For Kambing’s sake!


April 13, 2019

For Kambing’s sake!

 

 

 

 

Daim Zainuddin has advised the government not to take people for granted and treat them like idiots. “I have real faith in people, they are smarter than you think. If you are honest with them, they will understand. Do not take the rakyat for granted. People don’t like it if you treat them like idiots,” he said in an interview.

Even if we already know this, statements like this, coming from Daim who is close to the centre of power, do not help Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) image.

Disgruntled voters are saying in derogatory terms that the PH government is a one-term government. The honeymoon is long over and the feel-good factor is disappearing over the horizon. If people power could boot out decades of Barisan Nasional (BN) rule, it can do the same with the current government in the next general election. People now know that they can change governments by the collective power of their votes.

The BN government was good at treating people like village idiots. The blue water tanks gift is a good example. In the last two elections, thousands of blue water tanks were distributed to rural areas in Sabah and Sarawak. The blue water tanks were synonymous with BN rule.

Plastic tanks do not deteriorate and the kampung folk who were given the blue water tanks in GE-13 received the same in GE-14. What the people wanted was clean piped water and good roads, not another round of blue water tanks with a BN logo. Whenever you see huge truckloads heading for the rural areas, you know it’s election time.

While there are thousands of examples of BN’s arrogance and treating people like idiots, the same is being repeated by the PH government.

Idiocy has reached a dangerous level in Malaysian elections. Electoral watchdog Bersih 2.0 has called upon the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate former Melaka chief minister Idris Haron for allegedly committing an election offence during the current Rantau by-election campaign.

Bersih said Idris’ promise to sponsor two goats for a feast in Taman Angsamas in the Angsamas polling district during a ceramah was tantamount to bribery.

The poor goats are now being used for election bribery. For Arians like me, it’s the greatest insult. The goat is the eighth in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese system. People born in a year of the goat are generally believed to be gentle, mild-mannered, shy, stable, sympathetic, amicable, and brimming with a strong sense of kindheartedness and justice. Being made the sacrificial lamb in a by-election is the greatest insult to the goat’s reputation.

Have we not “goat” better things to say and do? Does the constituency not have any real issues such as the need for better schools or more jobs? You are not talking about hundreds of goats for the slaughter, but two. Are we bankrupt of ideas? The voters deserve better.

If it’s not about a goat, it’s about race and religion. The goat was a short respite in an idiotic race to the finishing post.

PKR president Anwar Ibrahim has expressed hope that Rantau voters will not let Dr S Streram Sinnasamy’s race be an issue in the coming by-election and that they will see him for the work he has done.

“Why are we shunning him just because he is an Indian?” asked Anwar before reminding voters of all the good work he had done for the people.

Image result for daim zainuddin

So now the election boils down to an Indian and two goats. In an idiot’s narrative, the story ends when humans devour the goat in a celebratory feast. But is that the end of the story?

It was reported that former prime minister Najib Razak has been slapped with an extra tax bill of around RM1.5 billion by the Inland Revenue Board (LHDN). A financial daily quoted sources which said that a letter was sent to Najib by LHDN over backdated tax amount for the years 2011 to 2017. LHDN’s investigation assessment showed that Najib had not declared taxable income of close to RM4 billion for the period. Why is Najib not the main by-election issue? Why is “Bossku” still roaming freely?

Parliament is not spared the Malaysian idiocy. Recently, the entire opposition staged a walkout after a heated shouting match during Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s winding-up speech in the second reading of the Supplementary Supply Bill 2019.

The walkout was triggered after a shouting match between the opposition, the finance minister and government backbenchers, after Pengkalan Chepa MP Ahmad Marzuk Shaary (PAS) called Lim “pondan”. The Malaysian narrative has expanded to an Indian doctor, two goats and “pondan”.

Labelling someone as “pondan” or LGBT could have serious consequences if Lim were to visit shariah-compliant nations such as Brunei. But our tourism minister saved the day for Lim.

According to media reports, Mohamaddin Ketapi denied the existence of LGBT people in the country. Ahead of attending the ITB Berlin travel fair, he told German reporters that he wasn’t aware of LGBT people in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Yes, we are all being treated like idiots. Could it be that we elected idiots to represent us in the first place?

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Mahathir, royalty and democracy


April 13,2019

Mahathir, royalty and democracy

Opinion  |  S Thayaparan

Published:  |  Modified:

 

“I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.” ― Eugene Debs

COMMENT | The agitation in the Malay power structures continues with the democratically-elected Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad skirmishing with the royalty of Johor on the question of the appointment of the state’s menteri besar. This is not only a political issue but rather – nobody wants to admit this – a moral issue as well.

Think back when Tommy Thomas was the nominee of a democratically-elected government for the post of attorney-general and the Council of Rulers held back their consent for a couple of weeks because it was concerned that Thomas – a non-Muslim and non-Malay – would not defend certain rights and the sanctity of Islam.

As reported, Anwar Ibrahim said, “The Malay rulers had made it known they did not want the special rights to be belittled, and I told them I agreed with them and explained they would never be threatened,” he said. “We then had to explain to the Agong our intentions and stance for reform, and stated clearly that the special rights of the Malays would not be affected.”

Here was a Malaysian, with impeccable credentials, a history of using the law as means to illustrate the corruption and bigotry of the former regime and a successful lawyer in his own right, vilified because of his race and religion and for his views which were grounded in a rational interpretation of the Federal Constitution.

This was good enough for the people who elected a government because they wanted change but not for the royal institution which was considering the views of political parties – PAS/Umno – and non-governmental organisations which did not have a mandate from the people. Consider that while one former attorney-general’s career was mired in sycophancy, corruption, collusion and legal legerdemain, this apparently this was enough to stay his eviction from the post of AG.

Mahathir warns of the dangers of an absolute power but so far Pakatan Harapan has not demonstrated that it wants to empower democratic institutions and defang fascist institutions of the state. While the prime minister is correct when he claims that history demonstrates that the rulers had no problem “selling off” their states to foreign powers, the reality is that this kind of culture is pervasive in mainstream Malay power structures.

Before the election, the prime minister and his coterie of followers were warning that Umno was selling off the country to China, for example. This kind of polemic was meant to inflame the Malay polity in the same way how the far-right uses such themes to galvanise their base. Post-election, there have been all these overtures to China and backpedalling and spinning on deals; deals which should not have been used as racial fodder by the then opposition but were convenient tools to rile up sentiment.

The prime minister is correct when he questions the need to hold elections if the royalty can, without restraint, meddle in the policies of a democratically-elected government. When the government was forced – this, of course, is a matter of opinion – to retreat from the Rome Statute, the crown prince of Johor wrote, “Long Live the King. Demi Agama, Bangsa dan Negara. Daulat Tuanku.”

Since when was the Rome Statue an issue about religion and race? Think about it this way. When a far-right politician or when a Harapan political operative uses such a phrase, what would the response have been? They would have been vilified as being racist or a bigot and the discourse – and rightly so – would have centred on race politics.

Instead, what happened? The comment section was closed down for certain news stories when it came to the crown prince. This, in itself, is a kind of protection because Malaysiakini would be liable for comments made as the Harapan regime is “considering creating legislation that takes action against news portal operators who do not take action against readers who leave comments that touch on racial, religious and royal institution sensitivities”.

See? Absolute power in the hands of elected officials is also a threat to democratic freedoms.

Latheefa Koya is right when she points to the silly and immature argument put forward by the crown prince, but James Chin is also right when he observes the average rakyat is fighting with both hands tied behind his back, unlike Mahathir. You get away with a lot when you are free to use social media as you see fit and your detractors are not afforded this privilege.

“You know where to find me” does not work for the rest of us because the state security apparatus will definitely find you and slap you with sedition charges even if your comments are valid. See the state’s case against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri (above).

The sultan of Johor, when thanking the government from withdrawing from the Rome Statute, said this, “I hope the government will always prioritise the people’s interest over political interest.” But the interest of the people was not prioritised. In fact, by pulling out of the statue, the government was prioritising their political interests. Anwar said the Rome Statute was good for democracy and transparency, hence any inference that it was not “good” for the people is illogical.

Speaking of transparency, A Kadir Jasin is being investigated for sedition when he posted something about the royal upkeep. And what did Anwar say? “While I support democracy and freedom of expression, what was said was inappropriate. We have worked very hard to get the Malay rulers to appreciate this new administration” and that this (Kadir Jasin’s view) was “unhealthy”.

For those Malaysians who want democracy and worry of the corrosion of our democratic institutions, the people who are doing this are not only unelected officials (which include the bureaucratic class) who make statements which are contrary to their constitutionally-mandated roles but also politicians who use race and religion as a means to constrain democratic principles and rule of law.

Mahathir has positioned himself as the people’s champion even though he has a history of undermining democracy. Indeed, when it comes to the role of race and religion in mainstream Malaysian politics, democracy is always under threat. And this is with a moderate government. Let me be very clear – Harapan’s numerous laws against free speech and for “cultivating” national harmony are all anti-democratic. This does not include the religious component which also impedes democracy in this country.

It is no point blaming the Malays on their feudal mentality when the reality is that all Malay power structures have used the rhetoric and the apparatus of the state to carry out agendas which go against the fundamentals of democracy.

Meanwhile, on the other side, there are the royalty who never bothered to flex their muscles when the country was being looted and the Najib regime then thought up something like the National Security Council Act which undermined the power of the royalty.

Now, with the backing of the far-right, we get a ludicrous situation where Johor Umno names their preferred candidate for the menteri besar’s post and wants to “advise” the Johor sultan to dissolve the state legislative assembly.

Ultimately, we have to choose a side. Or choose no side if the choice is meaningless. What the prime minister has to do, what Harapan has to do, is to demonstrate that the support of the people for their side is a meaningful choice. What they have to do is demonstrate that elected representatives are empowering institutions and dealing with anyone who thinks they are above the law regardless of their station in life, the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs.

Democracy could go down when elected officials do not fulfil their constitutionally-mandated roles and instead give up power to unelected officials or be drowned out in a vox populi. The latter is cold comfort but at least we had a choice, which is also why it is silly and immature to claim that the people stand with Mahathir. The reality is that Mahathir, the arch-proponent of strongman politics, finds himself standing with people who have a different vision for this country, which history has shown he does not share.

Absolute power in anyone hands is dangerous especially if we, the people, give it to them.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy. A retired barrister-at-law, he is one of the founding members of the National Patriots Association.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah


April 13, 2019

An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah

An interview with Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah

Image result for saifuddin abdullah

Editor’s note: New Mandala’s guest editor for the “Changing Malaysia” series, Prof Meredith Weiss, interviewed Malaysian Foreign Minister Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah on 12 February 2019, at Wisma Putra (the Foreign Ministry) in Putrajaya, Malaysia. The transcript has been lightly edited and condensed. The discussion makes reference to the recently promulgated “Foreign Policy Framework of the New Malaysia”.


How did you come to be Foreign Minister and what most excites you or makes you nervous about the post?

As a politician, if I told you I didn’t expect to be appointed as a minister, I’d be lying. But if I told you I did not expect to be Minister of Foreign Affairs, that is the truth—I never thought I’d be Minister of Foreign Affairs; I thought I would be Minister of Education, or this or that. The worst part of being Foreign Affairs Minister is that you travel quite a bit and because of that, you have less time in your own constituency. That’s the worst thing. So you really have to navigate your time. As much as possible, once you are back home, you have to be in your constituency.

But the best part of it is, is the golden opportunity to show the New Malaysia to the world.

You have come on the job at a rough time in some ways for global foreign policy, with Trump, Brexit, the refugee crisis, trade tensions, other challenges for democracy abroad … How does that change the nature of your work?

There are two things to note here. Number one, regardless of those challenges, I have the benefit of having Tun Mahathir as a prime minister. Most literature on IR [international relations], on foreign policy, will tell you that the head of government is actually the de facto foreign minister, and especially so when the head of government is actively involved in international issues. Prime Minister Mahathir was prime minister and he is well-known worldwide. Also, he’s still very actively involved in international issues. So that is a big, big plus for me, because it actually opens doors in meeting people, because they say, “Oh, who’s this rookie? He’s the new foreign minister of Malaysia. Oh, they have a new prime minister, but it’s Dr Mahathir”.

The second point to note, yes, it’s very challenging in some sense, because suddenly you are faced with multi-disciplinary situations where, say, we have to come up with a policy as to how we handle trade sanctions Then, I sound like I am minister of MITI [Ministry of International Trade and Industry]. And perhaps this is also the reason why our ministry and MITI are working very closely together, perhaps more than ever before in the history of Malaysia. In fact, one of our policy statements states that one of our objectives now, and one of the types of work that we do, is economic diplomacy. I am organising joint and interagency meetings with MITI. It helps that Darell [Leiking, the Minister] is an old friend, a good buddy. You will see the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and MITI working very closely together.

It was quite noticeable in the framework that you discuss a new emphasis on economic objectives. Especially with the prospect of a global downturn and the need for complex coordination across agencies and actors, public and private, domestically and internationally, how do you as Foreign Affairs navigate that?

Well, on the one hand, as we were writing the framework, I was asking the basic question, what do our ambassadors actually do? Our three main objectives are, of course, security, economics, and our cultural identity. When it comes to security, we are not at war with any other country, but we want to be a trading nation, and we want to be friendly with all. That was when we decided that economic diplomacy should be an important part of our work. Which is to say that from now on, we have already started asking our missions to work more closely with MATRADE [Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation] and all the other MITI agencies overseas. But also I think when it comes to preparing our future ambassadors, business acumen is going to be one of the criteria. Yes, you are a diplomat, you are not a businessman, but you have to have some business acumen. Because otherwise, you will not be able to implement what we are calling economic diplomacy.

On the other hand, sometimes challenge makes you work in a certain way. A good example is palm oil. We are facing a lot of challenges from Europe. I was recently in Brussels for the ASEAN–EU ministerial meeting, and I was thinking, this palm oil issue is not just about palm oil; it is about protectionism, it’s about deforestation, it’s about climate change, and so on. So immediately after I came back, I held an informal inter-ministerial meeting. We invited the minister in charge of Primary Industries, which includes palm oil; the minister in charge of MITI; the minister in charge of Environment; and the minister in charge of Natural Resources, which includes forests. I thought we had a very good discussion. We were very clear that the lead agency is the minister in charge of Primary Industries, but we need to coordinate our work. The Minister of Primary Industries has organised a palm oil “war room” and they have things that they need to do or want to do. But during that meeting, we told the minister that we all want to help out when it comes to palm oil. You see, when it comes to palm oil, you will find when the minister in charge of Primary Industries, Teresa Kok, goes overseas to campaign for or to promote palm oil, she will also have to answer questions on environment and deforestation. As the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I have to do the same thing. But you also want the minister in charge of Environment to go out and talk about palm oil, and not just talk about plastic or the sea; and you want the minister in charge of Natural Resources to go out, not only to talk about natural resources issues, but also to talk about palm oil, because it is related. So these are the kinds of things we are doing now.

You mention in the framework document that your goal is to push for fairer international trade and financial systems, not just Malaysian interests. From the perspective of the Foreign Ministry, how do you do that?

There is an ongoing debate, from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] to what is now known as CPTPP [Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership]. More often than not, when it comes to international trade treaties, the lead agency is MITI. But what normally happens in Malaysia is that a treaty will come from somewhere and you are reacting to a proposal. But now we are saying, look, this proposal is not plucked from thin air. Ideas leading to this proposal would have been already put on the table, in various discussions and seminars, perhaps a decade ago. So what we are saying is that there are already some treaties that we have signed, we may want to review. There are treaties we are about to sign and ratify; we will have to look at each in detail and make decisions. But we also must be able to focus on what is going to happen five years or ten years from now. For example, internet governance. We can’t wait until somebody comes up with a text, or until a letter comes to my office saying, please look at this proposal. I think we need to be more proactive, we should be able to pre-empt whatever kind of treaties are coming and be involved in the discussion, because by the time you go from four or five texts and agree on a single text, there have been discussions and seminars and conferences and meetings. And I think we need to be proactive by looking at what is to come five, ten years from now, rather than only react once those things come knocking on your door.

One of the things that’s quite striking about the foreign policy framework is the consultative framework you have set up. Could you say more about the process of developing the framework and how the consultations worked?

There is a history to this framework. There was a group assembled in around 2013 and 2014, while I was in GMM [Global Movement of Moderates], of about 60 people, comprising leading former diplomats, leading academics, and professionals, including businesspeople and civil society representatives. They came out with a report. The editor was Professor Muthiah [Alagappa]. That paper was presented to the prime minister back then, but nothing happened. I read the paper when I was CEO of GMM and I thought, this is a very good paper. Never thought I would become Minister of Foreign Affairs. So the moment I was assigned here, the first thing that came to my mind was, can I have a copy of that paper? So we studied it again. And if you look at our framework, you’ll see a lot of it came from that paper. Now, that by itself was a consultative process. I think they spent three to four months working on that paper. Sixty people, the who’s who in foreign affairs were involved. So who is Saifuddin, who suddenly became Foreign Minister, to think that I know better? So I used that paper as a guide.

We formed the Consultative Council, involving people from the ministry, former diplomats, academics, and people from civil society. I penned it in Malay, and then, once we agreed on it, translated the whole thing to English. We had one proper meeting with the Consultative Council, and then we shared the document online and they gave their feedback. Besides that, there were other consultations. We had a series of meetings with academics, with university lecturers, and with students. With the students, it was town-hall meetings. I presented the skeleton of the foreign policy, and then there were questions from the students – bear in mind that they’re not IR specialists, they’re not even students of IR, most of them. Their questions tell you the kind of sentiments they have, or the kind of aspirations they have for the country. We took notes on points that were raised. If you see Palestine and Rohingya mentioned in the framework, it’s not just because we want to do work on Palestine and Rohingya—of course we want to address Palestine and Rohingya—but because these are the two most common questions that come from the floor, everywhere you go. What the questions were leading to was, as a Muslim country, what else can we do? So we had different ways of consulting.

And we proposed the formation of a foreign policy select committee in Parliament. Before the consultation started, I tabled a motion in Parliament. It started with the Prime Minister’s speech on 28th September 2018 [at the United Nations]. We knew from Day 1 that the main points of our foreign policy would be from that speech. And then I presented a motion in Parliament [on 15 October 2018], and we actually had one whole day in Parliament. I presented the framework, in skeletal form, in my oral presentation to Parliament. And then there was a very good debate; about 14 MPs participated and I did the summing up. And then there was a vote, unanimous: people agreed on the parameters or the main gist of the framework. And from there we continued writing with the aid of consultative and town-hall meetings, etc., until we produced the final version. The final version was then distributed to all the relevant ministries for them to comment, and then it was presented to Cabinet where it was also passed. And we’ve promised that we will continue consulting people as we go on trying to implement the framework.

Do you know if other ministries are doing anything similar?

The Ministry of Defence is coming up with a white paper to present to Parliament. I think they have also organised consultations. Besides that, there are a few other ministries who have also established some sort of consultative council, for example, the Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Agriculture—these two I’m very sure, but I know there are at least one or two more. Which is to say that consultation is almost like a cornerstone of the new approach of the new administration—something that was not very often done before.

In the framework, you say that you desire to present Malaysia “as an exemplary Islamic country” and Maqasid Syari’ah as “a vital reference in charting the nation’s development strategy”. Could you say more about how you intend to do that?

You see, when you look at the individual Muslim countries, the OIC members, for example, and you compare our achievements on some of the international rankings, when you look at the top ten countries in many of those indexes, of justice or happiness or whatever, sometimes not even one of the Muslim countries appears to be in the top ten. Which means the room for improvement is so massive. So what do we do? What can we contribute, as Malaysia, to the Muslim world? Surely our foreign policy is not just about fighting for the oppressed. We will continue doing that, and we will try to do even better, for the Palestinians, for the Rohingya, and for other minority groups. But surely there is more that we can offer the Muslim world. We have been doing some substantive work, for example, on education, by inviting students from the Muslim world to come to our universities. We have scholarships for students and for civil servants—this is called the MTCP, the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Program, which we offer to, basically, developing countries, and many of them are Muslim countries. But what about democracy, what about human rights, what about others? Surely we can also offer something, and this is why we write our foreign policy in that manner, with the Maqasid Syaria’ah. Issues or topics like Muslim democrats should be brought to the OIC platform—but not just to Muslim countries, even to the world. I think we also have the responsibility to show to the world that Islam is not just about ISIS and IS, or what Trump tweets about, but there is—though I don’t like to use the word—the “real Islam”.

Do you resent having to make up for the less exemplary actors who claim to be acting in the name of Islam, in terms of that image?

I think there is a responsibility to show to the world what Islam is all about, and especially so when you are faced with the threat of terrorism and radicalism, especially now, when we have Daesh. We know that Daesh, though they seem to be fading away, will re-emerge somewhere else, with a different style, a different name. And also we are facing an Islamophobia challenge, coming from the West. I think we need to share the actual narrative of Islam, and we take that as part of our foreign policy responsibility..

You may also find mention of the “Malay World” in there [the foreign policy framework].[1] Well, the Malay world has a unique civilisational experience with Islam and culture. Remember Huntington talked about the clash of civilisations? You don’t see that in the Malay world. The Malay world is really a place where civilisations meet and those looking toward the advancement of Islam in the future can look not just at the Middle East, but also at the Malay world as an example.

You note ASEAN as the cornerstone of Malaysian foreign policy. How does the change of Malaysia’s government affect Malaysia’s position within ASEAN?

Well, not politically. Because politically, we change our chairmanship every year, so on the official side, I think things will go on as the tradition has been. But Dr Mahathir is a big name, and many people in the ASEAN community, including heads of government, look up to Dr Mahathir for some form of leadership. And I think Malaysia can play its own role, like providing moral leadership to the grouping. It’s not just because of the new government, but Malaysia is taking this opportunity to impress upon the other members that the natural cooperation for ASEAN is really to strengthen its economic standing. There are three things that Malaysia is trying to assess and to provide some kind of leadership on.

Number 1 is to increase intra-ASEAN trade. The numbers will show you that we are nowhere close to what is happening in the EU, but of course we know that the EU is really something quite different. But having said that, surely we can improve our intra-ASEAN trade. Especially when you are faced with the trade war between China and the US, herein lies an opportunity—or rather, all the more reason why you need to work together.

Number 2: every time when I talk to my counterparts from outside the region, especially my counterparts from the EU and North America, one item on their wish-lists is that they prefer talking to ASEAN as one single market. Again, we cannot compare ourselves with the EU, but we have to be able to work as a grouping, making full use of the 640-odd million population, which is really a big market. So we may not be able to behave or act like a single market, but it is a big market, such that we should optimise this market that we have.

Number 3 is very much Tun Mahathir’s idea: that ASEAN should be a real producing hub, and not just individual countries exporting raw materials to  other parts of the world. Every time he meets his counterparts, he keeps trying to impress that there must be some joint-venture projects among ASEAN countries. Maybe it is difficult to get all ten countries to work on a single product, but surely two or three countries can work on a product and market it together. So these are the three items that are now on the table.

I think it is more the latter. I think there are a lot of expectations, and we have to walk the talk, otherwise people will look at you and say, hey, what are you guys trying to do?! So because of that, this is where I normally go back to my favourite phrase, that foreign policy begins at home. Until and unless you prove that you are doing it seriously at home, no one will believe you outside. So I’m very pleased that the prime minister is taking this issue very seriously. He has just recently launched an anticorruption plan of action, which I think is a very strong document. He has before this launched an inter-agency anticorruption committee, and he took the trouble to travel to Vienna to speak at an international conference on anti-corruption. He attended that, I think, to prove that he is very serious about it. So in my conversations with my colleagues from outside, I think they understand very well that we are serious about fighting corruption. They know that it is not easy, and of course we have to prove ourselves.

There is a lot in the framework about developing a knowledge culture and developing the ministry’s human-capital resources. You have spoken in the past about lack of awareness of or interest in foreign policy, even among MPs. Do you find that there is sufficient interest and expertise, not just within, but also outside, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the sorts of consultations and to play the sorts of roles you would like to sustain?

Not many people really understand what foreign policy is all about. We need to sensitise people that foreign policy is not an elite thing, that it is about everyday life, and that foreign policy is directly impacting whatever is happening at home, and vice-versa. I think we need to inform people that foreign policy is very much a domestic matter—much as it sounds like it is out there, it is very much in here.

I am quite happy that, generally speaking, the officers at the ministry are professional; they are well-trained. But we also need to improve in certain areas. For example, of course, we have to keep on improving our English, but I think we need to have a good pool of officers who have a sound proficiency in all of the UN’s working languages. Number two, in future, we have to ensure that in every mission abroad, we have someone among our rank and file who speaks the native language—this is not the case now. Like for example, our ambassador to China does not speak or write Mandarin, but we do have someone there who speaks Mandarin. And also not all of our ambassadors in the Middle East speak and write Arabic, although we always have someone. In the future, we have to ensure that we have ambassadors and senior officers who speak the native language, or at least the working language of the country. Because the world is becoming more complex, and sometimes decisions have to be made almost on the spot, where we no longer have the luxury of time to contact the capital to translate.

The next thing is content experts. We need to start seriously training our officers to become not only experts in diplomacy, but also content experts. For example, there are some very broad international areas of concern that everyone should have a good understanding of. You don’t have to be an expert on all those broad agendas, but you need to at least be very good with one of them, if not many of them. For example, on issues like human rights—under human rights, there are various themes, like religious freedom, children’s rights, women’s rights, and so on. And then you have environment. Again, there are numerous themes. And so too with free and fair trade. So we need to have people who are content experts.

And finally, negotiation skills. I find that not everyone can negotiate. Negotiation is not just a skill: it is both an art and a science. And we need this.

We need to train our own people, but we also have to be very open in outsourcing or using experts from outside, from business, academia  and from amongst professionals. For example: in a recent conference in Holland, I thought the ministry did the right thing by bringing Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar as part of the delegation, because Gurdial has some experience in dealing with negotiations. Gurdial is one of the members of our Consultative Council, and the reason why we roped him in is also because there may be occasions where we need experts like him to be part of our delegation at conferences.

You note quite ambitious goals for developing think tanks, such as Malaysian ISIS [Institute of Strategic and International Studies]. Why has Malaysia slipped on that front or not advanced, and how can you as a ministry nurture organisations that by nature need to be at least substantially independent and critical-minded if they are to be effective?

ISIS is an independent organisation. It was until recently under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Department, but now it is under us. But we have an understanding with ISIS. I met with the board and I told them, you are going to remain independent. We take it that the only reason they are with us is for administrative purposes. You have to park ISIS somewhere, to put it bluntly. Somebody has to sign the cheques, that’s all. I told them that they have to remain independent. There was a time when ISIS was very highly respected, but they slipped quite a bit because I think they had the wrong emphasis, to a certain extent, instead of doing their core business. To me, their core business, is, number one: international and strategic studies, which includes security. Number two would be economics, international economics. They should be looking at trends and advise the government, and further ideas and so on. But also it has something to do with, perhaps, the previous administration’s way of controlling ideas or limiting freedom. I think the current administration is very clear about the meaning of freedom. And I told ISIS, you are free to even criticise the government if you need to. If not in public, then in private, but you have to be thinking on your own, you have to be seriously independent. And when you look at the growing numbers of think tanks being established for the past five to seven years, I think the ones that prosper are the ones that are really independent. And there’s no way you can control think tanks, because by definition, they are not supposed to be controlled by any one.

How do you balance the need to be closed-door and decisive in some policy making versus advancing transparency and openness?

I think the word is practicality. We want to be as open as possible, and to discuss matters with as many stakeholders as possible. But sometimes we also have to be very cautious, especially when dealing with some matters which may be considered sensitive by some quarters. In dealing with issues like trade relations, many of the discussions are conducted below the radar. For example, we inherited some contracts made by the previous administration, and we have decided to discontinue several projects, and this was quite easy because they have not yet taken off. Some are still under discussion and we are very careful about it.

So, there are things we have to navigate. For instance, on the Rohingya, we stop at nothing. We simply say what we want to say about the Rohingya, we are very open about it, and my counterpart, the foreign minister of Myanmar, understands very well. He will just keep quiet as and when we say something less diplomatic. He understands perfectly where we are coming from, but at the same time, we are saying that we also want to work with the Myanmar government, to make sure that things improve.

Our position on Rohingya is very clear, and we say it even in front of our counterpart from Myanmar. Number one, perpetrators have to be brought to justice. We are very clear about it, and they know it. Number two, we want repatriation to occur, in the best manner. And number three, we are of course committed to helping on the humanitarian side, both there and in Bangladesh. We have a field hospital in Cox’s Bazaar, run by MinDef [Ministry of Defence], it’s actually an army field hospital in Cox’s Bazaar—there are more than 140,000 Rohingya there, by UNHCR’s estimate. We want to enhance our humanitarian assistance, most of it through NGOs. And we are hoping that the pledge by the Qatari government will come through soon, US$50 million for humanitarian assistance, education, welfare.

You have “change in continuity” as your theme. What do you see as most important to maintain and what do you see as most important to change?

I think the basic fundamentals of foreign policy will remain intact. For example, we want to be friends with all countries, except Israel. We want to trade with all. We practice principles of neutrality and non-interference. That will remain intact… But there will be new approaches in the way we do things. For example, it has always been the practice that foreign policy is about government to government, party to party, and people to people. But more often than not, in the previous administration, foreign policy was very formal. We will maintain the formalities and formal structures, of course. But we are more open to engaging, for example, the business sector and especially civil society organisations. I think our office for the past nine months has received visitors who were at one time banned from coming into our office. Before the UPR [the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review] process, we had visits from both sides of the CSOs—the liberals and the conservatives. So we are more open to that. In fact, we engage with them. It’s not because they want to come, but actually, we invite them to us.

We are open to visits by any of the international rapporteurs. I had a meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar. Both of us happened to be in Bangkok at the same time, so I had a good meeting with her. She asked if she could come to Malaysia, I said any time. We did not say we have a standing invitation to all, but we say if people want to come, we will receive them. We will try our level best to accommodate all the international and UN special rapporteurs. Human rights issues are no longer taboo to be discussed openly—even issues like LGBT, which was previously off the table I think—we can discuss all kinds of things. Of course, economic diplomacy is something that we consider important as part of our work. Yes, ASEAN remains, if not the cornerstone of our foreign policy, still premium, but we are going beyond politics into the economics of ASEAN. Consciously we are saying, look, we want to do this. So it’s not just MITI talking about trade, but even MoFA is talking about trade. And when we look at the Muslim world, we are saying our role is not just to fight for the oppressed, but also to offer more in terms of progress and development. So continuity in terms of the fundamentals, but change mostly in the approaches, the way we look at things and the way we do things.


[1] The text reads: “Malaysia will also lead the efforts to improve the fortune and image of Muslim countries and the ummah by, among others, promoting the role of successful Malaysian Islamic institutions for example, in higher learning, as well as finance and banking; and unique experiences of the Malay World”.

About the interviewee: Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah


Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah is Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of Parliament for Indera Mahkota and Chief Secretary of Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope). Previously, he served as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Member of the UMNO Supreme Council, CEO of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMM), and Director (Strategic and Social Development) of Institut Darul Ehsan. Saifuddin is a progressive politician who advocates New Politics, youth empowerment and social entrepreneurship, also actively promoting debate and basketball. During his tenure as Deputy Minister of Higher Education, he restarted the campus Speakers’ Corner and amended the University and University College Act to allow student involvement in politics—both of which had been restricted since 1975—and was openly critical of the BN Government’s suppressive policies on freedom and human rights, and racism. Saifuddin has also served as the President of the Malaysian Youth Council, a Member of the United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Youth Employment, a Consultant to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Joint-Secretary of Bosnia Action Front.
He was also a passionate student activist. He has published eight books, the latest of which being New Politics 2.0: Multiracial and Moderate Malaysian Democracy (2017). Born in 1961, Saifuddin studied at The Malay College Kuala Kangsar and received a BA (Hons) from Universiti Malaya. He is married to Norlin Shamsul Bahri and they have a daughter, Nur Madihah

No repeat of ‘Dr M vs palace’ showdown, says analyst James Chin


April 13, 2019

No repeat of ‘Dr M vs palace’ showdown, says  analyst James Chin

 

by Malaysiakini  |  Published:  |  Modified:

 

Malaysians are watching the ongoing thriller between Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Johor palace with nail-biting suspense. But those expecting an explosive climax could be disappointed, according to political analyst James Chin.

While acknowledging that most Malaysians agreed with Mahathir on the role of a constitutional monarchy, he does not foresee the current friction leading to a similar episode which rocked the nation in the 1990s when Mahathir, during his first tenure as premier, trained his guns on the rulers.

According to the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute director, times have changed.

“Now you have instant public opinion via social media…

“We are living in the social media age. Back then, BN could control the narratives by the mainstream media like newspapers and television. Now, (the government) can no longer do this,” he told Malaysiakini.

Chin’s point is illustrated by the fact that the Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim himself is using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to lock horns with the prime minister with regard to the Rome Statute, Ship-to-Ship (STS) hub and the appointment of the menteri besar.


Read more: PM spells out hazards of giving rulers absolute power


During Mahathir’s previous confrontation with the monarchs, the government-controlled media had launched an all-out offensive, detailing the rulers’ lavish lifestyles and how much the government spent on them.

Meanwhile, Chin also expected the police to crack down on those making hard-hitting comments regarding the ongoing tussle on social media.

“There are a lot of people out there who think they can speak like Mahathir. But they cannot get away with it. The only non-royal who can say anything is Mahathir,” he said.

Certain quarters have also accused Mahathir of exploiting the issue to cement his grip on power, especially in the wake of intense criticism against his administration over its reversals and unpopular decisions.

James Chin

However, Chin does not believe this is the case and pointed out that Mahathir was just being himself by responding to media queries which other politicians would sidestep.

“If you follow the timeline, in all cases, Mahathir was answering reporters’ questions (regarding his differences with the palace).

“The bottom line is most sultans want to appoint their menteri besar. There was the same problem during BN’s time. But (former premier) Najib (Abdul Razak) did not want to confront (the rulers).

“Mahathir is different. When a reporter asks him about this, he replies,” added the analyst.

Chin is also convinced that Mahathir and the Johor palace would reach a compromise on the menteri besar position.

“Of course,” he replied when quizzed on this.

“Dont forget, the menteri besar becomes menteri besar only if he is sworn in by the sultan. So the system will force them to compromise,” he added.

The Johor menteri besar post fell vacant after Bersatu’s Osman Sapian resigned on Monday.

The verbal jousting between Mahathir and the Johor palace erupted after Tunku Ismail tweeted that it is the sultan’s prerogative to appoint the menteri besar.

Mahathir, however, argued that if the rulers are allowed to decide on who becomes the prime minister or menteri besar, Malaysia would not be a democratic nation.


Read more: Quick recap – Mahathir’s first royal tussle


Meanwhile, Unisel’s communication lecturer Ismail Hashim Yahya questioned if Osman is a victim of a tug-of-war between certain parties in Johor.

In an article penned for Malaysiakini, he also focused on the drama surrounding the incoming menteri besar.

“The political tussle is not between the candidates of different parties but rather between the influence of Mahathir, (PKR president) Anwar Ibrahim and the palace.

“If there are elements… to safeguard certain interests or if a game of chess is being played behind the scenes, then it is no longer a rational consideration for the rakyat but a desire to take over,” he added.

 

 

Should Mahathir go now? Certainly not!


April 12, 2019

Should Mahathir go now? Certainly not!

Opinion  |  Mariam Mokhtar

Published:  |  Modified:

 

COMMENT | Let’s be clear about one thing. The only thing I share with Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is our initials – MM. That is all. I have been his critic for decades and was persuaded, just a few months before GE-14, to support/endorse Mahathir by two of his former critics, Zunar and Hishammuddin Rais.

Today, there are calls for Mahathir to step down. No! He should not.

The most dangerous political scandal, since GE-14, is finally cracking open like a ripe durian. It is an attempt to bring down Mahathir, his cabinet and Pakatan Harapan.

Mahathir said Malaysia’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute was not because the international treaty was bad, but the confusion created by “one particular person who wants to be free to beat up people”.

He added, “I find that this particular attempt to get the rulers involved so that they can get leverage, and even trying to get the rulers to sign some order against me.”

You may have missed the bit about “getting the rulers to sign some order,” because most of us would have been fixated on the “one particular person”.

Can you imagine the dangers brought about by a power vacuum after Mahathir’s removal? Think Iraq or Libya.

Guess who has been whipping up anti-Harapan sentiments, and re-engineered his image on social media.

Guess who despises Mahathir, because he is the only one with the guts to stand up against them.

Their fatal attraction has been festering for 26 years. How can the rakyat act against people whose business interests are so powerful that they swamp the small-time trader? How can the nation be protected against powerful people who forge long-term business deals with foreigners?

Guess why the ulama have an intense dislike of Mahathir. He dares to scold them and tell them to understand their religion better, instead of confusing their flock with their own warped interpretations.

Guess who else abhors Mahathir. The civil servants who benefited from Najib’s largesse, some elite Malays who are crippled by their crab mentality, and the insecure Malays with their siege mentality. These form a volatile mixture.

Mahathir has started the job of cleaning up Malaysia, and he should continue. Moreover, he has to sort out the mess that lies between Putrajaya and that “red dot” across the Causeway.

Only Mahathir has the guts and political will to do this, but ironically, many Malays, on whom he has showered the most help, are among the most fractious, most fragile and most flippant. This is part of his unfinished business, and to ask Mahathir to leave now would be premature.

The Mahathir of today is not the Mahathir of the past. There are flashes of his former self, but by and large, he has most probably realised his mistakes and acknowledged that he needs to correct them before he retires for good.

Mahathir may be dictatorial, in that he brooks no dissent, but he is not a dictator. Mahathir and Harapan were democratically elected. There was no North Korean type of election, with only one candidate.

The Mahathir of today is a “milder” version of his former self. In the “golden age” of Mahathir, newspapers would be in fear of having to stop publication, and people would be locked up under the ISA. He compromised many institutions. He was the architect of Project IC. Having previously been accused of interference, he is now reluctant to be seen as a meddler, or tyrant.

Some of you may have the experience of buying a house, but when you moved in and found that the inside was full of old junk, the floorboards rotten, the roof leaking? You cannot put your own furniture in it, nor decorate it, until the repairs have been completed.

Malaysia is like this old house. Team Mahathir has moved into government and found 61 years of rot. Until most things are fixed, they cannot fully initiate the reforms.

Last year, soon after he was made PM, Mahathir knew who he wanted for attorney-general, and who should helm the key ministries. He has acknowledged that some ministers are disappointing, and he has ordered them to improve their act. Does he have enough capable people to make sweeping changes to his cabinet?

It seems to have taken a long time, but disgraced, former PM Najib Abdul Razak, Rosmah Mansor, Zahid Hamidi, Abdul Azeez Rahim, Isa Samad and Muhammad Shafee Abdullah are being investigated. The rest are being processed. Their time will come.

The waters around Putrajaya are still choppy. Until Najib has been punished for his crimes against the people of Malaysia, we cannot rest; therefore, now is not the time to change leaders.

Nor is it the time to have two leaders; a functioning PM and a PM-in-waiting. There is nothing more destructive than to pit two men against one another, with daily comparisons of their performance, as if it were a tennis match.

We would like to move forward, as a nation, to repair race relations, increase integration and improve the economy. We are sick and tired of the three “Rs” of race, religion and royalty. They are a distraction, especially when there are more important matters.

Mahathir must resolve the Malay dilemma. He should think long-term, and not opt for short term gains. He should break that impasse.


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?


April 10, 2019

Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

COMMENT | Long live the Rome Statute! Long live Idiocy! What kind of government and society shall we be? From a cashless society we want to be a moral-less society, in a world plagued with genocide and the disease of violent ideologies.

The Pakatan Harapan government’s U-turns on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination (ICERD) and now the Rome Statute signify our entry in our own Age of Mass Ignorance. If opposing war, genocide, crimes against humanity is opposed, we have a government that needs to be deposed.

Rome Statute as peace document

In Malaysia, will all the rallies against Israeli atrocities, Rohingya massacres, & bombing of churches & mosques be banned? Seems that the more we want to have flying cars and a cashless society, the more we show ignorance on issues of war, aggression, and global morality.

The Rome Statute is about stopping the rise of global fascism. What part of it does this PH government not understand? So shallow is our education system’s curriculum on race relations and global issues this idiocy on Rome Statute needs to be exposed?

From a self-proclaimed Asian tiger roaring in the UN condemning aggression, we have become a country mouse dying of ignorance of crimes against humanity. Most ridiculous arguments on “threatening Malay rights” are used to justify the defence of our ignorance on global issues!

They say ignorance is bliss. In Malaysia, on the Rome Statute issue, ignorance is blessed. Will our diplomats now abstain from voting on global aggressions, in order to respect the rights of kampong warriors? Insane!

In matters of universal human rights and global peace, no race or nation should be stupefied by its own leaders and rulers. What are we teaching our children? That it’s OK to discriminate and to condone war crimes? I thought the “lawmakers” in the PH government are more globally conscious? Are they falling now into a deep state of unconsciousness?

Resist mass idiocy

Committing to the principles of justice vis-a-viz international human rights in regards to the ICERD, the violation of human rights in Malaysia as in the recent missing person cases, and to the Rome Statute, is a no brainer.

The most ridiculous logic we hear is that if you oppose war crimes, enforced disappearances, aggression, and genocide, your power as a national government will be challenged, and that the bangsa, agama, and negara will be in danger.

There are principles crafted by the UN that are universal. There are those that are culturally-relative. But not the ICERD nor the Rome Statute. These are human principles that are meant to have us evolve into peaceful global citizens, by condemning mass murder and genocide.

Bebalism or incurable idiocy is what’s governing the new consciousness when it comes to speaking up against human rights injustices. Why is Pakatan Harapan losing the very principles that attracted people to vote for them? Insincerity? Hypocrisy? Idiocy?

As one who has been teaching global issues for years, it will be embarrassing to tell my students how idiotic Malaysia is. O’ Malays, revolt against any attempt by your leaders who attempt to spread ignorance and fear through issues of race and religion.

Hitler mounted ridiculous arguments on race, crafting falsehood to turn it into truth, creating fascism, committing war crimes. Kingdoms that survive on the power of ignorance cannot last long, in an age wherein power and wealth are challenged and eventually get destroyed.

The PH government seems to be surrendering to those wishing to see chaos take root. Did the people vote for cowardice? It has been my argument that education must address issues of polarization, class-based poverty, ecological destruction, and religious extremism.

Utterly shameful and gutless it is for a country claiming to be progressive and a promoter of regional peace, and advocating the global principle of “prosper thy neighbor”. What does opposing genocide, enforced disappearances, aggression, and war got to do with challenging “agama, bangsa, negara?” Are we going mad now?

A few leaders of the Pakatan said that those who criticized the prime minster and the PH government for pulling out of the Rome Statute are cowards who cannot be trusted. How is that logical?

Is the withdrawal due to confusion? Or cowardice? Why allow the tantrum of one man to deny the expression of the people of a nation? It is a basic expression of opposing violence as a global community, aspiring to be cosmopolitan citizens rather than trapped in the prison-nation-state of communalism, post-industrialism, ghetto-ism, and kampong-ism, is it not?

What must we do for the next generation to get out of this intellectual quagmire and the structuring of mass bebalisma?

We must turn to education as the only means for a sustainable personal, social, and cultural progress. Governments, monarchy, and those in power via whatever ideology come and go. But education should set us free.

Not the illusion of knowledge and wisdom. Not the installing of fear. These will not. They will turn the masses into people who continue to support leaders who are now on trial for corruption.

Educate for peace

Students need to be taught how to develop critical thinking and apply those skills in evaluating international systems, environmental issues, and human rights. We need to help them demonstrate the global dimensions of crucial contemporary issues, so that they could develop relational and rational thinking on how to study and think about global problems and relationships of war and conflict and how to address them and find peaceful solutions.

The urgent educational agenda is also to focus on global issues and how human rights, political-economy, ecological destruction, issues of power, wealth, powerlessness are all inter-related contributors to war and peace.

Students need to be taught to recognize the interdependence of the individual and the community in creating the challenges and opportunities in a global society through the examination of sustainability, human rights and peace and conflict. This is necessary so that when they become leaders and rulers, they will not be ridiculous, and not become people with money and power, but with no soul and morals.

Right now, this government is beginning to be a huge mess, unable to stand for the very basic principles of human rights, bowing down to some ridiculous tantrum not worth entertaining. What in the name of global sanity did Malaysians vote for?


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.