Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government


March 4, 2019

Two Electoral Defeats in a Row–Wake Up Call for the ” New”Malaysia Government

by Sharifah Munirah Alatas

https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Pakatan Harapan (PH)  lost two by-elections in  just one month.

Last month, Barisan Nasional (BN) won its first post-GE14 by-election in Cameron Highlands. On Saturday, in Semenyih, it claimed its second victory.

In Cameron Highlands, the majority was 3,239 votes, and in Semenyih it was 1,914. Voter turnout in the Balakong, Seri Setia and Sungai Kandis by-elections were below the 50% mark. Cameron Highlands and Semenyih commanded higher percentages, 68.7% and 73.24% respectively.

They reveal that Malaysians are seasoned democratically. We are capable of voting one party out, in search of a better alternative. This comes only nine months after a previous “better alternative”.

The burning question now is, how will all the elected individuals in government chart their trajectory towards the fundamental task of “making our lives better”?

Since PH’s loss in Cameron Highlands, harebrained policies and schemes have been dished out to us. We may see more of these disappointments, post-Semenyih.

The latest flying car dream is a glaring disappointment. Entrepreneur Development Minister Redzuan Yusof claimed a week ago that it is a prototype targeted at transport service companies, and is not for sale to the general public.

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Why embark on this project now when there are millions of other housing, health, “rice, fish and vegetable” issues facing the public? These are the unsolved problems that are turning the public away from PH.

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I have not heard or read of any member of the public who is jumping for joy with the flying car prototype. The minister tried to calm nerves by saying that local technology would be used to attract foreign investment. The voters of Semenyih have proven that there are egalitarian, more democratic ways of attracting foreign investment.

Needless to say, spending about RM1 million on flying technology is a “cheap” way of skirting the problem of our public transport system.

On March 1, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said his ministry was open to the idea of building a new hospital in Semenyih.

One day after the by-election, Mahathir blamed the UMNO-PAS alliance and the nation’s debt for PH’s loss in Semenyih.

We hope this means that PH will scrap the plan to build the hospital in Semenyih. Building hospitals do not come cheap. Semenyih residents are not interested in a hospital. Instead, re-allocate funds towards widening the roads, easing traffic congestion and upgrading the public transportation system.

These are what the residents want, but nobody is listening to them. I should know, because I am one such resident.

The Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) has still not been recognised. It is a black mark in PH’s report card.

The public is convinced that PH is still committed to the “Malay agenda” when Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the government “needs to consider the feelings of the Malays”.

Even Arshad Ayub, Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) founding father, believes that Malaysia has reached a point where UiTM is ready to accept non-Malay students, albeit at the post-graduate level.

The public is fed up with the lack of meritocracy exercised by our institutions of higher education. It is not alien to me. Our culture of meritocracy is stunted, and it is driving PH supporters away.

The abolition of the goods and services tax (GST) has increased the price of goods. Tolls have not been reduced, nationally. The recent move to replace the toll system at four highways with congestion charges does not impress the public.

The Finance Ministry’s “zero-based budgeting approach” is goal-specific, rather than based on the BN-era budget calculation. The share for development has decreased to 17.4% of total expenditure. Instead, the share of the operating budget increased by 10.4%, reflecting sizeable emoluments attributed to the bloated civil service.

Despite Mahathir’s bemoaning the huge size of our civil service (almost 1.6 million), there are no policies in sight to trim it.

Rural Malaysia has accepted their lot at the bottom of the social hierarchy. They are less interested in former PM Najib Razak’s conviction in the 1MDB scandal. This explains why BN is still very influential in grassroots Malaysia.

The reason, of course, is BN’s (in collusion with PAS’) ability to contextualise development within an ethno-religious framework. PH seems to be following suit, as indicated by the abrupt U-turn on ICERD late last year.

But BN has more magnetic power, backed by decades of “familiarity” among the rural masses. PH will not have the staying power if they do not pay attention to economic and education reforms that would otherwise benefit the grassroots.

Reform-minded, urban Malays will be the first to re-orientate their loyalties after feeling cheated and disillusioned. Will the non-Malays then resort to forming a third coalition out of desperation?

The Malays, Islam and the “war for Malay support” have resurfaced as the stalwart of post-GE14 politics. As we race towards GE15, another scenario awaits us. A growing prejudice based on religio-ethics has started to boil.

The door to ijtihad seems to be closing rapidly. TV1 airs daily religious programmes dedicated to textual interpretations of the Quran. Contents are restricted to deconstructing Arabic words and sentences. These programmes are not focused on the cognitive processes needed to adapt the Quranic message to our pluralistic, socio-cultural milieu.

Mahathir has often lamented how our national schools have become religious schools. Since PH came to power, though, I have not noticed any changes to our national television stations.

Besides our schools and universities, the television functions as an education tool as well. It is time our ministries affect policy reforms that reach the grassroots level. It is not good enough to “look into the issue” or delay by forming one intra-ministerial committee after another.

BN continues to capture the rural Malay psyche by latching onto a skewed interpretation of Islam through the print media and television. A sizeable group of progressive Muslims in Malaysia are aware of these tricks but seem to accept the lesser of two evils.

In the midst of PH’s mounting setbacks, (in fulfilling their election promises), reform-minded Malays are finding comfort in BN and PAS.

The by-election in Semenyih, home to 46.3% Malays and 33.7% Chinese, is proof of this.

Muhammad Aiman Zainali’s candidacy proved a disaster because he was simply the wrong choice. He did not constructively address an iota of the issues facing Semenyih residents.

Neither did he try to win over the community by recommending solutions to the problems residents face. He did not even play the race and religion card, the way BN did.

Twenty million Malaysians realise that it was ridiculous for Aiman to contest. Merely being of “likeable personality” or the son-in-law of the deceased is not a game-changer. Lest we forget, nepotism was one of the main reasons BN fell from power.

We can expect the next few years leading up to GE15 to be checkered by communal politics. Prejudice and growing extremism are on the horizon. PH needs to work in unison, to implement reform-oriented policies amidst the racial and religious divide we are experiencing.

Most importantly, PH has to make inroads to the grassroots. It takes courage, effort and political will.

Our leaders have to be humble, work hard and listen to the people. Our democratic system implores them to do so. If they do not, greed, arrogance and megalomania will be their first class ticket out of Putrajaya.

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

Semenyih result sends a message to Harapan, says DPM–What Massage, Madam Deputy Prime Minister? Honey moon is over. Voters want results.


March3, 2019

Semenyih result sends a message to Harapan, says DPM–What Massage, Madam Deputy Prime Minister? Honeymoon is over. Voters want results.

Bernama  |  Published:  |  Modified:

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/466358

The result of the Semenyih by-election is a message for Pakatan Harapan to study issues deeply, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said today.

Wan Azizah, the Harapan president, said the coalition has to know what is needed to win in a by-election or a general election.

“We have a democratic system, we have a choice and we want the people to know that we are doing our best for them,” she told reporters after the 2019 Chinese New Year open house for Port Dickson.

She said this when commenting on the result of yesterday’s by-election, which saw BN candidate Zakaria Hanafi winning the four-cornered contest a majority of 1,914 votes.

Zakaria defeated Harapan candidate Muhammad Aiman Zainali, who polled 17,866 votes, PSM’ Nik Aziz Afiq Abdul (847 votes) and independent Kuan Chee Heng (725 votes).

‘Sentiments reflected’

Meanwhile, PKR Ppresident Anwar Ibrahim said the results of the Semenyih polls reflected the feelings of the people, especially those of the Malay community.

“We must take (the sentiments) into account, but we must continue with our tasks.

“I am confident that with a little time, the people will understand why we take necessary measures in implementing our programmes.

“We must also remember that the nature of the constituents is important for us to study.”

Anwar said that in the democratic process, the government respected the decision made by the people.

“The Selangor government is still strong under Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari and the federal government under Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

“It is my opinion that Malaysia must continue with the spirit of the (Federal) Constitution, which promises to preserve the position of Islam and the Malays, but the government must also be firm in preserving racial harmony.

“Harapan must represent the sentiments and needs and aspirations of all races,” he said.

Asked whether Mahathir’s aura had disappeared following the two straight by-election defeats, Anwar said it was inappropriate to make such an interpretation.

“Because Cameron Highlands is not a seat held by Harapan, we accept it.

“The Semenyih by-election gave a picture that there are several problems that we have yet to resolve,” he stressed.

Earlier the Port Dickson MP said the government under the leadership of Mahathir was endeavouring to bring changes to the people, but it was not possible to see the outcome within a period of several months.

“People ask me what is the biggest success achieved by Harapan under Mahathir.

“I say that the biggest success was that we managed to save the country from a government that was committing major robberies of the national income – not a minor robbery, not stealing chicken, but stealing national wealth.”

‘People’s right and voice’

Harapan Deputy President Lim Guan Eng, meanwhile, said that the coalition accepts its candidate’s failure to defend the state seat.

Lim described the result as the right and voice of the people in selecting their representative in the area.

“I accept the result from the people. This is the people’s right and voice.

“The expectation is that BN will fulfil their promises and statements made in the by-election.

“For Harapan, we will continue to unite the people,” he told reporters after an event in George Town.

Bernama

Thailand’s misstep on the way back towards democracy


February 18, 2019

Thailand’s misstep on the way back towards democracy

By Editorial Board, ANU

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/02/18/thailands-misstep-on-the-way-back-towards-democracy/

Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, the elder sister of Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn. Picture: AFP

Last week, Thailand’s upcoming elections took a bizarre turn when Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya (pic above), Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, was registered as a prime ministerial candidate by Thai Raksa Chart, a Thai political party affiliated with the exiled billionaire and former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The King swiftly condemned the move as unconstitutional and an inappropriate interference of the monarchy in Thai political affairs. But both interventions on the way to the 24 March elections leave many questions about the country’s transition from military rule along the road back towards democracy.

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By most reckoning, Thailand is the second most important member of ASEAN. Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second largest economy although its growth rate, which had been running at 6.5 per cent before martial law was imposed, is now languishing at under 1 per cent. Its people are more prosperous than the population-large Indonesia and, although stalled in the middle income trap, its economy includes the most advanced industrial production networks in Southeast Asia and is highly integrated into the East Asian economy.

Thailand’s economy is flexible and globally connected. Its production networks enhance regional productivity and efficiency. ASEAN efforts at regionalising its market and production depend on re-igniting Thailand’s success — positioned as it was at the leading edge of Southeast Asian modern industrial development. Its political troubles of the past half-decade have posed the usual issues for international investor confidence for Thailand itself, but they’ve also raised serious issues about its ability and commitment to deal with ASEAN’s challenges in an uncertain world economy and the new shape of geopolitics in the region.

This year, Thailand chairs the ASEAN group and in that position it will play a crucial role in trying to frame the region’s response to perhaps the most testing international and economic environment that the regional organisation has confronted in the more than 50 years since it was founded. Thailand’s return to democracy after the coup five years ago is in part preparation for the leadership role for which it now has responsibility.

At its roots, the fracture of Thai political stability five years ago was a consequence of the nation’s failure to build a stable consensus about how to distribute political and economic power across society, ordered around the monarchy, the military and bureaucratic elite, and the people, gradually enfranchised through elections after the student uprisings in 1973. The restoration of a measure of democracy this time round depends on the commitment of the most powerful interests in the nation, including the palace and the army, to respect electoral mandates. If things go badly wrong again, Thailand — one of the most successful societies in Asia and a society that is comfortable with its positive international and regional standing — will not only find it more difficult to re-establish its place back on the perch, it will weaken ASEAN’s new determination to assert its centrality in regional affairs.

One view is that Thailand can manage its regional responsibilities, as chair of ASEAN, and continuing political turmoil at the same time. There will be no repeat of the 2009 episode when protesters forced the cancellation of that year’s ASEAN Summit and badly dented ASEAN’s international standing. That’s probably a sanguine view of Thailand and ASEAN’s situation today. The region and the organisation are under intense pressure and searing critical examination. If Thailand’s missteps along the road towards democracy spill over into uncertainties about the process of setting a new strategic direction for ASEAN, the costs will be non-trivial.

The monarchy appears to have shown decisiveness and appealed to worthy principle in dealing with the fiasco created by Princess Ubolratana’s unusual entry into Thai politics via Thaksin’s clumsy tactic. Yet our first lead piece this week by Patrick Jory speculates that the King may have had knowledge of his sister’s and Thaksin’s move. Were that so, it would forebode continuing febrility in the relationship between the monarchy and the bureaucratic elite.

On coronation, it’s believed, the King could in fact extend political amnesties to cement the progress of constitutional monarchy under his reign. If that extended to Thaksin, however, there would certainly be further trouble down the track. Meanwhile, the role of the military and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will be decisive. He was nominated as a prime ministerial candidate by the Phalang Pracharat Party at the same time as Princess Ubolratana’s spectacular flameout. Although this was not unexpected, it raises difficult questions. Prayut’s nomination for prime minister by Phalang Pracharat can be argued to compromise the military’s interest in respecting the electoral mandate. The appointment of senators (who have a vote with elected parliamentarians on the choice of prime minister) is by the National Council for Peace and Order of which Prayut’s chair. Senate votes could carry the day in the likely event that there is no decisive majority outcome from the popular electoral vote.

In our second lead piece this week, Greg Raymond canvasses these and other political problems in Thailand today.

‘Much is still to play out,’ says Raymond, ‘but there are reasons to think that both sides of politics may see it in their best interests to act with restraint. One of the beneficiaries of what has occurred is without doubt Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’. Prayut looks like he has a strong chance of being elected prime minister. He needs to secure 126 seats from a coalition of his own and other smaller parties, and command virtually all of the 250-member Senate (as is expected given senators are appointed by the junta) to get a winnable 376 seats to ensure his installation as prime minister.

But political emotions are inevitably running high and Thaksin’s might not be the only misstep. Were the military to cancel the election in the light of what has happened, or take excessively punitive measures against the Thai Raksa Chart party, it could trigger unrest and make a volatile situation more so. The Pheu Thai Party, the main Thaksin-affiliated party, is still in the contest if it can preserve its cool and insulate itself from whatever happens to the Thai Raksa Chart party, including possible dissolution.

Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, Vice Rector of Thammasat University, has urged Prime Minister Prayut to stand back and withdraw from the Prime ministerial contest in order to avoid a conflict of interest for the National Council for Peace and Order in its role in the appointment of senators. That would be an act of great statesmanship, but an unlikely turn of events. There is quite a way to go before Thailand restores its rank among the democracies and many uncertainties along the path over the next several months.

The EAF Editorial Board is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.

 

Najib, still the man?


January 25, 2019

Najib, still the man?

//www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/01/25/najib-still-the-man/

 

Najib Razak is certainly a man on a mission (decommission). He seems intent on trying to revive his standing by convincing his base that he was unfairly demonised by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and unjustly tarnished by the 1MDB scandal. His efforts appear to be showing some results; he was mobbed by villagers in Sg. Koyan and elsewhere in Cameron Highlands recently when he campaigned there on behalf of Barisan Nasional (BN).

And it was not just Cameron Highlands. In the last few months, despite multiple corruption charges hanging over his balding head, he has been more visible and more vocal than many PH leaders, dishing out advice, skilfully exploiting local grievances and hammering away at PH’s perceived failures. He even managed to steal the show at the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.

He’s also proving adept at taking credit for everything good and blaming PH for everything bad, never mind that PH is struggling to clean up the colossal mess he himself left behind. But memories are short and the more gullible are already pining for “the good old days” under Najib.

In Cameron Highlands, he even had the audacity to tell voters, “Don’t allow them [PH] to cheat us… don’t trust them… how long do we want them to continue cheating us?” And this from the man who stands accused of cheating the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgits!

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Down but not out

Clearly, Najib may be down but he is not yet.

If he succeeds in convincing the Malay-Muslim electorate, in particular, that he is but a victim of a political vendetta or worse still, a non-Malay conspiracy (something that unfortunately all too many will be quick to believe), his influence will only grow.

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After all, nothing can be ruled out in politics; if Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim can rise again from the ashes, so can he.

Unlike other UMNO leaders who remain largely clueless, Najib understands that the UMNO brand and its formula of racial and religious exclusiveness still retains its appeal among many Malay-Muslim voters and can be weaponised against PH. He knows too that his only chance of avoiding serious jail time lies in UMNO regaining power.

The feudal mindset of many voters also works in Najib’s favour. They are often willing to overlook serious, even criminal shortcomings in a leader so long as he is perceived to have defended Malay rights. They remain eternally grateful to a leader for building a mosque here or a road there, or for giving them a pittance in handouts while he helps himself to millions from the public purse.

Court of public opinion

PH has focused on bringing Najib to justice via the courts for his alleged criminal misconduct. To that end, the government has painstakingly built what looks to be a strong legal case against him with multiple charges now pending in court.

Of course, it is absolutely necessary to bring Najib to justice for whatever crimes he may have committed. However, the legal process is often a slow and cumbersome one and the outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Nevertheless, the case against Najib is more than a legal one; it is a political one and must be fought and won in the court of public opinion as well.

PH must rise to the challenge

If PH ever hopes to win the support of Malay-Muslims, it must persuade them that they will be better off in every respect under a clean and responsible government led by PH than a corrupt one led by UMNO.

The full extent of the corruption and the abuse of power of the Najib administration and how it has hurt the Malays themselves must be emphasised. Just look at the substandard housing of FELDA settlers in the Cameron Highlands constituency and the hardship they still face; if corruption hadn’t robbed the nation of billions, their lives would undoubtedly be far different today.

Of necessity, this is a political campaign that can only be fought and won by PH’s Malay leadership. They must be more proactive in carrying the fight to the Malay heartland where support for UMNO and Najib remain strong. And not just during by-elections. Until PH has firmly established itself in the Malay heartland, it needs to be in continuous election mode.

PH’s Malay leadership must also take on Najib more directly. Najib is, after all, challenging their legitimacy to represent the Malays and they must confront him. It wouldn’t have escaped notice that it is Messrs Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng who are constantly attacking or refuting Najib while PH’s Malay leadership remains largely silent, even deferential at times. This has allowed Najib to argue that only DAP seems “obsessed” with attacking him, that this is somehow racially motivated.

The battle against Najib (and UMNO) for the allegiance of Malay-Muslim voters is PH’s biggest and most important challenge; if they don’t rise to it sooner than later, they might well be forfeiting the future of Malaysia Baru.

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

Euphemisms in geopolitics


November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

Cambodia Update


November 13, 2018

Cambodia Update

Image result for Cambodia's Hun Sen

 

by Dr. Katrin Travouillon

http://www.newmandala.org/where-in-the-world-is-cambodia/

The Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy left Cambodia in 2015 escaping political charges. Two years later, party president Kem Sokha was jailed on treason charges. Rainsy has since made it his mission to create a sense of urgency among the world’s leaders to intervene in Cambodia lest democracy come to an end.

Image result for Cambodia's Hun Sen

Yet hundreds of fundraisers, editorials, speeches, rallies, and handshakes with foreign dignitaries and supporters in Europe, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia did not prevent the inevitable. Cambodia’s parliamentary elections in July 2018 went through as planned: without Rainsy, without Sokha, without the CNRP, and thus without any substantial opposition to perpetual Prime Minister Hun Sen. His Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept all available seats. With the CNRP dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in late 2017, 19 hitherto-marginal parties were the only remaining alternatives; these parties won no seats.

https://giphy.com/embed/mMFTiBRlQXMii1NUHK

 

Even casual observers of Cambodian politics are aware of the pivotal role the 1991 Paris Peace Accords play in the opposition’s attempts to call foreign actors to action. Over the past two decades, the PPA consistently provided Rainsy and his fellow opposition members with a script to claim a special relationship—a common destiny, even—that binds Cambodia to the rest of the “developed, democratic” world.

In this narrative, the designers and signatories of the PPA are morally, possibly even legally, obliged to protect their legacy and the political system it created. The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) implemented the agreements and organised the first nationwide democratic elections in 1993.

To a certain degree, Rainsy’s key audience—the international community—seems amenable to these demands. Hun Sen’s 2017–18 crackdown on the CNRP, the independent media and civil society all drew swift condemnation from international leaders and their organisations. Financial and technical support for the election was withdrawn by the US and the EU as well as Japan, followed by threats to take further action should his government not reverse course.

Image result for Cambodia's Hun Sen

Rainsy’s forced absence from Cambodia has thus only strengthened the symbiotic relationship between the opposition leader and the so-called international community: whenever it becomes obvious how little substantial influence they have on the design and direction of Cambodia’s political system they turn to each other for reassurance that they are relevant, powerful, and on the right side of history.

To many international observers, the vision conveyed in the exchanges is certainly appealing: it is that of a shared agenda and a strong, progressive political partnership on behalf of the Cambodian people. This is all the more so at a moment of democratic decline in the region, coinciding with an identity crisis of the West.

However, it is also problematic to turn to these public expressions of mutual affection in an attempt to get a sense for the ideas and motivations of those Cambodian political actors that remain committed to the country’s formal political institutions.

A narrative of suspicion

In a series of interviews I conducted in the two weeks prior to the election in July 2018, the leaders of five of the participating non-CPP parties expressed their thoughts on the barrage of international statements, threats, and promises directed at Cambodia and its leaders in an attempt to convince Hun Sen to let the CNRP participate.

Those parties’ interests and motivations are under considerable scrutiny: Pich Sros had supported the dismantling of the CNRP, and his Cambodian Youth Party(CYP) briefly benefited from the subsequent distribution of the CNRP’s parliamentary seats. The Khmer National Unity Party’s (KNUP) Bun Chhay had been released from prison just in time for the elections. As for those parties considered to be more authentically interested in advancing democracy in Cambodia? “Sam Rainsy is defaming us abroad,” Sam Inn from the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) said matter-of-factly, “says that we are puppets of Hun Sen”. And Kong Monika, son of a former CNRP member and leader of the Khmer Will Party, likewise conceded that many see him as a “traitor”.

Many critics of the remaining non-CPP parties saw their suspicions confirmed when leaders of almost all competing parties decided to join Hun Sen’s Supreme Consultative Council  after the CPP’s victory, in exchange for the honorific title of Ek Udom (Excellency) and a government salary (of those interviewed, only the Grassroots Democracy Party and League for Democracy Party declined).

It goes without saying that the timing of the interviews and their role as party leaders effectively obliged all speakers to defend the value of the electoral process against critical domestic and international commentators.

In this regard it is easy to see why many will dismiss these voices as the irrelevant thoughts of an irrelevant elite. After all, they decided to participate in the sham elections, providing legitimacy to a process that only served to further facilitate Cambodia’s “descent into outright dictatorship”.

Yet with every day that passes since the election, the tensions this conflict created become less and less important. More importantly, there is the fact that the interviewed actors, regardless of their proximity or distance to the government of Hun Sen, consistently drew on similar narratives and themes when presenting their views of Cambodia’s relation to the international actors that are perceived to have an interest in their country.

These consistencies (in substance, not style) are further corroborated by the debates as they play out on social media and by a series of interviews that Julie Bernath and I conducted with Cambodian political activists, advisors, and civil society leaders in 2017 and 2018.

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Taken together, they draw attention to the factors that determine the space and the scales that Cambodia’s politicians (including Hun Sen) use to situate their policies vis-à-vis foreign countries. In the amicable exchanges, that purport to draw solely on the spirit of the PPA when constructing transnational political alliances on behalf of the Cambodian people, these determinants are often hidden, downplayed, or ignored.

Chief among those recurring motives in the pre-election interviews was a tendency to view the international community as partisan, biased and acting on behalf of the CNRP.

Domestically, the repeated discursive interventions by foreign actors and their demands to reinstate the CNRP have thus contributed to revive the use of the politically loaded distinctions between Khmer “inside” and “outside” of the country. When conflicts ravaged the country in the 1960s and 1970s, knowledge about the whereabouts of a person became deeply entangled with perceived political affiliations as different factions used different provinces and border camps to recruit and train their followers, while others fled the country. Former refugees who returned to Cambodia in the early 1990s to support Cambodia’s liberal reforms were not always received with open arms. Instead, many envied and resented them for the opportunities they had abroad, while those “inside of the country” suffered. Now, Kong Monika deemed Rainsy’s call for an election boycott a bad strategy because “it will cause hardship for the people inside the country, [he] is outside … he won’t have security problems, he is safe.”

The party representatives reacted equally dismissively to the EU’s threat to withdraw trade preferences, which have been the bedrock of Cambodia’s garment-export economy. The EU recently announced that Cambodia may indeed be cut off from the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

Such measures, this was the general assessment “won’t affect the people in power, it won’t affect the opposition leaders either. [It] will have an impact, it will affect Cambodia, but who will affect the most? The innocent people,” said Kong Monika.

Or, in a slightly more dramatic fashion, Pich Sros declared that “the people who will die first aren’t Hun Sen or Sam Rainsy”. Aware of the potential ramifications this strategy may have for him, Rainsy told “all factory workers” that “when sanctions are mounted against Hun Sen and his regime by the international community, it will not be the CNRP that is to blame. [It is] Hun Sen, because he undermines democracy and abuses human rights.”

The question here is if their economically precarious situation leaves the affected people any chance to appreciate whatever long-term game it is that political leaders are playing when these measures begin to negatively affect their livelihoods.

Moral superiority and hierarchies

On the ground, the constant criticism of Cambodia as “undemocratic” can also feed into a sense of resentment against the paternalism of distant observers. Unlike Japan, which was held up by the political figures as a model because it simply “helps Cambodia as a poor country” Western actors are often viewed to possess a false sense of moral superiority. Those speaking out in the name of the international community did of course expressly condemn the country’s ruling elite, yet, many do not take kindly to the hierarchies between Cambodia and other countries that such criticism establishes. In Prich Sros’ words:

“So international observers criticise Cambodia for being undemocratic. Undemocratic according to what standard? [What about] the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam? The US is close to all of them! Why are they not threatening to end business with Thailand? Why is the US not applying any pressure to Thailand? […] Which standard are they using? Frankly, I haven’t seen it anywhere in this world, this ‘democracy’.”

And then there are the lessons learned from the country’s recent history of wars and conflicts. Foreign actors fanned the flames in all of them:

“Because we have learned from experiences that whenever we Khmer, when our country became dependent on one great power we were not at peace; before, during the Lon Nol period, we became solely dependent on the US and fought against communism, then later on, we became dependent on China and fought against the US. Every time we become dependent on a great power we are not at peace.” (Sam Inn)

These more recent experiences feed into a collective memory already profoundly shaped by images of shifting borders and territorial losses. As a result, it is an ambivalent mix of anxiety and pragmatism that feeds into politicians’ assessments of foreign actors’ motivations to cooperate and engage with a country like Cambodia.

Its neighbours? They are still overwhelmingly viewed with deep-seated suspicion by my interviewees. The border dispute with Thailand over Preah Vihear is still fresh on people’s minds and reports over documented “encroachment” from Vietnam—considered to be driven predominantly by its intention to “swallow” its neighbours—routinely serve to stir up the public.

China? It is mostly driven by self-interest in the party leaders’ eyes. It is seen to benefit from Cambodia through strategic investments and exploitative business practices:

“There are many Vietnamese and Chinese factories and the government is giving out land concessions and a lot of business to these factories. And all those factories do not have to do anything. They cut the trees, cut the trees and sell them. They mine, mine and destroy the Cambodian resources but they aren’t creating any work for Cambodians in this context.” (Kong Moncia)

Chinese support for the elections in July was thus not framed as an attempt to create a new one-party state in its image, but as a calculated move to stabilise its strategic position.

And the “international community”?

The predominant identity accorded to Cambodia as a country and nation in their interactions with representatives of the Western countries is that of an “aid” recipient.

In an attempt to capture the general sentiment that was expressed during these interviews and those jointly conducted with Bernath, the American sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s observation about “gratitude” comes to mind: it contains not only a sense of appreciation, but likewise a sense of indebtedness. As such, the long and often heavy-handed involvement of donor countries has also given rise to notions of unease or even resentment. In the words of the LDP’s Kem Veasna:

“There are three groups of people that pretend to be generous: one, politicians; two, religious people; and three … the civil society […] They do this for a salary. […] I talk about this a lot in public forums. I am against the international community.”

In this regard, Monika’s statement reads like a final stroke under the views expressed by all interviewed politicians:

“I think that there is a political deadlock in Cambodia today that can only be overcome by a dialogue between Khmer and Khmer. We cannot always rely on foreigners for help … we have seen historically that, asking this side for help or that side for help … those who are the victims [of this strategy] are the Cambodian people.”

A new rhetoric

The Cambodian people harbour no illusions when it comes to the intentions of anyone “elected” to power to act in their interest. A few days prior to casting her ballot, a teacher summarised her expectations with a Khmer proverb that loosely translates to: “before the election they court you, after the election is won, they club you”.

And while such criticism is mostly aimed at the government, it also becomes increasingly difficult to speak of Cambodia’s opposition parties without putting the very term in ironic quotation marks. Yet, those actors and institutions that should have a vital interest in facilitating a constructive dialogue between Cambodians—among them ASEAN and the politically active diasporas in the US and Australia—should still take note of all areas of contention and dissent that were mapped out here.

The anxieties, concerns, and resentments expressed here are sparked by others’ perceived interest in their territory, their resources, but also the tensions caused by what Berit Blieseman and Florian Kühn referred to as the paradox of the international community (likewise, a concept that deserves its quotation marks): it is possible to morally exclude Hun Sen and his government from the international community, yet, structurally Cambodia—the country and its people—will remain part of it.

Many remain committed to the vision of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. Yet, the exiled opposition needs to find ways to evoke its principles without waving the paper. This decade-long practice has closely associated the PPA with partisan, not universal, claims. As a result, international alliances forged in its name cannot rely on their good intentions. Instead, the ”international community” needs to evaluate to what extent they need a domestic political constituency able and willing to support the rationale for their interventions.

In the absence of such voices, and the government’s near monopoly on the media, can blunt measures like the proposed EU sanctions—with their simultaneously vague and extensive goals—really succeed, or are they more likely to lead to the type of “perverse effects” observed elsewhere?

Considering the Prime Minister’s firm control over Cambodia’s political and economic institutions and his proven ability to exploit the tension caused by conflicts and disputes in all those three areas, a thorough review of democracy promoters’ rhetoric and strategy might well be overdue.


The interviews referenced in this article were conducted in the context of an ongoing joint research project with Dr. Julie Bernath on the political uses and abuses of the “international community” in Cambodia since 1991.