Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society


November 7, 2017

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society

by Kevin Hewison@www.newmandala.org

http://www.newmandala.org/illiberal-civil-society/

In the mid-1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the expansion of civil society in Southeast Asia. At the time, there was an efflorescence of activism as activists campaigned against trade agreements, foregrounded gender issues, worked to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment, advocated for workers and consumers, exposed corruption, bolstered human rights and agitated for democracy.

Image result for rethinking civil society in southeast asia

The optimism of the decade was driven by a feeling of confidence that democracy was taking root in the region, growing on a foundation of thriving capitalist economies. The resonance of 1960s modernisation theory was palpable—the “Third Wave” of democratisation was said to be washing over the region. This was emphasised by the triumphs of popular uprisings in the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), Thailand (1992) and Indonesia (1998). These events were associated in the theory with the rise of the middle class and an expansion of civil society.

Two decades later, this optimism has faded. There is now more pessimism about civil society and democratisation. To understand these changing perspectives, it is necessary to give attention to recent political events, and rethink how we conceptualise civil society and its role in Southeast Asian politics today.

Civil society and democratisation

The notion of “civil society” has meanings embedded in the development of capitalism and the end of absolutism in Europe, and the consequent reduction of the weight of the state. The idea of a space relatively autonomous of the state developed quite late in colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. While anticolonial, socialist and communist movements, religious and educational organisations, trade unions and the like were established from the late 19th century, they were usually repressed.

When writing of civil society in late 20th century Southeast Asia, analysts tended to emphasise the non-state nature of civil society organisations (CSOs). Many have agreed with David Steinberg, who defined civil society as:

composed of those non-ephemeral organizations of individuals banded together for a common purpose or purposes to pursue those interests through group activities and by peaceful means. These are generally non-profit organizations, and may be local or national, advocacy or supportive, religious, cultural, social, professional, educational, or even organizations that, while not for profit, support the business sector, such as chambers of commerce, trade associations, etc.

The organisations mentioned can be formal or informal, may be charitable, developmental or political. Yet when considering democratisation, authors usually associate civil society with efforts to expand political space. Some authors identify a “political civil society,” where “non-violent … organisations and movements … seek to promote human rights and democratisation…”. Their efforts mean that the political space of civil society becomes a site of intense competition and struggle—including for the organisations that occupy this space.

Civil society and political conflict

Image result for Indonesia Ahok Protest

 

But this conceptualisation of civil society—one which views the groups making up civil society as only being non-violent and peaceful—is too limiting. Civil society and its political space is open to many groups, not just those considered “democratic” and “progressive”. That space can also be occupied by state-sponsored, right-wing, anti-immigrant and anti-democracy activists, and many others considered nasty, fascist, and reactionary. That the groups occupying civil society’s political space will sometimes be violent, and will oppose other groups, should be no surprise when we consider that all societies are riven and driven by conflict over all manner of resources.

Thinking this way of political space and civil society is not uncontroversial. Much of conventional political science, heavily imbued with modernisation theory, has romanticised civil society as the natural domain of individual and group freedoms, and sometimes conceived of NGOs and CSOs as representative interest groups. Such a perspective treats conflict and division as pathological, and misses the fact that political space is created through contestation with the state and with other groups in society. It is a view that fails to give sufficient attention to how civil society groups have actually behaved.

Contestation within civil society

Image result for malaysia bersih 5 rally

Bersih Movement in Malaysia

When we think of civil society as a site of struggle, it becomes clear that it is not always a ballast for democratisation. Islamic militias in Indonesia, racist Buddhist gangs in Myanmar and right-wing ultranationalists in the Philippines and Thailand are not forces for a democratic society—yet each undoubtedly occupies the space of civil society.

Islamic militias have re-emerged at various times during Indonesia’s reformasi era and engaged in mobilisation and violence. While the use of violence might exclude such groups from the romanticised approaches to civil society, militias have occupied a space created by democratisation, even if their activities are meant to mobilise anti-democratic groups and against some freedoms. A recent example of such anti-democratic opposition was seen in the defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the 2017 Jakarta governor’s election. The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) joined with several political parties to oppose Ahok in an acrimonious contest that involved the mobilisation of Islamic identity in huge demonstrations that targeted Ahok as a Chinese Christian portrayed as “threatening” Islam. Eventually, Ahok’s opponents gained the support of elements of the state to jail him on charges of blasphemy and inciting violence.

In Myanmar, religious groups have also engaged in racist and xenophobic activism. Radical Buddhists such as the ultra-nationalist 969 Movement and Ma Ba Tha (Myanmar Patriotic Association) have been able to mobilise mass demonstrations against Muslims and have fuelled extreme communal violence since 2012. Such groups have also been supported by elements of the state and by elected politicians, all the while taking advantage of the expanded political space created by Myanmar’s political transition to mobilise and propagandise.

Image result for Radical Buddhists in Myanmar
Buddhist monks walk during a prayer ceremony for the victims of the recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay, at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s capital Yangon on Friday, July 4, 2014. (Reuters)

 

Indonesia and Myanmar demonstrate how extremists use the political space of civil society, and elements of electoral democracy, to oppose and challenge the freedoms that have come with democratisation. These groups are connected with some of the most regressive elements that continue to populate some state agencies. So far, they have not managed to destroy the political basis of these new democracies. But to see how the political space of civil society was used to re-establish authoritarianism in a Southeast Asian “democratic success story” of years past, we only need to turn our eyes to Thailand’s decade of high-octane political contestation.

Thailand: civil society for military dictatorship

 

Image result for thailand red shirts vs yellow shirts

The Yellow and Red Shirts of Thailand

Thailand’s recent political mobilisations have been designated by the colours that define their motivations. Their massive street demonstrations mobilised many, including NGOs and CSOs. The broad Red Shirt movement and the official United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship bring together supporters of electoral politics, those opposed to military interventions, and supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirts, of course, developed to oppose the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement. The latter initially coagulated as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), wearing yellow to announce their royalism. Yellow Shirts tend to support the status quo, are anti-democratic, ultranationalist, and supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups.

In the 1990s, Thailand’s civil society, dominated by middle class interests, gained a reputation for opposing the military’s domination. NGOs and CSOs also tended to support the liberalising ideas that permeated the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997. When Thaksin was elected under the rules of this constitution in 2001, his government gained the support of many NGOs and CSOs. This support was forthcoming because of Thaksin’s initial nationalism, and his attention to grassroots issues and poverty eradication. That early support quickly drained away, with Thaksin coming to be viewed as authoritarian and corrupt.

The PAD, which was formed to oppose and bring down the popularly elected Thaksin, came to include many CSOs and NGOs which, at the time, would have been bundled into the broad category of “progressive civil society”. As the anti-Thaksin campaign expanded, the middle class, including spokespersons for civil society groups, began to denigrate the grassroots. The latter appreciated Thaksin’s “populist” policies and, especially in the north, northeast and central regions, voted for his parties in large numbers. Mobilised Yellow Shirts vilified this grassroots support for Thaksin, labelling those who voted for his party as ignorant, duped or bought.

As pro-Thaksin parties won every election from 2001 to 2011, the Yellow Shirts began an inevitable shift towards the denigration of the electoral processes itself, while declaring themselves the protectors of “true democracy”. The Yellow Shirts—the PAD and its clone, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)—emphatically rejected electoral politics, arguing that electoral victories amounted to a dictatorship of the majority. In the 2013–14, PDRC protesters opposed an election called by then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yellow Shirts blocked candidate registration, prevented the distribution of ballot papers, and tried to prevent voting on polling day. The PDRC argued that no election could be “free and fair” until the “Thaksin regime” had been destroyed. Their ultimatum was that the Yingluck government had to be thrown out, replaced by an appointed government and an appointed “reform” committee to purge those associated with Thaksin’s rule.

Backed by Bangkok’s middle class, including CSOs and NGOs, PAD and the PDRC campaigned for a “democracy” that rejected voting and elections. They wanted a greater reliance on selected and appointed “representatives”, usually opting for a royally- appointed government of “good” people. This paternalism was taken up by protesters, who claimed to champion transparency and anti-corruption while begging the military for a coup. Such Orwellian doublespeak was also in evidence when the military responded and seized power in 2014. The junta defined a coup and military dictatorship as a form of “democracy”. One pronouncement called on:

all Thai citizens [to] uphold and have faith in the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State. [The] NCPO [junta] fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democracy and a violation of the people’s liberty. However, this military intervention was inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy (emphasis added).

The result has been more than three years of military dictatorship that has narrowed political space and heavily restricted much civil society activism. Red Shirts had championed electoral politics, arguing that winning elections should count for something and reckoned that electoral democracy was the appropriate platform for political reform. Under the military junta, they have been demobilised, jailed, and repressed.

Interestingly, most of the PAD and PDRC-affiliated NGOS and CSOs have either supported, or at least not opposed, the junta. Some have continued to receive state funds. However, the relationship with the junta remains tense, not least because the junta sees some of these groups as contingent supporters, worrying about their capacity for mobilising supporters and considering them more anti-Thaksin than pro-junta. Few high-profile leaders of these groups have expressed regrets about having supported the 2006 and 2014 coups.

Complicating “civil society”

The travails of electoral democracy in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are not unique in Southeast Asia. Certainly, any notion that increased national wealth results in a civil society that becomes a “natural” ballast of democratisation should be rejected. Democratisation does increase the space identified as civil society. However, this space is not always a stronghold of progressives. As a site of struggle, civil society can be occupied by groups that are anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist, and sectarian. As the experience of Thailand and other countries has made clear, much abstract talk of “civil society” runs the risk of crediting its constituent parts with a uniformly pro-democratic outlook that they manifestly do not hold.

This post appears as part of the Regional Learning Hub, a New Mandala series on the challenges facing civil society in Southeast Asia, supported by the TIFA Foundation.

Why Malaysia needs credible international election observers?


October 7, 2017

Why Malaysia needs credible international election observers?

by Geraldine Tong and Andrew Ong

INTERVIEW | For many developing countries, inviting credible international groups to scrutinise their elections is a norm because it encourages transparency and lends legitimacy to the electoral process.

Notable international monitoring groups which operate in Asia include the European Parliament, the National Democratic Institute and the Asian Network for Free and Fair Elections (Anfrel).

Such groups would normally publish their list of observers, address the press, engage stakeholders and publish a final report which would include their assessment and recommendations. The objective will normally entail examining if the elections process was up to international standards, and if not, how things could be improved.

Unlike most countries in the ASEAN region, Malaysia has never had any such bodies monitoring its elections. The closest the Election Commission (EC) has come was to invite 18 individuals from the region for a monitoring mission during the General Elections in 2013.

The group comprised  six individuals each from Indonesia and Thailand, two each from Myanmar and Cambodia, and the ASEAN Secretariat. However, they had no access to the media and their recommendations were never made public.

Scratching each other’s backs

For Anfrel chairperson Damaso Magbual, a respected veteran polls observer, the observation mission in 2013 was less about ensuring electoral integrity but more on lending each other legitimacy.

“The Malaysian EC invited commissioners from other ASEAN countries. Among others, they invited people from Cambodia and Myanmar.The problem here is this: When Myanmar held their elections in 2010, they also invited people from Malaysia and Cambodia. They are scratching each other’s back. They will say each other’s elections is free and fair, in line with international norms,” said Magbual during a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

 

This lack of transparency and accountability is a missed opportunity for the Malaysian elections commission to shore up its credibility, he stressed, echoing what election reform group Bersih has been urging the EC on since its inception.

Magbual, who has observed at least 30 elections across the globe including conflict zones such as Afghanistan, believes that international election observation missions, when done correctly, can greatly benefit the host country. For instance, it would encourage those running the elections to undertake efforts to ensure the election process is credible, which in turn helps to reduce complaints by those who lose an election, he explained.

Election observation missions can also help instill public trust in the electoral process, which is important in restive regions.

Transparency is key

Magbual said that election monitoring missions which he has been involved in would undertake efforts to ensure its own transparency by inviting scrutiny from stakeholders. This, in turn, would instill public trust in the electoral process.

He recalled how a parallel count by the Philippines National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) had led to the downfall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos during the 1986 Presidential Elections.

The parallel count mechanism gained public acceptance after Namfrel had allowed the election commission and other stakeholders to test it out a few days before polling.

“So three days before the elections, the parties and the election commission were asked to try the system… So they had confidence in it.So in that election, the public believed our count and not the election commission’s. The election commission proclaimed Ferdinand Marcos the winner while our count said Cory (Corazon Aquino) was the winner. So people celebrated on the streets and this led to the downfall of Marcos,” said Magbual.

Image result for malaysian elections

Any prediction that indicates Najib Razak will lose GE-14 is grossly exaggerated.  Why must he hold elections if he knows that he will lose? Something does not compute here. He will let Jamal Ikan Bakar and his Red Shirts loose and allow Special Branch agent provocateurs to create havoc and then declare emergency rule. Alternatively, there will be massive vote rigging under the ever watchful eye of our now infamous Elections Commission–Din Merican

If a credible international election observation mission were to be held in Malaysia, one of the most obvious problems of Malaysian elections to be talked about would likely be malapportionment.

Magbual (photo) believed that presently, Malaysia has the worst case of malapportionment – a situation where one constituency has significantly more voters than another – in the whole of Asia.

Recall that Article 166 (4) of the Federal Constitution once stated that the difference between each constituency should not be more than 15 percent, according to state averages.

Following a constitutional amendment in 1962, this was adjusted to effectively change the quantifiable cap of deviation from the national average to one-third. Again, the relevant constitutional stipulations were removed altogether in 1973.

In comparison, Magbual said that countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and the Philippines maintain and respect mathematical integrity when drawing their electoral borders.

“Suffrage means one person, one vote, equal value,” he said. “When you have 145,000 people voting in Kapar and 16,000 voters in Putrajaya, then you violate this principle.”

 

Last week, Election Commission chairperson Mohd Hashim Abdullah said Malaysia has no plans to invite international election observers. He said invitations will only be extended to the EC’s counterparts who have invited them to witness their elections in the past.

When asked if this would lead to a conflict of interest, Hashim replied: “No. This is how it should be.”

The Tyranny of Malaysian Democracy


October 3, 2017

The Tyranny of Malaysian Democracy

For better or for worse, our hope lies in this bunch of former political enemies (Mahathir, Kit Siang and Anwar) pulled together by fate and a common foe. We cannot afford to take the wrong road again.

Image result for Cogito Ergo Sum

When we cease to think and act, we lose our identity and dignity

COMMENT by Cogito Ergo Sum*| Like everybody else, I am subjective. And like most reasonable Malaysians, I am now more than a little concerned about the current trends and future direction our nation seems to be hurtling towards.

I am as old as Malaysia and have witnessed this nation grow from a fledgling, newly independent state to one that has become a regional and international player in sports, diplomacy and the world economy. It was also, at one time, a paragon of multicultural tolerance and showcased that diversity and unity could be one.

The government of the day, for most of the days in the past, was a benevolent one that provided a vision and clear direction for us to progress with the times technologically, socially and economically.

Along the way, something went terribly wrong. We are now a nation of bigots where once tolerance flourished. Prejudices based on race, religion, gender, creed and colour are now the order of the day, not the exception.

Democratic Leadership of the Corrupt Sort

Despite the institutionalized apartheid policies in the guise of affirmative action that were constructed, people were still able to eke out a decent living and make enough to put aside for a rainy day. And give their kids good education with moral values.

But all that changed almost suddenly. We are now well-known for repressing dissent, jailing social activists and opposition members, 1MDB, and GST. And the list goes on.

A Nation in Debt

We now have a domestic debt of over 80 percent, which means that 80 percent of salaries and wages are set aside for debt repayment and the balance for food, shelter, transport and health. It is impossible to save anything, much less to even have a decent meal once a month.

To exacerbate the problem, we seem to be jailing and punishing the very people who have championed the struggles of the people. Two days ago, Tian Chua (centre in photo), the PKR MP for Batu in Kuala Lumpur, was jailed for being present in a police restricted area.

Malaysian Law is an Ass when our Judges are slaves to Political Power

But his defence was that he was forcibly brought into the restricted area after taking part in an elections reform rally, Bersih in 2012. Surely common sense must prevail. If the facts are correct, according to Tian Chua, the courts should have found the charge defective and released him, even if he withdrew his appeal. What has happened to the concept of judicial review?

Desperation and depravation

In any democracy, the ballot becomes the silver bullet for ills ailing society. If a government fails in its elected duties, you change it in the next polls. But that hope for a fair and clean poll is now fading. Disingenuous and not so subtle methods are underway to ensure that the incumbents are returned, come hell or high water.

Gerrymandering and altering election boundaries are in full swing and there are efforts to stop them by various NGOs and individuals. But the courts do not seem to be very impressed with these efforts and neither do they seem too keen to upset the apple cart.

As desperation turns into depravation, the ruling regime is conscious that for the very first time in 60 years, dissent and dissatisfaction are now rampant, cutting across racial, religious, and social barriers. And that it could be facing a catastrophic and historic defeat is a very real possibility now.

The desperation becomes more and more apparent by the ludicrous replies given by various officials and ministers to genuine concerns and questions by the opposition and pressure groups.

Joy Ride  on a Military Aircraft at Taxpayers’ Expense

One such reply that stands out is the use of military assets to fly Sarawak chiefs to Putrajaya to thank them for fighting the communist some 47 years ago!

One wonders what four Prime Ministers were doing in four decades of being in power and all of them seem to have forgotten to reward the Sarawak chiefs.

Our “fixed deposits” seem to have garnered no interest in forty years. That latest gaffe is just the tip of the iceberg of a slew of idiotic responses to come out of the corridors of power over the last two years or so.

Thrust into power again

Our hope lies in the fabric of our political set-up. We now have an opposition that seems to have recovered from its own internal squabbles, cobbled together by a motley crew of ageing and youthful leaders.

For many, the resurgence and leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad are as repulsive as the idea of Malaysia being led by the current Prime Minister. His chairing of the opposition Pakatan Harapan seems like a fait accompli after the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the former opposition leader.

While the opposition has many young leaders in the likes of Nurul Izzah Anwar, Liew Chin Tong and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who will be the next generation of lawmakers, they do not as yet have the political acumen to defeat the juggernaut that is Barisan Nasional. For that, Harapan needs the wiles and cunning strategies of older leaders who have been to the brink and back like Mahathir, Lim Kit Siang and others to out-think and out-fox an aging old and wounded wolf.

Mahathir’s Legacy–A Broken System of Governance

Many institutions of governance today suffer the symptoms and ills of 22 years under Dr Mahathir’s leadership. It is not an exaggeration to say that many challenges today are the 92-year-old’s making. However, there were moments of glory and achievement as well.

The people were not taxed beyond what they could bear. Short of apologising for the past, he has, by his actions and words, shown a genuine interest in getting this once beautiful and tolerant nation back onto its feet.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad

Whether he has other motives or not, at this present time, we do not know. What we do know is that we lack salt and experienced leaders in the opposition.

 

When our poets, satirists, cartoonists, songwriters and social activists are persecuted, prosecuted and jailed for speaking up, when opposition voices are silenced by the very parliament they have been voted into, we know that democracy has become tyrannical and kleptocratic.

Zunar–The Cartoonist and Freedom Fighter

Harapan needs to tell the people what its game plan is. They need to know and know now, what corrective economic and social measures they have planned after winning over Putrajaya. General broad strokes are no longer enough. The rakyat needs a concrete hope and the brass tacks of programmes for them to believe in.

For better or for worse, our hope lies in this bunch of former political enemies, pulled together by fate and a common foe. We cannot afford to take the wrong road again.

*COGITO ERGO SUM is a Malaysiakini reader.

Pakatan Harapan –Avoid Strategic Ambiguity in Election Manifesto


September 1, 2017

Pakatan Harapan –Avoid Strategic Ambiguity in Election Manifesto

by Dr. Wong Chin Huat

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Ultra Mahathir Mohamad

 Tun Mahathir as Pakatan Harapan Chairman–The Election Changer?

Malaysia’s opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is busy preparing its manifesto for the 14th General Election (GE14) to be held by August 2018 at the latest. PH cannot afford to repeat past mistakes and publish a strategically ambiguous election manifesto as a simple public relations exercise — it needs to produce a transition pact that clearly spells out what its victory would change and what it would not.

Image result for hishammuddin Umno Racist

UMNO Ketuanan Melayu–BN1.0

Malaysia is a one-party state which has been ruled by the Malay-nationalist United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its coalition partners since independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia is also a polarised society where the majority Malay-Muslims and the minority Chinese, Indian and Bornean non-Muslims have largely opposing views on Islamisation and pro Malay-Muslim preferential policies.

This fundamental contradiction has helped UMNO’s party-state to survive previous challenges since the opposition has never been able to win favour with both blocs. In 1990, the opposition won the Chinese vote, but lost the Malays due to their fear of losing political and religious dominance. In 1999, the opposition won the Malay vote, but many Chinese feared an ethnic riot if UMNO performed badly. In 2013, the opposition coalition won 51 per cent of the total vote, but its Malay-Muslim support was only around 40 per cent. Thanks to partisan gerrymandering, the UNMO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition held on to power by a margin of 44 seats.

Related image

Voices of Moderation in Civil Society

Looking toward the coming election PH is aiming to win more Malay votes. The inclusion of Mahathir Mohamad (formerly of UMNO and prime minister between 1981 and 2003) as PH’s new chairman is a game changer. He fills the void left by the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) which now collaborates with UMNO to pursue its agenda to expand Syariah law.

Many now hope for a tsunami of Malay voters to sweep UMNO away. But there is a catch to such optimism: communal incoordination risks foiling the opposition coalition once again.

Given UMNO’s further shift to ultra-nationalism after 2013, Chinese votes appear unlikely to swing back to BN. But with Mahathir evading talk of concrete reforms, many Chinese who fear PH turning into a BN 2.0 may stay home on election day offsetting any potential Malay swing to PH.

Previous opposition coalitions have tried this sort of strategic ambiguity before. Instead of taking clear positions on Islamisation and the pro-Malay New Economic Policy, they seized upon salient issues such as corruption and good governance. But ambiguity is neither strategic nor possible this time around. UMNO will continue — with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s help — to warn Malays that both Islam and Muslims are under threat. If PH responds by leaning towards the Malays, more Chinese votes risk being lost.

Beyond populist and catch-all promises like repealing the Good and Sales Tax, a better strategy for PH would be to enter into a transition pact with citizenry on how it would manage regime change should it win. Such a pact should separate the pro-Malay/Muslim policies which UMNO holds its ethnic constituency at ransom with from the party-state, dismantle those features of the political system which prevent genuine electoral competition and enable corruption, and find better alternatives in inter-communal policies.

In terms of making politics competitive, both the authoritarian and majoritarian features of the party-state need to be eliminated.

To dismantle authoritarianism, three institutional reforms are indispensable. First, civil and political liberties must be reinforced to emphasise the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. PH must also commit to media freedom and to no detention without trial.

Second, there must be judicial and prosecutorial reforms regarding the appointment, promotion and retirement of judges as well as the establishment of an independent prosecution separate from the attorney general.

Third, political impartiality of the state apparatus — bureaucracy, police and the military — must be enforced. State agencies and officials must be checked by independent anti-corruption and ombudsman institutions with real regulatory teeth. Such reforms may produce a majoritarian democracy, but leaves the risk of democratic winner-takes-all politics which will likely further tear at Malaysia’s bipolar social wounds. Hence, two more institutional reforms are needed to dismantle majoritarianism.

First, electoral, parliamentary and cabinet reforms must be enacted — this includes a more proportional electoral system and a term limit on prime ministership. Powers need to be devolved to the states, the senate should be directly elected and local elections restored. These reforms will end a concentration of power at the top of the leadership, the root cause of the 1MDB scandal.

At the same time, PH should also promise to avoid sweeping change without national consensus on divisive issues like the pro-Malay ethnic preferential policy, Islamisation as well as language and education. These issues should be deliberated by broad-based consultative bodies to produce new policy alternatives, which may be modified to become party manifestos in the 15th General Election (GE15).

Instead of repeating ‘strategic ambiguity’, PH should make clear that GE14 will only be a ‘transition election’ from the party-state while the ‘founding election’ for a new Malaysia will be GE15, when playing field is level.

With the right balance of change and continuity guided principally by a two-stage roadmap, there is hope that PH may just garner enough Malay and non-Malay voters to end UMNO’s corrupt party-state.

Wong Chin Huat is the Head of Political Studies at Penang Institute.

Coping with one’s fears and concerns


June 18, 2017

Coping with one’s fears and concerns

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for dealing with fear and anxiety

Having tried in recent columns to comprehend why I’ve had so much trouble keeping on writing in my increasingly old age, and thus far postulated that my problem might be either depression or else pressure amounting to panic at approaching my ultimate and literally last deadline, death, I feel a bit dumb to have missed an even more dire and pressing possibility, fear, or even first signs of, dementia.

As I was sadly reminded the other night at dinner with a friend and her beloved 85-year-old husband whose dementia has now progressed so far as to regress him into what’s commonly and all-too-accurately called “second childhood”, this is a terrible situation for families and friends as well as for sufferers.

But thankfully, despite the fact that every memory lapse, “senior moment” or an episode of writer’s block I experience makes me momentarily fear the worst, I’m still capable of convincing myself that I don’t yet have any of the senile varieties of dreaded dementia.

And also still capable of reminding myself of how fortunate I am – and as you apparently are too, considering that you’re sufficiently compus mentis as to subscribe to and read Malaysiakini – to have survived or avoided a good many of the countless juvenile and other dementias that threaten to render every one of us metaphorically if not literally brain-dead at every age and stage of our lives.

Starting from infancy for myself and fellow males with he-mentia, the clearly man-made and culturally if not sexually transmitted delusion that “nature” and even an allegedly omnipotent and of course male “divinity” have privileged our portion of what we presumptuously call “mankind” with some kind superiority over the rest of personkind, especially womankind.

Image result for Be Positive
Stay Positive always

 

The root-cause of he-mentia, of course, is the fact that, as a fridge magnet that’s popular in Australia proclaims, “every male is born with both a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to operate one of these organs at a time.”

In other words, as smart as at least some of us hetero male members of the species we flatter with the name “Homo sapiens” can be, we’re equally capable of acting like total dickheads.

In fact, far too many of us males are total dickheads all the way through and all of the time, seeing he-mentia not as a pathological condition to be suffered or better still, for the benefit of all concerned, overcome, but as a competitive edge to be celebrated.

Thus the poisonous pre-eminence, at least so far in human history, of the patriarchies, phallocracies or whatever else you choose to call dick-headed dictatorships founded on the he-mented fallacy (phallusy?) that male might is right.

Big dick-headed dictatorships today ranging from ruling regimes in countries like the Communist Party’s China and Putin’s Russia, to their countless small dick-headed counterparts all the way from al-Assad’s Syria through UMNO-BN’s Malaysia to the Zanu-PF’s Zimbabwe.

Then, of course, there are the dick-headed ‘religious’ dictatorships running so-called “theocracies like Iran” as well as most of the world’s so-called “faiths”. And, perhaps most pernicious of all, dick-headed domestic or family dictatorships sustained by verbal, psychological, economic and sundry other forms of abuse or outright violence against women and children.

Thank goodness that in my own case, the state of he-mentia into which I was born was curbed if not cured, first by the example of my father, who was far from he-mented in the way he treats my mother and other females, and later in my teens and twenties by the advent of militant feminism.

Traces of he-mentia remained, however, until I finally received a massive dose of the kind of kill-or-cure shock-treatment meted out by the Gender Studies department at Sydney University, an institution that now, thanks to its growing majority of female students and staff, is gradually turning from patriarchal to matriarchal.

Or, as I might have put it before I got my he-mentia under control or at least learned to politically-correctly keep such sexist and/or genderist remarks to myself, is morphing from an ivory to an ovary tower.

Which to my mind is a significant improvement, because while females are undeniably prone to prementia and other symptoms of what can justly be termed shementia, this syndrome, as evidenced by spectacular lower rates among its sufferers of everything from crimes of all kinds to suicide, is far less destructive than he-mentia.Not that I’m denying that there are serious mentias that seem to afflict people of both or rather all sexes and genders equally.

As appears to be the case with cementia, for example, a condition in which the contents, attitudes, and aptitudes of sufferers’ minds set like concrete, never, ever to be changed; and the closely-related sedimentia in which “beliefs”, opinions and prejudices all settle to the bottom of minds like so much sludge until something occurs to stir them back up.

Certainly I can feel myself sliding dangerously close to cementia, sedimentia or both from time to time, but fortunately know I can almost always achieve relief, or, if you like, rementia, by resorting to a regimen of such tried-and-true remedies as reading, writing and stimulating conversation.

But when even these fail to cure what’s ailing my mind, as they sometimes have recently, I know I can always resume the university course from which I suspended myself two semesters ago when I overdosed on it to the point of what felt like a case of acute if not terminal academentia, and restore my flagging faculties with some shock treatment in the form of lectures, tutorials, and assignments.

Speaking of “terminal” as I did a couple of lines ago, I see that I’m dangerously close to my word limit. So in closing, I’ll confine myself to discussing just one final example of the many dementias and d’ohmentias with which life confronts every one of us sooner or later if not constantly: doughmentia.

Image result for Najib Razak the crook

He needs to be treated for doughmentia

Love of money may or may not be the root of all evil, and I can’t tell either way from personal experience because most of the money I’ve had and loved I’ve more or less carelessly lost.

Image result for Najib Razak the crook

Malaysia’s First Lady Rosmah Mansor with the concurrence of Prime Minister Najib Razak wants to silence her civil society critics instead of dealing with her narcissism and character flaws

But to judge from my long observations of Malaysia’s UMNO–BN regime and the antics of its money-mad members, supporters and alleged misleader, Najib Abdul Razak, in attempted denial that they’ve sold themselves, the reputations of the race, religion and royalty they so fraudulently claim to support, and the good name and self-respect of the nation at large in return for greater or lesser shares of the countless billions allegedly misappropriated from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) so-called “wealth fund”, doughmentia seems about as dire as evil gets.

And I heartily hope it will prove as politically, financially and personally deadly to them all as dementia that I and far too many of my fast-ageing fellows around the world fear might be our fate.

 

Malaysia’s ‘Men of Always’


June 13, 2017

Malaysia’s ‘Men of Always’

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

 

“When I say devils, you know who I mean.
These animals in the dark.
Malicious politicians with nefarious schemes.
Charlatans and crooked cops.” – William Elliot Whitmore (Old Devils)

 

COMMENT | In the gripping if romanticised Netflix drama “Nacros”, Pablo Escobar, in a moment of inspired self-serving rhetoric, claims, “the men of always aren’t interested in the children of never”.

The men of always were the established political class of Colombia, but more importantly, they represented the idea of political permanence sustained by populism, corruption and systemic dysfunction. The children of never should be self-evident.

Image result for mahathir's ketuanan politics into pakatan

The Men of Always–God help Malaysia

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the IDEAS man, recently claimed that Pakatan Harapan needs to move on from the “old batch” and that “fresh blood” is needed. This comes at a time when most opposition supporters have made peace with the man they claimed destroyed Malaysia and laid the tracks of the Najib Kleptrocratic Express.

This writer, agreeing with Zaid Ibrhaim, wrote – “This is the game the opposition has chosen to play and if they want to win, they have to play for keeps. And that is the only way the former Prime Minister knows how to play.” I am, I suppose part of the problem.

The problem I have with Wan Saiful’s rejoinder is that there is no new batch. There is no fresh blood. Malaysia’s men of always have seen to it that their imprimatur is stamped on the new political operatives that are supposedly stepping out from their shadows.

While PAS has an ideology, granted one that any rational person would reject, the rest of the opposition is, in reality, playing the old alliance game of the politics of racial and religious compromise that has not worked.

This is the main idea of Malaysia’s men of always. That we have no choice but to embrace their ideas because it is the pragmatic thing to do. That it is the only thing to do because people will never change and we are all ghettoised in our racial cocoons.

The reality is that the Malay community has changed. This change was deliberate. The Chinese and Indian communities have changed. This change was reactionary. Change is not alien in Malaysia, just misunderstood.

Back in the old days, opposition to the Establishment meant something, those were the days when UMNO’s political operatives feared the opposition because their ideas of dissent were not diluted by establishment ideas that come with power. The opposition tsunami that brought UMNO to its knees was supposed to herald a change in the way how business was run, but not as a refinement of old ideas.

There is no “new batch” – only a political operatives cast from the same old mould but mimicking the rhetoric of progressive politics. There is no fresh blood, only blood infused with the DNA of old policies meant to divide us along racial and religious lines. This does not mean that there are no Malaysians who want real change, only that their voices are drowned out on social media and the endless new cycles of establishment malfeasances.

Image result for Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman

 

Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (photo), in his comment piece about the possible lessons learned from the recent United Kingdom election, attempts to draw similarities with our own disparate opposition. This is problematic for a variety of reasons. I think there are some things we could learn from the recent UK election fiasco, but I do not think we should be so eager to see similarities when the our political landscape is very different.

Here are few takeaways from the recent election that may be helpful, if you wish to draw analogies.

(1) Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, although a polarising figure in the Labour establishment, won his seat at the head of the table legitimately and had an underlying ideology which, although not in the Labour mainstream, resonated with a diverse voting demographic that despised the May regime for a variety of reasons.

(2) Labour’s election manifesto was widely disseminated and struck a nerve with a diverse voting demographic because of its supposedly egalitarian values, not to mention an anti-austerity agenda that rightly pointed out that the Tories (Conservatives) were sacrificing the many in the name of the few.

(3) Although there has been no official data, young people came out and voted in large numbers because they rejected the politics of business as usual, which was the mainstream of the Labour and Conservative regimes.

(4) Theresa May ran one of the worst campaigns in recent memory and the rejection of the conservative party was seen mainly as a rejection of Theresa May, who had trust issues not only with Labour voters but with her own base as well.

Youth vote is extremely important

What I think could be of great use for those looking for regime change here in Malaysia, is point (3). The youth vote is extremely important and, as demonstrated in many countries where the ruling establishment has suffered shock defeats (or barely maintaining power), the youths have come out to vote strongly against the ruling establishment.

In my advice to the young political operative when he was setting up his Youth wing, I made two points: (1) “The younger generation of Malay voters are a promising demographic but they are currently embroiled in a culture war that consumes most of their energy and effort. Young Malay oppositional types not only have to contend with the UMNO regime but they also have to contend with the Islamic forces in this country, with no help whatsoever from mainstream Malay political parties or non-Malay political parties, which do not view them as part of a new deal but merely as a specific racial demographic needed to win the throne of Putrajaya.”

(2) “There are literally hundreds of fringe Malay groups of young people who form the complex structure of alternate Malay politics, and instead of carrying on ghettoising them and appealing to them when needed, they should form the mainstream of Malay politics or, at the very least, the mainstream of Bersatu Youth politics.”

So what is the real lesson we can learn from this? That the opposition needs a leader who, although dismissed by his own mainstream, resonates with a diverse, fractured voting demographic. That an election manifesto that takes into account the needs of the many, instead of the few, is a flashpoint for change. That the ruling establishment coasting on previous victories and running a poorly managed campaign is a soft target but more importantly, young people, if inspired, can wreck havoc on traditional political wisdom.

Image result for Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj

Dr. Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj– A Model Malaysian Politician

My own fantasy is that PSM’s Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj becomes a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure in Harapan and manages to bring the existing regime to its knees. I know that this will never happen of course and that is really a shame, for this country.

The only way this can be done – is if oppositional politicans give people something other than what their bases think is important or pragmatic. The only way this could be achieved, if the opposition is so overtly different from the establishment, is when people who want change, but who do not necessarily support the opposition, think that their votes will make a difference. Especially young people.

Most importantly, you cannot serve the men of always and expect to free the children of never.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.