Not easy to work with Dr M, says ‘heartbroken’ Nurul Izzah


March 25 , 2029

Not easy to work with Dr M, says ‘heartbroken’ Nurul Izzah

https://wordpress.com/post/dinmerican.wordpress.com/146500

 

 

t has been a difficult year for Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, as she revealed to Singapore’s Straits Times how she nursed a “broken heart” brought on by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s return to power.

“Oh, it’s been so turbulent and tumultuous.

“I’ve learned so much, but I think my heart’s been broken as well, somewhat,” said Nurul Izzah, who recounted Mahathir’s first stint in power when her father, Anwar Ibrahim, had served as the deputy prime minister.

Quizzed on the cause of her broken heart, Nurul Izzah told the Singapore daily it was not easy having to once again work with the man who brought down her father nearly two decades ago and sent him to prison.

“I mean having to work with a former dictator who wreaked so much damage, not just on our lives, but the system.

“It was not easy,” she admitted, although Anwar himself had openly made peace with Mahathir through a historic handshake three years ago, and is once again positioned as Harapan’s prime minister-in-waiting.

According to the Straits Times, Nurul Izzah still speaks with emotion about Anwar’s innocence and how imprisonment had taken him away from the family – including her mother, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – and her five younger siblings.

Insya Allah,” she said, when reminded that Anwar would eventually assume the country’s top post.

In the age of terror, we don’t need inciteful preachers


March19, 2019

In the age of terror, we don’t need inciteful preachers

Opinion  | By Dr. Azly Rahman

COMMENT | ‘Minister meets ‘inspirational‘ Zakir Naik,’ read a news headline. This is a very disappointing message considering that when Mujahid Yusof Rawa became de facto Islamic affairs Minister, he announced that Zakir’s way of preaching was not suitable for our multicultural society.

Why a different message all of a sudden? I am also troubled by the news that we’re bringing Malaysian Islamic State fighters back home. What are we getting into?

Alas, is our minister in charge of religion so shallow in knowledge he needs the urgent help of a TV evangelist who is wanted in his own country? How does this go well with what the national unity minister wants, as well as what the education minister would craft for our philosophy of education or social reconstruction and a new Malaysian patriotism?

Have we not enough confidence in our own understanding of how to explain the beauty of Islam in a multicultural society? A religion that can co-exist peacefully with other beautiful religions and philosophies? Preach for peace or don’t preach at all. Or do we really need preachers of this kind, such as Zakir Naik?

Years of studying (and later teaching) Chinese, Indian, Western, and Islamic philosophies have taught me to appreciate diverse traditions and never to belittle any of these “truths”. We cannot know the Ultimate Truth, only “perspectives” useful in our lifetime. And these truths come in a variety of languages and concepts. We just need to train our mind and soul to be worldwise.

All Muslims are not necessarily brothers. I am not a brother to those who support the Islamic State, nor to those who preach hate, half-truths, and profit from these. Calling “brother” can be a first step in dominating and colonising your minds.

Islam does not need to be “defended” nor other religions need to be “attacked” in order for one to profit from religious speeches. Confrontational politics has done enough damage to Malaysians. We need more goodwill dialogue in an age of continuing terror.

I am surprised some Malaysian government leaders do not have the good sense to judge what is “inspirational” and what is “inciteful” about the Mumbai speaker, whose modus operandi is to prove other truths wrong by employing half-baked analysis.

Besides, the grand show of converting people to Islam on stage cheapens the religion – reminiscent of Christian preachers who play with rattle snakes or orchestrate a session of “speaking in tongues”. Any religion should not be trivialised as such. Each religion must encourage more deep learning and less marketing in order to teach people to behave in this world.

Inspirational? Or inciteful?

In the United States, I have taught Comparative Religions, Philosophy of Religion, Islamic Scriptures in translation, and related courses, but find the confrontational style of “fiery and steamy and hot peppery” preachers and dakwah-rists too vile and too repulsive for Malaysians.

Preachings that divide and create animosities should not be allowed as long as Malaysia is still struggling to contain race-religious hatred.

Malaysia, as a lovely cultural location of religious harmony, does not need any preacher to bring his/her ideology and conflict here.

We cannot call a preacher “inspirational” when the work done is divisive – creating animosity among a variety of believers. Isn’t Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, inspirational? TV evangelists and those doing “dakwah-for-huge-profits” prey upon the vulnerability of those who do not read widely, especially about comparative religions and philosophies. We need to educate the public. Malaysia is not a Taliban state of the lesser-educated.

Again, as one who has taught Public Speaking for many years and studied speakers and analysed their speeches, I find a high level of toxicity in the style of speaking of TV-evangelists such as Zakir Naik.

Image result for mahathir and zakir naik

Malaysia’s Chief Clown

In the case of our leaders and Pakatan Harapan government’s fascination for radical and repulsive religious preachers and the plan to bring back ex-IS supporters and fighters, we must have social media activists demanding the next urgent regime change – a government strong enough not to tolerate any nonsense that compromises national unity and national security.

Religious discussion should be dialogical, not confrontational. Each religion has flaws. A good public speaker does not intimidate/shout at members of the audience. Especially if he has a microphone and the stage. A good preacher doesn’t ask if you’re Muslim or non-Muslim before answering questions.

Zakir Naik came from a hostile environment of an ongoing conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India. Perhaps he is used to preaching with hostility – which is not suitable for intelligent Malaysian audience.

Maybe I should go around the country preaching how NOT to preach against other religions? Will I get an island too?

Why the special treatment?

Yes, what a special treatment: first, they gave him an island. Then permanent resident status. Then they hug him tight like lovers. Then we allow him to go public in finding flaws in and belittling other religions. This is how we show our love to a preacher who is wanted in his own country. Preaching is not about proving one religion is better than others.

What is so inspirational about a preacher who lambasts other religions? The Malaysian government seems to be taking it easy on matters of national security. And harbouring radical preachers!

Then there is the news that we plan to give only one month of rehabilitation time for returning Islamic State fighters and support staff, people who had pledged allegiance to another state – the terrifying Islamic State.

How many years did it take to radicalise them through those Taliban schools? Already, Malaysian schools are fertile grounds for radicalism. Why hold the seeds of destruction in your hands? You bring in former IS fighters and you might open up a new recruitment centre. Beware. It’s a business. Recruiters get paid. We are treading on dangerous national security grounds, Malaysia. Don’t we know that IS is moving into Southeast Asia? And our solution is a gentle reminder and rehabilitation?

Malaysian politicians must realise that the internet can bring about a change of any government, and bring down any politician. It is our post-modern Frankenstein, the voice of the masses. It’s not easy to mediate freedom of speech on the internet.

In the case of our leaders and Pakatan Harapan government’s fascination for radical and repulsive religious preachers and the plan to bring back ex-IS supporters and fighters, we must have social media activists demanding the next urgent regime change – a government strong enough not to tolerate any nonsense that compromises national unity and national security.

Our prayers go to those who perished in the attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We have a lot to work for peace. Though we cannot stop terrorist acts, we can at least detain or deport those who inspire others to hate other religions.


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He grew up in Johor Bahru and holds a doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

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

Who delayed the trial? Not my dog


March 15,2019

Who delayed the trial? Not my dog

by Muhammad Shafee Abdullah

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/467815

COMMENT | On March 10, I was at my home in Bukit Tunku where I have one matured guard dog of mixed breed. Six months ago, I acquired another mixed breed, this time a puppy (now about 10-months-old) intending that it would be a fully-trained guard dog, as having one guard dog without a second one for any eventuality would be unwise.

I trust guard dogs more than human guards. Even my security guards think the same way, as they rely on my guard dogs to secure the compound while manning the guard houses and the gates. I have a professional dog trainer, a former police K-9 unit personnel trained by the FBI.

Although still a puppy, my dog is bigger than most adult dogs of his breed and extremely strong, fast and cunning. He is very playful as one would expect of a dog that age. When I come up to my house, he stands erect on his hind legs unsupported, even for as long as a minute, without moving.

On that day, the dog was let loose in the outer compound. When he saw me, he became excited and rushed towards me playfully, but I was not expecting this. I was careless and lost my balance and fell squarely on my left arm. I felt no pain even several hours later.

However, that night, I felt my left hand stiffening. At first, I thought nothing of it, believing it must be due to working hard in preparing for the appeals at the Court of Appeal on Monday and Tuesday.

I requested my Indonesian employee to massage my hand. He did so as I conducted discussions regarding the appeals in my library in the presence of at least five of my lawyers until about 1am on March 11. I went back home at about 4.30am, and there was no significant change in the feeling of stiffness.

Perhaps, the massage could have exacerbated the latent injury and the next morning, I felt pain when doing routine things.

I began to have more pain at the COA hearing on the first day (March 11), but it was not something that I could not bear. In any case, I alerted the COA of my possible delay the next morning, as I had to attend to a significant mention of Samirah Chandra Muzaffar’s case at the Shah Alam High Court due to some troubling developments.

At that time, my left hand was not an issue. But that night, I felt a throbbing pain and my wife noticed a significant swelling on the upper side of the left hand.

I could not sleep that night so I attempted to read my preparations for the second day at the COA, but the pain became worse and the swelling grew to half the size of a tennis ball. The pain was so severe I concluded that I must have fractured my hand from the fall.

I went to the court in Shah Alam early in the morning on March 12 and on the way, arranged for an orthopedic specialist at the Columbia Hospital in Shah Alam to have a look at my hand. But the timing was not conducive, so I had to rush to the Shah Alam Court, where the matter ended at 10.15am.

When I arrived in Putrajaya at the COA, my associate lawyer, Harvinderjit Singh, was shocked to see the swelling on my hand and told me to immediately go to the hospital.

Initially, my plan was to complete parts of the appeal in the morning and then head to the hospital either during lunch break or in the late afternoon after the case. I have a high threshold for pain, and I thought I could complete the submission before seeking treatment. But my team were concerned and advised me to seek an adjournment of the fourth appeal to the next day.

Consulted orthopedic specialist

When the court started, we applied for the fourth appeal, which was mostly my submission, not to be undertaken on that day as I needed immediate medical treatment. The attorney-general did not object to us doing the submission within the same week, but not Thursday (March 14) as he would be engaged with the Johor sultan.

Friday, on the other hand, was too short (considering Friday prayers) so we settled for Wednesday. Everything was agreed to when I left the COA leaving Harvinderjit to tend the fort. But what I did not know was that after I had left, all parties, including the court, decided that Friday would be a better option for the hearing of the appeal.

As I had a little more time, I went to consult my regular orthopaedic specialist at the Tung Shin Hospital in Pudu.

The specialist was kind enough to wait for me. Immediately upon examination, he was of the opinion that there could be a fracture. But thank God, the X-ray revealed otherwise.

It was massive soft tissue and blood capillaries injury causing significant internal bleeding that accounted for the tennis ball-like swelling and pain. I was given medication and medical leave up to Friday. But I would be attending court as I did this morning, tomorrow and Friday at the COA.

As you can see, we are not delaying the trial notwithstanding exigent circumstances.

Who delayed this trial? Consider the below honestly, and tell me who is the culprit.

The SRC International trial was fixed commencing from February 12, 2019 to March 29, 2019. But the AG decided at the eleventh hour to add three new additional charges under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001 (Amla) at the trial court on Jan 28, 2019.

This was hardly two weeks from the trial without giving us the benefit of an earlier notice, especially as this would significantly change the trial dynamics, components and programmes.

A decent AG would give us an early notice so that we could offer an opinion if the three new charges could be jointly tried with the seven existing SRC charges on January 28 itself. If he had given us notice, we would not have to ask for time to consider this suggestion by the public prosecutor on January 28.

We also realised that there could be a serious problem in the mode of charging the three additional charges as they sneakily preferred the charges at the High Court itself calling them “charge 4, 5 and 6” without going through the lower court, as these new charges are trilable by the Sessions Court and need a special legal transfer mechanism for the charges to be transferred to the existing SRC High Court. Any chambering student in a criminal based practice would know this.

Anyway, Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, realising we were unnecessarily taken by surprise, adjourned the matter for further consideration on February  7, just after Chinese New Year. Ask yourself who caused this delay?

As usual, we prepared tirelessly for the submission on Feb 7 in spite of the Chinese New Year and the need to prepare for the main trial starting imminently on Feb 12.

But, lo and behold, the AG personally turned up this time on Februry 7 to give us further shocking news for further concern.

An attempt to sabotage?

First, he said, to avoid troubling the court deciding on the joinder of charges, he was withdrawing the three new charges. What? Is this really happening? Why didn’t he have the decorum to tell us earlier so that we did not have to waste countless red-eyed days and nights preparing the arguments on the joinder?

We complained. Was this an attempt to sabotage by taking us away from preparing the main case? In any case, the statement by the AG that the new charges were withdrawn to save the court time in deciding about the joinder was not frank, as the real reason for the withdrawal was the AG had realised the blunder his office had made in the way he proferred the three additional charges directly at the High Court. This is having blunder and arrogance all together.

Now tell me honestly who caused this unnecessary waste of time and delay?

But that is not all. The AG, out of the blue, suddenly realised and told the court that as a result of two Federal Court decisions, two years and one year earlier respectively, he had second thoughts about the constitutionality of his transfer certificates under Section 418(A) of the Criminal Procedure Code and Section 60 of Amla and the transfer of all the seven charges of SRC cases to the High Court. But hang on, didn’t the AG say constitutional law is his forte?

The AG withdrew all the transfer certificates and literally told the judge that the SRC cases be reverted to the Sessions Court. This is now the subject of appeal on Friday.

Friday is also the subject of whether the judge can flip the AG’s transfer into his own initiated transfer without moving the cases physically to the Sessions Court first (as suggested by the AG himself) and bring them back to the same court.

To let a decision such as this stand would have serious consequences. This decision not only applies to Najib Abdul Razak, but literally everyone who is facing the criminal justice system in Malaysia. These are serious issues that would be dealt with at the COA.

This has never happened before in our country nor in the Commonwealth. A huge issue for determination by the COA is whether a trial if proceeded upon could be declared a nullity and my client could be the victim of a retrial.

Now would it not delay things further for everyone concerned if a retrial is ordered down the line? That is the reason the other coram of the COA granted a stay of the SRC trial until final determination of the appeal. The merit of the appeals is to be determined soon.

Now tell me who caused the delay?

Further among the four appeals is also our claim that we and the court must be given a copy of the fiat to prosecute of Sulaiman Abdullah (and by same arguments in another case involving Gopal Sri Ram).

We need this innocuous document which nevertheless provides the basis for the “fit and proper person” test for us to challenge the appointment if it is called for. Since 1938, our system and all the Commonwealth have provided for inspection fiats of this sort including when I became the prosecutor in Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy 2 appeals.

Ironically, the AG initially classified the fiat as an official secret (OSA) which was the excuse provided by Sulaiman in the High Court when he refused to provide the written fiat of his appointment. The AG dropped another bombshell by saying he was not relying on the official secret, and that it was just a “red herring,” and there was never an issue of OSA to begin with.

A red herring? From the mouth of the AG in court? Whose red herring? The AG’s red herring? Why did he mislead us yet again? We prepared a monumental amount of work on the OSA.

Now tell us honestly, after reading this and the facts available, who is causing the delay of the SRC trial.

One has to be as blind as a bat or as deaf as a doornail not to see or hear clearly that it is the Attorney-General’s Chambers which is delaying the trial by raising new things almost on the eve of the SRC trial.

READ THIS: https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/467873 by Mariam Mokhtar


MUHAMMAD SHAFEE ABDULLAH is the lawyer for former premier Najib Abdul Razak.

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

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Business as usual: regime change and GLCs in Malaysia


March 14, 2019

Business as usual: regime change and GLCs in Malaysia

By Dr. Edmund Terence Gomez

https://www.newmandala.org/business-as-usual-regime-change-and-glcs-in-malaysia/

 

  • Edmund Terence Gomez is Professor of Political Economy at the Faculty of Economics & Administration, University of Malaya. His publications include Malaysia’s Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Political Business in East Asia (Routledge, 2002), The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Horizontal Inequalities and Social Justice (National University of Singapore Press, 2013) and Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017).

    When Pakatan Harapan unexpectedly secured power after Malaysia’s 14th General Elections (GE14) in May 2018, voters expected the coalition and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to dismantle an extremely well-entrenched government–business institutional framework that had contributed to extensive clientelism, collusion, nepotism and embezzlement. After all, the institutionalisation of more transparent and accountable governance was a Pakatan campaign pledge.

    However, barely nine months after taking control of government, Pakatan appears to be re-instituting the practice of selective patronage in the conduct of politics and through the implementation of public policies. In this inter-connected domain of public policies and selective patronage, government-linked companies (GLCs) will play a key role.

    The core institutions employed by the Barisan Nasional coalition and the hegemonic party at its helm, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that allowed for extensive profligacy are what are collectively known as GLCs. These GLCs are, in fact, a complex ensemble of statutory bodies, foundations, trust agencies, investment enterprises, a sovereign wealth fund, as well as companies, with representation in a wide array of industries. These institutions, controlled by the central and 13 state governments in the Malaysian federation, officially function primarily as “enablers” of domestic firms, to nurture a dynamic privately-owned enterprise base. But GLCs also constitute an estimated 42% of total market capitalisation of all publicly-listed firms. 67 quoted firms can be classified as GLCs, as the government, through various institutions, has a majority equity interest in them.

    Federal ministries, under the ambit of cabinet ministers, also control a vast number of quoted and unlisted GLCs that do a variety of things, including promoting development of strategic economic sectors, redressing spatial inequities by developing rural areas and industries, and financing research and development to drive industrialisation. However, of the 25 ministries in the federal cabinet in 2017, before the fall of Barisan, three in particular, the Prime Minister’s Department, Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Ministry of Rural and Regional Development (MRRD), had control of a huge assortment of companies that were deployed to channel government-generated rents to UMNO members and well-connected businesspeople.

    At the state level, different public institutions own GLCs through the states’ chief ministers, through holding firms known as Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). CMIs establish companies to undertake activities in specific constituencies to mobilise electoral support. Party members are liberally appointed as directors of these GLCs, a major source of political financing as their stipends are used for political activities. Through the CMIs, what had emerged was the fusing of bureaucratic and party apparatuses, allowing politicians to selectively channel government resources in a manner that would help them consolidate or enhance their political base.

    Another factor shaped modes of GLC development: a communal perspective to policy implementation, in keeping with the government’s longstanding affirmative action-based redistributive agenda to transfer corporate equity to the Bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous groups). However, rents meant for poor Bumiputera were hijacked by UMNO members. Eventually, these GLCs became sites of political struggles among elites attempting to consolidate power through patronage, a reason why critics have persistently excoriated them as inefficient and loss-making concerns.

    Interestingly enough, this GLC framework became entrenched in the economy as well as the political system during Mahathir’s long 22-year reign as prime minister, from 1981 until 2003. Other key figures who shaped how this political–business nexus evolved while they served with Mahathir previously include then-Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin (1984–1990), now his economic advisor, and Anwar Ibrahim (1990–1997), then and now the designated prime minister-in-waiting. By the time of GE14, this GLC structure had become so huge—and so abused by Barisan—that Mahathir himself described it as a “monster”.

    Despite Pakatan’s promise of a new approach to shaping Malaysia’s political economy, experience thus far suggests a surprising degree of continuity. Rather than give up an appealingly effective lever for consolidating power, Pakatan leaders seem inclined to borrow the same tools on which Barisan had so detrimentally relied.

    Power struggles, persistent patronage

    Soon after Pakatan formed the government, a disturbing series of events occurred. Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Mahathir inaugurated the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA), led by Azmin Ali, deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Anwar’s party. Even before GE14, PKR was mired in a serious factional row, reportedly due to problems between Anwar and Azmin. Meanwhile, Mahathir is widely thought to be uncomfortable with transferring power to Anwar, who he had removed from public office in 1998.

    Image result for Anwar. mahathir and Azmin

    A PKR insider insists that the party is split into two factions, one loyal to party supremo Anwar Ibrahim and the other to deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali.

    The newly-minted MEA took control of numerous GLCs from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). In this discreet shuffling of GLCs between ministries, Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from MoF to the Prime Minister’s Department, under Mahathir’s control. The government did not explain why these GLCs were shifted between ministries, but MoF’s enormous influence over the corporate sector has been significantly diminished. Under Barisan, the Prime Minister had also functioned as the Finance Minister, a practice Mahathir had started in 2001, but Pakatan, while in opposition, had pledged to ensure the same politician would not hold both portfolios.

    Even though Khazanah was under the Prime Minister’s Department, Mahathir appointed himself as its chairman, which is, by convention, the practice. The convention also is that the Finance Minister serve on Khazanah’s board of directors. Instead, Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin was given this appointment. The appointment of Mahathir and Azmin as Khazanah board members was contentious as Pakatan had pledged in its election manifesto that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

    Next, in September 2018, Azmin’s ministry convened a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras & the Nation. Mahathir stressed at this congress the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting Bumiputera, a plan his economic advisor, Daim, endorsed. The following month, when Pakatan, through the MEA, released its first public policy document, the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, it emphasised the Bumiputera policy as being imperative. In the past, GLCs have been central to government efforts to advance Bumiputera interests.

    Meanwhile, numerous ministers began actively calling for the divestment of GLCs, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Subsequently, when Khazanah began reducing its equity holdings, including in CIMB, Malaysia’s second largest bank, rather than seeming simply a step toward the larger goal of scaling back government ownership, this divestment raised the question whether it marked the commencement of a transfer of control of key enterprises to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s. In fact, in ensuing debates about such divestments, the question was raised whether such divestments were an attempt to create a new influential economic elite, even oligarchs, who could check politicians in power in the event of a leadership change.

    Then, another contentious issue occurred. Minister of Rural & Regional Development Rina Harun, of Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), appointed politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control. Under UMNO, this ministry had persistently been embroiled in allegations of corruption, undermining the activities of its GLCs that had been created to redress spatial inequalities and reduce poverty. The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as its enterprises have an enormous presence in states with a Bumiputera-majority population. So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. Hence, the minister’s directorial appointments suggested a worrying trend of continuity of irresponsible practices of the old regime.

    In December 2018, Bersatu leaders openly declared their intent to persist with the practice of selectively-targeted patronage. At its first convention after securing power, when its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, declared that “Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the Bumiputera Agenda”, his statement was enthusiastically supported by members, suggesting an element of opportunism, even self-interested rent-seeking, in the party. UMNO leaders had made similar arguments in the past to justify state intervention, including through GLCs, a process that they abused to transfer government-generated rents to party members, to the detriment of poor Bumiputera. These trends suggested that Bersatu’s primary concern was its immediate need to consolidate power, not instituting appropriate long-term socioeconomic reforms, which might do less to muster support.

    The problem of instituting real change

    All told, then, these specific, sometimes discreet, steps since GE14 have called into question the extent of political economic reforms expected of Pakatan, based on its own manifesto. Moreover, under Pakatan, by its own admission, the volume of state intervention in the economy will still be substantial. Industrial development will be fostered through GLCs, as will attempts to nurture dynamic domestic Bumiputera-owned enterprises. Worryingly, what is absent is a coherently-structured industrial plan to cultivate entrepreneurial private firms. There is similarly no roadmap to reform these GLCs, or even to get them to target specific core industries requiring heavy capital investments and extensive research and development funding to rapidly industrialise the economy. Since politicians will control most of these GLCs as directors, they will determine the recipients of rents distributed to nurture domestic enterprises.

    The current state of play raises an important question about an interesting phenomenon: what happens, in terms of dismantling rent-seeking and patronage and instituting reforms to curb corruption, when a new regime comprises politicians who see this framework as a mechanism to consolidate power? A link between two core issues remains in place after regime change: elite domination and the continued practice of selective patronage, legitimised by advocating race-based policies that are to be implemented through GLCs. Under UMNO, elite domination was obvious, with Barisan component members subservient to then-Prime Minister Najib. In Pakatan, a multi-party coalition, Prime Minister Mahathir and Daim appear to have disproportionate influence when it comes to decision-making on core issues, though the parameters of their power remain unclear.

    Meanwhile, elite domination of the economy at the state level varies as several different parties are in power. State governments are controlled by UMNO, Bersatu, PKR, DAP, Parti Warisan Sabah, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). The latter two parties have long governed Kelantan and Sarawak respectively, while Bersatu and Warisan are new parties run by UMNO factions, though ostensibly with a reformist agenda. The governance dynamics of these parties in these state governments will differ, specifically in terms of how they employ GLCs, further indicating the ubiquity of these enterprises in the economy. These GLCs have persistently been used to distribute different types of rents such as financial aid, contracts, permits, licences, etc., to party members as well as others in the electorate in key constituencies. Even with regime change, the presence of covert networks of power created through GLCs in these states is unlikely to be reformed, thus contributing to continued serious wastage of scarce resources.

    There is plainly no clear method to the madness of how the new federal or state governments employ GLCs. Different sets of political and business elites operate at the national and state levels. In fact, before GE14, business elites were known to be creating ties with politicians in both UMNO and Pakatan parties, specifically PKR and DAP. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, wealthy businessmen had long since begun entering politics, even getting elected as parliamentarians, thus giving them access to federal government leaders. This diversity in political–business ties, where government institutions figure, is an indication of how complex the GLC problem has become. However, GLCs remain an opaque form of state intervention in the economy. And, since there is little public knowledge of GLCs, the opacity of these enterprises has allowed for their abuse by politicians.

    Fragile state and political economic outcomes

    Since Pakatan is a coalition of parties led by politicians who coalesced only because they had a common agenda—the removal of Najib from power—what prevails in the post-GE14 period can be described as a “fragile state”. This fragility is also because of the uneasy relationship between Mahathir, who leads the second-smallest party in Pakatan, and his long-time-nemesis-now-political-ally Anwar, who leads the party with the highest number of parliamentary seats. PKR, however, is ridden with serious factionalism, including an uneasy truce between Anwar and Azmin, who apparently is closely associated with Mahathir.

    What is emerging is new forms of power relations through the unhealthy circulation of political elites from the old regime into Pakatan, as well as alliances between leaders from different parties in this coalition. UMNO parliamentarians are lining up to join Bersatu, a quick route back to power for them after their unexpected ouster. By co-opting them, Mahathir’s new party can swiftly fortify its extremely weak base in Bumiputera-dominant states. Bersatu’s co-optation of discredited UMNO members is, however, seriously undermining support for Pakatan among the urban middle class, as well as Mahathir’s credibility. In fact, there has been recent talk in the public domain that a no-confidence motion against Mahathir as Prime Minister may be tabled in the March sitting of parliament, led apparently by leaders within Pakatan. Because of this complex situation of political in-fighting, there is much fear that politicians in power may move to create, through the divestment of GLCs, powerful

    Since a structural framework that allowed politicians to exploit institutions in various ways to serve vested political and economic interests remains in place, a key question has emerged. What are the possible political outcomes to this situation, in which contending elites in the new regime struggle to consolidate their respective power bases? Political outcomes can involve protecting the property rights—through ongoing and much-needed institutional reforms—of business elites who acquire privatised GLCs, thereby preventing expropriation of these companies by the government in the event of a change of premiership. Political outcomes can also entail endorsing entitlements that give one large segment of society privileged access to government-generated rents, as is already actively occurring. Inevitably, a related issue is the necessity of targeted race-based policies. These policies serve as a mechanism to retain patronage-based networks and consolidate power bases. This approach can, however, stymie domestic investments by non-Bumiputera, a serious and persistent problem during Barisan’s rule.

    Ironically, it was these forms of unproductive government–business networks that Pakatan had promised to dismantle when in opposition, in order to forge a “New Malaysia”. This New Malaysia was supposed to be devoid of race-based political discourses and policies, with the GLCs deployed to promote equitable development and redress social inequities. The GLCs were not to be led by politicians who have no clue how to utilise them productively in the economy. These pledges have been broken. Evidently, consolidating power is more important for Malaysia’s new political elites than restructuring an economy in dire need of reform.
    itutions, has a majority equity interest in them.
    The core institutions employed by the Barisan Nasional coalition and the hegemonic party at its helm, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that allowed for extensive profligacy are what are collectively known as GLCs. These GLCs are, in fact, a complex ensemble of statutory bodies, foundations, trust agencies, investment enterprises, a sovereign wealth fund, as well as companies, with representation in a wide array of industries. These institutions, controlled by the central and 13 state governments in the Malaysian federation, officially function primarily as “enablers” of domestic firms, to nurture a dynamic privately-owned enterprise base. But GLCs also constitute an estimated 42% of total market capitalisation of all publicly-listed firms. 67 quoted firms can be classified as GLCs, as the government, through various institutions, has a majority equity interest in them.

    At the state level, different public institutions own GLCs through the states’ chief ministers, through holding firms known as Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). CMIs establish companies to undertake activities in specific constituencies to mobilise electoral support. Party members are liberally appointed as directors of these GLCs, a major source of political financing as their stipends are used for political activities. Through the CMIs, what had emerged was the fusing of bureaucratic and party apparatuses, allowing politicians to selectively channel government resources in a manner that would help them consolidate or enhance their political base.
    Another factor shaped modes of GLC development: a communal perspective to policy implementation, in keeping with the government’s longstanding affirmative action-based redistributive agenda to transfer corporate equity to the Bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous groups). However, rents meant for poor Bumiputera were hijacked by UMNO members. Eventually, these GLCs became sites of political struggles among elites attempting to consolidate power through patronage, a reason why critics have persistently excoriated them as inefficient and loss-making concerns.
    Interestingly enough, this GLC framework became entrenched in the economy as well as the political system during Mahathir’s long 22-year reign as prime minister, from 1981 until 2003. Other key figures who shaped how this political–business nexus evolved while they served with Mahathir previously include then-Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin (1984–1990), now his economic advisor, and Anwar Ibrahim (1990–1997), then and now the designated prime minister-in-waiting. By the time of GE14, this GLC structure had become so huge—and so abused by Barisan—that Mahathir himself described it as a “monster”.
    Despite Pakatan’s promise of a new approach to shaping Malaysia’s political economy, experience thus far suggests a surprising degree of continuity. Rather than give up an appealingly effective lever for consolidating power, Pakatan leaders seem inclined to borrow the same tools on which Barisan had so detrimentally relied.

    Power struggles, persistent patronage
    Soon after Pakatan formed the government, a disturbing series of events occurred. Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Mahathir inaugurated the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA), led by Azmin Ali, deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Anwar’s party. Even before GE14, PKR was mired in a serious factional row, reportedly due to problems between Anwar and Azmin. Meanwhile, Mahathir is widely thought to be uncomfortable with transferring power to Anwar, who he had removed from public office in 1998.
    The newly-minted MEA took control of numerous GLCs from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). In this discreet shuffling of GLCs between ministries, Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from MoF to the Prime Minister’s Department, under Mahathir’s control. The government did not explain why these GLCs were shifted between ministries, but MoF’s enormous influence over the corporate sector has been significantly diminished. Under Barisan, the Prime Minister had also functioned as the Finance Minister, a practice Mahathir had started in 2001, but Pakatan, while in opposition, had pledged to ensure the same politician would not hold both portfolios.
    Even though Khazanah was under the Prime Minister’s Department, Mahathir appointed himself as its chairman, which is, by convention, the practice. The convention also is that the Finance Minister serve on Khazanah’s board of directors. Instead, Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin was given this appointment. The appointment of Mahathir and Azmin as Khazanah board members was contentious as Pakatan had pledged in its election manifesto that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

    Next, in September 2018, Azmin’s ministry convened a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras & the Nation. Mahathir stressed at this congress the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting Bumiputera, a plan his economic advisor, Daim, endorsed. The following month, when Pakatan, through the MEA, released its first public policy document, the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, it emphasised the Bumiputera policy as being imperative. In the past, GLCs have been central to government efforts to advance Bumiputera interests.
    Meanwhile, numerous ministers began actively calling for the divestment of GLCs, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Subsequently, when Khazanah began reducing its equity holdings, including in CIMB, Malaysia’s second largest bank, rather than seeming simply a step toward the larger goal of scaling back government ownership, this divestment raised the question whether it marked the commencement of a transfer of control of key enterprises to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s. In fact, in ensuing debates about such divestments, the question was raised whether such divestments were an attempt to create a new influential economic elite, even oligarchs, who could check politicians in power in the event of a leadership change.
    Then, another contentious issue occurred. Minister of Rural & Regional Development Rina Harun, of Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), appointed politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control. Under UMNO, this ministry had persistently been embroiled in allegations of corruption, undermining the activities of its GLCs that had been created to redress spatial inequalities and reduce poverty. The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as its enterprises have an enormous presence in states with a Bumiputera-majority population. So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. Hence, the minister’s directorial appointments suggested a worrying trend of continuity of irresponsible practices of the old regime.
    In December 2018, Bersatu leaders openly declared their intent to persist with the practice of selectively-targeted patronage. At its first convention after securing power, when its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, declared that “Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the Bumiputera Agenda”, his statement was enthusiastically supported by members, suggesting an element of opportunism, even self-interested rent-seeking, in the party. UMNO leaders had made similar arguments in the past to justify state intervention, including through GLCs, a process that they abused to transfer government-generated rents to party members, to the detriment of poor Bumiputera. These trends suggested that Bersatu’s primary concern was its immediate need to consolidate power, not instituting appropriate long-term socioeconomic reforms, which might do less to muster support.

    The problem of instituting real change
    All told, then, these specific, sometimes discreet, steps since GE14 have called into question the extent of political economic reforms expected of Pakatan, based on its own manifesto. Moreover, under Pakatan, by its own admission, the volume of state intervention in the economy will still be substantial. Industrial development will be fostered through GLCs, as will attempts to nurture dynamic domestic Bumiputera-owned enterprises. Worryingly, what is absent is a coherently-structured industrial plan to cultivate entrepreneurial private firms. There is similarly no roadmap to reform these GLCs, or even to get them to target specific core industries requiring heavy capital investments and extensive research and development funding to rapidly industrialise the economy. Since politicians will control most of these GLCs as directors, they will determine the recipients of rents distributed to nurture domestic enterprises.
    The current state of play raises an important question about an interesting phenomenon: what happens, in terms of dismantling rent-seeking and patronage and instituting reforms to curb corruption, when a new regime comprises politicians who see this framework as a mechanism to consolidate power? A link between two core issues remains in place after regime change: elite domination and the continued practice of selective patronage, legitimised by advocating race-based policies that are to be implemented through GLCs. Under UMNO, elite domination was obvious, with Barisan component members subservient to then-Prime Minister Najib. In Pakatan, a multi-party coalition, Prime Minister Mahathir and Daim appear to have disproportionate influence when it comes to decision-making on core issues, though the parameters of their power remain unclear.
    Meanwhile, elite domination of the economy at the state level varies as several different parties are in power. State governments are controlled by UMNO, Bersatu, PKR, DAP, Parti Warisan Sabah, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). The latter two parties have long governed Kelantan and Sarawak respectively, while Bersatu and Warisan are new parties run by UMNO factions, though ostensibly with a reformist agenda. The governance dynamics of these parties in these state governments will differ, specifically in terms of how they employ GLCs, further indicating the ubiquity of these enterprises in the economy. These GLCs have persistently been used to distribute different types of rents such as financial aid, contracts, permits, licences, etc., to party members as well as others in the electorate in key constituencies. Even with regime change, the presence of covert networks of power created through GLCs in these states is unlikely to be reformed, thus contributing to continued serious wastage of scarce resources.
    There is plainly no clear method to the madness of how the new federal or state governments employ GLCs. Different sets of political and business elites operate at the national and state levels. In fact, before GE14, business elites were known to be creating ties with politicians in both UMNO and Pakatan parties, specifically PKR and DAP. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, wealthy businessmen had long since begun entering politics, even getting elected as parliamentarians, thus giving them access to federal government leaders. This diversity in political–business ties, where government institutions figure, is an indication of how complex the GLC problem has become. However, GLCs remain an opaque form of state intervention in the economy. And, since there is little public knowledge of GLCs, the opacity of these enterprises has allowed for their abuse by politicians.

    Fragile state and political economic outcomes
    Since Pakatan is a coalition of parties led by politicians who coalesced only because they had a common agenda—the removal of Najib from power—what prevails in the post-GE14 period can be described as a “fragile state”. This fragility is also because of the uneasy relationship between Mahathir, who leads the second-smallest party in Pakatan, and his long-time-nemesis-now-political-ally Anwar, who leads the party with the highest number of parliamentary seats. PKR, however, is ridden with serious factionalism, including an uneasy truce between Anwar and Azmin, who apparently is closely associated with Mahathir.
    What is emerging is new forms of power relations through the unhealthy circulation of political elites from the old regime into Pakatan, as well as alliances between leaders from different parties in this coalition. UMNO parliamentarians are lining up to join Bersatu, a quick route back to power for them after their unexpected ouster. By co-opting them, Mahathir’s new party can swiftly fortify its extremely weak base in Bumiputera-dominant states. Bersatu’s co-optation of discredited UMNO members is, however, seriously undermining support for Pakatan among the urban middle class, as well as Mahathir’s credibility. In fact, there has been recent talk in the public domain that a no-confidence motion against Mahathir as Prime Minister may be tabled in the March sitting of parliament, led apparently by leaders within Pakatan. Because of this complex situation of political in-fighting, there is much fear that politicians in power may move to create, through the divestment of GLCs, powerful business elites or even oligarchs to check other political elites.
    Since a structural framework that allowed politicians to exploit institutions in various ways to serve vested political and economic interests remains in place, a key question has emerged. What are the possible political outcomes to this situation, in which contending elites in the new regime struggle to consolidate their respective power bases? Political outcomes can involve protecting the property rights—through ongoing and much-needed institutional reforms—of business elites who acquire privatised GLCs, thereby preventing expropriation of these companies by the government in the event of a change of premiership. Political outcomes can also entail endorsing entitlements that give one large segment of society privileged access to government-generated rents, as is already actively occurring. Inevitably, a related issue is the necessity of targeted race-based policies. These policies serve as a mechanism to retain patronage-based networks and consolidate power bases. This approach can, however, stymie domestic investments by non-Bumiputera, a serious and persistent problem during Barisan’s rule.

    Ironically, it was these forms of unproductive government–business networks that Pakatan had promised to dismantle when in opposition, in order to forge a “New Malaysia”. This New Malaysia was supposed to be devoid of race-based political discourses and policies, with the GLCs deployed to promote equitable development and redress social inequities. The GLCs were not to be led by politicians who have no clue how to utilise them productively in the economy. These pledges have been broken. Evidently, consolidating power is more important for Malaysia’s new political elites than restructuring an economy in dire need of reform.

       

Malaysia: Living in a Time of Jittery Politics


March 14, 2019

Malaysia: Living in a Time of Jittery Politics

By  Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/03/12/politics-of-identity-is-ruining-democracy/

Image result for MALAYSIA

We live in an era of jittery politics. Established democracies like Britain, France and the US are facing historic political crises.

Image result for Malaysian cabinet 2019

Malaysia has hopped onto the same bandwagon. The essence of the crisis in Malaysia’s democracy today is the inability of the government to address deep divisions in society. These divisions are exacerbated by the digital revolution. Information is dispersed at lightning speed, and the mix of verifiable and fake news has already become destructive.

Across class and geographical divisions, emotions are stirred, negative feelings are amplified and disdain simmers. The people are frustrated. A discerning electorate is healthy for democracy, but our brand of democracy has become a runaway train.

Since May 9, 2018, Malaysians have been coping with inertia, mixed signals and policy retractions (U-turns) from Putrajaya.

The failures of Pakatan Harapan (PH) seem to outweigh its successes. For these successes, however, we should actively highlight, and applaud them.

First, more space has opened up for public expression and assembly. The mood here is less of self-censorship, and more towards speaking one’s mind. This is a significant achievement for Malaysians in general, and democracy in particular.

Second, , as a Malaysian who believes in justice and inclusivity, I am happy that PH acceded to the Rome Statute. As expected, there are trouble-makers who feel otherwise. They are convinced that PH is out to undermine the “relevance” of the Malay race and royalty. It is obvious these critics feel it is their right to “be above the law”.

Image result for Liew Chin tong deputy minister of defense

Deputy Defense Minister Liew Chin Tong

Third, there is the emergence of a new “brand” of ministers, specifically those who are putting their tertiary education to productive use. A very good example is Deputy Defence Minister Liew Chin Tong (a graduate from the Australian National University).

Liew recently wrote a column in a mainstream newspaper, but it was unlike anything I regularly read from our political leaders.

His conceptualisation of the UMNO-PAS realignment and a possible breakup of Barisan Nasional (BN) had a creative intellectual twist to it.

Liew was also pragmatic in his thoughts. Very few would dismiss him as a “cloudy mind in an ivory tower”. Liew’s application of the “scorched earth policy” to current Malaysian opposition politics demonstrates critical thinking, which Malaysian society hungers for in our leadership.

It is clear that there is a glimmer of hope in a few of our new generation of leaders. Most of what we are used to are rhetorical, rambling politicians who want to be heard for the sound of their voice, and not the quality of their minds.

We need more leaders like Liew who will continue to nurture a sense of pride among the public. This is necessary for a healthy, functioning democracy.

However, Malaysia’s democracy is skewed. A conceptual contradiction exists in the structure of Malaysian politics.

On the one hand, the system champions political parties which represent the peoples’ aspirations. Our wishes are exercised through fair and frequent elections. The ordinary citizen feels empowered. We are able to elect who we think are committed and dedicated to speak on our behalf. Our requests are often presented in parliamentary sittings.

On the other hand, the parties that these elected individuals belong to have platforms that are premised on undemocratic values. Many of these values are neither inclusive nor pluralistic.

There are two important characteristics of democracy. One, elections provide an opportunity to the people to change the present government. Two, it is based on the principle that the people have a say in who governs, with the objective of serving them.

It is the second characteristic that has exposed contradictions in the post-GE 14 political development. There is a fatal misfiring of what we believe democracy should be and what it actually is, Malaysian-style.

The contradictions exist because of the scourge of identity politics. It is fuelled by an ideology of religious and racial supremacy. Nobody is to blame for this but our political and intellectual leadership.

PH’s loss in Cameron Highlands and Semenyih demonstrates how Malaysians are easily manipulated. It also reveals that our political and intellectual intelligentsia permitted it to happen.

Notwithstanding that economic conditions form the basis of all other grievances harboured by Malaysians today, the Semenyih by-election exposed a stark reality. It proved that race, religion and nepotism serve as our ultimate value system.

We are used to BN’s identity politics, and I do not wish to elaborate on it. However, the choice of the PH candidate in Semenyih was shocking, to say the least. Aiman Zainali was unsuitable. The excuse for why he lost was that he is inexperienced. It may be a “kind” way to accept defeat, but it is not the democratic way. The choice of Aiman lacked vision, and was totally dismissive of what the people wanted. This is undemocratic.

Semenyih residents are plagued with traffic congestion, narrow roads, flash floods, a lack of efficient public transport, inept government doctors and overcrowded government clinics. There are too many eating stalls indiscriminately set up everywhere, blocking traffic, not to mention the perpetual stench of rotting wasted food in the drains.

During the campaign period, Aiman spoke to reporters a few times and his statements were flashed on many occasions. He spewed the usual rhetoric, that he would “focus on local issues”, he has “local links” and that the “Semenyih residents here are my friends”. He even said that he has no problem interacting with them.

Again, skewed democracy. Aiman did not interact with Semenyih residents at all. Before his candidacy, we knew nothing of him. Semenyih residents like me are totally ignorant of this young man. This is the main reason voters were ticked off.

The more serious question is, why pretend to be a democratic country if basic democratic values are not upheld?

Aiman was not picked because of his tight bond with “the locals”. Neither was he chosen because of his knowledge of what his constituents required.

Most, if not all voters who abstained on March 2 were convinced he was chosen because he was “the son-in-law”. Nepotism is certainly not a democratic value. This form of identity politics dismisses meritocracy from the equation.

Instead racism, bigotry, cronyism and gender-insensitivity are upheld. Exclusive political alliances on both sides of Malaysia’s political divide will lead to backwardness. The seeds of this have already been sown.

What I have written here is neither a doomsday analysis nor peachy optimism. We have to give the PH government more time.

But, I hope we are not giving them more time to hang themselves. In all societies, education is the screw that will either make or break a civilisation. More Malaysians have to keep harping on this like a broken record.

Where are the voices of academics in our universities? There are so many of us, yet we race to dabble in ranking exercises, useless research and robotic teaching methods.

Minister Maszlee Malik’s task is gargantuan, but he must start making drastic policy reforms. These reforms should be couched in a new ideological narrative.

First and foremost, we need to re-learn what democracy really is. We are no longer in a transitional period from colonialism to independence. The democratic discourse then was alive and fiery.

It seems we have forgotten the true democracy that is embodied in the Rukun Negara. Instead, we focus on “ketuanan Melayu”, Bumiputera rights and protection of Islam as our democratic values.

From kindergarten right up till tertiary education, our youth must be indoctrinated with the values enshrined in the Rukun Negara.

Only then will they understand the true nature of multi-culturalism and living in peace amidst diversity. They will not succumb to rhetoric.

This reformed ideological narrative should condemn racial, religious and sectarian discourse. Reforms should be implemented, that are bold enough to upset racial supremacists.

The government should not be afraid to “rock the boat” if they believe it is the morally sincere and socially-beneficial thing to do. Make a decisive policy change with respect to vernacular schools, for instance.

The bold ban on smoking is one such policy move that society will learn to appreciate in time. Make a decisive policy decision on the UEC. Stop wasting time and resources on discussions in new committees. A wealth of information already exists in books, researched articles and social media.

Malaysians will value less a “Hari Akademia”, and more promotion criteria for university lecturers, based on intellectual merit. Show the public that the government has guts to take a definite stand.

Ultimately, Malaysians need to see that PH is ashamed of the poor quality of our educators. After all, scholars are significant movers of societal change.

Political leaders can learn a lot from these intellectuals. Our education ministry should revamp its policy, with the goal of producing future intellectuals.

In 20 years, we could strive to produce 5. In the last 60 years, can we currently boast of 5?

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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The Semenyih Rebuke


March 5, 2019

The Semenyih Rebuke

Opinion
By Dr.Bridget Welsh

 COMMENT | Explanations abound regarding Pakatan Harapan’s loss. They range from simplistic explanations of ‘identity politics’ and the candidate(s), to failures in messaging/machinery and government performance. In fact, as with all elections, the explanations of voting behaviour usually reflect a combination of factors.

Image result for dr.mahathir mohamad

Ultimately, they all point to one thing: a growing public deficit in the performance of the Harapan government. Harapan has received a serious rebuke – one it needs to take seriously as it moves forward in public engagement and governance.

It is worth remembering that by-elections are opportunities to send signals of dissatisfaction; the message was sent loud and clear. The government has been perceived to inadequately improve the quality of life for ordinary Malaysians, nor offer a substantive integrative programme on how it will do so.

Harapan has been so focused on its own positions and politicking that it lost track of the reasons it was put into office. Jockeying and infighting continued to be on display in the by-election and served to erode public confidence. Reform measures have slowed. In fact, increasingly the trend has been to replicate the practices of UMNO with patronage and racial politics, rather than adopt a programme for all Malaysians.

Much of the damage has been self-inflicted. Harapan continues to think of itself as the opposition, using opposition mode attacks in unnecessary multiple battlefronts (including itself), rather than differentiate itself from BN”.– Dr. Bridget Welsh

Harapan, ironically, has become the target of voter anger and increasing expectations in governance that they, as the previous opposition, had stoked for over a decade. Given growing dissatisfaction, it is no wonder it lost the by-election.

The challenge now is not to adopt a siege mentality, engage in further damaging internal self-recriminations or to continue a divisive, defensive response. A by-election result should not be equated with a potential loss of national government in the future, nor should it be seen as an endorsement of the alternative.

BN won the seat as the opposition. Voters did not vote to return UMNO to power. To view the result as support for the return of Najib to power, or a rejection by the electorate of concerns with kleptocracy of the previous administration, or even an embrace of a pan-Malay agenda, is a deeply flawed over-stretch.

Growing voter disengagement

To understand the Semenyih election and lessons it suggests, this article looks at voting over time in this constituency, drawing from an analysis of polling stations results from the 2008 election onwards, and ties the discussion to the trends developing over the last six post-GE14 contests.

The first finding is that voter turnout has dropped across races (and notably among younger people). This is normal is most by-elections, as these contests are not seen as important.

Yet, what is interesting is that voter turnout has dropped across all the communities. From an ethnic perspective (as shown in Figure 1), there was a 22 percent drop among the Chinese electorate in Semenyih, followed by a 16 percent drop among Indians, and nine percent among Malays.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/817a74fa40a9e880501b98ceec0e68ce.gifAll the parties are not mobilising like they used to, but Harapan in particular, which used issue-based mobilization in the past, has not been able to develop a message to attract voters to come to the polls compared to the past.

Not only has Harapan not been able to move its campaigning into a different mode, it is losing its own base. This is especially true among non-Malays. Many Chinese and Indians, in particular, are unhappy with Harapan and opted to stay home. Lower voter turnout suggests a more worrying trend overall, disappointment in parties and growing cynicism in the electorate.

Disaggregating identity politics

The second finding is that support did swing to BN, especially among Malays (shown in Figure 2) and among younger voters. There was a large estimated gain of 27 percent among Malay voters.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/1d93a634ff28ea329c0640bcbcf8b53f.gifA closer look at this pattern (shown in Figure 3), examining Malay support for Harapan, is a loss of eight percent of Malays who voted for it in GE14. Most of the gain in support for BN in the by-election, thus apparently, has come from previous PAS voters in GE14.

Harapan attacks and outreach efforts to PAS failed, and the beneficiary has been Umno, which incidentally has won the most electorally with the PAS-Umno alliance. BN support has apparently returned to the levels of the past when there was no three-cornered fight. It would seem that PAS was decisive in the election.

This analysis, crediting the Islamist party, is premature. PAS, as part of Pakatan Rakyat in the 2013 election, only yielded essentially the same level of support among Malays as occurred in the by-election, 28-29 percent. The Islamist party has much less leverage among voters than it thinks.

What is primarily going on is not about a religious agenda – it is about a protest against poor governance and, to a lesser extent, about racial identity, which was a factor in GE13 and in the recent polls.

Further study will be needed to access the extent governance and/or race was important as opposed to religion, but the results suggest a need to disaggregate these factors and not equate support for Malay rights and representation with that of a conservative religious agenda. Identity politics needs to be carefully assessed, especially given that the priority of voters is the economy, not identity.

Harapan core base remains (for now)

Finally, the data (Figure 3) shows Chinese and Indian support for Harapan among voters who do go to the polls remained the same at GE14. Harapan still has an important core base. These voters have not (yet) changed their political loyalties, opting to stay home rather than change camps.

 

https://i.ncdn.xyz/publisher-c1a3f893382d2b2f8a9aa22a654d9c97/2019/03/b899b0dfe2a8376bd0e2daf1e7cf74ac.gifThe savvy MCA campaigns, which dominated Chinese social media, have not translated to more support for BN at the voting booth. BN remains a non-functioning multi-ethnic coalition and, in fact, its increasingly ethnically narrow campaigning has alienated non-Malays, with a marginal loss of support for BN among Chinese. The BN, as a coalition, will continue to face difficulty winning multi-ethnic seats.

Harapan has significant support despite the loss, including among Malays. Its support in Semenyih from Malays is still higher than the national average in GE14 of 23.5 percent. To say that Harapan does not have Malay support is not correct. It does have a critical core – many of whom voted for change.

The challenge ahead for Harapan is to keep its promises of what got it into office – better governance, reform and truly national leadership. Semenyih offers an opportunity to make changes, to learn that Harapan can only be successful working together as a coalition, prioritizing government performance and putting its focus on Malaysians. The Semenyih rebuke is an opportunity to get back on track toward a better Malaysia.


 

Dr.BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Centre for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Centre, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book is the post-election edition of ‘The end of UMNO? Essays on Malaysia’s former dominant party.’ She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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