Brader Anwar Ibrahim stands Up for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

July 1, 2018

Brader Anwar Ibrahim stands Up for Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

by Amanda Hodge Southeast Asia Correspondent


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Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s democracy champion and the country’s most famous former political prisoner, had barely tasted five weeks of freedom when he flew to Ankara last week and stood beside Turkey’s strongman President Recep Tayipp Erdogan to praise his “commitment to democracy”.

“There are about four or five Anwars running around in his head,” said Professor Kessler. “He means well to everybody but he doesn’t know how to choose between contradictory positions. He can talk to any audience and people go away delighted, thinking ‘he thinks like us’. But put him in a situation where his actions can have a significant effect and he will always be a gift to people like Erdogan.”

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A Mandela of the East (Yusmadi Yusof) or a Janus-Faced Malay Muslim Politician (Clive  Kessler/Bridget Welsh)

Mr Erdogan’s election victory last Sunday, which critics say brings him ever closer to one-man rule, was a “victory for the Islamic world in portraying a modern and progressive face of Islam that embraces change while not compromising on the values of our faith and the fundamental teachings of the Holy Prophet”, Mr Anwar declared on his return home.


The comments by Malaysia’s Prime Minister-in-waiting have triggered alarm at his apparent disregard for the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Turkey, and wider international concern over what to expect from an Anwar-led government.

Mr Anwar yesterday defended his praise for Mr Erdogan, saying he supported Turkey’s democratic transition under Mr Erdogan after decades of military rule, but acknowledged “institutions need to be fortified”. “I emphasised democratic accountability in my remarks,” he told The Weekend Australian. “That would include the rule of law and an end to all draconian measures. I’m confident that Turkey would evolve into a more mature democracy. Despite some valid criticisms against his rule, Erdogan persists on a democratic agenda.”

Mr Anwar also accused Western nations of being “somewhat ambivalent, if not hypocritical” in dealing with the numerous attempted military coups in Turkey.

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Anwar Ibrahim I knew in 2007-2009.I respect his loyalty to his friend Erdogan. That is not the issue. More importantly, has he changed? Can he be trusted to pursue his Humane Economic Agenda and his Asian Renaissance  Vision? That is the lingering question in my mind? I am not sure anymore.–Din Merican

Southeast Asia expert Bridget Welsh — who taught at Turkey’s Ipek University until the failed coup in 2016 triggered a crackdown and purges against the civil service, academics and media — says Mr Anwar’s praise for Mr Erdogan could at best be seen as poor judgment and at worst a worrying portent for Malaysia under his future leadership. “He should have shown much more prudence before making this visit and even greater prudence before making those remarks,” she said.

“He has raised serious questions in the international community about the future of his leadership and whether or not he is actually a democrat. I think it’s deeply troubling and sends worrying signals for those concerned about reform in Malaysia.”

Asked if he believed such criticism was valid, Mr Anwar said he remained “consistent in my views against any excesses and would encourage (Mr Erdogan) to respect the rule of law”. “My commitment is for democratic accountability,” he said.

But Mr Anwar’s comments have also caused discomfit within his People’s Justice Party (PKR), part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan government under Mahathir Mohamad since the four-party coalition toppled the government of Najib Razak in a shock election victory last month.

Under a deal struck between Mr Anwar and Dr Mahathir, two former political foes, Dr Mahathir, 92, will serve half a term as prime minister before stepping aside for the 70-year-old.

PKR Vice-President Tian Chua said he believed Mr Anwar had been stating a personal opinion and not that of the party when he praised Mr Erdogan.

“When Anwar started his political career, Erdogan represented the hopes for the Islamic world to bring about a democratic system,” Mr Chua said. “No doubt he is an improvement from the previous military system, but … Erdogan has, during his time, tailor-made the constitution for his own power base and that is not the behaviour of a democrat.”

Last year, Mr Erdogan narrowly won a referendum allowing him to abolish the prime minister’s office and grant the president executive authority to effectively rule by decree.

Whereas Western nations see Mr Erdogan as an illiberal leader bent on subverting democracy to amass power, and as an increasingly problematic NATO ally, many in the Muslim world — including in South and Southeast Asia — see a modern champion.

Pakistan rushed to congratulate Mr Erdogan on his victory this week, as did separatist leaders in Indian Kashmir. Indonesian President Joko Widodo also praised Mr ­Erdogan’s victory, although in more measured tones, saying the Turkish people would be “more prosperous under your wise and measured leadership”.

Mr Anwar’s enthusiastic endorsement of Mr Erdogan is puzzling, not least because it ignores the tens of thousands of citizens in jail on spurious charges — a fate Mr Anwar shared for more than a decade.

Mr Erdogan’s measures to consolidate his power also resemble those of the Malaysian government, which Mr Anwar spent two decades fighting.

On his release last month, Mr Anwar told The Weekend Australian Canberra’s “muted” response to the oppression of the former Najib government had been “painful for democrats, those who are struggling for freedom in their countries”. “Those countries that are supposed to be beacons of democracy must rise up to the occasion and be seen to be playing a role and not just working with people who are known to be corrupt and authoritarian,” he said.

Dr Welsh says many Pakatan Harapan politicians have romanticised Mr Erdogan’s early ­victories and failed to fully comprehend what is happening in Turkey, and the parallels between how Mr Erdogan and Mr Najib maintained support.

“But the fact that Anwar would choose to go to Turkey and effectively campaign for Mr Erdogan speaks to a fundamental lack of a sense of principles of democratic governance. He didn’t speak up for one moment about the 200,000-plus people imprisoned in Turkey — many of them much more vulnerable than Anwar ever was — and, in fact, was supporting their jailer,” she said. “I think Anwar is blinded by personal loyalties and is focused on himself and not the bigger challenges the country faces.”

While Mr Anwar insisted his visit was based on “long-term friendship” and not politics, he endorsed Mr Erdogan before last Sunday’s election, calling him the “one leader who shows courage against the powers in the world” on the Palestinian issue and the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

Mr Anwar noted with gratitude that the Turkish President would “remind (Najib) about my release” at every meeting, but did not mention that it was to the Turkish embassy in Kuala Lumpur he turned in 2008 when facing a second spurious sodomy charge.

National University of Malaysia associate professor Muhammad Takiyuddin bin Ismail believed Mr Anwar knew well the rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, but felt praising Mr Erdogan was the practical thing to do for the sake of securing his image in the Muslim world. “Erdogan, Anwar and Mahathir are widely seen as leaders who can confront and, at the same time, bridge the gap between Muslim and Western countries,” he said, adding both Malaysia and Turkey believed in the idea of “our way of democracy”.

“From a layman’s perspective, of course, it is poor political judgment to support an authoritarian leader like Erdogan, especially in the era of the ‘New Malaysia’, but Anwar must also appease the segments within the Muslim world who see Erdogan as someone who can represent their view.”

It is not the first time Anwar has shown such poor judgment and let what University of NSW emeritus professor Clive Kessler calls his “soft Islamist sentimentality” overshadow democratic principles. He was among the first foreigners in 1980 to go to Tehran to congratulate Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini following the Iranian revolution.

Professor Kessler last month noted that, as Deputy Prime Minister in the 1990s, Mr Anwar “often proved a facilitator for harder-line Islamists” and could again “succumb to the same temptations”.

Mr Anwar’s supporters believe experience and hardship has moderated the former firebrand, and refined his ambitions for an Islamic renaissance in which the religion’s main tenets are harmoniously incorporated into a democratic system.

“There are about four or five Anwars running around in his head,” said Professor Kessler. “He means well to everybody but he doesn’t know how to choose between contradictory positions. He can talk to any audience and people go away delighted, thinking ‘he thinks like us’. But put him in a situation where his actions can have a significant effect and he will always be a gift to people like Erdogan.”

Mr. Mat Sabu, what are you up to–Rebranding the NSC Law?

July 1, 2018

Mr. Mat Sabu, what are you up to–Rebranding the NSC Law?

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“Najib’s rights are far more numerous and superior in comparison with the rights and powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.”

– Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the National Security Council law

COMMENT | I just don’t get it. The current Pakatan Harapan grand poobah says because they (Harapan) thought they could not win the elections, they made strong promises. Bersatu supreme council member Rais Hussin claims that the promises were not plucked out of thin air but instead the election manifesto was the efforts of a wide range of political operatives and various stakeholders. Now the disputed debt in this country is the Harapan excuse as to why their 100-day promises cannot be met.

Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram and Rais Husin and anyone actually reading the Harapan 100-day manifesto would understand there is a whole load of promises that could be kept in the first 100 days which would not incur any expenses. I once wrote that if Harapan manages to do quarter of what they said they would do, they would be a better government than BN.

Now it is all about rebranding or reshuffling. BN government agencies and programmes that were supposed to bring ruination to this country have been rebranded Harapan-style, with the expectation that nobody cares because of the euphoria – as Rais calls it, I say Kool-Aid – is strong and folks who think otherwise are kicked to the curb.

I get it. I really do. When people are baying for the blood of people from the establishment and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says that certain people are needed to remain in place, even if they did something wrong, that is the reality of politics. You do not destroy the bureaucracy by burning it to the ground. That is stupid. However, this should not be used as an excuse to shy away from promises made which does not incur expenses and that gives democracy back to the people.

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Now Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as Mat Sabu) says that the National Security Council (NSC) Act is supposed to be “reshuffled”. It’s all about how this Act is actually a “good vehicle” for government minions to serve the state. All that is needed is a few legal provisions to be “reshuffled”.

What the hell have they been giving him to smoke in the Defence Ministry? This is especially when people like his boss, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and just about all the big guns in Harapan had previously argued that the Act would be used on the opposition, usurped the power of the Agong and as Kit Siang claimed, with this law, Malaysia would replace Myanmar as a rogue state.

This is what he said – “When the Najib government regards democracy and human rights activists as bigger threats than ISIS terrorists as envisaged by the monstrous NSC bill, Malaysia is replacing Myanmar as the rogue nation in Asean.”

Okay, I am not an objective person when it comes to the NSC Act. My public statements on this issue were brazen calls for street demonstrations and my frustrations as to why this never happened are a matter of public record. When Mahathir first started attacking this law as diminishing the powers of the Agong, he met with pushback from Universiti Malaya Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi, who is now in the Council of Eminent Persons, or whatever it is called.

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Shad said – “In sum, the grounds of challenge against the NSC Act mentioned by Tun Mahathir may not be sustainable in law.” But he also wrote –  “The NSC Act is an ordinary law passed by a simple majority under Parliament’s ordinary law-making powers. It is not a law under Article 149 (to combat subversion). As such, several issues of fundamental rights violation are relevant.”

Of course, as former Federal Court judge Sri Ram Gopal and others point out, this law did bypass the consent of the rulers.

Why keep the law?

So, two points. The first point of this law, as many Harapan advocates claim, diminishes the power of the Agong and the second, that it violates basic human rights and legitimises the authoritarian power of the state in the hands of one person.

Recent events and the shocking behaviour of royalty before and after the elections demonstrate that perhaps we are better off with formalising certain powers of the executive which further curtail the powers of the royalty. Those issues which Mahathir – and yes, people like me – claimed were being taken away from the royalty are perhaps better left in the hands of the executive without any need of consultation with the royalty.

And if this is the case then, why retain this law? Just pass laws which further restricts the powers of the royalty and for further more definite issues, wait till you can amend the constitution with the necessary two-thirds majority. Indeed, reshuffling what aspects of the law?

Which brings us to point two. We have a  load of draconian laws in this country which Harapan claimed that they would end. For heaven’s sake, there was even waffling on the Anti-Fake News law a few weeks ago and Harapan decided that it was not worth the public anger to retain such laws. So, this idea of tweaking a law which Harapan had claimed was destroying the role of the Agong is absurd.

Why even reshuffle the bad parts of this law? What does the Council of Eminent Persons, which Shad Faruqi is part of, think of this new development? Does Harapan want its grand poobah to have powers superior to the Agong? Maybe it should be this way. After all, a former UMNO autocrat, and now Harapan big cheese, has been doing that for years?

We have enough “security laws” to deal with the type of warfare – including psychological – against the kind of extremism – Islamic – that poses a danger to this country. Not to mention, willing partners and assets which have been sidelined for far too long, because the former regime was mired in corruption scandals.

There are Harapan leaders willing to go on record stating clearly that this law has to be removed. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why Mat Sabu would even consider such a move. Maybe some folk in Harapan really do not understand why this piece of “monstrous” legislation needs to be removed or maybe, just maybe, they think it is a good thing, now that there is really no opposition in this country.


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

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

The Way Forward: Education and Opportunity for All, Not Race-Based

June 29, 2018

The Way Forward: Education and Opportunity for All, Not Race-Based

By Teoh King


Image result for Mahathir --Malay Special Privileges to continue

Dr Mahathir says: Malay Special Privileges to continue–Any Problem with that? No, Politics, please.  Just Do it differently by stopping to spoon feed the Malays.–Din Merican

Malaysia is now one and a half months into a political term under a new government that they thought would bring hope and reform to the Malaysian establishment. Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s coalition was voted into office on May 9 in a historic unseating of the BN coalition for the first time in six decades since the country gained its independence. It was also unprecedented that an ex-prime minister was voted back into office – this time leading the opposition against the party he formerly led, and joining forces with Anwar Ibrahim, a man he was once partly responsible for putting into prison on disputed charges of sodomy.

We voted, and in the end fairness and truth prevailed. The tide turned against BN on election day as millions of disillusioned, disenfranchised Malaysians took to the ballots and chose Mahathir. Wearied by the kleptocracy, cronyism and corruption that had been gnawing away at the heart of our public institutions for years, the people in the end sided with the coalition that promised widespread reform in our constitutional, political and electoral systems.

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It is time at long last that corruption is put to an end and the branches of government are kept separate with an end to inter-branch collusion. We are now one step closer to a new Malaysia where racial inequality and discrimination will be stamped out of public policy and business practices and Malaysians will no longer be defined by their race or religion. This was shown when, two weeks into the new Malaysia, the newly appointed finance minister responded to a question about being the first Chinese Malaysian to be made finance minister in 44 years. Lim Guan Eng said: “I’m Malaysian, I don’t see myself as Chinese.”

However, I awoke to the disappointing news that Mahathir, in one of his press interviews as prime minister, had said that “Malays will continue to get special privileges”.

Just when I, among many hopeful young Malaysians, thought we would read of widespread reform in a new Malaysia, more disheartening details were laid out, with Mahathir continuing to say:

“Malays still needed assistance in the availability of scholarships to study overseas.For example, when I was in the UK, I met a number of Chinese students. They were there because their fathers, their parents were able to pay for their studies there. But I find that Malay parents, by and large, cannot afford to have university education for their children.”

Mahathir said the Chinese were largely in business and that “in business, you can make tonnes of money”. In contrast, he said, the Malays were largely civil servants and wage earners who could not afford to send their children to university.

I beg to differ with our Prime Minister as this is an utterly backward perception. He makes sweeping generalisations about Malays being poor and unable to afford quality education for their children. While it is true that most of the families who are able to send their children overseas for education are Chinese, the Prime Minister should make no mistake: NOT all Chinese are well-off – the Chinese who cannot afford quality education are the ones who, by the very fact that they are in the lower income bracket, do not have their concerns raised and heard in much of our political discourse.

As such, the affirmative action policies have done more harm than good to the poorer Chinese, particularly as public education admissions are rationed to Malays with priority, depriving otherwise industrious and bright Chinese youths of a chance to develop their full potential in a wholly pro-Malay system. Over the long run, this will drive many capable people who happen to be Chinese out of a unified local labour market or out of the country altogether, leading to what economists pejoratively call a country’s “brain drain”. Worse still, and more fundamentally, it breeds and fuels resentment, and resentment only leads to more tension and conflict between the races in our society.

Don’t judge a book by its cover!

A person’s poverty or wealth is not inextricably tied to the colour of their skin, so don’t judge a book by its cover!

Students who are able to study overseas are not necessarily from families that are wealthy; more so, it is a result of the enormous value that some families place on their children’s education. This has been my experience being born into a low or medium income family. And from what I have experienced and seen, my peers and friends around me have found that studying overseas is definitely not an easy journey. It comes with the colloquial blood, sweat and tears every step of the way.

Many parents make many sacrifices, save every single penny they can, whether by getting a loan, refinancing their house, moving to a smaller house, withdrawing their EPF money, driving a second-hand car, or tightening their living allowances, are among many measures taken. It doesn’t only apply to students who study overseas but students in private colleges in Malaysia enrolled in external programmes.

Reform and provide quality education for all

So, the question is, why would the wage-earner parents sacrifice so much to send their children for overseas education or to private colleges? It is about quality education. It is the general perception of our society and the increasingly prevalent view held by employers that applicants with an overseas university degree are more qualified than applicants with locally awarded degrees. The problem is more indicative of a general negative regard that Malaysian employers have towards our national education. Reform needs to be implemented so that our education can be seen as on par with that of the countries to which so many of our disenfranchised students flock.

So why should race have a role to play in the education system? Do race and quality education intertwine? Why would there be a need for special privileges when we know that the problem runs more than skin deep?

In my humble opinion, every student should be treated equally as quality education should be enjoyed by every young Malaysian regardless of race or religion.

Instead of having special privileges, systemic reform is much needed by the government in achieving an inclusive and quality education for all. The government should aim to provide equal access for all, and eliminate gender, race or wealth disparities in the vision of quality education which is also one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Goal 4) for which we ought to strive.

Teoh King Men is a law graduate and youth advocate.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The New Yorker: The Rise of McPolitics in America

June 27, 2018

The Rise of McPolitics

Democrats and Republicans belong to increasingly homogeneous parties. Can we survive the loss of local politics?

For the first five days after Kennedy was shot, a mourning nation wondered whether his agenda could possibly outlast him. Even key members of the Cabinet doubted whether Johnson, hastily sworn in as the thirty-sixth President of the United States aboard the airplane on which his predecessor had landed in Dallas three hours earlier, would follow through on civil-rights legislation. But when Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress on November 27, 1963, he threw down the gauntlet to Southern Democrats. “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory,” he said, to their horror, “than the earliest possible passage of the civil-rights bill for which he fought so long.”

In the ensuing years, Jim Crow finally came to an end—and so did the highly local party system that had prevailed, in one form or another, since the Civil War. Segregationists in the South no longer saw the Democratic Party as their natural home. In 1968, many of them supported the third-party candidacy of George Wallace, formerly the Democratic governor of Alabama. During the following decades, conservative Democrats slowly gravitated toward the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, for the first time in its history, became liberal on both social and economic issues: across the nation, Democrats now stood for at least some modicum of wealth redistribution and racial integration.

Republicans underwent a similar transformation, adopting a militant preference for free markets and low taxes while opposing abortion and gay rights. At the same time, they set out to capitalize on the electoral opportunity presented by the schism in the Democratic Party. Starting with Richard Nixon, every Republican candidate who took the White House employed some form of what had been named, in a deceptively genteel turn of phrase, the Southern Strategy.

As the ambitious civil-rights legislation of the nineteen-sixties realigned America’s political parties, a host of deeper structural changes redirected citizens’ attention toward the capital. Thanks to the postwar boom, public jobs came to look less attractive than private ones, weakening the power wielded by local party bosses. More recent changes in the media have also played an important role. Local papers and radio stations, once the country’s dominant sources of information, brought together national, state, and municipal news; as a result, Americans who were primarily interested in what was going on in Washington still learned a lot about their home towns. Today, voters increasingly get their news from broadcast networks and cable channels, or from social-media sites and online publications, which are less likely to require them to pay attention to their city hall or state capitol.

As early as the nineteen-eighties, political scientists were noting that the nature of American politics was changing in fundamental ways. The power of the Presidency had greatly expanded. The national parties had gained vastly more control over state and local subdivisions. “In the sense that Paris is the capital of France,” the political scientist William M. Lunch observed in 1987, “Washington is becoming the capital of the United States.”

In the decades since, what Lunch dubbed the “nationalization of American politics” has only intensified. As Hopkins shows, voters recognize that state and local politics can have a big impact on their lives, determining, for example, how much property tax they have to pay or how good their children’s school is likely to be. And yet they now devote very little attention to politics below the national level.

This transformation can explain many features of contemporary politics that would otherwise be deeply puzzling. How, for instance, could governors in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere refuse to allow the expansion of Medicaid to poor adults in their states, even though the federal government would (at least at first) have footed the entire bill? Hopkins provides an answer that is both simple and convincing: voters, donors, and activists are much more likely to judge elected officials on whether they pass an ideological purity test than on whether they bring tangible benefits to their districts.

In the past few decades, Hopkins shows, Americans have grown less able to name their governor and less likely to vote in local elections. Conversely, they now have much stronger feelings about national figures, like senators or Presidential candidates. If they could choose whether their party got to occupy the White House or the governor’s mansion, most would pick the former. Even the attention of the donor class has nationalized. From 1998 to 2012, the amount of money poured into an average Senate race doubled; the cost of governors’ races barely budged.

Once upon a time, every community in America had its own store with its own local products. Today, chains like Walmart and Home Depot offer the same wares all over the country. The parties, Hopkins believes, have undergone a similar process of homogenization: “Just as an Egg McMuffin is the same in every McDonald’s, America’s two major political parties are increasingly perceived to offer the same choices throughout the country.”

Americans aren’t just less interested in local politics than they once were; their voting behavior is also much less determined by their place of residence or by the attributes of a particular candidate. It’s true that a voter’s home town or home state can help predict which party she supports. But, as Hopkins explains, party affiliation is influenced more by factors like race and religion than by local interests or political traditions. Once we know a voter’s demographic information, finding out where she lives helps little to predict her political behavior. A white, evangelical, middle-aged woman who earns fifty thousand dollars a year and has two children is scarcely more likely to vote Republican today if she lives in Springfield, Missouri, than if she lives in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Hopkins is a sure-footed guide to the twilight of local politics, and he’s aware of the risks that these developments may pose. Voters’ focus on national issues, he points out, is likely to “crowd out more local concerns.” And since most Americans pay little attention to local politics and are likely to vote for just about any candidate who shares their party affiliation, mayors and governors no longer have as much reason to place the needs of their constituents over those of special-interest groups: “Their actions in office might well reflect the wishes of the people most likely to advance their careers, whether they are activists, donors, or fellow partisans from other states.”

But Hopkins fails to ponder the most important implications of his own findings. Anybody who has looked on as Donald Trump accused the opposition of “treason” and denigrated the press as “the enemy of the American people” might find the title of Hopkins’s book perplexing. Yet “The Increasingly United States” has surprisingly little to say about the way in which the growing focus on national politics and the deepening partisan divide could undermine the stability of our political system.


When the Founding Fathers set out to design the institutions that still structure our national life, they had every reason to fear that their enterprise would end in failure. By the late eighteenth century, monarchy had conquered most of the Western world. The last republics to survive the early modern era, like the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, were engulfed in strife at home and imperiled by powerful competition from abroad. Institutions that aimed at collective self-government had all but vanished. So the drafters of the Constitution, as they set out to defy the odds, naturally asked themselves what went wrong for the many republics that had come—and gone—before them.

The diagnosis they arrived at was simple: those predecessors—Athens and Rome, Florence and Siena—had been undone by “the violence of faction.” As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers:

The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice. . . . The instability, injustice, and confusion introduced into the public councils, have, in truth, been the mortal diseases under which popular governments have everywhere perished.

Madison’s solution to the problem of what we might call partisanship fundamentally shaped America. Many polities, he pointed out, had simply tried to remove its cause—either through the destruction of liberty, a remedy he termed “worse than the disease,” or through an attempt to give every man the same opinions, an undertaking he thought futile “as long as the reason of man continues fallible.” In a piece of madcap logic that has come to set the tone for the country’s freewheeling cultural and political life, Madison instead insisted that America should resolve the problem of factions by multiplying their number: the more factions there are, he argued, the less likely that any one of them can attain dominance.

Although Madison failed to anticipate the rise of modern parties, the country’s politics followed something like the model he had envisaged until late into the twentieth century. At the time of Kennedy’s election, Southern Democrats intent on perpetuating segregation clashed with Northern Democrats focussed on the economic conditions of the working class, Northern Democrats clashed with country-club Republicans focussed on the interests of business, country-club Republicans clashed with socially conservative Republicans opposed to the evils of modern life, and so on. Even the things that politicians from different parts of the country did have in common—self-interest and a taste for patronage—reliably turned them into competitors on the national scene. (As Lunch put it, “Mayor Daley did not care very much what the president did in foreign policy, but he wanted assurances that when federal funds were divided, Chicago would receive its share.”)

Today, this messy process of brokering flawed compromises among a large number of factions and interest groups has mostly given way to a stark conflict between two opposing camps. According to a recent study by the political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, Americans may now be more likely to discriminate on the basis of party than on the basis of race: asked to choose between equally qualified scholarship applicants, Democratic and Republican participants alike heavily favored applicants who were identified as belonging to the same political party they did. White participants in the study were much less likely to penalize an applicant for being black than participants of one party were to penalize applicants of the other.

As Lilliana Mason argues in a sobering new book, “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity” (Chicago), factors such as class, race, religion, gender, and sexuality used to cut across one another to a significant extent. In an earlier age, a voter might have identified herself as both a conservative and a Presbyterian. Each of these identities predisposed her to have a negative opinion of people who did not belong to the same group. But since there were plenty of non-Presbyterian conservatives, as well as plenty of non-conservative Presbyterians, each of these “cleavages” held the other one in check.

Image result for July 2018 Cover of The New Yorker

In the past decades, though, “partisan, ideological, religious, and racial identities have . . . moved into strong alignment,” Mason writes. Religious communities, for example, are far less politically diverse than they once were: “A single vote can now indicate a person’s partisan preference as well as his or her religion, race, ethnicity, gender, neighborhood and favorite grocery store.” As a result, Mason argues, all those factions have fused into two new mega-identities: Democrat and Republican.


A few months after the American Political Science Association called on Democrats and Republicans to transform themselves into truly national, ideologically cohesive parties, Arthur Schlesinger published an impassioned retort:

Is not the fact that each party has a liberal and conservative wing a genuine source of national strength and cohesion? . . . The result is, of course, that no group can have the desperate feeling that all options are foreclosed, all access to power barred, by the victory of the opposition: there will always be somebody in a Democratic administration on whose shoulders business can weep, and even a Republican administration will have somewhere a refuge for labor. If the party division were strictly ideological, each presidential election would subject national unity to a fearful test. We must remember that the one election when our parties stood irrevocably on questions of principle was the election of 1860.

Schlesinger’s words have proved prophetic. The conviction that a victory by Hillary Clinton would permanently bar conservatives from power was a core theme among some of the loudest advocates of the movement’s accommodation with Trumpism. Michael Anton, in his Claremont Review essay “The Flight 93 Election,” saw “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty” as an imminent threat to the survival of the American republic. With his team’s total and permanent defeat supposedly on the horizon, Anton advocated the kind of high-stakes gamble taken by passengers on the airliner that crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, on 9/11:

Charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain.

Liberals, though appalled by Anton’s race-tinged rhetoric, often share his assessment of the situation: they, too, believe that democracy’s fate now hinges on the next election. This is worrying: you can reject the idea that Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame for the breakdown of civility in American politics—or that Hillary Clinton posed as much of a threat to the rules and norms of liberal democracy as Donald Trump does—and still recognize that a situation in which partisans on both sides think that they face existential stakes every four years is not sustainable for very long.

As Robert A. Dahl argued, developing democracies in their early years often avoid ferocious factionalism by restricting participation in their political institutions to a comparatively small set of people. But, over time, one excluded group after another can win inclusion in those same institutions—like poor white men, former slaves, and women, in the United States. Not for the first time, that greater inclusion, personified by President Barack Obama, has now bred a potent backlash.

It is tempting to take this as evidence in support of a deeply pessimistic interpretation of the country’s past and its likely future: any robust attempt to remedy social injustice will inevitably lead those who have immense privileges to reverse the tide of progress or even to jettison their commitment to shared political institutions. But past periods of majoritarian backlash haven’t fully turned back the clock. The resistance to Reconstruction gave this country the intolerable reality of segregation—but it did not reintroduce chattel slavery. The resistance to the civil-rights agenda of the nineteen-sixties perpetuated forms of both economic and political discrimination—but it did not reëstablish segregation. In the same way, resistance to the full participation of women, immigrants, sexual minorities, and African-Americans in the nation’s public life may have helped give rise to Trump—but it is very unlikely to undo the vast changes of the past fifty years.

As politics has become more national, it has overcome many of the problems that political scientists bemoaned in the early nineteen-fifties. People now cast their votes to advance their political ideology, not to get a public job. They can rest assured that their support for a liberal Presidential candidate will not elect a conservative Vice-President (or vice versa). But so long as all politics was local, as Tip O’Neill famously insisted, it also performed an important service to the republic. Fights over property taxes and subway lines gave rise to competing interests and idiosyncratic alliances, helping to turn Madison’s logic of defeating factionalism through the proliferation of factions into daily political reality. The true danger of Americans’ fading interest in local politics is not, as Hopkins would have it, that weighty matters like roads or schools will go ignored. It is that a politics in which all Americans fancy themselves bit actors in the same great drama of state, cheering or jeering an identical cast of heroes and villains, is much more likely to split the country into two mutually hostile tribes.

The nationalization of American politics has led to the rise of two political mega-identities. But it does not foreordain that they will be incapable of finding common ground, or that the current period of intense partisanship will go on forever. In the past, times of heightened animosity have often been followed by periods of unexpected calm. Ordinary citizens are less polarized in their opinions than the political parties in Washington; many long for moderation. And, despite the central role that attacks on minorities played in Trump’s campaign, most Americans have grown more, not less, tolerant of compatriots who do not share their ethnicity, their religion, or their sexual orientation.

In ways that Schlesinger anticipated, the deep divide between supporters and opponents of President Trump is subjecting national unity to a fearful test. The danger that a highly nationalized and deeply partisan politics poses to American institutions is undoubtedly real. But, just as it would be naïve to pretend that a happy ending is assured because our political institutions have managed to incorporate new groups in the past, so, too, would it be cynical to conclude that America is too riven with conflict—or too rotten with injustice—to be redeemed. ♦


This article appears in the print edition of the July 2, 2018, issue, with the headline “McPolitics.”

Fareed Zakaria–Democrats may be walking into an immigration trap

June 25, 2018

Fareed Zakaria–Democrats may be walking into an immigration trap

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

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U.S. President Donald Trump moved to end the separation of children from their undocumented immigrant parents signing an executive order that would change the controversial practice resulting from his administration’s enforcement of a “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Democrats are exultant that President Trump had to reverse his policy of separating immigrant families at the border. And there is good reason to celebrate: The policy was immoral, mean-spirited and unnecessary. But I do wonder whether this episode will prove to be as damaging to the president as liberals think. With this tussle, Trump sent a clear reminder to his supporters of one simple thing — that he is willing to get tough on immigration.

The President’s cruelty made it easy to oppose his policy. But in their delight at the Trump administration’s latest misstep, Democrats may be walking into a trap. The larger question is surely: Should the country enforce its immigration laws or, if circumvented, should we just give up?

According to a U.N. report, last year the United States became the world’s leading destination for asylum seekers, with a 44 percent increase of Central Americans, who made up almost half the total at about 140,000. David Frum suggests in the Atlantic that most of these people are probably coming to escape poverty rather than violence (which has been declining) and that many hope bringing children will help them avoid punishment. That’s why, when asked in 2014 about the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who had come to the border, Hillary Clinton responded, “We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay. We don’t want to send a message that’s contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

Immigration has become an issue that passionately motivates a large group of Americans, perhaps like no other. Some of this might be rooted in racism. But it also represents a kind of heightened nationalism. In an era of rampant globalization, people want to believe that they still maintain some sense of stability and control.

Image result for trump reverses immigration policy

Immigration has become an issue that passionately motivates a large group of Americans, perhaps like no other. Some of this might be rooted in racism. But it also represents a kind of heightened nationalism. In an era of rampant globalization, people want to believe that they still maintain some sense of stability and control.

Nationalism has been around for centuries, but it is now, in a sense, the last doctrine standing. The great story of the 20th century was the loss of faith. Between the ascendance of science, socialism and secularism, people lost their trust in the dogmas and duties of religion. But this didn’t change the reality that they wanted something they could believe in, something with which they could have a deep, emotional bond.

Nationalism has increasingly become that substitute for many on the right, being endowed with a strong and almost mystical attachment. For many on the left, by contrast, nationalism is more of an irrational affinity for a group of people with whom one shares an arbitrary border. Why should, say, a devout Catholic in New Hampshire feel a closer connection to a radical atheist who lives about 2,500 miles away in California compared with a fellow Catholic a few hundred miles away in Canada? But such has been the power of nationalism that it continues to move people to great acts of courage, loyalty, cruelty and hatred.

Immigration has become the litmus test of nationalism, perhaps because other sources have faded or become politically unmentionable. There was a time when nationalism was deeply intertwined in many corners of the globe with religion or ethnicity. And it would be openly and proudly described in those terms. But as Western societies became more diverse, and as minority groups within them asserted their own identities, it became more difficult to define nationalism by those older ingredients. So what remains? How does one define a nation?

For Americans, political ideas and ideology have always been at the heart. That is why being a communist could be thought of as “un-American.” But beyond ideology, there has also been, even in America, a more emotional conception of the nation. And immigration has become a proxy for that gut feeling — the sense that the country must be able to define itself, choose whom it will allow to come in and privilege its citizens over foreigners.

The solutions to America’s broken immigration system are complicated. But Democrats would do well to remember plain symbolism as well, something Bill Clinton and Barack Obama never forgot, which is why their rhetoric and actions on immigration were often far more centrist than those of many current Democratic leaders.

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In politics, people recall a few simple things. To illustrate that point, a pollster in the 1980s once told me a story. A focus group asked a man whom he would vote for, Ronald Reagan or his Democratic opponent, Walter Mondale. “Reagan,” the man said. “Mondale is a communist.” The pollster explained that this wasn’t true. The man replied, “Well, maybe. I’ll still vote for Reagan. One thing I know, no one’s ever thought he was a communist!”

Trump might have lost this round. But no one will ever think he’s soft on illegal immigration.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

The Hunter and the Hunted

June 23, 2018

The Hunter and the Hunted


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R.Nadeswaran–The Malaysian Investigative Journalist

COMMENT | The terms – felon, conman, outlaw and crook – are only applicable upon conviction in a court of law. Until then, if he had attempted to cover his misdemeanours and delinquencies, he remains a dissembler or fibber. If through a series of explanations which cross the thick line between offering an excuse and telling an untruth, he remains a prevaricator, fabricator or in much simpler language – a liar.

But those in the relentless hunt for the truth are not likely to give up until they reach their goal. The hunted will also not ease his unyielding attempts to avoid the goal. (To the uninitiated, “goal” is a form of an enclosure which was also an archaic  term for “jail”.)

While the hunted tries to wriggle out of his self-inflicted woes, those who had previously sought and received a share of the spoils – from chunks to crumbs – seem to have jumped the sinking ship. Others have decided to fight it out like lions and tigers for control of their remaining territory.

The man who brought in the druids, shamans and oracles to offer “protection” has abandoned the hunted too. The prayers and chanting for all the wrongs and sins of the hunted, his wife and the family, have ceased.

This man himself is of soiled character. He was the chauffeur until he “stole” the boss’ wife and moved up to hob-nob with the Joneses. He brought the soothsayers from all parts of the world in looking forward to monetary rewards.

He was not disappointed. Several government contracts came his way. Unfortunately, through bad business practices and in some cases arrogance because of his links with the hunted, his empire collapsed. Now, the man is on the run with six bodyguards in tow leaving a trail of creditors – from small-time contractors to financial institutions. In the past, when creditors tuned up at his door, his riposte was threatening: “I will let loose my bulldogs on you.”

If until May 9 he was untouchable, the banks have now moved in demanding repayment of millions in loans. How he is going to get out of the mess is anyone’s guess. But then, would you be disappointed or surprised if he joins the hunter and share the dark secrets of the hunted in return for freedom?

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Then there’s another man who could walk in and out of the any of the several mansions belonging to the hunted. Having been short-changed in some deals, he decided to squeal – identifying the many shady characters that participated, partook or offered advice on the injudiciousness and indiscretion.

The shady lawyers who were instrumental in the midnight meeting where the decimation of senior government officials was discussed are considering various options. When the future of the then MACC Chief and the then Attorney-General was debated, the passive one suggested that they be asked to resign honourably. But the more aggressive one banged the table and insisted on an immediate purge.

“Show them no mercy. Send them to the slaughter house,” the hunted and his siblings, who co-acted as advisors, were told. In a reversal of roles, they just followed thy servant’s command. The days of these men of the law making headlines are over. They have retreated into their cocoons and even the slightest grunt or groan, if heard by the hunter or by the hunted, will mean trouble.

Writing on the wall

Many read the writing on the wall and have exited via the back door while others are waiting to be shown the door. In both instances, they have been and will walk down a creaky and inflexible staircase.

Others who handled finances and were part of the thievery have conveniently “migrated” to neighbouring countries. But their freedom is not likely to last long. The long arm of the law will get them.

The supply of ‘dedak’ or animal feed to many has been cut. With the hunted’s coffers drying up and with the cash in the condominium taken away for safekeeping, there’s no more automated teller machine (ATM) dishing out money like Smarties or M&Ms from a vending machine.

Already, some have begun to sing like canaries awaiting some form of amnesty, reprieve or forgiveness. But no one is in the mood to forgive and forget and move on. This has become an overused cliché – most recently repeated by the hunted but rejected by the hunter.

The time has come for the hunted to pay his dues. His guilt will be proven and he will join a long line of hunters who became the hunted. No one is going to show mercy or have any sympathy because the level of imprudence and thievery are inexcusable.

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When citizen’s funds have been misused and their personal freedom and rights have been impeded or trampled upon, there’s no room for any option or discretion. Once indicted, the iron gates are going to be clanged shut, padlocked and the keys kept in the hunter’s custody for a long, long time. It will be a deterrent for those who cannot control his greed and or his wife.

She may live happily ever after knowing that some of the ill-gotten gains will remain untouched by the hunter – for her to enjoy. After all, finding another soul mate (she’s experienced in this) will never be a problem with all the dosh that she is flushed with.

R NADESWARAN is a veteran journalist but has decided to turn storyteller for a change. It may not have been a parable but this story of the hunter and the hunted will certainly put the fear into the few who have been putting their hands in the till. Comments:

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