MH370: Asking the Wrong Government for Straight Answers


March 27, 2014

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100

On March 24, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (above) appeared before the press to announce that missing flight MH370 “ended in the Southern Indian Ocean.” Najib’s statement finally gave the families of the passengers an “answer” on the fate of their loved ones. But it comes after weeks of spectacular obfuscation by Malaysian government officials, who repeatedly fudged details, contradicted each other, or used the tragedy to score points against the political opposition.

Just to add insult to injury, Malaysian Airlines informed the families of the sad news by sending them a text message. Small wonder that some of the relatives are now accusing Malaysian officialdom of orchestrating a “cover-up,” and demanding to see concrete evidence such as the plane’s black box.

The rest of the world has reacted to the half-truths of the Malaysian authorities with bewilderment. But to us Malaysians it’s nothing new: We’ve been putting up with this sort of crap our entire lives. Our officials are incapable of communicating because they’ve never felt the need to. Our corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy regards its own citizens with such top-down contempt that its dialogue muscles have simply atrophied.

So it’s no wonder that Malaysians have spent the past few weeks coping the way we’re accustomed to: by indulging in conspiracy theories, the last pathetic refuge of people who know that they can never expect the truth from their own leaders. So we’ve seen some Malaysians blaming the loss of the plane on everyone from our own government to the United States, China, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and — why not? — aliens. Yes, it’s sad. And yes, it’s more than a little crazy. But in the final analysis you can’t really blame us. Where else are we supposed to find any answers?

The Malaysian government’s response has been dismal almost from the moment MH370 went missing. In most countries, the prime minister would step forward and take the lead during a catastrophe of this magnitude. In Malaysia, however, our Prime Minister decided to spend his time boasting about his skill at buying cheap chicken, analyzing the economy’s health based on the price of kangkung (water spinach), or strolling around shopping malls. He’s left the bulk of the mundane task of disaster management to the acting Transport Minister cum Minister of Defense, Hishammuddin Hussein, who has figured as the official government spokesman at a number of press conferences following the disappearance of MH370. (Hishammuddin, it’s worth noting, is a cousin of Prime Minister Najib — a coincidence quite widespread in a country where politicians are often linked by clan ties.)

Hishamuddin HusseinJudging by the reactions from passengers’ families and the international media, Hishammuddin (left) hasn’t exactly been doing a stellar job. In the early days of the investigation, the minister and his team event offered a conspiracy theory of their own.

In this case, Malaysian officials speculated — without offering any particular evidence to back up their claim — that the plane’s pilot, a “fanatical supporter” of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim and a relative of Anwar’s son-in-law, might have been motivated to hijack his own plane for political reasons.

The day before, a Malaysian court sentenced Anwar to five years in prison on sodomy charges, a decision that bars him for running for office in upcoming elections. Again, none of this comes as a particular surprise. In recent years, government officials have developed the habit of blaming everything and anything on the Opposition, and especially on Anwar.

One side effect of the government’s inept response to the MH370 catastrophe, according to some, is that it has prompted some unwelcome analysis of the country’s political system, which has been dominated by the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition for the past 57 years. So is Malaysia’s paternalistic political culture really being challenged now that MH370 incident has exposed its leaders to the withering judgments of international critics? I’m inclined to doubt it. As soon as the MH370 issue cools down, Malaysia’s government will return to business as usual. Nothing will change.

Just consider the scandal surrounding Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister ofSararwak's CM the Malaysian state of Sarawak. According to the Bruno Manser Fund, a Swiss environmental group, and local critics in Sarawak, Abdul Taib, who’s held office since 1981, has amassed enormous wealth (and caused vast environmental damage) through his unchallenged control of the state’s forests. These critics allege that Taib has used his power to enrich his own family and well-connected cronies, who have harvested billions of dollars’ worth of tropical timber.

Early last year, the international corruption watchdog group Global Witness released extensive video footage from a covert investigation that showed Taib’s cousins explaining how they had circumvented state laws to acquired vast tracts of forest land. In January 2013, 20 Swiss members of parliament filed a motion calling for an immediate freeze of assets held by Swiss banks on behalf of the Malaysian Taib family.

In a normal, democratic political system, all this would have prompted official investigations, parliamentary inquiries, demands for accountability. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission did organize a probe to investigate Taib — but the minister simply declared, with apparent impunity, that he would not cooperate with the “naughty” and “dishonest” commission. As a result, Malaysian officials have yet to open a domestic investigation into the case. One year later, in February 2014, the probe made the improbable claim that it could not find any evidence that Taib had abused his power. On March 1 of this year, Abdul Taib was sworn in for a term as Sarawak’s Governor — a position even more powerful than the one he held before.

Taib can get away with this sort of thing precisely because of his cozy relationship with the ruling BN coalition and the party that dominates it (the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO). The ruling coalition sees Sarawak as a vital cache of votes for the party, and within this system, Taib is untouchable.

In our general election last year, the main opposition coalition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, won just over 50 percent of the vote — yet BN still ended up with 60 percent of the seats in the national parliament. That’s because the government uses gerrymandering and elaborate dirty tricks to divide up the election system in ways that ensure continued BN rule, regardless of the way Malaysians actually vote. It’s not surprising, then, that there is zero sense of accountability in our country — and that the government officials who have risen to the top of the system feel little pressure to respond to those pesky demands for information from ordinary people.

The Malaysian government has a long history of ignoring its citizens’ right to know. Just take one of the most notorious cases. Back in 2002, an international human rights group filed an international court challenge alleging that the Malaysian government had accepted millions of dollars in bribes from a French shipbuilding company in the $1.25 billion purchase of two Scorpene submarines. Though the French investigation produced enough evidence to implicate top Malaysian officials, the government summarily denied the claims, and no one was ever punished. Over a decade later, the scandal is still unresolved.

Or take the murder of Mongolian model and translator Altantuya Shaariibuu (which has also been linked to the submarine case). Witnesses linked Altantuya romantically to one of Najib’s best friends and close policy advisors, a man named Abdul Razak Baginda. Sources claimed that she was trying to blackmail Razak with her knowledge of the shady submarine deal before she was killed by two of Najib’s bodyguards.

Rosmah and NajibThough the case implicated both the Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife, the government never initiated any official investigation. The case has remained in limbo ever since.

A private investigator, P Balasubramaniam (known as “Bala”), made a convincing statutory declaration for the prosecution in the Altantuya case — but soon retracted the statement, and subsequently dropped out of sight, along with his entire family.

Bala turned up again a few years later, claiming that he’d been offered $1.5 million by a businessman close to Najib’s family if he’d take back his original declaration. Bala died of a heart attack on March 15, 2013, in the midst of campaigning for the opposition in the upcoming election. Then Olivier Metzner, a French lawyer involved the submarine court case, was found dead in “an apparent suicide” two days after Bala’s death.

Not long after that the Malaysian Court of Appeals decided to acquit the two policemen who had been sentenced to death for Altantuya’s murder. The court’s decision provoked an angry response from Altantuya’s father and the Mongolian government.

But, as we’ve pointed out, foreigners apparently have just as little right to satisfactory information from the Malaysian government as Malaysian citizens do.We Malaysians, in short, have been putting up with this culture of official impunity for decades. Without having much choice in the matter, we’ve become accustomed to living under an authoritarian bureaucracy that mocks our requests for honest dialogue, and revels in its own contempt for basic rules of transparency and accountability. Now the international community is getting its own taste of what dealing with this system is really like.

What’s more, MH370 proves that Malaysia’s political immaturity is not merely a domestic issue, but threatens the citizens of other nations as well. As Malaysian citizens, we offer our sincerest condolences to the families of the passengers and the  international community — and we hope that you’ll join us in the fight against our government’s blatant corruption.

Poor Quality in Malaysia is Worrying, says World Bank Economist


March 25, 2014

COMMENT: We do not need a World Bank Economist to tell us that imageour education system (and the standard of education) sucks. You and I have been commenting on this subject since I started this blog in 2007. It has since worsened. Today, we are lagging behind Vietnam, Taiwan, China and Singapore other countries in our region and around the world.

Nobody in government seems to be concerned about it or even dare to act to correct it except at the level of political discourse. Even parents who should be worried about their children’s future in a globalized world are not interested in pushing for a comprehensive educational reform. In stead, we have allowed politicians to play around withthe education of our young. As a result, our children are unable to speak proper English, and they lag behind children of other ASEAN children in Mathematics and Science.

The same can be said of our universities which are year in and year out churning out thousands of graduates who cannot be employed by industry except government. Just watch the press briefings by public officials in connection with MH370 over the last 17 days, and you can see how inept  our public officials are in handling the international media because of their inability to converse and communicate in English. It is time for Malaysia to act. Stop playing politics with the future of our generation of Malaysians.–Din Merican

Poor Quality in Malaysia is Worrying, says World Bank Economist

by Sheridan Mahavera, http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

education blueprintWhat Happened to Blueprint, Deputy Prime Minister?

The poor quality of Malaysia’s education system is more worrying than the level of debt in its households, said a World Bank Senior Economist in Kuala Lumpur today.

This is because the country’s substandard education system would affect the pool of skilled talent it needs to grow its economy to become a highincome nation, while high household debt is not necessarily a problem if the economy continues to grow and citizens are gainfully employed.

Dr Frederico Gil Sander, who is Senior Economist for Malaysia, said Malaysians should be “alarmed” that their children were doing worse in school than children in Vietnam, a country that is poorer than Malaysia.

“Rural Vietnamese students do better than Malaysian students,” said Sander, when met a forum that is part of the Global Malaysia series organised by the Economic Transformation Programme.

Sander was referring to a world student performance assessment test called PISA which had measured how students in 65 countries did in mathematics, science and reading. According to PISA’s 2012 results Malaysian students scored below average or ranked 52 out 65. In contrast, Vietnamese students ranked 17 out of 65.

Malaysia’s poor PISA results spotlighted the weakness of Malaysia’s school system, despite the fact that education gets the largest share of funds every year from the national budget.

Critics have pointed out that the PISA results contradicted the government’s insistence that Malaysia had a world class education system. Critics have also questioned the real worth of the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) which produces many students who scored As, but who can’t compete with their peers from Singapore, China and Taiwan.

Gil Sander said an efficient education system should be decentralised to give more power to schools to make their own decisions based on their local circumstances.

“At the same time, parents should be provided with information on the performance of each school in their area so that they can send their children to the best schools,” he said.

On the other hand, Gil Sander claimed that Malaysia’s rate of household debt is not necessarily bad, so long as the economy keeps growing and incomes keep rising.

“Low levels of debt could be an indicator of no access to finance, but if a person borrows money to buy a car to go to a good job, that is not a bad thing.The important thing is that salaries keep rising,” he said

Urgent questions for Malaysian Prime Minister


March 25,2014

Urgent questions for Malaysian Prime Minister

by RK Anand@ http://www.malaysiakini.com

NajiboSince the onset of this crisis, I have disagreed with the speculation that Malaysian authorities have been deliberately withholding or concealing information regarding the status of MH370.

The conflicting and often contradictory details stemmed from incompetence, as opposed to a diabolical plot. Our authorities just lack the experience and expertise in dealing with a misadventure of this magnitude. And to believe that Malaysia has the ability to hoodwink the world is giving our leaders too much credit.

But I strongly feel that satellite “pings” and some form of “analysis never before used” are required to locate the brains of our officials. And the absence of a functioning cerebrum was evident in the events that unravelled last night.

In a hastily organised news conference, a grim-faced Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced that the Boeing 777 had gone down in the Indian Ocean, and that all 239 on board were lost.

The revelation even caught China by surprise. Were the other nations involved in the search and rescue mission notified or were they kept in the dark as well?

The next question is: why the rush?

Najib made a brief statement on the fate of the plane and those on it without divulging specific information or fielding questions from journalists. Instead the media was told that a briefing would be held this morning. Perhaps the Prime Minister was worried that if he did not break the news, the foreign media might beat him to it and steal the limelight.

The relatives of the passengers and crew were shell-shocked and understandably so. In Beijing, tears flowed, tempers flared, chairs flew and walls were punched. Imagine. After 17 days of trepidation as investigators landed at one dead end after another in search of a plane that simply vanished, the Malaysian Prime Minister tells the relatives that all hope is lost.

And this devastating blow comes after days of keeping their hopes alive with the oft repeated “looking into all possibilities” remark. Indeed, since the Beijing-bound flight went missing on March 8, a slew of speculations – some bordering on the bizarre and supernatural – had emerged.

But what actually transpired would only be known once the black box is discovered, which could take days, weeks, months or even years. However, one thing is for certain. The credibility of the Malaysian government has suffered a major dent as a result of this disaster.

Wan Azizah wins Kajang


March 24, 2014

Wan Azizah wins Kajang as Voters reject MCA

COMMENT

by Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

As expected, the Opposition PKR won the Kajang by-election. It did so with a smaller majority in number of voters, 5,379, but a larger share of the overall vote, up from 56.8 percent to 59.1 percent.

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This was an important win for the Opposition. Yet, the results did not send the decisive signal of a growing groundswell of support for Pakatan Rakyat nor did it send a signal of gains for the incumbent BN government, which ordinarily in a time of national crisis would have won stronger support.

Rather it points to minor shifts in voting behaviour that suggest both sides need to improve their strategies of engagement with voters.

Disjointed campaign

Kajang is a constituency with a long history of political activism. Close to Kuala Lumpur and one of Malaysia’s national universities, the roots of political activity run deep. In fact one of the striking features of this seat is how few fence-sitters there were, with both sides trying hard to convert the converted.

The campaign evolved from a focus on the ‘Kajang Move’ resulting from tensions over the state leadership in PKR to the sentencing of party’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim. It changed from disadvantaging the opposition to placing the government on the defensive.

There was an element of stepping back in time to a period where outrage over a politically motivated conviction moved voters. Based on focus group discussions and interviews, the sentencing of Anwar over a decade ago was the number one issue that influenced voting behaviour.

In this rerun, there was less anger and more resignation. The majority of voters nevertheless sent a clear signal that the methods used by the BN towards the opposition were not acceptable.

Despite the core issue, the two-month campaign was filled the conflicting and confusing messaging. The mantra of ‘Wan Azizah to Putrajaya’ just did not make sense to many voters, who were not sure whether she was running for the state leadership or national power. It was also not clear if they were voting for her or her husband, Anwar.

If confusion clouded the votes for Pakatan, then contradictions were paramount in the BN messaging. BN moved from highlighting division in the Opposition to promoting a racially divisive message calling for the Chinese to vote along ethnic lines.

The messaging was all over the place, as both the BN and Pakatan used every play in the book to win voters with limited results. Neither side evoked the ‘spirit’ as it was not clear who was more tired – the campaigners or the voters.

Indeed, both sides relied on the old playbook in their campaigning. BR1M 3.0, transportation allowances and ‘gifts’ of food were the dominant mode of BN engagement, with efforts focused on maintaining their political base – although comparatively less money was spent on this ‘buy’-election than others.

This vote buying was buttressed by grassroots mobilisation of both the UMNO and MCA political base with appeals along racial lines. MCA was more explicit in its call to vote for a Chinese representative, although race and religion were a major undertone on all sides.

For Pakatan, the ‘Putrajaya’ song was replayed but it seemed out of tune with this by-election. With political infighting within the opposition over the Selangor government and jockeying for positions within PKR for its May party polls close to the surface, the dance steps to the music seemed unclear, with the campaign itself highly decentralised, uneven and disjointed.

In terms of coordination, there was a flashback to the Hulu Selangor by-election, where PKR contenders did not appear to be helping each other. The overall focus seemed on winning power rather than representing people, with a campaign heavily personality based.

The opposition appeared to be replaying Reformasi 2.0 without a clear programme and plan on what the revised reform programme would be.

Lackluster turnout

The end result is that the campaign relied on negative messaging on both sides, alienating those in the middle. The level of inspiration was overall missing. Those aligned came out to vote, with those less connected staying at home.

Beyond the messaging and campaigning, four factors help us understand why fewer voters came to the polls. Foremost is the impact of MH370 which overshadowed the campaign. For many Malaysians this crisis, this period of loss for the families and commitment to finding the plane was far more important that the continued saga of BN-Pakatan political contestation.

Frankly, many voters could not be bothered with what some saw as the persistent petty squabbling of politicians. Elites across the political spectrum do not appreciate that many in the public are tired of the fighting and focus on winning power rather than governance. MH370 brought this home, eclipsing the campaign.

An estimated quarter of voters lived outside of Kajang, disproportionately Chinese and younger voters. With the Ching Ming festival beginning next weekend, many Chinese voters did not return for the polls. The timing of the by-election appeared to be set carefully to make it less viable for more opposition-inclined voters to come back and vote.

Along with timing, the incentive to vote was not as strong. This involved, for some voters, financial incentives, with fewer goodies distributed. But the main deterrent was that this vote was a ‘sure win’ for the Opposition and many voters did not think their vote was needed.

Finally, this election was not seen as making a difference. While the opposition touted the election’s symbolic value, there was little doubt who would win and whether it would matter.

In addition, many voters are losing faith in elections – not helped by yet another ‘blackout’ during counting in this by-election reported in Sungai Chua. Doubts were also centred on what would happen after the elections with regard to the Selangor government.

The impact on political power at the national or state level was not clear. The reasons to come out to vote beyond Anwar did not resonate with voters. It is thus no wonder that 16 percent less turnout was recorded.

Shifts in voting behaviour        

In spite of this, there are important shifts in the voting behaviour. The results were affected by the straight-fight (no independent candidates) dynamic, but not completely so.

There are small changes to the status quo in voting. Already reported are swings among Chinese and Malay voters, ranging from seven to 10 percent.

Let’s take the Chinese voters first. This swing towards BN needs to be treated with caution as it is the Chinese youth primarily who did not return to vote, and if they had, the outcome would have looked very similar to the 2013 results. At best, the MCA held onto its political base, especially older and female voters.

Its focus on local issues kept many of its loyal voters, and its appeal to racial representation reinforced traditional affinities. A closer look shows that the MCA gains were not substantive, although to keep its base in the current context showed some resilience among its voters where they have had decades of grassroots support.

What stands out however is that MCA continues to have very minor level of support among the constituency it claims to represent, reinforcing its persistent legitimacy crisis and weakness within the UMNO-led government.

The Malay swing towards the Opposition is more meaningful. There were fewer Malay voters living outside the constituency, and interviews pointed to some shifts in loyalties. These were concentrated among Malay women and younger Malay voters.

The connection to PKR’s Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and the sympathy she invoked resonated, along with increasing frustration with higher costs of living. For the first time since 1999, a plurality of Malays appeared to have voted for the opposition in this constituency, revealing a decline in support in the Umno base.

Part of this can be explained by the UMNO campaign, less spending and the fact that the PKR candidate was a Malay. The results, however, reveal the main challenge ahead for UMNO lies with the disconnect between its promises and governance in the post-GE13 environment, especially in managing the economy.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political legitimacy is dwindling as it appears that he is losing ground among the group his party touts itself to represent.

While race still is the dominant paradigm to interpret the results, the meaningful fault lines in this election were generation and gender divides. PKR did capture the majority of youth, as it did in 2008 and 1999, with the BN relying heavily on older voters. BN on its part continued to win over women, although not to the same extent as before, especially among younger women.

With two women in the campaign, the mobilisation of women was evident,  and this helps us to understand the persistent Chinese base for Malaysian Chinese Association disproportionately female and connected with Chew Mei Fun’s style) and the decline of support for BN among Malays, who are more connected to Wan Azizah.

If there are any implications evident in this by-election from voting behavior, it is that women and youth still hold the future trajectory of electoral victory for either side.

Rocky path ahead    

This by-election is just one of the many battles for Malaysia’s continued polarised political contestation. This ‘sure win’ will be followed by what will likely be a decisive victory for BN in Balingian, Sarawak. What makes Kajang more impactful is its multiethnic composition and the effects on the opposition leadership.

For Najib’s government, the post-GE13 climate is much harder to navigate as the policies of cutting back subsidies and the resultant higher cost of living are hurting its base particularly hard.

The prominent use of racial politics narrows its ability to reach out to the non-Malays. Najib as a leader has been weakened and has less electoral appeal. Infighting within his own party continues to percolate, as the PM continues to face discontent within UMNO. The by-election results, especially the changes in Malay votes, will place additional pressure on Najib.

For the opposition, the battle will be inside Pakatan. The fulcrum will move back to the reasons for the ‘Kajang Move’ in the first place and disagreements over leadership. The struggle for power in Selangor will continue and infighting within the opposition will persist until it is resolved, likely with the PKR May polls.

Voters will have to deal with both sides focusing on internal politicking rather than governance. Kajang may seem sweet for both sides giving it a reduced majority and victory respectively, but the bitterness is coming.

Given the distractions from attention to the problems of ordinary citizens, both sides need to keep in mind that the real bitterness they have to worry about is further alienation from a public who would like less focus on politics and more attention to people.


Bridget-Welsh-2

DR BRIDGET WELSH is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. She can be reached at bwelsh@smu.edu.sg.

Where was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared?


March 21, 2014

Where was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared?

by Mariam Mokhtar

@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

What is the SOP for a breach of our air space? The Air Force Chief’s explanation of the radar incident exposes the poor communication between the military and civil aviation authorities

COMMENT

Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali DaudWhere was the RMAF when MH370 disappeared? In any investigation, the first few hours are the most crucial, when searching for clues. In the early hours of Saturday, March 8, 2014, around the time that air traffic control lost contact with MH370, we are told that military radar detected the presence of an unidentified aircraft traversing Malaysian airspace.

What role, if any, could the RMAF have played in these crucial first few hours? Was precious time wasted in the search for MH370? Five days after MH370 went missing, the Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali Daud, finally acknowledged that the Malaysian Air Torce had radar information which may have had some bearing on the aeroplane.

All the while, we have seen a confused response from the authorities, ranging from retraction of statements and denials, to people giving the impression that they were withholding information. When MH370 veered off course and was possibly picked up on military radar, what did Rodzali do? He justified the delay in announcing the military’s information, because of the need to check the data, with the experts.

That is understandable, but in times of warfare, would it take several days? Military radar showed that an unidentified aircraft was around 200 nautical miles north west of Penang, and at 29,500 feet above sea level. When MH370 went missing, the transponders and all communications equipment were not working.

It is curious that the radar operators knew it was a civilian plane but did not think to check with the civil aviation authorities. So, what is the standard operating procedure (SOP) for a breach of our air space? When asked why fighters had not been scrambled to intercept the unidentified aircraft, Rodzali said that radar operators had recognised it as a civilian aircraft.

How did the radar operators know it was a civilian aircraft and was not hostile? What is the definition of hostile used by the radar operators? Will an unidentified plane be considered hostile only if the plane is armed? Can the radar man confirm hostility by looking at his screen? The Boeing 777 is an enormous plane and fast. The C-130 and other military transporter planes are also big and bulky, but they are slower than the sleek Boeing.

Government lackey

Rodzali said: “It is not classified as hostile. We only do an intercept or respond when they are classified as hostile.” The two jets which smashed into the twin towers in New York may not have carried missiles, but the aircraft were used as weapons. So, how could Rodzali confidently say the plane was not hostile. His response is far from satisfactory and is like an invitation for any plane, hostile or friendly, to pass unchallenged through our air space.

All planes must file a flight plan with the civilian aviation authorities, avoiding no-go areas. Aircraft straying into that air-space will be contacted by radio, and then escorted away. If the pilot refuses to comply, he risks an aerial engagement. Did the RMAF contact the civilian aviation authorities and confirm the flight plan of the aeroplane?

Rodzali’s explanation of the radar incident exposes the poor communication between the military and civil aviation authorities. A quick phone call by the air force to Subang would have sufficed. An air force officer of sufficient rank could have decided to scramble a jet to investigate. It does not matter if someone had to be awoken. In addition, the chief of the armed forces, Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, made further confusing remarks.

After claiming that the unidentified aircraft was first noticed in the spot where MH370 was known to have disappeared, he said, “We sent some ships immediately from Lumut that particular night to where we suspected that aircraft would be. That morning at first light, we sent a C-130 (aircraft) immediately to scout the area. It is a possibility (that MH370 is there) and at the slightest possibility, I must respond for the sake of the passengers on MH370.”

Zulkifeli’s remarks seem to suggest that he thought an aircraft had come down somewhere in the Strait of Malacca, and yet, Najib Tun Razak had directed the search and rescue (SAR) mission to be conducted in the Gulf of Thailand. Does Zulkifeli know something we don’t?

It is baffling that Zulkifeli was prepared to send the ships from Lumut, which is south of Penang, but he did not see the need to send a jet, as soon as the unidentified aircraft entered our air space. It is clear that the air force has messed-up and wasted an opportunity to solve the mystery of the unidentified aircraft. It is imperative that military and civil aviation authorities improve communications with one another.

The RMAF should spend more time on defence of the nation, instead of being a government lackey which protects the interests of UMNO-Baru. The persecution of Major Zaidi Ahmad for making a police report on the indelibile ink used in GE-13 is a prime example of the displaced loyalty of the RMAF. If only the armed forces would get their priorities right.

No let up in MH370 Search


March 20, 2014

No let up in MH370 Search

by S Retnathan

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Despite obtaining a credible lead on the missing MH370 today, Malaysia has vowed to continue and intensify the search for the runaway aircraft until it is found.

mh370-hishammuddin

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said that the search for the Boeing 777-200 aircraft was continuing and has been intensified despite the Australian government’s announcement this morning that it had satellite images of objects that looked like debris of the plane some 2,500km southwest of Perth on the Indian Ocean.

The Australians are now checking the site but have yet to come up with concrete evidence of the missing plane due to bad weather. The satellite images are learnt to be four days old.

Speaking at his daily press conference on the missing jetliner, Hishammuddin, who is also Defence Minister, said Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak received a call from his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott this morning, informing him that “two possible objects related to the search” for MH370 had been identified in the Southern Indian Ocean.

AnifahAmanThe Australian authorities in Kuala Lumpur have also briefed Hishmmuddin on the situation, and the Australian Foreign Minister has spoken to his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman.

When asked when the images of debris were taken, Hishammuddin only replied that the call from the Australian Prime Minister to Najib came this morning.

“The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) continues co-ordinating the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft within Australia’s search and rescue area, with assistance from the Australian Defence Force, the New Zealand Air Force, and the US Navy.

“AMSA’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) Australia has received satellite imagery of objects possibly related to the search for MH370.RCC Australia received an expert assessment of commercial satellite imagery today. The images were captured by satellite. They may not be related to the aircraft. The assessment of these images was provided by the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation as a possible indication of debris southwest of Perth,” he added.

As result of this information, four aircraft have been re-orientated to an area 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth. A Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft had arrived in the area at about 10.50am while another three aircraft have been tasked by RCC Australia to the area, including a second RAAF Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, and a US Navy P-8 Poseidon.

Hishammuddin said the Poseidon was expected to arrive early this afternoon and the second RAAF Orion was expected to depart RAAF Base Pearce, Perth, mid-afternoon. The New Zealand Orion was due to depart this afternoon.

A RAAF C-130 Hercules aircraft has been tasked by RCC Australia to drop datum marker buoys to assist in drift modelling.

They will provide an on-going reference point if the task of relocating the objects becomes protracted.

A merchant ship that responded to a shipping broadcast issued by RCC Australia on Monday was also expected to arrive in the area this afternoon.

The Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Success is en route to the area but is some days away. The ship is well equipped to recover any objects located and proven to be from MH370.

Credible but unconfirmed

“Every effort is being made to locate the objects seen in the satellite imagery. It must be stressed that these sightings, while credible, are still to be confirmed,” Hishammuddin said.

Earlier today, Abbott told the Australian parliament that search and rescue teams had found two objects which could be from the missing Malaysian airline in the Indian Ocean some 2,500km southwest of Perth.

The objects were found in the southern part of Australia in the vicinity of the search and rescue area for MH370 which went missing on March 8. The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner went missing an hour into its flight form the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing, China.

It was carrying 239 passengers and crew. The runaway plane was last spotted by civilian radar heading towards Vietnam over the South China Sea. Its transponders which sends signal to air traffic control on the plane’s location was switched from inside the jetliner off soon after last contact was made.

The plane was spotted by the military radar an hour after that heading towards the Andaman Sea, on the western side of Peninsula Malaysia. Some 27 nations have joined in the search for the missing plane. Malaysian authorities have said the plane flew in either one of the two routes. One was towards the Indian Ocean while the other was across continental Asia, from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan.

The Australian are leading search and rescue operations in the Indian Ocean.Hishammuddin said currently, there are 18 ships, 29 aircraft and six ship-borne helicopters are deployed along the northern and southern corridors of the search.

In the northern corridor, there are four aircraft – two from Malaysia, one each from Japan and the US.

In the southern corridor, there are 25 aircraft – two from Malaysia, Australia (5), China (3), Indonesia (4), India (2), Japan (4), New Zealand (1), South Korea (2) and one each from UAE and USA.

There are a total of 18 ships in the southern corridor including six from Malaysia, Australia (1), China (5) and Indonesia (6).

This deployment, he said, included six helicopters, three each from Malaysia and China.

“Until we are certain that we have located MH370, search and rescue operations will continue in both corridors.

“I can confirm that Malaysia is sending two aircraft to Kazakhstan, and the UK is planning to send a ship to the southern corridor. In addition to the assets I just listed above, a number of countries in the northern corridor are carrying out search and rescue operations within their own territory,” he said.

International force deployment

The Minister also said China was using every means possible, including 21 satellites, to search the area within its borders, and is ready to send more ships and aircraft wherever they are needed.

“In Cambodia, four helicopters are conducting search operations within Cambodian territory, the Laos Air Force is carrying out search operations within Laos, Singapore is using its International Information Fusion Centre, where a Malaysian representative is stationed, to notify mariners and help with the search.

The Thai military is conducting search operations in the northern part of Thailand with all available aircraft and Vietnam is conducting search operations within its territory using an unspecified number of aircraft.

“Together this represents a significant international force deployment. I am thankful for the co-operation of our partners as we continue to focus on finding MH370.

“Our primary focus has always been to find the aircraft. And with every passing day, our efforts have intensified.

“Yesterday I said that we wanted to reduce the area of the search. We now have a credible lead. There remains much work to be done to deploy the assets. This work will continue overnight,” he concluded.

Hishammuddin also said that if parts of the missing plane were found at the location, the next step would be finding the black box.

“Different assets will be used for that,” he said, quickly adding that the two Malaysian submarines were incapable for that kind of search.

Malaysia is not looking looking very good right now


March 19, 2014

Malaysia is not looking looking very good right now

by Anthony SB Thanasayan

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

When the nation has been thrown into utter shock, confusion and sadness over the missing MH370, conflicting statements by officials is not helping our image internationally

COMMENT

afif_the_malaysian_insider_dca_hishammuddin_hussein_radars_540_360_100

It has been 12 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished into the night sky – and we have not found the aircraft or its 239 passengers on board. The mystery surrounding the exact location of the ill-fated Boeing 777-200ER has all but deepened the intrigue as to its whereabouts since it went off the radars on March 8.

Like scores of Malaysians, I woke up to the news on a Saturday morning. A SMS from a friend at 11.04am read: “Beijing-bound MAS plane shockingly missing-in-action!” My first reaction was to immediately check my phone to confirm the breaking news story. Both of the SMS news alerts which I subscribe to were already screaming out the headlines.

My next reaction was to tune in to international radio broadcasters on the Internet via my mobile phone and on shortwave. The Voice of America, BBC and CNN on Astro were already thick with reports and speculations on what might have happened to the plane and what was being done to look for its passengers.

From then on and until now I have been by my radio, television and the computer sets, following up on the latest developments on MH370. Here are some of the jottings in my notebook:

Politicians, please watch your tongues! Less than 24 hours after the missing plane was revealed, one of you went on and on about how one of the crew personnel was a member of your political party. Excuse me, but was that relevant, especially as the whole of Malaysia, and the world, are worried sick about 239 passengers and not just one person?

Did that fact make the person you were highlighting more important than the others? What was your point in bringing that up, really, at a time when the nation has been thrown into utter shock, confusion and sadness over the catastrophe?

A little later, another politician blasted the media over Facebook for ‘speculating’ about what transpired with MH370. He sarcastically told them to “wait until the aircraft was found” before asking questions. Really? Sir? Now imagine if the press had taken you seriously and followed your stupid advice and stopped talking about the plane?

How much would we know of what we know today, even though it is still very much at the tip of the iceberg stage? Don’t you know that in a moment of confusion and sadness, what is important is to be kept informed? Whatever little we can get goes a long way to calm frazzled nerves and help us stay in control of a situation, no matter how helpless we may feel at the time.

And what better way to deal with rumours and unconfirmed reports by pursuing them and directing them to the right sources for clarification. It is unfortunate that you, as a leader, are simply unaware of the indispensable role of the media. Whatever personal misgivings you might have about the media, please take them elsewhere!

Anyone who has ever taken a plane or has had experiences of losing a loved one in a tragic situation was deeply shaken by the news. The media were our heroes to give us up-to-date information about the search and rescue mission, even though it was extremely difficult and frustrating for them with the government saying so little.

The world is watching 

RTM’s national English broadcaster TRAXXfm featured continuous updates from the moment of the tragedy. These included ‘live’ interviews with local pilots who knew the crew, would-be passengers who missed the ill-fated flight and opened the station’s telephone lines to get the views of its listeners.

Interviews were also conducted with local social media experts on how to tell the difference between professional speculation and false reports. A Malaysian airline official was on standby at the control tower in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to give daily updates of what was transpiring there.

Radio proved to be more convenient for listeners in their cars, especially to hear the live daily press conferences by the government during the times when they were on the move. Astro Awani 501 provided 24-hour news coverage. However, when information was scarce, viewers often ended up watching frequent repeats that made followers tune elsewhere.

CNN, without a doubt, was the overall best broadcaster for the news coverage of MH370. The story has been headline news on its telecast until today. Two of its reporters based in KLIA have been giving worldwide audiences hour by hour details that have been riveting to listen to, even though the aircraft and more concrete details have yet to be found.

Initially they began by interviewing local sources for information that landed them into trouble. Their Malaysian guests didn’t quite grasp the English language that was put towards them by the international broadcaster.

A local NGO, for instance, talked more about what his organisation was doing worldwide instead of how they were helping the victims’ families when interviewed by CNN. The latter had to cut them off as a result.

Things started to really take off when international experts, especially unnamed intelligence sources, came on with their take on the situation. One of the issues that raised the ire of the international broadcaster were the conflicting reports given by Malaysian officials in regards to the investigation and search operations.

This became a news item by itself. CNN pointed out that “part of the problem could be cultural. There has been one coalition governing Malaysia for decades, its leaders not used to being challenged.” CNN went on to quote James Keith, former Ambassador to Malaysia as saying, “(Malaysia hasn’t) had to account themselves in the way that they now have to in the flare up of international publicity.”

Please mind your official press conferences: Don’t forget that you are being watched all over the world during your ‘live’ sessions. (BBC also carries them live on its online page). No matter how grim the situation, VIPs, please freshen up your appearances. Comb your hair, powder up, straighten your ties, tuck in your shirt etc,. It all helps to give a positive atmosphere when dealing with a difficult situation.

And for heaven’s sake, start your PCs on time. Keep them regular and announce when they are coming on often. Welcome questions, no matter how difficult. If you must reject them, do it in a dignified manner. Remember, the whole world is watching and Malaysia isn’t looking very good right now. Don’t crack jokes or laugh at anything because nothing is funny right now.

A special note to Astro Awani: Please stop focusing on the VIPs rubbing their nose, scratching their faces, etc. It’s so embarrassing. Beam in on to them only when it is a second or two before they speak. Waiting for minutes before they start will only unfairly expose them to more possible glitches. All these positively adds calm and control over a situation that we still have a lot more answering to do.

Anthony SB Thanasayan is a wheelchair and animal activist. He is also a former city councillor.

Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370


March, 15, 2014

READ: Series of Errrors by MALAYSIA mounts complicating th task of Finding MH370

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/world/asia/series-of-errors-by-malaysia-mounts-complicating-the-task-of-finding-flight-370.html?hp&_r=0

SEPANG, Malaysia — The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca.

Yet inside a Malaysian Air Force control room on the country’s west coast, where American-made F-18s and F-5 fighters stood at a high level of readiness for emergencies exactly like the one unfolding in the early morning of March 8, a four-person air defense radar crew did nothing about the unauthorized flight. “The watch team never noticed the blip,” said a person with detailed knowledge of the investigation into Flight 370. “It was as though the airspace was his.”

It was not the first and certainly not the last in a long series of errors by the Malaysian government that has made the geographically vast and technologically complex task of finding the $50 million Malaysia Airlines jet far more difficult.

Continue reading the main story

Reconstructing the Plane’s Path

The main communications systems of the Malaysia Airlines plane were turned off about 40 minutes into the flight, forcing investigators to try to piece together the plane’s location from other systems.

Transponder

Secondary Radar and Text Updates

Air traffic controllers typically know a plane’s location based on what is called secondary radar, which requests information from the plane’s transponder. A plane also uses radio or satellite signals to send regular updates through ACARS, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System. Both of those systems were turned off.

Primary Radar

Two Malaysian military radar stations tracked a plane using primary radar, which sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce off objects in the sky. Primary radar does not require a plane to have a working transponder.

SATELLITE

Satellite Communications

If ACARS updates are turned off, the plane still sends a “keep-alive” signal, that can be received by satellites. The signal does not indicate location, but it can help to narrow down the plane’s position. A satellite picked up four or five signals from the airliner, about one per hour, after it left the range of military radar.

A week after the plane disappeared, the trail is even colder as the search now sprawls from the snowy peaks of the Himalayas to the empty expanses of the southern Indian Ocean. Nobody knows yet whether the delays cost the lives of any of the 239 people who boarded the flight to Beijing at Kuala Lumpur’s ultramodern airport here. But the mistakes have accumulated at a remarkable pace.

“The fact that it flew straight over Malaysia, without the Malaysian military identifying it, is just plain weird — not just weird, but also very damning and tragic,” said David Learmount, the operations and safety editor for Flightglobal, a news and data service for the aviation sector.

Senior Malaysian military officers became aware within hours of the radar data once word spread that a civilian airliner had vanished. The Malaysian government nonetheless organized and oversaw an expensive and complex international search effort in the Gulf of Thailand that lasted for a full week. Only on Saturday morning did Prime Minister Najib Razak finally shut it down after admitting what had already been widely reported in the news media: Satellite data showed that the engines on the missing plane had continued to run for nearly six more hours after it left Malaysian airspace.

Finding the plane and figuring out what happened to it is now a far more daunting task than if the plane had been intercepted. If the aircraft ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, as some aviation experts now suggest, then floating debris could have subsequently drifted hundreds of miles, making it extremely hard to figure out where the cockpit voice and data recorders sank.

And because the recorders keep only the last two hours of cockpit conversation, even the aircraft’s recorders may hold few secrets.

With so much uncertainty about the flight, it is not yet possible to know whether any actions by the Malaysian government or military could have altered its fate. Responding to a storm of criticism, particularly from China, whose citizens made up two-thirds of the passengers, Mr. Najib took pains in a statement early Saturday afternoon to say that Malaysia had not concealed information, including military data.

“We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data,” he said, reading aloud a statement in English at a news conference. “We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation, and we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.”

Malaysia Airlines issued a similarly defensive statement late Saturday afternoon. “Given the nature of the situation and its extreme sensitivity, it was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analyzed by the relevant authorities so that their significance could be properly understood,” the airline said. “This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence.”

Aviation experts said that a trained pilot would be the most obvious person to have carried out a complicated scheme involving the plane. Yet for a week after the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian law enforcement authorities said that their investigation did not include searching the home of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Continue reading the main story

Estimated range of plane with its remaining fuel if it was flying at the plane’s maximum speed:

Kazakhstan

Mongolia

Uzbek.

Kyrg.

Tajik.

60 min. of fuel

20 min.

Afghan.

Approx. area within the top and bottom 20-min. ranges:

2 million square miles

Pakistan

China

Nepal

Bangladesh

India

Myanmar

Laos

Approx. time
after takeoff

Thailand

Vietnam

+40 min. Last contact with civilian radar.

First week

search area

Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur airport

+1 hour 34 min. Last contact with military radar.

Indonesia

Position of satellite that received last known signal

from plane.

+7.5 hours Red arcs represent possible positions of plane when it transmitted last signal to satellite.

INDIAN OCEAN

Plane may have flown up to another hour after its last satellite transmission.

Australia

On Saturday afternoon, the police were seen entering the gated community where Mr. Zaharie was said to have lived, and Malaysian news media reported that they had searched his home. The police declined to comment, and it is not known whether the authorities made any effort to secure Mr. Zaharie’s home and prevent any destruction of evidence over the past week.

Mr. Najib said on Saturday that “the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” but Mr. Zaharie has not been accused of any wrongdoing. No information has been released yet on whether the homes of the co-pilot or flight attendants might be searched.

Even before the plane took off, Malaysian immigration officials had already allowed onto the plane at least two people using passports that had been logged into a global database as stolen, although there is no evidence that either person carrying a stolen passport was involved in diverting the plane.

A British Royal Air Force base in the colonial era, the Malaysian air force base at Butterworth sits on the mainland across from the island of Penang at the northern reaches of the Strait of Malacca. There, in the early morning hours of March 8, the four-person crew watching for intrusions into the country’s airspace either did not notice or failed to report a blip on their defensive radar and air traffic radar that was moving steadily across the country from east to west, heading right toward them, said the person with knowledge of the matter.

Neither that team nor the crews at two other radar installations at Kota Bharu, closer to where the airliner last had contact with the ground, designated the blip as an unknown intruder warranting attention, the person said. The aircraft proceeded to fly across the country and out to sea without anyone on watch telling a superior and alerting the national defense command near Kuala Lumpur, even though the radar contact’s flight path did not correspond to any filed flight plan.

As a result, combat aircraft never scrambled to investigate. The plane, identified at the time by Mr. Najib as Flight 370, passed directly over Penang, a largely urban state with more than 1.6 million people, then turned and headed out over the Strait of Malacca.

The existence of the radar contact was discovered only when military officials began reviewing tapes later in the morning on March 8, after the passenger jet failed to arrive in Beijing. It was already becoming clear that morning, only hours after the unauthorized flyover, that something had gone very wrong. Tapes from both the Butterworth and Kota Bharu bases showed the radar contact arriving from the area of the last known position of Flight 370, the person familiar with the investigation said.

Gen. Rodzali Daud, the commander of Malaysia’s Air Force, publicly acknowledged the existence of the radar signals for the first time on Wednesday, well into the fifth day after the plane’s disappearance. He emphasized that further analysis was necessary because the radar plots of the aircraft’s location were stripped of the identifying information given by the plane’s onboard transponders, which someone aboard the aircraft appeared to have turned off.

The failure to identify Flight 370’s errant course meant that a chance to send military aircraft to identify and redirect the jet, a Boeing 777, was lost. And for five days the crews on an armada of search vessels, including two American warships, focused the bulk of their attention in the waters off Malaysia’s east coast, far from the plane’s actual path.

General Rodzali went to the Butterworth air force base the day that the plane disappeared and was told of the radar blips, the person familiar with the investigation said. The Malaysian government nonetheless assigned most of its search and rescue resources, as well as ships and aircraft offered by other nations, to a search of the Gulf of Thailand where the aircraft’s satellite transponder was turned off, while allocating minimal attention to the Strait of Malacca on the other, western side of Peninsular Malaysia.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Sepang, Nicola Clark from Paris, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

A version of this article appears in print on March 16, 2014, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Series of Missteps by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370.

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny


Asia Pacific

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/13/world/asia/missing-jet-exposes-a-dysfunctional-malaysian-elite.html?_r=0

Amid Search for Plane, Malaysian Leaders Face Rare Scrutiny

afif_the_malaysian_insider_dca_hishammuddin_hussein_radars_540_360_100

SEPANG, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing elite has clung to power without interruption since independence from Britain almost six decades ago through a combination of tight control of information, intimidation of the opposition and, until recently, robust economic growth.

But worldwide bafflement at the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has challenged the country’s paternalistic political culture and exposed its coddled leaders to the withering judgments of critics from around the world.

Civilian and military leaders on Wednesday revealed that they had known for the past four days, but did not publicly disclose, that military radar had picked up signals of what may have been the missing aircraft. It appeared to be flying on a westerly course sharply off its intended flight path to Beijing.

If the radar readings were from the missing plane, it could mean a radical reinterpretation of where it ended up. And it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.

Continue reading the main story

Detecting a Plane

Two kinds of radar are used to keep track of air traffic from the ground.

Primary radar

Sends out radio signals and listens for echoes that bounce back from objects in the sky.

Transponder

Secondary radar

Sends signals that request information from the plane’s transponder. The plane sends back information including its identification and altitude. The radar repeatedly sweeps the sky and interrogates the transponder. Other planes in flight can also receive the transponder signals.

That raised the question of why the information had not been released earlier.

“The world is finally feeling the frustration that we’ve been experiencing for years,” said Lee Ee May, a management consultant and a former aide to a Malaysian opposition politician.

Ms. Lee said she was embarrassed when the country’s Defense Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, the scion of a powerful political family, rejected a reporter’s assertion on Wednesday that the search for the airplane had been disordered.

“It’s only confusion if you want it to be seen to be confusion,” Mr. Hishammuddin said at a news conference that unfolded before an international audience.

Relatively free from natural disasters and other calamities, Malaysia has had little experience with handling a crisis on this scale. It is also an ethnically polarized society where talent often does not rise to the top of government because of patronage politics within the ruling party and a system of ethnic preferences that discourages or blocks the country’s minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians, from government service.

Ethnic Malays, who make up about half of the population, hold nearly all top government positions and receive a host of government preferences because of their status as “sons of the soil.”

Authoritarian laws have helped keep the governing party, the United Malays National Organization, in power — and an ascendant opposition in check.

The day before Flight 370 disappeared, the leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years under a sodomy law that is almost never enforced. Critics called the case an effort to block the opposition’s rise at a time when the governing party’s popularity is waning.

Then on Tuesday, a court convicted Karpal Singh, another opposition politician, of sedition, a law enacted in colonial times.

“We call it persecution, not prosecution,” said Ambiga Sreenevasan, a lawyer and the former head of the Malaysian Bar Council.

The government is accustomed to getting its way, and the crisis surrounding the missing plane is holding officials accountable in ways unfamiliar to them, Ms. Ambiga said.

“Malaysians have come to accept that their leaders don’t answer questions,” she said. “When you are not seriously challenged in any meaningful way, of course you get complacent and comfortable.”

For a relatively prosperous country of 30 million people that is less well known internationally than neighboring countries like Thailand and Singapore, the government’s confused efforts at finding the missing jetliner are an awkward and undesired appearance on the world stage.

The crisis has led to introspection about why the government has appeared uncoordinated and unable to pin down seemingly basic facts about the missing flight.

Officials insisted for three days that baggage was removed from the flight before takeoff when five passengers did not board. But the country’s chief of police on Tuesday said that was false: Everyone who checked in boarded the plane, he said. No explanation was given for the conflicting accounts.

Ibrahim Suffian, the Director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company, said the response to the crisis had underlined a lack of precision both in government and in the society over all.

“There’s a tolerance for a lack of attentiveness to detail,” he said. “You have a tendency of not asking so much and not expecting so much.”

The crisis also highlighted a lack of competence in government that Mr. Ibrahim said was related to a deference to authority and reluctance to take initiative. “There’s always been a kind of wait-for-instructions-from-the-top attitude,” he said.

Yet amid the criticism of the rescue efforts there was also an acknowledgment that the plane’s disappearance was so unusual that perhaps no government would be fully prepared for it.

“This is almost a unique situation,” said Ramon Navaratnam, a Harvard-trained economist and a former Malaysian senior civil servant. “Anyone would be caught off guard.”

For now, the Malaysian authorities are stuck in the unenviable position of hearing many questions but having few answers.

“They have never faced pressure to perform like this,” said Ms. Lee, the management consultant. “But now international eyes are on them, and they have nowhere to hide.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 13, 2014, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: Leaders in Malaysia Face Unusual Scrutiny.

Hishamuddin, RMH370:Resign and Spare US International Embarassment


March 14, 2014

Hishamuddin, Resign and Spare US International Embarassment

by Reuters@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

One of the world’s most perplexing aviation mysteries is casting a harsh spotlight on Malaysia’s government, as a leadership unused to heavy scrutiny comes under intense international criticism for a litany of confusing messages and a perceived lack of transparency.

Hishamuddin HusseinFive days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens, a huge international search operation has failed to turn up a trace of the Boeing jetliner that was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

Frustration over the fruitless search has increasingly been directed at Malaysian officials after a series of fumbling news conferences, incorrect details given by the national airline and civil aviation authority, and a long delay in divulging details of the military’s tracking of what could have been the plane hundreds of miles off course.

The missteps have ranged from conflicting information about the last time of contact with the jet to the sharing of photos of two passengers in which they had the same pair of legs.

“The Malaysians deserve to be criticised – their handling of this has been atrocious,” said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.Government officials say they are coping as best they can with an exceptional, highly complex crisis.

Confusion, false leads, and misinformation are common in the initial hours of air disasters in any country.

But China, whose citizens made up around two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight, has barely hidden its impatience with Malaysia, urging it several times to step up the search and investigation efforts.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, Li Jiaxiang, told reporters today that the message had been repeated to Malaysia’s special envoy in the Chinese capital.

“Yesterday, Malaysia’s special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the CAAC asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope, and that we hope that Malaysia’s information release and communication can be smoother,” he said.

Families angry

Some families of the up to 154 missing Chinese have voiced fury at what they said was the slow release of information. Verbal abuse and water bottles were hurled at representatives of the government-owned airline in Beijing.

“The core of Malaysia’s information hasn’t been consistent from start to finish,” said China’s widely read and influential Global Times tabloid, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

“It certainly hits at the confidence that the rest of the world has in Malaysia’s ability to be the nucleus of the rescue mission,” the paper added.

Other governments have praised the Malaysian effort, but some officials have complained of a lack of communication and information sharing that has slowed initial fact-finding.

US officials said Malaysia’s failure to disclose the military’s radar tracking data until days after the plane’s disappearance meant important evidence may have disappeared.

“The lack of communication about what is going on is catastrophic,” said one Western regulatory source, asking not to be identified. “We are in the fourth dimension here.”

Communication deficit

Malaysia’s government, one of the longest-serving in the democratic world with the same coalition in power for the 57 years since independence, has struggled to cope with the harsh glare of international scrutiny.

The rulingUMNO has long been criticised, including by some of its own members, for cronyism, an authoritarian streak and breeding a political culture in which loyalty is prized over talent.

Majority ethnic Malays have benefited from a system of economic and social privileges that has steadily alienated ethnic Chinese and Indians, who make up large minorities in the nation of 29 million people.

Just a day before the plane vanished, a court convicted opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim of sodomy and sentenced him to five years in prison, overturning his acquittal two years ago in a ruling that supporters and international human rights groups say was politically influenced.

Ministries often meet requests for information or interviews with silence.

“There was a lot of confusion on the first and second days of this incident,” a senior Malaysian Defence Official with knowledge of the operations told Reuters.

“A lot of permissioning, especially when you start sharing information with other ministries in government. I admit there is a lot of bureaucracy and we were slow.”

Malaysia’s response has been overseen personally by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who put his cousin – the defence and acting transport minister Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Hussein – in charge of day-to-day operations and interaction with the media.

“This is unique what we are going through,” Hishamuddin told reporters at a Wednesday news conference, batting away their complaints over a lack of transparency. “Coordinating with so many countries is not easy.”

The frequency of news conferences given to hundreds of reporters now massed at a hotel next to the international airport has dwindled sharply since the first day. The delayed briefing on Wednesday evening was the first to give details on the search operation in two days.

Confusion from start

The confusion began hours after the flight vanished from air traffic control radar early on Saturday morning. Malaysian Airlines initially said the plane lost contact at 2.40am, two hours after its departure. Hours later, it corrected the time to 1.30am.

As details emerged that some passengers had boarded the flight using stolen passports, Malaysia’s Home Minister was quoted by state news agency Bernama as saying that two men travelling on Italian and Austrian documents had “Asian faces”.

That was denied by Hishamuddin, and the muddle deepened when Malaysia’s aviation chief attempted a confusing analogy with the black Italian footballer Mario Balotelli.

The men turned out to be Iranians who were not suspected of being connected with the disappearance of the plane.

On Tuesday, police displayed pictures of the two in which their legs appeared exactly the same, sparking speculation of a cover-up. Police later said this was a photocopying error, according to local media.

The Arrogant IGPInspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar flatly denied a statement by the Civil Aviation hief that there were five passengers who checked-in for the flight and did not board. Malaysia Airlines later clarified there had been four passengers who did not show up at the airport for the flight.

Perhaps the greatest confusion was generated by the Malaysian military’s revelation on Sunday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled path off Malaysia’s east coast before disappearing.

Officials did not give more details on the suspected “turnback” until Wednesday, leaving a gap that was filled by speculation the government was hiding something and doubts over whether the search was being conducted in the right place.

On Wednesday, officials confirmed they tracked an unidentified aircraft into the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles and off the opposite coast from where the jet went missing.

Bowers, the Southeast Asia specialist, said Malaysia’s apparent mishandling of the situation could have long-term strategic consequences in a region where China’s economic and military might is growing rapidly.

“They have no maritime domain awareness and it doesn’t look like they have a strong command and control structure and they’re not well coordinated with friends. Sadly, that’s what the MH370 situation demonstrates,” he said of Malaysia.

“It’s not good and it fits in with the narrative I believe is forming in Beijing that China should and needs to take control.” – Reuters, March 13, 2014.

Mahathir Behind Rush to Justice in Anwar’s Case?


Mahathir Behind Rush to Justice in Anwar’s Case?

Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane


http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-12/why-malaysia-will-say-almost-nothing-about-the-missing-flight

Why Malaysia Will Say Almost Nothing About the Missing Plane

March 12, 2014

Hishamuddin HusseinWith an international team of investigators still seemingly baffled about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared over the weekend, relatives of the passengers and diplomats from countries touched by the mishap have vented their frustration with the Malaysian government.

For days, it seems, Malaysian officials and the state-owned carrier have released almost no information about the flight or working theories of why it vanished. Malaysia Airlines did not even inform relatives for 15 hours that the plane had disappeared, sending the distraught families to a hotel in Beijing to wait, and Kuala Lumpur’s envoys still have mostly kept the relatives in the dark days later.

More than 100 friends and relatives of the vanished passengers signed a petition on Monday calling on the Malaysian government to be more transparent and answer questions. Several of the relatives threw bottles at Malaysia Airlines employees who came to speak with them in Beijing, where the missing plane had been headed, but mostly the officials maintained their tight-lipped approach.

The frustration felt by families of the missing is understandable and reasonable, but no one should have expected much better from the Malaysian government. Although theoretically a democracy with regular, contested elections, Malaysia has been ruled since independence by the same governing coalition that has become known for its lack of transparency and disinterest—even outright hostility—toward the press and inquiring citizens. For a relatively wealthy country, Malaysia is also unusually prone to corruption. Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the revelations that al-Qaeda members had convened planning meetings in Malaysia, the government has become intensely controlling of any information about potential terror threats while maintaining a liberal visa policy for arrivals.

Malaysia’s actual air safety record is, according to aviation experts, relatively strong. That achievement is unsurprising for a country with a per capita gross domestic product of about $10,400, which has become a global hub for electronics production and other high-tech manufacturing. Before the disappearance of Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines had not suffered a fatal crash since 1995. Kuala Lumpur, where the plane originated, has an even higher GDP per capita than the rest of the country—about $18,000—and boasts a vast, modern skyline, efficient transport, and gleaming new suburbs.

But Malaysia’s politics have not kept pace with its economic expansion. The long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has continued to win elections through massive gerrymandering, outright thuggery, and opposition parties’ inability to stop squabbling and make connections with rural voters.

In the most recent national elections, held in May 2013, the Barisan Nasional coalition won the largest number of seats in parliament, although the opposition actually won the popular vote; only gerrymandering, massive handouts to voters, and many election irregularities ensured the Barisan Nasional’s victory. In addition, the ruling party squeaked home by appealing primarily to the most hardline elements within its coalition, politicians and voters disdainful of the country’s multiethnic identity and the incremental freedoms of expression and social life that have developed in the past 20 years.

So even though Malaysia is far richer than neighboring Indonesia or the Philippines, those countries’ histories of democratic politics have made their politicians more accountable and more attuned to public expectations. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has had only six prime ministers and the senior ranks of the ruling coalition have gained little fresh blood. In the current crisis, Prime Minister Najib Razak has made few substantive comments on the plane, while Malaysia’s major state-controlled media outlets, which in theory could have been ahead of the plane investigation story, have been very timid in their reporting.

This lack of accountability filters down, especially at state-owned enterprises such as Malaysia Airlines, which are notorious in Malaysia for insider dealing, corruption, and lack of transparency. Even before the crash, Malaysia Airlines’ parent company had lost money the last three years, including a huge loss of more than $350 million in 2013, in part because of its terrible management. One comprehensive study of government-linked companies, conducted by a group of economists in Australia and Malaysia, found that Malaysia state-run firms had worse corporate governance than publicly traded Malaysian companies not controlled by the state. Partly because investors understood that state-run companies were so poorly managed, the study found lower overall valuations on the Malaysian stock market. In other words, these state companies traded at a discount because of their mismanagement.

Malaysia’s lack of transparency and weak institutions have made graft and corruption endemic, making it easy for people to be smuggled in or out of the country, often on stolen passports.

The watchdog organization Global Financial Integrity has ranked Malaysia as one of the countries with the biggest illicit outflows of money in the world, while corruption monitoring organization Transparency International ranks Malaysia 53rd in the world in terms of clean government, below many poorer nations with fewer potential resources to combat graft.

At least two of the people on the vanished flight, and possibly more, apparently traveled on stolen passports and may have been migrants using people smugglers to get through Malaysia and on, eventually, to Europe. The Head of Interpol, Ronald Noble, has expressed surprise at how easy these people with stolen passports boarded the plane.

Malaysia’s fraught relationship with other Muslim-majority countries and the U.S. has made Kuala Lumpur’s leaders, never very transparent, even more opaque when it comes to intelligence-sharing and counterterrorism. Although no one seems to have determined whether the flight’s disappearance is related to terrorism, do not expect the Malaysian government to be the one providing any answers to the public if it turns out terrorism was involved. Malaysia has long had a relatively liberal visa policy toward Muslims from other countries, in part because it needed foreign workers and in part because this policy had traditionally been popular. (That policy, in part, is why Osama bin Laden recommended Malaysia as a place for terror operatives to meet and for wounded fighters to recover.)

But at the same time Malaysia has maintained a relatively liberal visa policy, it has cooperated closely with Britain and the U.S. on intelligence and security matters. This cooperation has always been extremely unpopular with the majority of Malaysians, and so successive Prime Ministers have worked hard to conceal it from public discourse. Unfortunately for the relatives of the vanished plane, the prime minister’s natural secrecy seems to have become so normal, for him and other government officials, that he cannot break the habit even in times of horrible tragedy.

Kurlantzick is Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Democracy in Retreat: The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government.

The Road to Kajang:PKR’s Torch Bearer soldiers on


March 10, 2014

wan azizah 1

The Road to Kajang:PKR’s Torch Bearer soldiers on

by Nigel Aw@www.malaysiakini.com

PKR today announced party President Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as its new candidate for the Kajang by-election.

Wan Azizah will replace her husband Anwar Ibrahim, the PKR de facto leader, who was initially the party’s candidate for the by-election, but is now disqualified from contesting following his five-year jail sentence for sodomy handed on Friday.

This was announced by Anwar at a press conference in Kajang this afternoon, who temporarily remains a free man after being granted a stay of execution by the Court of Appeal.

AS the Judiciary was manipulated by UMNO to prevent me from contesting, therefore PKR, in consultation with DAP and PAS, would like to announce the candidate (for Kajang) is Wan Azizah Wan Ismail,” said Anwar.

The announcement was preceded by a solemn message for the families of 239 passengers on flight MH370 that went missing over the Vietnamese coast yesterday.

Speaking up for women

In her acceptance speech, Wan Azizah said her nomination was fitting of International Women’s Day which was yesterday.

“I am thankful for the trust and responsibility given to me and it is fitting for International Women’s Day.”I call on all the rakyat to join me in sending a strong message that we cannot continue to be oppressed by injustices,” she said.

Wan Azizah denied being a seat warmer for Anwar, stressing that she represented the values of the party as well as women

Prior to the general election, it was speculated that Wan Azizah may contest a state seat in Selangor but this eventually fizzled out.

After the Court of Appeal sentenced Anwar to five years in jail on Friday, he had announced that 12 names were being short listed as his replacement in Kajang.

‘Pakatan endorses Wan Azizah’

Among the front runner was rumoured to be PKR Secretary-General Saifuddin Nasution, who was also present at the press conference.

Asked why Saifuddin was ultimately not nominated, Anwar said: “I was keen to have Saifuddin but he was reluctant and wanted to (continue as PKR) Secretary-General.

“And in light of the current circumstances, Azizah was the suitable candidate – he (Saifuddin) was firm and adamant about that,” he said.

Nomination day for the Kajang polls is fixed on March 11 and polling day will happen on March 23.

PKR Deputy President Azmin Ali was notably absent at the announcement. Also at the press conference were DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and PAS’ central committee member Dr Hatta Ramli.

The duo endorsed Wan Azizah’s candidacy and expressed hope she can defeat BN’s Chew Mei Fun by a larger majority, and if possible cost the ruling coalition its deposit.

They also expressed condolences to relatives of passengers on flight MH370 and urge the government to provide accurate information to the public.

Charge Against Malaysia’s Opposition Leader is Flawed and politically motivated


 

Sodomy charge Against Malaysia’s Opposition Leader is flawed And politically motivated

by John Berthelsen

 

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-sodomy-case-flawed-day-one/

The charges against Anwar seemed cooked up and malicious, but government prosecutors pressed ahead anyway.  

najibm1Anwar Ibrahim’s Sodomy II trial, which ran almost two years before ending in 2012, was built on flawed evidence, procedural mistakes, tainted witnesses and reports of political collusion with Najib Tun Razak,  the current Prime Minister, and was condemned internationally by legal scholars and human rights activists.  

He was eventually acquitted for lack of evidence only to have an appeals court reverse that decision, ruling in favor of a government appeal on Friday. He was sentenced to five years in prison but is free on bail pending appeal. Homosexuality is illegal in Malaysia. The sudden reversal on Friday shocked political observers and the general public.

Sordid and Unbelievable

The story began on June 28, 2008 when a then-24-year-old aide, Mohd Saiful Bukhairy Azlan, made the sodomy accusation against Anwar, who had led the three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition to a historic sweep of five Malaysian states, winning 82 parliamentary seats in general elections and breaking the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition’s two-thirds majority hold on parliament.

Despite an offer to appear voluntarily at the police station to deal with the charges, the opposition leader was arrested at his home on July 16 of that year by a contingent of 10 carloads of police commandos and was locked up overnight in a Kuala Lumpur jail.

The trial, which began in February 2010, was marred by the introduction of a mountain of questionable evidence, egregious prosecutorial errors and a long series of prejudicial rulings by High Court Judge Mohamad Zabidin Mohamad Diah.

From the very beginning, doubts began to surface. To start with, Saiful belatedly sought to get doctors to certify that he had been sodomized 48 hours after the alleged encounter. Records showed he first went to a private hospital where a doctor found no evidence of penetration and told him to go to a government hospital. At the first government hospital, doctors also told him they had found no evidence of tearing or scarring that would have indicated his anus had been penetrated. He was forced to go to a third government hospital where he finally found a physician willing to say the act had taken place.

Political connections

Saiful acknowledged in court that he had met with then-Deputy Prime Minister220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-edited Najib Tun Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, on June 24, 2008, two days before the alleged sodomy took place and on other occasions with Rosmah’s close confidant, the former track star Mumtaz Jaafar. Neither the Prime Minister nor his wife nor Mumtaz was called to the stands to explain why they met with Saiful.

There were many questions about the DNA, which was allegedly taken from Saiful’s rectum 90 hours after the reported act took place. He claimed not to have eaten, drunk nor gone to the bathroom for that entire period.

The evidence was not refrigerated and was stored in an unguarded police office. Government laboratory technicians testified that as many as 11 different DNA traces had been found in Saiful’s rectum. At one point Zabidin ruled that the DNA was too doubtful to be admitted, only to have the prosecution appeal, at which point the judge reversed himself, leading to charges he had been coerced.

There were even questions whether Saiful had actually met with Anwar on the date he allegedly was sodomized. Although cameras showed him in the lift of the building where the offence allegedly took place, Anwar said he was meeting with a group of economists in the condo at the time and that Saiful had not appeared in the room.

Saiful also acknowledged meeting secretly twice with Rodwan Mohd Yusof, a senior assistant Police Commissioner, before the alleged offense took place. Rodwan became famous, or infamous, in Anwar’s 1998 Sodomy I trial when he was found to have illegally removed Anwar’s DNA samples from forensic custody and planted them on a mattress allegedly used by Anwar for a homosexual dalliance. To protect the integrity of the prosecution’s case, the presiding Judge, the Late Augustine Paul, expunged the entire DNA evidence at the time.

Saiful testified that on the day he allegedly met with Anwar, he had taken lubricant with him to Anwar’s condominium – hardly the act of an innocent aide who had no idea that the then 63-year-old Anwar was about to jump him for unnatural sex.

It also became known during that Saiful was having a sexual liaison with Farah Azlina Latif, a female member of the prosecution team, which might have further disqualified him as a complaining witness.

The family apologizes

Saiful’s father, Azlan Mohd Lazim in March 2013, apologized to Anwar at a press conference and said the plot to have Anwar arrested was cooked up in Najib’s office. He said his son had been used by “irresponsible quarters” and that statements that both he and his son gave to the press during and after the trial were written by his lawyer and a special officer in Najib’s office.

“Anwar is innocent and a victim of this slander… as such I apologize to Anwar and his family,” Azlan said in a printed statement.” He and his family have suffered a lot as a result of this slander. I deeply regret all the slander hurled against Anwar, which involved my son Saiful Bukhairi.”

Rosmah and NajibThe case “was planned in great detail by a special officer in the PM’s Department,” Azlan said. “Even the script I read during the press conference after Anwar’s sodomy acquittal last year was prepared by this officer.”

His son, he said, “has never explained the sodomy incident and the accusation to me. I was never called as a witness in the case. I was never called by any party to offer my statement as the father from the start to the end of the trial.”

Although he was always seen accompanying his son during the trial, Azlan TDMexplained that he did so simply as a father who was giving moral support. Azlan said he decided to make his statement after collecting information obtained during the trial, as well as that sent to him by the public.

“As a Malay and a Muslim, I started to realize the evil of this plan. I don’t want to RGESs’ continue to conspire with this malicious slander. I want the people who love this country to know their malicious intention,” he said. “If this malicious intention continues, not only the Malays and Muslims would be destroyed, but the nation would be destroyed as well. I do not want to see this happen.”

Anwar Ibrahim’s Conviction: State Department’s Reaction is mild and muted


March 8, 2014

Anwar Ibrahim’s Conviction: State Department’s Reaction is mild and muted

by http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-edited

The United States yesterday voiced concern over what it says are politically motivated charges brought against Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, urging Malaysia to ensure fairness and transparency.

In a long-running case which stretches back to the late 1990s, the Malaysian Court of Appeals yesterday overturned Anwar’s acquittal on sodomy laws and sentenced him to five years in jail. He was freed pending appeal.

“The decision to prosecute Mr Anwar, and his trial, have raised a number of concerns regarding the rule of law and the independence of the court,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“In this high-profile case, it is critical for Malaysia to apply the rule of law fairly, transparently and apolitically in order to promote confidence in Malaysia’s democracy and judiciary.”

She also raised the case of the conviction of opposition figure Karpal Singh, who was found guilty of sedition even though Kuala Lumpur had vowed to abolish the law.

The outspoken, wheelchair-bound 73-year-old parliamentarian faces up to three years in prison.

Yesterday’s ruling against Anwar, 66, overturns his 2012 acquittal onpresident-barack-obama-calls-atlantis-sts-125 charges he sodomised a male former aide – in a case which has dragged on since 1998 and cut short his promising career during a bitter power struggle with his rival then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar’s case was loudly condemned at the time as politically motivated, and when asked whether this was still the US stand, Psaki replied “It is.”

Sodomy remains illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia and punishable by up to 20 years in jail. – AFP, March 8, 2014.

Stand Up for Democracy And Stand By Anwar Against Kelptocracy


March 7, 2014

Stand Up for Democracy,Freedom, Justice And Stand By Anwar Against Kleptocracy 

Stand Up for each other, Pakatan Rakyat.  Fight for freedom, democracy and justice. We have no option. Today’s Court of A Appeal decision makes Anwar the driving force for change in our country.  Let us not feel dejected. Our fight goes on against the dark forces of repression, arrogance, oppression; and like Badwawi’s supression, Najib will fall on the count of three.–Din Merican

by Josh Hong@wwww.malaysiakini.com

TDMBaruFor nearly 16 years now, Malaysian politics has been stuck in skullduggery just because one influential and popular individual by the name of Anwar Ibrahim was – and is – determined to challenge UMNO’s hegemony embodied by Mahathir Mohamad’s autocracy.

The sodomy issue is like a sword of Damocles that hangs forever over Anwar’s head. When he was acquitted for the first time over Sodomy II back in January 2012, some were quick to attribute the verdict to a restoration of judicial integrity. How premature the conclusion was, I would say.

Although there have been cases where justice was seen to be done, including a series of decisions against UMNO mouthpieces such as Utusan Malaysia and TV3, it would seem that the Judiciary remains very much beholden to the powers-that-be whenever the latter’s ultimate authority is severely challenged.

In other words, as long as the opposition adhered to the rules of the game laid down by UMNO and played its role within the permitted boundaries, it was allowed to survive but not to thrive.

Until, of course, the power of reformasi was unleashed by Anwar and turned the UMNO game upside down. Since then, the party that claims to represent the Malays has been fighting tooth and nail to stay relevant.

Still, neither Mahathir nor Najib Abdul Razak ever doubts the sodomy trump card that they have, alongside the advantages that UMNO holds as the ruling party. While Najib grudgingly accepted the not-so-splendid outcome of the 13th general election, he was privately relieved that more than sufficient time had been secured for him to say in power.

But Najib’s fortunes started to dwindle in no time as the costs of living were rising as a result of his hastily implemented economic measures.

At the same time, Mahathir and his cohorts cashed in on the increasingly discontents at the grassroots level by attacking Najib’s lacklustre performance, although the ex-dictator is never under the illusion that every act of defiance on his part is meant to soothe his immense grievances over his son’s failure to make it to UMNO’s top leadership.

So Najib was on the verge of repeating what Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had gone through – an ignominious exit that was.

Anwar-KajangAt this juncture, Anwar pre-empted Najib with the Kajang Offensive, seeking to regain the momentum that was clearly lost post-GE13.

All at a sudden, the public’s zeal for a regime change was aroused, posing a serious threat to UMNO’s legitimacy once again.

Should Anwar win big in Kajang, it would deal further blow to Najib’s diminishing authority within the party and nationwide.

Talk of reconciliation

Prior to this, there had been talk of reconciliation, with both sides of the political divides seemingly warming up to the idea.

I had chastised Anwar in no uncertain terms over the overtures that he had been making towards UMNO for the simple reason that the party that has ruined each and every public institution over the last 30 years and trampled on our national dignity time and again can never be trusted as a partner.

Then Anwar appeared to have changed his mind and decided to go on the offensive. But his Kajang strategy was interpreted by Najib as a betrayal on the consensus between them, which explains the rush to move the Sodomy II appeal forward to stop Anwar from getting closer to assuming a greater role in politics.

A calculative politician, Najib most probably decided to finish Anwar off by sending him to jail so that he gets to keep Putrajaya, while simultaneously appeasing Mahathir.

Yes, the Kajang Move has clearly backfired and one can go on arguing whether it was ethnical or justifiable from the very beginning. However, the very cruel reality remains that Umno is so arrogant and powerful that judges must disregard all the evidence and convict its opponents on the shakiest grounds.

Mahathir is the happiest man for now, but the country and the people will eventually pay for his and Umno’s perfidy unless a new generation of Malaysians are prepared to rise up against all the injustices.

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it


March 5, 2014

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.--The The Economist

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.

It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid. Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe. By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered at the World Forum on Democracy in Warsaw that year to proclaim that “the will of the people” was “the basis of the authority of government”. A report issued by America’s State Department declared that having seen off “failed experiments” with authoritarian and totalitarian forms of government, “it seems that now, at long last, democracy is triumphant.”

Such hubris was surely understandable after such a run of successes. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.

The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system.

Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again. Outside the West, democracy often advances only to collapse. And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Why has democracy lost its forward momentum?

A statue of Stalin is carted away after the fall of the Soviet Union

The return of history

THE two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk. Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses. The crisis turned the Washington consensus into a term of reproach across the emerging world.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress. Larry Summers, of Harvard University, observes that when America was growing fastest, it doubled living standards roughly every 30 years. China has been doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years. The Chinese elite argue that their model—tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock. The political leadership changes every decade or so, and there is a constant supply of fresh talent as party cadres are promoted based on their ability to hit targets.

China’s critics rightly condemn the government for controlling public opinion in all sorts of ways, from imprisoning dissidents to censoring internet discussions. Yet the regime’s obsession with control paradoxically means it pays close attention to public opinion. At the same time China’s leaders have been able to tackle some of the big problems of state-building that can take decades to deal with in a democracy. In just two years China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240m rural dwellers, for example—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s public-pension system.

Many Chinese are prepared to put up with their system if it delivers growth. The 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85% of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31% of Americans. Some Chinese intellectuals have become positively boastful. Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University argues that democracy is destroying the West, and particularly America, because it institutionalises gridlock, trivialises decision-making and throws up second-rate presidents like George Bush junior. Yu Keping of Beijing University argues that democracy makes simple things “overly complicated and frivolous” and allows “certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people”. Wang Jisi, also of Beijing University, has observed that “many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos” and that China offers an alternative model. Countries from Africa (Rwanda) to the Middle East (Dubai) to South-East Asia (Vietnam) are taking this advice seriously.

Chart showing Russian opinion on democracy versus economy, 2002 to 2012

China’s advance is all the more potent in the context of a series of disappointments for democrats since 2000. The first great setback was in Russia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the democratisation of the old Soviet Union seemed inevitable. In the 1990s Russia took a few drunken steps in that direction under Boris Yeltsin. But at the end of 1999 he resigned and handed power to Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who has since been both prime minister and president twice. This postmodern tsar has destroyed the substance of democracy in Russia, muzzling the press and imprisoning his opponents, while preserving the show—everyone can vote, so long as Mr Putin wins. Autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere have followed suit, perpetuating a perverted simulacrum of democracy rather than doing away with it altogether, and thus discrediting it further.

The next big setback was the Iraq war. When Saddam Hussein’s fabled weapons of mass destruction failed to materialise after the American-led invasion of 2003, Mr Bush switched instead to justifying the war as a fight for freedom and democracy. “The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat,” he argued in his second inaugural address. This was more than mere opportunism: Mr Bush sincerely believed that the Middle East would remain a breeding ground for terrorism so long as it was dominated by dictators. But it did the democratic cause great harm. Left-wingers regarded it as proof that democracy was just a figleaf for American imperialism. Foreign-policy realists took Iraq’s growing chaos as proof that American-led promotion of democratisation was a recipe for instability. And disillusioned neoconservatives such as Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, saw it as proof that democracy cannot put down roots in stony ground.

A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.

Chart showing American approval rating on congress, 1974 to 2014

Meanwhile some recent recruits to the democratic camp have lost their lustre. Since the introduction of democracy in 1994 South Africa has been ruled by the same party, the African National Congress, which has become progressively more self-serving. Turkey, which once seemed to combine moderate Islam with prosperity and democracy, is descending into corruption and autocracy. In Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, opposition parties have boycotted recent elections or refused to accept their results.

All this has demonstrated that building the institutions needed to sustain democracy is very slow work indeed, and has dispelled the once-popular notion that democracy will blossom rapidly and spontaneously once the seed is planted. Although democracy may be a “universal aspiration”, as Mr Bush and Tony Blair insisted, it is a culturally rooted practice. Western countries almost all extended the right to vote long after the establishment of sophisticated political systems, with powerful civil services and entrenched constitutional rights, in societies that cherished the notions of individual rights and independent judiciaries.

Anti-austerity protests in Greece, October 2010

Protestors against austerity confront riot police in Greece, October 2010

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Yet in recent years the very institutions that are meant to provide models for new democracies have come to seem outdated and dysfunctional in established ones. The United States has become a byword for gridlock, so obsessed with partisan point-scoring that it has come to the verge of defaulting on its debts twice in the past two years. Its democracy is also corrupted by gerrymandering, the practice of drawing constituency boundaries to entrench the power of incumbents. This encourages extremism, because politicians have to appeal only to the party faithful, and in effect disenfranchises large numbers of voters. And money talks louder than ever in American politics. Thousands of lobbyists (more than 20 for every member of Congress) add to the length and complexity of legislation, the better to smuggle in special privileges. All this creates the impression that American democracy is for sale and that the rich have more power than the poor, even as lobbyists and donors insist that political expenditure is an exercise in free speech. The result is that America’s image—and by extension that of democracy itself—has taken a terrible battering.

Nor is the EU a paragon of democracy. The decision to introduce the euro in 1999 was taken largely by technocrats; only two countries, Denmark and Sweden, held referendums on the matter (both said no). Efforts to win popular approval for the Lisbon Treaty, which consolidated power in Brussels, were abandoned when people started voting the wrong way. During the darkest days of the euro crisis the euro-elite forced Italy and Greece to replace democratically elected leaders with technocrats. The European Parliament, an unsuccessful attempt to fix Europe’s democratic deficit, is both ignored and despised. The EU has become a breeding ground for populist parties, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, which claim to defend ordinary people against an arrogant and incompetent elite. Greece’s Golden Dawn is testing how far democracies can tolerate Nazi-style parties. A project designed to tame the beast of European populism is instead poking it back.

And, democracy is clearly suffering from serious structural probems, rather than a few isolated ailments. Since the dawn of the modern democratic era in the late 19th century, democracy has expressed itself through nation-states and national parliaments. People elect representatives who pull the levers of national power for a fixed period. But this arrangement is now under assault from both above and below.

From above, globalisation has changed national politics profoundly. National politicians have surrendered ever more power, for example over trade and financial flows, to global markets and supranational bodies, and may thus find that they are unable to keep promises they have made to voters. International organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union have extended their influence. There is a compelling logic to much of this: how can a single country deal with problems like climate change or tax evasion? National politicians have also responded to globalisation by limiting their discretion and handing power to unelected technocrats in some areas. The number of countries with independent central banks, for example, has increased from about 20 in 1980 to more than 160 today.

From below come equally powerful challenges: from would-be breakaway nations, such as the Catalans and the Scots, from Indian states, from American city mayors. All are trying to reclaim power from national governments. There are also a host of what Moisés Naim, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls “micro-powers”, such as NGOs and lobbyists, which are disrupting traditional politics and making life harder for democratic and autocratic leaders alike. The internet makes it easier to organise and agitate; in a world where people can participate in reality-TV votes every week, or support a petition with the click of a mouse, the machinery and institutions of parliamentary democracy, where elections happen only every few years, look increasingly anachronistic. Douglas Carswell, a British member of parliament, likens traditional politics to HMV, a chain of British record shops that went bust, in a world where people are used to calling up whatever music they want whenever they want via Spotify, a popular digital music-streaming service.

Chart showing European political party memberships, 1970 to 2010Chart showing voter turnout by country at parliamentary elections, 1970 to 2013

The biggest challenge to democracy, however, comes neither from above nor below but from within—from the voters themselves. Plato’s great worry about democracy, that citizens would “live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, has proved prescient. Democratic governments got into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course, borrowing to give voters what they wanted in the short term, while neglecting long-term investment. France and Italy have not balanced their budgets for more than 30 years. The financial crisis starkly exposed the unsustainability of such debt-financed democracy.

With the post-crisis stimulus winding down, politicians must now confront the difficult trade-offs they avoided during years of steady growth and easy credit. But persuading voters to adapt to a new age of austerity will not prove popular at the ballot box. Slow growth and tight budgets will provoke conflict as interest groups compete for limited resources. To make matters worse, this competition is taking place as Western populations are ageing. Older people have always been better at getting their voices heard than younger ones, voting in greater numbers and organising pressure groups like America’s mighty AARP. They will increasingly have absolute numbers on their side. Many democracies now face a fight between past and future, between inherited entitlements and future investment.

Adjusting to hard times will be made even more difficult by a growing cynicism towards politics. Party membership is declining across the developed world: only 1% of Britons are now members of political parties compared with 20% in 1950. Voter turnout is falling, too: a study of 49 democracies found that it had declined by 10 percentage points between 1980-84 and 2007-13. A survey of seven European countries in 2012 found that more than half of voters “had no trust in government” whatsoever. A YouGov opinion poll of British voters in the same year found that 62% of those polled agreed that “politicians tell lies all the time”.

Meanwhile the border between poking fun and launching protest campaigns is fast eroding. In 2010 Iceland’s Best Party, promising to be openly corrupt, won enough votes to co-run Reykjavik’s city council. And in 2013 a quarter of Italians voted for a party founded by Beppe Grillo, a comedian. All this popular cynicism about politics might be healthy if people demanded little from their governments, but they continue to want a great deal. The result can be a toxic and unstable mixture: dependency on government on the one hand, and disdain for it on the other. The dependency forces government to overexpand and overburden itself, while the disdain robs it of its legitimacy. Democratic dysfunction goes hand in hand with democratic distemper.

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Spotifying politics

Spotifying politics

Democracy’s problems in its heartland help explain its setbacks elsewhere. Democracy did well in the 20th century in part because of American hegemony: other countries naturally wanted to emulate the world’s leading power. But as China’s influence has grown, America and Europe have lost their appeal as role models and their appetite for spreading democracy. The Obama administration now seems paralysed by the fear that democracy will produce rogue regimes or empower jihadists. And why should developing countries regard democracy as the ideal form of government when the American government cannot even pass a budget, let alone plan for the future? Why should autocrats listen to lectures on democracy from Europe, when the euro-elite sacks elected leaders who get in the way of fiscal orthodoxy?

At the same time, democracies in the emerging world have encountered the same problems as those in the rich world. They too have overindulged in short-term spending rather than long-term investment. Brazil allows public-sector workers to retire at 53 but has done little to create a modern airport system. India pays off vast numbers of client groups but invests too little in infrastructure. Political systems have been captured by interest groups and undermined by anti-democratic habits. Patrick French, a British historian, notes that every member of India’s lower house under the age of 30 is a member of a political dynasty. Even within the capitalist elite, support for democracy is fraying: Indian business moguls constantly complain that India’s chaotic democracy produces rotten infrastructure while China’s authoritarian system produces highways, gleaming airports and high-speed trains.

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things: when Spain temporarily restored its parliamentary government in 1931, Benito Mussolini likened it to returning to oil lamps in the age of electricity. In the mid-1970s Willy Brandt, a former German chancellor, pronounced that “western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship”. Things are not that bad these days, but China poses a far more credible threat than communism ever did to the idea that democracy is inherently superior and will eventually prevail.

Yet China’s stunning advances conceal deeper problems. The elite is becoming a self-perpetuating and self-serving clique. The 50 richest members of the China’s National People’s Congress are collectively worth $94.7 billion—60 times as much as the 50 richest members of America’s Congress. China’s growth rate has slowed from 10% to below 8% and is expected to fall further—an enormous challenge for a regime whose legitimacy depends on its ability to deliver consistent growth.

At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies. But to succeed, both fledgling and established democracies must ensure they are built on firm foundations.

Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.

Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature.

http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21596796-democracy-was-most-successful-political-idea-20th-century-why-has-it-run-trouble-and-what-can-be-do