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.

       

Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government


March 4, 2019

Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government

by Sharifah Munirah Alatas

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Pakatan Harapan (PH)  lost two by-elections in  just one month.

Last month, Barisan Nasional (BN) won its first post-GE14 by-election in Cameron Highlands. On Saturday, in Semenyih, it claimed its second victory.

In Cameron Highlands, the majority was 3,239 votes, and in Semenyih it was 1,914. Voter turnout in the Balakong, Seri Setia and Sungai Kandis by-elections were below the 50% mark. Cameron Highlands and Semenyih commanded higher percentages, 68.7% and 73.24% respectively.

They reveal that Malaysians are seasoned democratically. We are capable of voting one party out, in search of a better alternative. This comes only nine months after a previous “better alternative”.

The burning question now is, how will all the elected individuals in government chart their trajectory towards the fundamental task of “making our lives better”?

Since PH’s loss in Cameron Highlands, harebrained policies and schemes have been dished out to us. We may see more of these disappointments, post-Semenyih.

The latest flying car dream is a glaring disappointment. Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof claimed a week ago that it is a prototype targeted at transport service companies, and is not for sale to the general public.

Image result for malaysia's flying car

Why embark on this project now when there are millions of other housing, health, “rice, fish and vegetable” issues facing the public? These are the unsolved problems that are turning the public away from PH.

Image result for Defeat in Seminyih

I have not heard or read of any member of the public who is jumping for joy with the flying car prototype. The minister tried to calm nerves by saying that local technology would be used to attract foreign investment. The voters of Semenyih have proven that there are egalitarian, more democratic ways of attracting foreign investment.

Needless to say, spending about RM1 million on flying technology is a “cheap” way of skirting the problem of our public transport system.

On March 1, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said his ministry was open to the idea of building a new hospital in Semenyih.

One day after the by-election, Mahathir blamed the UMNO-PAS alliance and the nation’s debt for PH’s loss in Semenyih.

We hope this means that PH will scrap the plan to build the hospital in Semenyih. Building hospitals do not come cheap. Semenyih residents are not interested in a hospital. Instead, re-allocate funds towards widening the roads, easing traffic congestion and upgrading the public transportation system.

These are what the residents want, but nobody is listening to them. I should know, because I am one such resident.

The Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) has still not been recognised. It is a black mark in PH’s report card.

The public is convinced that PH is still committed to the “Malay agenda” when Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government “needs to consider the feelings of the Malays”.

Even Arshad Ayub, Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) founding father, believes that Malaysia has reached a point where UiTM is ready to accept non-Malay students, albeit at the post-graduate level.

The public is fed up with the lack of meritocracy exercised by our institutions of higher education. It is not alien to me. Our culture of meritocracy is stunted, and it is driving PH supporters away.

The abolition of the goods and services tax (GST) has increased the price of goods. Tolls have not been reduced, nationally. The recent move to replace the toll system at four highways with congestion charges does not impress the public.

The Finance Ministry’s “zero-based budgeting approach” is goal-specific, rather than based on the BN-era budget calculation. The share for development has decreased to 17.4% of total expenditure. Instead, the share of the operating budget increased by 10.4%, reflecting sizeable emoluments attributed to the bloated civil service.

Despite Mahathir’s bemoaning the huge size of our civil service (almost 1.6 million), there are no policies in sight to trim it.

Rural Malaysia has accepted their lot at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They are less interested in former PM Najib Razak’s conviction in the 1MDB scandal. This explains why BN is still very influential in grassroots Malaysia.

The reason, of course, is BN’s (in collusion with PAS’) ability to contextualise development within an ethno-religious framework. PH seems to be following suit, as indicated by the abrupt U-turn on ICERD late last year.

But BN has more magnetic power, backed by decades of “familiarity” among the rural masses. PH will not have the staying power if they do not pay attention to economic and education reforms that would otherwise benefit the grassroots.

Reform-minded, urban Malays will be the first to re-orientate their loyalties after feeling cheated and disillusioned. Will the non-Malays then resort to forming a third coalition out of desperation?

The Malays, Islam and the “war for Malay support” have resurfaced as the stalwart of post-GE14 politics. As we race towards GE15, another scenario awaits us. A growing prejudice based on religio-ethics has started to boil.

The door to ijtihad seems to be closing rapidly. TV1 airs daily religious programmes dedicated to textual interpretations of the Quran. Contents are restricted to deconstructing Arabic words and sentences. These programmes are not focused on the cognitive processes needed to adapt the Quranic message to our pluralistic, socio-cultural milieu.

Mahathir has often lamented how our national schools have become religious schools. Since PH came to power, though, I have not noticed any changes to our national television stations.

Besides our schools and universities, the television functions as an education tool as well. It is time our ministries affect policy reforms that reach the grassroots level. It is not good enough to “look into the issue” or delay by forming one intra-ministerial committee after another.

BN continues to capture the rural Malay psyche by latching onto a skewed interpretation of Islam through the print media and television. A sizeable group of progressive Muslims in Malaysia are aware of these tricks but seem to accept the lesser of two evils.

In the midst of PH’s mounting setbacks, (in fulfilling their election promises), reform-minded Malays are finding comfort in BN and PAS.

The by-election in Semenyih, home to 46.3% Malays and 33.7% Chinese, is proof of this.

Muhammad Aiman Zainali’s candidacy proved a disaster because he was simply the wrong choice. He did not constructively address an iota of the issues facing Semenyih residents.

Neither did he try to win over the community by recommending solutions to the problems residents face. He did not even play the race and religion card, the way BN did.

Twenty million Malaysians realise that it was ridiculous for Aiman to contest. Merely being of “likeable personality” or the son-in-law of the deceased is not a game-changer. Lest we forget, nepotism was one of the main reasons BN fell from power.

We can expect the next few years leading up to GE15 to be checkered by communal politics. Prejudice and growing extremism are on the horizon. PH needs to work in unison, to implement reform-oriented policies amidst the racial and religious divide we are experiencing.

Most importantly, PH has to make inroads to the grassroots. It takes courage, effort and political will.

Our leaders have to be humble, work hard and listen to the people. Our democratic system implores them to do so. If they do not, greed, arrogance and megalomania will be their first class ticket out of Putrajaya.

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

Malaysia’s Mahathir sidelines Coalition Partners


February 21,2019

Malaysia’s Mahathir sidelines  Coalition Partners

Image result for dr.mahathir mohamad

There is growing uneasiness in Malaysia that the ethnic chauvinism of the United Malays National Organization under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his first 22 years in power is rising to overpower the platform of multiracialism and ending political corruption that defeated the country’s founding coalition last May 9.

Thus fears are growing that letting Mahathir lead the Pakatan Harapan coalition means the founding parties – Anwar’s PKR, the DAP and Amanah – are likely to soon find the entire camel in the tent with them despite their Reformasi platform.

Mahathir has come to dominate the coalition with ideas that drove the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition, and UMNO, its main component, during his reign from 1981 to 2003. He has pushed through yet another national car plan even though his previous one, the ill-fated Proton, lost billions of dollars. He is squabbling with Singapore and backing the concept of Ketuanan Melayu over the objections of coalition partners, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s own Parti Keadilan Rakyat, who favor a multi-ethnic government.

He has accepted eight former members of parliament who have crossed from the corruption-ridden and imploding UMNO into his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, with more possibly to come from the  East Malaysia state of Sabah.

“There’s a lot of resentment over the acceptance of these eight UMNO bozos and they are possibly going to accept several more in coming weeks,” said an annoyed Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “The coalition partners have expressed unhappiness, the same way the minor parties expressed unhappiness during the Barisan days – muted and sheepishly. None have the balls to vigorously stand up on principle against Mahathir.”

Mahathir, by far the country’s most popular political figure at age 93, is having none of it. He said earlier this week that he wouldn’t hesitate to abandon his coalition partners “if they are not loyal to the country.”

When the country’s 14th general election was held last year, Mahathir’s Parti Bersatu emerged with just 13 seats, compared with 47 for Anwar’s PKR and 42 for the DAP, with a handful of lesser parties making up the rest. With the defections from UMNO, Mahathir’s party has nearly doubled its seats in parliament to 22.

Image result for a. kadir jasin

Last October, Kadir Jasin, a former newspaper editor and longtime Mahathir ally, said as many as 40 former UMNO members might cross over to Parti Bersatu. That set alarm bells ringing, with the other coalition members, particularly Lim Kit Siang of the Democratic Action Party, raising a furor and putting a temporary stop to it. If indeed Parti Bersatu were to take in 40 additional members, that would make it by far the strongest party in the coalition.

Despite some concerns over nonagenarian forgetfulness, the Prime Minister appears to be as headstrong in his new incarnation – despite swearing fealty to democratic principles during the campaign to oust former Prime Minister Najib Razak – as he was during his reign as premier from 1981 to 2003.

Bloodletting in the new ruling coalition appears to have claimed several scalps including Nurul Izzah, Anwar’s daughter, who quit as vice president of PKR in December along with giving up her chairmanship of Keadilan Penang, reportedly in disgust over the political situation. Rafizi Ramli, the party secretary general, also appears to have been sidelined, with former Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali – a favorite who was appointed economics minister by Mahathir — now playing a leading role in Anwar’s own party.

Whether Anwar can emerge from the two-year sabbatical he promised is also unclear. He is not trusted by many including some in PKR, and thus the squabble for party primacy between Azmin and Rafizi.

Mahathir has never made a secret of his insistence of ethnic Malay primacy that characterized UMNO during his first 22 years in power. Since the election, he has repeatedly defended the concept of Malay rights, saying at a party assembly in December that “Malays feel that they must be protected and they feel this could only be done by their own race through politics. That is why a party comprising Malays and led by them needs to be formed.”

But the last time Mahathir tried that, he ended up with school systems and universities that simply passed Malays through without educating them, with a civil service that was choked with unneeded employees, with companies that carried dead weight on their payrolls.

It was Mahathir who sought to create a cadre of 100 super-rich bumis who in turn would help rural Malays into prosperity, much the way he envisioned driving the country into industrialization through massive projects. But once the privileged got rich, there was little incentive to share it with the kampungs, the Malay rural villages. Many of the state-backed companies eventually collapsed and for decades had to be supported by government institutions.

Anwar has been careful to say that Mahathir has changed his stripes. But Parti Bersatu bills itself as an “older and better version of UMNO” with no need to accept non-Malays. That appears to be a recipe for disaster.  It was UMNO in the fading days of the Barisan’s reign that kept the now-disgraced Najib Razak in power through massive bribes to party members.

Pakatan Harapan has made some progress towards multiracial government, with a highly respected ethnic Indian – Tommy Thomas – as attorney general, and Lim Guan Eng, the effective Chinese chief minister of Penang, as finance minister. It appears to be making steps towards cleaning up the judiciary, and it has arrested Najib and his grasping wife as well as others. But the coalition hasn’t helped its reformasi reputation with the discovery by opponents that at least five officials appear to have faked their university degrees.

But there is little doubt that there is an elemental inconsistency between Mahathir’s view of governance and that of the other component parties, and that Mahathir, through the sheer force of his will, is winning.

Nine months ago, country was euphoric and jubilant,” a disillusioned source said. “Today people refer to the new PH Government as ‘the bloody government.’  No more of this ‘New Malaysia’ stuff. You bring that up, people whack the shit out of you. Because there is no New Malaysia. There is only one Malaysia – the Malaysia that we have all allowed to exist, the old Malaysia, where corruption, cronyism, abuse of power is all justifiable in the name of national unity.”

MP Nik Nazmi brings back memories of the Anwar-led 2008 Pakatan Rakyat


February 16,2018

Nik Nazmi brings back memories of the Anwar-led 2008  Pakatan Rakyat

By Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad  the MP for Setiawangsa.

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/464186?fbclid=IwAR25cGcttcKWep_VuYlXm9uT0Vhj3nuWoO3kgVCarZFwiZ2X8e8PkOTaVB0

Image result for Anwar-led 2008 Pakatan Rakyat

MP SPEAKS | This week, seven former UMNO MPs joined Bersatu. Bersatu has also declared its entry into Sabah, contrary to its pledge before the 2018 election.

I have consistently said that I am against this—and many of my colleagues in Pakatan Harapan feel the same way.

Let us focus on the challenges facing us in the present and how to move forward into the future. One thing that we need to do is to be willing to listen to all arguments—including the ones we don’t necessarily agree with.

It has been argued that these defectors are needed to shore-up Malay support for Harapan.

It has also been argued that the move is necessary to counter the emerging UMNO-PAS alliance, which is allegedly increasingly popular on social media as well as to strengthen our coalition’s standing in rural areas — such as the East Coast and Northern Peninsula.

It is true that Harapan did not win the popular vote in the last election—garnering only 48.31% of it. Indeed, much of the 50.79% of the vote that Barisan Nasional and PAS won was from Malays in the East coast and Northern Peninsula Malaysia as well as from Muslim Bumiputeras in Sarawak.

And it does appear that Malay sentiment towards Harapan is not exactly glowing. Although much of this is driven by the shrill and manufactured voices of UMNO and PAS surrogates, there is genuine concern among many Malays that the community is under threat: both politically and socio-economically.

Defections will not guarantee Malay support

But is taking in defectors from UMNO the best way to assuage these concerns?

Why can’t the various components of Harapan evolve so that we can, finally, access, engage and win the support of all Malaysians, including the rural Malays?

Why do some of our leaders seem intent on taking short-cuts, rather than the path of hard (but ultimately rewarding) work? Have we totally abandoned the idea of bipartisanship?

Why do some Harapan leaders assume that the Malay community will necessarily be impressed by taking in these defectors? Is the rural Malay community that monolithic? Is quantity really that more important in governance and politics rather than quality?

But if taking in defectors is not the way, how should Harapan resolve its “Malay dilemma”?

Image result for Anwar-led 2008 General election anwar poster

Negara ini bukan  Tun Dr.Mahathir punya. Ini adalah Malaysia–Negara kita semua. 2008 GE Tagline–UBAH SEBELUM PARAH

One way is to double-down on conservative Malay politics, including turning back on reform because it will allegedly weaken the community. This is the path that PAS has taken. That was their choice to make and theirs alone, but it also means they are no longer the party of Dr Burhanuddin al Helmy, Fadzil Noor and Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

Image result for dr syed husin ali

Dr.Syed Hussin Ali-The Intelletual behind PKR

The alternative is to stick to the progressive, inclusive promises we made via the Buku Harapan.

Our GE-14 campaign manifesto was a document that all Harapan parties agreed to. But it was also a platform that addressed the aspirations and problems of all segments of Malaysian society, including the Malays.

The Buku Harapan can be executed. We couldn’t deliver all of the 100 day promises—but it doesn’t mean that it cannot be realised. The same applies to the other pledges.

Some things may need to be sequenced, but they must be done if the country is to survive and thrive. We should not simply cast the Buku Harapan aside due to political exigencies.

Harapan won because it gave Malaysians hope

It is cynical and disingenuous to say that Harapan won only because of the 1MDB scandal and the anger towards Najib Razak. That’s simply not true.

Our critics—but also our own leaders, legislators and supporters—should give us more credit than that.

Malaysians voted for us not only out of anger over BN’s scandals and mismanagement, but because they believed that Harapan had a better vision for the future of the country. They voted for us because Harapan gave them hope. What I am saying is this: Harapan should learn to take “yes” for an answer.

Malaysians gave us an adequate majority on May 9

There is no need to worry about our parliamentary majority (which is adequate to govern). Unless some quarters have some political calculations to undermine the Harapan consensus.

Image result for dr syed husin ali

As I have said many times before, a two-thirds majority is sometimes more trouble than it is worth.

It is only moral and just that constitutional amendments—when they become necessary—be done via a bipartisan consensus, by talking and working with the Opposition and civil society.

Harapan should roll up our sleeves and get down to the business of governing the country. And “governing”, means reforming our economy and making it work for all Malaysians.

Malays will benefit from progressive politics

Part of this involves winning over the Malays to the idea that progressive politics and governance is in their interest. And it is.

Who makes up the majority of the urban poor? The Malays.

Who makes up the majority of low-wage earners? The Malays.

Who makes up the majority of the petty traders struggling to earn a living? The Malays.

Whose families are the majority of those struggling to service high household debts? The Malays.

Who are the majority of smallholders struggling from low commodity prices and delays in government payments? The Malays.

Delivering an economy that solves the plight of these segments of society, even in a non-racial manner, will do more to win over Malay voters than trying to outflank UMNO and PAS on the right – or luring opposition crossovers.

The voters in these constituencies did not vote for Harapan. They knowingly chose the vision that BN and PAS had for Malaysia. Their MPs moving over to Harapan will not likely make them feel any differently.

Instead, solving the bread-and-butter-issues of the voters will go a long way in addressing their racial and religious insecurities.

Harapan should trust our defend our Constitution

We must also learn to trust our Constitution and our system of governance, even as we repair both from decades of abuse.

Setting up the latest incarnation of the National Economic Action Council (NEAC) is the Prime Minister’s prerogative and so is its composition — although there were some interesting omissions.

The members who were selected are distinguished and respected in their several fields — one wishes them every success.

But the NEAC’s emergence has — fairly or unfairly — led to speculation over the performance of the Cabinet. There are perceptions — again, fairly or unfairly —that attempts are being made to circumvent the normal process of Cabinet-based governance in the management of Malaysia’s economy.

It is easy to dismiss these criticisms as grouses, but they have a real impact on how voters view this current Pakatan Harapan government.

If we lead, the people will follow

I hope this is something that the leaders of our government and alliance will take into account moving forward, especially when dealing with defectors and in how the administration’s agenda is to be executed.

The ends do not justify the means. Like it or not, processes sometimes matter as much as outcomes.

Malaysia needs solutions that work for the many, not the few. We need policies for these day and age. Too often we seem to be indicating of going back to the economic prescriptions of Old Malaysia.

Sticking to the spirit of Buku Harapan is the way forward.

This will go a long way towards winning over Malay fence sitters and not side-line our non-Malay and politically liberal supporters.

While UMNO and PAS embark on a journey rightwards, we should not dance to their tune.

But we must allow them the space to be a functioning Opposition that keeps us in check.

That is what leadership is. Pakatan doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Let’s be sure of who we are, what we want to do and where we want to go. If we are sincere, the people — including the Malays — will follow.


Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad is the MP for Setiawangsa.

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

Mahathir Using Economic Council to Edge Anwar Out in favour of Azmin Ali?


February 16, 2019

By: Yusoff Rawther

Image result for azmin ali and mahathir

A glance at the newly-announced lineup of Malaysia’s Economic Action Council (EAC) poses more questions than answers. It was formed to respond and take action in addressing economic issues. Objectives include stimulating economic growth, ensuring fair distribution of wealth and improving the well-being of the people as well as focusing on issues related to cost of living, labor, poverty and home ownership.

What is its relevance? It sounds eerily like a cabinet within a cabinet, and at a transitionary period, it looks like a redundant idea that will prove to be merely a political tool.

In less than a year since assuming the premiership, the 93-year-old Mahathir Mohammad has flip-flopped on various issues, most obviously his firmly stated assurance in May 2018 that the victorious Pakatan Harapan coalition would not be accepting turncoats from the losing United Malays National Organization.

Yet, along with the announcement of the creation of the economic action body,  Mahathir happened to embrace seven former UMNO MPs into his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu, an act of betrayal to the people of Malaysia. UMNO was thoroughly discredited as a party corrupt to its very roots – by MPs who were kept loyal to the previous premier, the disgraced Najib Razak, by outright bribes.

Anwar Ibrahim has been unceremoniously left out from the EAC, an indication that Mahathir is once again vying to divert as much power and attention towards the lesser known and underperforming Minister of Economic Affairs, Mohamad Azmin Ali, the former chief minister of Selangor and an ambitious pretender for the leadership of the coalition.

Aside from the fact that the council’s existence shows failure on behalf of the prime minister to appoint qualified people to the cabinet, if we are to accept the premise that the council should exist, the right thing to do is to invite the premier-in-waiting to be a member in a move to demonstrate your confidence in your designated successor to the voters as well as giving Anwar a role to play in contributing to the agenda set forth in the EAC’s charter. Malaysians should beware lest Mahathir smuggles old failings into the mix whilst our attention is held elsewhere.

The political heavy lifting was done by Anwar, who from his prison cell pulled a lax opposition and the complaining class into the fight alongside his supporters to create the conditions for change. Conditions that proved vital in the overthrow of the Barisan Nasional regime.

It is evident that something more than elections are necessary to create a genuine new dispensation of sustainable democratic good governance.

 Creating the EAC and sidelining the PM-in-waiting is not a good indicator of that. Authoritarian rule is not just about figureheads. They use power th to maintain themselves is institutionalized and embedded in deep structures of privilege that corruptly deliver a nation’s bounty into the hands of a chosen few.

If Anwar Ibrahim is the icon for democracy, then Mahathir is the icon and spokesperson of the embedded structures of inequity.

As the principal architect of genuine reform,  to sweep aside the structures of authoritarian control and the inequity they beget, Anwar’s reform agenda seeks to eliminate  corruption, cronyism and nepotism, the elements of a bygone era.

It is the diligence and energy Anwar applies to promoting an alternate vision of good governance, one and of a free and competitive Malaysian economy and harmonious, multiracial society that  made him an important voice not only in Malaysia but around the world. Anwar has spent his career speaking for and articulating an alternative agenda of politics.

As a Deputy Prime Minister during the Asian Financial Crisis I988, Anwar came very close to dismantling the Mahathirist version of crony capitalism when he decided to implement an IMF style austerity program, suspend big-bulge infrastructure investment, and force big businessmen to take care of their own debts.

Anwarnomics promises to do away with state-backed racism. It promises to be inclusive, rules-based and competition-driven with a large, well-funded social safety net and he has reiterated time and again the need for uncompromising reforms.

Here are some of the things he has advocated for, long before the formation of the EAC:

Malaysia’s economic policies should be inclusive and to dismantle obsolete policies such as the New Economic Policy. Positive.

  • discrimination policies must be based on freedom, justice, and equity.
  • A sustainable economy is not one that is mainly driven by consumer spending fueled by high level household debt. “We cannot build a better life for our people if they need two to three jobs just to make ends meet. That is bad economics… even worst social policy.”
  • Affirmative actions taken must be based on needs.
  • It is important to enhance investment, trading and economic ties with China and India which are the engine of growth for global economy.
  • Social protection and poverty eradication remain central to the effort to ensure a better life for all.
  • Greater transparency and public participation is key in ensuring efficiency of social programs, to identify dubious programs, reduce duplication and waste of resources.
  • Economic policies to lure foreign direct investment must not neglect any region or community in the country. It is not a zero-sum game. If we choose to embark on pro-market reforms, it should not be an excessive capitalistic notion ignoring the plight of poor and marginalized.

Given the facts, it is only fair to question Mahathir’s  motives  in creating the EAC while failing to include the next Prime minister.

Malaysia is rich in resources and possibilities. Change will require more than just elections, it requires dismantling the institutional structures of inequity, most of all it will depend upon building the strength and capacity of civil society, the plethora of organizations and associations by which ordinary people hold their governments to account.

Malaysian Islam seen through 3 men


January 21, 2019

Malaysian Islam seen through 3 men

I wish to present three perspectives of Islam concerning the concept of choosing a “leader” in Malaysia.

This article is inspired by Abdul Hadi Awang’s clarion call to Muslims to choose his narrow-minded brand of Islam, perhaps for the upcoming Cameron Highland by-election.

Image result for tariq ramadan and farouk musa

 

I will describe the views of Hadi, Perlis mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, and Muslim scholar Dr Farouk Musa, who heads the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF).

Each has given three different views of what is considered appropriate leadership within an Islamic framework of their choice.

This article is specifically for Malaysians to contemplate the type of Islam existing in Malaysia that will determine the course of our nation in the coming decades.

Hadi Awang

Image result for Hadi Awang

To Hadi, non-Muslims can NEVER be trusted at all, now and forever. To him, even if the non-Muslim looks “clean” he would eventually be corrupted simply because he is not a Muslim.

To Hadi, non-Muslims can NEVER be trusted at all, now and forever. To him, even if the non-Muslim looks “clean” he would eventually be corrupted simply because he is not a Muslim.

Simple. Clear. Concise. At whichever leadership position there is, whether for a head teacher, an elected representative, a district officer, a minister, a vice-chancellor and especially, the prime minister, the choice must always and forever be Muslim, no two ways about it.

It seems Hadi can clearly see the fate of everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, because even the Prophet has said that no one knows their fate except Allah.

Asri

Image result for dr. asri and zakir naik

In a lecture posted on YouTube, the Perlis mufti was asked whether one can choose a non-Muslim leader or not. To me, for Malays to be asking that very question speaks volumes about the failed state of our education system for the past 60 years.

Asri gave what to me was a scholarly and clear answer. He firstly clarified that what is haram must be stated clearly, and anything that is not stated in the hadith and the Quran can be considered acceptable.

Democracy has never been stated by the Prophet and by the Quran and so it is not haram to use such a system in choosing a leader by a one-man, one-vote system.

Secondly, he said that the present administrative governance of the leadership in Malaysia is enshrined in the constitution and backed by the Malay rulers. Thus, the laws and guidelines for governance within a Malaysian-Muslim construct are well established and any different levels of leadership cannot decide willy nilly about any whimsical desire.

A head teacher has an SOP, an elected representative has a certain responsibility and jurisdiction, a district officer has his or her regulated guidelines, and so does a minister.

In that regard, a Muslim may choose anyone who is Muslim or non-Muslim for a position of leadership at any level except the topmost one, which is the prime minister of Malaysia.

Ahmad Farouk Musa

Image result for din merican and farouk musa

The third view is by far my favourite, the most radical and what I consider the most constitutionally correct.

This view is propagated by Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, a fierce critic of traditional and state Islam and a proponent of a modern and enlightened Islam for all.

He says that a Muslim must never choose a corrupt, immoral and cruel leader just because he is a Muslim. A Muslim must subscribe to the principle of morality and justice for all by choosing someone trustworthy with the strength and will to do the right thing for all, at all times, regardless of faith, race or status.

If the candidate is a non-Muslim then Muslims must choose him or her over a corrupt Muslim.

What Muslims believe

It was fortunate that Barisan Nasional (BN) had a mutual understanding of electing leaders at all levels of governance by choosing citizens of various races, cultures and faiths.

Malaysians must acknowledge the great debt we owe to BN for ignoring extremist views like those of Hadi. Truly Hadi’s view is destructive to all Malaysians and serves perhaps his egocentric desire for power and prestige as well as financial gratification. Thank you, BN!

The choice of leadership modelled after the likes of Asri has been a precedent that Pakatan Harapan (PH) now emulates. Thank you also to PH for ignoring the views of the ulama who think they are the only ones capable of ruling over Malaysia with their limited education and framework of thinking.

Hadi’s view is perhaps relevant for a small fishing community. However, the great problem that has arisen is that after the Islamic revival movement of the Abim/Ikram era, Muslims are more religious than the days of P Ramlee in the 60s and 70s.

In those days, one out 1,000 Malays would pray regularly. Now one out of 100 Malays will not pray regularly.

Most Malays pray and have access to speeches by narrow-minded teachers, who propagate the Hadi view of leadership.

The proponents of this view are mostly in public universities holding positions of professors and associate professors. If I were to venture a figure in the 60s and 70s, 90% of Muslims would subscribe to the middle view of Asri and only 9% to Hadi and 1% to Farouk’s.

Now, I would venture that 70% of Muslims are with the view of Hadi, 29% with Asri and 1% with Farouk. This breakdown will cost untold hardship in Malaysia’s political scenario.

I would venture that my view and that of Farouk are 50 years ahead of time. The numbers supporting Asri’s view must turn to 70% if we are to move comfortably forward.

If I were to be bold and venture a guess, 100% of non-Muslims would subscribe to Asri’s view of leadership because the non-Malays accept and respect the cultural leadership of the sultan and the history of Tanah Melayu as an important civilisation and heritage.

Malaysians must understand that Asri is educating the Malays in a more moderate and progressive way, while Hadi seeks only discord and conflict as a political tool of power grabbing.

What of Farouk’s radical view of Islam? Well, he and I can wait 50 years. No hurry.

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