Malaysia’s GE-14: Najib will strike when he is ready


October 19, 2017

Malaysia’s GE-14: Najib will strike when he is ready

by Marzuki Mohamad

http://www.newmandala.org

Image result for Najib and Malaysia's GE-14

All the Advantages of Incumbency stacked in his favour, Najib is in no hurry to call for General Elections. –Keep the Opposition guessing is a good strategy.

Malaysia’s 14th General Election (or GE14) looms large. Some pundits predict that the election will be held sometime between November 2017 and March 2018. This is supposedly the best window for Prime Minister Najib Razak to lead Barisan Nasional (BN) to another victory.

But calling for a general election amid allegations of an epic financial scandal involving the prime minister himself is not an easy task. The 1MDB scandal, the subject of investigations in six countries, has badly affected Najib’s popularity. What the Prime Minister badly needs is a real feel-good factor that will overcome all these misfortunes. But this will be hard to come by.

By now, Najib must have received reports on voter sentiment from intelligence agencies such as the Special Branch, the Defence Staff Intelligence Division and the Research Division in the Prime Minister’s Department. Apart from these, he might have also seen the various situation reports prepared by socio-political agencies such as the Biro Tatanegara, the Department of Special Affairs (JASA) and the Community Development Department (KEMAS) on the state of the country’s social and political affairs. He would have also assigned his own political operators and engaged private pollsters to gauge public sentiment on the ground.

In the past, BN successfully gained electoral victory on the premise of its ability to deliver economic development and maintain political stability. But the current state of the country’s economy doesn’t look good. Although the World Bank forecasts Malaysia’s GDP to grow by 5.2% this year, prices of goods have gone up, subsidies for essential items like cooking oil and fuel have been either cut or abolished, the weak Ringgit is causing inflation, and on top of this there is the unpopular 6% Goods and Services Tax.

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Their future depends on Prime Minister Najib Razak. So it only natural that they salute. Look at Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn, DPM Zahid Hamidi and Teuku Adnan Mansor (front  row seated extreme right)

The 2018 budget will be tabled in Parliament in late October 2017. It will be an opportunity for the prime minister to create a feel-good factor by giving generous hand-outs to voters in order to win their votes. But the government’s coffers are depleting, contingent liabilities are huge, and the need to keep budget deficits low remains. There is very little room for the BN government to turn the 2018 budget into the feel-good factor and generate broad-based support in the general election.

But there is a silver lining for Najib. The Malay opposition is split due to the breakaway of PAS from the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition in 2015. While PAS has not indicated that it will cooperate with UMNO in the upcoming general election, the split in the Malay opposition will certainly be beneficial for UMNO.

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Merdeka Center’s latest poll indicates that PAS gains an average of 21% Malay support. This is enough to reduce the opposition’s chance of winning the election, especially in the Malay majority constituencies should there be “3-cornered” fights between UMNO, PAS, and the new opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) led by Mahathir Mohamad. The Merdeka Center poll puts PH support at 18% among Malays, with 12% unsure and 9% declining to answer.

PAS is widely seen as the opposition’s spoiler. But the picture is more complicated. The level of Malay support for PAS is not evenly spread across the country. It is mostly concentrated in the Malay heartland of Kelantan, Terengganu, northern Kedah, northern Perak and some parts of Selangor and Pahang. These are mostly large Malay-majority constituencies, in which Malay voters make up more than 70% of the electorate. There are 70 parliamentary seats in this category in Peninsular Malaysia.

However, out of these 70 seats, eight are in Kedah, where Mahathir’s strong influence in the state may swing votes away from UMNO. Apart from these, there are at least five seats in Kelantan, and one in Terengganu, which have traditionally been PAS’s strongholds: Pengkalan Chepa, Kubang Kerian, Kota Baharu, Tumpat, Rantau Panjang and Marang. These 13 Malay-majority seats are most vulnerable for UMNO. Realistically speaking, then, UMNO has a sure chance of winning in only 57 out of 165 parliamentary constituencies in Peninsular Malaysia.

Meanwhile, non-Malay support for BN has been extremely low since the last general election. Recent surveys have not seen any significant improvement in non-Malay support for the government, and the contest for votes in marginal Malay-majority constituencies—that is, where non-Malay voters are more than 30% of the electorate—will be keenly fought by all parties.

There are 47 parliamentary seats in this category, mostly situated in southern Kedah, Penang, the Kinta Valley in Perak, southern Perak, southern and central Selangor, and urban and semi-urban centres in Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and Johor. PAS’ influence in these constituencies is relatively minimal, and may not impact much on the Malay vote split.

It is in these areas where PH is making significant inroads, posing a serious challenge to BN. Some of the parliamentary seats in these areas are already in the hands of PH parties. Apart from these marginal Malay-majority constituencies, there are 48 non-Malay majority constituencies in Peninsular Malaysia which can be considered as safe seats for the opposition.

Image result for The Peoples of Sabah and Sarawak

Sarawak–The Land of Hornbills– grants you with an experience like no other, seeped in culture and natural wonders. It is buzzing with culture diversity, rich history, mighty rivers, ancient rainforests and wildlife wonders. If you’re keen on nature and adventure, Sarawak has to offer a wilderness that is grand and truly awesome.

Left for the government are 57 parliamentary seats in Sabah and Sarawak, long said to be BN’s “fixed deposit”. However, out of these 57 seats, nine are currently held by the opposition, and are not safe seats for BN. Apart from these nine, there are at least five parliamentary seats in the east coast of Sabah where the newly formed Parti Warisan Sabah, led by former UMNO Vice President Shafie Apdal, is making significant inroads. These seats too are no longer safe seats for BN. So, out of 57 parliamentary seats in Sabah and Sarawak, only 43 can be considered safe for BN.

With 57 safe seats in Peninsular Malaysia and 43 safe seats in Sabah and Sarawak, BN has a total of 100 out of 222 parliamentary seats that can be considered safe. This figure still falls short of the total needed to get a simple majority to form the next federal government. Unless Najib can turn the remaining seats into safe seats for BN, calling for a general election now will be a bit risky for him.

Under these circumstances, Najib may need more time to turn things around. As an astute politician with the power of incumbency, he may do quite many things to turn things around, particularly in the context of free, competitive—but not necessarily fair—elections in Malaysia. But time may not necessarily be on his side.

Having said this, I would like to add a caveat: I am not predicting the election results. Nor am I predicting what the prime minister will do to remain in power. But suffice to say that based on the above analysis, and assuming all other factors remain the same, it is reasonably logical to guess at this juncture that unlike previous elections, there is no clear cut assurance of BN’s electoral victory this time round.

Marzuki Mohamad is Associate Professor of Political Science at the International Islamic University Malaysia. From 2013 to 2015 he was Political Secretary to former Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, current President of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, a member of the Pakatan Harapan coalition. He received his PhD from the Australian National University’s Department of Political and Social Change. He can be reached at marzuki_m[at]iium[dot]edu[dot]my

Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump


October 19, 2017

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

Stress-Testing American Democracy: Nine Months of President Trump

On Friday, Donald Trump will have been in the Oval Office for nine months. In some ways, it feels like it’s been longer. (Can you remember life before Trump tweets?) And it’s become harder to step back from the daily madness and consider what Trump’s record means for the U.S. and its future. But maintaining that perspective is necessary if we’re to keep track of what matters amid the feuds, spats, meltdowns, and turmoil that are the Trump Administration.

There are two sides to the story. If we consider Trump’s Presidency a stress test for American democracy, the system has responded pretty well, hemming him in, challenging him, and frustrating some of his more illiberal designs. But there are worrying signs, too. Every day Trump remains in office, he further polarizes the country and diminishes its international standing. And, as he contemplates the looming reality of being written off as a Presidential failure, there is no knowing where his demons will lead him.

With the notable exception of the Republican Party, most of the institutions of state and civil society have responded forcefully to Trump. The federal courts knocked down his first two anti-Muslim travel bans. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel after Trump fired James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. Intelligence officials have leaked damaging information about Trump’s associates and their dealings with Russian officials. The military command, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, successfully leaned on the President to support Article 5 of the NATO treaty. Even inside the Trump White House—which Senator Bob Corker has deemed an “adult day care center”—staffers “spend a significant part of their time devising ways to rein in and control the impetuous president,” as the Washington Post reported on Monday. Stories like this emerge virtually every day. The U.S. media, which Trump labelled an “enemy of the people” shortly after he took office, has never been so energized. Outside Washington, meanwhile, there is a large popular resistance movement that the President single-handedly spurred into being. In addition to riling up traditional supporters of the Democratic Party, he has drawn into activism a lot of people who previously didn’t think of themselves as very political. Even in a democracy beholden to large interest groups, determined public engagement can still have a big effect—for an example, look at the Republican Party’s failure to repeal Obamacare.

That is the plus side of the ledger. If the question, on Inauguration Day, was whether American democracy would prove to be bigger than a President Trump, the answer, so far, is largely in the affirmative. However, it is no time to relax. Unless Trump resigns or is removed from office, he will have at least thirty-nine more months in power. (And a lot longer if he gets reëlected.) The key question is how much damage he will have done by the time he is gone.

Although his legislative agenda has so far proved a bust, he’s making progress (by his lights) in other ways. Last week, the White House took several steps to sabotage the Obamacare insurance exchanges. This week, Trump’s modified and open-ended travel ban will go into effect. Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated to the Supreme Court, has restored a conservative majority to the Court. And his appointees at agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and the National Labor Relations Board are busy—largely away from the public view—rolling back regulations that addressed climate change, market competition, the new economy, and workers’ rights. Over time, these administrative changes will have a huge impact.

On the foreign-policy front, Trump’s advisers apparently persuaded him not to scrap the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran and settle, instead, for publicly disavowing it and tossing the issue to Congress. Given Trump’s prior rhetoric, that was a mildly encouraging development, but his isolationism and belligerence are alive and well. Under his leadership, the U.S. has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate-change agreement, and UNESCO. NAFTA could be next. In the place of Pax Americana, we have what Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, calls “The Withdrawal Doctrine.”

And the national-security establishment hasn’t yet faced the ultimate test. A couple of weeks ago, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, virtually admitted that Trump was trying to persuade the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, that he is mad enough to launch a nuclear strike. In the internal logic of brinkmanship, it can perhaps make sense to sow doubt in your opponent’s head about whether you are fully rational. But what if Trump really is demented enough to order a preëmptive attack on Pyongyang? Would the three generals who serve as top Administration officials—Mattis; John Kelly, the White House chief of staff; and H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser—be able to stop him?

It’s also terrifying to consider what Trump might do in response to an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on U.S. soil. In such a case, the country would be forced to mourn the victims while dealing with a President who in 2015 talked about forcing Muslims to carry special identity cards, raiding mosques without search warrants, and instituting mass surveillance in Muslim communities. He has also called for a return to torturing terrorism suspects.

Even if we are lucky enough to escape a deadly war or a terrorist atrocity, the cumulative impact of having Trump in the White House for another thirty-nine months, or possibly even longer, is hard to fathom. Since the first day of his Presidential campaign, he has been busy agitating against many of the norms associated with U.S. democracy. “It is frankly disgusting the press is able to write whatever it wants to write,” he told an interviewer last week. A day later, he talked about pulling emergency responders out of stricken Puerto Rico, whose inhabitants have been American citizens for a century.

To be sure, many of Trump’s utterances don’t come to much in policy terms. But that doesn’t excuse them, or mitigate the psychological onslaught he is unleashing on the American polity. The United States is a huge, heterogeneous country with deep social, racial, and economic fissures. To maintain unity, it has constructed an elaborate narrative (some of it based on myth) that everyone subscribes to the same basic values, and that everyone gets accorded equal treatment and respect.

Practically every day, Trump undermines this narrative, spewing forth a never-ending torrent of divisiveness and venom. When he isn’t targeting those he views as his political enemies—NBC News, CNN, the Times—he often lashes out at members of minority groups, such as black N.F.L. players or the mayor of San Juan. The racists and hatemongers see what he is doing, and they are encouraged. People who have witnessed other democracies fray and other divided countries come apart are looking on in dismay.

Despite his promise to “Make America Great Again,” Trump has delivered practically nothing except chaos, bombast, and division. As long as he occupies the Presidency, an office for which he is blatantly unsuited, he will continue to chip away at the country’s foundations. Right now, only his Cabinet colleagues and the Republicans on Capitol Hill have the power to bring this great ordeal to an end. There is little sign of them summoning the necessary will and courage to act.

Malaysia’s Elections Commission– Makes a Mockery of the Electoral Process


October 19,2017

Malaysia’s Elections Commission–Makes a Mockery of the Electoral Process

by Dennis Ignatius

The Elections Commission: helping or hindering fair elections

Image result for Malaysia's Elections Commission

Vote UMNO-BN and you will get a bargain –Two in One Political Synergy–and a Disaster for Malaysia.

Election commissions (EC) play a critical role in any democracy. They have a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the will of the people is properly expressed through the ballot box by guaranteeing free and fair elections.

Since they serve as the referee, the final arbitrator, in the electoral contest between competing political parties, their independence, integrity and impartiality is of the utmost importance.

A principled EC empowers the democratic process; a less than honest one makes a mockery of it.

Facilitators of democracy

To this end, ECs in democracies go out of their way to facilitate voting. Registration processes and voting procedures have been simplified and voting hours extended so that every citizen will have the opportunity to vote as conveniently and efficiently as possible.

New technologies and security protocols have also been harnessed to facilitate electronic registration and voting. In Estonia, one can even vote via mobile phone from anywhere in the world.

What this says is that the political process in these countries respects and honours the right of their citizens to freely and fairly elect their leaders. And beyond that, it allows citizens to fully hold their elected representative accountable through the ballot box.

Just another government agency?

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This guy will make sure that Prime Minister Najib Razak wins GE-14

In Malaysia, on the other hand, there is, rightly or wrongly, a widespread perception that the EC is just another government agency structured to ensure that those in power stay in power regardless of the will of the people, part of an elaborate deception designed to maintain the fiction of free and fair elections while ensuring the ruling party continues to prevail.

Whether it is about Sabahans and Sarawakians living in Peninsula Malaysia, Malaysian citizens living abroad or voter registration, the EC is often more a hindrance than a help. Indeed, one has to wonder whether they are even capable of acting competently and professionally.

Last year, for example, I went to one of those special registration counters that the EC had set up in a shopping mall to update my registration from an absentee voter to a resident voter. Apparently my application form never made it to wherever it was supposed to go to, obliging me to go through the whole process again.

If elections are called any time soon, I would be effectively disenfranchised because of the incompetence of the EC. How difficult is it to update voter information? Are all those voter registration exercises just for show? How many other voters are experiencing such frustrations and have to put up with similar inconvenience and hassle just so they can vote?

Rigged and biased

Then, of course, there is the well-documented penchant for gerrymandering in which anticipated political allegiances and ethnicities are manipulated to give the ruling party the edge.

Largely non-Malay, opposition-held constituencies appear to keep growing larger and larger while government-held constituencies remain conveniently small. According to reports, there are proposals to create 13 “super constituencies” with over 100,000 voters each, mostly in opposition-held areas.

In the opposition-held Damansara parliamentary constituency, gerrymandering reached new heights with a proposed mega-constituency of over 150,000 voters. A single voter in Putrajaya, which has no more than 18,000 voters, would now carry the same weight as eight voters in Damansara.

What this means is that many Malaysians, particularly opposition supporters and minorities, are being progressively disenfranchised with their votes counting for less and less with each re-delineation exercise.

Unsurprisingly, given this kind of malapportionment, UMNO-BN was able to retain a majority of parliamentary seats even though it lost the popular vote in the last elections.

One has to wonder whether free and fair elections are even possible under such a patently biased and rigged electoral system.

A mockery of the electoral process

Clearly, many Malaysians have lost confidence in the EC and will have no hesitation in endorsing the Bersih 2.0 chairperson’s recent call for the elections commissioner to be sacked because he has failed to deliver clean and fair elections.

If Malaysia is to survive as a democracy, an independent EC is clearly necessary. Indeed, the establishment of an independent EC should be one of the pledges that every politician who seeks our vote in the upcoming elections should commit to.

Sacred duty

In the meantime, Malaysian citizens will have to display far greater tenacity and determination than they have thus far when it comes to voting. We might have to put up with bureaucratic hassles and inconvenience and we might have to live with the reality that our votes will count for less and less but we must not be deterred or discouraged.

Out vote is still the most powerful tool we have to bring about peaceful change and national renewal; it must be effectively and thoughtfully utilised.

Every Malaysia should, therefore, consider it his or her sacred and patriotic duty to register and vote no matter what. As well, they should take nothing for granted: check and keep checking to ensure that no one deprives them of their right to vote.

This is the most important thing we can do for our nation at this time.

China: Zero Tolerance for Academic Freedom, not unlike Malaysia


October 18, 2017

China: Zero Tolerance for Academic Freedom, not unlike Malaysia

Translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.

Universities will be closely scrutinised, professors will be evaluated and the Party will punish those lacking ideological firmness. Such is the program released by Xi Jinping’s government to coincide with the Communist Party congress, where Xi is seeking to reinforce his authority as a world leader.

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Dr Bill Chou Kwok-ping, a political scientist who was last month elected vice-president of Macau’s biggest pro-democracy group is the second Macau academic to lose his job after intervening in political debates in as many months, stirring concerns about academic freedom in the former Portuguese colony.

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Efforts to control universities and disregard academic freedom are also taking place abroad. In early September, Reuters and The Guardian exposed efforts by Chinese authorities to partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review from within China. The Review, one of the most reputable journals in its field, is published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press (CUP). Ultimately the publishing house resisted the Chinese pressure, but the news has sparked upset, coming just a few weeks after another controversy that shook the foundations of academia.

The “China Quarterly” affair

In August, China scholars from around the world learnt that Beijing had demanded that Cambridge University Press withdraw 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by University of London’s respected School of Oriental and African Studies and published by CUP.

These articles dealt with topics considered sensitive by the Chinese government: the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests; Mao Zedong and China’s Cultural Revolution; ethnic tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang; Taiwan; and anything relating to democratic reform.

CUP complied, pulling the offending articles from their Chinese site, explaining that it would rather withdraw a small number of articles of interest to a handful of academics, in order to ensure the continued availability in China of its numerous other academic and educational publications.

Image result for China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle

 

Led by China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle, academics and NGOs expressed outrage that CUP would favour its own commercial interests above academic freedom, and threatened to boycott the publishing house.

Faced with protests, the Chinese government defended its actions in an editorial published in the August 20 edition of the Global Times, stating that, while it respects academic freedom in the UK, China has the right to decide what can be published within its borders.

Three days after the censorship came to lighy, CUP had a sudden change of heart, and made the 315 articles available again.

Around the same time, the US-based Association of Asian Studies (AAS) revealed it had received a similar demand but did not comply.

Ideological battle

The controversy highlights the oppressive nature of the government of the People’s Republic. Despite the undeniable international character of Chinese universities, higher education and research must tow the party line.

Deng Xiaoping’s late-1970s policies of economic reform and opening-up enabled the country to become a laboratory of ideas in the last quarter of the 20th century. But for the past decade or so, China appears to be engaged in an ideological battle against the West.

Following the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy, behind the US, which was itself weakened by the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the resulting severe recession.

Yet China quickly found itself facing dissatisfaction from those steamrollered by a policy of growth at all costs, in spite of the country’s economic and diplomatic successes. Many Chinese intellectuals began to think the lot of their fellow citizens should be improved with a final – political – reform.

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Led by writer, Nobel laureate and university professor Liu Xiaobo, one of the key activists of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, hundreds of intellectuals signed the Charter 08, a manifesto in favour of democratising the regime. For this Liu was sentenced in 2009 to an 11-year prison term. He was released in July 2017 and died a few days later.

Document #9, the “anti-subversion kit”

Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012-2013 signalled a new era in the curtailing of freedom of thought. Fearing any threat to the purity of their ideology, Communist Party of China (CPC) leaders released a handbook listing the subversive ideas to be eradicated, the infamous Document #9.

The following topics are now banned from public discussion: western constitutional democracy, the universal nature of human rights, the empowerment of civil society, multiple interpretations of history, and anything questioning the validity of Chinese economic reforms and socialism.

Image result for  China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle

While post-Mao China was not free of taboos, they were usually limited to the “three Ts”: Taiwan, Tiananmen and Tibet. Several things have changed since 2012. Firstly, the publication of Document #9 expanded the scope of unacceptable ideas: any subject, without exception, could now be censored.

Secondly, Chinese universities are now the reluctant front-line soldiers in this ideological battle: in 2015, the Minister for Education urged universities to ban the use of textbooks promoting Western values. Lastly, any contravening of the new norm is now subject to severe repression, and the CPC has no qualms about openly resorting to totalitarian tactics.

A violent crackdown

On top of routine intimidation, 248 human rights advocates were rounded up in a brutal mass arrest in July 2015. In the resulting atmosphere of fear, liberal intellectuals no longer think it wise to answer questions from foreign journalists; they practice broad self-censorship and, when possible, wind up living in exile abroad. For those who remain, harassment is commonplace.

These attacks against fundamental rights and specifically academic freedom are now extending beyond mainland China, starting with the special administrative regions. In 2014, several Macau professors were abruptly dismissed; in Hong Kong, the 2015 disappearances of five book-sellers and publishers is still unresolved. These cases reveal the widening cracks in the “one country, two systems” model. Yet Beijing’s influence does not stop there.

n the summer of 2014, the European Association for Chinese Studies had several pages of its program ripped out by the Confucius Institute the day before its biannual conference in Portugal.

The institute apparently objected to advertising from Taiwanese sponsors. That same year, the American Association of University Professors initiated calls for the closure of Confucius Institutes, claiming they undermine freedom of speech on US university campuses.

Last month Australia acknowledged Chinese government interference in its universities. Beijing has been carrying out unprecedented influence and control operations targeting Chinese students as well as Chinese and non-Chinese professors. In response, the Group of Eight (Go8), a coalition of the top eight universities in Australia, has called for a coordinated and measured response.

In 2016, more than a quarter of the 550,000 overseas students enrolled in Australian universities came from China. They represent a significant financial boon for Australian universities, who don’t want to offend the Chinese government. The question is, can the core values of academic institutions be preserved without incurring the wrath of Party leaders?

This article was originally published in French

 

The Demise of A Secular State


October 16, 2017

The Demise of  A Secular State

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own.”
John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram ends his latest piece, ‘I am a pendatang and proud of it,” with the appropriate “And know that I am here to stay whether you bloody like it or not because this country is mine too!” which is exactly how most non-Malay/ non-Muslims feel whenever they read about the use of the weaponised Islam in this country.

All you have to do is read the comments on social media when Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country, who would use religion as a demarcation line to understand the frustrations non-Malays have with a system that on the one hand, finds utilitarian value in non-Malay contribution to this country, and on the other, is disgusted by their very existence as Malaysians with hopes and agendas of their own. These agendas are not necessarily different from each other but are anathema to the agendas of these state-sponsored Islamists.

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Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country. The Malaysian Opposition led by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his sidekick DAP’s Lim Kit Siang is deaf and dumb on this issue.
 

People often miss the larger narrative when it is easier to digest sound bites. When a religious school burns down, this should have been an opportunity for a national discussion on why these religious schools exists in the first place, what values they are promoting, how safe are they and the corrupt practices that goes in the creation and maintenance of these schools. Instead, nobody was really interested in this, but carried on putting all their eggs in the 1MDB basket.

The Muslims-only launderette issue becomes about how:

1)HRH The Sultan of Johor was the line in the sand when it comes to this type of religious mischief because politicians offered only mild condemnation which sounded more like bemusement, and

2) the relevance of an institution like Jakim (Islamic Development Department) to state religious bodies is questioned by the moves of the Johor Sultan, who, by cutting off contact between the federal religious authorities and his state’s religious department, is making it clear that – for the time being at least – he does not want religious extremism from the federal level contaminating Islamic moderation at the state level.

Where is our glorious opposition in all of this? As I said before – “If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state, oppositional Muslim MPs would not have to worry about attempting to ‘out-Islam’ their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which they battle for votes.”

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Prime Minister Ayahtollah Najib Razak, Malaysia Al-Islam

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Ayahtollah Abdul Hadi Awang–Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia al-Islam

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki  reminds us that BN – not Umno but BN – is committed to make Malaysia an Islamic state and of course, we will not hear anything from the MCA and MIC about this glorious agenda. Neither will we hear anything from our doughty opposition, because they have convinced themselves that they need to be “Islamic” to win the votes of the majority of the Malay community to replace the current Umno poohbah who is apparently the enemy of the state.

Which brings up the uncomfortable question of what kind of state? The enemy of an Islamic state or a secular state?

Forsaking the Constitution

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak blathers on about how we should embrace new politics – whatever that means – and not abandon the Constitution, but the reality is that by chipping away at the Constitution which is what Umno is doing in its attempt to create an “Islamic” state, it is just further evidence that the Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Meanwhile, the opposition is doing nothing about this. Nobody in the opposition has ever made statements that reaffirm the primacy of the Constitution or the opposition’s agenda of ending the Islamisation process. We do not even know if this is one of the reforms that would “save Malaysia” that the opposition intends to carry out.

 

Remember, “this meme that by benching UMNO, we as Malaysians, whatever our religion or credo, would be safe from the machinations of Islamic extremists, is irrational considering that we neither have a committed secular opposition nor Muslim politicians who openly commit to secular agendas. As long as this remains the default setting of Malaysian politics, there will never be a period where secularism is safe from encroaching Islamic extremism.”

I mean really, this whole idea of making Malaysia an “Islamic” state is really about making Malaysia more like Saudi Arabia. And you know what the Johor sultan thinks about that, right? Here is a reminder – “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.”

But what I really want to know is, what does the opposition think of that? Does the opposition think that Malay culture should emulate Arab culture and if so, does the opposition advocate that Malays who don’t want to follow “Malay” customs and traditions are welcome to live in Saudi Arabia?

Depending on your point of view, the balkanisation of Malaysia is something that is a very real possibility because of this agenda of turning Malaysia into an “Islamic” state. This is not something that any rational person would want and I am including the Malays in this equation, because if they really wanted to live in an Islamic paradise, they would have voted for PAS a long time ago.

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Young Malaysians on a Mission: #TangkapNajib

Writing for Malaysiakini has presented me with opportunity to talk to young people from all over Malaysia. This is purely anecdotal, but what young people tell me is that they are disgusted by politics in this country. They voted for change and even on a state level, this has not happened. Most, if not all, of them say that if UMNO stops “playing” with race and religion they will vote BN because they know all over the world politicians are corrupt.

A common complaint or some variation of the same, is that Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state. Most young people who choose to leave do not leave because of corruption, but because of race and religion.

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Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state.

I am beginning to realise that the idea of voting for the opposition to create a two-party system and the almost zealous advocacy (mine?) of such, is an idea of diminishing returns.

Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims


October 16, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims

Nobel laureate aims to restore reputation by setting up civilian-led agency in Myanmar to deliver aid and resettle refugees

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over the Rakhine and Rohingya situation in Naypyitaw in September
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has announced plans to set up a civilian-led agency, with foreign assistance, to deliver aid and help resettle Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

A close adviser, speaking with Aung San Suu Kyi’s knowledge, said the proposed body had been long planned, and was part of an attempt to show the civilian government she leads, rather than the Burmese military, can deliver humanitarian relief, resettlement and economic recovery.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive in recent days from across the Naf river separating the two countries, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on 5 September.

Aid agencies estimate that 536,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.

About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

The adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi had been deeply affected by the crisis in her country, and was determined to fix it, but needed to be careful not to inflame the situation further.

“She is appalled by what she has seen. She does care deeply about this. I know that does not always come across. But she really does,” said the adviser, who asked not to be named. “What was not clear to her [before now] was how to fix it, and how to give the civilian government the powers it needed”.

In a speech carried by state TV late on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “There has been a lot of criticisms against our country. We need to understand international opinion. However, just as no one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do, no one can desire peace and development for our country more than us.”

Many of Aung San Suu Kyi’s former allies have been exasperated by her failure to criticise the military, but the adviser said she was treading a fine line, knowing her government could become under threat of being overthrown by the military.

The adviser added her speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the hands of extremists.

Aung San Suu Kyi came to power ending years of military rule in a compromise that left the military with sweeping powers.

In her new proposal, she said she was setting up a new body to deliver relief and resettlement on the ground, as well as implement projects in all sectors of the region.

“It is going to be an implementation unit and will introduce a degree of transparency into the government that will allow the international community to participate and provide aid”, the adviser added.

The aim is for the body to be a vehicle through which recovery aid, including that delivered by the UK, can be funnelled.

Her adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi understood the moral priority of humanitarian assistance, the need to build new homes for those who had to flee as well as the need for economic development in the region.

“She has put herself front and centre of this and said ‘I will lead this’ ”. The adviser added: “She is someone who through her whole life has been committed to the values of human rights. That has not gone away, but she is very focused on fixing the problem, rather than identifying it.

“She recognises there have been particular tragedies amongst the Muslim communities, and amongst other small minority groups. But, yes, she does see this latest and most dreadful upsurge of violence as stemming from carefully timed political attacks on police stations.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech made no mention of the allegations levelled against security forces, over which she has no formal control under the military-drafted constitution. State media in recent weeks, however, has offered repeated denials of the human rights allegations, often blaming misreporting by the west.

In her speech, she said: “Rather than rebutting criticisms and allegations with words, we will show the world by our actions and our deeds. In the Rakhine state, there are so many things to be done.”

Her adviser said: “She is trying to move away from inflammatory and divisive remarks towards a coherent national solution that is civilian-led. The perilous state of the democratic transition in her country is understood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi listed repatriation of those who have fled to Bangladesh as a top priority, a task that faces political and practical hurdles, notably due to the fact that tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh do not have the documentation likely to satisfy the military that they have a right of return.

However, detailed work remains on possible forms of new registration to allow the Rohingya to return.

In another attempt to respond to western criticisms, Myanmar’s military has launched an internal investigation into the conduct of soldiers during the army’s offensive in Rakhine, which was launched after attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts in late August.