The Padang Rengas Debate


March 20, 2017

COMMENT: I liken this Padang Rengas debate to  Gunfight at OK Coral. It is an encounter between old gunfighter looking for his last hurrah and a young, ambitious and astute gunslinger who knows that his adversary is no longer fast on the draw.  Advantage Nazri Aziz.

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The debate has been aptly described as a proxy fight between Tun Dr. Mahathir (Mentor) and our incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak (Mentee).  For Najib, this debate is  also a convenient diversion from his massive political troubles arising mainly from his failure to come to grips with  the 1MDB fiasco and the lies he and his supporters told the Malaysian public and the world .

I have never agreed with Nazri’s politics, and  neither have I understood the motives of the former Prime Minister who ruled Malaysia with an iron fist for 22 years and left office in a huff leaving in his wake a shattered nation whose institutions of governance have been irreparably damaged.Why the need for this debate in the first place?

It was my good fortune to know both Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz.  I followed their political careers very closely over several years. I  admired their political survival skills and  recognize their service to our country.  Both are strong and competent people -centered leaders. However, I think,  Tun Dr. Mahathir has finally met his match. By exploiting  the man’s oversized ego, the younger politician is able to draw his nonagenarian opponent to his home ground, thereby giving himself a psychological advantage.  That Tun Dr. Mahathir should take the bait surprises me. 

I know the Tun to be a  sharp strategic thinker. It is clear  to me that  age has caught up with the former Prime Minister as it must with men and women of his and my generation.We are all slowing down and taking stock of and reflecting on our lives but not the Tun.

My intellectual friend, Dr Khoo Boo Teik, who authored  a book, Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad, is right in saying that Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is an engima. –Din Merican

The Padang Rengas Debate: A Verbal Lambast  between Two Generations

by Jocelyn Tan @www.thestar.com.my

The debate between Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz next week is expected to be fiery but not as explosive as the former PM’s confrontation with the Otai Reformasi gathering.

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PADANG Rengas in Perak is hardly the sort of place where one would expect a political debate to take place, much less, a debate between a former Prime Minister and the Tourism Minister.

The debate, if it goes ahead, could be the most happening event Padang Rengas has ever witnessed.

Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz is the outspoken and rather capricious MP for Padang Rengas which sits somewhere between Kuala Kangsar and Taiping.  As for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, there are few words that can adequately describe him these days so let’s just say he is even more vocal and mercurial than his would-be debater.

These two big personalities will face off in a grudge fight on March 25. All eyes will be on them even though no one has a clue as to what they intend to talk about because this debate is going to be about the personalities rather than the subject matter.

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This debate idea was not sparked off by any issue. Instead it was something that evolved following news that Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin would be there on March 23, followed by Dr. Mahathir on March 25.

Now, Nazri is a macho alpha male politician, with a sort of machismo that is quite unrivaled among his fellow politicians. The Parti Pribumi folk were entering the lion’s den and he responded in typical macho fashion. He said the two big-wigs were gunning for him because they considered him a great threat.

“I welcome them, selamat datang. But don’t just come for a visit, why not contest in Padang Rengas? It would be better if Mahathir were to contest but if he cannot, then Muhyiddin can do it.”

The old lion in Dr. Mahathir bared his fangs and challenged Nazri to take him on in Langkawi. There were gasps because it sounded like Dr. Mahathir was throwing down the gauntlet in Langkawi. A day later, he clarified that he would not be contesting the general election. But Dr. Mahathir has made so many U-turns that it is best to keep an open mind on whatever he says.

Nazri offered to roll out the red carpet but Dr. Mahathir said he did not mind walking in the mud.It was a rather childish exchange between two grown men or what a Penang politician described as “two Mickey Mouse characters”. But Nazri was merely taking from the Mahathir playbook. During his time as Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir was famous for challenging his critics to contest in elections instead of just talking.

This is not the first war of words between them. A few years ago, they had clashed over the Biro Tata Negara, which Nazri claimed promoted racial sentiments but Dr. Mahathir defended as an organisation that promoted good values.

Nazri called the former Premier a “racist” and was summoned to the Prime Minister’s office. Things then were still hunky-dory between Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Dr. Mahathir, and Nazri was told to back off the elder man.

Nazri, who had been likened to a Samurai committing hara-kiri for taking on Dr Mahathir, emerged from Najib’s office with the quip, “My Shogun has spoken”.

Suffice to say that this time around, the Shogun will not be telling his Samurai to pull back.“Nazri is loyal to the boss of the day,” said Pahang tourism exco member Datuk Sharkar Shamsudin who was with the Tourism Minister in Berlin last week.

Sharkar said Nazri had also stood by Dr. Mahathir during the sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Nazri came to the defence of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was under attack by Dr. Mahathir. Likewise, he is standing by Najib now.

Nazri’s nickname in UMNO is “Chief”. He is younger than Najib by a year, they were contemporaries in UMNO but Nazri was too indepen­dent to be part of any camp.

Shortly after Najib became Prime Minister there was pressure from those around Dr. Mahathir for Najib to drop Nazri from the Cabinet. The political animal in Najib knew that people like Nazri could be problematic but they have their uses and his instincts have been spot on.

No one has had the audacity to tackle Dr. Mahathir the way Nazri does. He does not give a damn about conventions, he can be quite irreverent about rules and stature and he is the only UMNO politician who has publicly referred to Dr. Mahathir as “senile”. He occasionally comes across as too much and even rude, but he is never boring.

Dr Mahathir has been drawing good crowds in Malay areas. He is still a novelty, and the rural Malays want to hear what he has to say. On the other hand, the debate could turn out to be another political fiasco. Dr. Mahathir had a rough time at the Otai Reformis convention in Shah Alam recently.

The Otai Reformis comprises hardcore veteran supporters of Anwar. Their loyalty to him has not wavered from the day he was sacked by Dr. Mahathir. The group, led by Hulu Klang assemblyman Saari Sungip, had endured tear gas and rough treatment by the FRU when they took to the streets to protest Anwar’s imprisonment.They are still critical of Dr. Mahathir and were upset that Anwar has reconciled with his oppressor.

Dr. Mahathir turned up at the convention thinking that he could slow-talk them to come along with him on the grounds that the real enemy is Najib. Unfortunately, many of those in the audience also regard Dr.  Mahathir as the enemy.

Dr. Mahathir was greeted by cries of “reformasi” and “bebas Anwar” (free Anwar) as he made his way to the rostrum. He could sense that this was far from an adoring crowd and he attempted some reverse psychology, saying that a politician has to accept that he cannot be loved by all. He said he knew that some called him “mahafiraun” (great pharoah) and “mahazalim” (tyrant).

He appealed to them to put aside other issues and focus on toppling Najib because without power, their struggle would fail. “After that, if you want to act against me, you can do so,” he said.

He was flanked by Saari and Anwar’s younger brother Rusli Ibrahim whose presence on stage was to signal that Dr. Mahathir was there with the blessings of Anwar. But the Otai Reformis is a seasoned group of people who have seen it all. They were cynical about Dr. Mahathir and his simplistic reasoning failed to wash on them. Besides, they did not trust him and the respect was not there.

There have been too many life-changing experiences between then and now and the emotional scars are still there.

Moreover, said an Otai Reformis politician from Terengganu, the audience was expecting no less than an apology from the former Premier and they had called out for him to “minta maaf” (ask for forgiveness).

When it became clear that he had not come to apologise, they broke out into jeers and heckled him.Dr. Mahathir tried to smile his way through it but there were moments when the mask dropped and he looked shaken.

“It was quite humiliating. I think he cut short his speech, it was over real fast,” said the Terengganu politician. On top of all that, Dr. Mahathir had to sit through a video detailing the Reformasi movement – Anwar addressing a sea of people from the balcony of the national mosque, the infamous black eye, the angry street protests and the controversial trial. It was a political chapter that he would rather forget.

When everyone in the audience raised their fists to cries of “reformasi”, Dr. Mahathir made a half-hearted attempt to do the same but his hand barely reached his chest. The event was quite a farce and some of those present said the organisers had deceived them by allowing Dr. Mahathir to take to the stage when he had no intention of asking for forgiveness.

“There is still a lot of anger. They want him to apologise to Anwar’s family who suffered so much,” said the same Terengganu politician. It is obvious that even the chief personalities like Saari and Rusli were not bowled over by Dr. Mahathir because they could be seen trying to control their amusement at the height of the jeering.

The gathering then passed several resolutions, one of which stated that “this convention is not a forum to seek Dr. Mahathir’s views on the reform agenda”. It was as good as a disavowal of Dr. Mahathir.

Dr. Mahathir ought to have an easier time in Padang Rengas. Hordes of his supporters will probably make a beeline to the debate to lend moral backing. This is traditional UMNO territory and the audience will not be anything like what happened at the Otai Reformis event. But this is also Nazri’s home ground. He is the most senior minister after Najib and has served under three Prime Ministers.

People often forget Nazri’s political seniority because of his contemporary image, from the way he dresses to the way he addresses issues. For instance, he sometimes turns up for official events in a sports shirt worn rapper-style, with the collar turned up. Nazri understands the local sentiments and is more than familiar with Dr, Mahathir and his lines of attack.

Two big personalities known for their wit and laser tongues, their fighting spirit and dislike for each other – it should be pure entertainment even if it yields little of consequence.

National Consultation in the Philippines


March 19, 2o17

CASER: A Proposal for National Consultation in the Philippines

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Comment by Richard F.Dorall

https://rfdorall.wordpress.com/2017/02/16/caser-a-proposal-for-national-consultation-in-the-philippines/

(Edition: February 15, 2017)

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OSLO, NORWAY. Peace panel representatives from the Philippine government and the Communist Party of the Philippines are in smiles during the third day of the talks held at Scandic Holmenkollen Park, Norway. (Photo from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Facebook page).

Read more: http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/local-news/2016/08/25/3-issues-agreed-peace-talks-oslo-norway-493576

So the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Philippine Communist Party in Norway are off. And “bombs away” are being threatened. Released political detainees will be re-imprisoned on their return to the Philippines.

These are most distressing developments, but they still do not obviate the urgent necessity for Filipinos to face up to the root causes of the national unrest which were under parallel discussion during the now off peace talks between the Philippine Government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front Philippines (NDFP), and which the NDFP had outlined in a document titled “Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines” (CASER), and which was intended to be a pre-requisite for the permanent cessation of hostilities between the Philippine Government and the armed communists.

CASER outlines social and economic objectives such as economic and social justice and political reforms which all Filipinos can readily accept as national goals, but the document also spells out detailed structural, institutional reforms, many of which require societal and constitutional reforms, if they are to be enacted. These CASER details once implemented shall profoundly affect all of Philippine society as it now stands, requiring revolutionary changes affecting all sectors of society, from top to bottom, embracing all groups including Indigenous Peoples and the Bangsa Moro, and launching changes that will totally change Philippine society.

The problem with CASER is not in its laudable objectives, but rather in the operational details of the changes being proposed. CASER has also been tabled for discussion in far-away Norway, and is only being evaluated and negotiated by two parties, the Government of the day, and the communists, both who are but only two of many other parties and institutions in the Philippines directly to be impacted by CASER “reforms.”

The Philippine public has been largely kept unawares of the details laid out in the CASER document (currently a draft of over 80 pages in length).  Neither the GRP nor the NDFP can honestly claim to represent all of the complexity which is Philippine Society today. The GRP of the day won the presidential election in May 2016 with a minority of the votes cast in a multi-candidate contest. The NDFP has never represented more than a small minority of Filipinos in both the urban and rural areas. Yet, both these non-representative parties have been negotiating in secret in far-away Norway, and other exotic European locations, without informing Filipinos of any of the scope and details of the proposed reforms, nor asking the Filipino people if they approve of any of these changes which will have deep and long-lasting impacts on all of Philippine society.

The now widely principle accepted both in the Philippines and internationally of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), this being a bottom-up participation and consultation best practice process, is being ignored in Norway, and CASER reform discussions have been conducted at the “top” with everybody else being left largely in the dark. FPIC, a principle ironically frequently mentioned as a pre-requisite in the “New Philippines” in the CASER document itself, requires an opening up of these secret negotiations between the GRP and NDFP to make them more truly democratic and representative of the collective wishes of all the Filipino peoples.

The Philippines may want to learn the lessons of representative national consultations from its neighbor, Malaysia, which has had three national consultations at major turning points in its history. Malaysia, a multi-ethnic country, has long-learned that complex societies cannot be structured, and then re-structured at various points in history, without involving representation of all major societal players in the decision-making, and action-implementing phases to ensure the success of proposals for profound social change.

Then Malayan independence (in 1957) from the colonial power Britain was late in coming compared to most of the rest of Southeast Asia. The main reason was the diverse Malayan ethnic communities had to compromise on a complex range of give-and-take relationships, structures, institutions, and their legal and constitutional frameworks, before agreeing to form an ethnic-based coalition government that has ruled democratically since 1957 till today. This first consultation, in the early to mid-1950s, was multi-ethnic in format, but having major social and economic implications. These negotiations between political representatives of the main ethnic groups were conducted in tMalaya, and in the United Kingdom, and in the resultant “Social Contract” that they agreed on formed the basis of the 1957 Malayan National Constitution which laid out how (Malaya’s diverse people would live by.

In 1963, Malaya formed a political federation with the British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah, and became known as Malaysia. The “Social Contract” of the 1950s became increasingly frayed. The Non-Malay ethnic Chinese and (some) Indians benefitted more from Malayan and since 1963 Malaysian economic development than did the numerically majority indigenous Malay peoples. These led to inter-ethnic rioting in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 Malaysian General Elections (known as the May 13, 1969 Incident), resulting in National Emergency Rule being imposed.

The Malaysian Government immediately called for a National Consultative Council in 1970 to discuss the crisis, and to propose economic, political, social and constitutional reforms to solve the underlying causes of social unrest: poverty in all the ethnic groups, and structural economic imbalances between the ethnic communities. All major societal sectors, political, ethnic, economic and social, appointed representative members of the NCC, and they met in private talks to avoid inflaming public opinion by openly discussing “sensitive issues.” A revised Social Contract was agreed by the NCC, and then by the Government which lifted the state of emergency, and announced a New Economic Policy (NEP) for the next two decades (1970-1990) during which national social re-structuring to eliminate inter-ethnic disparities, and poverty reduction among all Malaysians, would be systematically dealt with as the top national priority.

The 1970s and 1980s were two decades of rapid Malaysia economic and social transformation. However, by the mid-1980s it became clear to the mainly indigenous Malay community that despite economic “re-structuring” in their favor, they still lagged behind the targets originally set by the NEP in 1970. On the other hand, the Non-Malays (Malaysian Chinese, Indians and Others) felt that the NEP was over-favoring the ethnic Malays, and that they were being disadvantaged. They wanted the NEP to be abolished at the end of its 20-year period. Furthermore, absolute poverty among all ethnic groups, although reduced, was far from eliminated. This resulted in heightened public tension, mass demonstrations from both ethnic sides if the national divide, and a growing anxiety that ethnic rioting could once again occur.

To meet the growing national disquiet, the then Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, called for a National Consultative Council to discuss, and make proposals to Government on how Malaysia should proceed beyond the end of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1990. Some 150 Malaysians representing all political parties, both in the ruling political alliance and the opposition, all major economic and social (NGO) sectors, as well as those representing Malaysia’s diverse ethnic communities both large and small were appointed to this NCC. The writer of this paper was one of these 150 Malaysians appointed to this third national consultative council, and he participated in all the deliberations of the council from 1989 through 1990.

As in the case of the second national consultation in the immediate aftermath of the deadly May 13, 1960 ethnic riots, all deliberations of this new consultative council were held outside the scrutiny of the public and mass media, to minimize against any agitation in an already tense national situation. Members of the council were encouraged to give to and get feedback from their respective constituencies, but were barred from making public statements and leaking anything to the mass media, all to maintain the fragile peace and order situation.

This third national consultative council (officially known as the Malaysian National Economic Consultative Council) discussed not just economic issues arising from the impending end of the 20-years of the New Economic Policy (1970-1990), but all related social, cultural and even political issues. The council submitted its detailed multi-sectoral report and accompanying multi-volume appendices to the Malaysian Government in 1990, after more than one and a half years of intense deliberations. The Government of Dr Mahathir used the output of this third national consultative deliberation to formulate a Vision 2020 strategy to transform Malaysian society and economy to achieve the status of an “advanced society” by the year 2020, that is, in thirty years hence (1990-2020).

The 1990-2000s can be safely said to have become a “Golden Age” in Malaysian development, both social and economic, as Malaysians, for the most part, embraced the heady objectives of Vision 2020. Economic advancement was undeniable. The middle class grew appreciably in the Malaysian Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. The industrial and commercial sectors had now eclipsed agriculture and raw materials as the mainstay of the Malaysian society.

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Another NCC  for  Malaysia  under Najib Razak?

However, in the current decade (2010s) there is again a growing realization that while there have emerged rich Malays, and Indians to join with their rich Chinese counterparts, and, yes, there is a growing mainly urban yet multi-ethnic middle class, there stubbornly remain persistent pockets of urban and, especially rural, poverty. The Bornean states of Sarawak and Sabah have openly become increasingly vocal against Peninsular Malaysian “colonization,” especially of their natural resources. And there is now an awareness of the widening gap between the rich (who keep getting richer, and regrettably profligately so, irrespective of their ethnic origins) and the poor (of all ethnicities) many of whom cannot break out of a cycle of poverty they find themselves trapped in.

Again, Malaysians are now once more facing the challenge of the need for structural reforms, these requiring economic, social and political transformations if they are to succeed in changing Malaysian society for the better. And, inevitably, there are now calls, being led by the influential banker-brother of the current Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, to hold yet another national consultative council, the fourth since the 1950s, to deliberate on, and make recommendations on how Malaysia ought to be moving forward.

What lessons for the Philippines do Malaysia’s over 60 years experience of holding national consultative consultations offer?

First, when faced with the need for major national structural changes in society, consulting with all major players (political, economic, social, cultural and even religious) is preferred over secret negotiations among just two (or a few) parties. The principle of FPIC (Free, Prior and Informed Consent) must guided such transformational discussions, involving all those to be impacted, and getting them to consensually agree, before tabling the proposals to the Executive (the Government of the day) to convert into actionable multi-sectoral strategies.

Second, multi-player consultations are best kept representative, but outside the public-eye because the (free) media, and ordinary persons (especially in this age of Twitter and other social media) can very easily stir up emotions, and scuttle any possibility of consensus building which, by its very nature, is a listening, and give-and-take process. Consultative council members, to be sure, must consult with their constituencies and to receive guidance and feedback from them, but all due care should be taken to preserve the consultative process which should be protected against all possible destructive events stirred against it from the outside.

Third, members of the consultative body must be chosen not only because they represent their particular sector, but because they are first and foremost Filipino nationalists who will put the big-picture nation first above narrow self and sectoral interests. Anybody who does not put the nation first is a possible “saboteur” of any consensus-building process, and should be replaced by his or her sector with someone who understands what consensus-building is.

Fourth, building a national consensus, especially in a complex society of 100 million Filipinos, is not going to be achieved over-night, or in weeks, nor possibly months. It will take stamina, and true grit to stay the long haul. Being a member of a national consultative council is truly national service, an honor not to be taken on lightly. Failure to achieve a truly national consensus is a personal failure, something to be mourned, not celebrated (for “standing up to principles”). The nation and all its people must come first, and take center stage, beyond self and sector.

Fifth, the national consultative council, cannot be too large (and risk not deciding on anything) nor too small (and risk not being representative enough). In the Malaysian National Consultative Council of the late 1980s of which this writer was a member, there were 150 persons chosen representing about 25 million Malaysians. The Philippines has 100 million people, and proportionately that could mean 600 Filipino consultative members! It may take 600 consultative members many years to collectively agree on anything as complex as transforming the Philippines into a more just society! More important than sheer numbers is that the various sectors of Philippine society ought to be proportionately represented in the national consultation. Women should expect representation near 50 per cent. Minority communities should expect up to 15 per cent membership to correctly represent their demographic numbers in the national population. Rural farm workers, the urban poor, youth etc. all need fair, not just token, representation. The council cannot be dominated by politicians and captains of industry. Yes, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) should be represented, but not as the 50 per cent partner of a two-only negotiation in Norway, but in a number which is fair to their true position or influence in the Philippine scheme of things. And always remember, national consensus is not a vote with 50 plus one winning. It is 100 per cent, or as near unanimous as possible agreement, by all who will agree that while they did not all get what they individually wanted, but they got that package of reforms which they could all live with, and support, that which they had consensually agreed on.

In the absence of any competing document which analyses the complexity of Philippine society in terms of its political, economic and social structures, CASER could, and perhaps should!, provide a starting point for discussion and deliberation in a Philippine National Consultative Council. CASER’s generally stated objectives of economic and social justice for all, a new and more nationalist development strategy, the inclusion of those marginalised ethnic communities, including Indigenous Peoples and the Bangsa Moro, and the large number, yet voiceless, rural and urban poor, are surely objectives all Filipinos of good-will, irrespective of class or ethnicity, can accept.

CASER becomes problematic when it goes beyond its statement of lofty objectives, and spells out the operational details to achieve these objectives, many of these which other Filipinos may well reject as detrimental in the extreme to their respective positions and interests, and crossing red lines drawn in the sand. A national consultative council is precisely the forum to deliberate on strategies, and detailed action plans, and to modify or replace those placed on the table alongside others such that in the ensuing dialectic, eventually there will emerge a range of proposals that all can agree on.

This writer suggests that the Philippines look at the six decades of Malaysian experience in successive national re-structuring efforts to achieve greater economic, social, and political justice using the mechanism of the National Consultative Council. When the consultation process comes to a national consensus, this consensus and its recommendations can then be brought forward to the Legislatures, and to the Courts if need be, and ultimately to the Executive to concretize and put into place the action plans to effect the long strategies (extending beyond the constitutionally-mandated single six-year presidential term) which will transform Philippine society from that which it is today, to a better tomorrow that all Filipinos envisage, and so set in motion the long-haul to build on the ground, in the years and decades ahead, this Philippines of Tomorrow.

Richard F. Dorall,
University of Malaya (1972-2007),
Member of the Malaysian National Consultative Council (1989-1990)

Much Ado over the word “Alleged”– But Missing Dean’s Message


March 18, 2017

Much Ado over the word “Alleged— But Missing Dean’s Message

by Dean Johns @www.malaysiakini.com

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The Alleged Malaysian Official No. 1 who allegedly stole Billions of Ringgit from 1MDB

Many readers have complained about what they see as the over-use of the word ‘alleged’ in the alleged columns that allegedly appear in Malaysiakini under my alleged name. And I sympathise with these critics in the sense that constant over-use of ‘alleged’ or indeed any other word can be very tedious.

But in my own defence I have to say that a good many appearances of ‘alleged’ in my columns are there by courtesy of my long-suffering sub-editors, in their ceaseless attempts to lend some sense of journalistic propriety to my practice of accusing members of Malaysia’s UMNO-BN regime of crimes of which, despite apparently overwhelming evidence, they have not, at least so far, been proven guilty.

Far from convicted, in fact, most have never even tried, investigated or identified as suspects, or even, for that matter, have even admitted that the crimes I and others allege against them have ever actually occurred.

As, for example, in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) case, which the court of public opinion and a good many legal jurisdictions around the world regard as a monstrous swindle and money-laundering scam, but whose alleged mastermind, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak aka Malaysian Official 1 or MO1 and his alleged accomplices and supporters claim is entirely free of any shred of irregularity or impropriety, let alone criminality.

A situation that explains why I have to plead guilty of frequently pre-empting my sub-editors by personally employing, and in the process arguably over-employing, the word ‘alleged’ for the purpose of making the point that there is no evidence, let alone proof, that any of the UMNO-BN regime’s alleged agencies of alleged government can be accused of honestly carrying-out its sworn duty.

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Malaysia’s Attorney-General who allegedly cleared Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak of any wrongdoing over RM2.6 billion of 1MDB money that went to the latter’s personal bank account

There’s precious little or no proof, for example, that the alleged Royal Malaysian Police Force properly performs its function of impartially and equally enforcing the laws of the land and protecting the populace, as it is evidently far too busy protecting the interests, allegedly criminal and otherwise, of the regime that effectively owns it.

Just as there is lamentably little evidence for the proposition that the alleged judiciary administers the laws, either criminal or civil, for the benefit of the Malaysian people at large.

Especially in light of the fact that an Attorney-General (AG) who some time ago showed signs of intending to investigate the 1MDB can of worms was summarily ‘retired’ in favour of a successor who immediately decided that allegations against Najib/MO1 and his fellow suspects were false and without foundation.

Similarly, the alleged ‘journalists’ of Malaysia’s alleged mainstream ‘news’ media can never be suspected or accused of performing their professional duty of reporting the news without fear or favour, or indeed of reporting anything at all that might inconvenience, embarrass or more likely incriminate the ruling regime.

Image result for Malaysia's Attorney General The Pious Saudi Royals who were allegedly donated RM2.6 billion to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak

While the regime’s alleged ‘religious’ authorities, for their part, persistently support UMNO’s alleged, indeed all-too-obviously false claim to be the ‘defender’ of Islam, despite the regime’s routinely committing such excesses of corruption and criminality as to disgrace Islam or any other alleged ‘faith’.

And the alleged Electoral Commission (EC) is apparently on a mission to avoid even the hint of any suggestion that it might honestly perform its function of ensuring relatively equal numbers of voters across electorates, as specifically required by the constitution, let alone polls free of bribery or other forms of rigging in the regime’s favour.

Indeed, the alleged EC is so extremely biased toward UMNO-BN that the current alleged government, since it lost the majority vote in the 2013 general election, can arguably be considered not guilty of actually being legitimately in power at all.

Preferring a more presidential role?

 Prime minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he stole money from state fund 1MDB.
Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied accusations that he alledgly stole money from state fund 1MDB. Allegedly  Pious Muslim. Photograph: Fazry Ismail/EPA

And as far as many of us are concerned, Najib Abdul Razak is only allegedly Prime Minister of the country, as he clearly prefers playing a more presidential role in which he seldom deigns to attend Parliament, and he and his alleged ministers are protected from replying to questions by an alleged speaker who perceives his function solely in terms of preventing the alleged opposition from speaking.

Speaking of speaking, I suspect that at least some of the readers of Malaysiakini who allege that ‘allege’ appears far too often in my alleged columns are themselves only allegedly regular, honest Malaysians.

In other words, a great many anonymous alleged readers, to judge by the low standard of their alleged English and the idiocy and suspicious uniformity of their alleged ‘opinions’, are actually so-called ‘cybertroopers’, or in other words paid propagandists, or, if you prefer, propagandistutes, for UMNO-BN’s alleged ‘government’.

Admittedly, of course, it could be alleged that my ceaseless allegations against UMNO-BN and its members and minions could be nothing but figments of my alleged imagination, and evidence of a tendency to paranoia into the bargain.

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Kevin Morais who was allegedly murdered

It’s altogether possible, of course. But, as boring as all my alleging may be to some, I can’t bring myself to either apologise for this practice or to allege that I intend to engage in it any less.

After all, I owe it to myself as a genuine rather than merely alleged writer, and even more so to you as a truly rather than allegedly respectable and intelligent reader, to go right on expressing my allergy to UMNO-BN’s countless alleged Ali Babas and their ridiculous alleged alibis.


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’.

 

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

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Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

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Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

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Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

US Justice Department Probe of 1MDB in Danger?


March 15, 2017

US Justice Department Probe of 1MDB in Danger?

by John Berthelsen @www.asiasentinel.com

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U.S Attorney Preet Bharara

There is concern in Kuala Lumpur that the United States Justice Department’s investigation into the state-owned 1Malaysia Development Bhd., which is ensnared in one of the world’s biggest financial scandals, could be stymied in the wake of the March 10 firing by President Donald Trump of the country’s 46 US attorneys.

The Trump administration announced it had ordered all Obama administration prosecutors to tender their resignations immediately, including Preet Bharara, the most aggressive of the US prosecutors, who said he had met with Trump in November, telling reporters that both Trump and Jeff Sessions, now the Attorney General, had asked him about staying on, which Bharara said he would do, according to the New York Times.

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Trump is not interested in Malaya. To him Najib Razak is not a small potato

“We fear (Prime Minister Najib Razak) has Trumped us,” said a member of the political opposition in Kuala Lumpur. “Bharara’s firing has discouraged all the reformers in KL. They think the 1MDB investigation will die.”

That may be too pessimistic. Nonetheless, the concerns over the departure of federal attorneys handling the 1MDB case were compounded by the fact that the case also involves an investigation into the activities of the investment bank Goldman Sachs and its role in underwriting and steering US$6.5 billion in bond sales for 1MDB. Gary Cohn, the current president and chief operating officer of Goldman, has been appointed the head of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors.  Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Securities and Exchange Commission head Jay Clayton and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief adviser, have all been connected to Goldman as well.

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In addition, Trump himself called Prime Minister Najib in the middle of the night in mid-November for an amicable conversation at the behest of businessman Syed Azman of Weststar Group, a sprawling Malaysia-based conglomerate with interests in cars, aviation, construction, defense and engineering. Azman’s 40 helicopters shuttle people and goods to offshore oil platforms.

 Azman, according to sources in Kuala Lumpur, knows Trump relatively well and plays golf with the President, a real estate tycoon before his election. Some years ago Azman bought two of Trump’s ornate branded jets for use by his own businesses. During the presidential campaign, he re-loaned one of the jets back for use by Trump’s aides. It was repainted in the Trump livery and used during the campaign, a source in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel.

According to details of the conversation by Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, Trump, also asked Najib when the latter planned to visit the US, to which the Prime Minister replied, “Wait until you settle in and I will come. I would like to discuss a few things with you.”

The US Justice Department last July announced a sweeping investigation into the activities of 1MDB, with US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch alleging “an international conspiracy to launder funds misappropriated from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.”

Although he is identified only as “Malaysian Public Official No. 1,” it was clear that Najib was the target of what Lynch called “the largest single action ever brought” under the US’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.

The US Justice Department investigation is a damning indictment of the entire structure surrounding 1MDB.  It found that from 2009 through 2015, more than US$3.5 billion in funds belonging to 1MDB were misappropriated from an entity ostensibly created by the Malaysian government to promote economic development in Malaysia through global partnerships and foreign direct investment, and intended to be used for improving the well-being of the Malaysian people.

Despite the allegations, Najib appears to be secure in his job as premier, which he assumed in 2009. In fact, he believed to be solid enough to call a snap election prior to the deadline required for national elections in April of 2018.

Goldman Sachs came into the picture in July last year with the allegations that billions of dollars were diverted from 1MDB for personal use by Public Official No. 1, his stepson and others.  It was Goldman that helped 1MDB raise US$6.5 billion in three bond sales   to invest in energy projects and real estate. Goldman earned nearly US$600 million to underwrite the sale of the bonds. The lawsuits alleged investors weren’t properly informed about the use and nature of the bonds and that the offering circulars for two of the bonds issued in 2012 allegedly contained “material misrepresentations and omissions” over what the proceeds of the bonds would be used for and the nature of the relationship between 1MDB and International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), an entity owned by the Abu Dhabi government.

Goldman has denied all wrongdoing, saying it had no visibility into whether some of the funds were subsequently diverted into things like the purchase of expensive art work and the funding of the blockbuster movie Wolf of Wall Street, produced by Najib’s stepson and others.

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High Flying Investment Banker Leissner

Nonetheless, Tim Leissner, once Goldman’s star banker in Southeast Asia, stepped down from his position last March, either voluntarily or because he was suspended, as investigations widened in Singapore, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, France and other countries in addition to the US.

There is no indication that the investigations into 1MDB and Goldman have been stopped.  Justice Department officials in New York and Los Angeles are said to be continuing to search for additional assets connected to 1MDB and the Najib family to sequester under the kleptocracy statute.

In addition, all presidents have had the authority to dismiss regional US attorneys, who are political appointees and serve at the pleasure of the President. However, unlike Ambassadors, for instance, the prosecutors are almost always professionals widely respected in their field.

Bharara, who rules over Manhattan, was appointed in 2009 by President Obama. He has earned a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor who has taken on a wide range of white-collar crimes and won a flock of convictions.

Playing Malaysia’s Number Game


March 13, 2017

Manjit Bhatia’s article’s article is on my blog.

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/najibs-criminal-state-of-mind/

Image result for Najib Razak and the Malaysian economyThe Malaysian Treasury is all but full

What follows is my friend Nurhisham Hussein’s response.

My own reaction is that I do not trust Malaysian government statistics since they are subject to manipulation by politicians in power. I do respect Nurhisham’s views and commend him for attempting to defend  “economic data from Malaysia”.

The sad truth is that there is so much fake news from Najib Razak and his cohorts in recent years that I have difficulty in knowing what is fact and what is fiction. It is something I experienced in attempting to figure out Donald Trump. But when it comes to Malaysia it is pretty straight forward since in the Malaysian context, fiction is fact.

By the way, what China has to do with the issues raised in Manjit’s article. This statement which I quote from Nurhisham’s article –“One of the key tests to determine whether economic data is falsified is internal consistency and statistical irregularity. China, for example, fails on both counts”–is irrelevant.

Allow me to quote a comment from Greg Balkin who regards Nurhisham’s article as: “A very strong rebuttal to Manjit Bhatia’s shoddy arguments.

Unlike MB who simply fights against the wind and even with his own shadow, at least Nurhisham Hussein provided actual facts and statistics for readers to contemplate on and question if necessary.

As a long-time Southeast Asia watcher, I have been very concerned about Malaysia which is increasingly beset with contradictory developments. Economically, it continues to grow faster than some neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia (That is bull Greg, check your facts on Cambodia from the Asian Development Bank before making your comment. In its most recent assessment,the Bank described Cambodia as an emerging tiger economy), yet it is mired in a series of financial scandals over the past three years, not to mention the worrying political scene.

The problem is many Malaysians have lost faith in the Najib Administration to the extent that any article that chastises Putrajaya is welcome even if it is not backed up with facts and statistics. One can read many of them on Malaysiakini or Free Malaysia Today. But it does not help Malaysians to develop a more critical mind when it comes to holding the powers-that-be to account.

This explains why many opposition leaders, blinded by popular support and swayed by populist sentiment, simply make one unsubstantiated allegation after another, only to find their position untenable and forced to retract thereafter.

No worries, for they have the people behind them whose negative perceptions of the government are already cast in stone and it matters not if these allegations hold water. If this vicious circle persists, I would not surprise to see Malaysia vote out UMNO and replace it with another set of arrogant politicians armed with half-baked policies to administer the country.

But it is a politician’s job to make sensational yet unsubstantiated claims, and an economist’s one to right them. Precisely why MB’s latest article is not only a huge letdown, but one that is unbecoming of his credentials, if any.”

Let me present an alternative reaction to Nurhisham’s article. It is from someone who calls himself Bumiputera Graduate as follows:

“I am unsure if Nurhisham is trying to shore up confidence in the Malaysian economy or defend the credibility of social and economic data produced in Malaysia.

I think Nurhisham is an expert at  the sleight of hand.  He has shifted the focus in the article from the main points that Manjit is making to those where Manjit is inaccurate.

Among the inaccuracies Nurhisham pointed out is that Malaysia does publish its labour force participation numbers, and that its budget deficit is going down. But Nurhisham doesn’t deny that perceived inflation figures are higher than reported figures; he only says it’s also the case with the US, which is not an answer at all.

He doesn’t touch on Manjit’s point on Bank Negara Malaysia manipulating the currency. Is Manjit right? Or is he wrong? Nurhisham says that his friends and associates at IMF and the World Bank have full confidence in Malaysia’s statistics.

Who knows if Manjit’s friends at the Fund and the Bank don’t have any confidence in Malaysia’s statistics. Hardly an argument worth a pinch of salt coming from the general manager, economics and capital markets of a government agency – the Employers Provident Fund – whose investment decisions are themselves questionable.

Again, when there are conservative estimates of 2 million undocumented migrant workers, with what confidence will you say that the minimum wage is implemented?

The labour market, going by his 3.6% indicator, may be at full employment, but he’s sweeping away the big problem of graduate unemployment (predominantly a Malay problem), the huge migrant labour problem, and the low productivity.

But if Manjit does a bit more of research and does a full article on the Malaysian economy, he may come up with a longer menu of issues that plague the economy than Nurhisham will be able to defend.

Manjit Bhatia, the byline says, is with a risk analysis company. If people like Manjit have views like this, that says a lot for the confidence that foreign analysts have in the Malaysian economy.

I think Nurhisham fails miserably in trying to shore up optimism in the economy, if that was his intention, even as he defends the credibility of data coming from Malaysia. With rebuttals such as his, what little confidence the public has, will further slide down.”

I leave you, my blog readers, to decide between the two views (Greg Balkin and Bumiputera Graduate). As far as I am concerned, and if I have surplus cash to invest, I will stay out the Malaysian stock exchange, the bond market and the Malaysian ringgit for a while, since I have no confidence in the Najib Administration’s management of the Malaysian economy. –Din Merican

 Playing Malaysia’s number game

by Nurhisham Hussein

The article further states that there is no data for the job participation rate in Malaysia. This is rather unconventional classification, as everyone else uses the term labour force participation rate (LFPR) instead. In any case, the article is completely mistaken. The LFPR for Malaysia has been available at monthly frequencies since 2009, quarterly since 1998, and annual frequencies going back to 1982. The annual numbers are further broken down by age, gender, education, and ethnic background. The data shows, far from a decline in labour market conditions, a steeply rising LFPR from 62.6 per cent in 2009, to a near record high of 67.6 per cent in 2016 (with a long term average of 65 per cent). It should also be noted that Malaysia’s long term average unemployment rate is just under 4 per cent. At the current rate of 3.6 per cent, the labour market would still be considered to be at full employment.

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Between Idris Jala and Najib Razak–A Deformed Malaysia

The article goes on to say that Malaysia’s minimum wage is scarcely enforced. On the contrary, data from the EPF, to which all salaried workers are required to contribute, show a massive shift in Malaysia’s salary distribution when the minimum wage was introduced in 2013. Fully 10 per cent of the workforce shifted from below the minimum wage to above it, and the wage effect was evident across the entire bottom half of the distribution.

Fourth, the article claims that, “In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the ‘official’ number”, and “inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research.” The second statement is nonsensical – there is no such thing as inflation in “real” terms, because in economics real prices of goods refer to inflation-adjusted prices. But the larger point – that inflation is perceived to be higher than official statistics – is actually well known. Well known because the same discrepancy has been documented nearly everywhere.

A recent Federal Reserve research note explicitly addressing this issue, found that US citizens perceptions of inflation were consistently twice as high as the official statistics. Why that is so is an interesting question in itself and would take far too long to explore, but the larger point is that differences between perception and official statistics cannot be taken as prima facie evidence that those statistics are false. There is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true, for example via MIT’s Billion Prices Project, that it is perceptions that are mistaken and not the statistics. Furthermore, research into the methodology and mechanics of constructing consumer price indices conclude that if anything, the CPI tends to overstate inflation, not understate it.

Fifth, the article claims Malaysia’s fiscal deficit and national debt are “ballooning”. In fact, the deficit has been halved since 2009, to just 3.1 per cent for 2016, while the debt to GDP ratio has been kept under the 55 per cent limit the government imposed on itself. Manufacturing, far from being routed, has continued to thrive, with sales breaching an all time high of ringgit 60 billion a month over the past few months. Moreover, Malaysia has been one of the very few countries in the region to record positive trade growth over the past two years.

In the Age of Trump, democratic institutions are under attack everywhere. Trust in public institutions has declined, not just in Malaysia, but globally. Globalisation itself is in retreat, and schisms and conflicts that we thought were gone, have arisen anew. Be that as it may, undermining confidence in public institutions without substantive evidence reinforces these troubling trends, and works against the very foundations of a democratic society. Without them, the very thing that Manjit Bhatia appears to be arguing for, becomes further from reality.

Nurhisham Hussein is General Manager, Economics and Capital Markets at Employees Provident Fund, Malaysia.