Thailand: The New King and Politics


April 24, 2017

Thailand: The New King and Politics

by Pavin Chachavalpongpun

http://www.newmandala.org/kingdom-fear-favour/

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How is the new monarch of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, ruling his kingdom since the death of his father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej?

FEAR.

The overwhelming success of Bhumibol’s reign has evidently become an entrapment for Vajiralongkorn, who has failed to follow in the footsteps of his much-revered father. Vajiralongkorn is the mirror image of Bhumibol. Based on this assessment, some analysts have expected Vajiralongkorn to be a ‘weak king’, precisely because of his lack of moral authority, divinity and popularity once enjoyed by Bhumibol.

Bhumibol’s moral authority was made a sacred instrument that underpinned his effective reign for seven decades. It legitimised his political position, so as to place it above what were perceived to be ill elements, including ‘dirty’ politics and ‘corrupt’ politicians. Members of the network monarchy had worked indefatigably to ensure the strengthening of his moral authority, through vigorous glorification programs in the media and national education, about the devoted king who strove for his people’s better livelihood. It was his moral authority which was partly exploited to justify the use of the lese-majeste law.

Now that Bhumibol has passed from the scene, a critical question emerges: how has Vajiralongkorn forged new alliances and eliminated enemies and critics in order to consolidate his reign?

Without his own charisma, or baramee, Vajiralongkorn has exercised fear to command those serving him instead of trusting or convincing them to work for him based on love and respect, as argued by a recent article of Claudio Sopranzetti. Vajiralongkorn has used fear to build order, perhaps similar to the way in which mafias, or chaophos, operate their empire.

Vajiralongkorn reigns as a monarch whose authority is based upon fear, and as one who cares little about people around him. Fear is a tool to threaten his subordinates and drive them to the edge to keep them compliant and docile. He has kept his subordinates in line with unnecessary, yet rigid, rules, from professing a cropped haircut style to a tough fitness regime. But such rules possibly reflect Vajiralongkorn’s own state of fear. He does not know who will betray him at the end of the day. His intimidating image is his only source of personal power — but he also realises how fragile it could be.

Even prior to the death of Bhumibol, Vajiralongkorn relied on fear for his own rearrangement of power. He allowed a faction under his control to purge another perceived to be disloyal to him. The cases of Suriyan Sucharitpolwong, or Moh Yong, Police Major Prakrom Warunprapha, and Major General Phisitsak Seniwongse na Ayutthaya — all of whom worked for Vajiralongkorn, most visibly in the ‘Bike for Mum’ project —   reiterated that death could become a reward for those who breached his trust. Each of these individuals were given a nickname. For example, Phisitsak was called by Vajiralongkorn, Mister Heng Rayah (เฮง ระย้า), although exactly why he was named as such remained unknown.

Image result for Thailand's Politics of FearThai Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha calls the shots in Thailand

Within Vajiralongkorn’s palace, Dhaveevatthana, a prison was built. The Ministry of Justice, during the Yingluck administration, announced on 27 March 2013 that a 60 square metre plot of land within Dhaveevathana was allocated for the building of what is now called the Bhudha Monthon Temporary Prison. This ‘temporary’ prison has been legalised, potentially allowing the king to detain anyone under its roof legally. Adjacent to the prison is a crematorium. Major General Phisitsak died inside the prison and was cremated there too.

His former consort, Srirasmi, has been put under house arrest in a Rachaburi house, shaved and dressed as a nun. Her family members and relatives were imprisoned on dubious charges. Pongpat Chayaphan, a former Royal Thai Police officer who was the head of the country’s Central Investigation Bureau, was convicted in 2015 from profiting from a gambling den, violating a forestry-related law, and money laundering. Srirasmi is his niece. Earlier in 2014, Police General Akrawut Limrat, a close aide to Pongpat, was also found dead following a mysterious fall from a building.

Vajiralongkorn’s estranged sons, Juthavachara, Vacharaesorn, Chakriwat and Vatcharawee — who live in exile in the United States with their mother Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, née Yuvathida Polpraserth — have been banned from coming home. These extreme punitive measures reiterated the fact that fear once again functions as a controlling device over his subjects, even those with royal blood.

Image result for Juthavachara, Vacharaesorn, Chakriwat and Vatcharawee — who live in exile in the United States with their mother Sujarinee Vivacharawongse, née Yuvadhida Polpraserth

Vajiralongkorn also reorganised the Privy Council, appointing new faces from the Queen’s Guard, to entrench his alliance with the junta. He has also let General Prem Tinsulanonda remain in his position of President of the Privy Council, arguably, as part of using fear to keep his enemy close to him, so that Prem could be closely monitored and work under his direct command. And recently, he punished one of his close confidants, Police General Jumpol Manmai, a former deputy national police chief, labelling him as the extremely evil official so as to justify the humiliation caused to him. Jumpol was arrested and imprisoned. His head was shaved, like Moh Yong and Prakrom, and was sent to undergo a military training within the Dhaweevattana Palace. Like Pongpat, he was found guilty of forest encroachment.

Meanwhile, some have been promoted, some demoted. Speedy promotions in the military and the police were enjoyed by the king’s new favourites. Those irritating him were thrown out — but before that, they were humiliated on the pages of the newspapers. Vajiralongkorn purged the entire Vajarodaya clan, one of the most prominent families of palace officials serving under Bhumibol. Disathorn Vajarodaya was stripped of his power in the palace, forced to re-enter a military training at the age of 53, and is now working as a house maid who serves drinks to guests of the new king. Meanwhile, Suthida Vajiralongkorn na Ayutthaya, a former Thai Airways air crew, was promoted to the rank of a general. She is currently the number one mistress of Vajiralongkorn. But the life of Suthida is not without competition. Colonel Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi, aka Koi, who is a nurse, is reportedly becoming his number one favourite. A video clip of Vajiralongkorn and Koi, both wearing skimpy crop tops barely covering fake tattoo wandering a Munich mall, was viral on the Internet.

In the political domain, Vajiralongkorn directly meddled in the drafting of the new constitution, requesting an amendment to boost royal powers. The changes included removing the need for him to appoint a regent when he travels overseas. More importantly, a clause that gave power to the constitutional court and other institutions in the event of an unforeseen crisis was removed. But by removing it, the king’s political role was significantly reinforced.

Because of his direct interference in Thai political affairs, it is naïve to assume that Vajiralongkorn is simply a mad king, clueless about running his kingdom. His meddling has unveiled his desire to solidify his power at this critical juncture in politics, forging ties with his allies while deposing his enemies and critics through brutal means.

Fear — for one’s own freedom, or one’s own personal safety — is a key weapon of Vajiralongkorn’s in keeping elites around him in line, alongside the longstanding use of the lese-majeste law to curb public discontentment against him. For instance, the military government chose to punish Jatupat ‘Phai’ Boonpattararaksa for sharing a BBC article on the biography of Vajiralongkorn, underscoring the use of fear to warn the public to stay away from his private life. Jatupat is the only person to be imprisoned for sharing the article.

On the eve of the recent Songkran holidays, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society released an announcement to forbid the public from following, befriending and sharing content of three critics of the monarchy: myself, the exiled historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul, and former reporter Andrew MacGregor Marshall. Fear has now been ulitised at a national level, in cyberspace, to frighten ordinary social media users. In failing to obey the royal prerogatives, some could be jailed, like Jatupat.

But fear can fall away. Overused and frequently exploited, fear will eventually loose its spell. Exactly how long Vajiralongkorn will continue to count on fear to build up his power remains uncertain. What is certain today is the fact that Thailand is no longer a smiling country. It is a country in deep anxiety.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

 

Soothing East Asia’s Nerves–Mike Pence in Asia


April 21, 2017

Soothing East Asia’s Nerves

https://www.stratfor.com

Forecast

  • U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s 10-day tour of East Asia will focus primarily on easing uncertainty among U.S. allies about the administration’s policies in the region.
  • U.S. moves to contain North Korea and compel China toward cooperation will dominate discussions in Seoul and Tokyo, though tension over the Trump administration’s trade policies will loom large in both visits.
  • Indonesia and Australia will remain wary of joining U.S. initiatives that risk provoking China but also receptive to U.S. efforts to lay the groundwork for more robust defense cooperation.

Analysis

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Nearly 100 days into Donald Trump’s presidency, uncertainty over the direction of U.S. policy and its behavior in the Asia-Pacific continues to pervade the region, including among many of Washington’s most important allies. In particular, between Trump’s early calls for strategic partners such Japan and South Korea to cover more of the costs of supporting U.S. troops on their shores, his decision to withdraw the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, and his administration’s recent statements and actions in response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Trump has helped put the typically slow-moving and carefully managed geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific in flux.

In doing so, his administration has arguably opened avenues for progress on issues of longstanding concern to Washington, especially U.S.-China trade relations and North Korean nuclearization. At the same time, the White House’s actions have left countries such as Japan, South Korea and Australia — traditional linchpins of U.S. strategy in the region — looking for greater stability and predictability from Washington.

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US Vice President Mike Pence at The DMZ , South Korea

During his ongoing tour of the region, which started April 15 and will end April 25, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is seeking to project precisely that: a more stable, predictable and reliable United States. In meetings with heads of state and key lawmakers in South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and Australia, the Vice President will reaffirm Washington’s commitment to stability in the region and the defense of allies and partners against a range of threats, including North Korea, Chinese maritime expansion and terrorism. Likewise, in scheduled “listening sessions” with business leaders from each country — and, in particular, by formally opening the U.S.-Japanese economic dialogue with Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso — Pence will seek to address regional concerns over Washington’s trade, investment and currency policies and foreground its continued commitment to regional free trade, albeit through avenues other than multilateral pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Notably, on April 18, Pence announced that Washington plans to review and reform the 2007 U.S.-South Korean trade pact.)

To the extent that Pence’s visit is aimed at shoring up Washington’s regional alliances and partnerships, the four stops of his tour share at least one common theme: the goal of countering China’s expanding security footprint in the South and East China seas and, more broadly, to constrain Beijing’s long-term strategy of replacing the United States as the dominant power in East Asia. But each leg of his tour will address a different aspect of this underlying imperative. Like his visit to South Korea on April 16-17, Pence’s subsequent meetings in Tokyo likely will center on managing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program and, in Japan’s case, checking Chinese maritime activities in the East China Sea. His meetings in Indonesia and Australia from April 20-23, by contrast, will focus on clarifying Washington’s positions on regional trade and South China Sea security, while smoothing over earlier bumps in relations (in Australia’s case) and offering increased defense support both for maritime and counter-terrorism activities (in Indonesia’s case).

Pence’s Seoul Visit and the North Korean Nuclear Quagmire

Given the visibility and significance of mounting tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it is no surprise that South Korea was the first stop on Pence’s tour. His visit, which comes just ahead of the expected arrival in Northeast Asian waters of the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group and, more significantly, the North’s ballistic missile test on April 15 — the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung — sought to reaffirm U.S. defense support for South Korea and signal Washington’s willingness to take unilateral military action against the North if diplomacy fails. Such moves are aimed as much at compelling China to step up its own efforts to coerce North Korea as at deterring Pyongyang itself from conducting further nuclear or missile tests. Last week, the semiofficial Chinese news outlet Global Times said China would cut off oil supplies to the North (one of Beijing’s most effective tools of leverage over the Kim government) if Pyongyang conducted additional nuclear tests.

But while China’s tacit announcement, followed with a phone call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, signal burgeoning cooperation, however limited, between Washington and Beijing on North Korea, the situation on the peninsula is highly fraught and fluid. In particular, it remains to be seen whether the United States can compel China to throw its full diplomatic weight behind the effort to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It is also unclear whether China possesses sufficient leverage to compel the North to meaningfully change its behavior.

Washington’s ability to nudge Beijing toward action depends on a number of factors — in particular, what measures the White House has asked the Chinese to take toward Pyongyang and the extent to which Beijing, given its own geopolitical constraints and often countervailing interests, can or is willing to intervene. The Trump administration’s threats to use military force against Pyongyang and its expected positioning of the carrier strike group near the peninsula are likely intended to undercut China’s capacity to parlay its leverage on North Korea into concessions from Washington on other issues. The U.S. moves also raise the direct costs for China of continued intransigence on negotiations with Pyongyang. The prospect of an even greater U.S. defense footprint in South Korea and Japan is deeply worrisome for Beijing, independent of what happens to North Korea. China’s recent statements suggest that Washington’s actions have had some effect. Even so, it is questionable whether any action China takes against North Korea, short of completely cutting off the latter’s economic lifelines, will deter Pyongyang from pursuing a functional nuclear deterrent. In fact, punitive actions by Beijing and increased saber rattling by the United States may only accelerate the North’s nuclear weapons development efforts.

Against this backdrop, Pence’s visit to Seoul served primarily as an opportunity to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to the South’s security and, to that end, to shore up political support within South Korea for rapid deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in the face of Chinese economic retaliation. The emphasis on the reliability of U.S. support will carry over into Pence’s visit to Japan from April 18-21. But unlike in South Korea, where Washington must carefully weigh its options against the risks and costs of retaliation by China or further provocations by North Korea, the United States faces fewer such constraints in Japan.

Reflecting the approach of U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis during his February visit to Tokyo, Pence will use his time in Japan to emphasize the importance of the U.S.-Japanese alliance as foundational to regional stability. In addition, he may urge Tokyo to take on a more prominent and proactive role in maintaining security in the East and South China seas and discuss avenues for future U.S.-Japanese defense cooperation.

Looking South: Indonesia and Australia

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US Vice President Mike Pence and his family were taken on a tour of Istiqlal, Indonesia’s biggest mosque, in Jakarta © POOL/AFP / Adek BERRY–Indonesia is a truly moderate Islamic country.

Pence’s discussions on Japan’s expanding diplomatic and security roles in Southeast Asia and the South China Sea will pave the way for the second half of his trip.

Conspicuously, Pence is not visiting Thailand or the Philippines, the United States’ two treaty allies in Southeast Asia, but which have both been tilting slightly toward China. Nor is Pence visiting Vietnam or Malaysia, two parties to the dispute with China over the South China Sea with which the Barack Obama administration was keen to enhance defense ties. What the decision to steer clear of the front lines of the South China Sea dispute signals, if anything, is difficult to say, though the Trump administration appears to be relying increasingly on Japan’s growing influence in these countries to further U.S. regional goals.

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Vice President  Mike Pence seen with Indonesia’s President Jokowi Widodo gives Malaysia a pass?

But Indonesia and Australia are increasingly pivotal players in the Western Pacific in their own right. In Jakarta, Pence will urge an inward-focused government to embrace the country’s potential role as a regional counterweight to China, a unifying voice within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and a robust check on sources of maritime insecurity. And in Australia, a steadfast treaty ally of the United States, Pence will focus on smoothing over lingering uncertainties about the Trump administration’s commitment to maintaining the U.S.-led economic and security architecture in the Western Pacific — doubts magnified by the famously rocky start to Trump’s relationship with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In particular, Pence will seek to build on the momentum of his lengthy, reportedly fruitful talks with Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop during her trip to Washington in February.

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Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop meets with US Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in Washington. Picture: Yuri Gripas

One important difference between Japan on one hand, and Indonesia and Australia on the other, is that where Tokyo possesses the requisite economic, diplomatic and military power to chart a strategic course openly at odds with Chinese interests, Jakarta and Canberra depend heavily on China for investment and as a market for their raw materials and finished goods. Indonesia and Australia’s interests in maintaining stable, close ties with Beijing will limit their ability and desire to throw their full weight behind U.S.-led efforts to check Chinese actions in the South China Sea.

In fact, though the United States and Indonesia have ample room for cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, Jakarta remains exceedingly reluctant to entangle itself in regional disputes, and bilateral defense ties are relatively underdeveloped because of past U.S. sanctions over the military’s human rights abuses. (Jakarta’s deep suspicions about Canberra’s strategic intentions have also hindered development of Australian-Indonesian defense cooperation, despite a recent warming of ties.) Meanwhile, entrenched protectionist forces at home limit Indonesia’s ability to diversify its trade relationships and expand its economic influence in Southeast Asia. Australia, for its part, has a geopolitical imperative to ally itself with the world’s foremost naval power, but it, too, remains wary of provoking China, for example by joining U.S. “freedom of navigation operations” aimed at discrediting Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Even so, both countries have powerful incentives to keep the United States close. Though not directly involved in maritime territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Australia relies on global sea lines of communication — and the freedom of navigation through them afforded by U.S. protection — as the bedrock of its export-intensive economy. Indonesia, for its part, has stepped up efforts in recent years to defend its territorial claims in areas such as the Natuna Islands against China, as well as Malaysia and Vietnam. For Jakarta, substantially stronger defense ties with the one country capable of enforcing rules and checking Chinese expansionism in the region would be critical in a crisis.

Overall, Pence’s Asia tour is unlikely to bring major policy breakthroughs. Rather, the aim of his visits is to reaffirm the fundamental continuity of U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific and to communicate that while the ways in which Washington wields its power may be subject to modification under the Trump administration, that power and influence will not diminish.

Can Najib do that in GE-14–Read this New York Times Article by Amanda Taub


April 20, 2017

Can Najib do that in GE-14–Read this New York Times Article  by Amanda Taub

The recent referendum in Turkey, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed a narrow majority of votes to expand his presidential authority, is the latest example of a puzzling phenomenon: Democratically elected leaders who triumph in elections even as they move toward autocracy by undermining checks and balances and consolidating power.

Today, the most common way for a democracy to collapse is through the actions of an elected incumbent, not a coup or revolution. Hugo Chávez, elected to four terms as president of Venezuela, used his time in office to dismantle the institutions of Venezuelan democracy and expand his own authority. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has so thoroughly concentrated power in his own hands that many observers now refer to Russia as an “elected dictatorship.” And in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan appears to be following that well-trodden path.

This phenomenon, which experts call “authoritarianization,” highlights a deep vulnerability built into the structure of democracy itself. Once in power, unscrupulous leaders can sometimes manipulate the political environment to their own benefit, making it more likely that they will be victorious in future contests. By winning those elections, they gain the stamp of democratic legitimacy — even for actions that ultimately undermine democratic norms.

Manipulating and winning elections has become a kind of exploit in the rules of political legitimacy — a way for would-be autocrats to hack the system… READ ON: Click on picture.

Black Swan Moments–Najib Razak’s Options


April 19, 2017

Black Swan Moments – Najib Razak’s Options

by Liew Chin Tong, MP

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the first half of my article (Expect more black swans to appear in Malaysian politics), I explained why Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was in a precarious position. What then are Najib’s strategies for survival? It is not that Najib doesn’t understand the precarious position he is in. He does know that Umno will not be able to win an outright mandate in the coming election.

Hence, Najib has been trying to break up the opposition as soon as the 2013 General Election was concluded.

There were even attempts by Indonesian Vice-President Yusof Kala, between June and August 2013, to broker deals between Najib and Anwar Ibrahim, which Anwar rejected.

And, since then, Najib’s strategies have included:

  • Putting Anwar Ibrahim behind bars, hence depriving the Opposition of its prime ministerial candidate and unifying figure;
  • Luring PAS into a de facto alliance with UMNO on the pretext of promoting hudud legislations; and
  • Portraying the Opposition as a DAP/Chinese-dominated alliance.

However, in his grand scheme to win by default, Najib did not anticipate:

  • The Opposition surviving despite Anwar’s imprisonment;
  • A sizable number of ousted PAS leaders forming Parti Amanah Negara in September 2015 to continue the struggle, and many in PAS still disagreeing with their top leaders’ collusion with UMNO; and
  • UMNO splitting in 2016, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia being formed and joining Pakatan Harapan.

Broadly, even without Najib at the helm, UMNO is weaker than in the 2013 General Election for the following reasons:

First, since independence till the 2004 general election, UMNO had ruled through an extended coalition of Alliance/Barisan Nasional, and governed with substantial support from the non-Malays.

But the comfort of buffers formed by BN component parties in the Peninsula eclipsed after UMNO made a right turn – becoming more visible in its claim of Malay supremacy – in July 2005 with Hishammuddin Hussein waving the kris at the UMNO General Assembly, which led to massive defeats for its allies, the MCA, MIC and Gerakan, in both the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

UMNO dug in deeper since 2008 to push racial politics in the hope of expanding Malay support, but has achieved surprisingly little.

Second, since UMNO was incapable of expanding its support base since 2013, collaborating with PAS became an attractive option. ithopes that by colluding with PAS to polarise society into a struggle between Muslims/Malays and non-Muslims, the UMNIO-PAS de facto alliance will win enough seats between them to form the next government.

However, as an unintended consequence, such a move further alienates non-Malay voters in the Peninsula, as well as a majority of voters in Sabah and Sarawak.

Third, while Najib the man managed to command more support among Malay voters compared with UMNO the party in the 2013 election, such is no longer the case. Najib is now a burden to UMNO due to the 1MDB mega scandal, and unpopular economic policies such as the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), fuel hikes and cuts to subsidies for basic amenities like health and education.

Frustrated UMNO leaders and members led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad formed Bersatu and this new Malay party is making rapid inroads in areas previously inaccessible to the Opposition.

In short, UMNO under Najib is on a narrowing path that now relies on a much smaller base than ever. If Najib is still perceived as strong, it is because the Opposition is seen as weak and disunited.

What lies ahead?

The knowns are that Najib is not popular, and there is serious discontent among the Malays. But there are certainly challenges for the Opposition to overcome in order to precipitate change.

First, the Opposition needs to stand for something inspiring and visionary, and not depend solely on the anger against Najib as its forward strategy. The Opposition must stand for more than just removing Najib. The economy and the well-being of the people should be its number one priority.

Second, the coming together of Bersatu and the Pakatan Harapan parties, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Parti Amanah Negara and Democratic Action Party is a reconciliation of former foes.

Who could have imagined Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim forming an alliance nearly 20 years after their very bitter fallout in 1998? But the coming together of the once political father-and-son can unleash huge energy, if handled properly. After all, both Mahathir and Anwar are positive leadership figures compared to Najib, and they each appeal to certain segments of the Malay electorate.

Third, to present a common agenda that appeals to both Mahathir’s audience and to DAP’s supporters is a big challenge. If Mahathir and Bersatu go on a racial campaign, it will depress the support of non-Malay voters and create a lose-lose situation for the entire Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Likewise, the regime’s argument against Mahathir and Bersatu is that they are associating with the DAP. The presence of the DAP can also depress the support for Bersatu and other Malay-based parties like PKR and Amanah if the opposition is unable to break out of Umno’s racial playbook, and articulate a new narrative that can rally all groups in a larger vision.

In short, Pakatan Harapan needs to ‘reset’ the national conversation to one that centres around ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ and ideas of common destiny for the nation.

Fourth, PAS, as UMNO’s ‘new friend’ as Zahid calls the party, is a reality, and the sooner a deep line is drawn between the genuine/official Opposition, Pakatan Harapan, and the pseudo ‘third force’ PAS, the clearer the situation becomes for voters. This will weaken PAS’ usefulness as an UMNO-directed spoiler in the coming election.

Fifth, the ultimate challenge for the newly re-aligned Pakatan Harapan that now  includes Bersatu will come if Najib suddenly exits the scene and takes out the raison  d’être for the opposition and dissipates much of the anger in the Malay community.

 

If this is to happen, can the opposition in its present format survive this unlikely, but not impossible, Black Swan?


This perspective is based on a public seminar given by LIEW CHIN TONG at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute on April 13, 2017. Liew was formerly a Visiting Fellow at  the Institute. He is the Member of Parliament for Kluang, and a member of the central executive committee of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Nate Thayer recalls Pol Pot


April 19, 2017

Nate Thayer recalls Pol Pot

April  17, 2015

http://www.nate-thayer.com/i-killed-pol-pot-how-the-free-press-brought-pol-pot-to-justice/

Why a Free Press is a vital institution to Free People

By Nate Thayer

April 17, 2015

Today marks a tragic day in the modern history of political mass murder by government.

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Forty-two years ago today six separate armies, under the titular leadership of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, converged on the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and assumed control of the country. They were welcomed by most Cambodians. They were actively supported and encouraged by many, many leading figures from across the political spectrum.

Very few like to talk about that now. During the 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days after April 17, 1975 that the Khmer Rouge ran Cambodia, 1.8 million Cambodians died through execution, starvation, forced labour, disease and other reasons that were a direct consequence of the appalling failures of central government policies. None of them deserved to die.

There is not a Cambodian I have ever met who did not suffer unspeakably as a result of the central policies of the Khmer Rouge while they were in power. I have wept many times for all those, many of whom are my friends, who did not deserve what happened to them.

In 1998, I was honored with the award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting of the Year by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists for my work in tracking down Pol Pot and reporting on what he did. I had, and in many ways still have, essentially three questions for Pol Pot and his comrades: Did you kill 2 million people?; Are you sorry?; And what the hell were you thinking?

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Here is my acceptance speech at Harvard University for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists “Outstanding Investigative Reporting of the Year” award:

FINDING POL POT: OR HOW I KILLED POL POT

NATE THAYER’S STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review received the Center for Public Integrity’s first ICIJ Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting at Harvard University on November 7, 1998. Here are excerpts from his acceptance speech:

Quote: I am very proud to be a journalist, and there is really no greater honor than to be recognized by your colleagues, and I thank you for that, particularly given the nature of the people in this room. I am really humbled by it, by the award. Thank you again.

It is actually ironic because I am actually from this town. I graduated from high school about 200 meters from here at the end of this road, and I left 15 years ago to become a journalist, quite late in life actually–not until I was 28, 29.

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I was a bureaucrat for the state government here in Boston. I was engaged to be married, which was a really goofy idea. I got fired. I was a really bad bureaucrat. And so I told the fiancée, “Forget it”, and I bought a one-way ticket to Bangkok.

I had no journalism experience. I had no money. I had the indignity of having my mother co-sign a $15,000 loan so that I could survive, trying to get a job as a journalist. I thought I would go cover the wars of Southeast Asia. So I got to Bangkok, and I had forgotten to take the ex-fiancee’s name off the bank account. I rented a house, and I went to take my money out to pay my rent. She had fled to Mexico with her new boyfriend, with my $15,000 loan.

I was in Bangkok with no job, no money, a $300-a-month bank payment, no experience, no contacts, and really no fucking idea what I was doing. It was not an auspicious beginning to a new career.

So I went and did what I thought would be the way to do it. You go out and do stories and try to flog them around.

After a couple of months, the Soldier of Fortune Southeast Asia correspondent got blown up in Burma, and the publisher came to pick up his body. He needed a replacement, so he hired me at $400 a month. It was my first job as a journalist.

He said to go up to Burma, and there were a lot of wars up there at the time. I had no idea what I was doing, and I went up to Burma, went up to the Karen guerrilla areas. The front lines between the warring factions were about 50 meters away. A lot of you will know what a DK-75 recoilless rifle is–it is very loud and it moves. I thought, ‘well, I will get a picture of them, a rifle going off and hitting the enemy bunker.’ I positioned myself about a meter behind the rifle. Of course, I was blown back about two meters, my camera was blown up, and I still have permanent hearing loss.

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Then I went over to the Cambodian border the next month. I am in the guerrilla zones and the guerrilla troops I was with had just captured a town, and I am coming back in a captured truck and we ran over two anti-tank mines. This killed everybody that was sitting in the front of the truck except me. That was my first few months as a journalist. As we all know, often the stories behind the stories–how you get a story–is as interesting as the story itself.

We at The Far Eastern Economic Review were recognized for exclusively covering the trial of Pol Pot and then, a few months later, the first ever interview of Pol Pot in 20 years since he orchestrated the atrocities he did. Also, a few months later, I was the only person there when Pol Pot died.

And, in fact, I killed Pol Pot. No, no I am not joking. It is a true story. I will tell you exactly what happened.

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The Khmer Rouge did not have contact with anybody. They were probably the last Maoist guerrillas on the planet, living in the jungle. I had wasted most of my youth trying to develop contacts with them, and so they knew me. And so I got this call in early April of 1998, saying ‘we need to see you in the jungles.’ And so I left my home in Bangkok and I went up to northeastern Thailand, crossed over the border, and met the Khmer Rouge leadership, and they said, ‘We’re ready to turn Pol Pot over to the Americans.’ And I said, ‘Well, that is a good fucking story.’
I was the only American they knew, so they wanted to give me Pol Pot! What the fuck am I going to do with Pol Pot? Put him in the back of my pickup truck and take him back to the Far Eastern Economic Review office in Bangkok? I told them, ‘Look, there is this organization called the International Committee of the Red Cross, and I will get you in contact with them.’

So, I am up there in the jungle–we went to print on Wednesday–and I wrote the story saying that the Khmer Rouge were prepared to turn over Pol Pot. The story came out Wednesday night–at exactly 5:00 PM Hong Kong time. The Voice of America picked it up. It ran on VOA (Voice of America) Khmer language service at 8:00 o’clock Cambodia time that night. Pol Pot listened to VOA Khmer language service every night, and two hours and 15 minutes later he was dead. He committed suicide.

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It was not the world community or the major powerful governments who brought Pol Pot to justice.

It was the Free Press that brought Pol Pot to justice. We tried him, we interrogated him, and then we killed him. The Far Eastern Economic Review was a full-service news organization. But it doesn’t actually stop there, because I was supposed to interview Pol Pot the morning after he died. And I got a call at 10:15 that night and–from Chinese hand cranked telephones from the jungle–saying Pol Pot’s dead, and my first reaction was ‘Oh Shit. My interview! I’m supposed to interview him tomorrow morning.’

Now, the Thais had always claimed they did not have contact with the Khmer Rouge, which was not true, but they had to maintain that fiction for political reasons. And the Americans had no contact with the Khmer Rouge for 30 years. So about 5 minutes after I hung up with the Khmer Rouge, I get this call from a certain western intelligence agency and then a few minutes later from the Thai army commander-in-chief saying ‘we understand Pol Pot might be dead.’ And I say ‘Yeah, I understand Pol Pot is dead, too.’ And the American and the Thai’s said ‘You can go in, you can cross the border, but we want you to bring back his body.’

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The Far Eastern Economic Review took its mandate to provide quality journalism without fear or favour without compromise

And so I am driving in with my good friend, the cameraman David McKaige through some very unpleasant area with lots of very unpleasant people with guns. One of our missions was to pick up Pol Pot’s body, but my only real mission was to report what I saw and knew to the readers of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

I forgot to mention that the other thing was that–in a kind of shy way–this particular Western intelligence official said ‘Look, if you can’t get the body, you think you could’–they were looking for forensics because they needed proof that, one, it was Pol Pot, and two, he was dead, and three, how he died, right?–‘Could you cut off one of his fingers or cut off a piece of his hair.’

I said ‘Well, I will try my best’ and suggested that I would at least try to take his teeth. Pol Pot had two front false teeth.

Rumors would surely be rampant if this was really Pol Pot.So, I get in there, and sure enough it was Pol Pot and he was dead. His wife was there.

I reached into Pol Pot’s mouth and removed his false teeth and said, ‘Uh, excuse me, Mrs Pot. Do you think I could have your husband’s teeth?’ She gave me a look I will never forget which said pretty much ‘My husband warned me that you people were very, very bad people.’ I took that for a no, and put Pol Pot’s teeth back into the mouth of his dead corpse.

I regret to this day I didn’t insist on just taking Pol Pot’s teeth. Anyways, so that is part of the story behind the story.

I am very much honored by this award. And I thank you very, very much. Unquote

Xenophobic Najib Razak, where is Reverend Koh?


April 19, 2017

Malaysia: Xenophobic Najib Razak, where is Reverend Koh?

by Manjit Bhatia

http://www.newmandala.org

Manjit Bhatia asks who bears the answers to the Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher’s disappearance.

Image result for Imam Zahid Hamidi
Is the Face of an Enlightened Leader or a Philosopher-King? No, he is known for the company he keeps

Eight weeks after the February 13 abduction of 62-year old Malaysian-Chinese Christian preacher Raymond Koh Keng Joo – in broad daylight on a busy outskirts Kuala Lumpur street – Malaysia’s Police still claim have no clue of his whereabouts. That’s in spite of nabbing a suspect six weeks ago who curiously, demanded only one-third of the $A29,500 offer for the pastor’s release.

Also curious: the kidnapping happened 70 meters from the Selangor state police building in Shah Alam. More curious still: it was filmed, as if the cameraman lay in wait, and the video was quickly uploaded to social media sites. By whom, nobody knows. Despite CCTV footage, Malaysia’s coppers can’t seem to identify the 10-15 criminals or their motive.

In Malaysia, where bigotry rules alongside traditional patrimonialism,  the   kidnapping hasn’t caused a ripple among Malaysians, who fear state retribution.  Religious xenophobia has been fueling political violence, especially as Muslims soon could be living under sharia and hudud – laws already before Parliament.

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So where is Reverend Koh?

So where is Koh? Is he alive? Or has he been killed? The case quickly became frigid. Police, however, are questioning Koh’s family and his “past”. Nothing unusual for Malaysia’s Police to pass the buck. But its history of unexplained deaths in custody speaks volumes about the rise of institutional criminality. So, too, the link between Police and Islamic authorities.  

Most early speculations about Koh’s kidnapping can be ruled out, including ransom demand by common thugs, and rogue military elements or Islamic terrorists having kidnapped the Christian pastor. The earliest speculation – that Koh is being held in a government gulag, undergoing “re-education” prior to his release – is improbable. It will give Koh opportunities to speak out. And the beleaguered UMNO regime wouldn’t chance its crooked arm on more damning exposés.

It’s no secret Koh has been proselytizing Christianity to Malay-Muslims while providing basic needs to all races, not just Malays, through his Komuniti Harapan charity. The gravest accusation against him is his converting Malays – a definite no-no in Muslim-majority Malaysia. To deter Koh, Islamic authorities raided one of Koh’s charity fundraising dinners. Koh also received a bullet in the mail.

Though one persistent speculation about Koh’s kidnapping won’t fizzle – his abduction was a calculated operation. The criminals drove black SUVs with heavily-tinted windows – the sort favoured by Malaysia’s Police. Several unmarked cars and motorcyclists accompanying the SUVs herded traffic procedurally like Police.

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If he does not care, why is he still Malaysia’s Top Cop?

The attackers wore hoods – attire favoured by Police on such operations. Recall 1998 when former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad ordered balaclava-clad police to invade the home of and arrest his ex-protégé Anwar Ibrahim. Recall also the murder of Mongolian socialite Altantuya Shaariibuu, who was blown up by army-grade C4 explosives in a jungle near Kuala Lumpur. The military-guarded explosives fell into her killers’ hands, two of whom were “high-level” Police bodyguards to VIPs.  

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Malaysia’s Home Affairs Minister

Malaysia’s Police has a record of a slew of abuses of power and criminalities – from unexplained and uninvestigated deaths in their custody amounting to murder and abuse of human rights to extortion, racketeering and unbridled corruption. Locals aren’t surprised by any of the Police’s antics. In 2013, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi, to whom the Police answer, praised the outlawed Malay criminals Tiga Line – without consequence to his position. It’s another sign of the growing criminalisation of Malaysia’s institutions by the ruling political elite and its doxy economic class.  

But Police wouldn’t have acted alone against Koh. JAKIM has been headlining Malaysia’s turn towards ultra-conservative religious intolerance. JAKIM is the federal Islamic religious department under Premier Najib Razak’s purview. JAKIM is renowned for its political ideology and racist recklessness. Like its lesser sister organisations JAIS and MAIS, JAKIM, with Najib’s blessings, has been actively pushing for the greater Sunni Arabist Islamisation of Malaysia, bankrolled by Saudi largesse.

JAKIM has banned Christians from using the term “allah” – apparently the exclusive preserve for Muslims. Since the 9/11 terrorists attacks, non-Islamic religious practices in Malaysia have been frowned upon, scrutinised and gradually proscribed through threats by Umno-funded ultra-rightwing racists, like dumping cow heads at Hindu temples and vandalising churches.

Besides the Police, Islamic bodies also help to anchor the Najib regime’s soft authoritarianism. In 2015 JAKIM’s junior partner JAIS, which operates in Selangor state and is answerable to the sultan, raided a Christian society warehouse. It confiscated mainly Malay-language bibles while police provided JAIS protection. JAIS escaped criminal charges but issued an edict against Christians using the “Allah” word.

Koh’s proselytisation of Christianity to Muslims and their conversion is no greater a crime than the UMNO regime’s band of Sunni Islamic “authorities” engaged in “body snatching”, mostly of deceased Hindus who are then proclaimed as Muslims and whose names show up on electoral rolls to protect the Najib regime’s moral bankruptcy and political illegitimacy and criminality. Police and JAKIM bear answers to Koh’s disappearance.

 Manjit Bhatia is an Australian research scholar who specialises in the economics and politics of Asia and international political economy. He is also research director of AsiaRisk, an economic and political risk consultancy.