population. The Thai transition from a polity in which people make the rules through elected parliamentarians to one in which the rules are imposed from above for the people and parliament to follow, has been legitimized on a basic principle: the superiority of unelected “good people” over elected politicians in preventing corruption and establishing good governance.

It would be easy to dismiss these changes has temporary pushbacks. Yet, my work argues, something deeper is changing around Southeast Asia, something that we will not see or understand unless we stop working under preset theories of democratic transition and we engage ethnographically with the shifting landscapes of class alliances, everyday ideologies, and forms of governance. These transformations, in fact, are particularly resistant to quantitative analysis and questionnaires. Often they do not imply the emergence of new terminologies or ideological concepts but rather the re-signification of words like corruption, good governance or rule of law. It is only when we spend long stretch of time with people and participates to their lives that these new meanings emerge. The risk of failing to see these transformations is a familiar one to people in the US: becoming aware of the emergence of a new political and social order when is too late to do anything about it.

Claudio Sopranzetti is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Red Journeys: Inside the Thai Red Shirt Movement.