Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam


August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

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Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

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Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

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Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

Hillary Vs Donald for The White House


August 28, 2016

Image result for Alabama's George Wallace 1968

The American 2016 Presidential Election enters a critical phase: Can Donald Trump overtake Hillary Clinton at this stage? As I see it, the election is likely to be a cliffhanger, reminicent of the Nixon-Humphrey race in 1968 which I witnessed as a student in Washington DC, which also featured white supremacist Albama’s Governor George Wallace (pic above).

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The issue before American voters is who can be trusted Mrs. Clinton or Mr Trump? And also who can best deal with minorities (blacks, hispanics, Asian americans). It is Mrs Clinton’s to lose since the Republican presidential nominee is making a comeback.  Mr. Trump appears to be softening on immigration and toughening on crime and law and order. The last two weeks have been good for him and his running mate, Mike Pence and  his new campaign team. –Din Merican

by Kevin Baker

“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act,” Hillary Clinton claimed during her 2008 campaign against Senator Barack Obama, before adding, “it took a president to get it done.”

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Mrs. Clinton got considerable flak for this remark from Mr. Obama, who called it “ill advised.” But Mrs. Clinton was right, and it is instructive to note how much of a role two of L.B.J.’s least remembered accomplishments — the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which banned overt political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions; and his revision of our immigration laws — have already played in this year’s presidential race.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for civil rights was the proudest moment in our country’s history, and attaining at least some level of racial justice was achieved first and foremost by what generations of black people did for themselves. But overturning Jim Crow required the reception of their appeal. It meant winning elections and changing laws in what was still an overwhelmingly white country.

The man who finally got it done, of course, was Lyndon Baines Johnson, and in this time of gridlock and division, Johnson has come to be seen more and more as a protean figure, a man who, for all of his faults and grotesqueries, could make things happen. L.B.J. was born 108 years ago on August 27, but his Great Society programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, extensive federal aid for higher education; the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Fair Housing acts, which barred most forms of public discrimination — still define what we think of as the rights and privileges of modern America. And yet, his influence does not stop there.

For those puzzled about why so many evangelical leaders were willing to endorse Donald J. Trump, the most openly irreligious major-party presidential candidate in our history, Jerry Falwell Jr. provided the answer in his singularly graceless speech at the Republican National Convention: “Mr. Trump has added a plank to this party’s platform to repeal I.R.S. rules sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 barring churches and nonprofits from expressing political free speech.” Mr. Falwell assured his audience, “Trust me, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment will create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech.”

Mr. Falwell was referring to a change to the tax code added by Johnson when he was the Senate minority leader. The amendment, as The Times reported in 2011, was not aimed at churches, but at “two nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet Communist.” These were the Facts Forum, funded by the Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt to produce and distribute McCarthyist books, television programs and radio shows; and the Committee for Constitutional Government, another far-right, multimedia and mass-mailing center founded by the newspaper magnate Frank Gannett.

The Johnson Amendment stated that “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” In other words, tax-deductible charitable contributions could not be used to fund election campaigns. This was considered so uncontroversial at the time that no record of what Johnson was thinking or precisely how he got this clause attached to the tax code seems to have survived. It was passed by a Republican Congress, and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Churches on all sides, liberal and conservative, proved able to skirt the provisions of the amendment easily enough, and it went largely unchallenged until 2008, when the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal and political organizing arm of right-wing Christian evangelicals, started a campaign to repeal it. The A.D.F. began an annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in which ministers were encouraged to give overtly political sermons, and then send recordings of these talks to the I.R.S.

Just as it has done in its attacks on gay rights, the Christian right is attempting to flip this issue on its head and make it one of “religious freedom.” The A.D.F. has cast its own adherents as the real victims, deprived of their rights of free speech and association, and conjured up a vision of countless federal Javerts filling the pews, jotting down every word. But the I.R.S., hobbled by years of budget cuts, has refused to rise to the bait. It is not believed to have opened any audits of churches for noncompliance under the Johnson Amendment since at least 2009, and all that ministers who send in recordings receive is a form letter thanking them for their interest. The A.D.F.’s efforts have fared little better in court, as Johnson’s typically airtight legislation did not differentiate between religious institutions or any other type of nonprofit.

“A broad change to the provision would likely cause minor-level chaos within the U.S. political system,” Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic this month. “There would no longer be any meaningful difference between charitable groups and lobbying organizations.”

And yet what is Donald Trump but a sworn agent of chaos? Repealing the Johnson Amendment would most likely flood our political system — and especially Republican Party coffers — with still more money, all of which would be tax deductible.

Whether Mr. Trump ever gets that opportunity could well be decided by the demographics of a country that is less white — and less Christian — than it has ever been. This was mostly Lyndon Johnson’s doing as well.

“Throughout most of the history of the United States,” as the historian Randall B. Woods wrote in “LBJ: Architect of American Ambition,” “laws were on the books that declared the vast majority of the people in the world legally ineligible to become full citizens solely because of their race, original nationality, or gender.”

Free Africans and Asians were repeatedly barred from the United States. The bogus science of eugenics and fears of importing radical, “foreign ideologies” inspired the 1924 National Origins Act, which slammed shut the “golden door” through which millions had found safe haven. Immigration from countries outside the Americas was limited to 2 percent of the total number of foreign-born persons from those nations who were residing in the United States according to the 1890 census — that is, before the peak years of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Immigration was cut by more than half within a year, with the number of immigrants from Italy alone reduced by over 90 percent. More terribly, a decade later the new quotas helped prevent millions of European Jews from escaping the Holocaust. The devastation of World War II and the conflicts of the Cold War led to some softening of our immigration rules, but not much. Southern congressmen opposed taking in even the most desperate refugees from Europe as vehemently as Trump supporters wish to exclude Syrian refugees today.

The McCarran-Walter Act, passed over President Harry Truman’s veto in 1952, contrived to renew the bar against almost all Asians and most Jews. Pat McCarran, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, associated both these groups with Communism, and defended his bill in words that might have been lifted straight from the Trump campaign:

“I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors,” he proclaimed, but added: “However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission, and those gates are cracking under the strain.”

President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a message in the summer of 1963 calling for the revision of McCarran-Walter, declaring it “without basis in either logic or reason.” But like so many other proposals in J.F.K.’s New Frontier, this went nowhere. Kennedy had solid majorities in both houses of Congress, but on many issues legislation was just as gridlocked as it is now, thanks to the conservative Democrats who ran leading committees.

McCarran was dead, but the reactionary stalwart James Eastland of Mississippi now held his chairmanship. Francis Walter, the racist Pennsylvania congressman who had partnered with McCarran to pass the bill that bore their names, still ran the House Judicial Subcommittee on Immigration and Nationality. And while L.B.J. himself had aided dozens of European Jews in escaping Europe before and during World War II, he had also voted with his fellow Southerners to override President Truman’s veto of McCarran-Walter.

Johnson the President would once again surprise everyone, telling Congress in his 1964 State of the Union address: “We must also lift by legislation the bars of discrimination against those who seek entry into our country, particularly those who have much needed skills and those joining their families. In establishing preferences, a nation that was built by the immigrants of all lands can ask those who now seek admission: ‘What can you do for our country?’ But we should not be asking: ‘In what country were you born?’ ”

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CreditJoan Wong, photographs by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times and Bettmann/Getty Images

Johnson’s point man in the House of Representatives was Brooklyn’s feisty Emanuel Celler, whose maiden speech in the House, 41 years earlier, had inveighed fruitlessly against the National Origins Act. In the upper house, Johnson turned to Michigan’s Phil Hart, the liberal “conscience of the Senate,” who had forged an unlikely friendship with Senator Eastland. (When Eastland was up for re-election once, Hart deliberately gave a Senate speech denouncing him, so that Eastland could gain standing back in Mississippi.)

The bill was still a heavy lift, but on Oct. 3, 1965, at a ceremony held under the Statue of Liberty, Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law. Immigrants would finally be admitted to the United States without consideration of their race, ethnicity or country of origin.

This was a seismic change, but at the same time a cap of 120,000 a year was put on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. Contrary to the rhetoric dominating the present campaign, our southern and northern borders had usually been highly permeable, with the number of Mexican laborers, in particular, allowed in the country according to the desires of American employers.

Yet the greater principle was established. The leading countries of origin for American immigrants by 1980 were Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea and China. The Hart-Celler Act, the economist Vernon M. Briggs Jr. would write in 1984, was already “contributing to an ethnic pluralism of the population to a degree that has never truly existed before.”

Or as Randall Woods put it: “The Immigration Act of 1965 did nothing less than ensure that America remained a land of diversity whose identity rested on a set of political principles rather than blood and soil nationalism.”

That blood and soil nationalism is what Mr. Trump and his supporters seem intent on selling this election year. But while the Republican candidate may boast the runaway animal spirits of Lyndon Johnson, he possesses few of L.B.J.’s more subtle political skills, and none of his overarching vision for this nation.

Hillary Clinton’s political profile bears a closer resemblance to Johnson’s. She has an even greater breadth of experience in government than Johnson did when he became president, and just as much ability to master policy. Much like Johnson, she is also little trusted by the liberals in her party.

Even if Mrs. Clinton wins an overwhelming majority of electoral votes, she will not have the enormous momentum that Johnson carried into office. This momentum stemmed from President Kennedy’s tragic death and a generation of liberal successes before him, but it also came from the booming energy of a young, optimistic nation, richer and more powerful than it had ever been before, eager and even furious to address issues of reform, justice and opportunity left unresolved during the prosperous but staid years of the Eisenhower administration. This was the sort of pressure that L.B.J. needed and welcomed — at first, anyway, before he was lured into Vietnam, turning so many of his natural allies against him.

Mrs. Clinton lacks something else, as well. While she was right that it took a Lyndon Johnson to make Dr. King’s dream a reality, what she does not quite seem to understand is how much of the dream Johnson appeared to carry within himself. Mrs. Clinton lacks, thank goodness, the paranoia, the need to brutalize and dominate that L.B.J. possessed. At the same time, she is all too willing to obfuscate, to cut corners on the truth but especially on a vision. She seems unable to summon the inspiration that Johnson — never a great speaker — was able to rouse when he talked of his Great Society or when, standing before Congress after the battle for voting rights in Selma, Ala., he told a national television audience, “Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice — and we shall overcome.”

For better and for worse, no one we elect this year is going to be a Lyndon Johnson. No one could be, in a country this closely divided. Whether Mrs. Clinton can use the nastier, more pessimistic turmoil engulfing this year’s election to accomplish anything positive is not readily apparent. It will be up to the rest of us, just as it was up to us, ultimately, even under “Big Daddy” Johnson, to achieve something greater.

The True Meaning of Merdeka (Freedom)–A Quranic Perspective


August 28, 2016

The True Meaning of Merdeka (Freedom)–A Quranic Perspective

by Kassim Ahmad

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Really Merdeka–Are We Malaysians Free?

This is the 60th year of our independence. We spend millions of ringgit yearly to celebrate this auspicious day of August 31 with parades and the like, with every citizen flying or waving the national flag. We have been doing this year in and year out.

Is this the true spirit that we want to inculcate in our citizens? Of course the parades and such like have their uses. But independence must mean more than that. It must mean the acting out of freedom in our souls. We must act freely to realize our place in the several countries that we are in and in the world — the just and peaceful world that everyone wants.

In this sense of the word independence,  we are far from it in the several countries that we are citizens of and in the wider world.  We suffer hardships of various kinds and magnitudes. The ultimate hardship would be a Third World War, using nuclear weapons. So far we are in stalemate, one bloc fearing destruction at the hands of the opposite bloc – the so-called mutual assured destruction, the MAD of human madness.

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Kassim Ahmad and Rosli Dahlan–Defending our rights to be Free Malaysians

That means our independence is hollow and a fake. That means we are not at peace with ourselves, the OTHER being no more than ourselves. This is a scary and disastrous discovery. Where have we gone wrong?

To answer that question, let me bring two pointers from the Quran. In Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 30, God informs the angels that He wishes to create a human being to rule and change the earth, to which the angles protest, arguing that the human beings would spread evil and shed blood. God simply replies He knows better.

Humans have of course shed blood in the two World Wars and other wars since. But  man is also a creator civilizations, the good side of him that God refers to.

The second pointer is from the first Surah, the great human prayer to his Lord. Verses 6-7, states, “Guide us in the right path, the path of those whom You blessed, not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.”

Let us analyse these two verses. Those whom God Blessed are clear. They are the true believers. Those who incur His wrath are also clear, that is, the deniers of God and their own selves. The strayers are those who think that they are believers, but are in actual fact disbelievers.

So those who are actually free are those who live in this blessed state of freedom, happy with themselves, happy with their environment and happy with their Lord. They are in the abode of Paradise. This is the true meaning of freedom.

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN


August 28, 2016

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

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WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – BREXIT – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there? Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotions and shallow arguments reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in ASEAN. It won’t, but then again it may.

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Good Luck to Cameron’s Successor

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in ASEAN, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in BREXIT.

Such democracy as there is in ASEAN is a pale reflection of the European model. Perhaps five ASEAN states, at a pinch, could be called democracies. They are, at most, mixed democracies, with varying control-freak tendencies. In one of them, there is new leadership, with Trump-like populism, perhaps a precursor of what a President Donald Trump would be like in America – a loose cannon.

Perhaps in that member state – the Philippines – there could be a Phixit referendum in a state of pique although, as shown in the handling of the July 12 arbitral tribunal award on the South China Sea dispute against China, there can be underlying realism after hyperbolic madness, like riding a water scooter into the Chinese navy.

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Then again, President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent threat to leave the United Nations after heavy criticism of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, points to some uncertainty over what the Philippines under Duterte might do.

One ASEAN state is an absolute monarchy (founded on Sharia Law–DM). Two are communist states and another a dictatorial democracy, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Making an imperfect ten is a state – through a referendum no less – which is set to become a militarily managed democracy, as the referendum indeed was.

The upshot is that there will not be in ASEAN a “In or Out” referendum of the British kind – free, open and all too easy.

With none of the regimes in ASEAN is there likely be such a reckless gamble as to leave an existential decision with the people. Not that there is everywhere in ASEAN always a high degree of leadership responsibility.

It is just that the people are not invited to make too many decisions once Governments are in power. So, from very different starting points, ASEAN will not be so people-centric as to give its citizens such a choice.

Britain – specifically David Cameron – screwed up. There was a rather careless Oxford Union debate approach by him in the referendum campaign. This was quite irresponsible when BREXIT is a highly complicated matter. Even Brexiteers – like Boris Johnson (now Foreign Secretary) – looked numb on the morning after the night before, like theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.

Some experts are now saying divorcing the EU may take 10 years. Britain will have to negotiate at least six major deals to re-establish its place in the world after BREXIT. For instance, among the six deals, Britain has to regain full membership of the WTO, not necessarily a straightforward thing, where the EU is the representative body.

While ASEAN  is no way as close and intricate as the EU’s and, in the instance of the WTO, ASEAN countries are individual members of the trade organisation, the important point is the need to think through any decision to break away from any association or organisation.

It is not a simple in or out matter to be decided on the basis of emotions alone. There are a lot of knotty issues, especially relating to the economy, trade and free trade agreements (FTAs). There can be unintended consequences.

With respect to ASEAN, it will not be lost on member states that there is no need to make any grand gesture of walking out, or threatening to do so, especially as commitment to ASEAN’s so-called rules-based regime is not so onerous anyway. So why rock the boat when there is promise of great potential benefit and any present problems can be treated in a let sleeping dogs lie fashion?

We have noted also the wide divergence in the political models in the EU and ASEAN. Indeed ASEAN may think its democratic deficit is a blessing in disguise.

Such parsimony however should not be represented as wisdom among ASEAN leaders. Cynicism and realism are two different things that might yet come out of the ASEAN bag. If leadership and wisdom are required, for instance, to hold the association together against present and future challenges, ASEAN leaders could equally blunder.

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The most critical test of ASEAN unity today is over what position to take on Beijing’s South China Sea claims and assertive behaviour. Again and again ASEAN – including its four South China Sea claimant states – fails to take a collective stand as China, through land reclamation and militarisation, as well as naval support of its fishing fleets, achieves de facto control over almost all of the disputed atolls and waters.

The arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling on July 12, that there is no basis in international law for most of China’s assertions and actions, has only accentuated the division rather than help form a common front. The cracks have become clearer.

Yet China is able to entice ASEAN Member States with possibilities, over which it would be up to ASEAN to keep united or not. On August 17, China Daily reported there is agreement to negotiate the code of conduct in the South China Sea by mid-2017. There is also a deal in the making on a code of unplanned encounters at sea (CUES).

All this to go to the ASEAN-China summit just two weeks away. All very good news indeed.

On the other hand, Singapore – the ASEAN coordinator of relations with China until 2018 when the island republic takes the chair of ASEAN – has been receiving some stick on Chinese social media, with Global Times castigating it as the “little red dot.”

Like with all ASEAN countries, but more so with Singapore, the tricky test is how to navigate the Sino-US rivalry in South-East Asia. China can blow hot and cold, and keep ASEAN states responding every which way.

At the heart of this lack of unity is not just that not all ASEAN members are claimant states in the South Chine Sea, but rather more so their economic dependence on China. All ASEAN states have significant interest in the economic relationship with the rising giant that has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades which, to a greater or lesser extent, they do not wish to disturb. Indeed which they wish, with many Chinese blandishments, to see grow.

A couple of ASEAN member states depend on China for their economic life. They will never cross Beijing. There is a soft middle who are careful not to antagonise China even if they feel they are being dragged to the limit. Only one among them appears to have drawn a line in the sand and is clear on the equal sovereign rights of all states big or small. And then there is a sharp and hard outer edge comprising two Asean members although the hardest, now with new leadership, is softening its stand.

ASEAN, in other words, is totally disunited over the South China Sea and China’s absolute claim to it. It needs to show unity to negotiate effectively with China but different economic and national interests are pulling it apart.

On a more general plane, while the EU has been wedded to principles – like the free movement of people – ASEAN has always been flexible and diverse about these things.

With immigration and the deluge of refugees caused by principled commitment being identified as the prime reason leading to Brexit,

ASEAN may feel it has bragging rights with its flexible and realistic approach to integration and human rights issues. But there is no cause for celebration in ASEAN. Certainly, in respect of not taking a principled stand on China’s assertive sovereign – and suzerain – claims in the South China Sea, the future could come to haunt ASEAN in some unintended ways.

Even if the calculation is that China’s regional dominance is inevitable, the nature of ASEAN state relationship with Beijing is still something that can be fashioned short of total subservience. Full capitulation now will guarantee a future as vassal states.

There is value in principles. There are options that can be exercised. In the very first year of the so-called ASEAN community, the path to greater integration, including in the Asianholic economic field, could get even slower as divergence on the South China Sea issue sours political relationships among member states.

There are also dangers of total dependence on economic expansion without sufficient attention being given to the social issues of growth.

Social services, equitable distribution of income and wealth are critical if ASEAN countries are not to be confronted by the ferment and discord of economic denial – which could then so easily be attributed to ASEAN integration rather than to bad and unjust national governance.

More than immigration, which was the symptom, the underlying cause of the Brexit vote was the anger of the social underclass denied economic justice, who attributed their condition to foreigners. Narrow and nationalistic jingoism is something politically easy to whip up when there is such anger. It is not something ASEAN should not anticipate.

So beneath the tranquillity of the ASEAN way, the smiles and linking of arms are many issues that cannot always be kept there. They should be addressed. They could cause discord, disunity and tumult. If not exactly the break-up of Asean, they could make Asean meaningless and lead to the regional organisation not being taken seriously.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

 

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics


August 25, 2016

The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics

By Marton Jacques

In the early 1980s the author was one of the first to herald the emerging dominance of neoliberalism in the west. Here he argues that this doctrine is now faltering. But what happens next?

 

Donald Trump seeks a return to 1950s America, well before the age of neoliberalism. Photograph: H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images

The western financial crisis of 2007-8 was the worst since 1931, yet its immediate repercussions were surprisingly modest. The crisis challenged the foundation stones of the long-dominant neoliberal ideology but it seemed to emerge largely unscathed. The banks were bailed out; hardly any bankers on either side of the Atlantic were prosecuted for their crimes; and the price of their behaviour was duly paid by the taxpayer. Subsequent economic policy, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world, has relied overwhelmingly on monetary policy, especially quantitative easing. It has failed. The western economy has stagnated and is now approaching its lost decade, with no end in sight.

After almost nine years, we are finally beginning to reap the political whirlwind of the financial crisis. But how did neoliberalism manage to survive virtually unscathed for so long? Although it failed the test of the real world, bequeathing the worst economic disaster for seven decades, politically and intellectually it remained the only show in town. Parties of the right, centre and left had all bought into its philosophy, New Labour a classic in point. They knew no other way of thinking or doing: it had become the common sense. It was, as Antonio Gramsci put it, hegemonic. But that hegemony cannot and will not survive the test of the real world.

But the causes of this political crisis, glaringly evident on both sides of the Atlantic, are much deeper than simply the financial crisis and the virtually stillborn recovery of the last decade. They go to the heart of the neoliberal project that dates from the late 70s and the political rise of Reagan and Thatcher, and embraced at its core the idea of a global free market in goods, services and capital. The depression-era system of bank regulation was dismantled, in the US in the 1990s and in Britain in 1986, thereby creating the conditions for the 2008 crisis. Equality was scorned, the idea of trickle-down economics lauded, government condemned as a fetter on the market and duly downsized, immigration encouraged, regulation cut to a minimum, taxes reduced and a blind eye turned to corporate evasion.

The first inkling of the wider political consequences was evident in the turn in public opinion against the banks, bankers and business leaders. For decades, they could do no wrong: they were feted as the role models of our age, the default troubleshooters of choice in education, health and seemingly everything else. Now, though, their star was in steep descent, along with that of the political class. The effect of the financial crisis was to undermine faith and trust in the competence of the governing elites. It marked the beginnings of a wider political crisis.

It should be noted that, by historical standards, the neoliberal era has not had a particularly good track record. The most dynamic period of postwar western growth was that between the end of the war and the early 70s, the era of welfare capitalism and Keynesianism, when the growth rate was double that of the neoliberal period from 1980 to the present.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1984, ushered in the era of neoliberalism.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, pictured in 1984, ushered in the era of neoliberalism. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

But by far the most disastrous feature of the neoliberal period has been the huge growth in inequality. Until very recently, this had been virtually ignored. With extraordinary speed, however, it has emerged as one of, if not the most important political issue on both sides of the Atlantic, most dramatically in the US. It is, bar none, the issue that is driving the political discontent that is now engulfing the west. Given the statistical evidence, it is puzzling, shocking even, that it has been disregarded for so long; the explanation can only lie in the sheer extent of the hegemony of neoliberalism and its values.

But now reality has upset the doctrinal apple cart. In the period 1948-1972, every section of the American population experienced very similar and sizable increases in their standard of living; between 1972-2013, the bottom 10% experienced falling real income while the top 10% did far better than everyone else. In the US, the median real income for full-time male workers is now lower than it was four decades ago: the income of the bottom 90% of the population hasstagnated for over 30 years.

A not so dissimilar picture is true of the UK. And the problem has grown more serious since the financial crisis. On average, between 65-70% of households in 25 high-income economies experienced stagnant or falling real incomes between 2005 and 2014.

The reasons are not difficult to explain. The hyper-globalisation era has been systematically stacked in favour of capital against labour: international trading agreements, drawn up in great secrecy, with business on the inside and the unions and citizens excluded, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being but the latest examples; the politico-legal attack on the unions; the encouragement of large-scale immigration in both the US and Europe that helped to undermine the bargaining power of the domestic workforce; and the failure to retrain displaced workers in any meaningful way.

As Thomas Piketty has shown, in the absence of countervailing pressures, capitalism naturally gravitates towards increasing inequality. In the period between 1945 and the late 70s, Cold War competition was arguably the biggest such constraint. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been none. As the popular backlash grows increasingly irresistible, however, such a winner-takes-all regime becomes politically unsustainable.

Large sections of the population in both the US and the UK are now in revolt against their lot, as graphically illustrated by the support for Trump and Sanders in the US and the Brexit vote in the UK. This popular revolt is often described, in a somewhat denigratory and dismissive fashion, as populism. Or, as Francis Fukuyama writes in a recent excellent essay in Foreign Affairs: “‘Populism’ is the label that political elites attach to policies supported by ordinary citizens that they don’t like.” Populism is a movement against the status quo. It represents the beginnings of something new, though it is generally much clearer about what it is against than what it is for. It can be progressive or reactionary, but more usually both.

Brexit is a classic example of such populism. It has overturned a fundamental cornerstone of UK policy since the early 1970s. Though ostensibly about Europe, it was in fact about much more: a cri de coeur from those who feel they have lost out and been left behind, whose living standards have stagnated or worse since the 1980s, who feel dislocated by large-scale immigration over which they have no control and who face an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market. Their revolt has paralysed the governing elite, already claimed one prime minister (David Cameron), and left the latest one fumbling around in the dark looking for divine inspiration (Theresa May).

The wave of populism marks the return of class as a central agency in politics, both in the UK and the US. This is particularly remarkable in the US. For many decades, the idea of the “working class” was marginal to American political discourse. Most Americans described themselves as middle class, a reflection of the aspirational pulse at the heart of American society. According to a Gallup poll, in 2000 only 33% of Americans called themselves working class; by 2015 the figure was 48%, almost half the population.

Brexit, too, was primarily a working-class revolt. Hitherto, on both sides of the Atlantic, the agency of class has been in retreat in the face of the emergence of a new range of identities and issues from gender and race to sexual orientation and the environment. The return of class, because of its sheer reach, has the potential, like no other issue, to redefine the political landscape.

The re-emergence of class should not be confused with the labour movement. They are not synonymous: this is obvious in the US and increasingly the case in the UK. Indeed, over the last half-century, there has been a growing separation between the two in Britain. The re-emergence of the working class as a political voice in Britain, most notably in the Brexit vote, can best be described as an inchoate expression of resentment and protest, with only a very weak sense of belonging to the labour movement.

Indeed, Ukip has been as important – in the form of immigration and Europe – in shaping its current attitudes as the Labour party. In the United States, both Trump and Sanders have given expression to the working-class revolt, the latter almost as much as the former. The working class belongs to no one: its orientation, far from predetermined, as the left liked to think, is a function of politics.

The neoliberal era is being undermined from two directions. First, if its record of economic growth has never been particularly strong, it is now dismal. Europe is barely larger than it was on the eve of the financial crisis in 2007; the United States has done better but even its growth has been anaemic. Economists such as Larry Summers believe that the prospect for the future is most likely one of secular stagnation.

Worse, because the recovery has been so weak and fragile, there is a widespread belief that another financial crisis may well beckon. In other words, the neoliberal era has delivered the west back into the kind of crisis-ridden world that we last experienced in the 1930s. With this background, it is hardly surprising that a majority in the west now believe their children will be worse off than they were. Second, those who have lost out in the neoliberal era are no longer prepared to acquiesce in their fate – they are increasingly in open revolt. We are witnessing the end of the neoliberal era. It is not dead, but it is in its early death throes, just as the social-democratic era was during the 1970s.

Image result for Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Earth Institute@Columbia University’s Jeffery Sachs

A sure sign of the declining influence of neoliberalism is the rising chorus of intellectual voices raised against it. From the mid-70s through the 80s, the economic debate was increasingly dominated by monetarists and free marketeers. But since the western financial crisis, the centre of gravity of the intellectual debate has shifted profoundly. This is most obvious in the United States, with economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, Dani Rodrik and Jeffrey Sachs becoming increasingly influential. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been a massive seller. His work and that of Tony Atkinson and Angus Deaton have pushed the question of the inequality to the top of the political agenda. In the UK, Ha-Joon Chang, for long isolated within the economics profession, has gained a following far greater than those who think economics is a branch of mathematics.

 Meanwhile, some of those who were previously strong advocates of a neoliberal approach, such as Larry Summers and the Financial Times’s Martin Wolf, have become extremely critical. The wind is in the sails of the critics of neoliberalism; the neoliberals and monetarists are in retreat. In the UK, the media and political worlds are well behind the curve. Few recognise that we are at the end of an era. Old attitudes and assumptions still predominate, whether on the BBC’s Today programme, in the rightwing press or the parliamentary Labour party.

Following Ed Miliband’s resignation as Labour leader, virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in the subsequent leadership election. The assumption had been more of the same, a Blairite or a halfway house like Miliband, certainly not anyone like Corbyn. But the zeitgeist had changed. The membership, especially the young who had joined the party on an unprecedented scale, wanted a complete break with New Labour. One of the reasons why the left has failed to emerge as the leader of the new mood of working-class disillusionment is that most social democratic parties became, in varying degrees, disciples of neoliberalism and uber-globalisation. The most extreme forms of this phenomenon were New Labour and the Democrats, who in the late 90s and 00s became its advance guard, personified by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, triangulation and the third way.

But as David Marquand observed in a review for the New Statesman, what is the point of a social democratic party if it doesn’t represent the less fortunate, the underprivileged and the losers? New Labour deserted those who needed them, who historically they were supposed to represent. Is it surprising that large sections have now deserted the party who deserted them? Blair, in his reincarnation as a money-obsessed consultant to a shady bunch of presidents and dictators, is a fitting testament to the demise of New Labour.

‘Virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn’, pictured at a rally in north London last week.

‘Virtually no one foresaw the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn’, pictured at rally in north London last week. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

The rival contenders – Burnham, Cooper and Kendall – represented continuity. They were swept away by Corbyn (pic above), who won nearly 60% of the votes. New Labour was over, as dead as Monty Python’s parrot. Few grasped the meaning of what had happened. A Guardian leader welcomed the surge in membership and then, lo and behold, urged support for Yvette Cooper, the very antithesis of the reason for the enthusiasm. The PLP refused to accept the result and ever since has tried with might and main to remove Corbyn.

Just as the Labour party took far too long to come to terms with the rise of Thatcherism and the birth of a new era at the end of the 70s, now it could not grasp that the Thatcherite paradigm, which they eventually came to embrace in the form of New Labour, had finally run its course. Labour, like everyone else, is obliged to think anew. The membership in their antipathy to New Labour turned to someone who had never accepted the latter, who was the polar opposite in almost every respect of Blair, and embodying an authenticity and decency which Blair patently did not.

Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better.

Corbyn is not a product of the new times, he is a throwback to the late 70s and early 80s. That is both his strength and also his weakness. He is uncontaminated by the New Labour legacy because he has never accepted it. But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era. The danger is that he is possessed of feet of clay in what is a highly fluid and unpredictable political environment, devoid of any certainties of almost any kind, in which Labour finds itself dangerously divided and weakened.

Labour may be in intensive care, but the condition of the Conservatives is not a great deal better. David Cameron was guilty of a huge and irresponsible miscalculation over Brexit. He was forced to resign in the most ignominious of circumstances. The party is hopelessly divided. It has no idea in which direction to move after Brexit. The Brexiters painted an optimistic picture of turning away from the declining European market and embracing the expanding markets of the world, albeit barely mentioning by name which countries it had in mind. It looks as if the new prime minister may have an anachronistic hostility towards China and a willingness to undo the good work of George Osborne. If the government turns its back on China, by far the fastest growing market in the world, where are they going to turn?

Brexit has left the country fragmented and deeply divided, with the very real prospect that Scotland might choose independence. Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem to have little understanding that the neoliberal era is in its death throes.

‘Put America first’: Donald Trump in Cleveland last month. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Dramatic as events have been in the UK, they cannot compare with those in the United States. Almost from nowhere, Donald Trump rose to capture the Republican nomination and confound virtually all the pundits and not least his own party. His message was straightforwardly anti-globalisation. He believes that the interests of the working class have been sacrificed in favour of the big corporations that have been encouraged to invest around the world and thereby deprive American workers of their jobs. Further, he argues that large-scale immigration has weakened the bargaining power of American workers and served to lower their wages.

He proposes that US corporations should be required to invest their cash reserves in the US. He believes that the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) has had the effect of exporting American jobs to Mexico. On similar grounds, he is opposed to the TPP and the TTIP. And he also accuses China of stealing American jobs, threatening to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.

To globalisation Trump counterposes economic nationalism: “Put America first”. His appeal, above all, is to the white working class who, until Trump’s (and Bernie Sander’s) arrival on the political scene, had been ignored and largely unrepresented since the 1980s. Given that their wages have been falling for most of the last 40 years, it is extraordinary how their interests have been neglected by the political class. Increasingly, they have voted Republican, but the Republicans have long been captured by the super-rich and Wall Street, whose interests, as hyper-globalisers, have run directly counter to those of the white working class. With the arrival of Trump they finally found a representative: they won Trump the Republican nomination.

The economic nationalist argument has also been vigorously pursued by Bernie Sanders, who ran Hillary Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination and would probably have won but for more than 700 so-called super-delegates, who were effectively chosen by the Democratic machine and overwhelmingly supported Clinton. As in the case of the Republicans, the Democrats have long supported a neoliberal, pro-globalisation strategy, notwithstanding the concerns of its trade union base. Both the Republicans and the Democrats now find themselves deeply polarised between the pro- and anti-globalisers, an entirely new development not witnessed since the shift towards neoliberalism under Reagan almost 40 years ago.

Another plank of Trump’s nationalist appeal – “Make America great again” – is his position on foreign policy. He believes that America’s pursuit of great power status has squandered the nation’s resources. He argues that the country’s alliance system is unfair, with America bearing most of the cost and its allies contributing far too little. He points to Japan and South Korea, and Nato’s European members as prime examples.He seeks to rebalance these relationships and, failing that, to exit from them.

As a country in decline, he argues that America can no longer afford to carry this kind of financial burden. Rather than putting the world to rights, he believes the money should be invested at home, pointing to the dilapidated state of America’s infrastructure. Trump’s position represents a major critique of America as the world’s hegemon. His arguments mark a radical break with the neoliberal, hyper-globalisation ideology that has reigned since the early 1980s and with the foreign policy orthodoxy of most of the postwar period. These arguments must be taken seriously. They should not be lightly dismissed just because of their authorship. But Trump is no man of the left. He is a populist of the right. He has launched a racist and xenophobic attack on Muslims and on Mexicans. Trump’s appeal is to a white working class that feels it has been cheated by the big corporations, undermined by Hispanic immigration, and often resentful towards African-Americans who for long too many have viewed as their inferior.

A Trump America would mark a descent into authoritarianism characterised by abuse, scapegoating, discrimination, racism, arbitrariness and violence; America would become a deeply polarised and divided society. His threat to impose 45% tariffs on China, if implemented, would certainly provoke retaliation by the Chinese and herald the beginnings of a new era of protectionism.

Trump may well lose the presidential election just as Sanders failed in his bid for the Democrat nomination. But this does not mean that the forces opposed to hyper-globalisation – unrestricted immigration, TPP and TTIP, the free movement of capital and much else – will have lost the argument and are set to decline. In little more than 12 months, Trump and Sanders have transformed the nature and terms of the argument. Far from being on the wane, the arguments of the critics of hyper-globalisation are steadily gaining ground. Roughly two-thirds of Americans agree that “we should not think so much in international terms but concentrate more on our own national problems”. And, above all else, what will continue to drive opposition to the hyper-globalisers is inequality.

 https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/21/death-of-neoliberalism-crisis-in-western-politics

Lessons out of Africa for scandal plagued Malaysia


August 23, 2o16

Lessons out of Africa for scandal plagued Malaysia

by Michael Vatikiotis

Beset by scandal, a murky Malaysia could take heed of recent political developments and a new transparency in South Africa and Mauritius.

Many Malaysians are despairing about their political system, in which institutional checks and balances against the abuse of power fail to work, and the opposition lacks the capacity to provide voters with a means of punishing the government at the ballot box.

The damning revelations about the abuse of funds in 1MDB, a development fund headed by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, have generated corruption allegations so big that the US Department of Justice, as well as authorities in Switzerland and Singapore, have all weighed in to investigate.  Yet, the political opposition at home in Malaysia has been unable to do what a loyal opposition does in a parliamentary democracy, which is to freely air grievances and sanction the sitting government in a no-confidence vote. Neither have any formal legal proceedings been successfully brought forward in Malaysia’s supposedly independent courts. Instead, a group of Malaysians has launched a class actions suit in the US.

The government meanwhile, has launched its own investigation, which has cleared the Prime Minister of any wrongdoing, but has refused to release details of what state auditors found.   An executive order removed a sitting Attorney General, and several senior party officials from the ruling United Malays National Organisations have been summarily sacked after expressing concern about the situation.

 UMNO is doomed 

For many Malaysians, what is emblematic about 1MDB is less the alleged corruption on a massive scale, but just how disempowered they feel as lawyers, members of parliament and ordinary citizens; there seems to be absolutely no redress to what is plainly evident to anyone outside the country – and they feel ashamed.  The government meanwhile, is prone to accusing those who dream of a more accountability of being unduly influenced by Western liberal values that have no currency in Asia or the developing world.

Recent events and political trends in southern Africa indicate such claims are nonsense and are worth examining in the light of the current situation in Malaysia.

The outcome of local elections held this month in South Africa and the conduct of political affairs in the small island neighbouring state of Mauritius suggest, that countries in the developing world afflicted by the scourge of corruption do have civilised ways of dealing with the abuse of power, which leave them economically stronger and socially more cohesive.

ANC under Zuma –rejected by voters

Local elections held in South Africa on 3 August saw the ruling African National Congress lose significantly, especially in urban areas.  For the first time since winning power after the dismantling of apartheid in 1994, the ANC’s share of the vote fell below 60 per cent.  The final tally was barely 53 per cent. Most analysts attributed the loss to dissatisfaction with ANC leaders, specifically its President Jacob Zuma, whose term in office has been dogged by accusations of corruption.

Voters appear to have based their decision on a clear process of legal investigation that has shown itself to be somewhat immune to political interference and whitewash.  In June, a South African court rejected President Zuma’s attempted appeal against a ruling that he should face as many as 800 charges of corruption, which include fraud and money laundering while he was in office.  In March this year, Zuma was found guilty of violating the constitution over the use of public funds to upgrade his private residence.

In the light of 1MDB, Malaysians won’t be shocked by these allegations, but what they might find surprising is that the courts in South Africa are ruling on them without fear or favour.  As a result, the party that has led the country since liberation, like UMNO in Malaysia, is no longer immune to scrutiny and the weight of public opinion.  Moreover, instead of blaming other groups or races for its loss, the ANC leadership has declared it will take collective responsibility.

New Hope for South Africa–Mmusi Maimane

More noteworthy still is how the opposition has responded in the South African context.  The winner in the August local election was the old White-dominated liberal party, the Democratic Alliance, that has strongholds in urban areas, rather like the Malaysian opposition.  The DA’s new leader, a black man from Soweto, called Mmusi Maimane, sometimes dubbed South Africa’s Obama, led the party to gain almost 30 per cent of the vote, up from less than two per cent in 1994.  Since the white population of South Africa represents only eight per cent of the total, many brown and black people must have shifted their allegiance from the ANC to the DA.

There are two lessons here for Malaysia: the first is that it is not a given that the party of liberation must rule the country forever; the second is that political affiliation need not correspond to ethnic identity.  South Africa is now the continent’s largest economy, having displaced Nigeria.  With the message delivered to the ANC at the local elections this month, many South Africans are hopeful that the country’s economic promise will no longer be squandered by leaders who use affirmative action to line the pockets of cronies and relatives.

 Mauritius: Checks and Balances are working

Meanwhile, next door in the tiny island of Mauritius, which has long had a close relationship with Malaysia, there are also signs that politicians who abuse their power are increasingly subject to the law.  In June last year, Pravind Jugnauth, the son of current Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth (pic above), was found guilty as Minister of Technology of conflict of interest in the purchase of a health clinic.

Pravind appealed the verdict and claimed trial, a decision he won, which has enabled him to serve as Finance Minister in the cabinet.  Remarkably, given that Pravind is considered Prime Minister in waiting to take over from his father, the Deputy Public Prosecutor is appealing the court’s decision – and he has kept his job.

The political set up in Mauritius is similar to that of Malaysia — a multiracial society composed of Hindu Indians, Muslim Indians, Chinese, Creole, and a smattering of established white families governed by a parliamentary system with courts and other regulatory bodies closely modeled on British institutions.  Also like Malaysia, there has long been tension between the manner in which the courts and the media hold politicians accountable, and political efforts to manipulate them.

It would seem that in the case of Mauritius, the checks and balances are working. Former Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, who was accused of using the courts to try to muzzle the media, is now under police investigation after more than US$ 6 million in cash was found at his home after he lost the election in 2014. Ramgoolam claims the money was a donation from supporters for use in the election campaign.  Sound familiar?

Michael Vatikiotis is Asia Regional Director for the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.

http://www.newmandala.org/lessons-africa-malaysia/