Malaysia: Let us do the political frog our way from UMNO to Bersatu


January 3, 2019

Malaysia: Let us do the political frog our way from UMNO to Bersatu

Image result for from UMNO to Bersatu

 Kermit is not stupid fro. He has  fans around the world . Unlike political froggies from UMNO, he is worth more than a dime a dozen.

“Political frogs are now on the prowl and are available at a dime a dozen. And, in most occasions, at no cost. In accepting them into their new homes, some owners accept them to show their strength in numbers and in other cases, to tap their talent and expertise, if they have any. “– R. Nadeswaran

 

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UMNO’s Super Katak Salleh Keruak

SATIRE | Political frogs are now on the prowl and are available at a dime a dozen. And, in most occasions, at no cost. In accepting them into their new homes, some owners accept them to show their strength in numbers and in other cases, to tap their talent and expertise, if they have any.

Some have expertise in certain areas, including finance, technology and the lot. But there are many who excel in wheeling and dealing and have called themselves fixers. Not long ago, three Datuks called themselves “The Fixers”.

In such instances, the transfer of such mentality, proficiency and capability is always recognised as wannabe-members openly declare that they would inculcate such traits à la “transfer of technology.” They sometimes raise few eyebrows, but for political expediency, nothing counts and the philosophy of “everyone is welcome” prevails.

Early signs emerged when the party held its annual congress last week. Among the speeches of the transferees or beneficiaries of this technology, one came from someone who has worked the system to fine-tune the supposed below-the-line activities to make sure the previous party stayed in power. The electorate was balanced; the rolls were adjusted so that the then Opposition was kept out. He was answerable to no one. The members of his team were referred to as members of the “dumb and deaf” committee.

He spoke at length: “An eventful year has come to an end. We are the victors. We won. We worked hard – mentally and physically for our success. It was not easy fighting someone with one-handed tied to the back. Yet, we came out with flying colours.

“Pinch yourself – we are in power and we will continue to remain for many more years to come. We are entitled to some reward – presently and in the hereafter for our work.

“We all – the elected representatives, divisional chiefs, branch captains and even the ordinary member who put up banners and pasted posters must be rewarded for our hard work.

“It is time for us to share the spoils of the war. Representation has been made; calculations have been completed; vacancies have been identified; those who have to make way have been subtly told that they have overstayed their stay.

“Forget what we promised in the manifesto – a clean government. But that was sheer electioneering – propaganda.”

‘This is utter nonsense’

The young man who had a huge Plaster of Paris around his wrist, to cover a scratch from his girlfriend, retorted: “This is utter nonsense. Didn’t we promise that the best people would be employed for top jobs? Didn’t we promise to dismantle the abang-adik system in government departments and government agencies?”

Amid shouts of duduk (sit) and tutup mulut (shut up), he was told: “Well, that ‘cronyism must end’ battle cry was to appease the urbanites and the liberals – the English speaking mob which believed in ‘true democracy.’ Now it is our turn. Our branch leaders have to be rewarded too.”

When everyone sat down and the situation calmed down, the session Speaker announced. “I have heard enough. I want to make an important announcement.

“Phase One of ‘Ops Kita Sapu Semua’ starts tomorrow. Please change your membership cards with the latest chip technology which has been provided free by the same company that does the cards for government agencies.

“As of midnight tonight, you don’t have to pay toll anymore. Your membership card is actually equivalent of the Touch ‘n Go card, but yours is better. You don’t have to top-up. There is no value cap on it and it can only be changed if and when we are kicked out of power in the next hustings.

“As you are aware, the blue plane people have refused to collect the passenger service fee for our airports’ company. We have been told that tables will be placed at the entrance at every departure gate, where passengers will have to make cash payments before they are allowed into the departure lounges. In the case of our members, show your chip-embedded card and you will be exempted. Use the special red lane allocated for us.”

Delegate after delegate spoke, sometimes out of turn, to applaud the new initiative. “We waited for this for 61 years while they plucked all the fruits. This is our chance,” said one.

“I’m not finished yet,” the Speaker said: “Phase Two starts next week. Every job or position which comes with salaries and perks (like members of the boards of electoral reform committee, the aviation regulatory organisation, the social security agency, etc) belongs to us. We will appoint divisional chairmen and branch leaders to such posts.

“We will replace all members of the boards of government-linked companies (GLCs) as a first step. Members are humbly asked to nominate ordinary people instead of titled people. The previous regime put people there who stole and got caught. We will put people who won’t get caught because they won’t steal so much with having just passed SPM.

“To steal, we don’t need brains of those with degrees achieved or otherwise bought, as in the case of the guy we put in charge of pilgrims. As long as you are able to say setuju (agree) and angkat tangan (lift your hands), there’s no other skill required.”

‘Looking at government contracts’

In Phase Three to be launched next month, the Speaker said, “we will be looking at government contracts…” and he was rudely interrupted.

A few delegates spoke out: “This is not what we stand for. NGOs will start screaming blue murder and claim that our ruling elites are channelling government resources for themselves.”

Corruption and political patronage, they argued, emanated such a revolting stench that prompted the previous fellows being ejected. “Will they do the same to the present group?”

Another said: “These are our entitlements. No one can take those away from us. Yes, the NGOs will make noise for a while, but throw them a few crumbs in the form of non-important positions in the consumer side, and they will shut up.”

But the most important issue that set the delegates scratching their heads was: “What are we going to tell Uncle Lim? He put his head on the chopping block to work with us to throw out the kleptocratic government. How will the good doctor face him?”

The hall fell silent. Suddenly it dawned on them that they were in control collectively with three others. Doing it their way would sound wrong.

But then, someone provided a perfect riposte. “Our doctor not only treats the sick but has enough antidotes in his medical bag to treat even political sickness. If not, would he have made a comeback after being in the wilderness for two decades?”

There was a pin-drip silence for a moment and then the hall exploded. When everything settled down, the Speaker said: “Our doctor has a cure for everything.” This time, there was a standing ovation. Need more be said?


R NADESWARAN will pen yet another piece next month when Phase Three is implemented. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com

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

Truth-telling in Singapore


November 19, 2018

Truth-telling in Singapore

by  Hamish McDonald.

Image result for singapore

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au

Tropical rain is bucketing down when P. J. Thum arrives for our meeting at a semi-outdoor Starbucks amid high-rise public housing flats on Singapore’s unfashionable north side. Seeking quietness, we move inside a nearby shopping mall to a cafe offering beverages of a local flavour: black tea with the option of evaporated or condensed milk – the tannin-laden, chalky legacy of long-gone British military men.

 

Podcast > The Bigger Picture > Live & Learn > Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore

Thum Ping Tjin, Research Associate at the Centre for Global History at the University of Oxford, and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia

23-Mar-15 15:04

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Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, a fellow Singaporean and Research Associate at the Centre for Global History at the University of Oxford.

Thum – full name Thum Ping Tjin – is 38 years old, athletic and preppy in tortoiseshell spectacles and a pink shirt. From Singapore’s ethnic Chinese majority, he has an Oxford doctorate in history, is a former Olympic swimmer and has an unblemished military service record. All of which makes him the ideal candidate to go far in Singapore’s kind of meritocracy − perhaps joining the “men in white” of the People’s Action Party, in power since 1959.

Except Thum made the wrong career choice for that. As his history specialisation developed, he’d been thinking of a biography of Vespasian, the Roman legionnaire who, after invading Britain and quelling the Jewish revolt, was installed as emperor by acclamation of his troops and ended a period of instability.

“Then I thought, ‘There are other people who can do that, many people doing way better work on Roman history than I could,’ ” he tells me. “ ‘But who’s going to do Singapore history?’ ”

Soon after his return to a postdoctoral fellowship at the National University of Singapore (NUS), a historic windfall came his way: the British government declassified its archive for the tumultuous year of 1963 in Singapore and Malaya when the two self-governing former colonies were moving to join up in the new, pro-Western nation of Malaysia, standing against the communist tide sweeping South-East Asia.

It contained documents about Operation Coldstore, the sweep by Singapore’s Special Branch in February 1963 to detain more than 100 politicians, trade unionists and activists without trial, ostensibly to prevent the underground Malayan Communist Party instigating unrest to hinder the formation of Malaysia.

From these documents, Thum found the proof of what many had long suspected: that then Chief Minister Lee Kuan Yew mounted Coldstore chiefly to nobble the leftist opposition party, Barisan Sosialis, looming as a serious challenge to his People’s Action Party (PAP) in forthcoming elections. The archive shows Lee virtually admitting as much to British officials. It set a pattern of ruthless use of communist scares and preventive detention powers that Lee employed for decades.

As he wrote and talked about these findings, Thum soon got the answer to his question about who would write Singaporean history.

“Only someone brave or stupid enough,” he says. “Here it is almost career suicide to do Singapore history, because eventually you run into the problem of either you have to censor yourself in Singapore or you leave Singapore and you enter an industry which is not interested nowadays in this sort of niche history.”

Within a year, a senior NUS administrator pulled him aside. “I am not supposed to tell you this, but a directive has come down from the top,” the official said. “You’re blacklisted: no renewal, no extension, no new contract. You’d better make plans.”

Thum went back to Oxford, then returned to Singapore with funding from the Open Society Foundations of George Soros and other donations big and small to start New Naratif, a web platform for research, journalism and art in South-East Asia.

In Singapore he is not alone in myth-busting. In 2014, he contributed to the book Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, which queried many PAP narratives. It regarded meritocracy as a cover for elitism and groupthink; low taxes and migrant labour benefiting the wealthy and punishing ordinary locals; the purchase of government flats a trap rather than economic security.

The writers saw themselves as helping point Singapore to a more sustainable prosperity, explains co-author Donald Low, an economist and former finance ministry official, in what seemed at the time a new era of flexibility and contested policy on the part of the PAP.

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In 2011, in the economic doldrums after the global financial crisis, voters gave the party and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew – a severe shock. The PAP vote dropped by 6.5 points to 60 per cent, the lowest since 1963. The Workers Party gained six of the 87 seats, the best opposition result since Singapore broke from Malaysia in 1965. In a separate presidential election, a widely liked maverick came close to beating the PAP’s preferred candidate.

Lee responded with social policy reforms, hints of openness and some humble gestures, notably cutting his own salary by 36 per cent to $S2.2 million and that of his ministers to $S1.1 million. The PAP has long argued that these salaries, still the highest in the world for elected officials, are necessary to attract top talent and lessen corrupt temptations.

However, in 2015, Lee Kuan Yew died, aged 91. After an effusion of national mourning his son called a snap election, in which the PAP vote rebounded to nearly 70 per cent. “The result of 2015 removed whatever impetus or pressure there was, both within and without,” Low tells me, over beers and another local adaptation of British cuisine, crispy-toasted Spam. “The reform appetite has completely gone out the window in Singapore in the last three years.”

Dig deeper, he says, and Singaporeans are far from the “crazy rich Asians” of this year’s hit film set in the glittering south side of the island, with its heritage hotels, fusion cuisine and rooftop infinity pools.

For a few, the island is like this. A bungalow sold last month for $S95 million, reflecting the top-end wealth created by income tax rates that plateau at 22 per cent at $S320,000 a year and the absence of capital gains or inheritance taxes. IT start-ups are thriving. British inventor James Dyson has just chosen Singapore to manufacture his new electric car.

For the rest, things are pretty stagnant. Citizens are now only about 60 per cent of the 5.6 million population, their wages and job openings depressed by workers imported from the wider region. The 85 per cent living in Housing and Development Board flats that they have been persuaded to buy have seen values flatten. They are likely to decline steadily once their “ownership” gets to the halfway point of what are actually 99-year leases.

Low and Thum see few responses coming out of the PAP now.

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The fall of the similar-vintage United Malays National Organisation in Malaysia’s election this year has been a new shock. Under the returned Mahathir Mohamad, Kuala Lumpur is breaking its mould, ending capital punishment while Singapore steps up its hanging, winding back ethnic Malay privilege, and exposing how Goldman Sachs bankers, some based in Singapore, helped loot the 1MDB fund of billions.

It’s attracting some envy. “Because really we are the same country,” Thum said. “We just got split up by politicians who couldn’t get along. There are so many similarities that Singaporeans look north and see a society that looks so similar to ours but is heading in a different direction, with hope and vision, things that we lack.”

Singapore’s problem is ennui, not massive scandal. PAP leaders look back, arguing about who best embodies Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy. In the 2015 election one even boasted about the lack of promises, since promises can be broken.

Lee Hsien Loong is only 66 and highly competent, but looks older than his years, after overcoming two types of cancer, then fainting while speaking at a national day rally two years ago. He has said he will retire at 70, so the next election, widely expected to be next year, will be his last before handing over.

But to whom? The consensus is that a third-generation Lee family member, such as the Prime Minister’s pushy second son Li Hongyi, an IT specialist, could be a risk, especially after a public family squabble about the disposal of Lee Kuan Yew’s old house that diminished the dynastic aura.

The alternative comes down to three candidates among younger ministers, with senior military rank and closeness to Lee Hsien Loong their main selling points inside the party. “They’re all bland, interchangeable, boring, uninspiring male Chinese,” Thum says. “The problem is compounded by the fact there is a clear, popular leader that Singaporeans want.”

This is current Deputy Prime Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, 61. A former head of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and later Finance Minister, he is credited with the post-2011 reforms that helped the PAP rebound in 2015. But he was then shifted into a vague coordinating role in cabinet.

There is more history here. In 1987, Lee Kuan Yew used internal security powers again, in Operation Spectrum, to detain 22 young Catholic social activists, some of whom, after soft torture, confessed on TV to having been unwitting tools of the communists. Studying at the London School of Economics, Shanmugaratnam had mixed with one of the detainees, and an exiled Singaporean leftist lawyer, Tan Wah Piow. “I can only speculate that the PAP feels that Tharman is a useful tool but he can’t be trusted to lead because he will take Singapore in a very different direction, especially one away from the Lee family,” Thum said.

And of course, he is of Tamil descent. As Flinders University political scientist Michael Barr wrote in his recent book The Ruling Elite of Singapore: “Today the ideal Singaporean is no longer an English-educated Singaporean, but an English- and Mandarin-speaking Chinese.” Lee Kuan Yew got the PAP hooked on the notion that only strong individuals, like the ideal Confucian junzi (righteous gentleman), could preserve the nation, not strong and independent institutions.

Meanwhile, the PAP leadership plays it by its time-tested book of legal action against opposition figures: for defamation, contempt and sometimes minute financial irregularities, such as using office stationery for private purposes.

Three MPs of the Workers Party are in court facing charges of financial laxity in the local council they also run, with the government-owned media breaking away from what Low calls its usual “Panglossian cheerleading” to give the trial reams of coverage.

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Even a stalwart of Lee Kuan Yew’s era, diplomat and “Asian values” proponent Kishore Mahbubani, fell foul of the system. His offence was an op-ed, after Chinese officials blocked the Hong Kong transit of Singapore armoured vehicles being shipped back from exercises in Taiwan, saying that small countries had to put up with such things. He was removed as dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS.

In March, Thum himself appeared before the Singapore parliament’s Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods, to argue among other things that a government defending Operation Coldstore had its own problems with truth. He found his academic credentials questioned for six hours in what was clearly a prepared ambush by the law and home affairs minister, K. Shanmugam, the government’s main political attack dog.

Still, history does have its rewards. After one talk, a man in the audience approached Thum. He had been a Coldstore detainee: the stigma of being a communist dupe had remained after his release. Now Thum had shown there was no such evidence. “The man said that because of my work, he can look his wife and children in the eye,” Thum said. “He said: ‘P.J., you’ve given me my pride and my dignity back.’ I will never forget the privilege to be able to make someone’s life better like that.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 10, 2018 as “Singapore sting”.

 

Hamish McDonald  is The Saturday Paper’s world editor.

People voted for a newer Malaysia, not racialised Politics 2.0


November 1, 2018

People voted for a newer Malaysia,  Ketuanan Melayu 2.0

Image result for new melayu hilang di dunia

20th Century Mindset in A 21st  Century 4th Industrial Revolution Pluralist Era–The Kris Vs Technology and Innovation

“The voters in GE-14 voted for a new Malaysia. Equal opportunity in education, lessening of race-based politics, abolishing of tolls and whatever that was promised by the then opposition, the “Coalition of Hope” of the Mahathir-led campaign against kleptocracy and the materially, morally and ideologically corrupt regime of Najib.

At least that was the promise which then turned into a primarily false one, leaving the voters feeling lied to and short-changed”–Dr. Azly Rahman

Opinion  |
by Dr. Azly Rahman*

COMMENT | As we read about the “Operasi Lalang 2.0” or “Weed-Out-the-Corrupt Campaign of the New Regime” at play and in full throttle as in the McCarthyism of our cultural sensibility, as we see more leaders hauled up to be tried for grand theft, money-laundering and for bankrupting and corroding society, we ask: what next in this metamorphosis and game of political karma we are to see?

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All these against the backdrop of talks of the third car project, crooked bridge, political-party border-crossings, renewed demands to strengthen Malay rights, postponed promises, and to rebrand fundamentalist Islamic identity in preparation for the challenges posed by the super liberals and the LGBT. What will the new coalition transform into in a country whose political parties are addicted to a race-based ideology?

Then, there is the crucial issue of a newer UMNO and newer BN emerging, with talk of 40 UMNO MPs crossing over to Bersatu. There was also the latest statement by a minister that Ketuanan Melayu will end soon, replaced by the idea of making every Malaysian prosperous. Then the idea was immediately repudiated by another minister, a former Deputy prime Minister in the regime of the Najib Abdul Razak.

I have a sense that the latest developments in the continuing chaos produced in PKR, the seemingly silent DAP in addressing the issues the party once opposed, the talk of a new Indian party, and, of course, the strengthening and enlarging of Bersatu – all this points not only to the emergence of a BN reloaded, a 2.0 version of Malaysia’s race-based politics.

I might be wrong. We shall observe the developments. We may even see more “Kajang Moves”, cross-overs, and more intense struggle for power within and amongst the coalition parties.

Image result for new UMNO?

The voters in GE14 voted for a new Malaysia. Equal opportunity in education, lessening of race-based politics, abolishing of tolls and whatever that was promised by the then opposition, the “Coalition of Hope” of the Mahathir-led campaign against kleptocracy and the materially, morally and ideologically corrupt regime of Najib.

At least that was the promise which then turned into a primarily false one, leaving the voters feeling lied to and short-changed.

The hope for the non-Malays, non-bumiputera to stop being treated as second-class citizens in the land called Malaysia they and their parents and grandparents, too, toiled for will not be realised after all. The rhetoric of today’s new Malaysia is the same old rhetoric of keeping the status quo alive.

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DAP is the New MCA?–The Silent Partner in Pakatan Harapan

This means that there will be no push for the idea of “Malaysian Malaysia” and equal opportunities in education, especially for all non-Malays. Hope buried. When the new coalition has transformed into a newer version of the old politics, the non-Malays can expect another five decades of racialised politics affecting the future of their children.

This is not a grim view of what I see developing. I am sure some of my esteemed readers, too, share a similar perspective of a hope for the triumph of multiculturalism dashing. Unless the Harapan government can, in unison, with consistency and as a policy, state its commitment to make Malaysia a place in which no Malaysian will be left behind.

Where are we heading?

Back to Umno and its sudden death. The talk about more UMNO MPs leaving for Bersatu is of concern for those who voted for hope and for real change.

But what will replace UMNO in this time of a “new Malaysia” in which race and religion continues to be the strongest force for the current regime as well, to continue policies inspired by her own apartheid system of divide and conquer with wealth, power, hegemony, and ideology as the hybrid of authoritarianism, continue to glue the still-cognitively unliberated society?

The question remains: what kind of Malaysian Malaysia do we wish to see? How will a rebranded Umno be an obstacle to this?

The key to dealing with any rot from happening is to educate for change. If the change we wish to see is for a Malaysia for all Malaysians, education, as the only means for a sustainable cognitive, cultural, personal and social progress should be the one taking lead.

When politics continues to travel the trajectory of ethnocentrism and only pays lip-service to multi-culturalism and the restructuring of society through a philosophy of education based on a truly Malaysian reconstructionism, we will fail as a people.

Education needs to step in and correct the political conveyor belt, changing course. As it is now, we are not seeing the Ministry of Education committed to producing such a change to reverse the major aspects of discrimination in the various levels of schooling. The issues of class, caste, race, religion and privilege is not addressed systemically.

Like many, I am concerned with the disjuncture between politics, education, economy, and national unity. There is an unhealthy development in the way party-politics is moving.

Our concerns may turn into fear of yet another wave of chaos as parties and followers and consumers of ideology and real and fake news alike prepare for another general election that will only bring stagnancy, not change.

Where are we heading? What then must we do to drum into the new regime that race-based politics should no longer be allowed to rear its ugly head?


*Dr. AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. More writings here.

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

Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.


September 7, 2018

Tough Love: Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.

by Zainah Anwar

http://www.thestar.com.my

THIS time last year, I wrote about my longing for a better Malaysia, and how my utter belief that this was possible would always triumph over my many moments of despair. There was just too much good in this country for us to ever give up hope.

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And this year, as we celebrate our 61st year of Merdeka, I am simply thrilled. Thrilled that what most people thought was impossible, became possible. Malaysia bucked the global trend and voted into power a reformist government, throwing out a kleptocratic government and a ruling party that had held uninterrupted power since independence in 1957.

The election of a reform-minded government that believes in an inclusive Malaysia and eschews the use of race and religion for political gain does not of course mean we are home free. It is important that we who voted for change remain vigilant that the Pakatan Harapan government delivers on its promises of transformation. And to do this transparently and in consultation with stakeholders.

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Malaysia’s autocrat turned reformer: at 93 can he deliver?

Politicians and voters now realise the power of the ballot box. It cannot be business as usual, replacing one set of economic and political elites with another set whose priorities will be to divide the spoils of victory.

As we welcome the first Merdeka and Malaysia Day under this new Malaysia, I have many wishes for the kind of country I want to live in.

First, I wish to see our ministers summon the political will and courage, and build their knowledge and strategies on how to deliver their reform agenda. And not least, how to stand their ground and defend what is just and what is right, in the face of opposition. We in civil society are tired of seeing too many ministers over the decades retreating in the face of criticism from ideologues, instead of defending a principled position.

Many NGOs, activists, academics, professionals who have long been working on issues such as human rights, women’s rights, education reform, poverty eradication, and economic justice, stand ready to support this government with the kinds of data, analysis, policy instruments, arguments and strategies needed to deliver on the reform agenda and build public support for this urgent necessity for change.

We want to see this government succeed in making this country a just home for all. We pray this government does not squander that goodwill.

Second, I wish to live in a kinder, compassionate, more humane Malaysia. It pains me to see the frenzy of hate, attacks, violence, demonisation of the LGBTIQ community in the country. Why this obsession with another citizen’s sexual orientation and gender identity? The debate is not about same-sex marriage or even about the halal or haram of their sexuality. It is about the right of LGBTIQ people to freedom of movement, their right to work, to health and to live a life free from violence. Why should that be contentious? They are citizens of this country and entitled to the same fundamental rights that other citizens enjoy.

It is obvious that the issue has been whipped up as a political tactic to generate hate and fear, spearheaded by those opposed to the reform agenda of the new government. So they stir up controversies in order to rebuild lost ground. And politicians fearful of losing popular support cave in, so quickly, so easily, so thoughtlessly.

How could a small, oppressed, and discriminated community who actually live in fear on a daily basis, and who long to live in peace and dignity ever pose a threat to Malaysian society? How could an all-knowing compassionate God ever condone cruelty against his own creations just because they are different? So let’s be confident in our faith and believe that if God really wanted all of us to be the same, he would have done so.

Third, I wish to see an end to corruption that has been long fuelled by the intricate web of business and politics in this country. Professor Terrence Gomez’s just released research findings on Government in Business reveal a mind-boggling labyrinth of thousands of GLCs at federal and state levels, most of them unlisted and thus, unscrutinised. There are of course GLCs that are professionally run. But many also serve as tools of patronage and as vehicles to provide politicians with monthly directors’ fees to support their political ambition – at best.

At worst, official investigations and media revelations of outright corruption, criminal breach of trust, and asset stripping display a spectacle of unbelievable greed and betrayal of trust.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed himself has called such GLCs “monsters” that have deviated from their original noble intention of helping the poor.

The Head of the Council of Eminent Persons, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has promised that this time the government wants to get it right in delivering its bumiputra empowerment policy.

We all wait with bated breath, for this country cannot endure, economically, politically and socially, yet more decades of affirmative action on the basis of race rather than need, and all the consequent distortions and abuses that had benefited the economic and political elites.

Fourth, I wish to live in a country where the political leaders and the citizens embrace our diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. And to walk the talk. It is imperative that the new government sets the tone that it will not tolerate further manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays and supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion to incite hatred and fear of “others”.

This country was on the verge of implosion, and it was the wisdom of the rakyat that saved us, when with courage we voted into power a reformist party.

I was in Bangkok last week to give a talk on identity politics in South-East Asia together with speakers from Indonesia and Myanmar. They were depressed about the political developments in their countries, and my optimism on Malaysia was tempered by the reality that they too had earlier voted in reformist leaders who have now succumbed to the politics of race and religion in order to remain in power.

But I would like to believe that Malaysia is different as we have strong antecedent resources that will put us in good stead in moving forward on a reform agenda. Most importantly is the entrenched belief that this country cannot survive nor prosper without the three major races accepting each other and learning to give and take in sharing equitably the wealth of the nation. It can never be a winner take all game in Malaysia.

Second, we have a significant minority population. This means there is a limit to how far the majority group can use race and religion to serve the interest of the ruling elite, before paying a high political cost for its relentless transgressions, or complicity in its inaction and silence.

Third, while things are far from perfect, our long record of economic growth, poverty reduction, and strong state apparatus put us in good stead that a more open and robust democracy will not be destabilising, and can lead to a more inclusive Malaysia.

Moreover, a large educated Malaysian middle-class and a strong business community eschew any hint of violence or chaos or extremism, and there is a growing critical mass of voters, not least from among the young, who expect their freedoms and rights to be upheld.

And more than anything, the rakyat feel very precious about what we have achieved. As much as we are willing to give Pakatan Harapan the support it needs and the time, too, to deliver on its reform agenda, we have learnt from the mistakes made in the past. We are no longer willing to acquiesce in silence in the wrongdoings and abuses in powerful places, in return for stability and prosperity.

This is the new Malaysia where it will be tough love for all.

Our Infant Information Revolution


June 15, 2018

Our Infant Information Revolution

 

In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that advances in computers and communications would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s 1984. Today, billions of people have eagerly put Big Brother in their pockets.

Toddler concentrated with a tablet

 

CAMBRIDGE – It is frequently said that we are experiencing an information revolution. But what does that mean, and where is the revolution taking us?

Information revolutions are not new. In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press launched the era of mass communication. Our current revolution, which began in Silicon Valley in the 1960s, is bound up with Moore’s Law: the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every couple of years.

Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.–Joseph S. Nye

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, computing power cost one-thousandth of what it did in the early 1970s. Now the Internet connects almost everything. In mid-1993, there were about 130 websites in the world; by 2000, that number had surpassed 15 million. Today, more than 3.5 billion people are online; experts project that, by 2020, the “Internet of Things” will connect 20 billion devices. Our information revolution is still in its infancy.

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The key characteristic of the current revolution is not the speed of communications; instantaneous communication by telegraph dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The crucial change is the enormous reduction in the cost of transmitting and storing information. If the price of an automobile had declined as rapidly as the price of computing power, one could buy a car today for the same price as a cheap lunch. When a technology’s price declines so rapidly, it becomes widely accessible, and barriers to entry fall. For all practical purposes, the amount of information that can be transmitted worldwide is virtually infinite.

The cost of information storage has also declined dramatically, enabling our current era of big data. Information that once would fill a warehouse now fits in your shirt pocket.

In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that the computers and communications of the current information revolution would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Big Brother would monitor us from a central computer, making individual autonomy meaningless.

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Instead, as the cost of computing power has decreased and computers have shrunk to the size of smart phones, watches, and other portable devices, their decentralizing effects have complemented their centralizing effects, enabling peer-to-peer communication and mobilization of new groups. Yet, ironically, this technological trend has also decentralized surveillance: billions of people nowadays voluntarily carry a tracking device that continually violates their privacy as it searches for cell towers. We have put Big Brother in our pockets.

Likewise, ubiquitous social media generate new transnational groups, but also create opportunities for manipulation by governments and others. Facebook connects more than two billion people, and, as Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election showed, these connections and groups can be exploited for political ends. Europe has tried to establish rules for privacy protection with its new General Data Protection Regulation, but its success is still uncertain. In the meantime, China is combining surveillance with the development of social credit rankings that will restrict personal freedoms such as travel.

Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.

This does not mean the end of the nation-state. Governments remain the most powerful actors on the global stage; but the stage has become more crowded, and many of the new players can compete effectively in the realm of soft power. A powerful navy is important in controlling sea-lanes; but it does not provide much help on the Internet. In nineteenth-century Europe, the mark of a great power was its ability to prevail in war, but, as the American analyst John Arquilla has pointed out, in today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.

Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.

When people are overwhelmed by the volume of information confronting them, it is hard to know what to focus on. Attention, not information, becomes the scarce resource. The soft power of attraction becomes an even more vital power resource than in the past, but so does the hard, sharp power of information warfare. And as reputation becomes more vital, political struggles over the creation and destruction of credibility multiply. Information that appears to be propaganda may not only be scorned, but may also prove counterproductive if it undermines a country’s reputation for credibility.

During the Iraq War, for example, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in a manner inconsistent with America’s declared values led to perceptions of hypocrisy that could not be reversed by broadcasting images of Muslims living well in America. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s tweets that prove to be demonstrably false undercut American credibility and reduce its soft power.

Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.–Joseph S. Nye

The effectiveness of public diplomacy is judged by the number of minds changed (as measured by interviews or polls), not dollars spent. It is interesting to note that polls and the Portland index of the Soft Power 30 show a decline in American soft power since the beginning of the Trump administration. Tweets can help to set the global agenda, but they do not produce soft power if they are not credible.

Now the rapidly advancing technology of artificial intelligence or machine learning is accelerating all of these processes. Robotic messages are often difficult to detect. But it remains to be seen whether credibility and a compelling narrative can be fully automated.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Is the American Century Over?

 

The Unending Journey towards being Malaysian


May 24, 2018

by Zairil Khir Johari

The Unending Journey towards being Malaysian

...in Malaysia today there seems to be a renewed prejudice towards migrant communities, even those who have settled for generations and should no longer be considered anything other than part of Malaysian society. Instead of treating our fellow citizens as one of our own, there are efforts to ban Malay words from being used by non-Malays, as well as the unconstitutional suppression of rights of non-Malays to religious expression.–Zairil Khir Johari

Nearly 1,400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad and his small band of followers left Mecca, where the fledgling Muslim community was increasingly persecuted and oppressed, for Yathrib (later renamed Medina), a city 320km to the north.

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God Help Malaysia if these guys are our warriors inherited from the Najib Era

This journey has come to be known as the Hijrah, an epochal event that not only marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar, but also the consolidation of the first Muslim community. It was from the success of this migration that the small community was able to grow and blossom into what it is today – representatives of the world’s second largest and fastest-growing religion.

Taken literally, hijrah means migration, the physical movement of people from one place to another. But hijrah also carries a spiritual and existential meaning, connoting a search for something better – be it to further one’s career, to develop one’s talent, to seek a better life and, in some cases, even for something as basic as survival. In other words, hijrah can be taken to mean a journey towards betterment, whether personal or collective.

Hijrah is not a concept removed from our own society and civilisation. South-East Asia is a maritime region consisting of 25,000 islands and with a peninsula peppered by vast riverine networks, and so our forefathers were constantly on the move. If today’s world is said to be borderless in the metaphorical sense, the Malay Archipelago could be said to be one in the literal sense.

The Inclusive Malay World

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The 1Malaysia Bugis Warrior

In fact, it would not be inaccurate to say that society back then had no historical need or cognisance of borders. This conclusion can be gleaned from studying the literary manuscripts of yore, such as Hikayat Hang Tuah, Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, the Malay Annals and Misa Melayu, among others. There may have been a complex and mature network of international trade, and along with it constant interaction with sailors and merchants from all corners of the world, but nowhere in the writings is there a reference to the notion of orang asing, or foreigners – at least not in the way we understand it today.

Instead, the term used to describe migrants or people who had journeyed from other territories was orang dagang. While one may ascribe this expression to mean merchants, the classic texts actually use the term saudagar for that purpose. Thus, orang dagang refers not to transient traders, but travellers who, having settled in a new territory, assimilate themselves by contributing their work, energy and loyalty to the collective social and economic development of their new community. In short, migrants were very much embraced as part of society and not seen as outsiders or the proverbial “other”.

This concept has its modern parallel in what we would describe today as citizenship, albeit in a more progressive and encompassing way. A citizen after all is someone who, in addition to being an inhabitant of a particular state, is also a legally recognised member of that state and therefore subject to whatever incumbent rights, duties and obligations that are provided for. But as modern states did not exist then, recognition of the orang dagang was less legalistic and not so narrowly defined. Rather, they were simply accepted as productive members of the community.

Indeed, there were also no real political borders. While there did exist the concept of hamba raja, which refers to a ruler’s liege subjects, it was not a permanent relationship because people were free to shift their loyalties to another ruler, depending on where they happened to be. Kingdoms had no defined borders and a ruler’s territory only stretched as far as his influence.

Now, there was indeed a term used to describe outsiders, but it did not refer to foreign travellers or traders who offered their wares and services – these as we have established were the orang dagang. Instead, if we are to use Hikayat Hang Tuah as an example, the term orang luar is used in every instance to refer to invaders, namely the Portuguese who were also called the Ferringi. These orang luar were seen as arrogant and unwilling to honour local culture and customs. They were therefore cast in negative light, as the following excerpt shows:

“Seketika juga maka Feringgi itu pun habislah; yang ada hidup semuanya habis lari terbit keluar kota. Maka diturut bunuh oleh segala orang luar itu, habis mati semuanya Feringgi itu.” Hikayat Hang Tuah Tuah, 524:38

The passage above speaks of the defeat of the Ferringi (Portuguese), with survivors having fled the city of Malacca. The remaining orang luar (outsiders), who were the Portuguese, were then wiped out.

A Region of Migrants

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It is also interesting to note that in the Malay language, people are central to the concept of territory. In fact, the Malay term for region or territory, i.e. rantau, includes elements of migration and mobility. When rantau is conjugated as a verb, merantau, it takes on the meaning of traveling. Hence, the word rantau refers to both geography and the movement of people – something that has no English equivalent.

Although the concept and practice of merantau is often said to be particular to the Minangkabau community of West Sumatra, in truth it was normal practice throughout the entire Malay Archipelago, as we have already explored through the etymology of the term orang dagang.

It should come then as no surprise that the establishment of the famed Malacca Sultanate had its origins in the migration of asylum seekers. If we recall our history lessons, the founder of Malacca, Parameswara, was in fact an exiled prince of Palembang who after failing to establish a safe haven in Temasek (now known as Singapore) had no choice but to merantau further to finally settle in Malacca.

 

Learning from History

History is full of lessons for us to draw from. To be sure, circumstances then and now differ vastly, and the borderless societies that fabled characters such as Hang Tuah and Parameswara lived in have long been replaced by modern nation-states with clear borders and complex legal regimes.

However, by deconstructing some of these key concepts, we find that the ancient Malay world was in fact a very inclusive one – a far cry from the narrow and shallow narratives that pervade our country today. Migrants or orang dagang were welcomed and accepted, so long as they chose to contribute to the society. The only people who were considered to be real outsiders were aggressive invaders who sought to impose foreign values at gunpoint.

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Gurney Drive, Penang, where pendatangs hang out

Unfortunately, in Malaysia today there seems to be a renewed prejudice towards migrant communities, even those who have settled for generations and should no longer be considered anything other than part of Malaysian society. Instead of treating our fellow citizens as one of our own, there are efforts to ban Malay words from being used by non-Malays, as well as the unconstitutional suppression of rights of non-Malays to religious expression.

It must be stressed that these bigoted actions are not only wrong but also antithetical to Malay culture. In fact, it goes against the very grain of Malay history, which paints the Malay world to be a migrant one, where even the Malay identity itself is a very fluid concept. According to great scholars of Malay studies such as Anthony Milner, Malayness is not defined so much by descent or bloodline than it is by culture and civilisation. In other words, Malayness is not an ethnicity but a culture, and a very liberal and accommodative one at that.

A Never-ending Journey for Improvement

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In the year 622 AD, the original Muslims who followed the Prophet Muhammad on the Hijrah did so to seek greener pastures. They did so for their own survival, and for better opportunities. But the Hijrah did not end when they settled in Medina. In fact, it can be argued that it has not really ended – that it is a continuous journey, a migration in search of improvement, be it physical or spiritual.

And so the journey goes on for us here in Malaysia. In keeping with the traditions of our forefathers, we should continue to derive strength from the ever-evolving diversity of our society. This fact should be celebrated and not exploited as a cause for division. Whatever our roots, whether we have indigenous ancestry or whether we are descended from migrants or orang dagang, we are all Malaysians.

Zairil Khir Johari is Senior Fellow of Penang Institute.