Ahok wins Round One of Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Elections–Good News


February 24, 2017

Ahok wins Round One of Jakarta’s Gubernatorial Elections–Good News

by Charlotte Setijadi

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Incumbent Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) is a dynamic Governor of Jakarta

Unofficial results of the Jakarta gubernatorial election last week show that embattled incumbent Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) has won with 43 per cent of the votes.

However, since Purnama and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat failed to secure the 50 per cent threshold needed for an outright victory, the election will go to a run-off scheduled for April 19.

They will go head to head against former Education Minister Anies Baswedan and running mate Sandiaga Uno, who came a close second with 40 per cent of the votes.

Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s son Agus Yudhoyono and running mate Sylviana Murni are out of the second-round race after coming last with less than 18 per cent of the votes.

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The first-round election result came after months of controversy and civil unrest following allegations of blasphemy against Purnama for allegedly insulting the Quran. The case centred on an edited video showing him telling a small crowd in Jakarta’s Thousand Islands Regency not to be “fooled” by those who use Al Maidah verse 51 of the Quran to convince Muslims that it is a sin to vote for a non-Muslim leader.

Purnama, a Christian of Chinese descent, has pleaded his innocence and apologised. But the ongoing blasphemy trial has clearly hurt his campaign.

Before the blasphemy allegations, Purnama’s electability rating was at over 50 per cent, indicating that a first-round victory was not only possible, but likely.

His opponent Baswedan was a known political figure, but he was a newcomer to Jakarta politics, and many voters distrusted him for quickly switching political camps to Prabowo Subianto’s coalition after he was sacked from the Education Ministry in President Joko Widodo’s last Cabinet reshuffle. Similarly, Agus Yudhoyono was a completely new political figure and largely seen as a puppet for his ambitious father’s political manoeuvres.

While Purnama’s ethnicity and religion had always brought about protests from radical Muslim groups such as the Islamic Defenders’ Front (FPI), the straight-talking and brash governor consistently achieved more than 70 per cent in performance satisfaction ratings with programmes such as the JakartaT project and swift slum evictions around the city’s clogged-up river banks.

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Furthermore, with President Widodo’s PDI-P party behind him (in coalition with Golkar, National Democrat and Hanura parties), Purnama had the strongest party mechanism support, not to mention the many people in Jakarta who supported him through grassroots channels.

This was why Purnama’s Al-Maidah comment was a gift for the Islamist factions and for his political opponents, as well as those of his close ally Widodo.

Purnama’s electability ratings plummeted to almost 20 per cent at their worst in early November 2016. The blasphemy issue divided Jakarta, and race and religion dominated public discourse during the election campaign.

Suddenly, a vote for Purnama was a vote against Islam, and the far-right Islamist factions were quick to garner anti-Ahok sentiments. Because of this case, previously marginal radical Muslim vigilante groups such as the FPI became political players to be reckoned with.

Indonesian Police Chief Tito Karnavian and Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto had to meet FPI leader Rizieq Shihab to urge calm following the successful mass mobilisation of anti-Ahok Muslim protesters.

While his opponents never directly condemned Purnama for blasphemy, they certainly benefited from the Islamist sentiments.

Throughout the campaign, both Baswedan and Yudhoyono emphasised their Muslim identities and made shows of Islamic piety to appeal to Muslim voters. Baswedan even went as far as meeting the FPI in a move that shocked those who had seen him as a moderate Muslim politician.

Furthermore, rising anti-Chinese sentiments alleging various Chinese economic and political conspiracies behind Purnama and the President have created legitimate worries among Chinese Indonesians traumatised by past anti-Chinese attacks during times of political instability.

Evidently, the strategy of stirring up race and religious issues had worked.

Despite having a high performance satisfaction rating as governor, Purnama did not win outright and the battle will go into a second and final round. This was a huge blow for his camp as an Ahok victory in the second round will be even more difficult.

So, what can we expect next?

Now that there is more at stake with just two contenders, the political gloves are off and we can expect amplified religious and racial campaigning in the second round. The on-going blasphemy trial will continue to put the case in the spotlight and cast doubts about Purnama’s future.

The question now is whom Yudhoyono’s supporters will back in the second round. Assuming that the majority of Yudhoyono’s 18 per cent of votes came from Muslim voters who had refused to vote for Purnama, the majority will presumably go towards Baswedan as the other Muslim candidate.

However, it is also not all doom and gloom for Purnama. The very fact that he was able to bounce back and secure a first-round election victory despite the blasphemy case and concerted political attacks show that many in Muslim-majority Jakarta were able to see past race and religious issues in their voting decision.

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The second round of the election will be a test of just how mature and open-minded Jakarta voters really are. Purnama and his campaign team must convince moderate Muslim swing voters to focus on his policy achievements and to stand together against the demands of hardline Islamists.

Looking further afield, the political rhetoric, power play and result of the Jakarta gubernatorial election will have major implications for the 2019 presidential polls.

An Ahok defeat will be a major blow for Widodo and his PDI-P party, as not having Purnama as an ally at the leadership of the capital city would weaken the president’s hold on power.

More importantly, it would show that his opponents’ strategy of using race and religious issues as a political tool to destabilise and delegitimise Widodo’s government has worked.

This would in turn set a dangerous precedent in the lead-up to the 2019 presidential election and for the future of Indonesian plural society more generally. — TODAY

* Charlotte Setijadi is visiting fellow at the Indonesia Studies Programme, Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute.

 

A Malaysian Trilogy


February 3, 2017

A Malaysian Trilogy

by Dr Chin Huat-Wong

PENANG, Malaysia — How does he do it? How does Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia stay in power despite allegations that he embezzled $1 billion from a sovereign wealth fund?

Corruption is nothing new here, but the scale and implications of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affair are staggering. It may be the world’s largest money-laundering scandal involving a sitting head of government. The case is being investigated by authorities in at least six foreign states, including the U.S. Justice Department.

Yet there’s been no mutiny within Mr. Najib’s party, no vote of censure in Parliament, no mass protests. In both 2015 and 2016, tens of thousands of supporters of BERSIH, an electoral-reform movement, took to the streets calling for Mr. Najib’s resignation. But the demonstrations don’t seem to have loosened his grip on his party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), nor UMNO’s grip on Malaysia: UMNO has been governing the country in coalition governments for six decades.

Mahathir Mohamad, a former Prime Minister and former mentor of Mr. Najib who recently left UMNO, blames the political stagnation on personal patronage — or what he calls “animal feed.” Others blame it on disarray within the opposition, an uneasy assemblage of parties representing different ethnic and religious interests.

But both explanations place too much emphasis on agency among the elites and too little on structural causes. Mr. Najib remains in power because Malaysia has become an electoral one-party state and because UMNO has captured the Muslim-Malay majority by peddling communalism under the guise of promoting equality. The opposition has yet to find an alternative model on which to build a sustainable coalition for change.

In 1969, after UMNO suffered an unprecedented electoral setback, Muslim Malays’ longstanding grievances about their economic marginalization, a byproduct of British colonialism, devolved into widespread riots between the Malay majority and the Chinese minority. Two years of emergency rule followed.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia after delivering remarks at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month. Credit Fazry Ismail/European Pressphoto Agency

Abdul Razak Hussein, the first Prime Minister after the May 13, 1969 riots (and Mr. Najib’s father), approached multiparty democracy with great cynicism. He co-opted opposition groups into the governing coalition. He permanently abolished local elections, which had previously put opposition parties in charge of municipalities and given them standing to challenge the federal government’s authority. And his government tightened the sedition law to ban discussion of sensitive communal issues.

Most important, Mr. Razak introduced the New Economic Policy, a nativist plan to restructure the economy, then dominated by local ethnic Chinese and foreign capital. Muslim Malays and indigenous peoples of Borneo, together known as bumiputera, were given preferential access to education, employment, equity and homeownership. These groups soon came to dominate the fast-expanding bureaucracy and state enterprises.

The policy was a masterful move by UMNO to lock in support from Muslim-Malay voters, as well as fend off competition from the Islamist party PAS.

The system was reinforced under Mr. Mahathir’s rule, from 1981 to 2003. His government substantially privatized the economy, producing a new bumiputera capitalist class and more patronage networks. Mr. Mahathir tried to enhance UMNO’s legitimacy among Malays while further sidelining Pas with so-called Islamization policies — starting halal food certification, promoting Islamic courts and offering Islamic banking. He also sent political opponents to jail, shut down newspapers that challenged him and concentrated power in the prime minister’s office, weakening the cabinet, Parliament and the courts.

The combination of communalism and authoritarianism that both Mr. Razak and Mr. Mahathir embedded into the system over the years helps explain Mr. Najib’s resilience today.

In fact, Mr. Najib only survived the last general election in 2013 thanks to years of gerrymandering and the skewed allocation of seats in the national legislature. That year the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat secured only 40 percent of seats in Parliament despite winning 51 percent of the popular vote.

Dissenting voices have been increasingly harassed. In addition to the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is in jail on what many people believe are trumped-up sodomy charges, at least 18 opposition lawmakers have been investigated for or charged with sedition and other offenses since 2013.

Meanwhile, the affirmative action programs have stalled. Although they greatly reduced absolute poverty among Malays, they have done too little to raise their competitiveness. For example, Malays are overrepresented among unemployed youth with university degrees. Yet UMNO has deftly managed to exploit the policy’s waning effectiveness and even the prospect of its demise.

Malaysia’s first-past-the-post election system and the great concentration of power in the prime minister’s office mean that a change of the guard could happen suddenly and have sweeping effects. Playing on Muslim Malays’ growing fear that their dominance would be threatened if UMNO lost power and the bumiputera preferences were terminated, the party has doubled down on communal politics over the past decade.

Since the strong showing of opposition parties in the 2008 general election, ethno-religious controversies — over how women should dress, over who can say “Allah”, drink alcohol or touch dogs — have multiplied and intensified. UMNO routinely accuses opposition parties of serving Chinese or Christian interests to the detriment of Malays. When Mr. Mahathir left UMNO last year, a party leader accused him of being a “puppet” of the secularist and predominantly ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The once-formidable opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat — consisting of Mr. Anwar’s centrist party, Pas and DAP — fell apart in 2015, largely because of disagreement over Pas’s proposal to harden Shariah punishments in some states. UMNO is now backing a bill Pas submitted to Parliament that would pave the way for such penalties. This rapprochement is a shrewd political move — a signal by UMNO that it is trying to preserve Malay-Muslim unity by strengthening the place of Islam in Malaysian politics.

What glues many Malays to UMNO isn’t just personal patronage, as Mr. Mahathir claims, but also, and much more so, communal patronage, reinforced by the system’s authoritarian features. UMNO’s affirmative action policies may have reached a dead-end, but even if the opposition hopes to transcend Malaysia’s ethnic politics, it simply cannot do so right now. It has few options ahead of the next general election, which is expected to take place by August 2018.

To win over communalist Malay voters, some people in the opposition want to woo PAS back. But that would mean agreeing to PAS’s Shariah project, which is what ripped the opposition apart in 2015 and remains anathema to many non-Muslims (and some Muslims, too).

Image result for Chin Huat--WongOthers, like Mr. Mahathir and his supporters, seem to be on a personal crusade against Mr. Najib and tend to downplay the system’s structural flaws. Not admitting his part in creating those problems may be a way for Mr. Mahathir to reassure Malay communalists — he isn’t kowtowing to the Chinese; the bumiputera preferences will remain — but it is already alienating some minorities and reformists. In any event, only bold institutional reforms could correct the system’s authoritarian and sectarian features.

Malaysia needs a wholesale political transformation, but it isn’t ready for one. Six decades after independence, true multiparty democracy is still a long way away.

Unity in Diversity


January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

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You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

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No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

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UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

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The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

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Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

Malaysians no longer trust Najib Razak


December 29, 2016

S.E.A. View

Malaysians  no longer trust  Najib Razak

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/what-price-malaysias-trust-deficit

The lack of excitement over massive infrastructure projects and ringgit’s plunge are signs of market and ground sentiments

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and Big Momma Rosmah Mansor

The last weeks of December have been busy ones for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. On December 13, Datuk Seri Najib signed the much awaited High Speed Rail (HSR) agreement with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that will link Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

That same week, he officiated at the opening of Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a project that started in 2011. Days later, on December 18, Mr Najib launched the 1.4km-long Batang Sadong Bridge in Sarawak, a huge connectivity leap for Sarawakians, who previously had to rely on ferry crossings. The bridge is one of several projects the government has in store for Sarawak, the others being the massive 2,000km-long Pan Borneo Highway that will link Sarawak and Sabah and a coastal highway that will connect towns in Sarawak.

Soon after the Sarawak trip, Mr Najib was in Sabah to launch eight projects linked to the Pan-Borneo Highway. The recent launches came weeks after Mr Najib’s trip to China, one that saw the Malaysian economy potentially receiving a thumping US$33 billion (S$48 billion) of Chinese investment. A major part of the investment deal was Malaysia agreeing to build a 640km-long East Coast Rail Line(ECRL) with Chinese financing. Once completed, the ECRL will link the northernmost town in the east coast state of Kelantan to Port Klang, which fronts the busy Straits of Malacca on the west coast. Needless to say, these infrastructural investments are major game changers that are set to alter Malaysia’s landscape in a fundamental way, unleashing the country’s huge economic potential.

Such long-term growth commitment should excite the public, but not so in Malaysia. As for China’s massive investment, Mr Najib’s critics see it as a sell-out to China’s interest. They were also quick to contest that the US$13 billion ECRL project was overpriced – never mind that the proposed line needs to negotiate the Titiwangsa ridge, difficult geographical terrain that has for a long time kept the east coast of the peninsular relatively underdeveloped compared with the west coast.

What is apparent is that Mr Najib’s policies attract sceptics. Malaysians, it seems, are less willing to go along with government policies no matter how attractive the long-term benefits are. An obvious reason is that nagging political issues continue to cloud the many positives of Mr Najib’s policy initiatives. People in Malaysia are not quite done with the 1MDB issue. The international media has also kept turning the spotlight on 1MDB and Mr Najib, reinforcing public scepticism. What is obvious is that Malaysians are stuck in second gear, unwilling to move beyond the 1MDB issue.

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government. That needs addressing because a trust deficit prevents the state from garnering policy collaborators. Policy “buy-in” becomes difficult as stakeholders are unwilling to be part of the policy process. Worse, a trust deficit could also see stakeholders subverting what otherwise could be effective policies. Mr Najib’s market-friendly policies, which would have been gladly accepted in the past, are now looked upon with intense scepticism. His decision to lift fuel subsidies, allow 70 per cent foreign ownership in the services sector, sell all the government’s Proton shares and introduce the goods and services tax (GST) to prevent leakage and broaden the tax base are but a few market-friendly policies that, thus far, have not warmed citizens’ hearts. Malaysians are still unwilling to accept the GST even when GST receipts have clearly buffered Malaysia’s huge losses in petroleum revenue in the past year.

Mr Najib launching Malaysia’s MRT on Dec 15. The lack of public trust stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A trust deficit could potentially lead to more damaging systemic risk. Thinning public trust and greater tendency to talk down the economy could amplify Malaysia’s political, social and economic risks. A self-fulfilling prophecy may set in, creating a case where the public runs down the economy more than it should and triggering a crisis of confidence. An obvious benchmark of confidence is the Malaysian ringgit, Asia’s worst-performing currency. Though there are external factors that have contributed to the weakening of the ringgit – Trumponomics, the attractiveness of US bond yields and weak commodity prices – analysts are also quick to add that the ringgit suffers from domestic risks, the premium of which is anybody’s guess. Some see domestic risk as one contributing factor to the ringgit weakening to a rate of RM4.70 to US$1.

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There are those who think that the ringgit slide is overdone as it does not reflect Malaysia’s fundamentals. But under conditions of low public trust, good economic figures are quickly neutralised by bad economic ones. Going by fundamentals alone, there are reasons not to short the ringgit. The Malaysian economy has shown plenty of resilience despite chaotic domestic politics and severe economic headwinds. Its GDP has averaged 5.3 per cent growth since 2011. This year, the economy is expected to grow at 4.2 per cent. For next year, the IMF predicts the economy to grow at 4.5 per cent on the back of strong domestic consumption. The country is also in better fiscal shape, with Mr Najib keeping to his promise to trim spending. The Budget deficit now stands at 3 per cent of GDP, down from a high of 6 per cent in 2009. Its current account remains positive. In fact the current account saw a sharp increase in the third quarter, the highest since December last year. More importantly, the economy has broken away from its heavy reliance on the oil and gas sector. Petroleum now counts for just 15 per cent of total revenue, a sharp drop from about 30 per cent two years ago. The economic figures, however, do not seem to count when it comes to the sliding ringgit.

Finally, broken trust between the state and the governed is affecting Malaysia’s long-term effort at institutional change. Change is difficult when stakeholders are unwilling to ride on the change agenda. In a low-trust environment, stakeholders are persuaded by partisan concerns, depriving the change agenda of a diversity of views. The Najib administration, for instance, has introduced the “blue ocean” strategy as part of its strategic blueprint. Developed by two INSEAD professors, the strategy rethinks the idea of competition and collaboration and has been behind many of Malaysia’s government and economic transformation programmes. Policy emphasis on the bottom 40 per cent of income- earners, retargeting state subsidies, providing direct transfers to low income earners, collaboration and sharing of resources between government agencies and building a one-stop centre for public services are among the few policy initiatives that seemed to enjoy little public buy-ins.

An exploratory study I carried out between September and October to gauge public receptiveness to the government’s national blue ocean strategy, part of wider research on networked government, found that the public know little or nothing at all of such blueprint. Trust, or the lack of it, has blurred the public’s identification with policies, making them unwilling partners of institutional change.

With a general election expected next year, Mr Najib has his work cut out for him. Restoring public trust is proving to be difficult but the need for it is urgent. Systematic public disengagement from political leadership could well be the most important factor that stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. In the short-term though, Malaysians should be careful that their attempts at political change do not cripple an otherwise functioning economy.


  • The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy, Murdoch University and Assistant Professor at the Tun Abdul Razak School of Government, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak. 

Malaysia: Why Democratic Change Has Not Been Possible


December 16,2016

Malaysia: Why Democratic Change Has Not Been Possible

To UMNO Leadership–Don’t Use Singapore Malays for your Politics


December 8, 2016

To UMNO Leadership–Don’t Use Singapore Malays for your Politics

by Mohsin Abdullah (received via email)

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The first ever Singapore’s Malay Brigadier General, Ishak Ismail, who is also the Commander of Sixth Army Division(left in the picture)

In wanting to garner support of the Malays and thus to cling on to power, UMNO has this habit, albeit bad, of using (or should it be misusing) the Malays of Singapore. We all know that, right? But I’ll say it again here all the same.

The party tends to portray Singapore Malays as being “discriminated”, “ill treated” and “marginalized” by the Chinese-dominated PAP government in Singapore.

Having done that, UMNO will say (or rather warn) the Malays in this country that they will suffer the same fate if UMNO loses political power in Malaysia.

In short, they’ll say, “Support UMNO or you Malays will suffer like your saudara di Singapura.” The latest UMNO leader to use this overused tactic is Puad Zarkashi, a member of the party’s supreme council.

Puad was obviously riled up when Tun Mahathir Mohamad who helmed UMNO for more than 20 years had praised DAP for upholding the Federal Constitution, the constitutional monarchy, special position of the Malays, national language, and Islam as the religion of the Federation.

And Mahathir lauded DAP for being a Malaysian party.These remarks were made when Mahathir attended for the first time ever the DAP national convention held recently.

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Singapore’s Speaker of Parliament

In admitting his previous wrong impression of DAP, Mahathir said although the party had often been painted by its enemies as a Chinese party, the DAP anthem and the speeches at the convention by secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and acting chairman Tan Kok Wai were in Bahasa Malaysia.

Puad retorted by saying that using the Malay language for party anthem and speeches “does not ensure DAP will protect the Malays”.

 

According to him, DAP “is just following the strategy of Singapore’s PAP”, going on to say that “Singapore’s national anthem is in Malay but what happened to the Malays because of the policy (similar to DAP’s Malaysian Malaysia ) practiced by Singapore?”

He did not elaborate but in all probability he was talking about the Malays in Singapore being treated “unfairly” by the Chinese PAP.

So, are Singapore Malays marginalized by the PAP?

I can’t say for sure. But there are grouses. For instance, I’ve read of Singapore Malays wanting full equality in national service and all sectors of the armed forces, suggesting some sort of “mistrust” for the community from the authorities.

Caption: The inaugural recipients of the MERCU-SMU Excellence Scholarship are (L-R) Nur Amalina Binte Saparin, Muhammad Hafiz Bin Kasman, and Khairul Ashraf Bin Khairul Anwar.]

I’ve read also of their call for full employment opportunities for all Malay women, including the tudung-clad ones, demanding for “equal treatment, equal opportunities”.

Anyway, not too long ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in Parliament that the next presidential election of Singapore due next year is reserved for candidates from the Malay race.

Meaning only Malay candidates will contest. An all-Malay contest. But, they must first be qualified, of course. This means Singapore will have a Malay as President again after more than 46 years since Yusof Ishak, the first president of an independent Singapore.

“Reserved” election is meant to ensure minority presidents or rather Singaporeans from minority communities are elected from time to time.

Hence next year the presidency of one of the world’s richest countries will be served on a silver platter to the Malay community. A gift. But, this is how the Malays in Singapore reacted to the gift. Majority of them anyway.

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A Malay Rebel

Retired Straits Times journalist Ismail Kassim had this to say among other things, via his Facebook posting: “Thank you PM for your unsolicited gift but we don’t want and don’t need it. Do you realize that your gift will only reinforce the negative images of us and undermine our past progress?”

To Ismail, “the day a Malay assumes the Elected President through a reserved race will be a day of shame for us and for all the people. It will be a step backward for multiracialism, meritocracy and democracy”.

A piece written by one Nizam Idris for the Straits Times also caught my attention. Nizam I later learned is an economist and market strategy head of an international bank in Singapore. He also viewed the reserved election as a “big step backward for the Malay community”.

Said Nizam he was brought up in an era where “we Malays were told we had to fend for ourselves in schools and in our careers as Singaporeans of other races did.”

After initial trepidation, due in part to seeing how Malays in other countries in the region depended on race-based policies to help them advance, Malay Singaporeans grew out of their historical reliance on such crutches. And that has over time become a source of pride and motivation for the community.

Nizam is proud to say the Singapore Malay community has made significant progress and proved “we could stand on our own feet”.

That, said Nizam, was thanks in no small part to the brave decision by “our earlier leaders to take away our proverbial crutches and make us compete on a level playing field”.

And like everything else, said Nizam, healthy competition drives the community to a higher level. He nevertheless admitted that not many Malays would reject a gift like the chance to have a member of the community as president.

“That’s human nature,” he said, ” but what would be even more satisfying is a hard fought campaign leading to the election of a Malay president who deserves the position based on the famously Singaporean values of grit and merit “

In a nutshell, for Nizam and most Singapore Malays, they want to earn things — be it the presidency or anything else — based on merit and ability. No short cut, no easy way out, no tongkat.

Tabik Melayu Singapura!