Democracy and Press Freedom

May 18, 2018

Democracy and Press Freedom

by Amb. Dennis Ignatius

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COMMENT | Democracy brings with it its own dividends. One of them is press freedom.

Freed from the shackles of government control, the Malaysian press is already exploring the limits of its new found freedom to articulate news, views and opinions. Our dismal ranking – near the bottom of the list in the World Press Freedom Index (145 out of 180 countries) – will now improve dramatically. Perhaps we might even become a poster boy for press freedom, at least in ASEAN.

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No More Vandalism of the Media

I anticipate that with time we’ll once again have a noisy and assertive press. There are lots of enterprising and intrepid reporters out there who are just raring to do their job once again. We must release them to their professionalism and passion if we want to strengthen our democracy.

I’ve been  a columnist and commentator for almost 10 years now. I know what it’s like to be censored, to feel anxious about crossing some invisible line, to worry about whether I might run afoul of some foul law or upset some powerful person somewhere.

Journalists, columnists and commentators should never have to fear the state. But that’s over and done with; I feel freedom’s caress in a very real way now as I write.

We cannot afford to be complacent about the press ever again. A free press is fundamental to democracy, fundamental to keeping our government honest and accountable, and the people informed.

To that end, we must insist that our new government act quickly to rid our nation of every single repressive law. No journalist should ever have to worry about exposing wrongdoings, malfeasance or corruption no matter who is involved. No editor should ever have to worry about a call from the Ministry of Home Affairs. Both government and public officials need to operate in the full glare of public scrutiny.

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Abdul Rani  Kulup–King of Police Reports–is out of business

As well, we should stop the childish behaviour of making police reports whenever someone says something unpleasant against the prime minister or other public figures, as a group in Kedah did recently (claiming that someone had said something offensive about Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad). Public figures don’t deserve special protection from criticism or insult. In any case, Mahathir himself won’t be losing any sleep over being called names; he’s been called worse before and look where he is now.

Television and the print media should also be free of government control or influence; it gives them too much power to impose their views on the nation. Political parties, too, should get out of the media business. Hopefully, the new government will act decisively to free the media from political control. We certainly don’t want to see the mainstream media now become unthinking and fawning echo chambers of the new government.

Coming back to life

The air of freedom that is already penetrating mainstream media is now forcing them to reinvent themselves. Suddenly, public broadcasting and the print media are coming back to life.

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Hooligans and Racists like Jamal Yunos and his Red Shirts will now have to bear the full brunt of the law if they intimidate journalists and disrupt public order

One TV channel, for example, carried a banner encouraging their viewers to celebrate our democracy. Another long-repressed reporter who had for years considered Mahathir a dirty word suddenly found the courage to give him advice on democracy. Strong stuff by the standards of our hitherto moribund mainstream media but it’s a good beginning.

For the first time, I find myself watching the news on local TV instead of automatically switching to CNN, BBC or Al-Jazeera.

I once wrote for a major English daily but resigned in disgust after a few years and refused to buy any of the local newspapers. Like many Malaysians, I refused to support the ‘dummification’ of the media, refused to be party to lopsided, blatantly dishonest reporting.

Well, I bought my first copy of a local newspaper a few days ago and I confess the content and tone have improved. Perhaps I can now look forward to once again spending part of my day, teh tarik in hand, reading the local papers.

Online news portals like Malaysiakini, Free Malaysia Today (FMT) and the now defunct Malaysian Insider have kept the flame of press freedom burning through the long dark years of oppressive government. So many of their journalists worked long hours with little pay and endured harassment and rejection because they were passionate about their profession.

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Malaysiakini: Free at Last to pursue responsible journalism

Many of us will always be grateful to editors like Steven Gan, Nelson Fernandez and Jahabar Sadiq for their courage in publishing all our highly critical and near subversive articles about Umno-BN and the Najib administration when no one else would. They upheld freedom of expression and the right to criticise the government when both were abandoned by mainstream media. They and their staff ought to be hailed as heroes of our democracy.

In the new environment of press freedom, online media like Malaysiakini and FMT will now become mainstream. Perhaps it’s time for a print version of Malaysiakini or an FMT daily or even a KiniTV channel. One thing is sure: competition will result in better and more qualitative news coverage and lead to a flowering of investigative journalism. What a thrilling prospect! Politicians take heed.

Whatever it is, the sooner the media is revamped and given the freedom to do their duty without fear or favour, the safer our democracy will be.

DENNIS IGNATIUS is a former ambassador. He blogs here.

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

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

May 15, 2018

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

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By Janice Fredah Ti

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Pakatan Harapan–Stop Bickering and Got on with the Business of Government

Let’s examine the word “revolution”. It’s usually used to describe the forceful or even violent overthrow of a government by a huge part of the population. It brings to mind chaos, fighting, tear gas and chemical-laced water unleashed against citizens; citizens fighting the authorities; police, ambulances, sirens, injuries and even death.

However, my understanding of the word “revolution” is not limited to just that. Revolution, to me, means a big change. It means any movement or activity brought about by concerned citizens to bring about a paradigm shift in the mindset of fellow citizens, that will hopefully eventually effect a major shift in any given political or socioeconomic situation through entrepreneurship, education, the ballot box and others.

Let us hope there will be more to come and lot of changes in personnel in the civil and foreign service and GLCs.

Given that, a revolution is hard to define. It’s hard to determine when it starts or comes full circle. But a half-revolution – that is what I’d like to explore today.

Given our unique political conundrum, made worse by economic uncertainty, Malaysians cannot be faulted for toying with the word “revolution”. One minute, we’re plagued by political fatigue and on the verge of giving up; the next, someone mentions “revolution” and we’re instantly energised!

But what exactly is a revolution in the Malaysian context? Are we managing our expectations, are we leaving things to chance, are some people blindly following so-called leaders, and are others being misled?

Many of us do not like the fact that we are dependent on opposition political parties for any possible change in government. However, many believe that we are. Efforts to create a meaningful and sizeable third force by informed and concerned citizens over the years have met with very little success. Smaller parties like PSM are doing great work but unfortunately, they have not been accepted into the main opposition coalition, perhaps due to ideological differences.

The main opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan (PH), consists of PKR, DAP, PPBM and Amanah. We also have the runaway faction of the standalone PAS, PSM and other smaller parties. Putting aside PAS for now, what is PH doing in terms of effecting a paradigm shift in the minds of the general population to bring about the much needed change in government?

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Governing Malaysia is no circus with clowns. It is hard work and sacrifice. There is no such a thing as a free lunch.

PH parties have been fighting among themselves. They were involved in multi-cornered fights in the Sarawak state elections, giving the enemy an easy victory much to the bewilderment and disappointment of those who placed their hope in them. Are we to trust them with federal power if they can’t sort themselves out in state elections?

Some remain silent while others flip-flop on important matters like RUU 355. Shouldn’t PH, as the main opposition coalition, have a collective stand on major issues concerning the people?

PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail even went on record in an interview with Al Jazeera to say, albeit vaguely, things most would not like to hear on the hudud issue. She closed the interview by saying she was only a seat-warmer for Anwar Ibrahim.

DAP’s arrogance meanwhile has shot through the roof, what with the production of tacky video clips which supposedly serve to amuse a particular set of audience. And more than one DAP representative has used racial slurs in a public speech.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Malaysia’s main opposition coalition is concerned, but it should not be taken lightly.

As if the ruling government’s circus of incompetent and corrupt members was not bad enough, the main opposition has started its own circus as well.

It all began with a major upset that occurred in the already-polarised nation torn apart by a government gone mad. A movement started by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad emerged out of no where in 2016, and to date, all it has succeeded in doing has been to further divide the people, much to the amusement of the ruling government.

Why has this happened? Why is the nation divided by a new movement that didn’t quite accomplish its mission?Because it was started by none other than Mahathir himself, and supported by a string of stars in a line-up consisting of the ever-important who’s who of opposition political parties and civil movements.

For several months there was major confusion, debates, quarrels, and coffee shop talk that resulted even in the loss of friendships as people could not understand why others supported or refused to support such an initiative.

Some are adamant that the engineer of Malaysia’s current situation cannot be supported at any cost; that it would be an insult to former ISA detainees and their families (who, by the way, are very much alive and among us still); that he has never been sorry for what happened or for what resulted in Malaysia today; and so on and so forth.

This group of people think if Mahathir wants to start something, by all means he should but it is way too early to throw any support behind him. Others meanwhile are inclined to think that since Mahathir is taking this step, he should be supported regardless of his past deeds or association with current UMNO leaders, or for that matter, even his personal agendas if any.

The second group just want Barisan Nasional’s (BN) current top guy out, it seems. Some are fine with a reformed UMNO in the event that Mahathir does return to his former party, while some hope he will continue leading the opposition. Some don’t care about anything as long as the current top guy (Najib) is out. Who is right and who is wrong?

The leaders of some civil movements became involved, resulting in many Malaysians jumping into the fray to sign the Citizens’ Declaration without too much consideration. If you believe this is the right thing to do, well, they have rightly influenced people to the right path, otherwise they have misled them.

I am sure many would not disagree that a huge number of Malaysians would support and sign anything without question or analysis for the simple reason that their idols are there.

I personally think they have misled the people – not all, but many. We could argue until the cows come home, but don’t we all know of someone who has regretted signing the Citizens’ Declaration for one reason or another? This is the first step towards the grand disunity about to besiege the nation.

Based on the premise that a revolution is the result of unity and a paradigm shift in the minds of citizens, is this a revolution… or half a revolution?

Then came the formation of Mahathir’s new party PPBM, which initially accepted only Bumiputera membership. This was later revised to allow non-Bumiputeras to become associate members with no voting rights. I’m not sure how many, but I’ve been made to understand that quite a few non-Bumiputeras accepted this arrangement, including my own friends.

Have we not fought against racism for so long? Have we not complained about the current administration’s racially biased policies? Have we not completely despised groups like Perkasa (coincidentally, Mahathir is the VIP patron) and the infamous Ikan Bakar Tak Laku? And we are now told to accept a new racist party into the main opposition fold, because apparently, “we have no other choice”.

It’s mind-boggling, but again – is this leading us to the revolution we seek, or only half a revolution?

After an agonising wait, GE14 has finally been called. Most of us have been there, done that, seen and heard it all. Social media, which is a big part of many voters’ lives, is threatening to explode with the insults and quarrels from both sides of the political divide.

Understandable, many want change. But what change? Change is a process and a journey, not an event called GE-14. And a change to something worse is also called change.

PH, which has been entrusted to make this change, is now led by the very same person whom many acknowledge laid the foundation for the kleptocratic and autocratic government that we have today. To make things worse, he recently sought to exonerate himself from two of the nation’s saddest and darkest events: Ops Lalang and the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim. How convenient!

For those who must believe that it takes a thief to catch a thief, please carry on. For the rest of us, this is not palatable. It was never an issue of forgive and forget, but more of what possible reforms PH can bring forward with Mahathir in the coalition. What reforms could possibly take place with someone who apologises and makes a U-turn in six hours? PH is taking us for a ride, lock, stock and barrel.

Someone once said, “Change can never take place from the level of consciousness it was created.”PH – are you leading us to a revolution, or half a revolution?

If PH is serious about change and good governance, why are its parties, particularly PKR, fielding last-minute parachute candidates, worse still those who are not local, for state seats? Last-minute decisions for something as important as what they call “the mother of all elections”?

The power struggle is so blatant, and they are trying to tell us that they are for the people? How are they different from the very people they wish to bring down – BN? Try harder next time, PH.

PH, we want a revolution, not half a revolution. Many are angry at my disapproval and constant bashing of PH, as well as what they call my idealism. They say I am seeking perfection when the reality is that it doesn’t exist. I don’t think idealism is exactly the opposite of realism, but let’s save that for another day. If idealism involves not voting for a half-baked opposition coalition which could have presented itself as a sincere catalyst of change through real hard work and good planning, I am fine with idealism for now.

Happy voting, abstaining, or spoiling of votes!

Janice Fredah Ti is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect that of FMT.



GE-14: Rafidah Aziz is elated and why not

May 11, 2018

GE-14: Rafidah Aziz is elated and why not

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To the young, please remember that we, of the older generation, are doing all these for you, and the generations after you. Please look after our beloved and blessed nation as best as you can. Please help to make this new chapter in our history, a truly glorious one, InsyaAllah.–Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, Former MITI Minister


COMMENT | Syukur Alhamdulillah. Praise be to the Almighty for having answered our collective prayers and for having prevailed, to enable us to realise what we wanted to achieve. What seemed almost impossible has happened.

A new day has begun for our beloved Malaysia and Malaysians. A new chapter in our history has started to be written.It is exactly 4.15 am on this historic day, May 10, 2018.

I am too excited to sleep.I never imagined that I would live to see this day. The day the rakyat showed their wisdom in choosing a new government for the next five years, and registering so strongly, their disdain and rejection of corruption, poor governance and abuse of authority.

Power is with the rakyat, not the government. The government only serves the rakyat, and the stakeholders of the nation. Not to serve those managing the nation.

The multiracial rakyat of Malaysia has rejected the politics of divisiveness, parochialism, and xenophobia. They have placed a premium on unity and togetherness. They have given the contract to manage Malaysia for the next five years to a new party Pakatan Harapan.

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Helmed by our remarkable Dr Mahathir Mohamad, I am confident that there will begin the process of righting the wrongs, and putting the nation back on the right track in the context of development, social cohesion, focus on the young generation and all that is needed to bring back Malaysia to its glory days, and more, including to rebuild our tarnished image and dignity, and proudly take our rightful place in the world’s fraternity of nations.

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Najib Razak paid a heavy  price for taking us Malaysians for granted. His legacy is in tatters. The new government must talk less and act more. Focus on Deliverables. For that to happen, Pakatan Harapan must have a cohesive, honest, technocratic and competent Cabinet Ministers backed by new team of civil servants in all key ministries.–Din Merican


The world will be watching every step being taken, by the new government, and by us the rakyat. Let us continue to remain united, be proud to be Malaysians and be assets to Malaysia.

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To the young, please remember that we, of the older generation, are doing all these for you, and the generations after you. Please look after our beloved and blessed nation as best as you can. Please help to make this new chapter in our history, a truly glorious one, InsyaAllah.

Sejathera Malaysia, Tanah Air Kita, Rumah Kita Bersama.

Syukur to the Almighty for the success of Pakatan Harapan.

RAFIDAH AZIZ is the former International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister.

Vote Pakatan Harapan and Dr. Mahathir as our next Prime Minister

April 30, 2018

Vote Pakatan Harapan and Dr. Mahathir as our next Prime Minister on May 9, 2018

by Din Merican, Phnom Penh

“Malaysians could not care less of the future of Najib or his party. Instead they are concerned about their fate as well as that of their children and grandchildren. Alllong to have a leader who is competent, trustworthy, and with a modicum of integrity. That process begins with Najib’s removal in the upcoming election. –Dr. M. Bakri Musa

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Pakatan Harapan–Our Best Hope for our Future

In 9 days’ time, we Malaysians, at home and abroad, will be going to the polls hopefully in large numbers (voter turnout will be a major determinant of this electoral outcome) to choose  the next government.

The choice is between Pakatan Harapan led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and corrupt UMNO-led kleptocratic Barisan Nasional headed by scandal tainted Najib Razak. At this point in time, Najib’s coalition is ahead because of the advantages of incumbency, divisions within Pakatan Harapan, and strong pro-UMNO and  gung-ho Islam sentiments in the Malay community.

Things can change very quickly in the coming days as the campaign heats up, aided by the power of internet which favors the opposition, given the quality of their candidates and  the dynamism and passion of the 92-year old Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

I have been very critical of the Tun’s politics and his record, for which I have received  a lot of brick brats from my friends and readers on Facebook. But when push comes to shove, I am persuaded to endorse Pakatan Harapan and support him as our next Prime Minister.

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Dr. M Bakri Musa, my friend in Morgan-Hill, California and a prolific writer and political analyst, has in some small measure tempted me with his article below to state my stand. I hope you too will reject Barisan Nasional led by UMNO’s Najib Razak and support Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister and Pakatan Harapan as the next Government.


It is indeed unfortunate that my blog has been blocked by  Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). Malaysians at home, therefore, cannot read my humble endorsement. Those who can, given the magic of technology, please spread the word. We can make a difference to the future of our lovely country. All the best for May 9, 2018.–Din Merican

Greed, Incompetence, and Utterly Devoid of Integrity – The Banality of Najib’s Leadership

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California, USA

When the day of judgment comes to Malaysia, which it inevitably will and I hope soon (as with this May 9, 2018 election), Malaysians would be shocked into disbelief to discover the banality of Najib’s leadership. His is one of insatiable greed, unbelievable incompetence, and utterly devoid of integrity.

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How did such a character ascend to the highest office in the land? I cannot accept that Malaysians are that stupid to have let that happen. Yes, there are plenty of dumb and gullible ones but overall Malaysians are sensible folks. Yet there he is, Najib as Prime Minister for the past long, nine embarrassing and totally wasted years.

Najib did not get there on his own effort. That much is certain.

Others had paved the path for him right from the very beginning. Now that he is Prime Minister, Najib does not know how to clear the path ahead, much less which direction to take the nation. He is clueless. Time to get another leader. Time to disabuse Najib of his delusion of entitlement.

It is not difficult to imagine what his fate would have been had he not been a “Bin Tun Razak.” At best a junior functionary in his backward state of Pahang. Likewise, had he not been born in a deeply feudal Malay culture of rural Pahang in the early 1950s but modern Kuala Lumpur of today, his taking over his father’s hereditary title of Orang Kaya Indera Shahbandar would be a non-event. In the kampung however, that title conferred instant aristocratic aura. It roughly translates as “Rich, Exalted Lord Mayor.” Rich and exalted at least by local standards, with vague reference to the mythical prince of classical Malay literature, Inderaputera.

I would have thought that being suave and the product of a British public school he would have found that title quaint, and the elaborate installation ceremony comical, alaan African tribal rite of passage. Yet there he was lapping it up, like that prepubescent Tibetan kid who was anointed to be the future Dalai Lama.

Najib’s seeming suaveness is what my folks back in the old village referred to with undisguised sneer as moden culup, a veneer of or pseudo modernity.

Najib would not have inherited that title had his father lived to his expected life span. Razak’s premature death also hid his dark side, and Najib got to shine in the reflected glow of his father’s halo.

One of Razak’s many dark sides was his secretiveness. He concealed his mortal illness from his family and the nation. Even on his final but futile trip to London for his medical treatment there was an elaborate ruse to camouflage it. That could not have been undertaken without the complicity of many, like his pilots and physicians. As a result, his death stunned the nation. Judging by his reaction to the tragic news, even his Deputy, Hussein Onn, was kept out of the loop. What a way to treat your second-in-command!

With the outpouring of grief, sympathy was, as expected, showered on Razak’s young family. Najib, being the oldest son, was the main beneficiary. Thus began his fast and smooth glide to the top.

Najib’s first enabler was Hussein Onn who selected him at the age of 23 to take over his father’s old Parliamentary seat. Reflecting the enormous reservoir of public sympathy, Najib won unopposed. Hussein went further; he appointed Najib to be a minister soon after. From there Najib’s trajectory was fast and steep. The prodigal prince from the jungle of Pahang could do no wrong. Everyone wanted to be on his coattail or be seen as greasing his path. Everyone, from political leaders to religious, and royalty.

Earlier there was Tengku Razaleigh, himself a protege of Razak. Tengku, then head of Petronas, took Najib under his wings. Tengku was cautious and did not put Najib in a critical position but instead in “government relations.”

Najib’s gratitude to Razaleigh? In a subsequent close contest in 1987 between Razaleigh and Mahathir for the UMNO presidency (and thus Prime Minister of the country), Najib switched his support to Mahathir at the very last minute, denying Razaleigh what would have been his widely-expected victory.

Mahathir too was Najib’s enabler. As Prime Minister, Mahathir boosted Najib further, later using him to dislodge Abdullah Badawi. Najib was only too willing to be Mahathir’s tool. Today Mahathir is Najib’s nemesis.

Unlike all those other enablers, Mahathir at least recognized his mistake, albeit late, and is now trying very hard to remedy it. Let’s hope he succeeds.

Other minor but no less consequential enablers include the current Attorney-General who gave Najib a pass in the 1MDB mess. The A-G was a Najib political appointee and a former UMNO apparatchik; so no surprise there. More reprehensible are the behaviors of the permanent establishment including the top civil servant. It was widely believed the Chief Secretary forced the retirement of the former A-G who had apparently filed papers for Najib’s arrest over the 1MDB mess. Even the Agung was a Najib enabler by acceding to the Chief Secretary’s motion.

Even when Najib strayed off the straight path, as with his frequent and not-too-secret trysts, the religious police, otherwise brutal on those whom they deem to behave “un-Islamically,” indulged him. Another institutional enabler!

There are others, the most unapologetic being his party. UMNO is now United Mohammad Najib Organization, ready and ever willing to do his bidding. What a sorry ending to an organization that was instrumental in bringing independence to Malaysia!

Beyond individuals and institutions, Najib is using that old standby and most effective enabler of all–cash. Packets of ringgit are openly passed out during UMNO’s elections. Now that scourge is infecting the general elections. The ringgit is literally being dispersed at campaign rallies like beads and candies at a Mardi Gras parade. Unlike UMNO members who scooped up the cash with unrestrained glee, voters are now increasingly asking the pivotal question: Where is the money coming from?

Malaysians could not care less of the future of Najib or his party. Instead they are concerned about their fate as well as that of their children and grandchildren. Alllong to have a leader who is competent, trustworthy, and with a modicum of integrity. That process begins with Najib’s removal in the upcoming election.

Malaysia GE-14: Mapping out for Electoral Victory

April 26, 2018

Malaysia GE-14: Mapping out for Electoral Victory

Recent electoral changes rammed through parliament for GE14 may enable a winner with just a fifth of the popular vote.

by Danesh Prakash Chacko

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When the word “redelineation” is raised among Malaysians, it is full of negative connotations that also include other ideas like gerrymandering and “bias towards Barisan Nasional”. When The Economist explained the manipulations used for this 14th general elections’ (GE14) electoral boundaries, the Election Commission chief slammed the weekly’s report as “slanderous and causing anxiety” among the Malaysian voters. So why should a typical and regular maintenance of the electoral system such as redelineation be so controversial?


Redelineation is the process of apportioning and districting voters. Apportionment means allocation of constitutencies within an administrative unit like a state or country. Districting, on other hand, determines how boundaries would be drawn to ensure apportionment is done according to the constitution. Redelineation of electoral boundaries ought to be done when there are changes to population distribution and growth of the nation and its states. It’s a necessity and not “evil” when not manipulated, ensuring a fair representation of voters, irrespective of background and geography.

In Malaysia’s first-past-the-post system of voting, the popular vote doesn’t count or significantly influence the formation of a new government. It’s an electoral system vulnerable to manipulations that can be made worse by redelineation. Malaysia’s federal constitution has laid guiding principles for the redelineation under the 13th Schedule. Since Merdeka in 1957, the redelineation process under the constitution has been regularly modified to allow rampant manipulation of electoral boundaries—it has resulted in malapportionment and gerrymandering.

Malapportionment is the creation of electoral districts with divergent ratios of voters to representatives. It is poor and unfair apportionment of voters in a legislative district or body. Gerrymandering involves dividing a state or a country into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts, while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible. Both manipulations types deny Malaysians the fair representative government they deserve. These manipulations entrench racial divisions, unfettered corruption, and the removal of checks and balances in the system of government. Essentially these two manipulations force political parties to win the right number of seats in the right locations.

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Racialised gerrymandering was practised when he was Prime Minister (1981-2003). Now it is payback time.

What are the consequences of unfair and unconstitutional redelineations, as gazetted by the federal government in March 2018? Malapportionment robs Malaysians of the government they deserve, and the 13th general elections (GE13) in 2013 clearly showed how the majority of Malaysians did not get the government they wanted. Opposition bastions largely remain in urban areas, with the exception of Kangar and Johor Bahru.

It’s theoretically possible to form a federal government in Malaysia with just 16.5% of the popular vote. The short- and medium-term consequences of this possibility demoralises voters, discouraging them from participating in the democratic process. The high voter turnout and the desire for change were key determining factors in defeating the unfair redelineation exercise of 2003 in states like in Penang, Kelantan, Selangor and KL in 2008 and 2013. The 2018 redelineation exercise is sending the same sort of message to voters: that voting to change the government is not worth the time. The same exercise creates voluminous wasted votes in opposition-packed areas. For example, newly reconstituted seats of Damansara and Seputeh will hand DAP thumping majorities (while denying any chance for MCA to regain the seats). By packing opposition votes in super seats, DAP may gain super majorities without gaining additional new seats in Selangor and KL.

Since 1984, when Dr Mahathir was prime minister, redelineation exercises have been responsible in accentuating Malaysia’s racial divisions. Racialised gerrymandering is conducted according to the BN government’s preferences. Former EC chief Rashid Abdul Rahman (now a member of Dr Mahathir’s opposition party) admitted the redelineation exercise he conducted was to strengthen “Malay power” in 2013.

However, Tindak’s research and readings of the 1984 and 2003 redelineation exercises disproves the claims of Rashid. The 1984 redelineation exercise resulted in more Malay-majority seats created than other racial-majority seats, based on the view that Malays supported Mahathir’s UMNO. But Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking in 1998 and the consolidation of Pas as the biggest opposition party in 1999 reflected a dramatic shift in Malay voter preferences. The 2003 redelineation exercise resulted in more mixed seats, which was seen as a way to weaken Pas’ Malay support. Such racially-based gerrymandering was to strengthen UMNO’s Malay power base over its rivals such as Pas, Anwar Ibrahim’s PKR or Dr Mahathir’s PPBM. Racial gerrymandering continues to be a lifeline for a government that plays the racial politics that have defined Malaysia since colonial times.

During the redelineation process for Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia, the EC drew out 13 new state seats for Sabah (as Sabah’s constitution called for increased representation) in 2016. Although the EC completed its proposed boundaries of 13 new seats by 2017, PM Najib surprisingly did not table this proposal in Parliament in 2018 (along with the peninsula’s boundary changes). As Sabah state elections are due soon, some lawmakers argue that Sabah state elections could be deemed unconstitutional as 13 new seats have yet to be approved. Analysts argue the proposed creation of 13 new seats might benefit BN’s main rival in Sabah, Shafie Apdal’s Warisan party. There is an on-going court case to repeal the enactment calling for additional seats in the Sabah legislature. The situation in Sabah is a unique case, where there is no rush in implementing the new borders thanks to evolving Sabahan voter preferences.

The redelineation exercises of 2016 to 2018 further erode Malaysia’s democratic institutions, demoralising voters, preserving the urban-rural divide along racial lines, and suggesting the impossibility of change. While the redelineation issue may sound gloomy, the redelineation process itself may not be as significant to the election’s outcome as some argue. Multi-corner fights in tightly held seats, the size of the voter turnout, and electoral irregularities such as dubious voters and postal voting integrity are bigger factors in GE14’s outcomes. The lengthy period taken for this redelineation may mean its original intent can backfire, as Malay, Indian and indigenous Sabahan voter preferences are changing. Tindak Malaysia firmly disagrees with the BN coalition’s attitude on redelineation as it’s another attempt to fix the electoral outcome for GE14. However, it’s the voter that ultimately decides the impact this redelineation will have on GE14.


Malaysia–GE-14: UMNO’s Najib Razak is confident of electoral success

April 26, 2018

Malaysia–GE-14: UMNO’s Najib Razak is confident of electoral success

by Bloomberg

Five years after leading his party to its narrowest victory yet, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak says he’s expecting a “better result” in an election that will pit him against his one-time mentor.

Image result for ge-14 malaysia--Najib vs Mahathir

Najib, in his first interview with international media in more than three years, discussed the turbulent period which saw a scandal over a multi-billion dollar state investment fund spawn global probes. He now faces potentially his toughest fight in prolonging his coalition’s six decades in office, in an election that has become highly personal: A contest against the man who helped bring him to power in 2009, and a battle for the hearts of the country’s key voters, ethnic Malays.

Over the course of an hour in a room fringed with Malaysian flags at his party headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Najib spoke about the May 9 election, the economy — promising more income and business tax cuts if he wins — the 1MDB fund furor and the question of his own political future.

Najib is seeking to preserve the unbroken rule by his United Malays National Organisation since independence in 1957. To cement his own position he may need to improve on his performance in 2013, when the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition lost the popular vote for the first time while winning a slim majority of seats. One potential marker would be to regain the two-thirds majority in parliament that it ceded a decade ago.

“We are reasonably confident of a good result,” Najib, 64, said. “There is no movement for changing the government, I don’t see that. That’s not saying we will win with a huge majority, no I am not going to predict that, but I am going to say that we are reasonably sanguine about the result.”

Najib’s confidence is underscored by what he called “a motley collection of parties” that make up the opposition alliance Pakatan Harapan. The group is led by Mahathir Mohamad, 92, a former Prime Minister who has long championed the rights of Malays, while its biggest member — the Democratic Action Party — primarily appeals to ethnic Chinese Malaysians. “I don’t see how they can work together,’’ Najib said.

Straddling the Malacca Strait, a key global route for seaborne trade and a gateway to the disputed South China Sea, Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim nation with an economy that is commodity-focused and can be vulnerable to swings in global oil demand. While Malaysia has sizable Chinese and Indian communities, ethnic Malays make up the bulk of voters — and they have long been the backbone of UMNO.

Since 2013, Najib has worked to shore up their support, especially in rural leaders, and now needs them more than ever to fend off Mahathir, with whom he fell out in spectacular fashion over the 1MDB scandal.

Image result for ge-14 malaysia--Najib vs Mahathir

Mahathir, who governed Malaysia for more than 20 years and famously pegged the nation’s currency during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, broke with UMNO in 2016 and formed his own party, effectively coming out of retirement to challenge Najib. He’s also seeking to capture the Malay vote, a group Najib has courted by boosting cash handouts to farmers, civil servants and low-income workers.

The election is tinged with issues around race and religion. Chinese voters deserted Barisan Nasional in 2013, hardening the coalition’s focus on retaining Malay support. Najib warned in late 2016 that Malays would be ” beggars” and that Islamic institutions would fall should the opposition take power.

In the interview, Najib predicted the opposition bloc would struggle after losing a major Islamic party that helped its performance in 2013. He also said that urban and Chinese voters who went to the polls last time in the hope of bringing change are less motivated.

“Now today, they know it’s not possible,” Najib said. “So I think that euphoria has receded to a great extent.”

Still, it’s been a tricky few years for the Prime Minister, both at home and abroad. While economic growth hit 5.9 percent last year and inflation is under control, living costs are rising and discontent is bubbling over a goods and services tax introduced in 2015. The opposition has also focused on bread-and-butter issues, including in rural areas, saying Najib has failed to adequately boost incomes.

Image result for ge-14 malaysia--Najib vs Mahathir

Then there is the furor over 1MDB, which since 2015 has been the subject of global probes into billions in lost funds. Najib himself faced allegations — which he denied — of misappropriating around $700 million which was channeled into his personal accounts before the 2013 election. He said the money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most of it was returned. Malaysia’s attorney general later cleared him of wrongdoing.

Looking back, Najib said, 1MDB had governance issues but “you cannot just accuse somebody of being a thief or anything unless there is evidence.’’

“It’s been cleared, there’s been no wrongdoing — I stand by it,’’ Najib said. He acknowledged “some reputational damage’’ both to Malaysia and his own government.

“I would have probably not had that kind of business model, probably I would make sure tighter supervision,” he said of 1MDB. “But we all learn from our mistakes.’’

Najib has since worked to strengthen his grip on UMNO, curtailing internal dissent and firing his then-deputy. “I believe in developing personal relationships within the party, so even in difficult times the party stood by me,’’ Najib said. “They couldn’t shake me, the support base is strong.’’

As the election approaches, critics have accused Najib of seeking to stifle his opponents. This month Mahathir’s party was barred from campaigning because it failed to supply the correct paperwork (although a court has now suspended the ban), while parliament passed a law against “fake news” that includes punishment of up to six years in jail.

Asked if the law could be used to limit dissent, Najib said Malaysia’s social media is “freer than many countries.’’

“You can criticize the government, you can say we disagree with the government, you can say don’t vote for the government, and that’s alright,” he said. “I mean, I can accept it.”

Image result for ge-14 malaysia--Najib vs Mahathir


Najib spoke of his falling out with Mahathir, who has accused the Prime Minister of everything from theft to redrawing electoral boundaries to UMNO’s advantage. Najib said Mahathir presided over several district redraws and the recent changes were to “take into account some demographic changes.’’

“I think he’s obsessed about control, about calling the shots, in fact, when we were quite close together he even suggested establishing a council of elders,’’ said Najib. “Of course, you can imagine who’s going to chair the council of elders and a sitting prime minister after every cabinet, I suppose I would have to march to his office to get his consent.”

“He wanted me to do his bidding,” Najib said. Calls and a text message to Mahathir’s office on Wednesday seeking comment were not answered.

Tax Promises

Najib is pitching his campaign message around economic growth, emphasizing ongoing infrastructure projects and an expansion of handouts. But he said he had no plans to scrap the GST, arguing that a focus on consumption-based taxation would mean greater revenue. That should enable more reductions in income and corporate tax over the next five years, depending on oil prices and GST revenue. “The first move has only started,’’ he said.

Najib said his coalition is focusing on big states like Sarawak, Sabah, Kedah and Johor that buoyed his support in 2013. The Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, known as “fixed deposits” for long supporting Barisan Nasional, accounted for about a third of the coalition’s seats in 2013.

Najib was careful on the topic of succession. Lee Hsien Loong, his counterpart in neighboring Singapore, has said he doesn’t intend to govern past 70.

“It’s part of your remit as a leader for you to groom your successor,’’ he said. “We will be doing that.’’ Still, he added, “currently I think we are just concentrating on the next five years to ensure that our transformation plan will succeed.’’

Image result for ge-14 malaysia--Najib vs Mahathir

What will happen to Pakatan Harapan after GE-14?


The contest with Mahathir has turned the election into a highly personal event. Mahathir spent years sparring with his neighbors and the likes of the International Monetary Fund while maintaining an iron grip on power at home, and some analysts have said he should not be underestimated.

Najib equally couched himself as a survivor, citing “hard times” from boarding school to his early days in politics.

“I may appear to be mild in my temperament but I have a strong resilience in me,” he said. “I don’t give up easily.’’ – Bloomberg