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.

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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.

 

Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”


April 17, 2017

Doctor Soft Power–“What I Tell My Non-American Friends”

by Joseph S. Nye

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https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/american-institutions-resilence-trump-by-joseph-s–nye-2017-04

I frequently travel overseas, and invariably my foreign friends ask, with varying degrees of bewilderment: What in the world is going on in your country? Here is what I say.

First, do not misinterpret the 2016 election. Contrary to some commentary, the American political system has not been swept away by a wave of populism. True, we have a long history of rebelling against elites. Donald Trump tapped into a tradition associated with leaders like Andrew Jackson and William Jennings Bryan in the nineteenth century and Huey Long and George Wallace in the twentieth century.

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The Enigma that is Donald J. Trump–Keeping the World Guessing–Unpredictability

And yet Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million. He won the election by appealing to populist resentment in three Rust Belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – that had previously voted Democratic. If a hundred thousand votes had been cast differently in those states, Trump would have lost the Electoral College and the Presidency.

That said, Trump’s victory points to a real problem of growing social and regional inequality in the United States. J.D. Vance’s recent best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy compellingly describes the vast difference between California and Appalachia.

Research by the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton shows that the demographic trends among lower-income whites without a college degree are worse than those for African-Americans, who historically anchored the lower extremes of inequality. In 1999, mortality rates among whites with no college were around 30% lower than those of African-Americans; by 2015, they were 30% higher.

Moreover, manufacturing employment, once a prime source of high-paying jobs for working-class whites, has fallen sharply over the last generation, to just 12% of the workforce. These previously Democratic voters were attracted by Trump’s promises to shake things up and bring back manufacturing jobs. Ironically, Trump’s efforts to repeal President Barack Obama’s health-care legislation would make their lives worse.

The second thing I tell my foreign friends is not to underestimate Trump’s communications skills. Many are offended by his tweet storms and outrageous disregard for facts. But Trump is a veteran of reality television, where he learned that the key to success is to monopolize viewers’ attention, and that the way to do that is with extreme statements, not careful regard for the truth.

Twitter helps him to set the agenda and distract his critics. What offends commentators in the media and academia does not bother his supporters. But as he turns from his permanent self-centered campaigning to trying to govern, Twitter becomes a two-edged sword that deters needed allies.

Third, I tell my friends not to expect normal behavior. Normally, a president who loses the popular vote moves to the political center to attract additional support. This is what George W. Bush did successfully in 2001. Trump, by contrasts, proclaims that he won the popular vote and, acting as though he really did, appeals to his base voters.

While Trump has made solid centrist appointments to the Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security, his picks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services are from the extremes of the Republican Party. His White House staff is divided between pragmatists and ideologues, and he caters to both.

Fourth, no one should underestimate US institutions. Sometimes my friends talk as though the sky is falling and ask if Trump is as dangerous a narcissist as Mussolini. I tell them not to panic. The US, for all its problems, is not Italy in 1922. Our national political elites are often polarized; but so were America’s founders.

In designing the US Constitution, the founders’ goal was not to ensure harmonious government, but to constrain political power with a system of checks and balances that made it difficult to exercise. The joke goes that the founders created a political system that made it impossible for King George to rule over us – or for anyone to ever do so. Inefficiency was placed in the service of liberty.

It is still early in the Trump Presidency, and we cannot be sure what might happen after, say, a major terrorist attack. So far, however, the courts, the Congress, and the states have checked and balanced the administration, as Madison intended. And the permanent civil servants in the executive departments add ballast.

Finally, my friends ask what all of this means for American foreign policy and the liberal international order led by the US since 1945. Frankly, I don’t know, but I worry less about the rise of China than the rise of Trump.

While American leaders, including Obama, have complained about free riders, the US has long taken the lead in providing key global public goods: security, a stable international reserve currency, relatively open markets, and stewardship of the Earth’s commons. Despite the US-led international order’s problems, the world has prospered and poverty has been reduced under it. But one cannot be sure it will continue. The US will need to cooperate with China, Europe, Japan, and others to manage transnational problems.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump was the first major party candidate in 70 years to call the American alliance system into question. Since taking office in January, statements by Trump and his appointees suggest that it is likely to persist. American hard and soft power, after all, stems largely from the fact that the US has 60 allies (while China has only a few).

But the stability of the multilateral institutions that help manage the world economy and global commons is more uncertain. Trump’s Budget Director speaks of a hard-power budget, with funds cut from the State Department and the United Nations system. Other officials advocate replacing multilateral trade deals with “fair and balanced” bilateral arrangements. And Trump is repudiating Obama’s efforts to address climate change. I tell my friends I wish I could reassure them on these issues. But I cannot.

 

Hishamuddin’s steps to power: Loyalty pays off


April 17, 2017

COMMENT:

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I have been very critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak on many issues, corruption and governance among them; more often than not, I have been brutally so. Frankly speaking, his record has been dismal since taking over from Tun Abdullah Badawi in 2009 (with thanks to the machinations of his political mentor, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad). Najib’s popularity is now at an all time low.

However, Najib’s decision to give Defence Minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn a special role in his administration is, in my view, a very strategic, politically astute and timely one. Every leader needs an aide he can trust, not someone who has ambitions of his own to be the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Hopefully, together and with the help of the charismatic  UMNO Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin, Najib and Hishamuddin can forge a strong alliance to face Malaysian voters in GE-14 on a Malaysia-centric political and socio-economic agenda rather than a Malay nationalist-Islamist one, with a view to bringing Malaysians together again.

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Najib, Hishamuddin and Khairy –a Formidable Combination for UMNO

Hishamuddin to Najib is what Tun Hussein was to Tun Abdul Razak with one fundamental difference. Tun Hussein was a reluctant politician who had the premiership thrust upon him. Our 3rd. Prime Minister was also a man of integrity, a lawyer of excellent aristocratic pedigree and a loyal son of Dato’ Onn Jaafar, who was UMNO’s founder President.

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Hishamuddin,  on the other hand, is a thorough bred UMNO politician who rose through the ranks at a measured pace. One needs to look at his resume to note that he has held key Cabinet positions. He performed  well and served the Prime Minister and UMNO loyally. Finally, his hard work and dedication to his responsibilities have earned him the right to take on this new job. But it is difficult to say that the premiership is his for the taking.

The incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zahid Hamidi is a formidable rival with strong support among the UMNO grassroots and Malay nationalists of the extreme right. But at least Hishamuddin is an alternative who represents the moderate face of UMNO, which will be more acceptable to voters and UMNO’s Barisan Nasional partners (MCA, MIC and Gerakan) than the plebian Zahid. I did not mention PAS because I think this Hadi Awang-led Islamic party is headed towards political extinction after GE-14. –Din Merican

Hishammuddin’s steps to power

 by Scott Ng
 
The new Minister with Special functions occupies an unusual but maybe pivotal role.
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Hishamuddin as Malaysia’s Defence Minister in Singapore

 

The appointment of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to the position of minister with special functions is one of the more curious political moves in recent memory. The buzz is that Prime Minister Najib Razak needs his first cousin as his right hand man. So one must wonder what must be running through the head of current DPM Zahid Hamidi, especially so close to a general election.

Zahid’s ambition has been noted by several quarters, with some critics believing that he veers too far to the right for the comfort of the public. Nonetheless, the DPM is a valuable asset to the Najib administration, but Hishammuddin’s sudden ascent has thrown the succession plan into disarray.

Hishammuddin certainly has a much better reputation with moderates than Zahid, and perhaps can be seen as something of a peace offering to those spooked by the new religious fundamentalist and ethno-nationalist approach of UMNO.

Unlike his cousin’s other lieutenants, Hishammuddin has kept a low public profile. While he is not looked to for an opinion like Khairy Jamaluddin is whenever a crisis erupts, he is seen as a quiet problem solver, brokering important defence deals in the Middle East and working with China on defence interests.

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Overall, he is seen as better spoken and more temperate a candidate for leader than Zahid, but memories may be long when it comes to perceptions of a politician’s character. People still remember his belligerence as UNMO Youth Chief. He brandished a keris during his speech at the UMNO General Assembly of 2005. He might have to do a little work to shake off that memory if he is truly positioned to take over as Deputy Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, Hishammuddin’s presence may yet prove to be appealing to the more cosmopolitan of the right wing and an acceptable compromise for the moderates and the left. Such an appeal is something that BN probably feels it needs in facing GE14.

However, the appointment does not signal a complete shift to the middle ground. GE14 is shaping up to be defined as a Malay vs Malay fight. If one thing is certain, it is that all parties will fight over the hallowed motherland vote and the insults will fly thick.

Hishammuddin may yet walk out of this the biggest winner, but only if he is the contrarian of his party and maintains the professional image he has groomed for himself over the past decade or so.

There are some who theorise that Hishammuddin’s appointment signals the beginning of a transition, that our Prime Minister is preparing to step down. If that is true, then all eyes will be watching how he behaves during the coming election campaign period.

At this point, Malaysians simply want a win, and if that win comes in the form of an heir apparent with all his clothes on, it will be a positive start.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.