Playing Malaysia’s Number Game


March 13, 2017

Manjit Bhatia’s article’s article is on my blog.

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/najibs-criminal-state-of-mind/

Image result for Najib Razak and the Malaysian economyThe Malaysian Treasury is all but full

What follows is my friend Nurhisham Hussein’s response.

My own reaction is that I do not trust Malaysian government statistics since they are subject to manipulation by politicians in power. I do respect Nurhisham’s views and commend him for attempting to defend  “economic data from Malaysia”.

The sad truth is that there is so much fake news from Najib Razak and his cohorts in recent years that I have difficulty in knowing what is fact and what is fiction. It is something I experienced in attempting to figure out Donald Trump. But when it comes to Malaysia it is pretty straight forward since in the Malaysian context, fiction is fact.

By the way, what China has to do with the issues raised in Manjit’s article. This statement which I quote from Nurhisham’s article –“One of the key tests to determine whether economic data is falsified is internal consistency and statistical irregularity. China, for example, fails on both counts”–is irrelevant.

Allow me to quote a comment from Greg Balkin who regards Nurhisham’s article as: “A very strong rebuttal to Manjit Bhatia’s shoddy arguments.

Unlike MB who simply fights against the wind and even with his own shadow, at least Nurhisham Hussein provided actual facts and statistics for readers to contemplate on and question if necessary.

As a long-time Southeast Asia watcher, I have been very concerned about Malaysia which is increasingly beset with contradictory developments. Economically, it continues to grow faster than some neighbouring countries such as Thailand and Cambodia (That is bull Greg, check your facts on Cambodia from the Asian Development Bank before making your comment. In its most recent assessment,the Bank described Cambodia as an emerging tiger economy), yet it is mired in a series of financial scandals over the past three years, not to mention the worrying political scene.

The problem is many Malaysians have lost faith in the Najib Administration to the extent that any article that chastises Putrajaya is welcome even if it is not backed up with facts and statistics. One can read many of them on Malaysiakini or Free Malaysia Today. But it does not help Malaysians to develop a more critical mind when it comes to holding the powers-that-be to account.

This explains why many opposition leaders, blinded by popular support and swayed by populist sentiment, simply make one unsubstantiated allegation after another, only to find their position untenable and forced to retract thereafter.

No worries, for they have the people behind them whose negative perceptions of the government are already cast in stone and it matters not if these allegations hold water. If this vicious circle persists, I would not surprise to see Malaysia vote out UMNO and replace it with another set of arrogant politicians armed with half-baked policies to administer the country.

But it is a politician’s job to make sensational yet unsubstantiated claims, and an economist’s one to right them. Precisely why MB’s latest article is not only a huge letdown, but one that is unbecoming of his credentials, if any.”

Let me present an alternative reaction to Nurhisham’s article. It is from someone who calls himself Bumiputera Graduate as follows:

“I am unsure if Nurhisham is trying to shore up confidence in the Malaysian economy or defend the credibility of social and economic data produced in Malaysia.

I think Nurhisham is an expert at  the sleight of hand.  He has shifted the focus in the article from the main points that Manjit is making to those where Manjit is inaccurate.

Among the inaccuracies Nurhisham pointed out is that Malaysia does publish its labour force participation numbers, and that its budget deficit is going down. But Nurhisham doesn’t deny that perceived inflation figures are higher than reported figures; he only says it’s also the case with the US, which is not an answer at all.

He doesn’t touch on Manjit’s point on Bank Negara Malaysia manipulating the currency. Is Manjit right? Or is he wrong? Nurhisham says that his friends and associates at IMF and the World Bank have full confidence in Malaysia’s statistics.

Who knows if Manjit’s friends at the Fund and the Bank don’t have any confidence in Malaysia’s statistics. Hardly an argument worth a pinch of salt coming from the general manager, economics and capital markets of a government agency – the Employers Provident Fund – whose investment decisions are themselves questionable.

Again, when there are conservative estimates of 2 million undocumented migrant workers, with what confidence will you say that the minimum wage is implemented?

The labour market, going by his 3.6% indicator, may be at full employment, but he’s sweeping away the big problem of graduate unemployment (predominantly a Malay problem), the huge migrant labour problem, and the low productivity.

But if Manjit does a bit more of research and does a full article on the Malaysian economy, he may come up with a longer menu of issues that plague the economy than Nurhisham will be able to defend.

Manjit Bhatia, the byline says, is with a risk analysis company. If people like Manjit have views like this, that says a lot for the confidence that foreign analysts have in the Malaysian economy.

I think Nurhisham fails miserably in trying to shore up optimism in the economy, if that was his intention, even as he defends the credibility of data coming from Malaysia. With rebuttals such as his, what little confidence the public has, will further slide down.”

I leave you, my blog readers, to decide between the two views (Greg Balkin and Bumiputera Graduate). As far as I am concerned, and if I have surplus cash to invest, I will stay out the Malaysian stock exchange, the bond market and the Malaysian ringgit for a while, since I have no confidence in the Najib Administration’s management of the Malaysian economy. –Din Merican

 Playing Malaysia’s number game

by Nurhisham Hussein

The article further states that there is no data for the job participation rate in Malaysia. This is rather unconventional classification, as everyone else uses the term labour force participation rate (LFPR) instead. In any case, the article is completely mistaken. The LFPR for Malaysia has been available at monthly frequencies since 2009, quarterly since 1998, and annual frequencies going back to 1982. The annual numbers are further broken down by age, gender, education, and ethnic background. The data shows, far from a decline in labour market conditions, a steeply rising LFPR from 62.6 per cent in 2009, to a near record high of 67.6 per cent in 2016 (with a long term average of 65 per cent). It should also be noted that Malaysia’s long term average unemployment rate is just under 4 per cent. At the current rate of 3.6 per cent, the labour market would still be considered to be at full employment.

Image result for Idris Jala

Between Idris Jala and Najib Razak–A Deformed Malaysia

The article goes on to say that Malaysia’s minimum wage is scarcely enforced. On the contrary, data from the EPF, to which all salaried workers are required to contribute, show a massive shift in Malaysia’s salary distribution when the minimum wage was introduced in 2013. Fully 10 per cent of the workforce shifted from below the minimum wage to above it, and the wage effect was evident across the entire bottom half of the distribution.

Fourth, the article claims that, “In Kuala Lumpur alone, credible estimates put inflation at least twice the ‘official’ number”, and “inflation hits close to double-digits, in real terms, according to some investment banks’ research.” The second statement is nonsensical – there is no such thing as inflation in “real” terms, because in economics real prices of goods refer to inflation-adjusted prices. But the larger point – that inflation is perceived to be higher than official statistics – is actually well known. Well known because the same discrepancy has been documented nearly everywhere.

A recent Federal Reserve research note explicitly addressing this issue, found that US citizens perceptions of inflation were consistently twice as high as the official statistics. Why that is so is an interesting question in itself and would take far too long to explore, but the larger point is that differences between perception and official statistics cannot be taken as prima facie evidence that those statistics are false. There is plenty of evidence that the opposite is true, for example via MIT’s Billion Prices Project, that it is perceptions that are mistaken and not the statistics. Furthermore, research into the methodology and mechanics of constructing consumer price indices conclude that if anything, the CPI tends to overstate inflation, not understate it.

Fifth, the article claims Malaysia’s fiscal deficit and national debt are “ballooning”. In fact, the deficit has been halved since 2009, to just 3.1 per cent for 2016, while the debt to GDP ratio has been kept under the 55 per cent limit the government imposed on itself. Manufacturing, far from being routed, has continued to thrive, with sales breaching an all time high of ringgit 60 billion a month over the past few months. Moreover, Malaysia has been one of the very few countries in the region to record positive trade growth over the past two years.

In the Age of Trump, democratic institutions are under attack everywhere. Trust in public institutions has declined, not just in Malaysia, but globally. Globalisation itself is in retreat, and schisms and conflicts that we thought were gone, have arisen anew. Be that as it may, undermining confidence in public institutions without substantive evidence reinforces these troubling trends, and works against the very foundations of a democratic society. Without them, the very thing that Manjit Bhatia appears to be arguing for, becomes further from reality.

Nurhisham Hussein is General Manager, Economics and Capital Markets at Employees Provident Fund, Malaysia.

Malaysians are concerned with the Economy


January 19, 2017

Donald Trump aside, Malaysians are concerned with the Economy

by Martin Khor@www.thestar.com.my

As the new year gets underway, ordinary citizens are concerned about the rising cost of living, the ringgit’s low level and the outflow of capital.

Image result for Felda Global Ventures a messMaking Malaysia messy is his forte

WHILE Donald Trump’s inauguration as the new United States President will hog the headlines this week, it is the bread-and-butter issues that preoccupy the man and woman in the street as the new year gets into stride.

In Malaysia, a major talking point is the state of the economy. Three issues are worrying the ordinary Malaysian – rising prices, the fall of the ringgit and the outflow of capital. Each is an issue in its own right, but they are also all interlinked.

Inflation has become a hot issue because it is accelerating and will continue to do so. There are one-off factors influencing retail prices, such as the removal of the cooking oil subsidy, the weather affecting vegetable output or the slight recovery of the world oil price.

 But prices across the board are affected by the weakening of the ringgit since this increases the prices of imports.

Malaysia is very dependent on imports for a wide range of products, from food and household utensils to machinery and components for making cars, computers and all kinds of other goods.

As the most recent ringgit plunge started in mid November, prices of products that have high import content may not have fully risen yet because the shops are still clearing stocks bought earlier. But you can expect the new prices to kick in more and more.

Image result for irwan siregar

Irwan Siregar —  Fox in the  Malaysian Financial Hen House

The second issue is the ringgit decline itself, which has bad and good effects, with some sectors and people losing and others benefiting. The negative effects include:

  • Consumers having to pay higher prices for imported goods and services.
  • Traders and retail shops getting less business as the demand for the dearer imports goes down.
  •  Manufacturers and construction firms paying higher costs for parts and production inputs, which will translate into higher consumer prices and eventually higher house prices.
  • Parents with children studying abroad must fork out more ringgit even if the fees and hostel rent remain the same.
  • The Government and its enterprises and private companies that took loans in foreign currencies lose significantly as they have to spend more ringgit to service their loans.

Among the good effects:

  • Smallholders and companies exporting palm oil, rubber, petroleum and other commodities will receive more revenue in ringgit terms.
  • Local manufacturers exporting goods such as rubber gloves and furniture become more competitive as they can reduce their prices in foreign currency, or else they receive more in ringgit if they retain their international prices.
  • The tourism and hotel business should thrive since it’s cheaper for foreigners to visit Malaysia. Locals who now can’t afford to travel abroad may also spend their holidays in the country.

On balance, will the gains outweigh the losses? From a public perspective, this is unlikely as the higher cost of living will affect all Malaysians, especially the poor and middle classes, and the higher external debt repayment will affect the public and the economy overall.

The prospect of further depreciation of the ringgit also has a bearing on capital flows, the third issue. Malaysia is one of the countries most vulnerable to the shocks of foreign funds moving out, because so much capital was allowed to move in.

In recent years, a new type of vulnerability emerged when foreign funds were welcomed to invest in government bonds denominated in ringgit.

It was originally thought that foreign loans in ringgit would be safe as the borrower would avoid the foreign exchange risk, as contrasted with loans denominated in US dollars.

This is true but the sheer volume of bonds now owned by foreigners makes the economy vulnerable to large outflows in a short period.

Comparison is usually made between potential capital outflows and the level of foreign reserves. The reserves as at December 30, 2016 were US$94.6bil (RM424bil).

The total foreign debt outstanding was RM865bil at the end of September 2016.

Of this, offshore borrowing (in foreign currency) was RM472bil, and ringgit-denominated government bonds held by non-residents were worth RM211bil, according to Bank Negara data.

Some of the investors have a long-term commitment and not everyone will move in the same direction at the same time, but in recent weeks external conditions such as a rise in US interest rates (and anticipation of more rises in 2017) have prompted capital outflows from emerging economies, including Malaysia.

Image result for Malaysia's National Debt

The country also has high foreign participation in the stock market (22.6% in November 2016), and in recent months there has also been a net withdrawal of equities by foreigners.

November 2016 was a bad month, as foreigners withdrew from the country RM19.9bil of government securities, and RM4.2bil of equities, according to a report in The Star (January 7, 2017). The potential and probability of more capital outflows in 2017 is a factor weighing on the perception of the ringgit’s prospects.

A high trade surplus has previously acted as a strong buffer against potential large capital outflows. The trade and current account balances are still positive, but the surpluses have been declining.

Government measures could help, such as the requirement that exporters convert 75% of their ex­­port proceeds from foreign currencies to ringgit.

Other measures can be considered if the situation does not improve. For example, companies and funds, starting with government-linked ones, can be discouraged from investing abroad – for the time being at least.

Malaysia has ruled out more drastic measures such as capital controls and pegging of the ringgit.

Developments in these three economic issues will be closely watched, not least by the public whose pockets are affected, as the year progresses.

External events could improve the situation, such as if prices of Malaysia’s export commodities increase, or could worsen it, especially if the US raises its interest rates further and if Trump really pursues protectionist policies.

However, domestic policies to respond to the problems are crucial and there should be a comprehensive plan to tackle these issues, since they may persist as 2017 progresses.

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

President Barack H. Obama’s Message of Hope to America


January 11, 2017

President Barack H. Obama’s Message of Hope to America

Farewell Mr. President and thank you for keeping your fellow Americans and  we citizens of the world free from  major conflicts over the last 8 years. Your legacy is intact and your administration is a difficult act to follow. May God Bless you, Mrs. Michelle Obama and family. Welcome to the 45th POTUS, Donald J. Trump. Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

The text of President Barack Obama’s farewell speech Tuesday night (US time) in Chicago, as prepared for delivery.

Barack Obama: America–Land the Brave and The Free–is Exceptional

Image result for Obama's Farewell America

It’s good to be home. My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks. Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going. Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. It was in neighbourhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.

 This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organise. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.

So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history . if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 . if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

Image result for Obama, Michelle.Malia and Sasha

In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.

But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That’s what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.

Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarrelled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity. The beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the spectre of terrorism – these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future.

“Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity”.

Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years. And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.

That, after all, is why we serve – to make people’s lives better, not worse.

But for all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles. While the top one per cent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarisation in our politics.

There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree that our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionise for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible. We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce. And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practising political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

None of this is easy. For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighbourhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.

Politics is a battle of ideas

This trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritise different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.

Isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

It’s that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

“a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might”.

Image result for obama as commander in chief“To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organisation has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalisation can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden. The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

But protecting our way of life requires more than our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

“So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.”

Image result for obama as commander in chief

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbours.

“our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”

Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote. When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.

And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken.to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” that we should preserve it with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancour that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.

Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organising. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energise and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralysed man regain his sense of touch, and our wounded warriors walk again. I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.

That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined. I hope yours has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012 – and maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.

You’re not the only ones. Michelle – for the past twenty-five years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humour. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.

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” To Joe Biden, you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. “

To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son: you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.

To my remarkable staff: For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I’ve drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you’ll achieve from here.

And to all of you out there – every organiser who moved to an unfamiliar town and kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organisers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because yes, you changed the world.

That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves. This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

“My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.”

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

-AP

The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir.


January 10, 2017

The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir. That’s rather bizarre logic

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini

“I’m a realist, I do what I can do, if I can’t do, I don’t.”

De facto Opposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad

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What if I said that Malays have a lazy, rent-seeking culture, relying on political and social influence to gain wealth and unable to retain power despite all their special privileges? Would this be wrong? Would this be racist? Would this be seditious?

How about if former Prime Minister and now de facto Oopposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad said this? Would it still be “racist”? Would this be considered some sort of truth telling? Would it make a difference when he said this last week or when he was Prime Mminister of this country?

More than a decade ago, in an UMNO General Assembly speech (which also coincided with a celebration of sorts – 21 years in office), Dr.Mahathir as UMNO President engaged in some “realist” assessment of the Malay community he had led for over two decades.

As reported by Malaysiakini, he claimed – “If today they (Malays) are colonised, there is no guarantee they will have the capacity to oppose the colonialists.” The former Premier said Malays had failed because they were lazy and sought the easy way out by reselling their shares, licences and contracts to non-Malays.

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“They cannot be patient, cannot wait a little, they want to be rich this very moment… no work is done other than to be close to people with influence and authority in order to get something. After selling and getting the cash, they come back to ask for more”,he said.

Therefore, there is a rather bizarre logic in his thinking when he said that he had no regrets about stifling dissent in young Malay people during his tenure. Bizarre because the former Prime Minister has never been afraid of using the stereotype of the Malay community as a means of galvanising support.

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And this extends to the other communities as well. Well by “others”, I really mean the Chinese community because as we all know the Indian community is absent from the discourse. In the same speech at the 2002 UMNO General Assembly, he also referenced the Chinese community – the very community that UMNO has always demonised as a threat to Malay hegemony but in reality, meant they were perceived as a threat against UMNO hegemony.

He said, “If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and facilities for the Malays. Learn from the Chinese.”

Only Mahathir could balance such contradictions, playing the racial card against communities, including the one UMNO claims to represent. Which is why in Mahathir’s thinking there is really no reason why he should not be standing shoulder to shoulder with his former opponents in an attempt to bring down the Najib Abdul Razak regime.

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This is  truly bizzare

He really does not care what political pundits, who seek to remind people of what he did during his tenure, say because he knows that he then enjoyed the support of the majority of Malaysians and he did this using the kind of realpolitik that oppositional parties during his regime did not grasp or were uninterested in learning.

While some opposition supporters blather on about “truth and conscience” but offer no real evidence that these form the desideratum for oppositional forces in this country, the former prime minister has no problem twisting the facts on the ground or contorting social and economic realities to fit his narratives.

A clear example of this would be when in an interview, he acknowledged that discrimination was part of the system but that there were communities who thrived in spite of it – “The Chinese in Malaysia have no special rights, they experience discrimination. But they are more successful than us.”

This is exactly the system a Gerakan political operative was talking about when he mocked the opposition for subscribing to the same system as BN. And the same kind of thinking that for years sustained BN which led to the creation of the leviathan which in the Najib regime. We get the world we deserve.

Slaying sacred cows

And keep in mind that during Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO defined oppositional racial preoccupations because the slaying of UMNO sacred cows were the very definition (and still is) of any kind of egalitarian agenda that would truly “save Malaysia”. All those other so-called racial preoccupations, religious, social and economic are a direct result of the UMNO agenda and the mendacious ‘social contract’.

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Not True, Mahathir forgets easily

However, since the short-term goal of saving Malaysia means removing Najib, the real power brokers, those invested in the system – and they are not only Malays – would like to keep the gravy train moving, only with a different railroad engineer.

Unlike some oppositional voices who pontificate about “principles” or at least attempt to control the discourse, demonising those who dredge up so-called ancient history and engaging in victimhood to facilitate political expediency, the former prime minister is clear about the purpose of his alliance with the oppositional forces in this country.

As he told me when I brought up the trust deficit when it comes to opposition supporters and his new role as oppositional leader – “If Najib is there, the opposition will suffer. If Najib is there, even UMNO will suffer, the whole country will suffer. I think the opposition is not supporting me, they are interested in removing Najib. I have the same interest. It is okay to work together – only on that issue, not on other issues.”

Furthermore, he has had no problems claiming that he would slay Malay sacred cows for the benefit of the community – “I cannot predict how much longer this (affirmative action) will go on but at the moment, we are trying out… some kind of experiment… by withdrawing some of the protection in education,” he said. “We want to see whether they will be able to withstand the competition or not. Obviously if they prove themselves able to, we can think of reducing further some of the protection.”

This was always the stick component of the carrot-and-stick approach, and the former Prime Minster knew very well that affirmative action programmes had a deleterious effect on the Malay community.

Moreover, when he hinted that he would slay sacred cows, he was greeted with rapturous applause as some sort of truth sayer by the very same Umno who now endorse the Najib regime’s attempt to further consolidate power and engage with Mahathir’s sworn enemy, PAS.

But of course, now that the Malay community is fractured and the Malay opposition needs to reassure the Malay community, all those special privileges, all those affirmative action programmes, everything that the former prime minister said was holding back the Malay community, are off the table.

The only thing that discerning Malaysians have to take away from any of this is that Mahathir acknowledges that he failed to change the Malay community – “What else (can I do) … I have tried to be an example, tried to teach, scolded, cried and even prayed. (But) I have failed. I have failed to achieve the most important thing – how to change the Malays.”

When asked if there was anything he would do differently, he claimed that he wanted to be a “normal” UMNO member because he could not do anything for the Malays. Well, he is not even a member now and he is the power behind a nascent Malay power structure.

The big question is, will he fail again. More importantly, is changing the Malays really the agenda of the game for him or anyone else.

Cambodia: Sustaining high economic growth


January 1, 2017

Cambodia: Sustaining  high economic growth 

by  Heng Pheakdey, Enrich Institute

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/01/01/keeping-cambodia-competitive-beyond-2016/

Here Comes Cambodia: Asia’s New Tiger Economy

After decades of conflict and poverty that captured the world’s attention, Cambodia has enjoyed five years of high economic growth that is moving it toward becoming one of the new tiger economies of Asia, according to forecasts in the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Development Outlook 2016.

For the last two decades Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Asia with an average annual GDP growth rate of 8.1 per cent.

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Cambodia has been highly successful in embracing the ‘factory Asia’ model of growth, supplying its low-cost labour to export-oriented industries. Economic progress in recent years has allowed Cambodia to invest in physical and social infrastructure, attract foreign direct investment, create jobs and lift millions of its people out of poverty. The Asian Development Bank called Cambodia Asia’s new ‘tiger economy’.

Cambodia’s economic performance in 2016 remained robust, with growth continuing at 7 per cent. Strong garment sector exports and foreign investment in construction drove this economic performance. Exports in the garment and footwear industries rose by 9.4 per cent in the first half of the year, almost double the pace in the same period of 2015 thanks to improved production processes and high demand from the European market. As of September 2016, the value of approved commercial projects in the construction sector more than doubled to US$7.2 billion. Imports of construction equipment and materials also increased to support the construction boom.

But solid growth in the industrial sector has been offset by a slowdown in agriculture and tourism. Unfavourable weather conditions and falling commodity prices have resulted in agriculture’s sluggish performance, which grew at a rate of only 0.2 per cent in 2014–2016. Tourism also underperformed in early 2016 due to a decline in tourist arrivals from Vietnam, Laos and South Korea. 1.3 million tourists visited Cambodia in the first quarter of the year, a mere 2.6 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2015.

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The World Bank reclassified Cambodia in July 2016 as a lower middle-income country after its gross national income per capita reached US$1070 in 2015, surpassing the minimum threshold of a lower middle-income nation of US$1026. While this sign of progress should be welcomed, it comes with its own set of challenges. Analysts fear that this new classification will reduce Cambodia’s benefits from international foreign aid and preferential trade agreements that the country enjoyed while still a ‘least developed country’.

To prepare for the anticipated reduction in international assistance and trade privileges, Cambodia needs to strengthen its competitiveness, diversify its economy and upgrade its industries.

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Although garment exports have held up well so far, the sector remains narrowly based and concentrated on a few markets, making it vulnerable to external shocks. To preserve Cambodia’s attractiveness relative to its regional competitors such as Vietnam and Bangladesh, it must diversify into higher value products and services and strengthen labour productivity to reflect the rise of the minimum wage.

The modernisation of agriculture would also help to sustain productivity in the long run. Employing more than half of Cambodia’s labour force, agriculture has contributed significantly to poverty reduction. But high reliance on rain-dependent rice production, slow adoption of quality seeds and inadequate agricultural extension services and irrigation facilities remain key constraints in the sector. Diversifying to less water intensive crops, developing the agribusiness and agro-processing industry, promoting a modernised value chain and cost effective logistics are crucial to put agriculture back on a higher growth path.

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Efforts have been made so far to support economic diversification. The Cambodia Industrial Development Policy was launched in March 2015 to transform and modernise Cambodia’s industrial structure from a labour-intensive industry to a skill-driven industry by 2025. This implies increasing the GDP share of the industrial sector, diversifying goods exports including non-textiles and processed agricultural products and modernising the registration of enterprises. The policy also supports stronger regulations and enforcement and helps create a more favourable business environment.

Domestic investors also have an important role to play in the diversification process. Experts believe that the success of Cambodia’s economy will be driven by local entrepreneurs and the private sector, not by international donor assistance. Providing support to domestic investors in trade facilitation, logistics, infrastructure and human capital is just as important.

Cambodia faces many challenges to stay competitive. To realise its vision of becoming an upper middle-income country by 2030 requires strong commitments to address infrastructure bottlenecks, build a high-quality human capital base, strengthen natural resource management, enhance governance and improve financial services and the business environment.

Heng Pheakdey is the founder and chairman of Enrich Institute.

 

Najib Razak plays with Hudud and PAS for Political Survival


December 24, 2016

Najib Razak plays with Hudud and PAS for Political Survival

by Jayum Anak Jawan

Conflict has raged within and among Malaysia’s political parties this year over controversial legislation regarding Islamic law, but Jayum Anak Jawan argues it is all part of the Prime Minister’s political strategy to win the next election.

What do “fixed deposit” and “insurance” have in common? A highly-skilled investor who maximises profit and minimises possible losses. This might appropriately describe Malaysian Prime Minister Najib’s latest political move as the next general election draws nearer and which must be held by the middle of 2018.

Najib is the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) President and Chairman of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. His party is embroiled in a “possible” alliance with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to push through amendments to a piece of legislation called Act 355 that seek to review fines and punishment as well as the enforcement power of the Islamic courts. Originally, the bill was to be introduced to parliament as a private member’s bill by PAS President Hadi but was subsequently submitted by the government, which will reportedly take over tabling it at a future sitting.

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This is not a smart move–playing the Islamic Fire with Zakir Zaik and Hadi Awang–Din Merican

Since the initial announcement of its introduction, the bill has sparked much debate, polarising Malaysians and political parties from all sides. What first appeared as a PAS initiative, has since been embraced by UMNO, putting many of the BN coalition parties that had previously made a strong stand against Act 355 in an awkward position.

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Under Adenan Satim, Sarawak will remain a  progressive multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial state. Pushing hudud  is a bad strategy for Mr. Najib–Din Merican

There are stark divisions among the BN coalition’s 13 component parties with some staunchly opposed to the bill, such as Chief Minister Adenan who reportedly ordered all Sarawak BN party members of parliament to vote against it, while others are yet to reveal their positions. The opposition parties, meanwhile, are not wholly united one way or the other on Act 355.

While Malaysia’s political parties are caught up in the controversy over the bill, the clear advantage goes to the master political strategist, Najib. He is letting all the various parties fight it out, confident of drawing them over to his side at the end of the political brawl.

And why not watch and wait? Najib is championing Islam, which is more than what UMNO has done in its lifetime and more than what PAS could possibly do alone. As far as Najib is concerned, he is already a winner in the political chess game he devised. He has created a situation in which support for him is all but guaranteed. If you are not supporting him, then your Malay-ness or Muslim-ness are brought into question. You support him; you are a good Muslim. You don’t support him; you are a bad Muslim because he is doing a good thing for Islam. Such is the conundrum facing his Malay friends in BN and his Malay foes in the opposition.

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Malay extremism combined with radical Islam ala Zakir Zaik is a double edged sword; only a political novice and desperado will fail to understand this. It is a dangerous game because it will drive Malaysia into very severe recession.–Din Merican

Najib has also created a dilemma for his coalition partners. When he adopted the Act 355 amendments as a government bill, Najib redefined the rules of engagement altogether. By making it a government bill, and with UMNO being the backbone of the BN ruling coalition, all members of the ruling party are obliged to support it. If any party is opposed to the bill, then that party’s position in the BN coalition becomes untenable. So, the position becomes simple: support the bill or leave the coalition.

But, there is also this issue to ponder: Can the Prime Minister introduce important legislation without first consulting his coalition partners? The cornerstone of the BN coalition has been consultation. In addition, can a private member’s bill simply be adopted by the government without first having a discussion about it in cabinet? These are questions that are easy to answer but not as easy to explain. Clearly, there is evidence to conclude that the cabinet was not aware of the decision to support the legislation prior to it being made, nor had it been party to its formulation.

Lastly, some have argued about the constitutionality of this bill. Is Islamic law an item enumerated in the State List? If so, for the bill to be moved at the federal legislative level, it must have the support of a state government, not just an individual lawmaker. And for that to happen, it must first have been moved in a state assembly to indicate the state’s support for the bill.

Prime Minister Najib–No Novice in Politics(?)

The Prime Minister is no novice in politics. So, why is he doing this? The answer has to be simple and clear. He is crafting his “insurance policy” against increasing uncertainty on the returns of his “fixed deposit”, namely the states of Sarawak and Sabah, which have on many occasions saved BN and UMNO, especially after the 2008 and 2013 general elections. The number of parliamentary seats won in both states on these two occasions gave BN the majority required to form the federal government. But the sense of ethnic and state nationalism that have recently reignited vigorously in both states could have caused the Prime Minister real concern over whether BN and UMNO can continue to rely on the “fixed deposit” to return to power in the forthcoming general election. Hence, courting PAS, which won about 20 parliamentary seats in 2013, is a politically strategic move. Najib’s support for Act 355 will endear him and UMNO to PAS and at the same time boost the latter’s popularity among its supporters in the Islamic heartland states such as Kelantan and Terengganu.

Furthermore, this strategy could sway Malay-Muslim voters in many of the PKR opposition party strongholds as well. In all likelihood, and based on the fact that not much change will come from Malay and Chinese voters and their voting patterns in 2018, having PAS retain the same number of the seats it won in 2013 and perhaps draws a few more elsewhere, would be enough to give UMNO the insurance it needs against the possibly volatile non-Malay, non-Muslim votes and seats in Sabah and Sarawak.

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BN and UMNO, if they win the next parliamentary general election, will not be expected to win handsomely as they have done previously. Neither should they be expected to make any major seat gains compared to what they won in 2013. But the PAS insurance policy, from supporting Act 355, should be enough to ensure that BN and UMNO can at least, in the event of the political atmosphere become more unfavourable and tense, scrape through with a razor-thin margin to form the next federal government.

Jayum Anak Jawan is the current Tun Abdul Razak Chair and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA. He is concurrently a senior professor of politics and government at Universiti Putra Malaysia. The opinion and analysis expressed do not represent the institutions he is affiliated with.

http://www.newmandala.org/alliance-secure-electoral-victory/