Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

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Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

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Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

Image result for The Sultan of Johor and Tunku Mahkota of Johor

Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

UMNO Dignity is Malay Dignity (Maruah)

August 28, 2016

UMNO Dignity is Malay Dignity (Maruah): So, it is Okay to be corrupt?

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”– Ralph Ellison, ‘Invisible Man’

Image result for UMNO's Malay Dignity Symbol-- The Keris

Image result for UMNO's Malay Dignity Symbol-- The Keris

COMMENT: I have never had much time for patriotism. It seems to me the people who advocate it vociferously are the ones who lack any kind of empathy for their fellow citizens. Around this time, the various media in this country transmit propaganda messages of how we are all Malaysians and that ‘Merdeka’ is the time to remember that.

Having said that, I do think that Astro’s ‘Unity Runs in Our Blood’ ad and the #kitasama blood donation drive are something that we should all get behind. They are clever bits of bridge-building that incorporate much needed corporate activism and address very serious issues that could help Malaysians.

I soon forgot all about Malay dignity because a Malay friend of mine, one of those true green PAS activists, decided that he was not going to participate in politics anymore because he finally caught on to the fact that everyone was using “Malay dignity” as a means to control the Malay polity and the only legitimate means of control, in his words – “should come from the Quran”. Go figure.

Of Malay dignity, this is what I wrote last month: “What this Bersih rally (Bersih 5) needs to be about is the dignity and integrity of the Malays. It needs to address the reality that Malay leadership has failed this country and the only way to restore any semblance of dignity to the Malay polity would be for the so-called ‘leaders’ of the Malay community, with the help of their non-Malay counterparts, to mobilise the Malay demographic into coming to the mother of all street parties.”

READ THIS by Geoff Wade:

Some folks took exception to this. Close friends of mine argued that this should be a ‘Malaysian’ demonstration and some opposition supporters actually believe we have a post-racial opposition. These same folks also believe that we should be pragmatic and were pushing the ‘PAS for All’ agenda. Go figure.

However, when the chips are down there is only ‘ketuanan UMNO’ and the rest of us ‘pendatangs’. Malay dignity – what a juvenile and immature platform to base an ideology on – is how UMNO defines it and how the opposition panders to it.

When the Prime Minster said that UMNO is a “sacred party”, I read it as “UMNO is a scared party” and just for a moment, I assumed that there was bit of self-reflection on the part of the not Malaysian Official 1.

Only in Malaysian politics could an UMNO potentate talk about dignity and in the same breath remind his cronies that it is he and he alone who dispenses monies to “cool their heads”. UMNO Malay dignity is the continued existence of a system of patronage.

The Prime Minister just proved what I wrote earlier, that “useful idiots that the establishment and opposition rely on to disseminate propaganda are distinct from the power brokers who rely on a steady infusion of cash to maintain, in UMNO’s case, political hegemony”.

This is a feudalistic culture where rich Malay potentates sustained by non-Malay plutocrats use a post-colonial system of governance in furtherance of their race-based agenda. Moreover, for decades they legitimately ruled a multiracial polity that enjoyed the poisoned fruits from the seeds planted long ago.

“Where are your principles? In politics, you cannot let your moustache touch the ground. What does this mean? It means (to protect) your dignity and self-worth,”laments the kleptocrat-in-chief to his docile audience.

This from a Prime Minister who has been accused of being in the centre of the largest corruption scandal the world has witnessed. It just goes to show you what UMNO Malays consider sacred. What is sacred is ensuring that the gravy train continues to run.

Redeeming Malay dignity

Is redeeming Malay dignity an ongoing process? How far has the Malay community come post-independence? I have argued that post-1969 an artificial Malay middle-class was engineered. Others have argued that whatever economic goals that were the foundation of the racist policies disguised as affirmative action programmes have been met, but with statistical legerdemain and propaganda is verboten in public discussion.

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The Malay Dignity Champions–General Kulup Rani and Malaysian Official 1

To recap – “The reality is that all these policies have done – religiously, sociologically, economically or ideologically – is to instil a sense of independence in the non-Malay community and dependence in the Malay polity. I would argue (and have) that there is not really a sense of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ in the general Malay community but rather a ‘ketuanan UMNO’ that has been the dominant expression of ‘Malay’ nationalism.”

In other words, Malay dignity as defined by UMNO is dependence on UMNO. That is the covenant between the average Malay and UMNO. Of course, because the ‘Malays’ do not neatly fall into the stereotype that politicians would have us believe, UMNO’s so-called sacred duty to defend Malay dignity has always been open to attacks.

In the old days, UMNO had to contend with PAS. However, since these days PAS has decided to work with UMNO – the same folks who not long ago accused UMNO of betraying Islam and the Malay community – the real threats come from within UMNO.

So now, we get PKR defending Malay dignity. Amanah defending Malay dignity. PAS defending Malay dignity. The Najib refuseniks defending Malay dignity, and of course, UMNO defending Malay dignity.

The problem is that after all these years of defending Malay dignity, the Malay community is still in danger from every other community in the country. Malay dignity, or at the very least UMNO dignity, comes at the price of being bailed out by China or any other greater power that the propaganda goons from Putrajaya routinely demonise.

I wrote once that “nobody supports UMNO because of ideology or because they are legitimate caretakers or because of the belief that only they can lead the country. Patronage, cronyism, feudalism, all these things are connected to money. Cash is King, is the only way UMNO members know how to show and receive love or loyalty.”

And even though UMNO bleats that foreigners are attempting to take control of Malay destiny, the reality is that Malay destiny like the community’s dignity was pawned a long time ago to kleptocrats that these days are so inept and corrupt that the centre cannot hold.

In the end, those multi-racial urban enclaves will be overwhelmed by the hordes of rural dwellers wanting to know what all that Malay dignity has got them. UMNO would probably tell them, it is somewhere safe waiting to be redeemed.

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

Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror

August 28, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror


Rodrigo Duterte, the new President of the Philippines, is a liberal’s worst nightmare. In his campaign, Duterte, a former mayor and prosecutor, promised to cleanse the country of drug users and dealers by extrajudicial means. Since his inauguration, on June 30, he has been following through with a vengeance. In that time, more than eighteen hundred people have been killed—drug dealers, drug users, and in several cases people who happened to be nearby. The youngest was five years old.

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“My mouth has no due process,’’ Duterte said in a nationally televised speech on August 7th, in which he named judges, mayors, police, and military officials whom he claimed were involved in the drug trade. The Philippines has the highest abuse rate in East Asia for methamphetamines, known locally as shabu. Duterte has warned drug peddlers to surrender themselves or face summary execution. “My order is shoot to kill you,” he said on August 6th. “I don’t care about human rights, you’d better believe me.”

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the police chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the Police Chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Since Monday, the casualties have mounted. On Tuesday, a five-year-old named Danica Garcia was killed while eating lunch when gunmen fired into her family’s house. They were targeting her grandfather. On Wednesday, Rogelio Bato, a lawyer representing a suspected drug trafficker, was shot in his car, along with a teen-age girl who was in the passenger seat.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has been publishing regular updates on what it calls “the kill list”:

July 31, 2016. 1:10 a.m. | Unidentified drug suspect #118 | Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila | Found dead, with his hands and legs were tied using a nylon cord, a plastic strap and packaging tape and his face wrapped with a towel and duct tape; on his body was a sign saying, “Holdaper ako, Pusher pa.”

July 6, 2016. Alma Santos, on the municipal list of suspected drug pushers | Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija | Found dead in a canal, blinded and hogtied.

July 5, 2016. Mirasol Lavapie-Ramos, wife of man in police custody for a drug charge | Talavera town, Nueva Ecija | Killed by an unknown hitman who chased her.

Many of the killings appear to have been carried out by hit squads. Similar teams were blamed for killings of suspected criminals in Davao, the southern city where Duterte was mayor for twenty-two years. Back in 2009, Human Rights Watch investigated how the death squads operated. According to its report, “The assailants usually arrive in twos or threes on a motorcycle without a license plate. They wear baseball caps and buttoned shirts or jackets, apparently to conceal their weapons underneath.’’

It is almost impossible to write about Duterte without making comparisons to a certain American Presidential candidate. Duterte, a trash-talking septuagenarian, cheerfully disparages women, international institutions, and even Pope Francis. He has a cavalier attitude toward due process, human rights, and the use of physical violence to achieve political ends. He is an unapologetic womanizer. During one campaign rally, he mimicked a stroke victim. When he is questioned about a grossly inappropriate statement, he sometimes claims he was “just joking.”

Duterte does not take criticism lightly. “I will have to destroy her in public,’’ he said of Leila de Lima, a senator and the former secretary of justice, who in the hearings this week accused him of disregard for human life. He has accused her of having an extramarital affair with her driver, whom he said was linked to drugs. After the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement, on August 18th, saying that Duterte’s war on drugs amounted to “incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law,’’ he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the U.N. and start a new global organization with China. “Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you’re that rude, son of a bitch, we’ll just leave you,” he said. A week earlier, he refused to apologize for calling the U.S. Ambassador to Manila “gay” and “the son of a whore.’’

There are obvious parallels, too, between Duterte’s campaign earlier this year and the current U.S. Presidential race. On the stump, Duterte played to fear, claiming that drugs and crime were turning the country into a “narco state.’’ He belittled his strongest opponent, Mar Roxas, a former investment banker, educated at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, as part of an effete, corrupt establishment. Roxas was the designated successor of the popular outgoing President, Benigno Aquino III, who could boast of five years of strong economic growth that had helped the Philippines to shed its reputation as the “sick man of Asia.”

But Duterte was always a more serious candidate than Trump. “We do ourselves a disservice if we take his rhetorical excesses that are very similar to Trump and then underestimate him as being a buffoon,’’ John Gershman, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Administration and a founder of the New York Southeast Asia Network, told me. “This is a man who has extensive political experience. He was a former prosecutor, which gives him some credibility. He was reëlected multiple times in Davao and was respected by both the business community and the left.’’

During the campaign, Duterte was popular with educated voters, the middle class, and the many Philippine citizens working overseas. He also had the support of Muslims, who make up about five per cent of the population. Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of Karapatan, a human-rights organization in the Philippines, said that the middle classes felt that a corrupt justice system and police force had failed to combat the drug trade. “Democratic values and rule of law are all but words in this country,’’ she told me.

In the final days of the campaign, Aquino became more alarmed about Duterte, telling voters that “we should remember how Hitler came to power.’’ But Duterte’s fear tactics worked. He drew thirty-nine per cent of the vote, to Roxas’s twenty-three per cent, and popular support for him remains robust. In a poll released on July 20th by Pulse Asia Research, ninety-one per cent of Filipinos said that they trusted Duterte, while the more authoritative Social Weather Stations found that sixty-three per cent expected him to fulfill his campaign promises. “There seems to be a level of acceptance on how Duterte’s war on drugs is being conducted,’’ Palabay said.

Duterte’s election and his pitiless war against drugs are terrifying at a time when political scientists warn that democracy is in retreat. “Democracy itself seems to have lost its appeal,’’ Larry Diamond, a political sociologist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. “Many emerging democracies have failed to meet their citizens’ hopes for freedom, security, and economic growth, just as the world’s established democracies, including the United States, have grown increasingly dysfunctional.” He cites Kenya, Russia, Thailand, and Turkey. In its annual survey, “Freedom in the World,” the U.S. advocacy group Freedom House reported that the number of countries that it considers democracies has been declining since 2005, and that civil liberties and political rights have contracted in seventy-two countries, and improved in only forty-three.

The report went to press before Duterte’s election, but next year it is likely that the Philippines will appear as Exhibit A.

The Right to Protest

August 28, 2016

The Right to Protest: that’s Merdeka

 by Amb (rtd) Dennis Ignatius
 Image result for Merdeka Malaysia

While Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Malaysia is wonderful but the Leadership is incompetent, dishonest. greedy, irresponsible and incorrigibly corrupt

When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty ~ John Basil Barnhill

Ever since Bersih (now more than just a movement for clean and fair elections) announced its intention to organize a rally to protest the embezzlement and laundering of billions of ringgit of public funds linked to the 1MDB scandal, the government appears to be going out of its way to hinder it. The TangkapMO1 rally is being similarly chastised.

For all the wrong reasons

A whole array of reasons have been conjured up to explain why these demonstrations should not be allowed – its against the national interest, it’s disruptive, it will harm the economy, it could lead to violence, it leaves a mess, etc.

This being Malaysia, it won’t be long before religious officials also get in on the act with edicts, injunctions and warnings against joining such demonstrations on pain of losing one’s soul.

In the meantime, one minister, in urging would-be demonstrators to respect DBKL (City Hall), argued that DBKL is the “owner” of Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and that it has “exclusive rights” to it.

This is part of the problem with politicians who remain in office for too long; they think that everything belongs to them, that only they have exclusive rights to public property.

The Minister should know that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the nation and all citizens have a right to access it. DBKL’s task is simply to manage it for and on behalf of the people. If the people wish to peacefully gather there, DBKL should facilitate it.

Our Prime Minister, for his part, insists that protest and demonstrations are “not the Malaysian way.” Obviously, he has forgotten that the party he now leads was itself born out of a protest movement ( against the Malayan Union). He also asked the electorate to bring their grievances to him, promising that he would listen and learn from them; if only he had, citizens would not need to demonstrate (this a big lie, promises, promises, empty promises–DM).

And then there are the phony democrats who pretend to uphold the rights of the people by suggesting alternative venues for demonstrations and even offering to pay for the them. People are not so foolish to see such moves as anything but an orchestrated ploy to marginalize the demonstrators by pushing them to more discreet locations.

Of course, whenever there is talk about demonstrations the bully boys in red – that rent-a-band of rowdies with nothing better to do than to hurl insults, act provocatively and play racist games – invariably spring into action. By insisting on the right to hold counter-demonstrations at the same time and at the same place, they provide the police with the perfect excuse to worry about public order.

Few doubt, though, that they are anything more that bullies allied to people in high places with a licence to disrupt, sow fear and scare off concerned citizens who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest.

Surprisingly, even Suhakam, once seen as a small ray of light in an otherwise dark human rights environment, now appears to be taking the government line that such demonstrations are counterproductive. Its new chief dismissed protestors as little more than unwashed and unprincipled agitators who accomplish little at great inconvenience to the rest of society.

He also went on to draw parallels with the Arab Spring, now a by-word for chaos and instability, implying that the same thing could happen here if we are not careful.

Those who use the Arab Spring to discredit all popular protests often tend to ignore the real lessons from those seminal events.

Rather than blaming autocratic governments that oppressed the people for decades, they blame the victims of oppression, corruption and tyranny for rising up to protest. The real lesson from the Arab Spring, which autocratic governments should take to heart, is the one that John F Kennedy warned about decades earlier – that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

The run around

Given the government’s views, it comes as no surprise that the authorities are trying to give the organizers of upcoming demonstrations the run around. The Inspector-General of Police says the police have no objections provided City Hall agrees. City Hall, of course, will find every excuse not to agree.

It is clear that neither of these agencies are independent of political influence. Their actions suggest that their primary objective is to find administrative reasons to stymie demonstrations at Dataran Merdeka.

This kind of thinking was also evident in the government’s decision to institute a claim for damages against the organizers of the 2012 Bersih 3 rally. They were hoping to make it too prohibitive financially for demonstrators to use the square. Kudos to the courts for rejecting it.

The government must also not hide behind the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act. When it was introduced in 2012, the prime minister dismissed the concerns of human rights groups and insisted that it was a democratic measure designed “to give room for the people to express themselves.” Contrary to his assurances, it has been used to harass, intimidate and prosecute demonstrators. It might as well be renamed the ‘prohibition of assembly act.’

The government must do the right thing

Clearly, while Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Street demonstrations may or may not be the best way to press for change but it is the citizens who must make that call. In any case, it is one of the few options left to concerned citizens in our nation today to express their unhappiness over the direction the nation is taking.

The government needs to understand that the protestors are not the enemy. They are not looking for trouble, not looking to violently overthrow the government. They too love their country, value peace and stability. In insisting on the right to gather at Dataran Merdeka to make their views known, they are acting responsibly and in accordance with their rights under the constitution.

If there are security concerns, our police should be on hand – to protect the protestors rather than attack them. If City Hall is concerned about orderliness and cleanliness, it should work with the organizers to make this the cleanest, most orderly, most organized demonstration thus far.

The government can war against its own citizens or let them roar. They can try to silence the voices of dissent or hear the cries for justice, democracy and good governance.

Its not the people who are on trial here; it is the government!

Dennis Ignatius is a former Malaysian Ambassador.


Scorpene Subs here and there in murky military deals

August 27, 2016

Scorpene Subs here and there in murky military deals

by John Berthelsen

The massive leak of secret documents on Scorpene military submarines purchased by Australia and India recently from French shipbuilder DCNS, possibly by a competitor, once again calls up the murky world of military procurement and the enormous bribes that are often paid.

Nobody knows who leaked the documents, which give detailed technical information about the combat capability of the Scorpene vessels, which are currently in use in Malaysia, Chile, Pakistan and other countries that were the focus of massive scandals.

Some defense analysts are conjecturing that the hacking was at the hands of one of DCNS’s rivals. According to news reports in international publications, such sensitive information in the wrong hands would have huge ramifications for national security in at least four countries that have purchased the submarines.

India signed a US$3.43 billion contract for six of the vessels in 2005, to be built in conjunction with an Indian government-owned Mumbai shipbuilder. Brazil is due to deploy the vessels in 2018. Australia earlier this year signed a contract with DCNS for A$50 billion to build an entire new submarine fleet, picking the French defense giant over Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG and a Japanese consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Image result for Scorpene and suicides

India has ordered six Scorpene-class submarines in a deal worth $3 billion. The first of the submarines built at the Mazagon Docks in Mumbai began sea trials in May.–Hindustan Times

DCNS is hardly a stranger to such shenanigans. In January, two officials of Thales, a DCNS subsidiary, were indicted in France on charges of bribing Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The case awaits prosecution.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad and Scorpene deal

The C-4ed Mongolian Model, Altantuya–Not Forgotten

According to documents made available to Asia Sentinel in 2013, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and then-French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe were both aware of the situation, in which €114.96 million (US$129.8 million at current exchange rates) was steered through a private company whose principal officers were Abdul Razak Baginda, then Najib’s best friend, and Razak Baginda’s wife, into the coffers of the United Malays National Organization in violation of the OECD Convention on Bribery.

Other documents made public by Asia Sentinel show that at least €36 million flowed from the DCNS subsidiary to Terasasi Hong Kong Ltd., whose principal officers were listed as Razak Baginda and his father. Najib was Defense Minister from 1991 through the time when the submarines were delivered in 2002. Terasasi only existed as a name on the wall of a Wanchai district accounting firm in Hong Kong.

Questions also have arisen over the purchase of submarines from DCNS in Chile, where “gifts” were made to the former security chief of onetime Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet for the sale of two submarines.  India’s defense procurement officials have been notorious for taking bribes, although no charges have arisen over the current sale.

Policemen Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar, found guilty of her murder, arrive at court  in 2009

The  Malaysian Policemen convicted of the brutal murder of a Mongolian Model, one languishing in jail in Australia

In all, at least 16 suicides or other questionable deaths have been linked to DCNS’s campaign to sell submarines across the world. Perhaps the most spectacular – and questionable – was that of Thierry Imbot, who was said to have committed suicide in 2000 by falling or throwing himself down a stairwell at his Paris flat.

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Imbot was the head of French intelligence in Taiwan at the time six French frigates built by what was then Thompson Thales, a DCN subsidiary, were sold to Taiwan, a US$3 billion (in 1991 dollars) sale that generated “commissions” of US$550 million, or nearly 20 percent. Imbot’s father said his son’s body landed too far from the building to have been a suicide or to have fallen, and that Imbot had spoken of massive graft surrounding the case.

At least five other people connected with the Taiwan case died under suspicious circumstances, including a Taiwan naval captain, Yin Ching-feng, who was found floating off the country’s coast. Although it was first claimed that Yin had also committed suicide, his family hired a pathologist who said he had been beaten to death and dumped. His nephew, who was also pursuing the case, also died under suspicious circumstances, as did a former Taiwan-based Thomson employee named Jacques Morrison who also fell to his death from a high window after telling friends he feared for his life because he was the last witness to talks over the contract.

French judges have been investigating corruption allegations arising from the Taiwan contract over a number of years but have made no arrests, notably because documents are protected by defense secrecy laws, which the government refuses to lift. Nonetheless, it is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.

Also, in what has come to be known as “L’Affaire Karachi,” 11 French engineers employed by DCN, were blown up in a bus bombing in 2002 which was first thought to have been perpetrated by Islamic militants. The 11 were in Karachi to work on three Agosta 90 B submarines that the Pakistani military had bought in 1994, with payment to be spread over a decade. News reports said commissions were promised to middlemen including Pakistani and Saudi Arabian nationals. Agosta is a subsidiary of DCN.

Two French magistrates, Marc Trevidic and Yves Jannier, who were looking into the case on behalf of the victims, said kickbacks ended up in the campaign funds of Edouard Balladur, then the French prime minister and a rival of Jacques Chirac in the 1995 presidential election. Nicolas Sarkozy was Balladur’s campaign manager as well as budget minister when the contract for the subs was signed.

Although Sarcozy and Balladur have both denied any wrongdoing, a top-secret memo turned up in October 2008 from DCN, copies of which were shown on French television. The memo reportedly said France had stopped paying the bribes after Chirac won the 1995 elections despite requests by Pakistani officials for several years afterwards. Eventually, according to the story, the Pakistanis lost patience and orchestrated the bus attack on the Agosta engineers in retaliation. It is widely believed that at least some of the alleged kickbacks were used as political campaign funds in the French 1995 elections.


Malaysia: Financial Scandals and Foreign Affairs

August 26, 2016

Malaysia: Financial Scandals and Foreign Affairs–Wake Up, Australia

by Amrita Malhi

If Malaysia’s political impasse breaks, the impact may be global.


Conventional wisdom says he will survive, but it is often wrong 

“I myself have never wanted foreign interference in our domestic affairs,” former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad declared in late June in his Putrajaya office. “But domestic means of redress have been closed.”

Since I spoke to him then there’s been much debate between Malaysia analysts on whether current PM Najib Razak’s position is safe, and how much longer he can hold on before the cluster of problems now assembled around him ends his political career. Today, the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs hosts the 2016 Malaysia Update largely focused on this debate.

This is an important question, not only for Malaysia but for Australia. Analysts in Asia continue to argue that Najib is unassailable, based on their analysis of formal UMNO structures and the Malaysian bureaucracy. Mahathir largely concurs in his assessment of Najib’s domestic prospects, saying “the A-G [Attorney-General] will not take up the case against him in the court.

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Apandi–The Crony Ali

“The A-G simply brushes aside all reports, just like 1MDB,” the state development fund that the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) is now investigating under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. “So he will never be proven guilty because the courts are under his control,” Mahathir adds.

Nevertheless, DoJ documents have named Najib’s step-son Riza Aziz, financier Low Taek Jho (or Jho Low), his associate Eric Tan, along with two government officials in Abu Dhabi. The DoJ believes that USD $3.5 billion was siphoned out of the fund, of which it claims that $1 billion was laundered through the purchase of US-based assets or “dissipated” through lavish lifestyle expenses.

The DoJ announcement makes clear that the international reach of the Najib saga—now creating many problems for Malaysia’s trading partners—makes external jurisdictions the key arena in which Najib’s opponents are now moving to depose him. Yet precisely because the networks, relationships and Machiavellian stand-offs now operating around Najib are too numerous and diffuse, there remains no telling how long he will last, or, importantly, what change will follow if sufficient forces combine to push him.

The problem is nevertheless now affecting elites at the highest level in the United States, where the scandal has reached Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Leonardo Dicaprio, star of Wolf of Wall Street and potential beneficiary of 1MDB funds through Riza’s company Red Granite Productions, has had to drop out of hosting a Hollywood fundraiser he planned to hold for her. It has also prompted action in Switzerland and Singapore, which have acted against banks and account holders in their jurisdictions that have links with 1MDB.

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Australia is relatively quiet on 1MDB–Malaysians in Australia should apply pressure on Julie Bishop

In Australia, the government has stayed relatively quiet on 1MDB, although Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has finally noted publicly that the allegations against Najib are “serious”. Mahathir, however, argues that the government is out of step with Australians’ attitudes.

“There is a dichotomy in Australia between the people and the government,” Mahathir said. “On the one hand, the people are aware of what’s happening in Malaysia. They have been here, they know Malaysia, and some of them were Malaysians.”

“But your government,” Mahathir continued, “is not willing to confront the Malaysian government.”

“Australian TV have come out with a lot of things,” Mahathir noted, “but the government is being very clinical.”

Indeed, in open forums this might be genuinely difficult. Key regional relationships are built around Malaysia’s political stability, built around a strong volume of trade, migration and regular elections that have delivered victory to Najib’s government since 1957. Now, the words “Malaysia Solution” have even returned to national public debates around refugees and asylum-seekers, and counter-terrorism and other security relationships also depend on Malaysia as a key regional partner.

Yet Najib’s opponents also have excellent international access, which, in Australia for example, has only gained them more influence since the 2013 election result, in which the opposition parties won the popular vote. For some time now in Australia, not a month has passed without representatives of the PKR, the People’s Justice Party led by Anwar Ibrahim, visiting academics, officials, politicians, community supporters, and their friends and relatives in Australian cities.

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Mahathir too has allies travelling overseas. One of these allies, Ibrahim Ali, who is head of Malay nationalist organisation Perkasa, which Mahathir advises, is in Canberra today for the ANU Malaysia Update. Ibrahim has recently announced he will consider joining the new party that Mahathir is setting up, called Parti Pribumi Bersatu (PBB)—United Natives this time, as distinct from United Malays.

In Malaysia, the PBB is negotiating with the PKR and its allies over how best to collaborate electorally to oust UMNO at the 2018 election. Mahathir’s credentials as a Malay nationalist are a useful support for his pitch to disproportionately powerful rural seats dominated by Malay Muslims, and his social media channels are actively calling on UMNO members to defect to him.

Yet these negotiations are sticky and problematic. Mahathir must avoid being damaged by racially-charged allegations that he is in league with Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese, and he will also need to find a way to address the rift between him and Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned for five years in 1999 on charges of corruption after a lengthy and damaging trial for sodomy.

He will also need to avoid being tainted by allegations that he is working with foreign imperialists, as Najib and his allies have begun a strong nationalist campaign at home, insinuating that Western powers like the United States carry an anti-Muslim agenda that infects the DoJ investigation.

The last thing the Australian government needs is to be confronted with similar allegations. Yet it is now finding itself inexorably drawn in to the contest, due to awkward connections enabled by this nation’s very strong ties with Malaysia.

For example, Stephen Lee, a suspect under investigation for the recent murder of Sarawak PKR leader Bill Kayong has been tracked down in Australia, a logical place to flee given Australia will not extradite people at risk of being executed for capital crimes.

Australia’s Villawood detention centre is also now host to Sirul Azhar Umar, convicted murderer of Altantuya Shaarribuu, a Mongolian interpreter who assisted Malaysian negotiations with French submarine firm DCNS in 2002.

From time to time, speculation emerges in Malaysia as to when he will go public with allegations that Najib and his wife Rosmah ordered the murder, after Altantuya threatened to expose alleged kickbacks between Malaysian officials and the firm in question.

Sirul has already been sentenced to death in Malaysia for his part in the crime, while DCNS has since won a contract to build twelve Barracuda submarines for Australia, a project which has been touted as a victory for job creation in South Australia. DCNS built Malaysia’s Scorpene submarines, whose secret combat capability has been leaked in recent days.

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Meanwhile, Mahathir-linked figure Matthias Chang has filed a class action on behalf of Malaysian citizens over 1MDB funds in the United States, supported by a group of Amanah Party leaders including Husam Musa, who are also seeking support for the suit from Malaysia’s King ( HRH The Sultan of Kedah).

With every such move and countermove the Najib issue grows yet larger, and becomes yet more international in its scope. The political impasse remains in place, yet if and when a decisive shift suddenly results, it may set off a chain of events all over the world, including in Australia.

Calling a result or a timeline at this stage would involve pure speculation, and Australian researchers working on Malaysia would be better off combining forces to support Malaysians’ capacity for civic, political and institutional resilience through whatever change is about to ensue. I have made this case in more detail elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the race to internationalise the issue continues apace. “If anything can be done outside the country,” Mahathir said, “we would welcome that. We are forced to.”

“I don’t care. They can take away my passport. They can watch me as much as they like.”

Amrita Malhi is a Visiting Research Fellow in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs. Her website is

This article is based on an in-depth interview between Amrita Malhi and Dr Mahathir Mohamad and is the final in a four-part series. Read the first, second and third. A shorter version of this article was also published in The Canberra Times.


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