Not Good News for Najib

June 3, 2015

Obama learns more about Malaysian Politics –Not Good News for Najib

by John R. Mallot at

COMMENT: On June 1, US President Barack Obama met a number of young leaders fromjohn malott Southeast Asia at the White House. At the end of his prepared remarks, he asked for questions. And first at bat was Malaysia’s own Yeo Bee Yin, a member of the Selangor State Assembly.

Yeo asked him, “What is your view on democracy in Malaysia, with the recent jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, and the crackdown on the opposition?” Malaysiakini’s report on Obama’s response to Yeo’s question said that the President was “beating around the bush,” and that he continued “to shy away from criticising the Malaysian government” for jailing Anwar. For her part, Yeo astutely told Malaysiakini that Obama’s response was “perhaps diplomatically and politically correct.

However, as a nation that prides itself on its democracy, I did hope that the President would speak more strongly against such abuse of power.” The transcript of the president’s remarks has now been released. So we can read exactly what Obama said during his 90-minute meeting with these young Southeast Asian leaders, not just about Anwar and Malaysia, but also about democracy, human rights, religious and racial equality, and good governance in Southeast Asia as a whole.

As a former diplomat whose job was to study official statements word by word – and as a former ambassador to Malaysia, where you always had to read between the lines in the government-controlled newspapers to discern the truth – I have taken a look at what Obama had to say. And it is not good news for Obama’s golfing buddy, Najib Razak.

First, Obama said that “Malaysia has a history of democracy that has to be preserved.”  To use the words, “has to be preserved” means that he recognises that Malaysia’s democracy is now in jeopardy. And indeed, it is.

Second, Obama said that “democracy is not just about holding elections.” He said it is also about “how open, transparent, and accountable the government is between elections.” But as we all know, UMNO’s leaders arrogantly say that once elected, they can do whatever they want for the next five years. (And as we all know, the elections that brought them to power in the first place were neither free nor fair.)

Educating Obama


Third, Obama said that to make democracy work, it is essential to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and the right to assemble peacefully. Najib’s Malaysia fails strongly on all these counts.

Fourth, Obama said that people must have the right to say what they think. He cited George Washington and the criticism he endured and said you must respect the rights of people who disagree with you, no matter what they say. Yet in Najib’s Malaysia, people who disagree will be arrested, jailed, and charged with sedition.

Fifth, Obama said that one of the most important principles for him has always been to treat everyone fairly. Obama said, “The one thing I know is that countries that divide themselves on racial or religious lines, they do not succeed… That’s rule number one… I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is.” Yet Najib and UMNO are desperately trying to stay in power by appealing to the basest and most racist and religious instincts of the voters.

So what does all this mean? It shows that Obama finally has shown that he has some understanding of the real situation in Malaysia. Hopefully Obama will no longer “drink Najib’s Kool-Aid.” But Obama is not there yet. I fear that he still is giving Najib the benefit of the doubt. We all have to “educate” him and help him understand the truth about Najib and the regime that he leads.

I think the key task now is for the Malaysian people – and for friends of Malaysia in the US – to hold Obama’s feet to the fire. To educate him. To show him that the Najib regime does not live up to the standards of democracy, political freedom, and racial and religious quality that Obama espoused so well in his meeting with the young ASEAN leaders.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States Ambassador to Malaysia. He resides Alexandria. VA, just across the Potomac from Washington D.C. He maintains a keen interest in ASEAN, especially Malaysia and Vietnam and Japan

Obama warns Prime Minister Najib on Democracy and Human Rights

June 2, 2015

Obama warns  Prime Minister Najib on Democracy and Human Rights

by AFP

obama-anwarUS President Barack Obama on Monday warned Malaysia must be careful that the high profile prosecution of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim does not have a “chilling effect” on democracy.

Hosting a group of young leaders from ASEAN countries at the White House, Obama was asked about the case of former Deputy Prime Minister (Anwar) Ibrahim, who was jailed on much-criticized sodomy charges. “Malaysia has a history of democracy that has to be preserved,” Obama said.

“It is important that if an opposition leader who is well known has been charged with a crime, that process of how that is adjudicated and how open it is and how clear the evidence is, that is all subject to scrutiny.What you don’t want is a situation in which the legitimacy of the process is questioned, that has an adverse impact on democracy as a whole.”

Anwar was jailed in February for five years on charges that he sodomized a former male aide, a case he says was fabricated by the government.The prison term threatens to permanently end the 68-year-old’s political career.

Obama said everyone should be “making sure that there is not a chilling effect on potential opposition”

“You have to respect the rights of even those people who you disagree most with, because otherwise there is no way a democracy can flourish over the long term.”


LKY chose brains, not fawning followers

May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

Why Singapore is ahead of Malaysia: LKY chose brains, not fawning followers

by James


Dr Afifuddin OmarOur leaders surrounded themselves with followers, LKY (Lee Kuan Yew) with intellectuals, says UMNO’s Cornell University (Ithaca) educated  Dr. Affifudin Omar.

Former Deputy Finance Minister Dato’ Wira Dr Affifudin, highlighting why Malaysia failed to emulate the success of Singapore, said one reason was that Lee Kuan Yew chose intellectuals, while Malaysian leaders were surrounded by supporters and followers.

Responding to a question posed by an audience member at a forum on new Malaysian leaders, Dr. Affifudin said that comparing Singapore and Malaysia was like comparing apples and oranges.

“Political, cultural and economic backgrounds are different. But since we are talking about leadership, when Singapore left Malaysia under Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP, he held on to Confucius’ principle of valuing knowledge. He surrounded himself with intellectuals, whereas Malaysian leaders surrounded themselves with people who supported them 120%,” he said.

Tun Razak and Zhou EnlaiTun Abdul Razak with China’s Mandarin, Zhou Enlai

Dr. Affifudin recalled that it was not always the case in Malaysia as Tun Abdul Razak Hussein also had a similar approach as Malaysia’s Second Prime Minister.

Dr.Affifudin recalled that Tun Razak needed experts in Asian development, and did not hesitate to hire two professors from Harvard and Cornell universities in the United States, while at the same time looking after his political stability.

“Lee Kuan Yew and Tun Abdul Razak were the same in that they surrounded themselves with the smartest and the brightest,” he said.

Singapore’s small size and the high level of education of the people has helped the republic to advance beyond Malaysia as every programme implemented would reach its public easily.

“Although Lee Kuan Yew exploited the democratic process in ensuring a majority in Parliament, the people accepted it because they knew Lee Kuan Yew was honest in what he was doing. He was a straight talker regarding the development of Singapore. That’s the leadership difference,” he said.

Lee and Dr. MahathirLKY chose Intellectuals, Dr. Mahathir recruited Fawning Followers

Dr.Affifuddin said Dr Mahathir Mohamad did not surround himself with intellectuals, unlike Tun Abdul Razak, and the downward trend had continued since.

“Tun Mahathir, I’m sorry to say it, was doing it all alone. When Pak Lah (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) came in, he tried to do it (surround himself with intellectuals) and was beaten up (kena hentam) for it,” he said.

Dr. Afifuddin had earlier acknowledged that he is still a member of UMNO but had not attended the forum, organised by former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim, to defend his party but to seek the truth, in the spirit of brotherhood.

“If my brother makes a mistake, I will question it and call it as it is. If he’s not guilty, I will defend him. I’m not going to defend UMNO. What I’m going to do is say what is wrong and what is right according to my own judgement,” Dr. Afifudin said.


Stop flattering Najib, Envoy Zahrain told

April 23, 2015

Stop flattering Najib, Envoy Zahrain told

 by FMT Reporters

He should stick to diplomacy and stay out of politics, says Khairuddin Abu Hassan.

Zahrain Hashim khairuddin abu hassanPETALING JAYA: A former UMNO official has denounced the Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia, Zahrain Hashim, for issuing a public statement in defence of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s allegedly lavish lifestyle.

“He has crossed the line that separates diplomacy from politics in his eagerness to flatter Najib,” said Khairuddin Abu Hassan, who was recently sacked from his position as Vice Chairman of the Batu Kawan UMNO division.

Zahrain, in an interview with Utusan Malaysia, reacted to a magazine article about the spending habits of Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, by implying that they could afford an expensive lifestyle because the Prime Minister is of upper-class birth.

Khairuddin said in a press statement today that Zahrain seemed oblivious of the current political developments in the country and the moral issues being raised in connection with questions regarding Najib’s suitability as Prime Minister and Umno President.

“Perhaps Zahrain is forgetful,” he said. “Recently, Najib’s brothers issued a statement defending their father, former prime minister Tun Razak Hussein, from any insinuation that he accumulated wealth during his tenure.”

The statement from Najib’s brothers came after the New York Times quoted the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as saying: “Neither any money spent on travel, nor any jewellery purchases, nor the alleged contents of any safes are unusual for a person of the Prime Minister’s position, responsibilities and legacy family assets.” The PMO’s statement was a response to questions about Rosmah’s spending.

“Even if the Prime Minister comes from a noble family with a lot of money,” Khairuddin said, “he must, if he wants to be an effective and successful leader, display a moderate lifestlye. That would be more in keeping with Malay culture. The Malays look highly upon people of high birth who live moderately.

“Unfortunately, some UMNO leaders have forgotten this. They love to exhibit a lavish lifestyle. Such ostentation has invited all kinds of negative perceptions among the rakyat.”

Khairuddin reminded Zahrain that he used to be a member of PKR, whose leaders would often criticise UMNO leaders for their extravagance.

“I hope Dato Seri Zahrain would focus only on his responsibilities as our Ambassador to Indonesia and restrain himself from getting involved in Malaysia’s domestic politics,” he said.

Khairuddin also took issue with Zahrain’s insinuation that one of former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s son, Mokhzani, got rich by taking advantage of his father’s position. He said Mahathir’s children found success after decades of hard work. “They did not become rich in their youth,” he added.

Khairuddin, who shot to fame with his Police and MACC reports against 1MDB, is seen as aligned to Mahathir’s camp. He has become a frequent critic of the Najib administration, occasionally releasing press statements in his individual capacity.

In today’s statement, he referred to the current political battle between Mahathir and Najib, claiming that the ex-premier’s criticisms were motivated by a sincere wish to ensure that voters would continue to support UMNO and Barisan Nasional.

TEMPO stands firm on the Najib-Rosmah Article

April 23, 2015

COMMENT: You cannot expect TEMPO, a respected magazine in Indonesia, to stand down on its article on Najib-Rosmah’s lavish spending habits. 

The magazine is known since the days of Goenawan Mohamad to be fiercely independent and thorough in its reporting. I feel sorry for our Ambassador to Indonesia Dato Seri Zahrain Hashim  who has to defend our first couple, now in Bandung to  attend the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Asia- Africa Conference.

Goenawan (right) is the founder and editor of Tempo (“Time”) magazine in Indonesia, which wasGoenawan M of Tempo twice forcibly closed by the Suharto‘s New Order administration because of its vocal criticism of the authoritarian regime. In 1999, Mohamad was named International Editor of the Year by World Press Review magazine. In 1998, he was one of four winners of the CPJ International Press Freedom Awards, and in 2006 he received the Dan David Prize award. The World Press Review awarded him its International Editor of the Year Award in 1999 (wikipedia).

It is fortunate that TEMPO did not report on the missing rm27billion in 1MDB.  Read  –Din Merican

TEMPO stands firm on the Najib-Rosmah Article

Purwanto SetiadiIndonesia’s premier current affairs magazine Tempo is standing by their article on Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor’s lavish lifestyle entitled ‘Hidup mewah sang perdana menteri’.Tempo senior editor, Purwanto Setiadi (left), said the magazine believes its sources for the story and although from secondary means, they (the sources) were vetted carefully before the said article was published.

“Like previously, we choose our sources (of the news) carefully. As of today, we believe in the source which was used,” he said when contacted by Malaysiakini.

Purwanto, who is the magazine’s editor for international news, was commenting on Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia Zahrain Mohamed Hashim’s statement that he wanted to meet Tempo editors to correct alleged misconceptions contained in the article. Purwanto, who is also on Tempo‘s editorial board,  pointed out their article had also quoted the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) as dismissing the sources for the article as used by Tempo.

However, Purwanto said if Zahrain or the Malaysian government had other versions, Tempo was open to publishing it.

Step-son’s luxury properties

Zahrain, Purwanto added, was welcome to visit the magazine’s office again, his second visit after a recent one. “It is an honour if he comes occasionally,” said the senior editor.

Tempo had reported on the lavish lifestyle of Najib and Rosmah in a special issue following the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Asia- Africa Conference currently being held in Banding, Indonesia for which Najib flew in today to attend. The write-up touched on Rosmah’s (centre above) penchant for luxury handbags and jewellery, and Najib’s step-son Riza Aziz’s wealth used to purchase luxury properties in the US. The article also mentioned Rosmah’s RM1,200 hairdo expense.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy: His Impact on Singapore–Malaysia Relations

April 6, 2015

RSISNo. 080/2015 dated 6 April 2015

Lee Kuan Yew’s Legacy: His Impact on Singapore–Malaysia Relations

By David Han Guo Xiong


The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy on Singapore –Malaysia relations will continue to have an impact on the diplomatic ties of these two countries. In particular his insights on the shared geography, history, culture, and the regional and geopolitical contexts for both Singapore and Malaysia will endure for many years to come.


Kuan Yew and Dr. MTHE PASSING of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew marks the end of an era in the relations between Singapore and Malaysia. But his legacy will continue to shape the republic’s foreign policy towards its immediate neighbour, and his views will still be an important lens through which to understand their bilateral ties.

For Mr Lee, the shared realities of geography, history, culture, and the wider regional and geopolitical contexts would continue to underpin Singapore’s relations with Malaysia. Indeed, at the core of his view on Singapore’s policy towards Malaysia is the over-riding concern of the republic’s continued survival as a nation; the preservation of its territorial integrity; and economic prosperity, vis-à-vis its larger northern neighbour.

Fundamentals of Singapore–Malaysia relations

The story of Lee Kuan Yew’s political career is almost synonymous and inextricably tied with the history of Singapore–Malaysia relations. Right from the start, when he became the first Prime Minister of Singapore in 1959, he was already aware that Malaya – as Malaysia was then known – was a crucial hinterland for the economic survival of Singapore. By virtue of geographical proximity and shared colonial history, the economic, social and cultural dynamics of both countries were deeply intertwined. Mr Lee understood that for Singapore to survive economically, Singapore must merge with Malaya, which it did when Malaysia was formed in 1963.

However, the merger was short-lived and ended when Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965. The key reason for the split was that Mr Lee’s vision for a “Malaysian Malaysia” which championed multiracialism was incompatible with the race-based policies and communal politics in Malaysia which favoured the bumiputras.

For the past 50 years, though the issue of race and ethnicity has surfaced on a few occasions, it has not severely damaged Singapore–Malaysia ties. Overall, both Singapore and Malaysia have exercised much restraint and sensitivity towards one another on the subject of race and ethnicity.

After separation, Singapore successfully overcame its economic woes and transformed itself into the prosperous city state it is today. Although Malaysia did not remain the hinterland for Singapore due to the separation, Mr Lee’s insight on the close economic interdependence of the two immediate neighbours is still valid. Singapore’s largest trading partner is Malaysia and good economic cooperation is vital to both countries. The ongoing Iskandar development project is a testament to the strong economic links of both countries. Singapore and Malaysia also cooperate widely in other areas such as tourism, education, environmental issues, culture, and so on.

Managing bilateral issues

To be sure there have been contentious disputes over the past five decades. These include the problem of water supply; the withdrawal of contributions of Malaysian workers from the Central Provident Fund (CPF); ownership of Malayan Railway (KTM) land and Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) issues; bridge replacement for the Causeway; and the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca. Nevertheless, Mr Lee’s pragmatism, which is also shared by Malaysia, has been the key to overcoming the periodic tensions which arose in the past and may likely continue in the future.

The current excellent relations between Singapore and Malaysia under the leadership of Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Razak is a clear indicator that cordial relations based on rationality and pragmatic interest will prevail over emotional and irrational attachment to narrow ethnic or communal agendas in the  future.

As both Singapore and Malaysia are close neighbours, regional dynamics have been crucial factors for the foreign policies of both nations. For Mr Lee, a peaceful and stable Southeast Asia, characterised by cordial economic and diplomatic cooperation amongst Southeast Asian states without interfering in each other’s internal affairs, was vital for Singapore’s sovereignty and survival. Accordingly Mr Lee contributed significantly to the development of ASEAN so that ASEAN countries can work together towards regional goals in the ASEAN Way.

Singapore, Malaysia in the ASEAN context

Similarly, Malaysia has always recognised the importance of ASEAN for regional stability which would be conducive for advancing the national interests of Malaysia. It is also in the context of ASEAN that both Malaysia and Singapore can seek to improve their bilateral ties. Such similarities in viewpoint should continue to form a common ground for cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia, and for furthering the interests of ASEAN as a whole.

On broader geopolitical issues, Mr Lee saw that while competition between the United States and China is inevitable, conflict is not. He held the view that the US should help China to transit into the international community in the spirit of cooperation.

Indeed, peaceful and good ties between China and the US without major conflicts would benefit Singapore’s economic development and survival. Singapore has strong economic ties with China, while it also maintains close military and economic relations with the US. Singapore’s cooperative and hedging behaviour is motivated by its desire for both China and the US to maintain peaceful ties, and not for Singapore to be forced to choose sides.

Likewise, Malaysia also shares broadly similar strategic concerns with Singapore. Malaysia too has strong economic relations with China, and close military ties with the US. Good China-US ties would serve the interests of Malaysia as well. Given these overlaps, Singapore and Malaysia can work together, within the context of ASEAN, to engage both Beijing and Washington to enhance mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation in the Southeast Asian region.

Continued relevance of Lee’s views on bilateral ties

Lee Kuan Yew’s views of relations between Singapore and Malaysia would continue to be relevant though not the key factor that shapes relations between Singapore and Malaysia.

The leadership of both countries should be mindful that the shared geography, history, culture, and regional and geopolitical contexts would always be crucial components that shape Singapore–Malaysian relations. A pragmatic and realistic outlook should consistently undergird and drive peaceful and constructive relations of the two countries, and not allow issues coloured by historical baggage or narrow domestic interests to hinder the relations of the two close neighbours.

David Han Guo Xiong is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.

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