UMNO: Three Down but more problems ahead for Party President


February 6, 2016

UMNO: Three Down but more problems ahead for Party President

by Scott Ng

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

muhyiddin-shafie-mukhriz

And so Mukhriz Mahathir, a son of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s greatest enemy, is no longer in the hallowed halls. All is well in the UMNO camp once again. But is that so?

As perfect as the situation may seem for Najib and his supporters, the reality is that Mukhriz’s ouster has only deepened the divide between UMNO’s leadership and its grassroots.

Mukhriz’s replacement, Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah, is a proven weakness. Kedah would still be a Pakatan-held state if not for Mukhriz and the bigwigs who campaigned for him in the last general election. And while he may have preferred spending time in the big city to staying put in largely rural Kedah, he nonetheless ran the state credibly.

As a son of Malaysia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, Mukhriz’s pedigree would have been unquestioned in any other period of our recent political history. But these are times when Najib holds unchallenged power.

Mukhriz nonetheless went down swinging. He told the press that the true reason UMNO wanted him gone was that he had the gall to criticise the PM over the 1MDB scandal and the issue of the RM2.6 billion donation. In doing so, he affirmed the belief of thousands of supporters, as well as many other Malaysians, that Najib Razak cares only for Najib Razak, and that there will be hell to pay if any UMNO leader dares to step out of line.

Even the opposition members of the Kedah state assembly went to bat for Mukhriz, with all 15 of them endorsing a statement calling for Najib to step down instead. They said the removal of the Menteri Besar must be done according to the law. Far from merely attempting to drive a wedge between the ruling party and the people, the opposition here voiced out what many Kedahans have been saying — if there really is a crisis of confidence, put it to a vote and show the people that Mukhriz really has lost the support of the state assembly.

Maybe this Bomoh can save UMNO

These shenanigans and ground shifts no longer confuse the people or make them fearful. They make them angry instead, and UMNO is deluding itself if it thinks that the voices that swelled in song at Stadium Darul Aman belonged only to Mukhriz’s political camp. The truth is that the rakyat in Kedah and elsewhere are fed up with the actions of the ruling party and they are no longer content to be silent about it. This certainly is not something any ruling party would want as it prepares for a general election.

UMNO must know that it may have gambled Kedah away unless it has a strikingly brilliant plan for regaining the trust of voters before GE14. But appearances thus far indicate that the party is playing a dangerous game of touch and go. If the clashes currently happening between Mukhriz’s supporters and detractors are any indication, it is likely that the Kedah situation is far from over.

The nation will be watching closely, and the Prime Minister must choose his next move wisely or bear even more open derision in the face of his efforts to turn public opinion around. Where Kedah goes from here, there too may go the rest of the country. Q.E.D

 

Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal: You Couldn’t Make It Up


February 5, 2016

COMMENT: Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak can use all the power he has at home to muzzle his officials in Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, the Auditor-General, Bank Negara Malaysia and threaten or charge his detractors and critics Din Merican @UCusing the Sedition Act and the Multimedia and Communications Commission.  But there is one thing he should know and that is, he has no influence whatsoever with the Swiss and Singapore authorities.

Switzerland and Singapore are global financial centers with solid reputation for  their commitment to the Rule of Law, integrity and probity, good governance, and professionalism. It is immaterial whether our authorities will cooperate with their regulators, they will proceed with their investigations.–Din Merican

Up & Down Asia

Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal: You Couldn’t Make It Up

While Swiss and Singapore officials turn up the heat, Prime Minister Najib Razak hides his head in the sand.

I don’t know who Najib Razak’s friends are in Saudi Arabia, but I sure want a few.

Who wouldn’t covet a pal or two willing to toss you $700 million as a “gift,” no strings attached? That’s at least the Malaysian prime minister’s story, and he’s sticking to it. Politicians overseas, meanwhile, would sure love to have Najib’s electorate. Since the Wall Street Journal broke news of his good fortune, Najib has displayed a fatalistic willingness to take an entire economy down so he can stay in office. And his party harbors little fear of losing power.

There’s the “Twilight Zone” and there’s the “Malaysia Zone,” and just try discerning the difference. Najib-gate grew even more surreal last week when Malaysia’s attorney general suddenly cleared him of criminal or corruption charges. In a hastily-arranged press conference, Mohamed Apandi Ali said Najib had returned all but $61 million of that “donation” from the Saudi royal family. Somehow, Apandi kept a straight face as he declared the matter closed.

Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, was cleared of any wrongdoing by Malaysia’s attorney general in relation to almost $700 million entering his personal bank account via entities linked to 1MDB, the state fund set up by Mr. Najib in 2009.– Photographer: Goh Seng Chong/Bloomberg

 

But Swiss authorities couldn’t. On Monday, they detailed allegations that a state fund Najib controls may have misappropriated about $4 billion from state companies. Malaysia responded with outrage – outrage the Swiss dared bring transparency into the Malaysia Zone. “By making a public statement, in my opinion, it is not good because it not only strains ties between the two countries, but also creates bias in media reports,” Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamid said and, yes, with a straight face.

Respect, Switzerland. Respect. It’s never easy to be a whistleblower, but that’s especially so when your main industry is helping the rich camouflage wealth. Reputational risk couldn’t stop Bern from shaming a Malaysian government used to pulling the wool over the eyes of its 30 million people. Not all Malaysians, of course, but those keeping Najib’s United Malays National Organisation in business.

Yet Malaysia Inc. went too far in the camouflage department for Swiss officials. Ditto for the U.S. and Singapore. U.S. officials are probing Goldman Sachs’s role as an advisor; Singapore seized a series of accounts amid investigations into money laundering and other alleged offenses related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the fund Najib created in 2009. Ostensibly, 1MDB was set up to spur economic growth. Instead, it’s emblematic of why Malaysia is becoming a smaller blip on investors’ radar screens.

The $700 million scandal is merely a symptom, albeit a gargantuan one, of a more important number: 54. That’s Malaysia’s ranking in Transparency International’s 2015 corruption perceptions index, and it’s down four levels from a year earlier. In 2014, Saudi Arabia trailed Malaysia five places. By 2015, Najib’s supposed benefactor leapfrogged ahead of Malaysia, ranking in the 48th percentile. The perception corruption has worsened on Najib’s watch (a Swiss one, perhaps?) can be found in everything from stock and currency gyrations to foreign-direct-investment trends to divergent political dynamics in Asia.

Indonesia, for example, jumped 19 places on Transparency International’s tables since 2014, even besting the Philippines (another nation cleaning up its act). The difference between Jakarta and Putrajaya? Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s methodical focus on eradicating graft, putting more government functions and services online and recruiting credible deputies is paying off. As Jakarta reduces opacity, Putrajaya is increasingly shrouding itself from the global media, local activists and its people.

THE TIDBITS THAT DO ESCAPE NAJIB’S FIREWALL are of the you-couldn’t-make-this-stuff-up-if-you-tried variety. In December, we learned the Federal Bureau of Investigation is eyeing Najib family assets in connection with Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Wolf of Wall Street” film (a company set up by his stepson produced it). Don’t forget perpetual efforts to imprison opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges from the late 1990s. Hence jokes that CBS’s next crime-scene investigation series should be “CSI: Malaysia.” Or about the irony of a government that can’t find a Boeing 777 having no trouble locating Anwar’s body fluids two decades later.

The controversy surrounding MH370, missing since March 2014, and 1MDB stem from the same problem: a political elite that cares about staying in power, not the people. That charge could be lobbed at the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan or America’s Republicans. But neither has held power continuously for six decades, as UMNO has. When the world looked Malaysia’s way amid the greatest aviation mystery since Amelia Earhart, the government was woefully unprepared for primetime. It should’ve learned then that circling the wagons and shutting the world out is a losing strategy.

Only, it didn’t. Najib’s team repeated similar mistakes with 1MDB. First, it dismissed the Journal’s July 2015 report following 1MDB money into Najib’s account personal accounts as some conspiracy to undermine Malaysia. Then, after Putrajaya could no longer ignore the storm, it effectively said “Oh yeah, that. It was a gift. Trust us.” Then, awkwardly, the attorney general whitewashed the crisis. The matter, Najib declared after the ruling, “has been comprehensively put to rest.”

Hardly, Swiss prosecutors retorted this week. Burying such a global scandal is no longer possible in a globalized world in which Malaysia competes for investment. The growing number of foreign probes -– and escalating ones at that –- risk denting Malaysia’s standing. They’re also as clear an explanation as any for why Malaysia is being left behind as Indonesia, the Philippines and other neighbors zoom ahead.

Thing is, Malaysia is an amazing and unique place and I urge anyone who hasn’t visited to check it out. Its breathtaking physical beauty is only rivaled by the energy of its multiethnic population, a thriving culinary scene second to few and enviable geographical placement as China, India and Southeast Asia blossom and change the world. Sadly, it’s run by a government that claims all’s well when the rest of the world knows something’s rotten in Najib’s Malaysia. And with a straight face.

MALAYSIAN POLITICS: Najib Razak defies pundits by his staying power


February 4, 2016

MALAYSIAN POLITICS: Najib Razak defies pundits by his staying power

by James Chin

For the past three years, every political pundit in Malaysia has been asked a simple question: when will Datuk Seri Najib Razak be replaced?

A year ago, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the fourth and longest-serving Prime Minister, in power from 1981 to 2003, was gung-ho about his ability to get rid of Najib.

After all, it is on the public record that Dr Mahathir was largely responsible for the political demise of the first and fifth prime ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. There was no reason to think that he could not secure the trifecta, so to speak.

Yet today, the general consensus in the ruling UMNO is that Najib is quite secure despite the scandal surrounding the US$700 million “political donation” from Saudi Arabia and other shenanigans related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), a company with quasi-status as a sovereign wealth fund and that is under investigation by Singapore, US and Swiss authorities.

Dr Mahathir and his gang are lying low, and Dr Mahathir’s son, the (former) Kedah Menteri Besar, is under siege from Najib (and has since been removed) .

According to The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Economist and the like, Najib is “disastrous” for Malaysia. The Western media cannot comprehend how Najib can stay in power when it is “clear” that “corruption” has taken place, with huge and unexplained sums of money ending up in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

The story is even more compelling when you take into account the dramatic sacking of the Deputy Prime Minister, another Senior Minister from Sabah Shafie (Apdal), and the Attorney-General.

The first two were known to be critics of Najib’s role in 1MDB. The Attorney-General was replaced when he tried to charge Najib with corruption (and quickly replaced a former judge Apandi Ali).

The first thing the new  Deputy Prime Minister (Zahid Hamidi) did was to pledge his loyalty to Najib and the new Attorney-General has cleared Najib of any legal wrong doing in the “political donation” case.

It appears it is not illegal in Malaysia to receive millions of dollars in political donations from a foreign power.Najib has said he did not benefit personally, but used some of the money from the royal family in Saudi Arabia to campaign in the 2013 general election and returned the rest.

What many foreigners and analysts fail to appreciate is the enormous power concentrated in the hands of the Prime Minister. In theory, the PM rules through a coalition government. In practice, he exercises his powers like a feudal king.

He holds what are, arguably, the three most powerful offices in Malaysia. In addition to being Prime Minister he is also Finance Minister and Chairman of the National Security Council (NSC).

He controls tenders and contracts worth billions of dollars and, through the NSC, can shut the country down by declaring an emergency. On top of government contracts, he can appoint anyone he likes to thousands of board positions in government-linked companies (GLCs).

It is generally accepted that these GLCs occupy the commanding heights of the economy. Many of these board positions come with generous perks and allowances paid for very little work, other than attending board meetings.

The truth is the only people who can get rid of Najib are the UMNO “warlords”, the UMNO divisional chiefs, members of UMNO Supreme Council and elected representatives.

There are fewer than 200 people in this group and most of them back Najib. They are aware of Najib’s shenanigans but there is nothing Najib has done that Dr Mahathir, his predecessor had not done.

In fact, an authoritative study of Dr Mahathir’s financial misadventures suggests that he lost more than US$40 billion during his time in office. So what if the Swiss investigating 1MDB say US$4 billion has been misappropriated? That’s merely 10% of what Dr Mahathir lost!

Many of the warlords support Najib for practical reasons. They are on the Najib gravy train of contracts and well-paid positions on GLCs. There are, however, three scenarios that could cause the warlords to rock the boat. These would be if:

It seems likely Najib will lose the next general election (due in 2018). The economy dives and there is an arrest warrant issued for Najib. From my vantage point in Kuala Lumpur, the second of these is the most probable.

Najib is unlikely to lose the next general election as long as he can keep Sabah and Sarawak on his side.

Sarawak is due to hold elections in April and I predict a massive victory for Najib’s Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Without Sabah and Sarawak, the BN government would have lost power in the 2008 general election.

In the 2013 vote, it was again the Sabahans and Sarawakians who delivered the winning majority to BN. At present there are no indications that Sabah and Sarawak will abandon Najib or BN, not yet anyway.

The third scenario is unlikely given international investigations are highly complex and subject to multiple jurisdictions with multiple interpretations of what is and isn’t a crime.

As long as he is Prime Minister, Malaysia will refuse to cooperate with any investigations implicating Najib, thus delaying the entire process, at least until the next general election in 2018.

There is a 50/50 chance a slumping economy will end Najib’s reign. A good indicator of a country’s economy is its exchange rate. Since the middle of last year, the ringgit has fallen by about 24% against the US dollar that dominates international trade.

Malaysian businessmen are having a hard time trying to import goods and services. The drop in the price of oil has forced Najib to revise his budget and Petronas, the biggest single contributor to the Malaysian treasury, has announced it will slash US$11.41 billion in capital and operating expenses over the next four years.

If the ringgit hits RM5 to US$1, or seems well on the way there, I predict a palace coup against Najib. Not only would the UMNO warlords politically knife Najib, Malaysian business tycoons, always an influential bloc, would join in.

Foreigners, international media and those Malaysians waiting for “good governance issues” to get Najib out are living in fairy land.

Like most states in the region, ultimately in Malaysia you can’t beat bread and butter politics; most Malaysians are focused on the economy and the cost of living. They don’t spend too much time worrying about corruption. – http://www.lowyinterpreter.org, February 3, 2016.

* Professor James Chin is the inaugural director of the Asia Institute, University of Tasmania. He is an expert on the governance issues in Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

 

My country MALAYSIA: Its PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS


February 3, 2016

My country MALAYSIA: Its PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS

By: Kassim Ahmad

I am a patriot, a plain Kassim Ahmad, who a long time ago politely refused an UMNO offer for a datoship.Being from a poor oppressed classed, I began early as a rebel (with causes, of course!) and soon became the leader of the Malayan People’s Socialist Party (1968-1984). In 1984, seeing the collapse of international socialism in the world I left the party and made a strong patriotic statement by joining UMNO in 1986. My aim of reform could not take off. I am still an UMNO member, albeit very critical of UMNO.

On the same day when my UMNO memberhip application was approved, my widely discussed book Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula was released. After two months of extensive discussions, including an ABIM-organized public dialogue, it was banned by the religious establishment in the country.

Several state muftis penned books to rebut my book, repeating their old and tired arguments, which I have already refuted in the first place. However, I wrote another book entitled, Hadis – Jawapan kepada Pengkritik (1992), briefly dismissing the muftis’ several books, but at the same time giving more details about the Quran.

This started the movement for the review of Hadith as well as for going back to the Quran, not only in Malaysia, but internationally. Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula has since been translated into English and Arabic. I am glad to say that today the Turkish Government is undertaking a major project of Hadith re-evaluation.

I admit that I was a rebel, and still is. At the core of Malaysia’s problems is  corrupt UMNO, the backbone of its ruling BN Government. In 1946 when UMNO was first formed it was a poor idealistic Malay party embraced en mass by the Malays in their enthusiasm and quest for Merdeka.

To cut the story short, via the bloody May 13, via great Razak’s Mageran (the Council for the  Regeneration of the Country) and his extraordinary vision, Malaysia is what it is today, one of the most progressive countries among the developing world.

At the same time, as it is wont in human affairs, deterioration sets in, as complacancy grows among the ruling elite. UMNO became corrupt, and has perhaps reached the point of no return today. In this atmosphere of gloom when financial scandles abound, pessimism is in the air. Oh Lord! Do we need a second Mageran, ask the thinking part of Malaysia?

The people ask, “What are we to do? Can anything be done? Such voices rise from the depth of the soul of the people, voiced by their intellectuals, the likes of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Dr. M Bakri Musa, HRH Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan of Perak Dr. Nazrin Shah and HRH the Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail.

Yes, indeed. What is to be done? Can corrupt UMNO be reformed? Can weak Pakatan Rakyat take over? Where is our Saviour? Where is our Imam Mahdi? When is the Second-Coming (of Jesus Christ)?

Unfortunately, all these wailings are of no avail. Man has been created as God’s vicegerent on earth, to rule the earth and change it to His liking. Oh Man! Rise up to your calling! “I created you free,” God said. So wait no more! Act!

Enumerate the things you must do in order of importance. First, you must reform UMNO. Once the difficult task of reforming of UMNO is over, all other problems will be resolved: wastage in manpower in Government, increasing productivity by optimum use of assets, trimming the Government, the need for good governance, increasing salaries of lower-rung Government servants, overcoming periodic floods in some states, eliminating traffic jams by decreasing private cars and increasing and improving public transport, and doing away with tolls, and such like actions to make life more comfortable for all Malaysians.

KASSIM AHMAD is a Malaysian author. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com

The 1MDB scandal that refuses to fade away


February 2, 2016

The 1MDB scandal that refuses to fade away

by AFP /The Malaysian Insider

Malaysia (Attorney-General Apandi Ali) may have absolved its Prime Minister in a huge corruption scandal, but foreign authorities investigating suspicious global fund flows are making clear the affair is far from over and that the net may be tightening.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Mohamed Apandi Ali last week cleared Datuk Seri Najib Razak of wrongdoing in accepting a mysterious US$681 million payment (RM2.6 billion) from overseas, sparking accusations of a cover-up in a case that has shaken Najib’s government to its core.

But within days, authorities in Switzerland and Singapore upped the pressure, pointedly responding that investigations into an array of Malaysian money movements were forging ahead and releasing new information.

Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber

The Swiss Attorney-General’s office on Saturday revealed that it believed US$4 billion had been pilfered from Malaysian state companies, and on Monday Singapore announced it had seized a “large number of bank accounts” as part of investigations into a company closely linked to Najib, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Observers said the timing and tone of the Swiss and Singaporean statements appeared to indicate concern that Malaysia may seek to bury the issue.

“The Swiss and Singaporeans are obviously worried that (clearing Najib) looks detrimental to their ongoing investigations,” said Cynthia Gabriel, Head of C4, a Malaysian Anti-Graft NGO.

“But this is definitely far from over and looks like the noose is tightening on Najib,” she added, referring to the new details announced by the Swiss and Singaporeans.

Malaysia has been rocked for more than a year by allegations that huge sums of money were diverted from 1MDB, an investment company, and the revelation last July of the US$681 million payment to Najib.

While he is not yet known to be directly implicated in any overseas investigation, Najib launched 1MDB and still chairs its advisory board. He and 1MDB strongly deny the widely-held public suspicion that the US$681 million came from the now debt-strapped investment company.

Apandi last week called the payment a legal “personal donation” from the Saudi royal family. The explanation has been ridiculed in Malaysia as an implausible cover story.

Since last year, Najib’s government has arrested whistleblowers and moved to muzzle media outlets who reported on the scandals, including shutting down one newspaper for three months.

He also purged his leadership of critics and sacked a previous Attorney-General who was investigating.That has left the threat of foreign action – authorities in the United States and Hong Kong also said to be investigating – as Najib’s primary concern.

Last week, Apandi declared there was no need for Malaysia to cooperate with foreign authorities on Najib’s “donation”.

John Malott, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, called that a “very unfortunate statement” that likely caused anger overseas.

“Basically he was telling the rest of the world to drop dead, and the Swiss and Singaporeans have replied that ‘maybe you think its the end, but we don’t’. The timing of their responses was just too close,” he said.

Malott said Najib now “must really be sweating” over whether US authorities – reported by US media to be investigating – will make an announcement, which they usually withhold until a solid case is built.

Ambassador John R. Malott

However, the recent Swiss and Singaporean announcements are already seen as raising the pressure.Switzerland had announced last year that “tens of millions of dollars” in suspicious assets had been frozen, and that it had opened criminal proceedings against two former 1MDB officials and “persons unknown” suspected of bribery, money-laundering and other crimes.

On Saturday, the Swiss Attorney-General’s office revealed that up to US$4 billion may have been stolen from Malaysian state firms, with a “small portion” transferred into Swiss accounts held by current and former Malaysian and United Arab Emirates officials.

Requesting Kuala Lumpur’s help, it added that the Malaysian companies concerned have oddly made no comment on their alleged massive losses.Apandi pledged Saturday to cooperate.

Singapore said Monday it was “actively” probing allegations of money-laundering related to 1MDB and was communicating with Malaysian, Swiss and US officials.

A joint statement by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and police said, “Singapore does not tolerate the use of its financial system as a refuge or conduit for illicit funds”. – AFP

TPPA and the State of Discourse in Malaysia


February 2, 2016

TPPA and the State of Discourse in Malaysia

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

http://www.thestar.com

You cannot allow others to determine how you dance, or you might win some battles but you will not be able to cope in the overall war.

Well done, MITI’s Dato’ Seri Mustapha Mohamed and his Team-Let us move forward on other Issues like Governance and Corruption–Din Merican

I AM pleased that our Parliament has voted for Malaysia to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Over three days, both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara debated the issue and the Government won the vote in both chambers.

However I am very disappointed by the way the vote was won. Members of both chambers voted according to their party stance. Both Barisan Nasional and the opposition voted according to the party lines.

If the parties had decided to use the Parliamentary whip, then why hold the special session at all? It was a waste of time and money because ultimately no one used any brainpower in making their decisions. Their parties decided for them.

Together with colleagues from IDEAS, I was in Parliament on the day of the special sitting to persuade the MPs to support our entry into the TPPA. I met some BN MPs who were against the TPPA and I also met some opposition MPs who were supportive of the TPPA. It was a shame that none of them could speak their true mind in Parliament.

I would have preferred for the elected representatives to follow their conscience. Then the special session would have meant something.

Nevertheless, now that the vote is over, let us take stock of what happened.If we look at the past three years leading up to the vote, we must say kudos to the anti-liberalisation activists spearheading the campaign against the TPPA. They were persistent, consistent and determined.

The anti-liberalisation movement operates globally and has never failed to mobilise demonstrations when major trade deals are being decided.There have been anti-liberalisation rallies at the meetings of the World Bank, G8, the World Trade Organisation, and more, in various countries around the world. The movement has now become more organised in Malaysia.

Their strategy is almost always the same globally. Focus on spreading doubts and fear. Repeat the same mantra over and over again. Tell the public that the issue is too complex for anybody to understand it all.

Organise the campaign early and don’t wait for the official text because the actual enemy is liberalisation while the actual text is just a tool. Force the public to compartmentalise the issues rather than analysing the deal holistically.

If one issue is answered, quickly move on to the next one without acknowledging the clarification for the earlier issue.Use selective data and statistics, and discredit others’ studies using any means necessary.

Ask detailed questions like “What is the impact of ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement)?” but spread a generic message such as “America is evil” so that while the other side is busy explaining boring technical facts, they can focus on their more “sexy” rhetorical propaganda.

As a campaign strategy, they were effective. Many MPs I spoke to expressed fear to vote for the TPPA because they felt that they would be voting against “the people”.

The anti-liberalisation activists campaigned loud and long enough to create the impression that they represent public opinion.The reality, in fact, is actually the opposite.

A Pew Research Centre Spring 2015 Global Attitude Survey asked Malaysians “Would the TPPA be a good thing for our country or a bad thing?” In fact, only 18% said that it would be a bad thing.

The main lesson I learned from the whole saga is that you cannot allow others to determine how you dance. If you try to do that, you might win some battles but you will not be able to cope in the overall war.

In the case of the TPPA, yes, Parliament may have passed the motion for us to sign it. But that is just one tiny battle. I am pretty certain that if we check the general temperature in the country now, we will find that the anti-liberalisation sentiment has been strengthened.

In the overall effort to liberalise the economy, pro-reform initiatives are not winning and may have become weaker.As a result, we shouldn’t be surprised if a more organised opposition is mounted when we go into Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, other Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership partners, and more. The TPPA experience has emboldened the anti-liberalisation groups and they will become more effective in the future.

But please don’t get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a negative development.On the contrary, I feel it is healthy that the public policy arena is becoming more hotly contested. It is a sign of a maturing society. Now those who want to see less protectionism and more competition to benefit the consumers must become more organised too.

And let me make another important clarification too. Even though I think these anti-liberalisation campaigners are wrong, I believe they are good people who are passionate about their cause. They are campaigning not because they want to damage this country but because they love it.

What we need to do is to continue the debate on public policy in a healthy way. Differences are normal and when it comes to public policy, there will always be consternations.

Most of the thought-leaders at the top celebrate these differences. They can challenge each other in a heated argument, while sipping a friendly teh o ais and munching goreng pisang. Just as those higher up can be civil to one another, so must we.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.