Will David Malpass be a malady for multilateralism?


February 18, 2019

Will David Malpass be a malady for multilateralism?

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http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/15/will-malpass-be-a-malady-for-multilateralism/
by  Peter McCawley, ANU
 

In early January 2019, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim made the startling announcement that he is resigning. Reports suggested that the United States would nominate senior US Treasury official David Malpass for the post. Soon after, Donald Trump officially nominated him. 

Now that he has US backing, the chances are that he will quickly get the job. In principle, the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank is committed to an internationally competitive selection process. As soon as Jim Kim announced his resignation, the board issued a list of Selection Principles proposing five key criteria to be considered. The list, which was a good one, includes having a proven track record of leadership, the ability to articulate a clear vision for the World Bank’s development mission and an appreciation for multilateral cooperation.

It’s a good try. But the board’s effort will almost certainly fail. The United States has come to regard the World Bank post as a gift from the US President. The Trump administration doubtless expects that the board will confirm Malpass as World Bank president without too much fuss.

Malpass has a solid Republican background. He worked in the Reagan and HW Bush administrations, had a career on Wall Street working for the Bear Stearns global investment bank before it collapsed in 2008, and ran (unsuccessfully) in a Republican primary in New York for the US Senate in 2010.

More recently he worked as an economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign and was appointed as Undersecretary for International Affairs at the US Treasury Department in 2017.

Since joining the Treasury Department, Malpass has been an outspoken sceptic of both multilateralism and, more specifically, of the World Bank’s activities. In an extended interview in 2017 he outlined the Trump administration’s view that ‘multilateralism has gone substantially too far’. One of the problems of the multilateral system, he said, is that it ‘often drifts away from our values of limited government, freedom, and the rule of law’.

Malpass was also critical of the World Bank’s program of lending to China. He said that it ‘doesn’t make sense’ for China to receive money borrowed in the United States, using the US government guarantee, when Beijing has ‘plenty of resources’ of its own and access to capital markets.

Views of this sort reflect boilerplate Republican approaches to international agencies such as the World Bank. They will nevertheless dismay staff of the World Bank, many of whom were bewildered by the nature of Jim Kim’s abrupt departure.

It may be that not too much should be made of Malpass’ tough language. Senior US Treasury officials — Republican and Democrat alike — have a long track record of growling at the World Bank and pounding the table during international negotiations over funding. They need to demonstrate to their colleagues around Washington and especially to Congress that they are protecting US foreign policy interests.

Neither are their criticisms always unreasonable. It is certainly true that the World Bank and numerous other international agencies have fat that can be trimmed. It is also true that many of these agencies are subject to ‘mission creep’ and that close reviews of their work programs are often useful.

If and when Malpass takes up the post as President of the World Bank, he will find himself in charge of a sprawling bureaucracy that contains many internal fiefdoms. He will face much resistance to change, both from within the World Bank and from many of the 189 member countries that belong to it — including, no doubt, China.

Hopefully Malpass will balance scepticism with enthusiasm as president. His faith in US benevolence should help bolster him in his work. In the same 2017 interview, he explained that it is in the United States’ ‘own self-interest’ as a global leader to see neighbours do well.

If he can apply principles of this kind to his new job, Malpass might come to leave his mark as one of the more successful presidents of the World Bank.

Peter McCawley is Honorary Associate Professor in the Crawford School at the Australian National University. He is formerly an Australian Executive Director on the Board of the Asian Development Bank in Manila.

How effective is the Economic Affairs Ministry?


Fsbruary1, 2019

How effective is the Economic Affairs Ministry?

Opinion

 by Nathaniel Tan

 

COMMENT | Universiti Malaya Professor Terence Gomez recently wrote an article entitled ‘Patronage is king in new Malaysia?’

This article elicited a rather rare response from the usually reclusive and enigmatic former finance minister, Daim Zainuddin, who registered his umbrage about having his photo printed (“reporting by innuendo”, allegedly) alongside Gomez’s article in The Star.

One of Gomez’s key questions involved the moving of key federal agencies from one ministry to another under Pakatan Harapan.

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad created the new Economic Affairs Ministry under PKR deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali just a few weeks after forming the government last year.

Gomez did not appear to directly question the formation of this ministry and the rationale for doing so, but Daim seemed quick to jump to its defence, writing:

“The cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister; who he appoints and what portfolio they hold is entirely his prerogative. He can even have a minister in charge of durians if he so wishes, if he considers that a portfolio of durians is good for his administration and the country.”

Trying to play amateur psychologist should perhaps be frowned upon, but the defensiveness and sarcasm of these words might perhaps be interpreted as Gomez having hit a little close to home.

In his short piece, Daim was also quick to defend the ‘bumiputera agenda’: “The bumiputra agenda is mutually inclusive with a national agenda. For as long as we do not solve the bumiputra issue, we can never go forward as a nation.”

We must, of course, be fair. Nothing that Daim is saying in the above quotes is technically wrong, or even particularly bad.

The Prime Minister does indeed have every power to create or dissolve ministries as he sees fit, and bumiputera prosperity is not mutually exclusive with Malaysian prosperity.

All that said, it may be worthwhile for us to read a little between the lines to understand what undercurrents are at play here.

Why an Economic Affairs Ministry?

To my shame, I must admit that I was for a long time a little bit confused about the rationale of creating the Economic Affairs Ministry in the first place.

As time went by, I realised that said rationale should have been obvious to anyone deigning to consider themselves a seasoned political observer.

The answer becomes clear when we look at a sampling of which federal agencies were transferred from Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng’s ministry to Azmin’s portfolio: Felda, Felcra, Unit Peneraju Agenda Bumiputera, Yayasan Amanah Hartanah Bumiputera, and Yayasan Peneraju Pendidikan Bumiputera, just to name a few.

Azmin’s ministry also convened the Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation in September last year.

The facts suggest that there were elements who felt uncomfortable with placing the agencies mentioned and all the power that came with them above under the aegis of someone with a surname like “Lim.”

Political ambitions as a distraction

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There is one more element here at play. It may not have been a coincidence that Azmin was handpicked to lead this carved-out ministry.

The enduring focus of political speculation and gossip in Malaysia is whether or not PKR President Anwar Ibrahim will succeed Mahathir as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, some might say that the enduring focus of Daim’s vision for a future Malaysia is one in which Anwar is not prime Minister.

The mutual dislike between these men is not much of a secret. In the early days after GE14, both made thinly veiled attacks against one another.

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Anyone looking to prevent Anwar from becoming Prime Minister would naturally look to alternatives. Azmin of course is an obvious option, given the increasing animosity playing out between Azmin and Anwar.

The available facts and public positions taken by each respective party does make it look like there is some Azmin-Daim partnership manoeuvering to try and put forward Azmin as a successor to Mahathir instead of Anwar.

The disproportionate amount of Mahathir-friendly content on Azmin’s Twitter timeline and Daim’s reputation as someone inclined to project considerable influence (‘meddle’ is the less kind word some might use) in various spheres of governance all add to this perception.

The stakes in this game are high of course – literally the highest, where Malaysian politics is concerned. So it should come as no surprise that a lot of energy and resources go into the political manouvering at play.

Getting back on track

A few days ago, a piece of tragic, shocking news emerged, where two elderly ladies in Pudu died in a mini-stampede at the wet market over a rush to get coupons for free food.

Amidst all our politicking, this was a sobering reminder of the (literal) life and death realities Malaysians are facing on the ground.

Whatever his political ambitions, and whether or not his entire ministry was created amidst racial concerns, people like Azmin and others are all capable of playing a big role in facilitating much-needed growth in our economy.

Doing so, however, will require him and the rest of those in power to hunker down and really focus on finding solutions.

If we fail to do so, we put the welfare of those like the two ladies in Pudu, and millions of other Malaysians with them, at severe risk.


NATHANIEL TAN is Director of Media and Communications at EMIR Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation and Rigour.

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

FOCUS On POVERTY alleviation, not income creation for billionaires–Mahathir’s outdated policy prescriptions


January 16, 2019

FOCUS On POVERTY alleviation, not billionaires —Mahathir’s outdated policy prescriptions

by P. Gunasegaram

Image result for the malaysian maverick by barry wain

QUESTION TIME | When Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad sank low to say that wealth should be distributed equally among races, he indicated plainly that he has no solid plan to increase incomes and alleviate poverty for all Malays and Malaysians. His priorities are elsewhere.

Note that he talks about the distribution of wealth, not increasing incomes, which is more important because this is what will eventually result in a proper redistribution of wealth by valuing fairly everyone’s contribution  to wealth creation.

During his time as Prime Minister previously for a very long 22 years from 1981 to 2003 out of 46 years of independence at that time – nearly half the period of independence – he had plenty of opportunities, but squandered them.

He did not care for the common Malay, but was instead more focused on creating Malay billionaires overnight through the awarding of lucrative operations handled by the government or government companies previously, such as roads, power producers, telecommunications and others.

He depressed labour wages by bringing in millions of workers from Indonesia, and subsequently Bangladesh and the Philippines, to alter the religious balance in Sabah. A significant number of them became Malaysian citizens over the years, altering the overall racial and religious balance in the country.

By doing that he let his own race down, many of whom were workers and small entrepreneurs whose incomes were constrained by imported labour. Even now, Mahathir has not shown a great willingness to increase minimum wages, which will help many poor Malays and bumiputeras increase their incomes.

As Mahathir himself well knows, distribution is not an easy thing. Stakes held by others cannot be simply distributed, but they have to be sold, even if it is at depressed prices as it was under the New Economic Policy or NEP, when companies wanted to get listed.

Instant millionaires

There are not enough Malays rich enough to buy these stakes, but many of them in the Mahathir era and earlier, especially the connected elite, became rich by purchasing the 30 percent stakes for bumiputeras that had to be divested upon listing by taking bank loans.

By simply flipping the stakes on the market at a higher price after they were listed, they pocketed the difference and became instant millionaires.

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It was Mahathir’s brother-in-law – the straight, honest and capable Ismail Ali – who was the architect behind the setting up of Permodalan Nasional Bhd or PNB to hold in trust for bumiputera stakes in major companies. PNB now has funds of some RM280 billion and has been enormously successful in this respect.

But Mahathir, with advice from Daim Zainuddin who became his Finance Minister, still cultivated selected bumiputera leaders, many of them Daim’s cronies, and gave them plum deals. A slew of them who were terribly over-leveraged got into trouble during the 1997-1998 financial crisis.

The government, often through Khazanah Nasional Bhd, had to rescue some of the biggest ones, resulting in Khazanah holding key stakes in many companies such as Axiata, CIMB, PLUS and so on. Recently, the government has been talking about, not surprisingly, selling these stakes to investors, accusing Khazanah of not developing bumiputera entrepreneurship, which was not anywhere in its original aims.

It becomes more obvious what Mahathir is talking about. Redistribution of wealth now will come out of the selling of government (Khazanah) and PNB stakes to individual Malay entrepreneurs to equalise wealth distribution among the races. To make it more palatable, some willing Indian entrepreneurs, too, may be found.

The modus operandi will be to sell the stakes when prices are depressed and perhaps even to offer a bulk discount to these so-called entrepreneurs who, of course, will not only be among the elite, but who are cronies. That will ensure a steady flow of funds into Bersatu in future from donations to help make it the premier party in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

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Mahathir knows full well that equal wealth distribution is impossible – it’s never been done anywhere before and makes wealth acquisition disproportionate to intelligent effort and hard work, a sure recipe for inefficiency, corruption and patronage. As eloquently argued by prominent political economy professor Terence Gomez, patronage is king in new Malaysia – if it was cash during Najib’s time.

Mahathir does not have the wherewithal to lead anymore, if he ever had it in the first place. Eight months after GE14, he is still bereft of a plan to increase incomes and improve livelihoods. He needs to recognise he does not have one and that he stays in power because of the strength of the other parties in the coalition.

Wrong direction

The only way to close the wealth gap is to increase future incomes across all races. Anything else is the expropriation of other people’s wealth. In the meantime, the holding of wealth in trust by state agencies is perfectly acceptable because the income comes back to the government.

This can be wisely used to improve the quality of education, get better quality investments, raise productivity and hence labour wages, and provide equal opportunities for growth and innovation among all communities. As so many people have said before me, you can equalise opportunities, but not outcomes.

So far, 61 years of UMNO-BN have not managed to equalise opportunities for all as the government education system is in shambles, among others. And eight months of Harapan is heading in the wrong direction under Mahathir.

Despite Bersatu being a party expressly formed to fight for Malay rights, Mahathir’s party had the lowest support from Malays of parties looking after Malay rights, including Umno, PAS, PKR and Amanah.

He is still stuck in a mode to widen his rather narrow and vulnerable power base (his Bersatu won only 13 seats of 52 contested, the worst win rate of any party in the coalition) unethically by attracting tarnished MPs from Umno into the Bersatu fold, in the process willing to break agreements with other coalition partners and doing/advocating things which are against the principles of a properly functioning democracy.

He has also said he will not honour some manifesto promises, saying that these were made when Harapan did not expect to win the elections – a rather lame excuse. He has not even made solid moves to undo repressive laws introduced by his predecessor Najib Abdul Razak.

Mahathir, obviously, has no intention plan to improve the livelihood of the common Malay and all Malaysians;  he is stuck in old-school forced distribution which is injurious to the economy, maybe even fatal in the long term.

 Malaysians don’t want the creation of Malay (or any other ) billionaires from government wealth.


Old wine in a new bottle is still sour. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

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

 

 

DJT And His Team of Morons


January 15, 2019

DJT And His Team of Morons

DJT And His Team of Morons

by Paul Krugman

There have been many policy disasters over the course of U.S. history. It’s hard, however, to think of a calamity as gratuitous, an error as unforced, as the current federal shutdown.

Nor can I think of another disaster as thoroughly personal, as completely owned by one man. When Donald Trump told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, “I will be the one to shut it down,” he was being completely accurate — although he went on to promise that “I’m not going to blame you for it,” which was a lie.

Still, no man is an island, although Trump comes closer than most. You can’t fully make sense of his policy pratfalls without acknowledging the extraordinary quality of the people with whom he has surrounded himself. And by “extraordinary,” of course, I mean extraordinarily low quality. Lincoln had a team of rivals; Trump has a team of morons.

If this sounds too harsh, consider recent economic pronouncements by two members of his administration. Predictably, these pronouncements involve bad economics; that’s pretty much a given. What’s striking, instead, is the inability of either man to stay on script; they can’t even get their right-wing mendacity right.

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First up is Kevin Hassett, chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, who was asked about the plight of federal workers who aren’t being paid. You don’t have to be a public relations expert to know that you’re supposed to express some sympathy, whether you feel it or not. After all, there are multiple news reports about transportation security workers turning to food banks, the Coast Guard suggesting its employees hold garage sales, and so on.

So the right response involves expressing concern about those workers but placing the blame on Democrats who don’t want to stop brown-skinned rapists, or something like that. But no: Hassett declared that it’s all good, that the workers are actually “better off,” because they’re getting time off without having to use any of their vacation days.

Then consider what Sean Hannity had to say about taxing the rich. What’s that? You say that Hannity isn’t a member of the Trump administration? But surely he is in every sense that matters. In fact, Fox News isn’t just state TV, its hosts clearly have better access to the President, more input into his decisions, than any of the so-called experts at places like the State Department or the Department of Defense.

Anyway, Hannity declared that raising taxes on the wealthy would damage the economy, because “rich people won’t be buying boats that they like recreationally,” and “they’re not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore.”

Um, that’s not the answer a conservative is supposed to give. You’re supposed to insist that low taxes on the rich give them an incentive to work really really hard, not make it easier for them to take lavish vacations. You’re supposed to declare that low taxes will induce them to save and spend money building businesses, not help them afford to buy new yachts.

 

Even if your real reason for favoring low taxes is that they let your wealthy friends engage in even more high living, you’re not supposed to say that out loud.

Again, the point isn’t that people in Trump’s circle don’t care about ordinary American families, and also talk nonsense — that’s only to be expected. What’s amazing is that they’re so out of it that they don’t know either how to pretend to care about the middle class, or what nonsense to spout in order to sustain that pretense.

So what’s wrong with Trump’s people? Why can’t they serve up even some fake populism?

There are, I think, two answers, one generic to modern conservatism, one specific to Trump.

On the generic point: To be a modern conservative is to spend your life inside what amounts to a cult, barely exposed to outside ideas or even ways of speaking. Inside that cult, contempt for ordinary working Americans is widespread — remember Eric Cantor, the then-House majority leader, celebrating Labor Day by praising business owners. So is worship of wealth. And it can be hard for cult members to remember that you don’t talk that way to outsiders.

Then there’s the Trump effect. Normally working for the president of the United States is a career booster, something that looks good on your résumé. Trump’s presidency, however, is so chaotic, corrupt and potentially compromised by his foreign entanglements that anyone associated with him gets tainted — which is why after only two years he has already left a trail of broken men and wrecked reputations in his wake.

So who is willing to serve him at this point? Only those with no reputation to lose, generally because they’re pretty bad at what they do. There are, no doubt, conservatives smart and self-controlled enough to lie plausibly, or at least preserve some deniability, and defend Trump’s policies without making fools of themselves. But those people have gone into hiding.

A year ago I pointed out that the Trump administration was turning into government by the worst and the dumbest. Since then, however, things have gotten even worse and even dumber. And we haven’t hit bottom yet.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography.

@PaulKrugman

 

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Donald Trump And His Team Of Morons. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

 

 

 

 

 

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0


January 3, 2019

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0

Opinion  | By P. Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

  QUESTION TIME | If anything, Bersatu’s recent annual general assembly starkly shows one thing – that it is merely an extension of the old UMNO (Baru,) and will use the model of Malay supremacy,ty and put back in place corruption via patronage politics.

The only way to check that unfortunate retrograde policy is for the other Pakatan Harapan partners, especially those who have three to four times the number of MPs Bersatu has, to exert their combined muscle to rightfully regain more influence in the coalition and restore the original reform agenda pre-GE14.

At the AGM, Bersatu vice-President Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, also a former Election Commission (EC) chairperson, termed pushbacks against delegates’ demands to be given government resources to help the party retain power as “stupid”.

Bad enough that you have the former EC chairperson advocating breaking laws but this same person was shockingly appointed in August last year to head a Putrajaya committee that will make recommendations on electoral law reform in two years time.

This same Abdul Rashid had been heavily criticised by both PKR and DAP, the dominant parties in Harapan, over his tenure from 2000 to 2008 as the EC chairperson. This continues a tendency for Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appoint tainted,controversial and/or discredited people to important positions.

This includes Daim Zainuddin to head the Council of Eminent Persons; former Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor (who brutally assaulted Anwar Ibrahim and gave him a black eye while in Police detention) to negotiate security arrangements with Thailand and former discredited aAtorneys-General to important positions.

Abdul Rashid’s comments at the Bersatu assembly are particularly galling and provocative and advocate extra-judicial measures to keep and extend Bersatu’s hold on power. These are clearly against the law but Abdul Rashid (photo) received a misplaced standing ovation from Bersatu delegates.

“Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out. It is lucky that the Prime Minister gave me a job with a big salary so that I can support my division,” said Abdul Rashid, apparently referring to his appointment to the government’s election reform committee.

“But the others, we don’t need to be arrogant by saying we shouldn’t give them jobs, that we would be taking away the jobs of others, that we should not take this or that. That opinion, to me, irresponsible. In the election, we must win by hook or by crook,” he said.

He added that although he did not like the idea of using government resources, it had to be done.

“All division chiefs should be given activities so that they can have the opportunity to defend their divisions,” he said.

Abdul Rashid also urged the government to restore the parallel village chief system practised by the previous BN government. “And our people must occupy these positions,” he said.

Village chiefs are traditionally appointed by the state government but the previous BN government appointed parallel village chiefs in states not under its control. The Harapan administration has abolished this parallel system.

“All development projects should be channeled to these (parallel) committees and the division chiefs must benefit,” he said as the crowd cheered him on.

Blown to smithereens

It is unthinkable that this man, who clearly advocates moves against current elections laws, heads Putrajaya’s committee on electoral reform. If anything, he will probably advocate changes in the law to allow these offences to take place.

Harapan leaders should forthwith put their foot down and demand that Abdul Rashid be removed as the head of the electoral reform committee as he has clearly shown, by his words at a public gathering, that he is not a fit person to come up with electoral reforms which are up to international standards.

That he had so much support from Bersatu delegates for his views is worrying, with other leaders echoing his sentiments. While Bersatu head Mahathir has said that what Abdul Rashid says is his personal opinion, he should immediately review Abdul Rashid’s position as head of the electoral reform committee.

The original UMNO  was founded in 1946 to champion Malay rights in the lead up to independence. Its founder Onn bin Jaffar left UMNO after the party refused to open membership to non-Malays. Tunku Abdul Rahman took over the helm and became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister.

That UMNO was de-registered in 1987 after the courts declared it illegal. Then prime minister Mahathir formed UMNO Baru or UMNO 2.0 and organised members of UMNO, who supported him to join this UMNO Baru, excluding others who did not. There was a breakaway group called Semangat 46 formed, headed by Mahathir’s then opponent , Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Mahathir altered the constitution of the original UMNO considerably by making it next to impossible to remove a sitting UMNO Baru President. This resulted in a progressive erosion of government accountability and transparency, eventually leading to 1MDB and its excesses. And UMNOMNO-BN’s first loss in the general election last year.

As droves of MPs start to desert UMNOo Baru, Bersatu may well become Umno 3.0 if it accepts these UMNOo MPs as members. That will irrevocably change the complexion of the coalition and alter the balance of power within Harapan.

Other coalition partners, in particular, PKR and DAP, should clearly resist this and state their irreversible opposition to such moves, simply because all UMNO and BN MPs are tainted because they knew full well of the corruption and theft within 1MDB when they decided to stand for elections.

If all of the UMNO MPs are accepted within the Bersatu fold and become Harapan members effectively and those within Bersatu who call for extrajudicial measures to remain in power are not checked, it is inevitable that Bersatu will become UMNO 3.0 and the strongest party within the Harapan coalition.

With that, the hopes of the majority of Malaysians for a fairer, more equitable country, where everybody is considered Malaysian and where corruption is a thing of the past and accountability and good governance will be practised, will be blown to smithereens.


P GUNASEGARAM says we have to guard our newfound freedom zealously instead of surrendering it back to UMNO goons and gangsters who want a return to the past. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

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

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on


January 1, 2019

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on

Opinion  Phar Kim Beng

COMMENT | If one has had the benefit of following Malaysian politics since 1970 – a lifetime to many – several thinkers who have influenced the course of Malaysian history have become household names.

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Dr. Rais Saniman

The New Economic Policy (NEP), for example, was the handiwork of Rais Saniman and Just Faarland. Both believed in affirmative action, though critics who panned NEP have often pointed out that affirmative action is meant for the “minority” – not the majority.

Come what may, Malaysia would have been a racial havoc if NEP, despite all its imperfections, have not been working. Take some of the latest statistics on household income, for example.

Research by Khazanah Research Institute has shown that four out of five Malaysians would retire without sufficient pensions when they turn 55 or 60. Indeed, 15 percent of Malaysia’s population would exceed 60 years of age by 2023, according to Muhammad Khalid, the economic advisor of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At this rate, Malaysia will begin to age sooner than expected.

The works of the late professor Syed Hussein Alatas has also been wonderfully powerful, as he referred to corruption as a “cancer” that can eat away the health – and wealth – of the country. Events between 2009-2018, through 1MDB, have proven that and more. Our national debt is now at USD 280.7 billion, while our GDP is merely USD 320 billion.

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The scholarship of professors Terence Gomez and KS Jomo have proved to be just as monumental, if not powerful. Since 1990, both scholars have warned of the insidious effects of “privatisation,” which if done incorrectly, can lead to “piratisation,” where the wealth nest of the government and the people are held captive by the vested interest of the narrow band of elites.

While little has been said, or, revealed about the scholarship of Salleh Yappar, a professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, his papers have identified various forms or varieties of “Islamism”.

They range from the sort one sees in Sufism, such as the order of Nashbandi, to the reformist movement of Angkatan Belia Islam Semalaysia. In fact, Salleh listed close to nine forms of Islamism in Malaysia between 1957-1990. Some of them involves cult like movements like Al Arqam, which has since been banned by Mahathir during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

Though, not strictly Malaysian, the works of William Case at University of Nottingham in Malaysia, have revealed the potentiality of a “pseudo democracy,” that is still “semi authoritarian,” in nature as Australian National University professor Harold Crouch called it.

Other commentators like Patricia Martinez, Noraini Othman, even Dina Zaman, indeed, Marina Mahathir, have warned about the danger of ignoring the gender bias that is embedded in most interpretations of religions.

Instead of “lowering one’s gaze,” as a man is urged by some religious scriptures to do, over domineering male preachers have insisted that women should cover themselves from head to toe.

Come what may, some of the Malaysian scholars in Borneo deserve greater mention too. Professor Jayum Jawan who has an interesting take that Sarawak was never colonised by the British government, let alone James Brooke, is interesting to say the least.

It calls into question the very fabric that makes the Federation of Malaysia: should the rights of the federal government always be greater than the states at hand, including Sarawak, even though it has a history that is unique compared to Peninsular Malaysia?

Elsewhere, professors Chandra Muzaffar,   Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Francis Loh Kok Wai and Khoo Kay Jin have always highlighted the importance of liberating Malaysia from the iron rule of the bureaucratic or single-party state, especially the feudalism of UMNO.

Indeed, commentators like P. Gunasegaran and Ho Kay Tat have been invaluable to understanding 1MDB, backed by foreign scholarship by Tom Wright and Hope Bradley at Wall Street Journal.

The works of Nanyang Technology University professors Farish Noor and Joseph Liow Chin Yong in Singapore, as was the superb commentary of Dr Ooi Kee Beng, even politicians like Liew Chin Tong and Ong Kian Ming over the years, have made a “New Malaysia” more and more plausible.

That being said, two of the most tenacious thinkers are without a doubt Mahathir and Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. Both are determined in their ideals to make Malaysia stronger and better, though with some nuance too.

Image result for Anwar' s Asian Renaissance

Mahathir seems sold on the idea that Look East can redeem Malaysia. Anwar, on the hand, believes that the rise and fall of Malaysia depends on the extent to which it can engineer its own “Asian Renaissance.”

Come what may, 2019 and 2020, are not going to be about transition from one reigning to another incoming Prime Minister only, but the extent to which both can master the art of promoting their ideas and ideals. These ideas and ideals must work too, without which Malaysia is back to the square one of 1970 if not earlier.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

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