Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia


January 16, 2017

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia

by Josh Hong @www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for China's Malaysian Investments

A leopard never changes its spots, does it? Having failed to offer a set of alternative policies and convince the general public of their ‘reformist’ credentials, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Zainuddin Maidin and Muhyiddin Yassin are now all back to bashing Najib Abdul Razak along the not-so-subtle racial lines.

Yes, China has been investing aggressively in Malaysia, but the Chinese are not the first ones who came, saw and conquered our market in recent years.

Before that, the Americans, Japanese and Arabs, too, had pursued very proactive business strategies in South-East Asia. With its relatively well-developed infrastructure and affordable land, Malaysia stood to benefit tremendously from their investments for more than three decades.

Since the 2000s, the Arabs, too, have been investing heavily in strategic industries in Malaysia, especially the petrochemical sector and real estate development, with the United Arab Emirates emerging as one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners and among the most vigorous investors in Malaysia’s oil and gas industries.

Mubadala Petroleum is currently setting its sights on Sarawak, while the International Petroleum Investment Company remains a key investor in Malaysia despite the 1MDB debacle. Both Putrajaya and Abu Dhabi maintain bilateral and trade relations are rock solid.

Meanwhile, the Qatar Investment Authority is a big player in Malaysia’s strategic real estate, commodities and energy sector. In 2013, it had plans to develop the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in southern Johor that was worth US$5 billion, aimed at making the country a petrochemical regional hub, not too dissimilar from China seeking to help turn Malaysia into a ‘transportation hub’ via Bandar Malaysia and the proposed high-speed rail terminal.

Even less well-known was that an agreement was signed in 2012 to make Qatar Holding a cornerstone investor in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad, no doubt a highly important and vitally strategic global agricultural and agri-commodities company, while the Kuwait Investment Authority invested US$150 million in Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare.

At one time, the Qataris and the Najib government even agreed to build a ‘seven-star’ Harrods Hotel in the Bukit Bintang area in Kuala Lumpur, right next to the upmarket Pavilion shopping mall. The business venture somehow went awry and subsequently called off.

This aside, Saudi Arabia several years ago ranked fifth among Malaysia’s leading sources of investment, just behind Japan, South Korea, the US and Singapore. China was nowhere to be seen then.

Image result for Mahathir on Chinese Investments in Malaysia

Mind you, PetroSaudi International was deeply involved in the scandal-ridden 1MDB and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei even confirmed in April last year that money was wired into Najib’s personal account and it was a “genuine donation with nothing expected in return”.

Now, one may derive from the s statement that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was complicit in corruption on a global scale but did any Malay or Muslim leader in UMNO or outside of it accuse the Saudi government of seeking to undermine Malaysia’s sovereignty or taking over the country? Is Saudi Arabia beyond reproach simply because it is where Mecca, Islam’s holy city is located?

The Arabs have been coming but no-one, certainly not UMNO, Mahathir or his minions in Bersatu, has said a word against investors from the Gulf region.

Nobody is talking about Najib turning the country into an Arab colony except for Marina Mahathir who lashed out at ‘Arab colonialism’ because traditional baju Melayu for women are now more difficult to find than in the old days as compared to the increasingly popular Arab attire. But her father has yet to cast aspersions on Najib selling Malaysia out to the Arabs through all the strategic investments.

Instead, Mahathir has been harping on Chinese nationals buying up lands and properties and blaming it on Najib, hoping that this would heighten the siege mentality of the Malays which would in turn alienate them further from UMNO.

Image result for Mahathir on Chinese Investments in Malaysia

But Mahathir’s subterfuge can escape anyone but me. After all, it was his alleged racist rhetoric that kept him in power for over two decades, and Malaysia’s complex racial dynamics have created a fertile ground for a cunning strategist like him.

Crafted with the Malay constituency in mind

The messages by Mahathir, Zainuddin and Muhyiddin are not a coincidence, for they are all carefully crafted with the Malay constituency in mind.

They cannot openly demonise the Chinese Malaysian community because they need to ensure the opposition parties including DAP win enough Chinese votes, but at the same time, they are in dire need of denying Najib critical Malay support. So the best way to achieve this is to play up China as a bogeyman.

Mahathir and Bersatu may appear to be concerned over the influx of mainland Chinese capital and money, but their articulation is nothing but a veiled warning to the Malays that continued support for Najib would mean a greater Chinese presence in Malaysia, to the detriment of the ‘indigenous population’, of course.

Why pick on the Chinese when your Muslim brethren from the Middle East are no less commercially greedy and strategically ambitious?

It is not very different from the days when Mahathir ‘cari pasal’ (find fault) with Singapore in order to consolidate the Malay base. Stigmatising Chinese Malaysians comes at too huge a political cost, hence the sudden ‘realisation’ of mainland Chinese investments being a threat.

It is nothing more than a repackaged argument that, in favouring the (mainland) Chinese, Najib would only end up marginalising the Malays, just like the British.

If Mahathir and his cohorts have an issue with excessive foreign investments, they must not just single out China but the Gulf countries also. Mahathir may even question his own national car policy which only resulted in Malaysia becoming almost totally dependent on Japan for spare parts and technology, while failing to make Proton a car giant as he would have dreamed!

I have a problem with Islamic conservatism, but I have no problems with the Muslims; I am sceptical about American expansionism but I am fine with the American people; I am opposed to Israeli policies on Palestine but I don’t hate the Jews; I disagree with Shinzo Abe’s historical revisionism but I appreciate Japan as a wonderful country, and I look askance at communist ideology yet I enjoy the friendship of my mainland Chinese friends.

And I remain very much a leftist and a liberal who considers neo-liberalism a major source of the global chaos today. But unlike Mahathir, I vow not to use race or religion as my weapon even if I am wary of the destructive power of capitalism, because I have always been acutely aware of the hard fact that capital and money have no motherland.

Go on supporting Mahathir and Bersatu if you want, and I won’t shed a tear for you even if one day you find yourself trapped in the quicksand of racial politics and unable to be free.


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

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

Caring about Malaysia


January 15, 2017

Caring about Malaysia

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Who cares about Malaysia? This is the question that fellow Australians most frequently ask me, and indeed that I frustratedly keep asking myself, about why I keep writing about Malaysian politics.

And it gets more difficult every week to come up with a convincing reply.

Back when I started in 2006, however, my motives seemed as simply and plausibly explicable to others as they were clear in my own mind.

My main motivation, as I recall explaining in the introduction I wrote for the my first book of collected columns, ‘Mad about Malaysia’, was to make some meaningful contribution to the country that my wife, daughter, extended family and a great many good friends and valued colleagues called home, and in which, though a foreigner, I was temporarily welcome to work.

Image result for Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran and Malaysiakini Staff

The courageous men and women of Malaysiakini led by  the now globally famous duo, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan. I am proud to be associated with them as SEACEM Fellow a few years back. These committed Malaysians work hard and put in long hours to keep us all informed. Great 2017 and Keep Going.–Din Merican, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Less altruistically, but just as sincerely, I also felt driven to be involved with, and if possible help support, Steven Gan, Prem Chandran and their staff in their courageous struggle to ensure the survival of their inspired creation, the country’s first source of true news and independent views in living memory, Malaysiakini.

These days, however, now that Malaysiakini is no longer merely surviving but mightily thriving, and my wife and daughter have long-since embraced life in and become citizens of Australia, it’s not so easy to explain to myself or anyone else why I persist in writing columns calumnising the criminal regime that’s still apparently endlessly running and in the process ruining Malaysia.

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Din Merican’s Favorite Mat Salleh Dean Johns–He and I  and other Fellow Journeymen care about Malaysia since being dumb and  remaining silent is for us not an option.

Mainly what keeps me persisting in this frustrating and thus-far utterly futile endeavour, of course, is my feeling of sympathy, solidarity and comradeship with all those intrepid and truly patriotic Malaysians who have chosen to struggle to save their beloved country, not by leaving it and criticising its criminal misleaders from a distance, but staying at home to fight.

But despite their fighting with all their might, and my own and others’ efforts to support them from beyond the battle-lines if not out of sight, the vast majority of Malaysians are still apparently failing or refusing to see the UMNO-BN blight in its true lying and larcenous light, and so Malaysia remains in a terrible plight.

As the head of the allegedly blatantly UMNO-BN biased Election Commission (EC) Mohd Hashim Abdullah lamented recently in a laughable attempt to portray himself and his officers as politically-impartial, 4.2 million Malaysians citizens who are qualified to vote have not taken the trouble to register, and millions of those who have registered can’t be bothered turning up on election days to cast their votes.

A distraction from ‘manipulation of constitituencies’

What Mohd Hashim failed to mention, however, was that a great many voters have become hopelessly cynical about and thus alienated from participating in the electoral process by the EC’s shameless alleged manipulation of constituencies, which are constitutionally required to be of similar voter-population size with a maximum permitted variation of 20 percent, but currently range from around 5,000, as in the blue-ribbon UMNO seat of Putrajaya, to 150,000 or more.

He was also using his regret at low levels of voter registration and turnout as a distraction from this and also the lamentable reality that in many electorates a great many of those who do both register and show up to vote only do so in the expectation of allegedly receiving gifts or outright cash payments for supporting UMNO-BN candidates.

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The fawning UMNO henchman–Using Power of his Office to defend Malaysia’s No. 1 Criminal, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Another UMNO-BN bigwig working hard this week to convey an illusion of care for the country more than for himself and his own privileged position as a prominent member of the UMNO-BN regime was Attorney-General (AG) Mohamed Apandi Ali.

Despite the universally-known fact that he was promoted over the politically dead body of the former AG to pander to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s allegedly dire need to be declared innocent of any larcenous intent or even meaningful involvement in the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial misappropriation and money-laundering scam, Apandi had the gall and audacity to hector his audience at a Conference of the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ Legal Officers in Malacca on the topic of corruption.

Image result for najib razak--malaysia's no 1. rogue

Dean Johns and Din Merican are fighting to get rid of this toxic and bygon resistant termite –Najib Razak (and his consort Rosmah Mansor too).

“Corruption is like a termite infestation that will slowly weaken the country without the people realising it,” he thundered, as if his own legal officers, like the rest of us in Malaysia and around the world weren’t aware that the UMNO-BN regime he represents, or rather misrepresents, wasn’t a nest of the nation’s allegedly most notoriously voracious – and at the same time least veracious – political termites.

Just as former Chief Minister of Sarawak, Abdul Taib ‘The Termite’ Mahmud, built a multi-billion mound of money by allegedly chomping his way through his state’s rainforest-timber resources, Najib has devoted his time as Prime Minister to systematically white-anting the entire nation of Malaysia.

With the aid, support and protection of his hordes of alleged sycophants in Government, the Judiciary, the Police Force, the ‘mainstream’ news media, the aforementioned electoral commission and all the other public services, he has allegedly consumed countless billions of Malaysian people’s rightful share of public money and natural resources, and allegedly undermined as many as possible of the Malaysian citizens’ civil rights and legal protections.

Yet there he was this week trying to kid attendees at the Prime Minister’s Department monthly assembly that the recent and current string of graft charges against civil servants “is a reminder that those in government must not take away what rightfully belongs to the people.” The sheer hypocrisy of it all!

The rest of us know very well that this just another Najib-style lie to conceal the fact that those being targeted for corruption are either small termites, or slightly larger termites who have made the mistake of failing to pass the expected cut from their country-consuming scams up the line to the termites at the top.

So, who cares about Malaysia? Certainly not Najib, Apandi, Mohd Hashim Abdullah or any other members, cronies or supporters of the UMNO regime. Which leads me to the conclusion that it’s up to all the millions of Malaysians who claim that they care about Malaysia but do nothing to show it, to finally summon-up the interest, energy, integrity, courage or whatever else it takes to demonstrate that they truly do give a damn about making a difference.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

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

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia


January 14, 2017

China’s Investments–Geo-Political Implications for Malaysia

by Dennis Ignatius

Image result for China's Investments in MalaysiaHe is praying for the best but not doing his best

China’s ravenous appetite for Malaysian infrastructure assets has resulted in yet another multibillion ringgit deal. In early January, a RM6.3 billion deal to redevelop and expand Penang Port was signed between two Chinese port operators (Shenzhen Yantian Port Group and Rizhao Port Group) and local partner, KAJ Development, a relatively unknown reportedly state-owned company incorporated in 2001.According to press reports, the project would increase the port’s ship handling capacity to 100,000 ships per year.

Dominating the transport sector

The Penang deal comes on the heels of KAJ Development’s RM30 billion Malacca Gateway Project with another Chinese conglomerate, Powerchina International Group. The Gateway project includes extensive land reclamation and the development of what is expected to be the biggest port in the region.

Image result for RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port

Barely 55 km away from the Malacca Gateway project, work has begun on the RM12.5 billion Kuala Linggi International Port project, funded by China Railway, Port & Engineering Group. When completed, Linggi port will become, according to a company statement, “the world’s preferred shipping hub in the Straits of Malacca” offering port facilities, storage and transshipment of crude oil and petroleum products and repair and bunkering facilities.

According to press reports, construction has gone ahead despite objections that the project could well be an environmental hazard. Not to be outdone, the Port Klang Authority is now planning to build another giant port on Carey Island which is expected to cost RM200 billion. According to reports, the transport ministry is in talks with China Merchants Group to finance the project.

On the east cost of Peninsular Malaysia, another Chinese company, Guangxi Beibu International Port Group already owns a 40% stake of Kuantan Port Consortium and is investing billions to double the port’s capacity. China is also a key investor in Sarawak’s Samalaju Industrial Port project.

At this rate, and given China’s already sizeable investments in our railway infrastructure, China will soon be the dominant player in Malaysia’s transportation sector.

Unanswered questions

Quite apart from the obvious security implications, China’s massive investments in ports and railways have also raised a number of concerns which have yet to be adequately addressed.

How much port capacity, for example, do we really need bearing in mind that we spent billions developing the Port of Tanjung Pelapas (making it one of the largest container ports in the region) and that not all of our ports are operating at fully capacity?

And how will other major port developments now being planned along the Malacca Straits, such as the mammoth Tuah project in Singapore and the China-funded Tanjung Sauh port in Indonesia’s Batam island impact overall capacity? It certainly looks like this whole port building frenzy has gone off the deep end, especially as no convincing argument has been made that such a significant increase in port capacity is even warranted.

Without credible feasibility studies and greater transparency, these projects could well end up like the Petroleum Hub project which was taken out of service in 2012 after the government had spent more than RM100 billion on land reclamation, costs which Malaysia’s long suffering taxpayers are now having to shoulder. 

It is also unclear what the actual financial arrangements are for many of these Chinese projects and what kind of concessions and guarantees Malaysia has had to offer. That some of these projects involve secret negotiations and secret agreements with companies that don’t appear to have much experience or which have been blacklisted by the World Bank, only adds to concerns about control, ownership, costs, viability and the potential for corruption.

And unlike earlier infrastructure projects where local companies retained significant oversight and decision-making authority, projects with China invariably end up with Chinese companies in charge of management, design, procurement and construction. Even the workers come from China!

Whatever happened to all our national policies about equity, local participation and transfer of technology? At the end of the day, it is hardly the kind of “equal, mutually beneficial, win-win” situation that the Chinese embassy here likes to brag about.

OBOR?

Image result for China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative

The other thing about many of these Chinese projects is the constant reference by Malaysian politicians and businessmen to China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. Suddenly, it is no longer about Malaysia’s national development goals or priorities but about whether or not it is relevant to OBOR.

It is perhaps a testimony to China’s increasing power and influence that many of our political and business leaders are now gamely parroting the Chinese line about how great and magical OBOR is and how fortunate we lesser mortals are to receive Chinese loans, Chinese technology and Chinese expertise to help build OBOR-related infrastructure.

What they don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge is that through clever financing arrangements, China is in fact getting us to pay for the infrastructure that it needs to establish economic primacy in the region. OBOR is primarily about China’s strategic national objectives; whatever benefits to Malaysia are purely incidental.

In the absence of a critical and in-depth assessment of whether these OBOR-related projects genuinely serve Malaysia’s interests and are worth the costs to Malaysian taxpayers, it would be ‘bodoh’ to acquiesce to it.

The geopolitical element

And let’s not be unmindful of the geopolitical considerations as well. Will we see Malaysian ports, for example, being integrated into the Chinese Navy’s regional infrastructure to support its growing naval presence in the region?

While the government is coy about the kind of naval access that has been given to the Chinese Navy for obvious political reasons, port calls by Chinese naval vessels are increasing. Two Chinese submarines, for example, quietly docked at Kota Kinabalu port recently while Chinese warships now regularly use other Malaysian port facilities.

Image result for Chinese Navy in the Straits of Malacca

China of the 21st Century is a nation of geo-strategic thinkers and state entrepreneurs–Keeping Asia secure and safe means China is safe too.

China is making strategic investments to fortify its position as the dominant player in the South China Sea with modern port facilities in ASEAN and expand trade in Chinese manufactured goods and services. It is using Malaysia to have important stakes in the Straits of Malacca (in Malacca, Penang and Johore ports). Why not, particularly when assets in Malaysia can be acquired on the cheap or profitable investments made  at inflated cost (for the benefit of corrupt UMNO and Barisan Nosional politicians). I am not against Chinese investments per se, but I am very concerned with deals done on a hush-hush basis by Najib and his cohorts. China’s moves in Asia does not end with the  South China Sea. It is back to the age-old objective of keeping the barbarians at the gate.–Din Merican

Of course, naval vessels from other countries regularly berth at our ports, and in itself is no cause for alarm. However, only China is aggressively pursuing territorial claims against Malaysia. For that reason alone, caution is called for. Does it make sense for us to facilitate the very naval force that is intruding into our waters, harassing our fishermen, laying claim to our reefs and islands and gathering data to support those claims?

Colony building

Image result for RM100 billion Forest City project

There are also growing concerns about the massive residential and commercial development projects that are being built with Chinese capital.

The RM100 billion Forest City project, for example, one of two being built by Chinese conglomerate Country Garden, will reportedly house more than 700,000 people in a development that will include office towers, parks, hotels, shopping malls and an international school.

Meanwhile, China state-owned Greenland Group is building office towers, apartments and shops on 128 acres in Tebrau, Johor, while Guangzhou R & F Properties Co. has begun construction on the first phase of Princess Cove, another mixed development along the Johor coast, with hotels, offices, parks, shopping malls and clubhouses.

Image result for bandar malaysia – china’s new regional capital

In Kuala Lumpur, China Railway Group (CRG) will be developing the mega Bandar Malaysia project which is expected to cost between RM160 – 200 billion. Bandar Malaysia will host the world’s largest underground city together with shopping malls, indoor theme parks, a financial centre, residential and commercial units as well as the RM8.3 billion regional headquarters of China Railway.

CRG is also involved in another RM2.1 billion project in Ampang to build 7,000 residential units as well as commercial and retail outlets. In keeping with the management practices of most China-based corporations, CRG has been appointed the main contractor with sole responsibility for monitoring, managing and supervising the day-to-day construction and operations of the project.

Reports suggest that these massive residential and commercial developments in Malaysia are being marketed mainly to PRC nationals who wish to work, reside or holiday in Malaysia. Country Garden, for example, has been aggressively promoting its Forest City project in China; it is already the 11thmost popular investment destination for Chinese home buyers on Juwai.com.

In addition, relatively cheaper living costs, affordable private medical facilities, a (mostly) smog- free environment and proximity to both China and Singapore, make Malaysia a preferred retirement destination for middle-class Chinese. China’s ageing population (240 million over the age of 60 by 2020) makes for a huge potential market that Chinese developers are hoping to exploit.

If the expectations of these China-based developers are realized, we could be seeing more than a million PRC nationals living in Malaysia within a decade.

Malaysians must ask themselves whether it would be desirable to see a huge influx of citizens from just one country establishing foreign enclaves here. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that these colonies could soon evolve into exclusive, semi-autonomous zones serviced and managed by PRC nationals for the benefit of PRC nationals.

What impact will this have on the social, cultural and political fabric of our nation? How will it affect property prices? How will any downturn in the Chinese economy influence the local property market? How much of the related infrastructure costs of these projects are being borne by Malaysian taxpayers? And what kind of concessions are being given to these property developers?

Viewed from almost any perspective, therefore, Malaysia’s burgeoning economic, political and military relationship with China ought to set off alarm bells across the nation.

Image result for bandar malaysia – china’s new regional capital

The combination of a rising power with global ambitions backed by an unlimited stash of cash buying up strategic infrastructure assets, on the one hand, and a local political elite bent on staying in power at all costs tethered to cronies more interested in profits than patriotism, on the other, could prove a fatal one.

Even in the best of circumstances, it would be simply too risky to allow any one country to dominate our economy and control critical infrastructure networks the way China is now set to do. It gives China too much power and influence in the affairs of our nation and it leaves us too indebted, too exposed to a country whose intentions must be considered with some circumspection.

How far will China go to protect its position?

One thing we can be sure of, though, if history is anything to go by: the more China invests in Malaysia, the more China will be tempted to intervene and meddle in our affairs to protect its investments and ensure its strategic position is not jeopardized. Indeed, China has already begun to do so.

In a statement just this week, the Chinese embassy lashed out at opposition leaders and others for questioning the government’s policies towards China, accusing them of having ulterior motives and instigating hatred against China and warned that “China will not allow anyone to jeopardize the mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation between China and Malaysia.”

Amazingly, the Embassy also dared to presume to speak for Malaysian Chinese when it suggested that such actions by the opposition would not earn them the trust of the Malaysian Chinese community.

Clearly, the Chinese embassy now feels it has the right to threaten our politicians, inveigh against those who raise questions about China’s investments and inject itself into what is essentially a domestic discussion.

Such brazen interference in our domestic affairs will only get worse. How far will China now go to stifle domestic opposition and criticism to its increasing role in our nation? Will it work behind the scenes to prop up local pro-China leaders in much the same way as the CIA did in other countries? 

The most pressing foreign policy challenge

Tellingly, while the Chinese embassy grows bolder, many of our own leaders remain silent despite blatant acts of interfere in our domestic affairs.

In the early years of our relationship with China, our security agencies were extremely concerned that Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese community might sell out to China; who would have thought we would end up in situation where many of our politicians and officials would be so blinded to the challenges that China now presents or worse still, resign themselves to the inevitability of some sort of Chinese domination?

One minister, for instance, recently remarked in his blog that “it is futile trying to resist China’s great march forward just like it was futile to resist Western colonialism 500 years ago.” He also said that China is buying up assets all over the world and that is something that “Malaysia needs to accept or else get left behind and perish.”

Let’s be clear: this is not about trying to stop China from rising or about shunning Chinese investments but about ensuring that we don’t get colonized again, about making sure that China does not get to the point where it controls our economy and is able to dictate policy as it already does in some neighbouring countries.

Whatever it is, Malaysians must not be lulled into a false sense of complacency by all the sweet talk of mega contracts, grandiose promises of prosperity and jobs or the effusive pledges of eternal friendship for that matter.

China is no different from any other big power and we would do well to be wary when dealing with it.

Image result for tun muhammad ghazali bin shafie

As the late Tun Ghazali Shafie, arguably the best Foreign Minister we’ve ever had, was fond of reminding us at Wisma Putra: small countries on the peripheries of a big power don’t have the luxury of taking anything for granted.

At the very least, we owe it to ourselves, and to future generations, to have a national debate on this, the most pressing foreign policy challenge we now face as a nation. And the Chinese embassy would do well to butt out of it.

 

 

Malaysia’s Political Gridlock and Why Najib is not going to Jail


January 12, 2017

Malaysia’s Political Gridlock and Why Najib is not going to Jail

by Ooi Kok Hin

Despite protests, political realities will keep the prime minister’s coalition in power through 2017 – and beyond.

http://thediplomat.com/2017/01/why-malaysias-najib-razak-isnt-going-anywhere/

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

On November 19, tens of thousands of Malaysians assembled in the capital to demand for a free and fair election and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is implicated in a massive financial scandal. Yet, Najib’s ruling coalition looks set to prevail in the next general election, rumored to be held this year.

Why is this so? I argue Malaysia’s political gridlock is prolonged largely by four factors: electoral malpractices, institutional failures, political fragmentation, and societal fault lines. Until and unless these are changed, reforms will be flimsy at best, and cosmetic at worst.

Electoral Malpractices: Keeping the Incumbent in Their Seats

In the previous general election, the ruling coalition won 47 percent of the popular vote but nearly 60 percent of the parliamentary seats. The opposition coalition won 51 percent of the votes but only 40 percent of the seats (the remaining 2 percent of the vote was split among marginal parties). The discrepancy is caused by the uneven weighting of popular representation. A constitutional clause grants over-representation for rural voters either spanning a large landmass or difficult to reach areas. However, even after taking this clause into account, electoral malpractices are severe.

In a study I co-wrote with fellow analysts from the Penang Institute, we found that at least 68 parliamentary seats and 162 state seats are either excessively under-represented or excessively over-represented under the latest redelineation proposed by the Election Commission. If the proposal comes into effect during the next general election, the outcome is effectively a forgone conclusion because of severe malapportionment and gerrymandering.

Malapportionment isthe disparity of constituency size caused by redelineation. It results in inequitable representation because it provides unequal vote value. For example, one voter in Putrajaya has a value equivalent to one voters in Kapar, as both constituencies have one seat each — even though Putrajaya has roughly 15,991 voters and Kapar has 144,159.

Even within the same state, the disparity of constituency size is striking. In the state of Selangor, Damansara is four times the size of Sabak Bernam. Any of the three excessively under-represented parliamentary constituencies in Selangor are bigger than the three small constituencies combined.

This is not a purely mathematical disparity of constituency size. It is a deliberate packing of opposition supporters into a mega-size constituency, diluting their ability to win other seats and making the neighboring marginal seats more winnable for the ruling coalition. Not surprisingly, Damansara is held by the opposition and Sabak Bernam is held by the ruling party.

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

Gerrymandering, meanwhile, is the practice of deliberately drawing constituency boundaries based on the voting pattern of constituents so that a party may benefit. Malaysia’s redelineation does this in three ways: the creation of constituencies spanning multiple local authorities, the arbitrary combination of communities without common interests, and the partition of local communities and neighborhoods. Voters living on the same street find themselves in different electoral constituencies. The confusion is compounded by the lack of information and publicity about the changes made to constituency boundaries and, crucially, voting districts.

Political Fragmentation: Weaker and Disunited Opposition

Given the steep electoral obstacles which the opposition has to overcome, it is no surprise that the National Front (Barisan Nasional, BN) is one of the longest ruling coalitions in the world. The then fully united opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, failed to unseat BN in the 2013 general election. The erstwhile alliance brought together three major opposition parties: the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Any hope of taking advantage of Najib’s crisis has been dampened by the collapse of Pakatan Rakyat due to a quarrel over a chief minister’s position and the Islamist party’s insistence on the implementation of Sharia laws.

Amidst the open animosity between the opposition parties, pragmatist PKR is negotiating a miracle. They are appealing for a one-on-one fight; a scenario which even the most hardcore opposition supporter would find unlikely.

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

The Fractured Opposition

Hostility is mutual between PAS and DAP/Amanah. Bersatu, the new party setup by ousted Deputy Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin and former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, is beset with internal issues and looks the least of a threat to Najib’s UMNO. A united opposition is anywhere but visible in Sabah and Sarawak, the two states which won the election for Najib, whose coalition took 47 out of 56 seats.

If PAS explicitly teamed up with UMNO, there is some hope that their grassroots and longtime supporters (who view UMNO as a nemesis) may vote for the opposition coalition as a protest against their leadership. Tacit cooperation is more likely, however, and in three-cornered fights, the ruling party will sweep all the marginal seats.

Institutional Failures: Culture of Unaccountability, Graft, and State Repression

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Institutional failures have doomed any formal case again Najib for the financial scandal centered on 1MDB. Former Attorney General Gani Patail was terminated just as he was allegedly drafting a charge sheet against Najib. The chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was replaced, its senior officers transferred out, and one investigating officer’s home was raided by the police. Three out of four figureheads of the special taskforce setup to investigate 1MDB were replaced within months.

The various institutions that were supposed to hold the government accountable have all faltered in one way or another. A concentration of power has enable the state leviathan to dismiss any institution that could actually hold it accountable.

Ideally, legislative institutions should uphold the principles of democracy and justice enshrined in the Constitution. But under the forceful thumb of the executive, they continue to either pass or fail to repeal draconian laws stretching from the colonial era. The Sedition Act, which criminalizes any speech deemed hateful or contemptuous towards the ruler or government, is routinely abused due to its vague clauses. The notorious detention without trial, another colonial legacy, gave powers to the executive to imprison political opponents for lengthy periods without a day in the courtroom. Most recently, the leader of a civil rights movement calling for free and fair elections, Maria Chin Abdullah, was detained under one such law.

The list of institutional failures includes that of the media. Some outlets fought and went down, like The Malaysian Insider. The mainstream press is owned directly by political parties or businessmen friendly to the establishment. Periodic license renewals keep them on their toes. Newspapers editors who did report on 1MDB were called in for police investigation.

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Malaysia’s Infamous Auditor-General

Institutional failure and lack of accountability are not limited to 1MDB. Year after year, the Auditor General has revealed staggering cases of mismanaged public funds. Government bodies bought wall clocks at RM 3,810 a piece (the market price is easily below RM 100) and scanners for RM 14,670 (market price: RM 200). The “normalization of corruption” is deeply embedded in the existing hierarchy, from the top to the bottom. In the newly released report, the auditors found that the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) lost hundreds of millions due to multiple transactions without proper authorization, dubious planning and execution, and complete mismanagement. It made news for two to three days before disappearing, like pretty much every other scandal. Corrupt acts are committed and revealed, followed by public outrage. But with no institution to exercise accountability, the news eventually disappears. It has become a normal cycle.

Late last year, the National Security Council Act was passed to enable the prime minister to declare an area of emergency as he deems necessary, without the approval of any other institution. Which raises the question: Are there any institutional safeguards to guarantee a peaceful transition of power even if the government fails to recapture popular support in the election?

Societal Fault Lines: One Cleavage Too Many

The fault lines of Malaysian society are too many and too deep, with groups frequently divided along ethnic and religious lines. Due to this, Najib can easily turn a once-unified opposition against one another.

Dr Jamil Khir Baharom, a minister in charge of religious affairs under Najib’s cabinet, paraded a bill amendment to increase the power of the Shariah court. PAS’s dream is to establish an Islamic state by implementing Islamic law, which cannot be fully enforced given the current restrictions on the maximum punishments the Shariah court can spell out. Under the revised version of the proposed amendment, the Shariah court will be strengthened by raising the punishment ceiling to 30 years in prison, a RM 100,000 fine, and 100 strokes of caning.

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Playing with the Islamic Fire

Najib’s olive branch to PAS is working, enticing the party away from cooperation with the opposition and thus sapping the opposition’s strength among the all-important Malay and rural areas.

In Malaysia ,where nearly everything is seen through the lens of race and religion, the push for Islamic law will effectively split society. Since all Malays are Muslims in this country (one’s professed religion is one of the constitutional definitions of being an ethnic Malay), debates on the bill can dangerously be turned into a sectarian conflict.

In the run-up to the November 19 rally, thugs dressed in red threatened the Bersih convoy. The Red Shirts, as they came to be known, are all ethnic Malays led by an UMNO division chief. Threats of violence aside, the racial rhetoric has become too discomforting. Last year, what was a typical robber and shopkeeper brawl turned into dangerous racial gatherings as the two groups called their friends, resulting in a mini-riot that night. In the aftermath of the previous election, the prime minister and the party’s de facto mouthpiece, Utusan Malaysia, denounced the Chinese as a scapegoat of opposition agents. All these societal fault lines testify to the enormity of the task to to unseat Najib.

The by-elections last year might provide some hint as to how the general elections will turn out. Najib’s coalition won both of them. I was in the suburban areas when opposition parties held a town hall panel session, inevitably speaking in English, touching on issues such as the removal of the Attorney-General. While these are big, national issues, it felt out of place. There is a visible gap between the politicians, the city folks, the demonstrators who so urgently and desperately want reforms, and the voters outside the cities, who voted for candidates affiliated to Najib’s party.

To speak plainly, people don’t mind the status quo as long as they are not affected at the most immediate and personal level. The whole 1MDB scandal has been too complicated to be explained to non-English literate voters with no understanding of the complex technical terms, in a five-minute rally. Financial scandals grow more complicated and people just lose interest. Maybe they underestimate the cost of it all, maybe they don’t care enough or just don’t lose enough; either way they are not angry enough to want to change the status quo.

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The partnership that can rattle the beleaguered Al-Kebas aka Malaysian Official 1–Najib Razak

What’s next? Even the unholy alliance between Anwar and Mahathir won’t be able to fight off the structural inequality of power and institutional failures. If political change is not sufficient, will it take an economic downturn to bring change in Malaysia, like Indonesia? In 1998, a combined factor of internal dissidents and economic instability brought the dictatorial Suharto era to an end and ushered in the Reformasi period. If neighboring Indonesia can live embedded in a dictatorship for 40 years and then undergo rapid democratization in so short a time, we can’t and shouldn’t rule anything out yet in Malaysia. But it will take a miracle.

Ooi Kok Hin is an analyst with the Penang Institute. He writes on political and social developments and Southeast Asian affairs.

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Malaysians–You have the right to know the truth


January 11. 2017

Malaysians–You have the right to know the truth

Are you willing to fight for it? Nothing is for free.

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Malaysia's Corrupt Prime MinisterThis Man was tutored by Dr. Mahathir to mess up Malaysia

You claim that you are desperate for change in Malaysia, but how hard are you prepared to work for it? You know that there can be no true democracy without a free press, but how have you contributed to the struggle for media freedom?

Leaders who are insecure or who grow crazy with power will seize control of the media to make it toe the government line. You know this already because most of what you read in the conventional media are glowing articles about the state of the nation despite the price hikes and the rise in crime rates that worry you.

Most law-abiding citizens fear those who threaten the peace. You feel helpless because you are prosecuted for “threatening the peace” with the innocuous remarks you make on Facebook while others who threaten to bathe the streets in blood get a light rap on the knuckles.

So you withdraw further into your shell. The quest for change becomes somebody else’s problem, not yours anymore.

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No wonder our national finances are in one big mess. We have this Siregar fella in charge of our Treasury while another mamak called Hamsa as head of our Blue Ocean civil service.

Meanwhile, you privately complain about the corruption scandals, the abuse of power, the waste of government resources, the tedious bureaucracy, the arrogant civil servants and the lack of accountability of MPs and senior civil servants.

You feel that it is the job of the opposition to effect change and unfairly call them weak when, in truth, they are severely handicapped by a lack of resources.

You compare Malaysian journalists with their foreign counterparts and complain that ours are meek because they refrain from asking tough questions, but when whistleblowers were hauled to court, journalists were harassed and jailed, editors threatened with sedition and publications blocked and threatened with closure, what did you do to help protect your right to know the truth?

Did you look the other way or did you harass your MP, write to the press, start an online petition or protest against the lack of press freedom? Or did you excuse yourself because you have a job to protect and many mouths to feed? Did you tell yourself, “After all, I’m not a journalist”?

You were probably saddened when publications were forced to shut down because companies feared to place advertisements with them and they were thereby deprived of revenue. It did not move you to donate money to keep them open. You somehow convinced yourself that it was not your job to fund others. You failed to see that if every one of several hundred thousand people like you were to donate a few ringgit, it would add up to a large amount of money.

Of course, you are desperate for change. Sadly, it is your inaction that fuels interference in your media.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

Wrong Perception– Najib’s Escape from Reality


January 7, 2016

Wrong Perception-Najib’s  Escape from Reality

by TK Chua @www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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With this Mamak in charge of our Treasury who needs a bigger apple polisher
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Malaysia’s Blue Ocean Strategist and Chief of the Ampuists–Hamsa Ali

I read that our economy is being affected by “noise” fed by the alternative media. As a result, the wrong perception that is created is weighing down our economy at present.

The word “noise”, in one of its most basic definitions means “unexplained or unexpected information that is not useful or that can be ignored”. The word “perception” means “a belief or opinion held by many people based on how things seem” (Cambridge dictionary).

I believe this is how the treasury secretary-general looks at the “state” of the Malaysian economy today – it is the “noise” which gives rise to a wrong perception that is not based on reality. The economy is doing fine, but persistent noise gives the impression that the economy is doing badly. To turnaround this situation, we have to get rid of the noise so perceptions can change.

Image result for najib razak--malaysia's no 1. rogueWill Najib Razak con Donald Trump as he did with Barack Obama?

To begin, we have to look at what this so-called noise is made up of. I leave it to you to decide whether the following is “noise” or “verifiable information”.

  1. 1MDB and its plethora of problems;
  2. The court cases in the US and Singapore and investigations in other jurisdictions;
  3. The escalation in the cost of living that far outstrips the GST rate;
  4. The falling value of the ringgit that far surpasses those of other regional currencies;
  5. The continued fiscal deficit and the added burden of public debts. Just what is the percentage of debt servicing to operating expenditure now?
  6. Questionable and burdensome public infrastructure investment programmes;
  7. The problems in Felda, FGV and other GLCs;
  8. Unemployment of graduates and their inability to service study loans;
  9. Serious differences over policies on race, religion, education and economic management;
  10. Political parties hardly being able to compromise on any issue.

If the above is considered verifiable information, how do we expect people to perceive differently or wrongly?

There is a saying: “Perception is reality”. What we perceive is based on what we experience or observe. Occasionally we may draw wrong inferences from our experience or observation but it is difficult to fathom we are wrong all the time. More often than not, experience and observation are our best teachers.

In Malaysia, we tend to blame everything on wrong perceptions. We blame noise that gives rise to the wrong perceptions as if perceptions are something that can be orchestrated, managed or manipulated.

Here is my question to the authorities: If a few netizens can create a “wrong” perception, why can’t the authorities create the “right” perception? I am sure the government has more resources at its disposal to dispel any wrong perception and to put in place the right perception.

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Malaysia’s Big Spender

We cannot run away from the truth, can we? We may choose to manipulate the present situation, but truth shall prevail. Why argue about the pump price of petrol being more than one pound per litre in the UK when the people there are earning in pounds the way we are earning in ringgit? It is a choice of whether we want to talk like an economist or a layperson at the coffee shop.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.