Najib Razak-Anwar Ibrahim Meet– A Rorschach Test of Malay Politics


November 22, 2017

Thayaparan on The Najib Razak-Anwar Ibrahim Meet–A Rorschach Test of Malay Politics

“Maybe the Najib-Anwar hospital visit was just an innocent meeting, but the most important thing the land of endless possibilities has taught me is that all deals are possible, but sticking to them is another story.”–S. Thayaparan
 

And that’s that.”

– Ace Rothstein (Casino)

COMMENT | The visit by the current Umno grand poohbah Najib Razak and the grand poohbah-in-waiting Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to the bedside of political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim who is recovering from surgery has become a kind of Rorschach test of how people interpret Malay political and social culture.

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Indeed, in Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram’s piece, he makes it very clear that for people who “understand” Malay culture, this meeting is nothing more than a meeting between two former allies turned political opponents at a time when one is convalescing.

It does not take someone with an in-depth understanding of Malay culture to realise that these meetings between Malay potentates present good optics – in press speak – to their political bases.  Anwar, who has been imprisoned and vilified by the UMNO hegemon, appears composed and magnanimous while Prime Minister Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid present themselves as benign and mindful of Malay civility and compassion, even to rebels who would choose to usurp their power.

Despite establishment narratives that non-Malays – the Chinese specifically – seek to supplant Malay/Muslim power in Malaysia, the reality is that this could never happen. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but since Malay powerbrokers hold the keys to Putrajaya, the sight of Malay political opponents meeting always arouses speculation and yes, insecurity amongst the non-Malay demographic, especially those invested in regime change.

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Beyond that, the meeting has fuelled speculation that a possible deal could be brokered between the disparate Malay power structures that have caused so much trouble for the current Umno regime. Not only has Najib have to deal with the charismatic Anwar, guard his flanks against the religious machinations of PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang, but he also has to deal with the master of realpolitik Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is probably playing the last and great political game of his life. The stakes are high.

Here is a conspiracy for you. Perhaps the “delay” in the Registrar of Societies (ROS) registration of Pakatan Harapan as a coalition is to pave the way for a smooth transition of power between disparate Malay power groups and stifle the rebellion of the Najib refuseniks. Without a registered and formalised opposition, it would be easier to use legalese to justify unexpected mergers and yes, acquisitions.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi meets Anwar Ibrahim

Remember, this is not the first “deal” between Anwar and the Najib regime. There was also that deal brokered by Indonesia’s Jusuf Kalla in 2013 that both camps reneged on for various reasons. Why such a deal was needed – to respect the outcome of the general elections – is beyond me, but apparently, it was. I wrote about it, of course, when it first surfaced, once again questioning the type of “friends” Anwar has a history of investing in.

“About the only credible aspect of Jusuf’s opinion was his perception that both Anwar and Najib were confident of winning the recently concluded general election. I will note however that I am surprised in the former’s belief simply because the grassroots from the various oppositional factions were unsure of just how great the vocal showing of support would translate into votes.”

“‘How can you talk reconciliation when you demonise your opponent in this manner?’ asked Anwar to the Wall Street Journal when he acknowledged the deal but claimed it was void because of the virulent bigoted campaign waged by the UMNO state against its political opponents.

“The reality is that both sides have been demonising their political opponents. It is precisely these kinds of political stratagems, which many argue is against ‘Malay’ culture but offer no evidence to support this contention, who also argue that Malay solidarity trumps, ideology or anything else that could cause a split in the Malay polity.”

Endless possibilities

The most interesting part is the one “both sides said that the other had rejected a clause in the pact that the winner was to offer the loser a role in a ‘reconciliation government’.” This, of course, is interesting for a whole host of reasons but this was made at a time when former Prime Minister Mahathir was not part of the opposition alliance.

The inclusion of Mahathir in the opposition alliance has changed everything. Forget about the fact that a certain section of the electorate is disillusioned with this new alliance and are contemplating sitting out this election but more importantly, Malay power structures are hedging their bets when it comes to the final showdown between Najib and the man the opposition once called a dictator.

All these issues of electoral malfeasance are business as usual for UMNO and anyone who has ever been associated with UMNO, but what the regime really fears is the internal sabotage and the loyalty Mahathir commands in the bureaucracies at the state and federal level.

We have to remember that the opposition is what it is today because even in the opposition, Malay/Muslim power structures war amongst themselves. Contemporary Malay opposition narratives are defined by the PAS ejection from the opposition, PKR and PAS doing a tango when PAS has already made it clear what it thinks of the opposition, the unthinkable inclusion of a “Malay” rights party (Bersatu) into a supposedly egalitarian alliance, and finally the various turf wars between Malay opposition politicians.

Considering the history of the participants, the backdrop of pragmatic politics and the state-sanctioned narratives of what it means to be “Malay”, it would be naive not to consider that deals could not be made between disparate Malay power structures.

We are not talking about genuine political movements but personality cults fuelled by racial and religious politics. If Anwar could reach a compromise with the former prime minister who was instrumental in his transformation from politician to political prisoner, why not some kind of deal with a potentate who if rumours are to believed wants a clean exit?

And if Najib can find common ground with Hadi Awang of PAS, even though this goes against traditional UMNO narratives about PAS, then why not find common ground as a means to reshape once and for all Malay power structures in this country much like the way how Mahathir did during his tenure?

Maybe the Najib-Anwar hospital visit was just an innocent meeting, but the most important thing the land of endless possibilities has taught me is that all deals are possible, but sticking to them is another story.

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

Robert Mugabe–The Man who ruined Zimbabwe


November 21, 2017

The man who ruined a country

How Robert Mugabe held on to power for so long

His secret was to talk eloquently, and carry a big stick

Print edition | Middle East and Africa

Nov 16th 2017 | HARARE–The Economist

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The Zimbabwean Dictator Robert Mugabe
IT WAS the dismissal and flight abroad of Robert Mugabe’s oldest and trustiest lieutenant that finally led to his downfall. Grace Mugabe, the 93-year-old president’s avaricious wife, was thought to be behind the sacking. Younger than her husband by 41 years, she plainly sought to inherit the throne. Yet she overplayed her hand. Within a week the armed forces’ commander, alongside an array of generals, declared, without naming her, that Mrs Mugabe must be stopped. He demanded, also without naming names, that her nemesis, Emmerson Mnangagwa, must be reinstated as heir apparent. Mrs Mugabe’s allies were denounced as “counter-revolutionaries” who had played no part in the “war of liberation” that 37 years ago had brought Mr Mugabe to power.
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The Avaricious Wife of Robert Mugabe–FLOZ Grace Mugabe

A few days later armoured troop carriers rolled into Harare, the capital. Soldiers took control of the state broadcaster and surrounded Mr Mugabe’s residence. In the small hours of the morning another general announced on television that the army was in charge. But the coup was not a coup, he insisted. Various traitors had merely been rounded up and the Mugabe family detained for their own safety. Mr Mnangagwa was set to return from his brief exile. The Mugabe era was at last ingloriously over. As The Economist went to press, events were still unfolding pell-mell. But the latest signals suggest that the fate of Zimbabwe, at least for now, is in the hands of the 75-year-old Mr Mnangagwa.

Image result for mnangagwa the crocodileEmmerson “The Crocodile” Mnangagwa (center)

 

Known as “the Crocodile” for his habit of waiting quietly before sinking his jaws into his next victim, Mr Mnangagwa has none of his erstwhile master’s wit and charm. A former guerrilla and longtime political prisoner during the era of white supremacy that ended with independence under Mr Mugabe in 1980, for the next two decades he was minister of state security and of justice. He acquired a fearsome record of repression and an unrivalled knowledge of where the bodies—literal and metaphorical—were buried.

A pragmatist to the core, Mr Mnangagwa’s first act on the day he took over his department in 1980 was to visit the police station where he had been tortured by the white regime after his capture for trying to blow up a train. The leg-irons from which he had been hung upside down were still there, as were the white officers who had beaten him. Yet, according to an account by Martin Meredith, a historian, he promised them a “clean slate” in the new country.

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Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces

 

Soon enough, however, he was making his own use of such men. He is accused of complicity in the brutal suppression of the minority Ndebele tribe in the early 1980s, when about 20,000 people, most of them civilians, were murdered by the Zimbabwean army. (He denies this.) He had a hand in the Zimbabwean army’s deployment in the 1990s to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which it plundered. In 2008, when Mr Mugabe and his ruling Zanu-PF party lost a parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential one, he orchestrated a lethal wave of violence that forced the winning challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw from the second round. Standing for election to a parliamentary seat against the main opposition party, he was himself twice embarrassingly defeated. But Mr Mugabe ensured he would always retain a senior government or party post.

In the past few years, as Mr Mugabe’s physical and mental powers have declined, Mr Mnangagwa has fostered a reputation, with Western governments among others, as a man to do business with—and as the president’s likeliest successor. Well before the coup, one Western diplomat remarked that he would be ruthless and powerful enough to grab power quickly should it slip from Mr Mugabe’s hands, “with at most a few tens of deaths” forestalling a drawn-out power struggle that could result in a lot more killing. And he has courted multilateral financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.

Mr Mnangagwa has also let it be known that he would reverse the racist “indigenisation law” that requires businesses to be mainly owned by black Zimbabweans or by the state. He has argued for some kind of settlement, including compensation, for the white farmers whose properties have been confiscated since 2000, acknowledging that their skills are needed to rebuild what was one of Africa’s most productive agricultural economies. Such a settlement might spur Western governments to start offering large-scale aid again. On the domestic front he has put out secret feelers to the opposition, hinting at a unity government after Mr Mugabe goes.

Fall from Grace

That happened faster than expected, once Mrs Mugabe had persuaded her wobbly husband to dispatch his senior vice-president into the wilderness on November 6th, egged on by the president’s outrage after she was booed at a meeting.

Mrs Mugabe’s bid for power has had a long gestation. Backed by a relatively younger coterie of Zanu-PF ministers known as the “G40” (“Generation 40”), she had already managed to eject one rival, Joice Mujuru, from the vice-presidency in 2014. In gunning for Mr Mnangagwa—a few days earlier she had described him as “the snake [who] must be hit on the head”—it seemed she was finally bidding to replace her husband. At a church meeting earlier this month, it was reported that she declared she was ready to succeed him, saying “I say to Mr Mugabe you should…leave me to take over your post.”

The former secretary, who had become Mr Mugabe’s mistress as his first wife lay dying, did not realise how despised she is within the ruling Zanu-PF party. She rashly picked fights with two of its sturdiest factions—the securocrats and former bush fighters—in her bid to eliminate rivals for the presidency. Yet the biggest fall was not that of Grace but of Mr Mugabe himself, a man who was among the last of Africa’s presidents-for-life. His reign lasted so long that the vast majority of Zimbabweans remember no other ruler. And he bragged that it would continue “until God says come join the other angels”.

Despite his viciousness and incompetence, he was hailed as a hero by many Africans. Some saw in him a symbol of resistance to the old imperialist powers. At meeting after meeting of the African Union, he could count on a rousing ovation, as he railed against whites and the injustices that he imagined rich countries, chief among them Britain, and mysterious groups of homosexuals, were inflicting on Zimbabwe. Yet for all his bluster, blame for the immiseration of Zimbabwe rests chiefly on his shoulders. His ruinous policies caused the economy to collapse, impoverished his people and destroyed their health (see charts).

That need not have happened. For a few years after independence, Zimbabwe prospered. Mr Mugabe shelved the full-blown Marxist economic policies he had espoused during the years in prison and in the guerrilla camps. He allowed the white farmers, who had once wanted him dead, to preserve Zimbabwe as the region’s breadbasket. There was an unwritten understanding, he felt, that they should grow food and tobacco but keep out of politics.

He was far less tolerant of the Ndebele, a minority ethnic group who continued to back his long-standing rival for national leadership, Joshua Nkomo. He pretended that scattered instances of banditry amounted to a massive armed revolt, and ordered his North-Korean trained Fifth Brigade to crush it. The massacres, torture and rape he inflicted on the Ndebele were on a larger scale than anything that occurred during the long war against white rule. In those early days, Western governments and aid agencies, keen to promote Zimbabwe as a donor-funded success story, generally looked the other way.

During the 1990s, however, corruption began to erode Mr Mugabe’s authority. Towards the end of that decade, a group of aggrieved and landless “war veterans”, many of them obvious impostors, successfully agitated for big handouts, after complaining that they had missed out on the patronage dished out to the bloated elite. This blew a hole in the budget and caused the IMF to withdraw support.

Instead of pulling back, Mr Mugabe spent more. “Have you ever heard of a country that collapsed because of borrowing?” he asked, as he opened the taps on spending and threatened to grab white-owned farms and hand them to his supporters. Soon after, he called a referendum on a constitutional change to bolster his power as president and enable him to confiscate land without paying compensation.

At this point, in 1999, a trade union-led movement rose up, with the help of some whites, including some of those farmers hitherto protected by Mr Mugabe in return for their quietly prosperous life. After his constitutional proposal was voted down, by 55% to 45%, he lost his temper, setting off a reckless campaign of land grabs. In remarkably short order one of Africa’s most advanced economies collapsed. Short of taxes and revenues raised from the export of crops such as tobacco, the government soon began to run out of money. Gideon Gono, then governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, simply printed more of it. “Traditional economics do not fully apply in this country,” he said. “I am going to print and print and sign the money…because we need money.” Inflation reached 500 billion percent, according to the IMF, or 89.7 sextillion percent, according to Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University. (Measuring hyperinflation is hard.)

At the same time, Mr Mugabe embarked on a murderous campaign to quell the opposition, led by a courageous if sometimes clumsy trade unionist, Morgan Tsvangirai, who refused to give up. In 2008 he soundly defeated Mr Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election, while his party won, more narrowly, the general election. Mr Mugabe was evidently shaken to the core, perhaps, like so many dictators, because he had come to believe that his people loved him.

For five weeks, a cowed electoral commission refused to divulge the result, eventually massaging the figure of Mr Tsvangirai’s victory down to just under 50%, thus requiring a second round. The mayhem that then followed was so vicious that Mr Tsvangirai felt obliged to bow out.

Eight months later a unity government was formed. A dollarised currency had begun to rescue the economy but Mr Mugabe failed to implement any of the major reforms that were meant to restore a semblance of democracy. Mr Tsvangirai and his party had been tricked, humiliated and discredited by the time of the next election, in 2013, since when the economy has plummeted again. No one knows the exact figure, but a good 3m Zimbabweans—some say 5m—out of a population now estimated by the UN to be nearly 17m, have fled the country, to South Africa and overseas.

What next?

If Mr Mnangagwa succeeds in taking back the reins of government, his first task will be to consolidate power within Zanu-PF. Whether Mr Mugabe formally hands over or is kept on as a kind of ceremonial president is barely relevant, though it would be neater if the old man were ushered into as dignified a retirement as soon as is feasible in these ugly, humiliating circumstances.

Mr Mnangagwa’s main concern will be to ensure that Mrs Mugabe and her G40 are dismissed. Many have already been locked up. Bigwigs who will probably sink with her include Saviour Kasukuwere, who enacted the racist indigenisation law; Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister; Jonathan Moyo, a serial plotter and former regime mouthpiece; Patrick Zhuwao, a nephew of Mr Mugabe; and the head of the police, Augustine Chihuri.

A Zanu-PF congress originally scheduled for next month, at which the top spots in the party are dished out and endorsed, may be brought forward. A drastic purge of anyone suspected of siding with Mrs Mugabe is likely, and could be bloody. The formal coronation of Mr Mnangagwa, or his anointing as the undisputed heir to the throne, is likely then to take place.

It is possible that Mr Mnangagwa may call for a government of national unity in the run-up to the general and presidential election constitutionally required by the middle of next year. If a president dies or resigns, the ruling party has 90 days to nominate a replacement, who then completes his predecessor’s term of office.

The opposition is woefully fragmented, though its main leaders have made progress in the past year towards forging a broad front. Mr Tsvangirai, much diminished by his five hapless years as prime minister in coalition with Mr Mugabe, who ran rings around him after the bloodily disputed election of 2008, is probably still Zanu-PF’s chief opponent. But he has cancer and several of his ablest lieutenants have defected from his Movement for Democratic Change.

Ms Mujuru, for a decade Mr Mugabe’s vice-president and long a prominent figure in Zanu-PF, might ally herself to Mr Tsvangirai’s party. Simba Makoni, a decent former finance minister who defected from Zanu-PF, won 8% of the presidential vote in 2008. A respected banker and former industry minister, Nkosana Moyo, has set up a new group. It is vital that the opposition coalesces behind a new leader. No obvious chief contender has yet emerged.

Outsiders, in Africa and beyond, are offering to help. The two African bodies previously most involved, the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a 15-country regional club led by South Africa, are sure to make high-minded noises, but their readiness in the past to whitewash Zimbabwe’s rigged elections and to wink at the violence and deceit that kept Mr Mugabe in power for so long give no comfort to Zimbabwe’s battered opposition or to its benighted citizens. Few trust them to give the real opposition, rather than Zanu-PF factions opposed to Mrs Mugabe, a fair deal.

Zimbabwe is bankrupt. It needs the IMF, the World Bank and an array of Western creditors to forgive debts and offer fresh loans. But that must be strictly conditional on political reform. Foreign aid agencies already feed many Zimbabweans who would otherwise starve—in some years, millions of them.

The most pressing requirement is for a properly supervised election. Given the failure of the AU and SADC to monitor past polls properly, it is essential that beefier bodies, including the UN, the European Union and the Commonwealth (from which Zimbabwe withdrew in 2003 after its suspension the year before), supervise the next vote. American bodies that are experienced election-watchers such as the Carter Centre and the National Democratic Institute must be involved, too. The Elders, a group of former world leaders, including Kofi Annan, once head of the UN, and Jimmy Carter, a past American president, could advise. Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s shrewd former president, has been suggested as a mediator.

Since Mr Mugabe expelled the Swedish head of an EU mission that was monitoring a presidential election in 2002, he has almost never again let in such intrusive bodies or such dignitaries, especially any that smack of past colonial rule. Old party stalwarts, including the coup leader, General Constantine Chiwenga, and Mr Mnangagwa himself, have opposed what they call neocolonial interference. Sometimes China is cited as a friend that, unlike Western powers, will dispense aid with no questions asked. But of late it has sounded less willing to bankroll Zimbabwe.

If a new government wants economic help, it must accept a measure of oversight. Outsiders will not dispatch the aid needed to set Zimbabwe on the path to recovery unless its new government is clearly representative and respects human rights.

Zimbabweans are resilient. Their country is rich not only in natural resources but also in talent, much of which would return home if the country were better governed. Zimbabwe’s infrastructure is still better than in many other African countries. During most of his long tenure, Mr Mugabe and Zanu-PF did their best to ruin the place. Mr Mnangagwa may be the man to oversee the post-Mugabe transition. But as soon as possible a new generation must take over and make a completely fresh start.

 This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “The man who wrecked a country”

 

Deal Between Anwar and Najib Razak? :The Worst Possible News for Malaysia


November 21, 2017

Deal Between Anwar and Najib Razak?: The Worst Possible News for Malaysia

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

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Is there something brewing here which is suggestive of some kind of a deal materializing between these two once staunch allies? Like they say, there are no permanent enemies in politics and politics is the game of the possible, or is it the impossible? Never mind, you get the drift.–P. Gunasegaram

QUESTION TIME | In Malaysia where conspiracy theories arise at the drop of a 10-sen coin, the visit by Prime Minister Najib Razak to jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is in hospital following a shoulder operation, has started tongues a-wagging. And how they are wagging!

Is there something brewing here which is suggestive of some kind of a deal materialising between these two once staunch allies? Like they say, there are no permanent enemies in politics and politics is the game of the possible, or is it the impossible? Never mind, you get the drift.

After all, who would have thought that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, widely held responsible for Sodomy 1 which put Anwar in jail for six years until 2004, would now be working with him to topple BN and Najib? If that can happen, why not a reconciliation, or even a deal, between Najib and Anwar for mutual benefit?

 

Even the burying of past differences between Mahathir and Anwar is difficult to understand. How does a person who spent years in prison, was beaten after he was arrested, had his life ruined and political future now in tatters, forgive the person who was held to be most responsible for this?

And was it not what Mahathir did in terms of consolidating his power within UMNO – technically UMNO Baru as the old UMNO was dissolved as part of plans implemented by Mahathir – that now makes it near impossible to remove a sitting UMNO President and Prime Minister because of all that such a person has at his disposal in terms of power?

Now this, Najib visits Anwar in the hospital with his wife Rosmah Mansor and with Anwar’s wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail present and the gossip bandwagon goes berserk, although it is more likely to topple than to sustain over the next few days.

Here was the man who pushed Sodomy 2 against Anwar with Anwar’s accuser having seen him – Najib – before making his police report. And Anwar is in jail again for a further five years from 2015, more or less putting paid to his political career unless Pakatan Harapan wins the next election. The chances of that are pretty low right now.

How could Anwar countenance a visit from this man who was responsible for his prison sentence in the first place with a lot of people believing that Anwar’s sentence was terribly unfair with admission of evidence that could have been tampered with? If Anwar’s trial was fixed, as he himself claimed, then only one person could have been responsible.

How could he even consent to see this person? As difficult as this is to understand for people like me, those who understand Malay culture say that nothing should be read into the meeting. The PM went to see a former friend and ally who was ailing – nothing more, nothing less.

But talk is not so easily stopped because Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, at one time one of Anwar’s closest friends and allies, visited him as well. Perhaps there is nothing but those visits perhaps indicate to Mahathir that two can play the game – if Mahathir can reconcile with Anwar, Najib can reconcile with him too, with all that it implies for Mahathir.

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What about the stolen money?–1MDB 

But is it as simple as all that really? No. Because if somehow Najib and Anwar ally, who becomes the enemy then? Surely not Mahathir now. And what about 1MDB? What does it mean for all that the opposition has been saying about billions stolen and still unaccounted for?

And what about the allegations, with some evidence, that UMNO and BN are tainted with 1MDB money and that they support Najib only because of that? Will all this be conveniently swept under the carpet forever more and everybody lives together happily ever after?

There can be only one deal that will allow this – in that permutation or combination of both, Anwar has to become Prime Minister, no less. That will entail Najib continuing for a while and then making way for Anwar – which means that Anwar has to be within BN or some larger conglomerate.

Anwar Ibrahim– A political chameleon or a publicity seeking politician?

How that may form boggles the mind but remember that after the May 13, 1969, riots and emergency rule, Najib’s father Abdul Razak Hussein persuaded (coerced?) the substantial opposition then into a coalition in 1973 forming Barisan Nasional, with the only significant party out in the bitter cold – that being DAP. If Anwar and Najib make a deal whereby Anwar is rehabilitated and Najib carries on, for a while at least, that is the worst possible news for Malaysia because all sections of the political divide – both ruling and opposition parties – will implicitly sanction the greatest theft this country has ever known and multiple events of gross mismanagement and lack of governance.

I don’t believe this will happen but I would have been far more comfortable if Anwar had not consented to meet Najib – and yes, if he had not done a deal with Mahathir too. But then who am I but just another insignificant citizen of Malaysia?

 

Governance Matters–Effective Action speaks louder than words


November 17, 2017

Governance Matters–Effective Action speaks louder than Political Talk

by TK Chua

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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For whatever reasons or motives, I think we have showered enough praise on Dr. D. Jeyakumar, the MP for Sungai Siput and Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM), the only “socialist party” in Malaysia. It is a plus if he is humble and willing to serve his constituents diligently.

But first and foremost, why did he become a politician? He must have believed that his policies and “system of government” would bring the people a better life.

Why do people face systemic problems every day – the problems that the government system is supposed to resolve for them? How effective can he be by helping five people here and two people there, when society churns them out by the thousands each year – problems that are generated out of deliberate marginalisation, neglect, discrimination, incompetency and ignorance?

Image result for Mahathir and Good Governance

Lee Lam Thye and Michael Chong have also done the same thing for many years. They helped some people, no doubt, but have they brought societal change to Malaysia? If anything, they have made those who were supposed to do their jobs even more complacent and lazy. When a person gets beaten up, why must he see Chong and not the Police?

Similarly, why can’t the built-in system in Sosco or any government institution provide efficient and equitable services for the people?

We elect MPs because we want better governance and policy changes, not just to provide day-to-day services to the people.

I maintain that if our governance is right, our civil service professional, and our government competent and corruption-free, the services rendered to the people will be above board and fair.

Over many decades, we have fought over ideologies. From my observations, ideologies do not put food on the table or bring people a better life. Both communism and socialism have failed, as has unfettered capitalism or a version of the two extremes.

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Najib Razak believes in 1Malaysia Governance: Lu Tolong Gua, Gua Tolong Lu

What matters the most is pragmatism, “corruption-less” government and good governance. Seriously, does it matter if the government is neoliberal or neoclassical?

Let’s be realistic: Jeyakumar and PSM can’t bring systemic change to this country, at least in the foreseeable future. Instead of creating dissension, he and PSM should join forces with right-minded politicians and political parties to bring fundamental changes to this country.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

Comment: Dr Jeyakumar was a devoted Member of Parliament, Sungei Siput, Perak. He earned the reputation of being the man who defeated MIC President Samy Velu. He is a committed socialist. While we may recognise his service to his constituents, we should not glorify him. Here, I agree with TK Chua.

Ideology no longer matters these days. Tell me what is communism with Chinese characteristics? It is no longer Maoism. I think it is Confucian capitalism. Times have changed and so have expectations. Politicians have become dinosaurs for not keeping up with the times. They are short of deliverables; in fact, they have not produced results in terms of improving the lives of the people they seek to serve. Ideology does not create and public goods. What is lacking today is good governance. This seems to be a global problem. Look at Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Congo, and Yemen. –Din Merican

 

Being Exceptional the right way


November 15, 2017

Being Exceptional the right way

by Azmi Sharom@www.thestar.com.my

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Mustafa Akyol and Azmi Sharom

I WAS very surprised that Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for literature this year. Don’t get me wrong, I think he is an excellent writer. Believe it or not, I do occasionally read things other than football reports, and I have enjoyed Ishiguro’s work tremendously.

 

However, I always thought that the Nobel Prize for literature was given to authors who are so complex and hyper intelligent that they seem to be from another planet. I have tried to read the books of some of these folks – Naipaul, Saramago and Gao, to name a few. And I haven’t managed more than 20 or 40 pages. It’s not because the books were awful. It’s just that they were too difficult.

Contrast this to Ishiguro’s breakthrough book The Remains of the Day. My Japanese mate introduced it to me and I read it in one night. It was a jolly good read, but it wasn’t particularly challenging.

Image result for Kazuo Ishiguro

But then, can we be surprised? After all, Bob blinking Dylan won the prize last year. Seriously? “How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man? …The answer is blowin’ in the wind.” Seriously?

Again, I am not dissing Bob. I think that Blood on the Tracks is an awesome album; it’s the best break-up album money can buy. And I remember fondly hearing him sing unintelligibly at, of all places, the Putra World Trade Centre. But is he up there with Neruda?

Image result for Bob DylanMusical Genius Bob Dylan and a Man of Peace

 

Okay, at this point, you may be saying that I am being elitist. Maybe I am, but not in the way that you may think. After all, I freely admit that I am not smart enough to get the works of the Nobel winners that I have tried to read. How can I be elitist when I clearly don’t understand them?

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is good to have some crazy mad high standard of human achievement; something to look up to and admire. A gold standard that perhaps in our own small way we can aspire to.

The same goes for sport. As sweet as it is to see the Falkland Islands badminton team huff and puff away at the Commonwealth Games, it is the elite in sport that truly captures the imagination.

It is when we bring things down to a lower or in the case of television, the lowest, common denominator that we start to lose that aspirational element of human endeavour. Why train and work hard to be a good actor when you can simply be obnoxious and have your own reality TV show?

And so it is in politics. I want leaders who are smarter and more able than me. They should be people who have a grasp of the world that I don’t have, in order for problems to be solved and governance to be good. If we just go for the popular and the lowest common denominator, then any Tom, Dick or Donald can be a leader and that could be disastrous.

All people are created equal. That is something I believe in. But not everybody can achieve equally. Some are just stronger or smarter or more talented.

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It is one thing to acknowledge those who can be appreciated by a wider audience, who are more like “one of us”. But if we do that all the time, then what is there to aspire to? What is there to inspire?

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Book Review: Living with Myths in Singapore


November 8, 2017

Book Review:

Living with Myths in Singapore

Loh Kah Seng, Pingtjin Thum & Jack Chia Meng-That (Eds) (Ethos Books, Singapore, 2017)

Reviewed by Serina Rahman

http://www.newmandala.org

Living with Myths in Singapore is an eye-opener for anyone who has grown up on the institutionalised Singapore stories.

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From a young age, the average Singaporean is exposed to tales of the island’s catapulting itself from third world to first, and then fed a constant stream of pride-inducing narratives designed to demonstrate the nation’s success in overcoming abandonment by Malaysia, racial strife, economic struggles, and a constant siege by unfriendly neighbours. To be a citizen of Singapore was to delight in the tiny state’s ability to overtake others in the region in terms of development, economic progress, and “civilisation”. The larger and more unwieldy members of ASEAN were always depicted as those who were envious of Singapore’s progress, and constantly in need of assistance and advice from the island’s growing pool of local and resident international experts in countless fields.

Philip Holden (in Chapter 7) defines myths as “our way of telling a common sense story of the past”. The editors cite Roland Barthes as they point out that the distinguishing mark of myths are their “naturalness”—in other words, myths are stories that are taken as true and “historical”. But “history”, whether people realise it or not, is man-made. Singaporean stories taken as “history” seem to dangle off the edge of reality—and once unpacked, are revealed to be nothing more than myths created, embellished, and perpetuated for whichever use best suits national institutions, the state, and the media at the time.

I was born in Singapore but didn’t grow up there. Instead I travelled the world in a Singaporean bubble, perpetuating the national myths that engendered respect and awe. The occasional holiday in the homeland had the same impact on me as it did any foreigner. We were taken in by the sheen and shine; the spotlessness, safety and efficiency—and we all believed the myths. As an adult, spending my work hours in the “star” of Southeast Asia after decades abroad, the sparkle seems to dull a little. Murmurs on the ground help peel away the layers of flawless cling wrap to reveal the wrinkles and scars of those who lived all their lives in the Little Red Dot.

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Surely this is the real thing–since separation from Malaysia in 1965, Singapore has made great strides in terms of governance, economic development, social progress and politics.

Living with Myths in Singapore cleared all the doubts that couldn’t be publicly proclaimed and confronted. The book unpacks the myths to reveal the reality hidden beyond the singular “history” that is perpetually propagated. It fills in the fissures of the fables that niggled because the “common sense” didn’t quite make sense—but couldn’t be questioned. The book’s use of researched, academic histories based on multiple sources, facts, and evidence counters the myths and provides previously obscured insight into the truth behind the tales.

Thum Ping Tjin (Chapter 2) and Gareth Curless (Chapter 12) break down governance in Singapore from World War II to the present, and show how the threat of communism was a bogeyman invented to maintain power and quell dissent. In the 1980s, the Law Society was also curtailed to prevent it from truly representing the people. According to Teo Soh Lung (Chapter 13), its efforts to provide independent legal aid was tarred with accusations of political interference, and laws were sped through to ensure that the society remained focused on approved and apolitical cases. Singapore’s popular political economy narrative attributes the island-state’s success to its leaders’ ability to consolidate power and pursue the “authoritarian Singapore model” of development through foreign investment. This is dissected by Seng Quo-quan (Chapter 9), who posits an alternative take on political freedom and social democracy through the eyes of James Puthucheary.

The Singapore Story, as scrutinised in the book, slides effortlessly from effective governance to economic success, and chronicles the island’s speedy ascent to First World status from the doldrums of a native fishing village and coolie slums. Philip Holden (Chapter 7) suggests an alternative narrative that is a tragedy; one that recounts unparalleled and unexpected initial success, but then struggles and falls in its pursuit of economic growth and wealth at considerable social expense. “Economics is about getting rid of poverty; it’s not about making people richer”, was a statement Holden attributed to Professor Thomas Silcock, whose students included Goh Keng Swee and Lim Kim San.

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Mr. Lee Kuan Yew devoted his life to make Singapore what it is today. He wanted his country to remain a rugged and competitive society, not a static and complacent one.

 

As Singapore skyrocketed to unparalleled heights, the national narrative emphasised the need for self-reliance and family support before social welfare. Ho Chi Tim (Chapter 8) points out that on the contrary, other histories and scholarship detail myriad examples of social support positioned under the framework of justice and equal opportunities. At the time, these were not deemed to undermine a fair society. Yet, in spite of the reminder by Professor Silcock, as some Singaporeans become wealthier, poverty persists—albeit made invisible by popular myths. Teo You Yenn (Chapter 23) lays bare the realities of poverty in Singapore, where capitalist exploitation is compounded by assistance eligibility criteria that brands hard working low income citizens as failures, instead of victims of adverse social conditions. Temporary migrant workers are the unseen backbone of Singapore’s success. Charanpal S. Bal (Chapter 24) unpacks three popular myths surrounding these labourers, and explains how the myths have stood in the way of effective legislation and protection for the very people who literally built the island nation.

Part of the Singapore public relations package is its position as a global media hub and the centre of innovation and technology. Terence Lee (Chapter 6) traces the evolution of media in Singapore through its political history and brings to light a “media hub” that is politically well-managed yet deemed apolitical, and used as a tool for economic growth rather than for communication and discourse. Arthur Chia (Chapter 11) likens innovative projects in Singapore to a performance “in the global theatre of science and technology”, both to govern nationally and to ride international technological winds for economic benefit.

 

Beyond myth-making to boost its international reputation and generate economic gain, Singapore also has domestic myths which help to control and manage its citizens. The book assembles these myths in sections that portray a vulnerable and deficient people who need top-down intervention to protect them from themselves. Lee Kah-Wee (Chapter 10) explores the issue of the casino and exposes the economic truth behind both the claims of morality and the “new business model” of the Integrated Resorts.

Issues of race, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism and culture wars make up another mythological hotspot that requires scrutiny. Laavanya Kathiravelu (Chapter 15) deconstructs the perennial threat of racially-instigated violence and the myths of racial harmony and meritocracy that hinge on colonial categorisations of “Chinese-Malay-Indian-Others” (CMIO). Lai Ah Eng (Chapter 16) reflects on the difficulties of navigating Singaporean multiculturalism through shared spaces, employment and citizenship and highlights the need for cohesion, inclusion, exchange and appreciation in order to transition from myth to reality. Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho (Chapter 18) and Liew Kai Khiun (Chapter 19) discuss the crises of affinity and loyalty of new immigrants and at the same time, the dilemma of imported values and beliefs that are deemed contrary to Singapore’s “conservative family values”. In much the same vein are chapters on public apathy and the lack of activism and critical civil society. Loh Kan Seng (Chapter 20) and Edgar Liao (Chapter 21) show that contrary to popular beliefs, civil movements are alive and well in Singapore, and that the accusation of apathy had historically been used to prevent dissent and discontent from boiling over into decisive action against those in power.

All countries use myths to nurture a national storyline for identity formation. Mark Baildon and Suhaimi Afandi (Chapter 3) question the effectiveness of the singular history taught in schools, and Christine Han (Chapter 4) provides evidence of the ineffectiveness of the existing school-based citizen education. All the writers in this edited volume appeal for a revolution in Singapore’s national narrative—one that allows for open discussion of alternative histories and evidence-based scholarship on historical events, as well as true inclusivity in policies and economic plans.

Singaporeans of the future should be able to perceive as “common sense” the possibility that there are many views, and should be able to find it natural that there is more than one narrative given the complex evolution of this island nation of immigrants. That Living with Myths in Singapore was allowed to be written, printed, and distributed is a huge step in this direction. It is also, hopefully, a positive indication of more accurate “myth-making” to come.

Serina Rahman is a Visiting Fellow in the Malaysia Programme at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, conducting research in the fields of sustainable development, environmental anthropology and the economics of the environment. Serina co-founded Kelab Alami, an organisation formed to empower a Johor fishing community through environmental education for habitat conservation and economic participation in coastal development. She received her PhD in Science from Universiti Teknologi Mara in 2014.