The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered

New York

June 22, 2016

The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered

by Dr Bridget Welsh (Received via E-mail)

The by-election results for Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are in. UMNO held onto their seats, and increased its majorities.

Najib got the formula: Cash is still King

Given the tragedy surrounding the polls stemming from the helicopter accident in Sarawak last month, the fact that by-elections disproportionately favour those with access to resources, and the reality that these contests were three-cornered fights with a divided opposition, these results are not unexpected.

The important implications of these by-elections lies less in the winning, but in the losing – as the shifts in campaigning, voting and political alignments reveal that old dreams are gone. Malaysian electoral politics is shifting, and all indications are that the direction is not toward a stronger, more vibrant polity that offers meaningful choices to the electorate.

Declining engagement

At this marker before the next general election, it is important to identity key trends. Importantly, voters are not engaging as in the past. This is evident in the decline in voter turnout. Malaysians are tired of the politicking and turning away from elections.

The drop in voter turnout from 2013 was a whopping 14 percent in Sungai Besar and 13 percent in Kuala Kangsar respectively. Importantly voter turnout levels were also a drop from 2008. What is even more revealing is the decline in voter registration more broadly, especially among younger Malaysians.

Voters are disappointed with the options provided and tired of a political contest that appears to be about the fight for power rather than the fight for representation. Voter disengagement advantages incumbents, as shown in the by-elections results, and this unhealthy trend reinforces the sense of disempowerment that has deepened with the governance scandals over the last year.

Both campaigns were devoid of any meaningful new messages. They were not about any real reform or policies that help Malaysians. Neither side had anything substantive or new to offer the electorate. Instead the campaign was about fighting enemies, be they Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Abdul Razak or Abdul Hadi Awang.

Battles over personalities dominated over the concerns of ordinary people as the past featured more than the future. If there was any issue that stood out, it was hudud, which was carefully placed by UMNO to serve as a distraction to reinforce opposition splits, fears and insecurities – emotions that favour the incumbent.

UMNO’s use of race and religion for campaigning is not new. This issue however became less about hudud than about the person who introduced the hudud bill, namely Hadi, as here too the election became about old strategies rather than new ones. The overall shallowness of the campaign speaks to the fatigue in the political system and the widening deficit of new ideas and leadership for moving the country forward.

To fill the vacuum, both sides turned to relying on resources and patronage in campaigning. Buying votes has now become the norm for the BN, especially in by-elections. Yet, the crass exchange of funds for votes was so blatant that it set a new low standard of vote-buying. The Electoral Commission seemed to endorse this practice.

While the BN may relish in their victory, this practice will be difficult to replicate on a national scale, especially given the rising debt and fiscal constraints tied to the economic mismanagement of the Najib administration. This mode is not viable to win GE14.

The opposition on its part has joined the goodie game. In an ‘if you can’t beat, then join them’ dynamic, Pakatan Harapan parties handed out rice and other sundries. The use of state funds (or rather people’s funds) were similarly used to woo electoral support, feeding the practice that elections are about what you get materially in the short term rather than in the long term.

The opposition has adopted a campaign tactic it will always lose, not only for the fact that they do not have the funds to be competitive, but more for the reality that it undercuts the opposition from any advantage they have to fall back on principles. For every bag of rice they distribute, they undercut all criticisms of an unfair electoral process. They are becoming what they said they were fighting against.

Loss of dreams

The move away from campaigning over ideas and defending principles underscores broader shifts in the political disengagement among the electorate at large. The stakes in Malaysian elections have changed. While 2008 was about change, and 2013 about the possibility of a change in government, current elections no longer appear to offer the option of meaningful difference.

Today it is not clear what the opposition stands for. These by-elections did not reveal an alternative political narrative for the opposition, a wasted opportunity to genuinely construct a new foundation. For many voters, the dream of change is dead.

It is thus no surprise that there were political realignments in voting, with some Chinese and Indians moving away from the opposition (although between 5-10 percent in a preliminary study of the data). This lack of viable alternative leadership also contributed to the increasing fragmentation among Malay voters. Malays are more divided in UMNO’s favour. The overall momentum is changing, from anger directed toward UMNO moving toward disappointment with the opposition for failing to meet expectations and achieve its promises.

The by-elections do however suggest emphatically that another dream is dying – this is of PAS and hudud. The biggest loser in the campaign was Hadi Awang’s PAS, as the results show that the traditional Islamist party cannot even win second place in a seat where it has repeatedly campaigned and even in a Malay heartland seat in Perak barely scraped through in second place. Preliminary analysis of the data shows that PAS held onto around a third of Malay voters, a record low in recent decades. Its connection to UMNO was electorally toxic for the party.

Not only is Hadi Awang undermining any hope of PAS governing, voters have shown emphatically that they care less about hudud, with the majority rejecting it as the centrepiece of a campaign. PAS was not rewarded for pushing its archaic exclusive moralism, a sign ahead that the party under Hadi Awang is heading towards a minor electoral status worse than 2004. The by-elections show clear signs that the dream of hudud is dying, as the voters have spoken what surveys have long shown – hudud does not win votes. Hadi Awang’s leadership is destroying the party – a dynamic that truly makes UMNO gleeful.

Votes of (no) confidence

Immediately after the polls there were many groups claiming victory. The first was Najib’s camp, with claims of a ‘vote of confidence’. This is a gross error in interpretation. Polls continue to show that Prime Minister Najib remains deeply unpopular – and his lack of presence in these by-elections (as compared to other senior leaders) was telling.

Supporters of the PM may live in a dream world of believing in confidence, but they are fooling themselves if they think that two by-elections will translate into a national mandate for their leader. The reality is that UMNO’s chances electorally are stronger without the scandal-ridden PM.

A second claim of victory came from Amanah, whose first entry into peninsular politics showed that they are a significant new Malay party. They performed well. This performance, however, rested very much on the support and machinery of their allies, especially the DAP. This dependence is not healthy. Although it received multi-ethnic support, considerable support for the party came from Chinese voters.

Amanah under a Boria Joker from Penang

Amanah has a long way to go to show it is an equal independent partner in the opposition alliance, and faces an uphill battle to bring in mass Malay support. A key step in that regard is to stop its myopic fight with PAS and focus on what it offers on its own and for the country as a whole.

Another claim has revolved around the participation of Dr Mahathir, with UMNO belittling his role. The results show that support of Mahathir for the opposition did not translate into cutting into significantly UMNO’s political base, as the party held its own. What is not clear is how this happened.

Neutralising dissent within UMNO was effective as incentives and intimidation were used in the campaign, with grassroots leaders inside the party feeling the effects. Again, these tactics will be difficult to replicate at the national level. UMNO’s greatest enemy has been itself, and divisions within the party and its base remain.

The most substantive vote of confidence surrounded the opposition as a whole. Taken together (PAS and Amanah) the opposition support remained high at 45 percent of the electorate. This is a loss of less than 5 percent of voters moving away from the opposition parties. As such, the opposition’s core support remains significant in what continues to be a polarised polity.

Entrenched losing mentalities

Opposition support is now however more fragmented. Looking ahead, it is unlikely that a pact can be formed to prevent multi-cornered fights in the next election. It is also impossible that Pakatan Rakyat can be repaired. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall. Pakatan is broken. Even if Hadi steps down or is pushed out as leader in the next PAS party election, old formulas and coalitions are not viable.

As such, the reality is that the multi-ethnic opposition will need to address how it can maximise its support among opposition supporters and more importantly cut into UMNO’s traditional base if it to even maintain its electoral position.

These are difficult tasks ahead, especially given the internal divisions in PKR and imbalances among the opposition partners. A new viable national opposition cannot achieve these tasks with a focus on issues and enemies of the past, a lacklustre campaign that relies non-competitively on resources rather than people’s priorities and battles that appear to be about themselves rather than for the people.

If the opposition is to move out of a losing mentality, it will need to address three key issues: a new leadership, a new narrative and revamped principles/parameters for cooperation and campaigning. The burden on the opposition to change is higher than ever, to reject practices and behaviour that has resulted in losses since 2013.

In contrast, the by-election victories show that for UMNO, the strategies of maintaining electoral support remain the same – a controlling leader, a reliance on resources, the use of control of electoral bodies (through movement of voters as occurred in both by-elections and the advantages of delineation) and the manipulation of race and religion.

UMNO continues to effectively capitalise on fear and insecurity, touting the idea that any viable national alternative besides UMNO will result in loss of place and position for its political base. This may appear like a winning strategy for elections, but it remains to be seen how long a campaign based on a mentality of losing actually moves the country forward.

In this climate of economic contraction, the politics of losing is now more dominant than ever. Negative politics and politicking are defining the national landscape. Disengagement and division are eroding the democratic quality of elections. The June by-elections show that these developments are not a winning formula for ordinary Malaysians.

BRIDGET WELSH is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, and University Fellow of Charles Darwin University.

A Toast to the Right to Development

New York

June 22, 2016

A Toast to the Right to Development

by Martin Khor

Many problems threatening the world can be addressed through the lens of the Right to Development – that should be celebrated on its 30th anniversary.

THE Declaration on the Right to Development is 30 years old. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986, it has had an illustrious history, having great resonance among and giving a boost to people fighting for freedom and more participation in national affairs, as well as to developing nations striving for a fairer world economic order.

It has been invoked by the leaders and diplomats of developing countries on numerous occasions, when they try to convince their counterparts of the developed countries to show more empathy for the needs of the poorer countries.

It has a central place in the Rio Principles of the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

On this 30th anniversary, it is fitting to recall the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people-centred, an inalienable human right “to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

Politicians and policy makers should take human beings as the central focus of their development policies, and ensure they can actively participate in the process of development and development policy, as well as benefit from the fruits of development. (Article 2.3).

But the Declaration also places great importance on the international arena. States have the duty to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development (Article 3.3).

And effective international cooperation is essential in providing developing countries with appropriate means and facilities to foster their comprehensive development (Article 4.2).

The right to development recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of the right to development, and it calls for states to take steps to eliminate these obstacles.

It is useful to identify some present global problems and how they affect the right to development.

First, the global economy in crisis. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies.

They are facing low commodity prices, and reduced export earnings. They face great fluctuations in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital flows and fluctuations in the value of their currencies due to lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Some countries are on the brink of another debt crisis. There is for them no international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism and countries that do their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

Second, the challenges of implementing appropriate development strategies.

There are challenges in developing countries to have policies right in agricultural production, ensuring adequate incomes for small farmers, and national food security.

Industrialisation involves the challenges of climbing the ladder, moving from labour-intensive low-cost industries to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap.

There are the challenges to providing social services like health care and education and water supply, lighting and transport as well as developing financial services and commerce.

This policy-making is even more difficult due to premature liberalisation, some of which is due to loan conditionality and to trade and investment agreements which also constrain policy space.

In particular, many investment agreements enable foreign investors to take advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system that cause countries to lose a lot in compensation and also have a chill effect on their right to regulate and to formulate policies. A review is needed.

Third, climate change is an outstanding example of an environmental constraint to development and the right to development. There is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible. But which countries and which groups within countries should cut emissions, and by how much?

The danger is that the burden will mainly be passed on to developing and poorer countries and to the poor and vulnerable in each country.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in terms of reaching a multilateral deal.

But it is not ambitious enough to save humanity, and it also failed to deliver confidence that the promised transfers of finance and technology will take place. Much more has to be done and within a few years.

Fourth, the crisis of anti-microbial resistance brings dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials.

The World Health Organisation Director General has warned that every antibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless and that we are entering a post-antibiotic era.

The World Health Assembly in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation.

Developing countries require funds and technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices.

Fifth, the challenges of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, which are closely linked to the right to development.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But unless there are sufficient funds, this will remain an unfulfilled noble target.

The treatment for HIV/AIDS became more widespread only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, and since then millions of lives have been saved.

Many of the new cancer drugs and the new “biologics” are priced above US$100,000 (RM408,850) for a year’s treatment. Unfortu­nately, due to global patent rules, most patients have no access to cheaper generics.

For the SDGs to succeed, finance and technology have to be transferred to developing countries and some international rules on trade and intellectual property have to be altered if they are found to be obstacles to the right to development.

All the above global challenges have to be diagnosed as to where they comprise obstacles to realising the right to development, and the obstacles should then be removed.

That is easier said than done. But the Declaration has thrown light on the way ahead.

Martin Khor ( is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.




Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses Joint Session of Congress

June 21, 2016

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses Joint Session of US Congress–Time for Malaysians to reflect

I am pleased to feature Mr. Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India. In doing so, I hope our narrow-minded and insecure leaders, politicians, ultras and religious bigots can learn a thing or two about common decency, mutual respect, managing diversity, and defending freedom from Mr. Modi’s Address to the Joint Session of Congress recently.

Let them realise that they cannot continue their present perilous course of religious extremism,  racial discrimination and economic mismanagement without putting at risk all that our founding fathers have worked hard to build since Independence in 1957. We are all Malaysians, said Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. –Din Merican



Proclamation of Malaysian Independence

Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur, 31 August 1957

I am indeed proud that on this, the greatest day in Malaya’s history it falls to my lot to proclaim the formal independence of this country. Today as new page is turned, and Malaya steps forward to take her rightful place as a free and independent partner in the great community of Nations-a new nation is born and though we fully realise that difficulties and problems lie ahead, we are confident that, with the blessing of God, these difficulties will be overcome and that today’s events, down the avenues of history, will be our inspiration and our guide. It is therefore with a feeling of particular solemnity that we have listened to the eloquent words of His Royal Highnessl and in particular to the moving message he has conveyed from Her Majesty the Queen2. We are indeed honoored that Her Majesty should have deputed her own uncle, His Royal Highness to be with us on this occasion particularly when we remember that he is no stranger to this land: we recall too with pleasure his previous visit to Malaya and happy recollections of his stay have remained with us.

His Royal Highness has spoken in moving words of the past associations of our two countries. We in Malaya have a long history, but we do not lightly forget old relationships. For many years past our fortunes have been linked with those of Great Britain and we recall in particular the comradeship of two world wars. We remember too the products of our association; justice before the law, the legacy of an efficient public service and the highest standard of living in Asia. We shall therefore always Remember with gratitude the assistance which we have received from Great Britain down our long path to nationhood; an assistance which culminated today with the proclamation of Malaya’s Independence. But the long standing friendship between our countries does not cease with independence: rather it takes on a new form. As you have heard in the gracious message from Her Majesty the Queen, Malaya will henceforward take her place in the great Commonwealth of Independent Nations whose members are found in all parts of the world, and as an equal partner in that great association. We in this country will do all in our power to promote its well-being in the interests of mankind in general and in the particular service of world peace.

Thus today a new chapter opens in our relationship with Britain; our colonial status has given place to full equality but we are confident that, fortified by old associations, and linked by old memories, our ties with Britain will grow ever stronger and more durable. British will ever find in us her best friend, and it is a soure of much gratification to my Government that British Civil Servants will continues to serve in this country to assist us in the solution of the many problems which independence will present.

But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility: Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour-the creation of a new and sovereign State. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya: to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty-a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.

High confidence has been reposed in us; let us unitedly face the challenge of the years. And so with remembrance for the past, and with confidence in the future, under the providence of God, we shall succeed.




WHEREAS the time has now arrived when the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu will assume the status of a free independent and sovereign nation among the nations of the World.

AND WHEREAS by an agreement styled the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957, between Her Majesty the Queen and Their Highness the Rulers of the Malay States it was agreed that the Malay States of lohore, Pahang, Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu and Perak and the former Settlements of Malacca and Penang should as from the 31st day of August, 1957, be formed into a new Federation of States by the name of Persekutuan Tanah Melayu.

AND WHEREAS it was further agreed between the parties to the said agreement that the Settlements of Malacca and Penang aforesaid should as from the said date cease to form part of Her Majesty’s dominions and that Her Majesty should cease to exercise any sovereignty over them.

AND WHEREAS it was further agreed by the parties aforesaid that the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1948, and all other agreements subsisting between Her Majesty the Queen and Their Highness the Rulers or anyone of them immediately before the said date should be revoked as from that date and that all powers and jurisdiction of Her Majesty or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom in or in respects of the Settlements aforesaid or the Malay States or the Federation as a whole should come to an end.

AND WHEREAS effect has been given in the Federation of Malaya Agreement, 1957, by Her Majesty the Queen, Their Highnesses the Rulers, the Parliament of the United Kingdom and Legislatures of the Federation and of the Malay States.

AND WHEREAS a constitution for the Government of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu has been established as the supreme law thereof.

AND WHEREAS by the Federal Constitution aforesaid provision is made to safeguard the rights and prerogatives of Their Highness the Rulers and the fundamental rights and liberties of the people and to provide for the peaceful and orderly advancement of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu as a constitutional monarchy based on Parliamentary democracy.

AND WHEREAS the Federal Constitution aforesaid having been approved by an Ordinance of the Federal Legislatures, by the Enactments of the Malay States and by resolutions of the Legislatures of Malacca and Penang has come into force on the 31 st day of August, 1957, aforesaid.

Now in the name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful, I, TUNKU ABDUL RAHMAN PUTRA IBNI AL-MARHUM SULTAN ABDUL HAMID HALIMSHAH, PRIME MINISTER OF THE PERSEKUTUAN TANAH MELAYU, with the concurrence and approval of Their Highnesses the Rulers of the Malay States do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu that as from the thirty first day of August, nineteen hundred and fifty seven, the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu comprising the States of Johore, Pahang, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu, Perak, Malacca and Penang is and with God’s blessing shall be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.



Battle of Ideas: Why BN keeps winning

New York

June 21, 2016

Battle of Ideas: Why BN keeps winning

The political language remains the same but the ideas that fuel the people have changed

by Art Harun

Why, despite the BN leadership drowning in an abyss of scandal and widespread condemnation from almost everybody that I know, did it still manage to carve out convincing victories in the just concluded by-elections in Kuala Kangsar and Sungai Besar?

Art Harun@ Raju’s in Pee Jay

This morning I remember what Tocqueville said: “…in party politics as in other matters, it is the crowd who dictates the language, and the crowd relinquishes the ideas it has been given more readily than the words it has learned.”

Yes. It is the crowd, the voters that matter. It is they who put ink to paper to choose whoever they want to represent them.Yes, the crowd dictates the language: that language is the language of the party that has ruled the crowd for a long, long time.

As we know, words have many meanings and connotations, bringing about many interpretations and understandings. The idea of “Perjuangan Melayu” has always been the language of UMNO. In 1957 that language was a war cry to unite the Malays against colonialism.

In the 70s, that idea was of course irrelevant. We had already gained independence. The language then fed the idea that there must be equality of opportunities for the Malay. “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” evolved into an economic struggle and social restructuring that was deemed necessary to prevent social and economic imbalances that may have brought the country into chaos.

In the 80s, “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” became premised not upon inequality or social justice any more but upon “hak keistimewaan” and “ketuanan Melayu.” This was the era when the late Tan Sri Abdullah Kok Lanas, out of the blue, in a speech in Singapore, started the “ketuanan Melayu” polemic.

In 2016, under the current leadership, “Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” has again morphed into something new. The language does not change. The language has not been relinquished. But the idea instilled behind the language has changed, yet again.

Tocqueville was right. The people dictate the language. And the crowd does not easily abandon the language. It is the ideas behind the language that change.

“Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” is now a rather myopic view of any party or individual who goes against the mainstream. That mainstream is dictated by the majority.

Thus the liberals, the moderates (despite the Prime Mimister saying he is a moderate), the constitutionalists, the new-age Muslims who dare to think and reinterpret beliefs and faiths, the non-Muslims who complain about transgression of their rights and just about anybody who is just different are now scooped into one hot boiling cauldron of prejudices and hatred.

And that is not even to mention the Christians, the Cina DAP, the Yahudis, the Illuminatis, the West, the Communists, the Shiites and a million others deemed oddities and peculiar.

“Perjuangan Bangsa Melayu” now brings the idea that the Melayu are now besieged by enemies: they must unite to protect themselves.

The binding agent for the Melayu now is no longer economic equality. It takes the form of Kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu, but that is inevitably superficial and when convenient they will “Mertabatkan Kedaulatan Raja-Raja Melayu”.

The more effective binding agent is of course, Islam, the religion of the Malay.Enter Haji Hadi Awang and his band of Islamists in PAS.

Coincidentally, Tocqueville also said: “…the priests, the old aristocracy and the people met in a common sentiment — a feeling of revenge, it is true, and not of affection; but even that is a great thing in politics, where a community of hatred is almost always the foundation of friendships.”

PAS’s hatred of DAP and PKR has been showing for quite some time. Now, in these two by-elections, it is without doubt that PAS is in cohort with Umno. So, here we have two sworn enemies – sworn due to an “amanat” or an edict by no other than Haji Hadi himself in the 80s – forming a community of hatred and laying the foundation of friendships.

Tocqueville would be happy to see that he was right. A confluence of hatred can indeed communitise themselves together and found a friendship.

So I view the results of the two by-elections as a manifestation of the current language among the rural Malay voters as well as the newly found binding agent that “unite” the Malays against the “enemies.” (There are of course many other binding agents, such as various “gifts”, government “bantuan” that suddenly sprang out from the government etc etc, but let’s not go into that).

What is heartening is to see is Amanah, a wholly new party, gaining quite substantial votes in their first showing. In fact, in Sungai Besar they have more votes then PAS! What happened to Haji Hadi’s godly prediction that Amanah would not be able to match PAS?

UMNO and the BN may now go to town about the increase in Chinese and Indian votes for them. I don’t see anything big in that: more Chinese and Indians voted for the BN not because they love the BN or UMNO but they are just angry with PAS. They see Amanah as an off-shoot of PAS that cannot be trusted. Hence their vote for the BN.

In order to win the rural heartland, I think a new language must be introduced. The ideas behind the old language must be reinterpreted and new and fresh ideas introduced and instilled.

You just cannot continue fighting an opponent when it is the opponent who sets the tone and the rules, defines the language and dictates the discourse.

How do you do that? That’s for the politicians to think about and decide.

Reproduced from Art Harun’s page on Facebook at By-elections ramblings.

Is There Any Dignity Left in Politics?

New York

Is There Any Dignity Left in Politics?

Gail Collins: Arthur, the primaries have ended. But no one really noticed since so much else has happened. I have to ask you first what your thoughts are about the shooting in Orlando.

Arthur Brooks: It’s surreal: a hate crime and terrorism intersecting in one ghastly, pointless tragedy.

The Dalai Lama happens to be in the United States right now, and his public comments on the tragedy have been very helpful. He emphasized our dual responsibilities in the wake of such evil: to pray for peace while acting to solve the problem.

I spent some time with him last Tuesday morning. Such a wise and good man, who reminds us of the real nature and purpose of faith at a moment when religion is perverted to promote violence against innocent people.

Gail: I’m sorry — I was distracted by the “I spent some time with the Dalai Lama” part.

Arthur: I guess it sounds strange, but for several years we have had a warm friendship and working collaboration. The focus is on how the principles of human dignity can transcend boundaries of politics and religion. That’s especially important in moments like these.

This tragedy really puts the smallness of our politics in perspective, doesn’t it? I had hoped that the candidates might keep politics out of it for a few days, but of course they didn’t. And the punditry machines immediately whirred into gear to ask who would politically benefit the most from the tragedy. “Will Trump get a bump in the polls from the shooting?” So boring, yet so predictable.

Gail: It’s true that the presidential race does intrude into everything. Who cares what the Brexit vote does to Europe — what does it mean to the Trump campaign? I thought we’d begin the week talking about the big gun control votes, but the canning of Corey Lewandowski seemed to overshadow all. The very fact that the country knew that Trump’s campaign manager was named Corey Lewandowski is sort of amazing.

Hard to believe we’ll be doing this for nearly five more months.

Arthur: Five long months. It promises to be the O.J. Simpson trial of politics: It goes on and on, polarizing the country — yet although you can’t stand it, you just can’t stop watching. It will be a cash cow for cable news networks and launch the careers of dozens of irritating TV commentators. Isn’t that great?

Gail: O.J. Simpson — wow, suddenly I got a vision of Donald Trump trying on gloves, which would be … too big. Sorry. I should never have gone there.

To make amends let me point us to — drumroll — the issues. Let me start with a challenge: name one policy on which you think Donald Trump has the better take.

Arthur: Really, Gail? A hand-size joke? Well-played on the glove reference, though.

But anyway, you asked a trick question. While Clinton’s campaign has rolled out tons of policy material, we’re mostly still waiting for Trump to talk in depth about specific policies. I would love to be able to offer in-depth analysis, but right now, I don’t have enough information.

Gail: He has a bunch of positions on his website. I have serious doubts he’s actually read them, but at least they’re there.

Arthur: On the other hand, the Republican House is coming out with new material like crazy these days. I especially like last week’s poverty proposals, and think they are superior to what the Democrats have been doing.

Gail: All you thoughtful conservatives are suckers for Paul Ryan. He bats his sad, thoughtful eyes and murmurs “comprehensive tax reform,” and you’re captive. But tell me what in particular struck you as worthy.

Arthur: Oh yeah, when Paul talks about tax reform we all fall into a trancelike state. Kind of like in “The Manchurian Candidate.” (Speaking of which, did you ever notice that that film has an incredible score? It was written by a great composer named David Amram. Almost as beautiful as tax reform.)

The new poverty ideas Ryan’s team put out are promising because they are focused on building human capital and pathways to work. For decades, our national poverty policies have effectively treated poor people like liabilities to society. This has entailed maintaining them in subsistence-level lives without proactively thinking about how to help them expand their human potential. Ryan and his team spent months talking to people in poverty about what they think they most need; over and over they heard, “work.” But at the same time, the plan respects the need for a reliable safety net. It understands that we have a responsibility to provide struggling Americans a base of support.

By contrast, the anti-poverty rhetoric I’m hearing from Ryan’s Democratic critics seems sort of conventional and perfunctory. Do you think I’m missing something there?

Gail: First, let me give kudos to Ryan for just bringing up the subject of poverty. But I found the recommendations sort of mushy. Who’s against people working? Or better education?

Those are certainly goals Congress could work toward in bipartisan harmony if the rest of Ryan’s troops were actually interested. But the vagueness of most of the proposals is a tribute to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the rank and file.

Arthur: Your question of who’s against people working is more than rhetorical. On both left and right, there are some who understand work as a key to helping people thrive, and others who see it as a punishment — lower-skill work in particular. You can tell the “punishment” crowd on the left when they argue that people shouldn’t be forced to take “dead-end jobs,” implying they are less dignified than joblessness. On the right it’s those who act like work requirements are a good way to stick it to shiftless welfare recipients.

I am convinced by a lot of solid research — and ancient wisdom to boot — that work is a vitally important institution of meaning and happiness in our lives.

Gail: Here’s something specific — how about Hillary Clinton’s plan for high-quality pre-K for all 4-year-olds? Right now a lot of low-income kids qualify for free programs, then lose eligibility if their parents start to make a little more money. Make pre-K a right for every family — it’s a clean policy that addresses both of Ryan’s anti-poverty goals.

Arthur: When it comes to pre-K, I want to believe. We all do. Wouldn’t it be great if government could find a surefire method to close the achievement gap and give poor kids a good start in life? But wanting pre-K to do all these things and the programs actually working are different things.

Katharine Stevens, our resident AEI expert on this topic, studies the actual results of these programs. She finds that so far, the research is simply insufficient to justify huge long-term investments that would set us in one direction for decades.

So my view is that we should build a real plan for research and experimentation, and then make a good-faith effort to look objectively at the results. But of course, that wouldn’t play as well politically for Clinton because it doesn’t promise to employ thousands of (unionized) teachers. Not that I’m cynical, but —

Gail: Promises to do research and experimentation for a few years mean nothing unless there’s a commitment at the end of it. However, if you’d like to sign on for a plan that keeps evaluating early childhood programs while it keeps growing at an energetic rate, I am here with my pen.

Arthur: Before we issue any executive orders, let’s talk politics for a minute. That Berning sensation finally cleared up this month, as Hillary wrapped it up for the Democrats.

I know you have strong feelings about the historical implications of Clinton’s win. You wrote a terrific column on it. One thing our readers might not know is that you broke a glass ceiling yourself — you were the first woman in Times history to lead the editorial page. That was a big deal in an industry that, until recently, seemed pretty accurately portrayed by movies where editors are cigar-chomping, hard-drinking men.

Can you talk about that a little?

Gail: When I go out and speak with groups of women, there’s often an implicit invitation for me to talk about the gender hurdles I’ve overcome in my career. And the fact is, there weren’t any. Because the women who came one second ahead of me, historically speaking, had filed lawsuits and picketed their employers and gotten in the face of their bosses to fight for equal rights.

But they weren’t the ones who benefited because — they’d irritated people. So the women who got all the advantages, and the chances to be first-ever, were the ones who came in the door right behind them.

I know a lot of those pioneer women who didn’t get the promotions, and they’re not bitter. They were thrilled whenever somebody else cracked a barrier. They celebrated other women getting the things they wanted for themselves. And to me, that’s the definition of a great heart.

Arthur: We opened with the Dalai Lama and close with that thought. Not bad at all.

Malaysia: Looking Back at Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar

June 21, 2016

Malaysia: Looking Back at Kuala Kangsar and Sungei Besar

by Sahabat Seperjuangan


“The influence of Dr Mahathir Mohamad has waned among the Malays. The older generation still remember him as a leader who, while making Malaysia prominent by fast-tracked materialistic development, indulged in dismantling the checks and balances which he saw as a hindrance to his autocracy. They are not prepared to have him and his ilk again. It remains to be seen whether the Citizens’ Declaration will survive this setback, and whether the motley crew of Opposition politicians, NGOs and NGIs with thinly-veiled political ambitions will continue to forlornly prop him up.–Sahabat Seperjuangan 

Once in a while, an event occurs that leaves a profound effect on the political scene. While some rush to label such events with less compassionate terms like divine intervention, others simply prefer to call it neutral serendipity.”–

Now that the by-elections have come and gone in Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar, what are the lessons that can inform the future course of the political parties involved in the fight?

1. The support base of PAS is still intact. Efforts by Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) have failed to make inroads into the rural strongholds of the Islamist party. The liberals in Amanah can garner some support from the chattering classes in the towns but they have not found fertile ground among country folk accustomed to finding solace in a more spiritual outlook to tide them over hard times.

2. PAS, alone as a political party, contributes as many votes as the other three political parties grouped together in Pakatan Harapan. If DAP is counting on Malay support from PKR and Amanah to boost its chances for federal power, it has got to have a serious re-look. Whoever underestimates the hardy “jentera” of the committed Islamists, and the ideology which makes them tick, is making a serious mistake.

3. The semi-rural Chinese in these communities can swing their votes just like their brethren in the urban enclaves. We have seen many examples of this before. What bothers them is their livelihood more than all the political intrigues and all the national issues which the less deprived middle classes are so fond of. Whoever can put food on their tables looms large in their thoughts when they mark the ballot.

4. What were the other factors which made those Chinese swing? Disillusionment with the endless squabbles among the politicians in the Opposition (and government in the case of Selangor)? Or simply a dawning realisation that they’ve been had, that politicians who gained power in their name have pulled a fast one on them by using political office to acquire material assets, leaving them to look foolish and still neglected.

5. PAS has failed to gain Chinese support. While its call for hudud is definitely able to rally the party faithful to withstand the onslaught of a DAP-backed Amanah to break their ranks, the same issue still spooks the Chinese. They still see it as a frightful threat of harsh punishment being visited upon them, and not an issue which boils down in the end to letting a part of a diverse nation exercise its democratic right to practise a religion the true way as the followers see it, without infringing on the rights of the other parts of the nation who do not believe in the same religion.

6. The influence of Dr Mahathir Mohamad has waned among the Malays. The older generation still remember him as a leader who, while making Malaysia prominent by fast-tracked materialistic development, indulged in dismantling the checks and balances which he saw as a hindrance to his autocracy. They are not prepared to have him and his ilk again. It remains to be seen whether the Citizens’ Declaration will survive this setback, and whether the motley crew of Opposition politicians, NGOs and NGIs with thinly-veiled political ambitions will continue to forlornly prop him up.

Sahabat Seperjuangan is a non-Muslim grassroots activist in a Muslim political party.