Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution

June 11, 2018

Looking Back in Time: Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution that brought Najib’s Political Demise

by Joseph Chinyong Liow ()


Image result for the hibiscus revolution

Malaysia’s  Hibiscus Revolution started in  November, 2007

Read : http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/malaysias-hibiscus-revolution/article2227370.ece

Dark clouds have gathered over Malaysia as a crisis deepens. Two weeks ago, the country witnessed a massive street protest – dubbed Bersih (lit: “clean”) – organized by a network of civil society groups agitating for electoral reform. This was in fact the fourth iteration of the Bersih protests (Bersih also mobilized in 2007, 2011, and 2012), and managed to draw tens of thousands of participants (the exact number varies depending on who you ask). On this occasion, the protest was a culmination of widespread popular indignation at a scandal involving 1MDB, a government-owned strategic investment firm that accrued losses amounting to approximately USD10 billion over a short period of time, and the controversial “donation” of USD700 million funneled to the ruling party through the personal bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.


All this is taking place against an inauspicious backdrop of sluggish economic growth, the depreciation of the Malaysian currency, and several exposes on the extravagant lifestyle of Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor.

How consequential was Bersih?

Image result for Nik Nazmi and Din Merican at Bersih 1.0

Read: https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/category/ge13/page/9/

When Bersih first mobilized in 2007, it managed to harness a flood of dissatisfaction in opposition to the government of Abdullah Badawi, and contributed to major opposition political gains at the general election of 2008.

The second and third protests have also been credited as contributing factors to further opposition inroads at the 2013 polls. Assessments of the latest iteration of Bersih however, have been more equivocal. On the one hand, Bersih 4.0 indicated that the movement can still draw huge crowds and give voice to popular discontent, which continues to grow. On the other hand, analysts have called attention in particular to the comparatively weak turnout of ethnic Malays at Bersih 4.0 compared to the previous protests. This is a crucial consideration that merits elaboration if Bersih is to be assessed as an instrument for change.

Given how Malaysian politics continues to set great store by ethnic identity, the support of the Malay majority demographic is integral for any social and political change to take place. By virtue of affirmative action, ethnic Malays are privileged recipients of scholarships and public sector jobs. Therein lies the problem for any social movement agitating for change. Years of conditioning through policy and propaganda have created a heavy reliance on the state, which in essence means UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), the dominant party in the ruling coalition which Prime Minister Najib helms as party president. While it is difficult to say conclusively that this explains the tepid reaction of ethnic Malays during the Bersih protests, it is not far-fetched to hypothesize that at least a contributing factor was the fear among recipients of scholarships and public sector employees that their benefits might be jeopardized (For example, I know that scholarship holders were sent letters “dissuading” them from participating in “political activities.”).

Ultimately though, the most telling feature of the event may not have been the dearth of ethnic Malays but the presence of one particular Malay leader – Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s nonagenarian former Prime Minister and unlikely Bersih participant.

Image result for Mahathir st Bersih

Dr Mahathir Mohamad–Malaysia’s Uber-Politician

Hitherto a supporter of Prime Minister Najib, Mahathir has grown increasingly unhappy with the Prime Minister’s policies. According to Mahathir himself, attempts had been made to share his reservations with Najib in private, but they were rebuffed. Going by this account, it is not surprising that Najib’s alleged snub prompted private reservations to crescendo into harsh public criticism.

By the middle of 2014, Mahathir had assumed the role of Malaysia’s conscience to become one of the loudest critics of Najib. Asked to explain his criticisms, Mahathir reportedly responded: “I have no choice but to withdraw my support. This (referring to the act of privately reaching out to Najib) has not been effective so I have to criticize. Many policies, approaches, and actions taken by the government under Najib have destroyed interracial ties, the economy, and the country’s finances.”[1]

Today, it is Mahathir, Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister who was in office from 1981 to 2003, who is leading the charge to discredit Najib and have him removed from office for malfeasance. What explains Mahathir’s singleness of purpose to have Najib removed from power? Part of the answer may lie in Mahathir’s own record of political quarrels.

What lies beneath Mahathir’s attacks?

Mahathir is no stranger to bitter and bloody personal political battles. His interventions in Malaysian politics throughout his career in office are legion (and many Malaysians might also say, legendary). Longtime Malaysia watchers and critics have assailed Mahathir for his autocratic streak evident, for example, in how he emaciated the Judiciary by contriving to have supreme court judges (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation (and on one occasion, the Lord President himself) removed from office, incapacitated the institution of the monarchy by pushing legislation that further curtailed the already-limited powers of the constitutional monarch, and suppressed opposition parties and civil society by using internal security legislation against them.

Mahathir was no less ruthless within UMNO, where he brooked no opposition. The history of political contests in UMNO has his fingerprints all over it. In 1969, it was his provocations as a contumacious back bencher that precipitated the resignation of the respected founding prime minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman. In 1987, Mahathir weathered a challenge to his leadership of UMNO mounted by political rivals (the then Deputy Prime Minister, Musa Hitam, and Minister for International Trade, Razaleigh Hamzah), turned the tables on them, and had them exiled into political wilderness.

In 1998, Mahathir successfully fended off the ambitious Anwar Ibrahim by sacking him, and later having him arrested, charged, and eventually convicted for corruption and sodomy. Even when not directly involved, he was never content to be a bystander, choosing instead to either instigate or leverage power plays. In 1978, he played no small part in nudging Sulaiman Palestin to challenge then incumbent Hussein Onn for party presidency (a move that many Malaysian analysts agree signaled the beginning of the end for Hussein’s political career even though he managed to fend off Sulaiman’s challenge). In 1993, Mahathir did little to prop his then deputy, Ghafar Baba, who was crumbling under the challenge of a charismatic Malay nationalist and rising star by the name of Anwar Ibrahim. It was Mahathir’s machinations in 2008 that forced Abdullah Badawi, his handpicked successor no less, to resign a year later.

All said, Mahathir had accomplished the signal feat of being involved in some way or other in almost every political crisis that has beset UMNO since 1969. Several observations can be drawn from this record to explain Mahathir’s present behavior. First, Mahathir has long been possessed of a drive to be at the center of power in UMNO and Malaysian politics. Second, he is also in possession of an acute survival instinct that has enabled the über-politician to see off a string of challengers and ensured his political survival at the helm for 22 years. Finally, one can also plausibly surmise that at the core of his recent interventions is the desire – not unlike others who have held any high office for 22 years – to protect his legacy. Therein lie the rub, for it is not difficult to imagine that Mahathir might have deemed his legacy challenged by Anwar in 1998, ignored by Abdullah Badawi in 2008, and now, disregarded by Najib.

Will Najib survive?

A crucial factor that plays in this unfolding drama between two of Malaysia’s political heaveyweights – and which cannot be over-emphasized – is the fact that power in Malaysia ultimately lies in UMNO itself, sclerotic though the party may have become. It is on this score that Najib remains formidable, even for the likes of Mahathir.

Unlike Anwar, who was only a Deputy President when he launched his abortive attempt to challenge Mahathir in 1998 (for which he paid a heavy political and personal price), Najib enjoys the advantage of incumbency. Unlike Abdullah Badawi, who chose to remain quiescent when stridently attacked latterly by Mahathir, Najib has used the powers of incumbency adroitly to head off any potential challenge and tighten his grip on the party. He has done so by out-maneuvering pretenders (he removed his Deputy Prime Minister), sidelining opponents, and co-opting potential dissenters into his Cabinet. These divide-and-rule measures closely approximate what Mahathir himself had used to devastating effect when he was in power. For good measure, Najib has lifted a few additional moves from Mahathir’s own playbook: he has neutralized legal institutions, hunted down whistle blowers, brought security agencies to heel, and shut down newspapers and periodicals that have criticized him. Najib’s consolidation of power has been aided by the fact that there is at present no alternative leader within UMNO around whom a sufficiently extensive patronage network has been created. It bears repeating that the arid reality of Malaysian politics is that power still lies within UMNO, so he who controls the party controls Malaysia. On that score, even if Najib’s credibility is eroding in the eyes of the Malaysian populace, within UMNO his position does not appear to have weakened, nor does he seem to be buckling under pressure.

There are no signs that the enmity between the current and former Prime Ministers of Malaysia will abate anytime soon. Given the stakes, the depths to which ill-will between both parties now run, and how far the boundaries have already been pushed, the rancor is likely to intensify. Mahathir still commands a following especially online where his studied blog musings on www.chedet.cc, a key vehicle for his unrelenting assaults on Najib’s credibility, remain popular grist for the ever-churning Malaysian rumor mill. In response, Najib has defiantly circled the wagons and tightened his grip on levers of power. While Mahathir is unlikely to relent, the reality is that the avenues available to him to ramp up pressure on Najib are disappearing fast. A recent UMNO Supreme Council meeting that was expected to witness a further culling of Najib’s detractors and Mahathir’s sympathizers turned out to be a non-event and an endorsement of the status quo. In the final analysis then, it is difficult to see Mahathir ultimately prevailing over Najib, let alone bend the sitting prime minister and party president to his will.

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Joseph Chinyong Liow

Former Brookings Expert.Dean and Professor of Comparative and International Politics – S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

[1] “Dr. Mahathir Withdraws Support for Najib Government,” The Malaysian Insider, August 18, 2014. http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/dr-mahathir-withdraws-support-for-najib-government.


UMNO Grand Poobah, MCA, Hudud and Divisive Politics

December 2, 2016

UMNO Grand Poobah, MCA, Hudud and Divisive Politics

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan


Image result for Najib Razak Grand Poobah

Image result for Grand Poobah

UMNO’s Grand Poobah and Poobah Jr.

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

– Barry M Goldwater

Not many people know this but close friends know that I have a soft spot for Barry Goldwater; some mistakenly now say was the Donald Trump of his time. Far from reality of course but American punditry being what it is, these misconceptions are peddled as the truth. The above quote deals with Christian American extremists but replace Christian with Muslim, the general principle shines through that religion and politics do not mix.

Which I realise seems like I am backtracking from an earlier article of mine where I argued, “We have to be careful when we cross that line between church and state but cross it we must, if we want to save our country.”

However, PAS’ latest hissy fit that it would derail the proposed amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976 in retaliation for non-Muslims interference for their carefully laid out plans for turning Malaysia into an Islamofacist state is laughable because these amendments are needed as Islam often interferes in the private and public lives of non-Muslims in Malaysia.

PAS Secretary-General Takiyuddin Hassan talks about “playing fair” but I would argue that people who oppose this bill are the only ones who are thinking fairly in this country. In numerous articles, I have explained how Islam has had an overt effect on the non-Muslims polities of this country. The literature of how a Wahhabi-influenced Islam has taken this country down an intolerant road is cogent, probative and indisputable.

This threat by PAS is exactly why many others and I warned the opposition that they were playing with fire when they embraced PAS and propagated the ‘PAS for all’ propaganda. I know many opposition supporters have no interests in articles like these but instead of going after MCA when it comes to this issue, there should be some attempt at bipartisanship between the opposition parties and their BN counterparts.

This need not be a hug fest but when a BN component party takes a position that aligns with the opposition, the discourse should be moved in the direction of commonality instead of wallowing in the clichés of “running dogs” and dredging up the numerous scandals of the Najib regime that frankly has not gained traction where it counts.

Image result for Dato Ti Lian Ker

MCA’s Ti Lian Ker and UMNO’s Nazri Aziz

This is why MCA religious harmony head Ti Lian Ker’s response against PAS’ threat is something that Malaysians should take heed of instead of merely indulging in partisan politics. While MCA President Liow Tiong Lai’s clarification on his conflicting stand on hudud is welcomed, Malaysians should also take heed of what MCA Wanita chairperson Heng Seai Kie said of the wakil rakyat being elected to serve the people instead of representing the preoccupations of a certain faith.

Moreover, honestly MCA has by far had a more accessible position on this subject instead of the conflicting messages coming out of the Muslim wing of the opposition front and their non-Muslim supporters.

Ti made three important points in his response to PAS.(1) “Muslim criminal offenders (will) face harsher punishments under the hudud enactments (in certain states) as opposed to all suspects being equal before the Penal Code. Implementation of the criminal code must apply equally to all perpetrators.”

He reaffirmed the secular and egalitarian principles of a functional democracy and judicial system. Furthermore, he reminded these religious extremists that all Malaysians should be treated equally before the legal system and that penalising a specific polity because of their faith, should be unacceptable for those claiming to want an egalitarian Malaysia.

(2) Ti said there was no such thing as quid pro quo when it comes to protecting the constitutional rights of all Malaysians.

There can, and should be, compromise in certain issues but when it comes to the constitutional rights of Malaysians, there is no such thing as compromise. We do not barter certain rights at the expense of our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Image result for MCA President Liow

Besides, Malaysian history has shown – and let’s face facts this happened under MCA’s watch – that kowtowing to Islamic extremism when it came to UMNO, had a horrendous effect on the stability and security of Malaysia. As far as appeasement is concerned, Churchill had it right – “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

And (3) and perhaps the most important point, “Ti also challenged Muslim lawmakers in DAP, PKR, Amanah and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia to publicly declare if they will support PAS’ threat against non-Muslims to derail the amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.”

Signed declaration

I would go further. I want a signed declaration from Muslim oppositional MPs that they will not support PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang’s bill and will endorse the amendments to the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976.

Why is this important? Besides the obvious reasons of course, but the reality is that for far too long Muslim opposition MPs have played this game where they paid lip service to secular and egalitarian principles because they did not want to be perceived as going against Islam and the Malay community.

Well guess what, by virtue of being an opposition MP, the narrative has already been established and promulgated that opposition Muslims MPs are collaborators with the Chinese DAP, agents of foreign powers, aligned with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) movement, enemies of Islam and traitors to the “Malay race”.

There is really no drawback for publicly stating your position on this bill, unless of course your position is that you don’t support this bill, then the question becomes why is it, Malaysians who want change are voting for you?

DAP’s M Kulasegaran also cuts straight to the chase when he points out the hypocritical moral stance of the PAS MP who made the threat when he writes – “By making the threat, Takiyuddin has inadvertently stated that he would rather vote against having genuine Muslim converts as long as stiffer syariah punishment is enacted.”

The honourable gentleman from Ipoh Barat has always managed in a calm rational manner to point out truths without slipping into the deep partisanship that is contemporary Malaysian politics and has always been a thoughtful politician who writes on issues without banging the war drums – unless needed.

Kulasegaran’s and Ti’s positions should be the common stand taken by MPs regardless of party affiliation and is the kind of position that BN and opposition MPs should get together on instead of grandstanding.

The grand UMNO Grand Poohbah said this recently – “So, when we determine the direction, it will be a vision of all Malaysian citizens, including the younger generation.”

If Muslim opposition MPs really care about the future of all Malaysians, they will not support a bill that would ultimately destroy the Malay community. And that’s a religious truth you can have faith in.


Malaysian Activism–1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Backwards but for Technology and Guts

May 6, 2016

Malaysian Activism–1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Backwards but for Technology and Guts 

by Mikha Chan

As much as we like to say that Malaysia is where free speech goes to die, we can’t deny that we’ve seen some progress in expanding our democratic space.

Twenty years ago, things would have had to become really bad to motivate activists to start waving their flags and risk instant arrest. This came from a lack of real organisation and an equal lack of easily accessible mass communication technology.

These days, no one is safe any more. More often than not, those in power can expect their screw-ups to spark mass texts on WhatsApp calling on protesters to gather at Jalan Raja Laut at 1pm next Sunday. Social media has become an even bigger bludgeon to hit errant authorities with, and Malaysian millennials are making full use of it.

The work of punk artist Fahmi Reza is a good example of this. His graphic, Instagram-friendly brand of street activism has perhaps contributed to the Malaysian public’s awareness of issues more than has any other agency next to Bersih, with his famous clown caricature of Prime Minister Najib Razak receiving international media attention.

Schulz 5

All of this has been helped by the vibrant do-it-yourself branding campaign he’s been running on his Facebook and Instagram accounts. It’s a movement in itself, one which has seen his personal hashtag #kitasemuapenghasut in full use by his followers and his trademark clown-Najib posters pasted all over the country.

It’s millennial activism at its best. You can deny it, you can call it hashtag activism, but the fact remains that awareness of political and related issues among Malaysian youth is at an all-time high.

We’re in the best place we’ve ever been for Malaysian activism and, who knows, it may get better. Of course, that depends on whether civil society maintains its pressure on the authorities. Our progress didn’t happen in a vacuum, after all. It happened through years of struggle.

(From left) Datuk Toh Kin Woon, Dr Michael Jeyakumar, Fuad Rahmat and A. Sivarajan with volumes of An Alternative Vision of Malaysia.

“The Police are better now, but change didn’t come from themselves. It came from civil society. With groups like the Bar Council, Suhakam and Suaram all speaking up, the space opened up,” said Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) Central Committee member Michael Jeyakumar recently in a comment on this year’s May Day rally in Kuala Lumpur, which saw the participation of about 500 people.

“We walked two to three kilometres,” he added. “This would have been unthinkable in the 90s. They would have jumped on us the moment we started meeting.”

It was a small demonstration and it lasted only two hours. On those two scores, you could say that the rally was not a success. But considering the relative lack of police response, it’s a pretty good marker of how far activism has progressed in the past twenty years.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: What’s your deal with Najib Razak?

March 28, 2016

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: What’s your deal with Najib Razak?

by Mariam Mokhtar


Politicians like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah cause the electorate to lose faith in politics. Affectionately known as Ku Li, he confirms our suspicions of him. He is all spin and no substance. He joins a long list of sycophants who should have had the interests of the rakyat at heart, but at the critical moment, let down the people and himself. Where are the men of integrity and honour?

Ku Li’s betrayal may not matter now, because a majority of the population still cast their votes. In time, this number will drop because they will see politicians as untrustworthy.So, was it emotion, or political expediency which prompted Ku Li to sign the ‘Kelantan Declaration’?

The Citizens’ Declaration of the ‘Save Malaysia’ movement is supported by former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The Kelantan Declaration is just a vanity declaration, like a love letter for politicians. It is a tit-for-tat move to distract the rakyat from national issues.

So did Ku Li sign because of his 30-year-old grudge against Mahathir, whom he challenged for the UMNO party presidency in 1987 but lost by a whisker? There were irregularities in voting, and Ku Li’s supporters mounted a legal challenge. The High Court declared UMNO an illegal party and forced Mahathir to form UMNO Baru, and Ku Li, Semangat 46.

Was Ku Li exacting his revenge on Mahathir? Or did Najib Abdul Razak whisper sweet nothings into Ku Li’s ears and promised him a role more prominent than that of a mere MP? He is free to sign the Kelantan Declaration and express his loyalty to Najib, but in the past, why did he have to string some of the rakyat along, and say that he cared?

Ku Li has expressed dissatisfaction with the government on numerous occasions. When asked why he refused to leave UMNO Baru and fight for change from the opposition benches, his answer was always “No!” He claimed to be more effective, fighting for change from within.

His critique of the government convinced some of the opposition that he could be an interim prime minister should GE14 result in a hung parliament, or if the no-confidence vote against Najib had been successful. Some people may remember that at the convocation ceremony of the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM), in June 2014, Ku Li moaned about the division of race and religion, the low standards of fluency in English, and Malaysian education.

He reminisced about his teenage years when athletes were selected on their sporting prowess, and Malaysians were united in their support of them, irrespective of their race. He recalled fond memories of Wong Peng Soon, the All-England badminton champion, in 1950 and 1951.Today, he supports the leader of a party which condones division in society.

In 2010, Ku Li said that in the 1980s, the government was spending money like water, and the Defence Ministry would purchase Exocet missiles, at RM2 million each, for target practice.

Why regurgitate these issues?

Why regurgitate these issues, decades later? He once held the portfolio of finance minister, and had to sign the chits, but did not complain about the frivolous spending on the armed forces.

He held two heavyweight ministerial posts, (finance and international trade and industry). His arguments would have carried weight. Why were these matters not highlighted, then?

A few days ago, Mahathir stunned Malaysians with the revelation that Ku Li and a group of UMNO Baru leaders had secretly plotted to oust Najib. Mahathir said, “He (Ku Li) came and met me, and said he wants to push for a no-confidence vote. He said he can get the majority, but he failed.”

The irony is that having been defeated, Ku Li later signed his allegiance to the man he had wanted to topple.How are we to have any confidence in our politicians, if they fail us when they fall at the first hurdle? Where is their persistence, and their moral duty?

On September 16, 2008, former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim failed in his bid to secure enough defections in UMNO Baru to oust the erstwhile PM Abdullah Badawi. Anwar was subsequently demonised by UMNO Baru politicians. Today, the same politicians keep silent about Ku Li’s tactics, which were similar, and also failed.

If there is any threat to the stability and national security of the nation, it is from politicians who have abrogated their duty to serve the rakyat.  Our enemy is not from outside, it is from within. Our enemy is made up of politicians who fail to act against corruption, injustice, and divisive and racist politics.

Members of the political elite want only one thing, to hang on to their seats. And power.You know what you must do in GE14


Ambiga talks to Cmdr (rtd) Thayaparan

March 24, 2016

Ambiga talks to Cmdr (rtd) Thayaparan


A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”– Edward Abbey

“The progressive agenda of civil society will never change”. Yes,  Dato’Ambiga, but it is badly compromised when you allowed the former tin pot dictator to take the lead of the movement. He is the cause of our malaise. How can you and your associates (Maria Chin, Cynthia Gabriel, Hishamuddin Rais  et.al) be so naive. –Din Merican

In a two-part interview, HAKAM President Ambiga Sreenevasan discusses the recent Citizen’s Declaration, articulates the need to reach out and move beyond partisan rhetoric and makes it very clear that the struggle for a just Malaysia is journey that everyone needs to make.

She is a passionate advocate for reform but does not allow polemics to get in the way of reasoned discourse.

We often hear from people who oppose the policies of former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. However, there are people who support him and his policies. How do you reconcile the progressive agendas of civil society and the underlying ideology of the former Prime Minister and those who support him, including ordinary citizens?

The progressive agenda of civil society will never change. Neither will the events of the past which has led us to our current situation.

Members of civil society and I have spent so many years of our lives fighting this government for the problems that have resulted in the current crisis we are facing. (Social activists) Maria (Chin)’s husband and Hisham (Rais) were held under the ISA. Why did we (including Cynthia Gabriel) choose to sign this Citizens’ Declaration?

The rallying point is that the country is on the brink of destruction and something has to be done and done now. If indeed we have all agreed that there is a crisis facing the country, the only issue that remains is what do we do about it?

What we are seeing with the Citizens’ Declaration is an alignment of diverse forces to face a crisis. What we need to do is to set aside our obvious differences for a higher cause. We need to stop the ship’s captain before he steers us into the iceberg.

It is also about appealing to a wider spectrum of people from both sides of the political divide and for them to know that it is okay to have differences but still work together to save the nation.

Don’t forget that whilst the reform agenda was largely suggested by civil society, everyone agreed to it and signed onto it. As far as we are concerned, there is consensus on the issue of reform.

History is replete with many examples of such temporary alliances that are formed to face and overcome an immediate danger.

In Malaysia, game changing political events always seem to happen in secrecy. Why were there no public consultations with citizens’ groups and publication of Mahathir’s original draft in the weeks leading up to the press conference?

Civil society was brought into the picture on the Tuesday before the signing (of the declaration) on Friday. There was little time for us to consult but we consulted as many people as we could.

We know that it was not extensive but we were working on a short timetable. We are now reaching out to our friends in civil society so that they can ask us questions and understand why we did what we did. We owe it to them to explain our actions.

Given the nature of the declaration, I am not in the least surprised that it was not disclosed widely to the public. If it was widely and openly discussed, I am certain it would not have seen the light of day.

What does civil society groups gain by aligning with the former Prime Minister who was the cause of the systemic dysfunction we now face?

First, this is a declaration signed by citizens. There are those in civil society who have said they will not sign the declaration but equally, there are those who are prepared to do so.

Ultimately, the advantage to civil society that I see is to ensure that in this move to bring change, the reform agenda is not left out of the conversation. Then there is the issue of (jailed opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim. That too must be on the table.

The other advantage is that we now have an opportunity to reach out to a different audience and speak about the need for reform. There was a time when BN supporters would not hear of any reform.

We now have a chance to reach out to them to bridge this gap, to lessen the distrust and to get them to hear us out. To me, that is a big step forward.

In response to the scepticism from certain quarters, you said, “What is important is that we have someone committed to reform”. My question is, this declaration has its foundation in UMNO’s internal schism, how credible is the argument that the anti-Najib forces are willing or capable of instituting systemic reforms?

(I do not recall making that statement in precisely those terms!)We are not in power, so it is impossible to promise change as some people want us to. We cannot guarantee anything. What we are trying to do here is to galvanise people’s power to make a difference.

Whilst I understand the skepticism that the anti-Najib forces who come from the BN-UMNO background will institute systemic reforms, I do believe there is a shift in the thinking to some extent. Some of them have themselves suffered the effects of institutional failure and in particular the clamping down on free speech.

It must be clear that we are facing a crisis due to a failure of the institutions and rampant corruption. Hence the need to reach out and convince them of this at a time when they are prepared to listen.

True reform is only possible when the majority of the people of Malaysia, on both sides of the political divide, see the need for it and demand it. If this means forging a temporary alliance to make this happen, so be it.

The original draft only paid lip service to reform, is this not a warning sign that the primary purpose is dislodging Najib and not serious systemic reform and how do the movers behind this declaration hold those who signed accountable for their actions or inactions?

First, I disagree that it was mere lip service.All the signatories have signed up for the reform and the opposition members and civil society must ensure it becomes a reality. Whilst the main agenda for some may be the removal of Najib, this is in my view, a necessary first step in any event.

This Prime Minister should not remain for all the reasons that are obvious to us. We have to take it on faith that those who signed the declaration will also ensure that they keep their word on reform. If they do not, then we will continue our fight. We will be no worse off than we are now in that regard.

Further, I do not believe that it will reflect well on the signatories if they ignore the reform agenda.

The best way to ensure reforms is to convince the public whom we speak to that it is vital for the survival of our beloved nation. This is the reaching out I spoke of earlier. These are the conversations across the political divide that we need to have. The Citizens’ Declaration gives us the opportunity to do that.

Tomorrow: Ambiga talks about countering negative perception on working with Dr M.


Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

March 14, 2016

Citizens’ Declaration – first step or false start?

Malaysians might agree with some reluctance to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.–Dennis Ignatius

majlis-deklarasiTun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad wants to save UMNO Baru and then become a party member again

By Dennis Ignatius

The remarkable gathering of political and civil society leaders and the “Citizens’ Declaration” they signed continues to reverberate across the political landscape.

That opposition and civil society leaders who participated in the gathering now feel obliged to justify if not defend their decision to join Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his quest to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak says something about how controversial it has all become.

The day after tomorrow

There is, of course, no argument that Najib has been disastrous for the nation. All but a few self-serving cronies and an assorted coterie of hangers-on are united in the view that Najib should be pressured through whatever democratic means available to step down as quickly as possible.

It is what comes next that is the fly in the ointment.

Those who joined Mahathir last week insist that the immediate priority is to get rid of Najib because the country can no longer endure his maladministration. While few would dispute that, many are equally suspicious of Mahathir’s motives.

What is Dr Mahathir fighting for?

Has the éminence grise of Malaysian politics undergone a Damascus road experience and come out convinced that only drastic change can save the nation or is he being as Mahathirian as ever, seeking to exploit public discontent purely to further his own political agenda? Is his goal democratic transformation or merely the continuation of UMNO’s hegemonic rule under a more competent and pliable leader?

When questioned about Mahathir’s motives, many of the participants sought to sidestep the issue in the interest of creating a united front against Najib. One signatory even dismissed such concerns as “irrelevancies of the moment” while others urged the public to focus on the big picture.

Alluding to these concerns, Mahathir himself would only say that it was something that politicians could fight about later.

The general public, however, appear unconvinced. They have harboured hopes for change for too long to now acquiesce in political games and they baulk at following even trusted leaders like Lim Kit Siang without a more convincing road map for change.They have good reason to be wary.

No regrets

“All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.”

Throughout his long and bitter campaign to dislodge Najib, Mahathir has consistently argued that he is fighting to save UMNO and ensure its long-term survivability, something that both UMNO Deputy President Muhyiddin Yassin and former Kedah Menteri Besar Mukhriz Mahathir reaffirmed just days after the signing ceremony.

Even Mahathir’s resignation from UMNO was not a rejection of the party per se but a dramatic manoeuvre to pile pressure on Najib to leave.

Mahathir also does not appear to be a man with second thoughts about his past policies and actions. In fact, he has never admitted to his own culpability for the sorry state our nation is in today. Judging by his many statements since he resigned as Prime Minister, he appears to see his years in office as a sort of golden era to which we must return.

The only mistake he admits to is his poor choice of successors but that is little consolation.Furthermore, he has given no indication whatsoever that he is ready to embrace the kind of democratic values that so many want so much to see established in our nation. Indeed, he has always believed that democracy is vastly overrated and that a developing country like Malaysia needs a strong, almost absolute leader at the helm; just not the present one.

He is no democrat and he has never pretended to be one.And then to have some of the other unrepentant engineers of our present plight seated smugly at the table passing themselves off as would-be reformists and saviours, as if yesterday didn’t exist, was simply, I suspect, too much to swallow for many people.

Scraps from the table

Mahathir’s only concession to democracy at the meeting was a passing reference, towards the very end of the declaration, to constitutional rights and freedoms, all stuffed into a mere two of the thirty-six paragraphs of the declaration.

Cynics would undoubtedly see it not as a change of heart but a clever tactical concession to win over his detractors.

But such is Mahathir’s charisma, force of personality and political standing that when he summons the nation to battle, even his most implacable foes feel obliged to respond notwithstanding their reservations about him.

Anwar Ibrahim, for example, who has been so horribly and shamefully treated by Mahathir, graciously reached out from his prison cell to endorse the doctor’s initiative in the interest of the nation.

And such is the depth of despair and angst in our nation today that people with unquestionable integrity who have struggled long and hard and have made enormous personal sacrifices to build a better nation are now willing to accept the scraps from Mahathir’s table – a few half-hearted and weak assurances of democratic reform at some future date – in the hope that it will lead to real change.

If Mahathir, however, is unwilling to concede the need for genuine democracy, justice and inclusiveness when he is at his weakest, it is surely too much to expect him to do so when he is once again in firm control of UMNO-BN.

Like it or not, Mahathir carries with him too much baggage from the past to be accepted at face value. It is up to him to convince the nation that he is now acting in its best interest, that he is willing to embrace the kind of genuine democratic principles that alone can guarantee our future.

In spite of all the misgivings Malaysians might have about him, there’s a good chance that the nation will follow him once again if he would but lay before us all a clear path to national redemption.

Insipid and uninspiring

Ambiga, Maria Chin, and Hishamuddin Rais sold out Bersih

In the meantime, the call to all Malaysians to unite around Mahathir for the good of the nation is unlikely to arouse a national awakening.

Malaysians might agree, with some reluctance perhaps, to forgive and forget and unite around a meaningful platform for change but not around such an insipid, uninspiring and incomplete declaration.

Nelson Mandela asked his nation to let bygones be bygones on the promise of building a new and democratic South Africa where all are treated with equality and respect. All we are being asked to do at the moment is to support what looks like a campaign to replace one UMNO leader with another cut from the same cloth.

Clearly, if Mahathir and the co-signatories of the Declaration want to generate the kind of unstoppable power for change, they will have to come up with a more comprehensive plan of action.

A road map to the future

What is needed is a clear and uncompromising road map for the restoration of democracy and the renewal of our national institutions. Releasing Anwar Ibrahim from prison and allowing him to resume his political role in the nation is also a must. Unlike so many others at last week’s gathering, Anwar has earned the right to sit at the table.

To be sure, it will be a challenging task and will almost certainly take longer to construct but it will force all parties to agree upon the kind of nation we want to see going forward. And the consensus that emerges from such a meeting of minds will, in all likelihood, be far more enduring.

If the signatories to the Citizens’ Declaration will now take it upon themselves to deepen the discussion on these issues with a view to drawing up a workable road map for change, the meeting will come to be seen as a good first step instead of a false start.

And if such a meeting of minds is unattainable, Mahathir’s initiative should be summarily abandoned; we would be better off focusing our efforts on building a more viable coalition to take on Umno-BN at the next elections.

Our nation is ripe for change. There’s a sliver of hope. Let’s not squander it on the expediencies of the moment.

Dennis Ignatius has served as former Malaysian Ambassador to Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay. From 2001 to June 2008 he was the High Commissioner to Canada.