Congratulations to the People of Thailand


December 3, 2016

Congratulations to the People of Thailand

by AFP

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

King-Rama

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.

The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.

After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.

“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.

The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.

Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.

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His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.

He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.

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It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.

The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.

“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”

Into the limelight

Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.

His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.

He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.

Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.

Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.

Analysts say  His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.

In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”

The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.

That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.

Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.

 

UMNO’s past, present and future


December 1, 2016

UMNO’s past, present and future

UMNO have adopted a number of radical measures that has destroyed the spirit of consultation with component parties that BN had preserved for 6 decades.

COMMENT
 By Lim Sue Goan

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With the spirit of democracy and rule of law retrogressing, the country’s international reputation suffering a major setback and under the gloom of a sluggish economy, UMNO’s General Assembly this week is set to be immersed in a much worse atmosphere than a year ago when the RM2.6 billion political donation scandal first came to light.

IN 2015, UMNO had yet to sack Muhyiddin Yassin while former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad had not to set up his own party. UMNO today is in a much more difficult situation.

The party has been established for seven decades now, and in the past, even in the face of any major crisis, the party would never abandon the urban and middle voters or antagonize civil society. Moreover, the party’s past leaders never condoned violence and thuggery.

UMNO was strongly against PAS, and the delegates would hit out hard at the Islamist party. But today, these two parties are working together and the focus of this year’s debates is expected to be “grand unity for the Malays and Muslims”.

This year’s assembly is expected to target its firepower at Mahathir because of his betrayal of UMNO.

That  said, the “political legacy” left behind by Mahathir is still very much enjoyed by UMNO  today. The party’s dilemma today could be attributed to a host of historical and political cultural factors, and everyone from top down is culpable.

Some say UMNO has become so powerful that BN– MCA, MIC, Gerakan and others– itself is being marginalized, and racism appears to be the natural political pathway for the coalition party should take.

This is because racist politics in the very end can only rely on  an insecure base for survival , betraying the principles of democracy and alienating tself from civil society, and in so doing putting the country into a real mess.

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As the backbone of the BN administration, UMNO.  The party must take the initiative to deal steadfastly with the brewing political, economic and democratic crisis, not perpetuate it. Unfortunately, the party is now slanting, and UMNO members need to save it first before it can take on the challenges ahead and lead the nation.

Undeniably, as the 1MDB and MO1 issues get increasingly heated up, the BN mechanism has already been rendered irrelevant.

Take the RUU355 to expand the jurisdiction of shariah courts for example. UMNO leaders never consulted its component parties before giving PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang  the green light table his private bill in May.

To hold on to power, UMNO has decided to adopt a number of radical measures that have destroyed the spirit of consultation and cooperation that BN had preserved for so many decades, thereby dwelling a severe blow to the country’s moderate image.

Members of BN’s component parties are unhappy with what’s taking place under their noses, and this does not augur well for a united BN to face the upcoming general election.

UMNO’s fortress is the vast rural Malay hinterland while other BN component parties must still face urban and young voters. The detention of BERSIH 2.0 chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah under the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) has dealt a fatal blow on the electoral prospects of other BN component parties. Economic hardship in the coming year, on the other hand, could undermine the party’s hold on the rural Malays and the other marginalized folks in Sabah and Sarawak.

Without changing its style of governance and restricting its members’ out-of-control actions, UMNO is poised to put itself in a very precarious position.

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UMNO’s cooperation with PAS is also a highly risky game because this will only radicalize the Malay Muslims. In the long run, UMNO itself will be playing the PAS tune.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has said that out of 687 tertiary students interviewed, some 133 or 19.5% subscribe to the philosophy of Islamic State.

As a matter of fact, UMNO must adhere to the Islam Hadhari concept of former PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in order to stem the advances of  Islamic radicalism.

On the economic front, owing to the resistance from the party’s right wing, it is getting increasingly difficult for PM Najib to push ahead its NEM and economic transformation agendas. The economy will only slide further in the absence of new policies, reforms and liberalisation. The dramatic fall of the ringgit now should set off the alarm bells, too.

We cannot wrap ourselves inside the cocoon of antiquated thinking if we as a nation want to move forward. An example is the refusal by the Federation of Peninsula Malay Students (GPMS) to recognise the UEC certificate. Our competitiveness can only be lifted if all our talented people are accepted into the mainstay of this country irrespective of race and religion.

 

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam


November 30, 2016

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam

by Tom Fawthrop

Image Credit: Tom Fawthrop

SIPHANDONE, LAOS — Explorers, travelers, and traders have long been enchanted by the magical vistas and extraordinary biodiversity of the Mekong, especially here.

Swirling rapids roar through the surrounding forest to unleash the magnificent Khone Phapheng Falls in southern Laos. The surrounding myriad islands and forested islets, dotted among the tranquil waterways and braided channels of the Mekong, inspire awe and wonder. This is Siphandone (Four Thousand Islands) district of Southern Laos, nestled alongside the Cambodian border.

However, the serenity of Siphandone has recently been rudely disrupted by the dynamite-blasting of rocks, shattering the tranquil reverie of this ecotourism paradise.

Malaysia’s Mega-First and the Don Sahong Dam

The ugly intrusion of earth-moving trucks in this picturesque landscape has accompanied the launching of the Don Sahong dam, a joint venture of Malaysian company Mega-First (MFCB) and the government of Laos, in January 2016. The dam has gone ahead without approval from the Mekong River Commission and in defiance of wide-ranging protests from regional NGOs and downstream countries Cambodia and Vietnam.

In 2012 the bitterly contested first dam on the Lower Mekong, the Xayaburi dam, a $3.8 billion project based on Thai investment and controlled by Bangkok engineering company Ch.Karnchang, began its controversial construction.

According to scientists, both dams pose a major threat to fish migration and food security.

Chhith Sam Ath the Cambodian Director of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), told The Diplomat, “The Don Sahong Dam is an ecological time bomb that threatens the food security of 60 million people living in Mekong basin. The dam will have disastrous impacts on the entire river ecosystem all the way to the delta in Vietnam.”

The Lao government plans to build nine dams on the mainstream Mekong, and hundreds more on other rivers and tributaries, claiming that this is the only path to development for one of the region’s poorest countries.

Just across the river from the Don Sahong dam site, on the Cambodian side of the Mekong, ecotourists gather at the Preah Romkel commune. This correspondent witnessed tourists poised with their cameras, trying to catch a glimpse of the three remaining Irrawaddy Dolphins clinging onto their fragile home despite being under daily siege from the dam-builders. This wetlands zone has been a popular destination for ecotourism in both Laos and Cambodia, but WWF warns that damming the Mekong will soon drive all the remaining dolphins to extinction.

The Malaysian dam developers and the Lao Energy Ministry have airily dismissed all the protests, claiming that their fish mitigation engineering – the expansion and widening of two other channels – can fix the problem.

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Irrawaddy or Mekong River Dolphin by Tammy Yee (pic above)

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Source: Google images

The future site of the dam across the Sahong Channel is recognized by fishery experts as the only one out of seven braided channels of the Mekong that is deep enough and wide enough for large fish to migrate, providing effective fish passage around the rapids, rocks, and waterfalls year round. Now the dam construction has diverted all the water from the channel, and it will permanently block this natural fish migration route and passageway.

The Malaysian dam developers and the Lao Energy Ministry have airily dismissed all the protests, claiming that their fish mitigation engineering – the expansion and widening of two other channels – can fix the problem.

The Xayaburi dam also claims that its “fish-friendly turbines,” fish ladders, and locks can protect at least 28 species of fish that have been targeted for special attention by Poyry Energy the Swiss-based company hired to supervise the engineering and fish mitigation.

However the Poyry presentation and research by fish consultants Fishtek shows there are at least 139 fish species that would be blocked from swimming past the dam.

Fish mitigation on these two dams may look impressive in presentation videos, but Dr. Ian Baird, who has published many studies on Mekong fisheries, notes that “this is a high risk experiment, as these sort of mitigation measures have never been attempted before on tropical rivers.”

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The Mekong Crisis: When Ecology and Economy Suffer in Tandem

The mighty Mekong, flowing for 4,630 km through the heart of Southeast Asia, is in deep crisis. The delta in Vietnam is both shrinking and sinking.

The loss of nutrient-rich sediment is wrecking havoc on the delta region. All large dams trap sediment and deprive the downstream areas of vital nutrients. Vietnam is suffering from huge sediment loss, running at 50 percent less than the regular flow. Rampant sand-mining in Cambodia and Vietnam has also aggravated the delta’s acute sediment shortage.

The miraculous but fragile ecosystem that connects the Four Thousand Islands in Laos, Tonle Sap in Cambodia, and the delta in Vietnam is directly threatened by these two dams – the Don Sahong and the Xayaburi (in addition to all the damage done by six Chinese dams upstream from Laos). Now a third dam at Pak Beng has been announced by the Lao government.

A new WWF report has drawn attention to how the dramatic decline in the health of the Mekong is not only an ecological disaster, but also a serious threat to the economy of the region. With a fresh perspective on how ecology and economy are intimately linked together, the report reminds all stakeholders, “Economic growth in the Greater Mekong region depends on the Mekong River, but unsustainable and uncoordinated development is pushing the river system to the brink.”

WWF’s lead coordinator for Water and Energy Security in the Greater Mekong, Marc  Goichot, sees the delta as crucial to Vietnam’s economic future. “It produces 50 percent of the country’s staple food crops and 90 percent of its rice exports. It is one of the most productive and densely populated areas of Vietnam, home to 18 million people. Vietnam cannot lose the delta.”

But right now Vietnam is losing it. The delta is shrinking and unless there is a major policy turnaround on the Mekong, scientists in Can Tho have warned that 27 percent of its GDP, furnished by the delta, could evaporate during the next 20 years.

The strong momentum toward damming the Mekong has been greatly assisted by the widely held perception that dams are a reliable source of energy, producing great economic benefits.

The Mekong River Commission, the World Bank, and USAID have promoted dam-building with this approach, billed as “Sustainable Hydropower.”

The prevailing assumption has been that trade-offs, including negative environmental impacts, are inevitable, but we should not worry too much because improved environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and effective mitigation would provide adequate safeguards to protect ecosystems. It is only recently that researchers have been submitting these assumptions to closer scrutiny.

The credibility of this narrative is increasingly being challenged. Dr. Philip Hirsch a Mekong specialist, concluded after decades of inspecting dams that “some hydro-power impacts can simply not be mitigated – only compensated. And compensation systematically falls short.”

Most fisheries experts in the region familiar with the Sahong and Xayaburi dam projects consider that the mitigation experiment is a risky venture into uncharted waters and cannot be relied on to protect fisheries and the ecosystem.

Whereas the apparent benefits of hydropower can easily be quantified in terms of electricity, the financial losses inflicted by dams have been consistently underestimated or ignored by economists and governments.

The combined fisheries assets for the MRC countries are now valued at $17 billion and vital to the food security of tens of millions.

On the other side of the ledger, energy from 11 scheduled dams may yield economic benefits valued at $33.4 billion according to an international study on hydropower impacts on the Mekong based at Mae Fa Luang University in Chiang Rai.

But set against losses from a denuded river system and huge losses of fisheries, sediment, agricultural produce, and livelihoods, this same study predicts a loss of $66.2 billion, resulting in an overall negative impact of $21.8 billion if all 11 dam projects go ahead.

According to one of the three authors, Dr. Apisom Intralawan, “hydropower benefits have been over-stated in these figures (2015) and based on current economic data we are about to revise them.”

Hirsch confirms that “many studies show that the real costs of hydropower outweigh the benefits but the projects still go ahead.”

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Can The Mekong Survive?

Wetlands ecology specialist  Nguyen Huu Thien, a Vietnamese scientist based in the delta’s capital Can Tho, concluded The sure thing we know, if the delta cannot support its population of 18 million, then people will have to migrate – migrate everywhere. The dams are sowing the seeds of social instability in the region.”

The only way forward, says the Vietnamese Director of Hanoi’s Institute of Economics, Tran Ding Thien, is for Mekong countries to move beyond what he calls “the small-pond mentality.”

That seems unlikely at the moment. In Laos, Daovong Phonekeo, director general of Laos’ Department of Energy Policy and Planning, told Voice of America: “For the development of the Mekong River, we don’t need consensus!”

It is true that the 1995 Mekong Agreement does not provide for any veto on controversial dam projects, but it does enshrine principles of international river cooperation and good water governance that are undermined by the Lao government’s penchant for unilateralism.

Stuart Orr, WWF’s leader for Water Resources Practice, observes that “Water underpins our agricultural systems, our energy production, manufacturing, ecosystems, food security, and our wellbeing as humans. So if economic growth is to continue better river management is called for, that respects the limits of the ecosystem.”

Can the once mighty Mekong alter its currently blighted course of unregulated development, and this alarming rate of depletion of its natural resources?

“One step is that before we build any more dams, new green energy technologies need to be explored,” argues Hirsch. “It would be a tragedy to see the world’s greatest inland fishery destroyed for lack of imagination in applying cost-effective innovative solutions”

There also needs to be a new river-wide consensus that ultimately will have to include China.

Tran decries this small-minded approach, which clings to the “little pond of sovereignty” and cannot grasp the bigger picture of sharing water resources and respecting the whole river.

In this perspective of international scientific cooperation the Mekong should not belong to any one nation. As Tran, speaking at Mekong conference held in Can Tho in April, declared:

“If the Mekong is turned into a series of ponds and reservoirs, it is a loss not only for the region it is a loss for the world. The water that fuels the dams belongs to us all. We need to create an International Mekong Foundation and protect it.”

Tom Fawthrop is a freelance  journalist and film-maker based in Southeast Asia.

Killing the Mekong, Dam by Dam

Malaysia: From a thriving democracy to a degenerate nation under Najib Razak in 7 Years


November 26, 2016

Malaysia: From a thriving democracy to a degenerate nation under Najib Razak in 7 Years

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21710820-opposition-has-do-more-win-over-rural-malays-malaysians-underestimate-damage

by The Economist

FORTY thousand people wearing yellow shirts gathered in Malaysia’s capital on November 19th, to protest against corruption and impunity in government. The rally was orderly and restrained; the response of the authorities was not. On the eve of the protest, police arrested Maria Chin Abdullah, leader of a coalition of human-rights groups that organised the event. She was placed in solitary confinement, and can be held there for 28 days. Even by Malaysia’s dismal recent standards this marked a fresh low. Ordinary Malaysians should not stand by while their leaders undermine the rule of law so casually.

Ms Chin Abdullah’s detention was justified by an anti-terrorism law which the government had promised would never be used against political opponents. The true motivation was to stifle outrage over 1MDB, a state-owned investment firm from which billions have gone missing. In July American government investigators said they thought that $3.5bn had been taken from the firm and that hundreds of millions of dollars went to the prime minister, Najib Razak (who says he has never taken public funds for personal gain). The investigators’ findings corroborated exposés written by local and foreign journalists, who have been unravelling the saga for several years.

Elsewhere the scandal would have sparked a swift change in government. But the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has held power for six decades and enjoys broad support from Malaysia’s ethnic-Malay majority, some of whom resent their ethnic-Chinese and Indian compatriots. The party has devised many ways to protect its leaders from internal revolts, so Mr Najib found it easy to purge critics, delay a parliamentary investigation and replace an attorney-general said to have been preparing charges against him.

No one in Malaysia has been charged over 1MDB’s missing money. But a court has handed a prison sentence to an opposition politician who frustrated efforts to hush up the affair. The editor and publisher of one of Malaysia’s last independent news organisations face jail under a rule which forbids certain content published with “intent to annoy”. A competitor closed in March after authorities ordered its website blocked.

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Mr Najib’s party is carelessly widening Malaysia’s ethnic and religious splits. Seeking to bolster support among conservative Malay Muslims, it is toying with a proposal to intensify the whippings which may be meted out by sharia courts. It has failed properly to condemn pro-government gangs that last year menacingly gathered in a Chinese part of the capital. Their leaders paint ethnic Malays as victims of sinister conspiracies—dangerous rumour-mongering in a country where politics is still defined by the racial violence of the 1960s.

Easily broken, hard to fix

Until now foreign investors have been fairly sanguine about the economy. But they are growing rattled. The ringgit has depreciated faster than other emerging-market currencies (see article). Last week the authorities asked foreign banks to stop some ringgit trading abroad, raising fears of harsher controls.

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Rural ethnic Malays, a crucial constituency, feel that the scandal is a remote affair. Even some educated urbanites still favour Mr Najib’s government over the opposition, underestimating the damage being done by the scandal. If change is to come, the disparate opposition needs to do a better job of winning such people over; its fractious parties must overcome their divisions and present a plausible candidate to replace Mr Najib in a general election that could be held as soon as next year. Malaysia has always been an imperfect democracy, but the rot eating at its institutions is harming its international standing and its economic prospects alike.

BERSIH 5.0 reminds Malaysians of their Diversity and Plurality


November 25, 2016

BERSIH 5.0 reminds Malaysians of  their Diversity and Plurality

by Hew Wai Weng

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The crowds at BERSIH 5.0 may not have hit previous heights, but their greater ethnic diversity is a positive sign, Hew Wai Weng writes.

Threats of violence by the anti-BERSIH shirted group, as well as the political fatigue of many Malaysians after the racialization of BERSIH 4.0 because of its low Malay turnout, had led many observers to expect an unenthusiastic level of public participation in BERSIH 5.0.

On the eve of BERSIH 5.0, many key leaders of BERSIH and opposition parties were arrested. The Police also blocked most of the road access to the gathering points of the BERSIH rally. Despite these obstacles, more than 50,000 people marched the streets in downtown Kuala Lumpur on  November 19, 2016 to demand fair and clean elections.

Even though the overall turnout was lower than the 100,000-strong crowd at BERSIH 4.0, a notably increased Malay participation in BERSIH 5.0 was an encouraging and positive sign, especially in the context of various attempts by the Najib-led UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) to racialize various dissident movements in Malaysia.

Here are my thoughts on the mobilization and participation of ethnic Malay in BERSIH 5.0, based on my observations and conversations with various participants at the rally. By concentrating on Malay participation, I do not intend to discredit the involvement of other ethnic groups, including Chinese, Indians and Orang Asli who have all contributed to the success of BERSIH 5.o. Besides ethnic composition, gender and class dimensions of the participants also deserve further attention.

At 10 am I joined the crowd at Masjid Negara, the National Mosque of Malaysia its peak, there were about 6,000 people and half of them were Malays. Many of the Malays gathered there were mobilised by political parties such as Keadilan (People’s Justice Party) and Amanah (National Trust Party, a new party formed by the progressives who left PAS, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party), as well as Islamic-based NGOs such as IKRAM (Malaysian IKRAM Association) and ABIM (the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia).

As the crowd marched from Masjid Negara to Masjid Jamek, a mosque near to the Dataran Merdeka (Merdeka Square), many people joined along the way. In the beginning, the participants were quite ethnically mixed. But that changed once they marched through Pudu area. Thousands of spectators and protesters, many of them young Chinese, stood at both sides of the street, clapping hands and cheering when the protesters paraded through.

As the protesters walked from Masjid Jamek to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Center, where Petronas Twin Tower is located), I witnessed increasing numbers of young Malays among the crowd, and the crowd appeared more ethnically-mixed, with an estimated 40 per cent Malay among the participants.

By my estimate, at least 20,000 Malays attended Bersih 5. Although the number is lower than the amount at BERSIH 2.0 and 3.0 (approximately 30,000-40,000) when the Islamist party PAS were supportive of BERSIH and had mobilised its supporters, it is still an encouraging figure. It showed that without PAS endorsement, it is still possible for civil society and political parties to mobilise Malay Muslims to join rallies.

How were these Malays being mobilised? Keadilan and Amanah have committed to mobilising their members and supporters. Both parties have also helped in the pre-BERSIH convoys in many rural and semi-urban areas. These efforts might have convinced more Malays to join BERSIH 5.0. Aside from political party mobilisation, Muslims NGOs especially IKRAM and ABIM, have fully supported the rally. There is also an increasing number of young Malays present at Bersih 5. Some of them might have been mobilised or inspired by the August-held Tangkap MO1 (Arrest Malaysian Official 1) rally, organised by the university students. Others might be left-leaning Malay activists. Some also joined the rally on their own.

Although the former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad openly urged Malaysians to join BERSIH 5.0, the crowd mobilised by its newly-formed political party, Bersatu (Malaysian United Indigenous Party) was ultimately not as large as some observers expected. Mahathir himself, however, had rushed back from a visit to Sudan in order to be present at the rally. His presence, together with the strong Malay turnouts at BERSIH 5.0, might help to convince the anti-Najib UMNO supporters to leave UMNO or at least to vote against UMNO in the coming elections.

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The UMNO Goons

I took a Grab car service before the BERSIH 5.0 rally. The middle-aged Malay driver told me, “Because of Najib, many of us have to suffer. I could not join BERISH, because I have to work more to make ends meet. I will morally support the causes of BERSIH.” Does his view represent the silent majority? Would increasing discontents towards Hadi-led PAS and Najib-led UMNO translate into votes against both UMNO and PAS in the elections, and contribute to a change of government in Malaysia?

A few factors will be crucial in determining whether or not we will see an increased support among Malays towards the change of government: first, the support of Malay youth, for which social media might be an important battleground; second, the support of rural Malays, yet it is a challenging task to counter UMNO’s rural patronage and money politics; third, a strong and efficient Malay leadership among the opposition parties in all the states, as a way to debunk UMNO’s allegation that DAP (Democratic Action Party) or the Chinese will dominate if UMNO loses power.

Last but not least, Malay support for a change in government will also depend on the ability of opposition parties, especially Bersatu and Amanah, to swing the support of anti-Najib UMNO members and anti-Hadi PAS followers towards them.

Hew Wai Weng is Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. His research interests focus upon the intersections between ethnicity, religiosity, class and politics in Malaysia and Indonesia. He has been writing on Chinese Muslim identities, Hui migration patterns, and urban middle class Muslim aspirations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Bersih 5 and the increase of the Malay discontents

 

BERSIH brought out the best in Malaysians


November 24, 2016

BERSIH brought out the best in Malaysians

by Ambassador Dennis Ignatius

http://www.dennisignatius.com

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BERSIH brought out the best in us; it renewed our hope to believe that change is possible.

Now that BERSIH 5.0 is over, the campaign to define it has begun. BN parties, worried about the BERSIH effect, have embarked upon a Goebbels-like effort to rewrite the history of those few hours when yellow became the colour of our nation.

All sorts of falsehoods, misinformation and disinformation are being put out about what BERSIH stands for, who and how many attended, why they attended, what transpired that day and what was achieved. In the process, they are demonizing, discrediting and delegitimizing the people who participated.

We are being told, for example, that Saturday’s rally was a riot, that BERSIH supporters were confused or clueless as to why they were demonstrating, that they felt exploited by opposition politicians, that it was largely a gathering of DAP [read Chinese] supporters, that participation was mostly confined to so-called urban elites, that no more than 15,000 attended, that it was an attempt to overthrow the government.

For all these reasons, they would have us believe that BERSIH was a failure, a non-event, an insignificant gathering of rabble-rousers and troublemakers. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Defying intimidation

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Defying threats and intimidation, harassment and disruption, and the very real possibility of violent attack, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens flooded the streets of Kuala Lumpur and other cities in support of BERSIH.

They came with an unambiguous message to a government that has long since broken faith with its people – they want a government that upholds our constitution, that is committed to democracy, good governance and transparency, that respects the voice of the people, that puts their interests ahead of the cronies and fat cats. 

Malaysia in all its hues and colours 

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And what an eclectic mix they were: Malays, Chinese, Indians and Orang Asli; Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians; professionals, traders, hawkers, students, farmers, retirees. They came from every state, their respective state flags, and of course, the Jalur Gemilang fluttering in the wind.

Some are insisting that it was largely a Chinese affair but that is a lie that disenfranchises the thousands of Malays who were present and who came in defiance of both UMNO and PAS as well as the religious establishment.

To see Malaysians marching together as one was truly inspiring. We have our differences, of course, but there was a unity of purpose, a sense of brotherhood, a shared pain over the sad plight of our nation.

It was Malaysia in all its hues and colours, strong, proud and free. It showed us what could be, what we ought to be. Only those whose power rests on dividing the nation, of playing off brother against brother, would find nothing to rejoice about such a gathering.

A mockery of truth 

The atmosphere too was remarkable. People chanted and sang and laughed together. With the support of the police (who did an outstanding job keeping us safe), the rally was peaceful, respectful and orderly. And there was courtesy, kindness, respect, civility – something that those in power have largely forgotten.

To call it a riot, an attempt to undermine parliamentary democracy or accuse its leaders of plotting to illegally topple the government is to make a mockery of truth, to call good evil and evil good.

Of course, we were there to press for change; citizens in a democracy have the right to peacefully vent their frustrations over the abuse of power, misgovernance and corruption, to tell the Prime Minster that they have lost confidence in his leadership.

Only in authoritarian regimes is that considered subversive or unlawful. In any case, both the courts and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) have consistently upheld this fundamental right to protest. SUHAKAM, in fact, emphasized that Saturday’s gathering was by no means illegal and that “participants conducted themselves in an acceptable way, not threatening public order and the security of the country.”

Tip of the iceberg of discontent

Much is also being made about the numbers – that there were less this time around compared to previous BERSIH rallies – but BN shouldn’t be too quick to gloat. BERSIH is more than a numbers game. Those who turned up were but the tip of the iceberg of discontentment and anger. For every single person who marched on Saturday, a hundred more were at home cheering them on, marching with them in spirit, sharing their frustration, believing in their dream for a better nation.

We’ll yet hear from them come election day.

Clueless or clued-in?

Image result for Tajuddin Abdul Rahman on KOK

Tajuddin Abdul Rahman is what UMNO has to offer to Malaysia

BN leaders also give the citizens of our country far too little credit, esteem and respect when they assert that most rally-goers were clueless about BERSIH’s goals.

Ordinary citizens may not be as sophisticated as some of these BN elites but they understand enough to know that the country is in a mess, that unbridled corruption is destroying us, that all the race-baiting and religious extremism is pushing the nation towards the brink, that the abuse of power is turning our country into an ugly dictatorship.

After all, unlike so many politicians and their cronies, it is the people who are the first to feel the effects of corruption, failed policies and mismanagement. They are the ones who have to carry the burden of GST and pay more and more for basic necessities. They are the ones who have to struggle with substandard education, low wages and unemployment. They are the ones who have to live further and further out and pay more and more to get to work.

They are hard pressed, and they were there Saturday to tell the government of their pain.

Justice or vengeance? 

Whatever it is, the harsh reaction of the government, was totally unwarranted. As SUKAHAM itself noted, there was simply no justification for the arrest of BERSIH leaders. It was an abuse of power, plain and simple.

Image result for Suhakam Chairman Razali zzzzzzzismai.

Seldom has the state expended so much of its resources or brought so much of its power to bear to deter a peaceful gathering of citizens seeking to exercise their democratic rights.

Even that was apparently not enough for some politicians. The leader of a once-progressive political party accused BERSIH of being “out of control” and urged the government to bring back the Internal Security Act to deal with BERSIH supporters.

There’s simply no telling how low such morally-bankrupt politicians will go.

maria-bersihWorst of all, however, was the arrest of the heroic and courageous BERSIH leader, Maria Chin Abdullah, under SOSMA, the draconian anti-terrorist act, a new political low even by BN standards.

And now Maria is being made out to be some sort of sinister super villain heading a foreign-funded, CIA sponsored, ISIS-infiltrated network working in tandem with an assortment of apparently dangerous civil society groups like election monitors, Sisters in Islam and feminist NGOs to terrorize the nation.

It’s laughable really if not for the fact that a grave injustice is being committed against a true patriot and a great Malaysian.

The harsh treatment of Maria smacks of vengeance more than anything else. Malaysians will not soon forget so great an injustice.

As well, it makes the struggle for democracy and accountable government all the more urgent and justified.

BERSIH brought out the best in us

tengku

Whatever may be said about BERSIH, one thing is clear: it brought out the best in us. It inspired a great many Malaysians to reach beyond the narrow and petty divisions that have divided us. It taught us that the dream of our founding father, Tengku Abdul Rahman, of a progressive constitutional democracy, united in diversity, is not as forlorn as they would have us believe.

The road ahead may be long and arduous but BERSIH gave us hope to believe that change is possible and it inspired us to press on.

For now, at least, that is enough. And they can’t take that from us.