Malaysia: Interesting Times

October 23, 2016

COMMENT: Dean Johns has always been a succinct, lucid and thoughtful writer. I enjoy his articles and am a proud owner of his books. I am also grateful to him (and Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran of Malaysiakini) for allowing me to host his pieces like this one on this blog to reach my discerning readers in 206 countries, near and far.

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Two of a Kind from the same Era

Dean is 70 and I am 77. He is an Australian and I am a Malaysian (not a bigoted UMNO Melayu). Yet intellectually, we  are no different. Born in the same era, we share a passion for Malaysia. We see its potential. Regrettably, we are also witnessing its systemic destruction by a kleptocratic regime under Malay leadership of the worst kind.

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Time is not one our side. Both of us are at our journey’s end. For far too long, indeed very long, he and I have been bystanders. In recent years, our patience has run out.

We have grown very critical of the UMNO-led Malaysian government led by the most corrupt Prime Minister who goes by the name of Najib Razak.  As a result, Dean and I are using our pen to push for change. It is a long shot, no doubt, but change may yet happen when Malaysians finally wake up their amnesia.

We can longer tolerate the nonsense. Dean and I ” find it somewhat interesting to wonder how much longer it will take the majority of Malaysians to finally lose all interest in tolerating, let alone supporting and voting for this accursed regime, and start living in more enlightened times”. We are at our wits’ end, trying to seek an explanation for this indifference (the tidak apa mindset).–Din Merican

Interesting Times

by Dean Johns

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Malaysian Official 1

“May you live in interesting times”, as we all know, is widely alleged to be an ancient Chinese curse in which the word ‘interesting’ is ironically intended to be interpreted in the negative sense of ‘troubled’.

But apparently there is no more evidence for the contention that this saying is actually either ancient or Chinese than there is for its implied proposition that there have ever been times in human history that were other than interesting in the sense of troubled, if not outright tragic, for at least some people, somewhere.

Or, indeed, fundamentally, for all people everywhere, in light of the apparent fact that only we humans, of all living creatures, are uncomfortably aware of the interesting reality that we will all inevitably die.

Thus we struggle to sustain our life-forces for as long and greedily and powerfully as possible, ferociously competing both individually and, paradoxically, as cooperative members of competing families, clans, tribes, races, classes, clubs, ideologies, political parties, systems of government and nation-states.

And perhaps most interestingly of all, a good many if not the majority of us strive to cheat death, or at least to pretend that earthly death is not really the end, with the illusion that some imagined deity or another, and self-identification as one of his/her/its devotees, will somehow ensure us eternal survival.

Given urges, illusions and delusions as confused and conflicted as these, it is as inevitable as death itself that each of us lives in times rendered interesting as in troubling or tragic by everything from or own inner turmoil and interpersonal antipathies to outright civil, sectarian, international and even world wars.

However, this observation leads to the thought that the apocryphal ancient Chinese curse under consideration here should be extended to “may you live in interesting times… and places”.

Because it strikes me, as the end of my life grows more imminent, that though I have most certainly survived through some horrifically interesting times, I have been fortunate to experience most of them from a quite uninteresting and thus relatively safe distance.

In other words, I have been more of a spectator than a participant in most of the most interesting times I have lived through, and so have luckily lived long enough to see some times and places turn from extremely negatively to very positively interesting.

For example, I was born into one of the most tragically interesting of relatively recent times, the 1939-45 Second World War, but as an infant I was both blithely ignorant of this horrific event, and, then located as I was in Melbourne, Australia, about as far from its ravages as it was possible to be.

Similarly, I was too young as well as too far away to participate, as many of my fellow Australian citizens were sadly fated to do, in the subsequent Korean War and Malayan Emergency; too married and too distant in Sydney to be caught-up in the woeful war in Vietnam; and too old as well as far-distant to be involved in more recent armed conflicts on such far-flung battlegrounds as East Timor, the Gulf, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Bad-interesting becoming good-interesting

I have been fortunate, too, to be able to witness if not directly experience the fact that many of the places in which life has formerly seemed, and indeed actually been, about as bad-interesting as can be, have surprisingly become as good-interesting as they could possibly get.

In the 70 years or so of my lifetime, for instance, nations like Germany and Japan have transformed themselves from insufferably and fatally interesting examples of the evils of Fascism into positively fascinating case-studies in peaceful prosperity.

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A Much Admired POTUS

Somewhat similarly, the former USSR, which US President Ronald Reagan rightly dubbed ‘The Evil Empire’, long ago collapsed under the weight of its own economic ineptitude, thus freeing most of its so-called ‘satellites’ in Eastern Europe from its tentacles.

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Donald Trump’s Soulmate

Though unfortunately Russia itself remains interesting in the alleged ancient Chinese accursed sense, thanks to its President Vladimir Putin’s apparent determination to keep the place more interesting for his oligarch and other criminal cronies, as well as for criminal client-states like al-Assad’s all-too-interesting Syria, than for Russia’s ordinary citizens.

And appropriately enough, as the (mis)attributed source of the ancient “may you live in interesting times” curse, China remains as negatively interesting as ever, thanks to its fake designation as a ‘people’s’ republic despite the fact that it remains all-too-obviously a dictatorship of a corrupt capitalist party that still, interestingly, claims to be communist.

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I hope Malaysia can be spared of this menace

Meanwhile, as long as this column is for Malaysiakini and thus must at least mention Malaysia, it has to be said that life continues to be interesting in the same old, same old dreary way as it has been for five centuries or so under a series of colonisers including the Portuguese, Dutch, British, Japanese, then British again and now the self-styled putras of UMNO-BN.

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I miss Saloma and P. Ramlee–Din Merican

Interesting, in other words, only by virtue of the fact that the powers-that-be have so long and so comprehensively stacked the nation’s institutions in their favour as to get away with stealing not just the principal of the people’s cash and publicly-owned resources, but the interest into the bargain.

Though I have to confess I also find it somewhat interesting to wonder how much longer it will take the majority of Malaysians to finally lose all interest in tolerating, let alone supporting and voting for this accursed regime, and start living in more enlightened times.

Malaysia in the dumps

October 22, 2016

Malaysia in the dumps on account of Najib’s racist politics and bad economics

by Greg Lopez

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Malaysia has been governed by the same ruling coalition (Barisan Nasional) since independence in 1957. This coalition provided capable leadership to address the four cross-cutting issues that enabled high and sustainable growth. But the Najib Razak administration appears not only to be faltering in managing these challenges but is actively undermining these achievements to remain in power.–Greg Lopez

Malaysia’s leadership troubles could provide a valuable lesson for other middle-income countries on the importance of effective leadership to sustain long term growth. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied allegations of corruption made by The Wall Street Journal. But can a leader and his administration that has been rejected by the electorate drive long term growth?

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In May 2008, the United Nations Commission on Growth and Development issued a report that attempted to distil the strategies and policies that produced sustained high growth in developing countries. It is clear from the report that politics and leadership are key to successful development. In particular, there are four cross-cutting issues that good leadership delivered: promoting national unity; building high quality institutions; choosing innovative and localised policies; and creating political consensus for long-run policy implementation.

Malaysia is among 13 nations (Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand) that the report identified as having sustained growth rates of above 7 per cent for 25 years or more. These 13 countries had five strikingly similar characteristics: they fully exploited global economic opportunities; they maintained macroeconomic stability; they mustered high rates of savings and investment; they let markets allocate resources; and they had committed, credible, capable governments.

Malaysia has been governed by the same ruling coalition since independence in 1957. This coalition provided capable leadership to address the four cross-cutting issues that enabled high and sustainable growth. But the Najib Razak administration appears not only to be faltering in managing these challenges but is actively undermining these achievements to remain in power.

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The Wharton educated Playboy

At the 13th Malaysian general elections, the Barisan Nasional coalition only managed to secure 47.4 per cent of the popular vote while the opposition coalition secured 50.9 per cent. This is the first time that the ruling coalition has lost the support of the majority of Malaysians. Najib took a presidential approach to the election and committed to spending an estimated US$17.6 billion of targeted development pledges and 1 Malaysia Programs. So it was a shock when the majority of Malaysians opted for a ragtag coalition that included an Islamist party and a socialist party led by a discredited leader.

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Malaysia’s Rosie Mansor, not Rosie O’donnell

Malaysia’s Najib’s popularity had been on a downward trend, from a high of 72 per cent in May 2010 to below 50 per cent in January 2015. But the series of damaging allegations has not only damaged his reputation irrevocably, it has also cemented a negative perception of the government. The majority of Malaysians no longer look favourably upon their government and its institutions. The most recent survey — polled in October 2015 after Najib admitted receiving a US$700 million ‘donation’ into his private bank account — found that 4 out 5 Malaysians were unhappy with the current government.

More damaging perhaps is the fact that only 31 per cent of Malays — the bedrock of support for the United Malays’ National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition — were happy with the government’s current performance. The fall among Malays is drastic. It stood at 52 per cent in January 2015 and had never gone below 50 per cent since the independent pollster Merdeka Centre began tracking this data in February 2012. More Malaysians are also of the opinion that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Significantly, this change in sentiment began in the beginning of 2014, several months after the 13th general elections.

In response, Najib has taken several measures to protect his leadership position. These measures have further undermined Malaysia’s national unity, institutions and policy process.

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Najib and Hadi–Malaysia’s Political Laurel and Hardy

Despite the rhetoric of being the leader of all Malaysians, Najib has actively pursued a ‘Malay and Islamic’ supremacy strategy. And he has cosied up with UMNO’s mortal enemy, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. The rise of fundamentalist Islam — as in the rest of the world — is a threat in Malaysia. But Najib has sought to bolster his credentials by appealing to conservative Muslims. This has empowered and emboldened the conservative Islamic elements within Malaysia.

Policy making and implementation have been insulated from public scrutiny since the government of long-serving former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed. But under Najib it has even been insulated from scrutiny by the cabinet, let alone the parliament. All major decisions are made by the prime minister and implemented through a hybrid organisation within the Prime Minister’s Department.

Despite Najib’s active pursuit of policies that are detrimental to Malaysian foundations, his economic track record appears to be sound. Malaysia could become a high income country by 2020. Yet Malaysians remain unimpressed by Najib Razak.

Institutions are not built in a day and the impact of Najib’s measures on Malaysia’s longer term growth prospects remain to be seen. For now, other countries caught in the middle-income trap should closely observe the developments in Malaysia.

Greg Lopez is a lecturer with Murdoch University Executive Education Centre, Western Australia. His research interests are in the interaction between states, societies and markets in the ASEAN region.


Nazir Razak and Promoters of National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive

October 19, 2016

Message for Nazir Razak and Promoters of  National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive

by Dr. Kua Kia Soong

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My Advice to Nazir Razak and G-25–Remove this Toxicity First–Din Merican

…as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in UMNO will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light.

Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with UMNO Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.–Dr Kua Kia Soong

I understand the sentiments of “moderates” who are rightly alarmed at the increasing racism, religious bigotry and corruption in Malaysia and are proposing the establishment of a new ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC2) like the one set up after May 13, 1969. But are they harbouring naïve views about how an NCC type approach can meaningfully address such concerns?

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The presupposition behind those who call for unity and good sense and a rational way ahead for the nation is that “racial” discord in our society and the present slide into a banana republic can be solved through a council of eminent persons who will plot the path forward for the nation. But was that what was actually achieved by the NCC after the May 13 riots in 1969?

Who were behind the May 13 incident?

The official version of Malaysian history places the cause of May 13 on an inevitable clash between the “races” because of intractable inequalities between the ethnic communities. ‘Tanda Putera’, the official film goes even further by imputing blame on “provocation of the Malays” by the Opposition after the 1969 general election.

What did the NCC actually achieve?

The National Consultative Council was headed by Tun Abdul Razak who became the new Prime Minister after Tunku stepped down. It formulated the Rukun Negara that was intended to create harmony and unity among the various races in Malaysia. Although the Rukun Negara has often been touted as the panacea for our current problems in the country, I demur on two grounds: First, this so-called “national philosophy” was crafted and promulgated under a state of emergency and not passed through the democratic processes afforded by the Federal Parliament; second, the ‘eminent persons’ responsible for it were not inclusive enough for they left out groups such as our indigenous peoples and Buddhists among others when they insisted on “belief in God” as one of the pillars of this state ideology.

The NEP was the game changer

Thereafter, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971. The NEP was aimed at “creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through reducing the economic gap between the Malays and Bumiputera on the one hand, and the non-Malays on the other”. It was a social re-engineering action programme formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) formed in the aftermath of May 13, 1969 riots. This policy was intended to be implemented for a period of 20 years but it has since, under different guises, become a Never Ending Policy.

It is important to note that the New Economic Policy that has transformed Malaysian society and also institutionalised racial discrimination all these years was the prerogative of the National Operation Council (NOC) and not the NCC. The NOC was the preserve of the Minister of Home Affairs, the leaders of UMNO, MCA & MIC, Chief of Armed Forces Staff and Inspector-General of Police. The council of eminent persons in the NCC only dealt with the formulation of the Rukun Negara. The National Cultural Policy was announced also in 1971 after a conference at which a token number of non-Malay academics were invited.

So let us be clear about what the NCC actually achieved after May 13. The NCC certainly failed to prevent the numerous amendments to the Constitution which have entrenched inequality since 1971, the most serious of which has been Amendment 8A to Article 153 in 1971, allowing more racial discrimination through the “quota system”. Nor did it prevent the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 that made provisions for the recognition of Islamic shariah courts/laws – since then, the Judiciary has tended to defer its powers to the shariah courts whenever there are disputes in conversion cases.

A fine mess you’ve got us into

So how did we end up in the mess we find ourselves in at present that is troubling the “moderates” and corporate players?

First, we have to thank Dr Mahathir Mohamad for privatising most of our state assets when he came to office in 1981 right up to 2003. These were assets that we all owned that were sold for a song to private capitalists. By 1989, the contribution of the private sector to economic growth exceeded that of the public sector and Mahathir’s mission to transfer state capital to private Malay capitalist hands was well on target. During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, three main UMNO officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after Umno was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, crafty Daim Zainuddin who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term and thirdly, Anwar Ibrahim who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

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During the financial crisis of 1997, the state provided support for favoured firms linked to “Bumiputera capitalists” after the imposition of capital controls, such as reflationary measures that included cutting interest rates and making credit more readily available to these fledgling firms. Banks were also encouraged to lend more, and to bail out troubled firms – including that of Mahathir’s son – and a new expansionary budget was introduced in October 1998.

Apart from his historic creation of Malay private capital through privatisation of state assets and his grandiose projects, Mahathir left a racist legacy that was the result of his populist intention to win over the Bumiputera votes. The racial discrimination implicit in the NEP was continued without any public debate; poverty was racialised as mainly a Bumiputera phenomenon; “Bumiputeras only” institutions were expanded, and racial discrimination was extended to discounts and quotas for housing, access to investment funds, loans and scholarships. This racist legacy included a chauvinistic National Cultural Policy that tried to pander to Malay-centrism with dire consequences for ethnic relations, especially in 1987.

Mahathir’s term in office was marked by sensational financial scandals that were not unexpected of an authoritarian populist who did not pay much heed to accountability and good governance. No one knows about all these scandals better than the leader of the Opposition who must declare if Mahathir can get away with impunity.

Mahathir’s racist paradigm was translated across the board to incorporate political, economic, educational, social and cultural policies and he left a racist legacy that has today been latched upon by a far-right Malay supremacist group of which he is the patron. This Malay-centric ideology they purvey has become increasingly infused with extreme Islamic populism, leaving even “moderate” Malays worried for the future.

Najib has merely extended Mahathir’s methods of rule

At the 13th general election (GE13) held on May 5, 2013, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, preserving its majority, despite the fact that it only received 47.38 per cent of the popular vote against 50.87 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Soon after GE13, UMNO decided to punish the non-Malays for their support of the opposition PR by giving only 19 per cent of places in public universities to Chinese students and 4 per cent to Indian students even though the two ethnic groups together make up about 30 per cent of the student population. Mahathir castigated Prime Minister Najib Razak for wasting election funds on Chinese voters.

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The GE13 results signalled a return to Mahathir’s strident racial politics and a U-turn on Najib’s pre-election attempt to reach out to the other races through his slogan “1Malaysia”. As noted above, Umno’s erstwhile Malay chauvinist credentials have since been farmed out to Malay far-right organisations like Perkasa and other groups. The latter will seek to prolong pro-Malay discriminatory policies and Najib’s pre-election attempts to cut back on ethnic Malay privileges in the NEP now seem politically futile.

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff! To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

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The oversized bureaucracy and the Bumiputera-ist populism have, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41 per cent of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption. The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Thus, instead of focussing on remedying the particular needs of the various poor classes in Malaysian society, the state has chosen to blame the plight of the Malay peasantry on “Chinese dominance of the economy”. At the same time, the state’s populist Bumiputera policy is intended to win over the allegiance of the whole Malay community while mainly benefiting the wealthier strata most of all.

The NEP and the state’s authoritarian populism

The state has subverted the democratic process through the proscription of so-called “sensitive” issues that include questioning the special position of the Malays, the national language and the rulers’ privileges. These proscriptions have been implemented through the use of detention without trial laws as well as the Sedition Act. Thus, the demands of workers and peasants, educational, religious and cultural organisations, indigenous peoples and regional minorities have been summarily dealt with through the cynical use of such repressive laws.

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The NEP has served to institutionalise racial discrimination and its continuation is crucial to the authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state. This is blatantly practiced in the armed and civil services, education and economic sectors. Communalism, which is an intrinsic part of the state’s ideology, continues to produce tension in Malaysian society today and even more so after the challenge to the status quo at the 2008 general election. Even while Malaysia has been experiencing healthy economic growth rates since the seventies, the Malaysian state has had to rely on continued repression and communalist policies to divide the people.

The movement for genuine reforms

To conclude, as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in Umno will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light. Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with Umno Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.

The ethnic Indian working class and the indigenous peoples in both East and West Malaysia are the poorest communities in Malaysia; the former and the Orang Asli cannot rely on “Bumiputera” privileges, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same amount of state largesse as the Malays in West Malaysia even though they are categorised as Bumiputeras.

So, if there is going to be an NCC2, will the new council of “eminent persons” be prepared to face this reality and join the movement for genuine reforms in order to progress into the future. The road toward uniting the Malaysian peoples is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The state’s ideological view of “national unity” through one language and one culture and the dissolution of Chinese and Tamil schools are intended to fuel Malay chauvinism. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the people has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of workers and farmers of all communities and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

Thus, the task for all Malaysians is to build a solidarity movement for democracy, fully cognisant of the need to improve the livelihood of the masses and build a society that is progressive, inclusive and truly equal.

Kua Kia Soong is the advisor of Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia).

Reputation : A Rare Gem

October 17, 2016

Reputation: A Rare Gem

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What kind of Reputation does Prime Minister Najib Razak have ?

Over the last few years you, my friends, and I have been talking about the credibility, stature, integrity, honesty  and character of our  Prime Minister, his ministers and politicians on both sides of the political divide.

Our conclusion is that character matters. But  what we may have not been talking directly about is reputation, that rare gem , which is sadly lacking in our men and women (included in the name of gender equality) who lead Malaysia today. We are too polite to admit openly that Malaysia has a bad reputation because the quality of our leaders sucks.

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Look at what is happening in the United States. In this election cycle, American voters too are confronted with a difficult choice of the next POTUS between Hillary R. Clinton and Donald J. Trump. The issue before them is who can they trust. Who between Hillary and Donald has the character and reputation to succeed  the soon to be Emeritus President Barack H. Obama?

At this time of writing, Hillary is leading Donald in the polls by a small percentage point (within the margin of error). A celebrity is not what they want, but aren’t both celebrities?The Americans  rather put their trust in God.

In the course of my reading, I came across an article in A.C. Grayling’s  book, The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century (London; Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005 ) pp 73-73, titled Reputation.  I thought I should share it with you.–Din Merican


by A.C. Grayling

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Oscar Kokoschka, when aged eighty, said, “If you last, you will see your reputation die at least three times”. If true, this is a modern phenomenon; for it was once the case that losing  a reputation was a permanent condition, and not just for women. Reputation was thought to be the best part of personhood: one’s body might die, but the regard in which one stands in others’eyes survives  that contingency, and matters more. So says Cassio in Shakespeare’s Othello: ‘O! I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial’.

As Cassio’s case illustrates, reputations are often undeservedly lost, just as they can be unmeritedly acquired. The occurrence of either of course tells us little about their owners and more about the gullibility or malice of those who bestow them in the first place. Moreover, time has a peculiar effect on reputations,often enhancing them, because history is a magnifying glass, making the generals, philosophers, poets and courtesans of bygone ages seem braver,cleverer, more lyrical or more beautiful than any contemporary practitioner of their various arts can be.

Is reputation merely a measure of popular jidgement? That would make it much  like mere celebrity. In the contemporary world, a pair if mutually serving voracious appetites, in the form of television’s need for matter to broadcast and the public’s  need for gossip-rich narratives, has inflated the phenomenon of celebrity to gargantuan proportions. A whole industry depends on it. Soap-opera stars become both fictional and real-life objects of interest. Magazines come into existence to feed parasitically upon the television series and private lives of the stars involved. Stars’ private lives become as convoluted and dramatic as the soap-opera plots they perform, at least partly because of the inquisitiveness and invasiveness that their fame invites from a press eager to satisfy the punters. It is a self-induced , self-gorging, self-destructive enterprise, a monster eating its own entrails–in public.

But with few exceptions this kind of fame, in which a star is a transitory cipher for public attention rather than a real person, is the same as reputation. Reputation is larger  thing, and it differs from mere celebrity in a vital respect. It takes either much doing or many doings to be won, though only one thing to be lost; whereas celebrity can be acquired in an instant, and can remain despite– even indeed because of–the loss of what  merit, if anything did.

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What reputations are worth having? Not bad one, of course. Would one wish to be reputed a great lover, and remembered as clever, funny or brave? Would one best like to live in the hearts of people who, with love, regret one’s absence? Would one like to have found or done something that helps others live better, and who recall the fact with gratitude? The choice is one’s own; for though the final judge of reputations is time, the chief maker of them  is oneself.

Violence is in UMNO’s DNA–An Addiction to May 13

October 14, 2016

Violence is in UMNO’s DNA–An Addiction to May 13

by  Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” 

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Foundation’

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Red Shirt Commander-in-Chief

I have no idea if Sungai Besar UMNO chief Jamal Md Yunos made the alleged seditious Facebook post warning of a repeat May 13 on November 19 but I could care less if he did. Part of my apathy is because all this fall under the free speech which I support but more importantly, I see no reason to get upset or make police reports because (1) establishment politicians have issued similar warnings, and (2) it is not as if the police are going to investigate this latest incitement by an UMNO political operative.

As for (2), a good example would be when Sabak Bernam district police chief Nor Azmi Isa said there was no reason to investigate the egg pelting of a Bersih supporter because nobody was hurt. Silly me, I thought it was assault but maybe Bukit Aman should send out a memo that the police would only investigate cases were somebody was hurt. By the way, the definition of “hurt” will be defined shortly (forget the Penal Code) after the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) have arrested all those who take to Twitter and Facebook and “hurt” the feelings of those the state deemed worthy of protection.

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The Ikan Bakar Man

After all, the leader of the red shirts has publicly stated that more aggressive responses would be meted out to Bersih, not to mention threats of vehicular manslaughter against the protestors exercising their democratic rights. Either Jamal has watched far too many ‘Fast and Furious’ movies – one is excessively many except if the person is a Jason Statham fan, then any ‘Furious’ movie with him in it is worth a watch – or he does not understand physics.

However, threatening Malaysians with violence, especially racial violence associated with May 13, is what UMNO does best. Anyone interested in a brief summary with links to pro-opposition and pro-establishment narratives should refer to Greg Lopez excellent summary in the ‘New Mandala’. I quote this paragraph of his piece to make a point:

“However, one thing became very clear after May 13. Any attempt to challenge UMNO would be met with the strongest response – legitimately or illegitimately. May 13 established the concept of Malay supremacy through the blood of hundreds if not thousands of Malaysians, especially of Chinese heritage. This led to most non-Malays having no options but to accept UMNO hegemony (ketuanan Melayu/Malay supremacy) or leave Malaysia. Many choose to migrate – a trend which has continued as a result of systematic discrimination against the non-Malays.”

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The Buffoon UMNO Information Chief

Six years ago, Penang opposition leader Azhar Ibrahim in a spat with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng not only referenced May 13 but also “saying UMNO has three million members, that he could call in the Malay ‘Tiga Line gang’ and asking the army to take over the duties of the police.” Of course, calling in outsourced thugs to secure political victory or usurp political power is a threat many in UMNO have no problem making.

Indeed, in my piece ‘In defence of our realm’, I took an exception to the police report filed by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) against Perak opposition leader Nizar Jamaluddin because he claimed that Prime Minister Najib Razak was having secret backroom talks with the security apparatus of this country.

The issue was this: “In 2010, Azhar Ibrahim was suspended for six months from the Penang state assembly for making ‘references to the May 13 incident and inviting the Armed Forces to take over the government’, not to mention his threat that Malay triad organisation ‘Tiga Line’ would be called in to teach the state government a lesson.”

“So, why no report against the UMNO assemblyperson? UMNO distanced itself from these inflammatory remarks, but my question is, why didn’t MAF chief General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin lodge a police report alleging sedition against UMNO’s Azhar?”

Political violence is new norm

Meanwhile, with UMNO potentates distancing themselves from the red shirts, the idea that political violence is the new norm is taking root in a political landscape dominated by an incompetent opposition and a kleptocratic regime riddled with internal schisms. And while a few members of UMNO make the appropriate noises about rejecting political violence, the reality is that because of the way UMNO is run, the line between being a UMNO member and outsourced thug is non-existent.

Remember what UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said about the establishment – “(Bagaimanapun) jangan memandang rendah kepada kerajaan kerana mereka ada kuasa, ada televisyen, radio, duit dan media. Mereka juga ada alat-alat risikan dan sebagainya. Media dia lebih tahu pada kita. Dia tahu kita belum tahu lagi. Sama ada dengan kekuasaan itu, parti yang berkuasa akan kalah saya tidak tahu.”

So this idea that the criminal underclass and political power – some would argue that there is no difference – within UMNO is not something new except that these days the latter legitimises the former. This is why an organisation like the red shirts have a free reign. They do not answer to anyone except UMNO potentates and they fear no repercussions from the security apparatus because as Razaleigh said, “jangan memandang rendah kepada kerajaan kerana mereka ada kuasa”

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The UMNO Mafia(on extreme left IGP Khalid Ashburn)

And how does the establishment shape the narrative? As recent as three years ago, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed friendship with a so-called secret society like Tiga Line even though it was outlawed by his own Home Ministry earlier in the year.

He said, “The 6,171 Malays, they are not real thugs (samseng), they were Pekida members and were part of the Tiga Line group, Gang 30, Gang 7 – these are festivities (kenduri-kendara) gangsters,” Furthermore he added, “I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done.”

And what exactly should these groups be doing? I would argue that if three years ago you made the claim that Tiga Line was disrupting Bersih activities, you would get UMNO members saying that these thugs are only doing what needs to be done.

Just to add a bit of nuance to this idea of political violence. Some folks would disagree with me for making this link but since I think it is a legitimate point to make, here goes, the current Deputy Prime Minster also made these statements with regards to the ‘shoot first’ policy of the PDRM:

“He was also reported to have advocated a ‘shoot first’ policy for the police at the same event, in dealing with suspected gang members in the wake of a violent crime spree that has resulted in, according to him, Malays making up the majority of the victims.

“He reportedly said there was nothing wrong with arresting the over 40,000 known gangsters in the country, half of whom are Indians.

“‘What is the situation of robbery victims, murder victims during shootings? Most of them are our Malays. Most of them are our race,’ he was quoted as saying.

“‘I think the best way is that we no longer compromise with them. There is no need to give them any more warning. If (we) get the evidence, (we) shoot first.’”

Therefore, while certain UMNO members are distancing themselves from the red shirts, I would argue that separating the red shirt DNA from UMNO is impossible. UMNO does not speak softly and carry a big stick. UMNO is the big stick.

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