Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Ugly Feud with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad reflects the shallowness of Malaysian politics


July 19, 2017

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Ugly Feud with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad reflects  the shallowness of Malaysian Politics

Possibility of snap election looms as ex-leader backs a jailed former foe

by Takashi Nakano, Nikkei staff writer

http://asia.nikkei.com

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (Photo by AP), left, and former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad are sniping over the state of the country’s leadership.

SINGAPORE — An ugly feud is intensifying between Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, with Mahathir throwing his support behind an old nemesis in hopes of unseating the administration, and Najib sniping back.

Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years through 2003, and the country’s profile on the world stage grew under his hard-charging leadership. He has vocally criticized Najib, who has been in power for over eight years — and is in sight of a yet longer term — but has recently come under fire amid an embezzlement scandal. Rumors have swirled that Najib may dissolve parliament this year, leading to a general election.

The two figures’ mudslinging, if it drags on, may diminish Malaysian politics in the eyes of observers at home and abroad.

The enemy of my enemy

In 1998, Mahathir sacked Anwar Ibrahim, then Deputy Prime Minister, who stood in opposition to him. Anwar was then arrested and imprisoned for six years on charges of sodomy and corruption. In Malaysia’s last general elections in May 2013, Anwar led an opposition coalition against Najib’s ruling one, but in 2015 was convicted of fresh sodomy charges and given another five years behind bars.

Anwar Ibrahim © Reuters

Early this month, Mahathir told The Guardian, the U.K. newspaper, that the popular Anwar had been “unfairly treated.” “The decision of the court was obviously influenced by the government,” he said, “and I think the incoming government would be able to persuade the King to give a full pardon for Anwar.” The statement sent shock waves across the country.

Since the time of Anwar’s first arrest, the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary has been in doubt. Mahathir’s championing of Anwar even at risk of drawing fire for his own past actions shows the intensity of his drive to topple the Najib administration.

In June, at the International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Mahathir also said that Malaysia’s present administration was doing badly by the country, and that he hoped for the opposition to score an electoral victory and drive Najib out of office.

Najib quickly fired back via his blog. He said it was “ironic that Mahathir now needs Anwar, the man he sacked and jailed,” and that the former prime minister’s “crusade is motivated not by the national interest, but by selfish personal interest.”

No winners

Najib, having built up a stable political base, appears to have the upper hand in this fight. Mahathir cannot hide the shrinking of his political clout. And while Anwar’s popularity may run deep, he cannot run for office from prison. With the term of the lower house of Malaysia’s Parliament set to expire next June, Najib is waiting for the moment to play his trump card: the right to dissolve the legislative body.

But the Najib government has a major Achilles’ heel in the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MDB. U.S. authorities are investigating the apparent misappropriation of at least $4.5 billion from the fund, and several people close to the Prime Minister have been implicated.

Najib’s administration has objected, noting that Malaysian authorities conducted extensive inspections and no crime came to light. But overseas authorities have turned a stern eye. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for instance, has taken steps to punish a number of financial institutions and people whose actions contributed to the 1MDB scandal.

The ties between Mahathir, Najib and Anwar not only show the fierceness of Malaysia’s power struggle, but expose the shallowness of its political benches. Since it won independence in 1957, the country has not undergone a significant change of government, and it has not cultivated a culture in which the politicians that will bear responsibility for the next generation sharpen one another in friendly rivalry.

With its per-capita gross domestic product having reached the $10,000 level, Malaysia is at a crossroads and in need of a new growth model. Its ruling and opposition parties are constantly bickering instead of engaging in more robust economic debate, casting doubt on the nation’s hopes of joining the ranks of the world’s developed countries.

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle — All very British Bulldog


July 16, 2017

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle– All very British Bulldog

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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FORMER British Prime Minister David Cameron went for the Brexit referendum to strengthen his position in the Conservative party and end the warring among the Tories over the European Union, thinking the Brexiteers would lose.

His complacent and cavalier approach to the referendum in the British system of representative (not direct) democracy, without a robust presentation of the facts, resulted in a campaign driven by passion, emotion, prejudice and lies – and the vote by a whisker a year ago to get out of the EU.

How that was to happen was hardly touched upon. What was exposed instead were the deep divisions that exist in Britain.

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Cameron left the Brexit fiasco to Theresa May whose “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was a typical British Bulldog mess

Cameron resigned and left the mess with his successor Theresa May. Her contribution to the momentous decision was: Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, as a former Remainer, she bent over backwards to go for a “Hard Brexit”, rather like converts to a new religion who become extreme to show how true they are to the faith.

Indeed, she called an early general election to consolidate her position in the party and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Her “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was: no deal was better than a bad deal. All very British Bulldog.

In the event, the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament, Theresa May’s position in the party is threatened and her hand in the Brexit negotiations weakened. She and her party stay in power through an unsavoury arrangement with the Democratic Ulster Unionists (DUP, who have an abhorrent set of beliefs – one of which is the Pope is the Anti-Christ – and who were able to extract £1.5bil from the prime minister who had famously said there was no “magic money tree” when nurses in the National Health Service sought a pay rise).

After the election last month, the Institute of Directors found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence in the British economy from its last survey in May.

Many epithets have been attached to Theresa May since. She has become rather like “Calamity Jane”. There is an appropriate Malay word that could be applied: kelam kabut. At sixes and sevens. Shooting every which way.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who did so much better in the election than expected, has been elevated to being, as described by a commentator, “a cross between zen master and Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

This is a romantic notion, of course. The Labour Party is as divided as the Conservative Party, on Brexit as on anything else. Corbyn represents the far left, whose economic management for sometimes laudable social policies has many a time led Britain to a fiscal and monetary dead end.

The swing of support for the Labour Party came largely from young voters attracted to Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees – although May’s political gymnastics and calamitous proposal to put a cap on state support for the old in retirement homes did not help the Tories.

At the first Prime Minister’s Question time after the election, Corbyn was straining at the leash to push his advantage, especially as the Grenfell Tower fire in London has exposed incompetence and division in British society yet again.

He was well armed with facts and figures and had May on the back foot. However, he was not able to put her to the sword. When the British Prime Minister cleverly turned the argument against him by saying it was the last Labour argument that had presided over the housing regulations that allowed the cladding that caused the Grenfell Tower fire to become an inferno, he did not get back at her.

He should have argued any government in power – and May certainly wanted to be in power – has no right to refer to the past (it was a Conservative government that got Britain into Europe) when its duty is to govern with responsibility here and now. Really not very Star Wars of Corbyn.

Britain divided

Be that as it may, both leaders are polarising figures. Britain is deeply divided along the lines of class, income, race, region and age. There is not a whiff of an Emmanuel Macron figure to try and unify recalcitrant constituencies, to find a new belief and a centre to move Britain forward.

Instead it looks as if Britain is going through a death by a thousand cuts. What are the lessons from all this – the sad tragedy that is being played out in Britain – that can be learned for our country and region?

The most important lesson is the threat of division in a country and society that builds up from a long period of neglect which is always exploited in politics.

United Kingdom Independence Party exploited xenophobic instincts among both the British upper class and the underclass, by playing on their fears, whether driven by racism and dislike of foreigners or by perceived rule from Brussels (the new Rome). These emotive references are easy points from which to get support.

Facts can also be twisted, as was evident from the many false numbers that were given on the cost of EU membership. Once a base is founded on base instincts, it is not difficult to whip up falsehoods as self-evident truths.

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In Indonesia and Malaysia, many positions are being taken on race and religion which divide society and cause minorities to become victims. This has been happening for some time and these countries should be mindful of destabilising eruptions.

In Britain, destabilising developments have been caused through the vote. The rule of law holds back the ugliest ramifications of deep social division. One wonders how they might be expressed in less developed political systems in ASEAN.

The other division is in income. We applaud ad nauseam the splendid economic growth rates in the region, and how ASEAN as a whole is the seventh or sixth largest economy in the world, and could become the fourth largest in 2050 or whenever, but do we give enough attention to income disparities and maldistribution of wealth?

They are increasing in ASEAN, within and between member states. Together with other divisive factors, the crunch time in Britain came in the form of Brexit and a hung parliament. In the United States, in the form of Trump. What form could it take in ASEAN countries where the ballot box is not always the preferred means of securing change?

Even with the economy, even as it grows, disruptions are now happening with digitisation, which displaces employment.

Employment for cheap manufacturing cost is increasingly becoming an attraction of the past. What are ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Myanmar doing about training and education, and retraining, for the digital economy? What will happen to micro-, small and medium enterprises and employment levels?

There is much research which shows, and empirical evidence that confirms it, that those at the lowest rung of education and skill level are the most exposed to this fourth industrial revolution.

Displacement of employment, with the already large income disparity, is going to divide society again.

Disruptions and fissures must be anticipated and filled. Otherwise, divisions in society will cause severe problems later on. And sometimes even earlier rather than later on.

We can become smug in Asia, or ASEAN – indeed, in individual countries – at how well we are doing. Even superior, when looking at the travails of other countries. We must resist this. We must learn lessons and understand we are so very far from perfect.

Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Be Wary of Spin Doctors


July 14, 2017–The Bastille Day

In the Run up to GE-14: Be Wary of Spin Doctors

by R. Nadeswaran@www,malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | In 1984, British journalist Henry Porter published a book outlining the excesses of what used to be Fleet Street newspapers. He chastised them for their lack of concern for simple matters such as the truth.

Image result for Najib Razak's Spin Doctors

Smart and Decent  Malaysians say Prime Minister Najib Razak, is a Crook

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Golf Buddy Tan Kay Hock thinks Prime Najib Razak is the best Prime Minister Malaysia ever had.

It was written in an era before the advent of the mobile phone which became a necessary tool for journalists to survive. And if not for this gadget, the world would not have knowledge of the phone-tapping technology which journalists in the red-tops in England used (illegally) and made headlines worldwide.

It was also an era when the term “fake news” was unheard of and when we scribes prepared our stories on the Olivetti or Remington typewriters on several sheets of carbon paper in between specially-cut A4-sized newsprint.

In one chapter, Porter describes how a Daily Telegraph journalist created a fictitious character with a military background living in Gloucester, through which he expressed right-wing views. Even when it became apparent that he did not exist, the newspaper reported that “Raphael Duvant died when lightning struck his metal leg while he was umpiring a cricket match.”

In a way of sorts, Duvant or a number of Duvant clones have been resurrected right here in Malaysia to be the new darlings of political parties who seek to embrace the new media.

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R. Nadeswaran–Malaysia’s Foremost and Gutsy Investigative Journalist

Nothing wrong with that, except that these specially-created Duvants claim to have been given access to all meetings. Even when two opposition leaders are having a cuppa, he or she can sit and record every word they utter. Their ears are so powerful that they can generate first-person accounts describing the words whispered between sheets in someone’s bedroom.

But their mind-reading capabilities must take the cake. They can conjure what someone is planning to do and even have knowledge of the inner secrets that circulate in the minds of third parties. This is no ordinary boast. In their writings, they appear to give the impression that they have front row seats.

Image result for The New Straits Times, The Star and Utusan Malaysia

They cannot be expected to be factual, reliable and truthful since they are owned by UMNO and Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA)

The mainstream media is popularising these non-existent characters by quoting them extensively to give them an aura of legitimacy and authority without even knowing their identity.

Yes, everyone is in the pre-election mode or to put it more bluntly, survival mode. The affairs of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) and the court filings of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are indeed part of it. Praise the former, demonise the latter and you are guaranteed to be in the news.

During the last general election, I took umbrage with the newspapers publishing full-page advertisements, making all kinds of claims against the opposition without any substantiation.

The riposte was not unexpected. Instead of addressing the issue, Vincent Lee, the then Executive Vice-chairperson of the Star Publications group replied: “I am disappointed with him (Nadeswaran) because when I was President of the 4As, I sided with him when he took on the issue of corruption in the outdoor advertising industry. At that time, I received death threats after speaking up against illegal billboards in the Klang Valley.

“After a year, the situation has remained unchanged. However, he has moved on from his anti-corruption stand to talking about advertising, but his own newspaper has accepted and carried the same advertisement.”

But writing about advertising is not exclusive to anyone, and I responded thus: “The fact is that although the management of theSun (my employers at that time) may not see an issue in the same light as the writer, it sees it as expressions of opinion. It may not necessarily reflect the stance of the newspaper. The publication of such articles does not mean that the newspaper endorses my views.

“It was in a plain and simple language that journalists have no control over newspaper operations and the final decision on content – advertising and editorial are left to the management.”

I then posed a vital question: “The outburst in cyberspace reflects the anger of ordinary Malaysians who view such audacious campaigns as insulting their intelligence. On a similar note, will the same newspapers publish an advertisement paid for by well-minded citizens which reads: ‘Can you trust a party which is led by a crook?’

“This question can only be answered by none other than owners of publishing houses who have accepted and consented to publish those questionable and code-breaking advertisements.”

In dire straits

This time around, the election campaign will be dominated once again by the media – but with a difference. The worms that have crawled out of the woodwork will get their five minutes of fame, albeit writing under pen names or pseudonyms.

How else to explain government mouthpieces taking the stand that the 1MDB is a non-issue? Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s stance that 1MDB has contributed to the people in many ways which they are unaware of, has further added to the continued parroting of praises of the state sovereign fund which is in dire straits.

Yes, the company has financed haj pilgrims, built houses and sponsored students’ education but at what cost to the nation and its people? Committing the taxpayer to several billion ringgit in debt and giving away a few million makes little sense because it is akin to robbing the bank to feed the needy.

As this article is being written, news has just filtered of yet another episode in the 1MDB saga. Former Singapore banker Yeo Jiawei, who is serving the longest jail term in Singapore’s probes linked to 1MDB, has admitted to charges including money laundering.

Yeo, who also pleaded guilty to cheating his former employer, agreed to help with Singapore’s money-laundering investigation, which prosecutors described as the largest in the country’s history. He was sentenced to 54 months in jail. He was handed a 30-month term last December on charges of trying to tamper with witnesses in the probe.

Yeo’s admission of guilt came after the Monetary Authority of Singapore wrapped up a two-year probe into flows related to the 1MDB. Prosecutors named him as a central figure linked to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, who was identified by Singapore police as a “key person of interest” in their probe. Low has also been described by DOJ investigators as the controller of a plan to steal billions from 1MDB.

According to international news organisations of repute, 1MDB is at the heart of several money-laundering and corruption probes across the globe.

Against such a background and given that the people in Putrajaya and their spin doctors can make black look white and vice versa, would anyone be surprised if any of these worms would come out with this incredulous statement: “Singapore and other countries are deliberately carrying out investigations and taking action to discredit Malaysia and its leaders because they are jealous of our success and that 1MDB has been able to help people in times of need?”

I wouldn’t be, but would you?

Last words:  When comparing state sovereign wealth funds, Singapore’s Temasek Holdings on Tuesday announced that its global portfolio is worth US$197 billion (about RM850 billion). Can someone tell us what 1MDB has to show besides a large amount of borrowing and crooked deals?

R NADESWARAN is an award-winning veteran journalist who writes on bread and butter issues with one agenda – a better quality of life for all Malaysians irrespective of colour, creed or religion. He can be reached at citizen.nades22@gmail.com.

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A Conspiracy of Dunes


July 12, 2017

The Conspiracy of Dunes

by Ross Douthat@www.nytimes.com

Here is a good rule of thumb for dealing with Donald Trump: Everyone who gives him the benefit of the doubt eventually regrets it.

This was true of clients and contractors and creditors throughout his business career. It was true of the sycophants and opportunists before whom he dangled cabinet appointments during the campaign and then, oh, never mind. It has been true of his cabinet members and spokesmen, whose attempts to defend and explain their boss’s conduct are gleefully undercut by the boss himself. And it should be true — for the sake of their souls, I sincerely hope it’s true — of the Republican leaders whose reputations for probity and principle he has stomped all over since winning their party’s nomination.

And now it’s true of me.

The benefit of the doubt I extended to Trump was limited, but on a rather important subject: I thought that direct collusion between his inner circle and Russian officialdom during the 2016 campaign was relatively unlikely and the odds of ever finding proof of such a conspiracy vanishingly low. A lot of weirdness around Trump and Russia, I argued, had a more normal explanation — he had made business deals with Russians, he still harbors a 1980s-era vision of superpower cooperation, and as a foreign-policy neophyte he clutched the idea of détente like a security blanket even as the Russians separately made moves to help him win.

You can read my argument in full here; it’s a mere six weeks old. It’s also no longer operative, because we know now that Donald Trump’s son, his son-in-law and his campaign manager all took a meeting in which it was explicitly promised that damaging information on Hillary Clinton would be supplied as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

 

The meeting’s existence does not carry us all the way to the maximal collusion scenario, in which Trump himself was aware of Russia’s role in the hack of the Democratic National Committee and ordered his aides to conspire with WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence to time the drip-drip-drip of hacked emails and maximize their impact.

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Donald Trump Jr. in a Political Bind over a Russian Connection

As the hapless Don Jr. — the Gob Bluth or Fredo Corleone of a family conspicuously short on Michaels — protested in his own defense, the Russian rendezvous we know about came before (though only slightly before) the WikiLeaks haul was announced. So the Trump team presumably assumed that it involved some other Hillary-related dirt — some of the missing Clinton server emails that Trump himself jokingly (“jokingly”?) urged Russian hackers to conjure and release, or direct evidence of Clinton Foundation corruption in its Russian relationships.

With that semi-exculpatory explanation in hand, you can grope your way to the current anti-anti-Trump talking point — that Don Jr. and company were just hoping to “gather oppo” to which a foreign government might happen to be privy, much as Democratic operatives looked to Ukraine for evidence of the Trump campaign’s shady ties.

But even if accepting oppo from a foreign government is technically legal — it probably is, but I leave that question to campaign finance lawyers to work out — this talking point takes you only so far. I am not a particularly fierce Russia hawk, but the Russians are still a more-hostile-than-not power these days, with stronger incentives to subvert American democracy than the average foreign government. So taking their oppo has a gravity that should have stopped a more upright and patriotic campaign short.

Second, if the Russians had been dangling some of Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails, those, too, would had to have been hacked — that is, stolen — to end up in Moscow’s hands. So Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner should have known going in that if the offer was genuine, the oppo useful, it might involve stolen goods.

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DT Jr., Jared Kusher, and Paul Manafort and the Russian Connection

But on the basis of the emails, the younger Trump went in not skeptically but eagerly (“if it’s what you say I love it”), ignoring or simply accepting the weird formulation about Russian support for Trump’s campaign. And then of course everybody lied about or “forgot” about the meeting, repeatedly and consistently, right up until the emails themselves made their way to the press.

So while this is not direct evidence that the president of the United States was complicit in a virtual burglary perpetrated against the other party during an election season, it’s strong evidence that we should drop the presumption that such collusion is an extreme or implausible scenario.

Instead, the mix of inexperience, incaution and conspiratorial glee on display in the emails suggests that people in Trump’s immediate family — not just satellites like Roger Stone — would have been delighted to collude if the opportunity presented itself. Indeed, if the Russians didn’t approach the Trump circle about how to handle the D.N.C. email trove, it was probably because they recognized that anyone this naïve, giddy and “Burn After Reading”-level stupid would make a rather poor espionage partner.

Then keep in mind, too, that all of this has come out (relatively) easily, thanks to digging by this newspaper’s reporters and leaks from the various factions in and around the White House, without the subpoenas and immunity deals that the formal investigations have at their disposal. That means there is probably more and worse to come, and the more there is, the worse the president’s dealings with James Comey look. Even if the president himself is innocent of Russian collusion, protecting your family from exposure is a pretty strong motive for obstruction.

In the end, impeachment is political, not legal, and the House G.O.P. probably won’t impeach for anything short of a transcript of a call between Trump and Putin in which the words “yes, I want you to hack their servers big-league, Vladimir” appear in black-and-white. And even then ….

But right now, the 2018 congressional elections promise to be a de facto referendum on impeachment. There are enough sparks in the smoke; there will probably be fire for some of Trump’s intimates before another year is out.

And as for the President himself — well, to conclude where I began, anyone presuming his innocence at this point should have all the confidence of Chris Christie awaiting his cabinet appointment, or Sean Spicer reading over the day’s talking points. Keep an eye on that Trump-monogrammed rug under your feet; it may not be there for long.

 

 

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics


July 3, 2017

Banyan

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics

https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21724432-former-prime-minister-reinventing-himself-leader-opposition-mahathir-mohamads

The former Prime Minister is reinventing himself as a leader of the Opposition

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The Doctor seeks a Return to the House

WHEN Mahathir Mohamad spent a week in hospital last year, at the age of 91, talk naturally turned to his legacy as Malaysia’s longest-serving former Prime Minister. How naive. Dr Mahathir may have stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in office, but he has hardly been retiring in retirement. His constant sniping helped topple his immediate successor, Abdullah Badawi, who lasted until 2009.

Now the old warhorse is picking a fight with Najib Razak, the Prime Minister since then and now leader of Dr Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has run Malaysia for the past 60 years. Dr Mahathir has registered a new political party and persuaded Pakatan Harapan, the fractious coalition that forms Malaysia’s main opposition, to admit it as a member. Now Pakatan is debating whether to make Dr Mahathir the chairman of their coalition—and, perhaps, their candidate for Prime Minister at elections which must be held within 13 months. Having long said that he would not be returning to Parliament, Dr Mahathir has lately been hinting that he would consider another stint in the top job.

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In Politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely turn of events. The original incarnation of the coalition Dr Mahathir might soon be running was formed in the late 1990s to oppose his own interminable rule. Its founder, Anwar Ibrahim, was Dr Mahathir’s deputy until the latter sacked him during a power struggle; he was later jailed on sham charges of corruption and sodomy. The current government’s methods are copied directly from Dr Mahathir’s playbook. Since 2015 Mr Anwar has been back in prison following a second sodomy conviction, this one just as dubious as the first. The reversal of the authoritarian turn Malaysia took under Dr Mahathir is one of Pakatan’s main objectives.

What makes all this even tougher to stomach is that Dr Mahathir’s conversion to the Opposition’s cause looks disturbingly incomplete. Though he is hobnobbing with former enemies, the old codger still finds it difficult to apologise for the excesses of his tenure. Many of his views remain wacky: in May he told the Financial Times that he still thinks the American or Israeli governments might have arranged the attacks of September 11th 2001. Can Malaysia’s opposition really find no more palatable leader?

These are desperate times, retort Dr Mahathir’s supporters. Since 2015 news about the looting of 1MDB, a government-owned investment firm from which at least $4.5bn has disappeared, has dragged Malaysia’s reputation through the muck. American government investigators say that 1MDB’s money was spent on jewellery, mansions, precious artworks and a yacht, and that nearly $700m of it went to the prime minister. Mr Najib says he has not received any money from 1MDB, and that $681m deposited into his personal accounts was a gift from a Saudi Royal (now returned). He has kept his job, but only after replacing the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.

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The Prognosis is that Najib Razak is likely to win GE-14

One might expect this scandal to propel Pakatan into power at the coming election, but instead the opposition looks likely to lose ground, perhaps even handing back to UMNO and its allies the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution. This bizarre reversal has much to do with Malaysia’s regrettable racial politics: the Malay-Muslim majority largely favours the government and the big ethnic-Chinese and -Indian minorities tend to vote against it. Mr Najib has baited an Islamist party into renewing calls for more flogging for moral lapses, forcing them to leave Pakatan. The split in the opposition will lead to lots of three-candidate races, in which UMNO will romp home.

Put in this context, Dr Mahathir’s reappearance is a godsend. It stands to transform Pakatan’s chances by granting access to a broad swathe of rural constituencies that they had previously thought unwinnable. Many Malays have fond memories of the booming economy of Dr Mahathir’s era (they overlook its crony capitalism and his intolerance for dissent); in their eyes, he put Malaysia on the map. As coalition chairman, Dr Mahathir might also bring some order to Pakatan’s noisy council meetings. His backing could be invaluable after a narrow victory or in a hung parliament, when UMNO’s creatures in the bureaucracy might be expected to put up a fight.

All these benefits could probably be obtained without offering to make Dr Mahathir the Prime Minister. But he may be the only front man upon whom most of the coalition can agree. That role had previously fallen to Mr Anwar, but it has become clear to all but a few holdouts that he cannot continue to manage the quarrelsome coalition from his cell. Voters are not sure whether to believe Pakatan when it says that, should it win, it will find some way to catapult Mr Anwar out of his chains and into the country’s top job. Nor are they much inspired by the notion of accepting a seat-warmer to run the country while this tricky manoeuvre takes place.

It could be worse

This is a depressing mess, even by Malaysia’s dismal standards. The opposition bears no blame for the dirty tricks which, over several shameful decades, the government has used to hobble Mr Anwar and many others. But by failing to nurture—or even to agree upon—the next generation of leaders, they have played straight into UMNO’s hands.

It is possible that the thought of hoisting Dr Mahathir into the top job will at last force the coalition to thrust a younger leader to the fore (some suspect that this is the outcome that Dr Mahathir, a shrewd strategist, has always had in mind). But it is also possible that, facing only uncomfortable options, they will end up making no decision at all. Some in Pakatan seem happy to barrel into the next election without telling voters who will lead Malaysia should they win. That might seem like pragmatism, but it is really just defeatism.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Doctor on call”

Pakatan Harapan: Get Going or You will be Trounced in GE-14


June 29, 2017

Pakatan Harapan: Get Going or You will be Trounced in GE-14

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

http://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/thinking-liberally/2017/06/20/this-pakatan-drama-is-getting-tiring-the-opposition-coalition-has-to-make-some-important-decisions-a/

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Mahathir and Anwar–The Harapans for Pakatan Harapan

The Opposition coalition has to make some important decisions about leadership, especially in the run-up to the general election.

PAKATAN Harapan is amazingly creative in creating job titles. Chairman, President and Ketua Umum have been floated as potential titles for their top posts, all aimed at ensuring one person is above everybody else without putting any of their big shots below the president.

The person is Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Despite being in prison, his letters and whispers still dictate how PKR decides. I cannot imagine how they will run a country. Every time a difficult question comes up in a Cabinet meeting, would they call for a coffee break while waiting for the postman to arrive?

They don’t seem to realise that, being in prison, Anwar’s own thought process would be easily influenced by what is conveyed to him and how the person visiting him explains it to him. The letters that he writes cannot possibly be based on a holistic consideration of all options and consequences.

Anwar’s camp in PKR says that if they win, they would ensure Anwar gets a royal pardon so that he becomes Prime Minister.

This is an extraordinary suggestion because the power to pardon belongs to our Rulers. No politicians in their rightful mind would ever assume that they could muscle over our Rulers, giving instructions just like that.

Luckily, over the weekend, Anwar declared he is not offering himself to be the prime minister candidate any more. This is a welcome deve­lopment because even those who do not support Pakatan are growing tired of their drama.

The stumbling block in Pakatan is PKR, because they are severely divided about Anwar’s future role, and Anwar’s camp in PKR feels insecure. However, Anwar’s latest announcement should allow PKR to move on.

Anwar’s camp in PKR must take the announcement as a call to stop naming him as the potential Prime Minister. Although Anwar was vague when saying he is “not offering” himself, they should not persuade him to change his mind, or plan for an interim Prime Minister who will pass the seat to Anwar later.

This should be made a definitive closure. Otherwise, that statement was nothing but a deception. I also urge Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to follow suit. But he should do more than Anwar. He should declare that he, too, is not interested in becoming Prime Minister again, and he will also not contest in GE14.

That would assuage Anwar’s camp and other critics in Pakatan. Pakatan must actively consider na­ming someone from their younger generation as prime minister. Wan Azizah has said she does not feel she is the best person for the post.

She is right. She is not. There are others who could do the job better. She should recuse herself too, and this will prevent allegations that Anwar is Prime Minister candidate by proxy.

Instead, Pakatan should name someone younger. This could be a game changer because others will immediately be under pressure to consider a different new line-up too. But the person should be from PKR, because Anwar’s camp will never accept PKR losing the Pime Minister candidacy.

Image result for Azmin Ali

It is time for Azmin Ali to take PKR and revitalise its political organization. Wan Azizah should retire from being Anwar Ibrahim’s proxy.

I have never had the chance to talk to Datuk Seri Mohamad Azmin Ali (above) personally, so my judgment may well be wrong here. But from afar, he seems to be the most obvious candidate from PKR. Despite all the ruckus between PAS and all the Pakatan parties, he has proven that he can hold the coalition together in Selangor.

Considering all the odds, this is no easy feat. Even Dr Mahathir and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin could not persuade PAS to remain in Pakatan. And he is also one of the very few with administrative experience.

Adding names likes Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir, Nurul Izzah Anwar and Salahuddin Ayob to the top line-up would make the election even more exciting.

Anwar, however, did not name a successor. This will likely encourage Anwar’s camp in PKR to work harder to block Azmin, because they have never fully trusted him. Anwar himself is partly to blame here. He should have endorsed a credible successor. Otherwise, Anwar and his camp in PKR remain the biggest stumbling block for Pakatan’s stability.

Pakatan should treat the issue of coalition leadership as separate from the Prime Minister candidate. I cannot imagine Wan Azizah being an effective chairman in a meeting attended by Dr Mahathir and Muh­yid­din.

These two figures are far more experienced than she. Yes, she has sacrificed a lot for Pakatan’s struggle. But now is the time for her and her family to make the most meaningful sacrifice for the cause, which is to give PKR and Pakatan the freedom to flourish.

Pakatan needs a chairman who can facilitate decision-making without having to wait for notes from Sungai Buloh prison. Dr Mahathir is the best person for that. After two decades of chairing Barisan Nasional, is there anyone more experienced than Dr Mahathir in chairing a coalition of political parties?

But if Dr Mahathir becomes chair­­man, it is only logical that Muhyiddin could not become president because that would be domination by one party. Muhyiddin’s expertise is in strategising for elections. He has led UMNO and Barisan Nasional to victory in so many successful general elections and by-elections. He is more valuable to Pakatan if he leads their electioneering machinery, regard­less of the title given to him.

Since their target is to defeat UMNO, there really is no one in Pakatan more knowledgeable than Muhyiddin about UMNO’s strategies, dirty tricks, and tactics.

It does not matter which party you or I support. It is tiring to watch the indecision of Anwar’s camp in PKR. It has become too much and has continued for too long.Since Anwar has opened the door, for goodness sake, PKR, please move on.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (www.ideas.org.my). The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.