Malaysia: Is Emergency Rule Possible in 2018 in lieu of Elections?


February 5, 2018

Malaysia: Is Emergency Rule Possible in 2018 ?

by S Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Tun Razak and National Operations Council

The NOC Post May 13, 1969

There comes an hour when protest no longer suffices; after philosophy there must be action; the strong hand finishes what the idea has sketched.”
― Victor Hugo, ‘Les Misérables’

COMMENT | You have to give credit to the old maverick, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the Pakatan Harapan designate for the top job if the coalition comes into power. Not only is he comfortable slaying sacred Malay cows, he has no problems baiting the Najib regime as he does when he extols the virtues of street protest if the Prime Minister dares to declare an emergency in lieu of elections.

Would Najib declare an emergency? This is doubtful. The regime may be in a precarious position, but the UMNO regime still has the tools to successfully ensure electoral success and with the opposition in disarray, the longer it takes to hold an election, the better the chances for the Umno establishment to narcotise a weary electorate.

If the opposition was a cohesive force, then time would not be on Najib’s side but as it is, the longer he holds off, the more the opposition embroils itself in stupid “friendly fire” fiascos that only serves the Umno hegemon and makes the fence-sitting voters more convinced that they should vote for stability.

“The National Security Council Act also allows security forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless arrests.”

But let us say for whatever reason, Najib does decide to use the emergency option. He really does not need the consent of the Agong to play that card. The National Security Council (NSC) law gives him the power to declare certain areas as security risk (and people should understand that “security” in this instance is widely defined) and he could stall an election for years, if need be.

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If memory serves, the Inspector-General of Police and the Chief of Defence Forces have a seat at the council. This way, in theory at least, he could bypass the consent of the Agong is within the confines of the law, and he has the heads of the various security apparatus at his side. Scary stuff.

I have written about this law numerous times and people should really familiarise themselves with what it could have in store for Malaysians.

Or you could read the Cliffs Notes version with the scary highlights, courtesy of Amnesty International – “One provision, Section 18, allows the Prime Minister to arbitrarily designate any area in the country a ‘security area’, if he deems it a potential source of ‘harm’. ‘There is good reason to fear that the Act will be yet another tool in the hands of the government to crack down on peaceful protests under the guise of national security,’ said Josef Benedict.

“The special status given to ‘security areas’ could worsen Malaysia’s track record of custodial deaths and police brutality. Under Section 35, magistrates and coroners will no longer have to carry out inquests into deaths resulting from operations mounted by security forces within these areas.

“The National Security Council Act also allows security forces to use lethal force without internationally recognised safeguards, and grants them broad powers to carry out warrantless arrests.”

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Rosmah Mansor–Chief of Najib’s Defence Forces–Greed and Worship of Power will destroy her in the end.

Of course, there are claims made that the Harapan leadership has plans if the Najib regime uses racial-religious tensions to suspend elections, and it is the duty of Malaysians to support (Harapan) politicians. And by support, I guess it means that normally timid Malaysians will have to go on the streets. Well, let us see how this plays out.

Breeding apathy

The DAP is demonised as anti-Malay and anti-Islam, so by encouraging its supporters to go on the streets, the leadership, not to mention the entire Chinese community, would be labelled by the government as subversive and part of the reason for the security crackdown. This, of course, would necessitate the entire (probably) DAP leadership being carted away in Black Marias.

PAS, if it is not firmly in bed with UMNO, will probably say that street protest is not the “proper” way to engage with UMNO and probably make some sort of deal with the Umno hegemon in the name of Malay/Muslim solidarity.

Amanah, of course, will attempt to make a stand. But since clearly it is the weakest of the opposition coalition in terms of influence and voter base, it will have to rely on the other component parties to make a stand. Who knows if Bersatu, which is in reality a cutout of some kind, can stir up support from an oppositional voting base which has within it a deep distrust of the old maverick. And not forgetting PKR, which of late has demonstrated it could not organise so much as an orgy in a brothel.

And let us not forget Sabah and Sarawak. Who knows how things will play out there since the populations of both states have a deep mistrust of peninsular politics and would probably sit this one out.

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So, this leaves a spontaneous outpouring of support fueled by social media against the ruling UMNO hegemon mainly in the urban areas. Urban areas are in many ways easier to control, and it does contribute to the narrative that people in these areas are purposely stirring up trouble for the country, and want to usurp the position of a particular race and religion.

Young people could possibly go out into the streets and wage a protest against the UMNO establishment, but does anyone really see this happening in Malaysia? If young people were truly engaged with the system and let’s face facts, if young people were brought up in a culture where protest and political involvement were encouraged, then maybe this could happen.

However, for the moment the hegemon provides a comfortable environment for the breeding of apathy. And let us not forget that many young people are not voting, and if they are not voting, which is the easiest thing in the world to do, what makes anyone think that they would brave the state security apparatus and demand that the Najib regime hold elections just so they could exercise their right not to vote?

Besides, nobody wants another May 13, certainly not the non-Malays. This would be the narrative of course. No matter what the hegemon engineers, it will be about race and religion.

Then, of course, there is the other side of the coin. Calling for an emergency or engineering a situation in which areas are declared security risks, is a move that demands cojones. It is a move in which the state security apparatus has to essentially wage a war against their own. Tyranny is a bloody business. Can the regime expect that the state security apparatus, and by this, I mean the foot soldiers, would actually turn their guns against their own?

During my military career and after, I have had the unfortunate life experience of meeting those men who do the bloody work for tyrants. Men and women who have been in deaths squad and other paramilitary outfits used to suppress dissent. Men who have turned on their own for the benefice provided by tyrants.

I do not see this in Malaysia. Not the banal evil of other kleptocratic countries. Let us not go there. If the Najib regime does call some kind of emergency using the tools available to him, I wonder if Malaysians – and by this I mean everyone from protesters, the security apparatus and politicians – would be able to turn on each other.

As someone who has been to nearly every one of these protests of diminishing returns, I know a few old timers – patriots even – who would have no problem being cannon fodder for the “cause.” After all, we started this problem, so we may as well contribute in finishing it or it finishes us.

But large-scale protests as we have seen in other countries, I am sceptical, not when the opposition is in disarray and young people are marginalised from the mainstream oppositional process. I am more inclined to find it useful to look at other Muslim-majority countries rather than countries closer to home.

Because of our political system, Malaysia is due a reckoning. I do not think that the opposition at this time would be the harbinger of the shape of things to come, but I do know that when it does come, everyone will be touched.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

 

Debate Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi


December 25, 2017

Debate Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi

by S.Thayaparan @www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | “Iksim propounds the view that Islam does not come under the jurisdiction of any political power. According to it, religious enforcement authorities come under the patronage of the Sultans, not state governments. This is a remarkable vision of an autonomous, almost all-powerful, religious elite that is like a state within a state.” – Shad Saleem Faruqi

I have often referenced Pprofessor Shad Saleem Faruqi’s articles in my articles, sometimes agreeing; sometimes disagreeing with what he writes.

If someone were to tell me that Shad’s intention in anything he ever wrote was to insult or breach the peace, I would burst out in hysterical laughter. This academic (unlike this writer) has never written a polemic, as far as I can tell. In addition, I have probably read everything this man has written.

If you have not read the article, that has got Iksim all in a rage, I suggest that you read it and determine if anything in that article warrants the state security apparatus “probing” this academic under section 504 of the Penal code.

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Instead of engaging intellectually with Shad, Iksim resorted to the Islamists playbook and issued a public statement claiming that Faruqi and the G25 (Noor Farida Ariffin specifically) were attempting to cause racial disharmony and subverting the Islamic agenda as enshrined in the Federal Constitution. You can read the full statement here but the relevant passage is this:

“Tohmahan-tohmahan liar berkenaan termasuk oleh Prof Emeritus Shad Saleem Faruqi dan Datuk Noor Faridah Ariffin dari puak G25 dilihat sebagai satu cubaan untuk mencetuskan perasaan permusuhan antara kaum dan agama di negara ini. Kedua-dua mereka jelas menentang pemikiranpemikiran ke arah mendaulatkan Islam sebagai agama Negara sekalipun ia jelas termaktub dalam Perkara 3(1) dan sumpah Yang di-Pertuan Agong di bawah perkara 37(1) Perlembagaan Persekutuan.” 

In the quote that begins this piece, the good professor, questions Iksim’s perspective that Islam does not come under the purview of any political power likening such a perspective to a “state within a state.”

If you read the press statement and consider Iksim’s rationale for going after Shad and the G25, you would come to the realisation that their “unique” interpretation of the Malaysian constitution and of Islam in general, is exactly the “state within a state” idea that Shad alludes to in the quote I referenced.

Have you noticed that Islamists always claim that the people they target are attempting to cause tension amongst the various ethnic groups here in Malaysia? Is there any evidence of this? Are non-Muslims threatened or provoked by what people targeted by groups like Iksim say and do? I would argue that the only people threatened or provoked are the Islamist and the reason why they are threatened is that their views or beliefs are challenged.

Furthermore, Iksim has not rebutted the points raised in Shad’s article. They have not claimed that what he wrote was false or fallacious. They have not denied the agenda he attributes to them. What they have done, is use the state to sanction the professor and intimidate any others who subscribe to his views.

Indeed by their own admission (as quoted by Shad referencing their March 28 booklet), – “secularism, liberalism and cultural diversity are elements that will undermine the Islamic agenda and destroy the country’s sovereignty”.

In other words, according to Iksim, everything that non-Muslims value and probably a majority of Muslims are detrimental to the Islamic agenda in this country. Therefore, when Umno potentates talk of cultural diversity and protecting the faiths of non-Muslims, this is detrimental to the Islamic agenda of this country.

When UMNO potentates talk about the rich cultural diversity and the need to respect different cultures as envisioned by the founders of this country and which is great for tourism, this is detrimental to the Islamic agenda of the country.

When “liberalism” redefined as “moderation” – Islamic or otherwise – is bandied about as the foundation for economic, social and religious success by the establishment, this undermines the Islamic agenda in this country.

And you know what, they are correct. If you believe in the kind of Islam they believe in and the kind of Islam that the House of Saud, is slowly and painfully attempting to reject, all these concepts are detrimental to turning this country into an Islamic state.

An Islamic state where the primacy of syariah law and the submission of Muslims and non-Muslims to a theocratic hegemon is the natural order of things which is the desired state – and state of being – of Islamists like Iksim.

‘Islamists not interested in debate’

A couple of months ago, the crypto-fascists got their knickers in a twist when I wrote that, liberalism is only a threat to the kind of Islam tyrants preach – “Those people who fear ‘liberalism’ however they define it, in reality, fear the loss of power when empowered societies choose alternatives. So yes, liberalism is a threat to the kind of Islam they preach. Mind you they may actually win in a ‘fair’ democratic contest because that is one of the perils of democracy. Beyond institutional safeguards, democracy is a risky endeavour, but I would take it to anything these Islamists have to offer.”

While Shad Faruqi has invited them to debate and challenge his views, the reality is that Islamists are not interested in debate or discussion. Their only interest is submission. This is why they have no need for freedom of speech and expression.

There is enough empirical evidence to demonstrate that such concepts are anathema to the kind of Islam they wish to promulgate.

In many of my articles where I discuss the numerous provocations of the state-sanctioned Islam in the private and public lives of non-Muslims in Malaysia, I have always made it clear that the people feeling the brunt of a state-sanctioned religion is the majority, Malay Muslim population.

I have also made it clear, that Malay Muslim public intellectuals, academics and writers, are at the mercy of the state conspiring with various Islamists groups – sub rosa and overt – who sanction behaviour that they and they alone determine to be a threat to the state sanctioned religion.

Ultimately, Siti Kassim (will someone elect her already) has the right of it, when in her Facebook page, she wrote: “We must stand with Professor Shad Faruqi. We should never allow these extremists group taking over our country. Never. Never. Never.”


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy

Malaysia: Najib Razak set to strengthen grip on power


December 16, 2017

Malaysia: Najib Razak set to strengthen grip on power

by James Chin, University of Tasmania

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Najib Razak remains strong in UMNONajib’s political status and reputation as Malaysia’s Teflon prime minister is assured with the help of DPM Dr. Zahid Hamidi and PAS’Hadi Awang

2017 could not have been a better year politically for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. On the surface, Najib appeared to be in political trouble with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MBD) scandal hanging over his head and with his arch-rival former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad leading the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition. But in reality, Najib could not be politically safer. With a general election due early next year, he is in a solid position to be re-elected.

 Najib would certainly be pleased with the personal deal he struck with Abdul Hadi Awang, the leader of Parti Islam Malaysia (PAS). Under Hadi, PAS has refused to join the PH, citing the omnipresent influence of the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP). Hadi claims that the DAP’s secret agenda is to stop the creation of an Islamic state and to promote Christianity. While this may be a real fear in the Malay community, the more tangible reason is Hadi’s personal disgust with Mahathir for successfully oppressing PAS’s political agenda when he was in power.

Najib, on the other hand, is playing along nicely with Hadi. Najib has promised Hadi that the United Malays Nationals Organisation (UMNO) (head of the ruling political coalition) will support RUU 355 — an amendment to increase judicial penalties under Sharia Law. Most legal experts believe that once RUU 355 is passed by parliament, it will be the first step in altering Malaysia’s largely secular federal constitution. The unwritten deal between Hadi and Najib is that once Najib wins the general election, UMNO will adopt RUU 355 as a government bill.

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If the deal holds, PAS will field as many candidates as it can against UMNO in the 110–20 largely rural Malay-majority seats. While on the outset this looks terrible for Najib, it must be understood in the context of Mahathir’s PH also going after these Malay seats. It is impossible to win a general election in Malaysia without winning a large proportion of Malay seats.

Malaysia operates under a first-past-the-post electoral system, so with the opposition vote split between PAS and PH, UMNO will win the bulk of the Malay seats and will therefore win the general election. Najib is so confident of this strategy that he has told his inner circles that UMNO is aiming to take 140–160 seats in the 222-seat parliament.

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The Tiff with HRH Sultan of Selangor puts the Political Opposition at a serious disadvantage while Prime Minister Najib Razak surges ahead with strong UMNO and PAS support

By contrast, without the powers of patronage and the government machinery, opposition leader Mahathir is finding it increasingly difficult to influence the electorate. Mahathir’s problem is his strongman legacy. Many in the middle-class and the opposition want him to apologise for human rights abuses during his 22 years in power, including the jailing of opposition leaders under the infamous Internal Security Act. Mahathir has steadfastly refused to do so and merely said he ‘regrets’ some of his actions.

There is a sense among urban voters that Mahathir cannot be trusted and is only using the opposition to capture power. Some fear that once in power, he will revert back to his authoritarian ways. Hence, there is a real danger that educated, urban voters will protest Mahathir’s recalcitrance by simply staying at home during the general election rather than voting for the opposition, which indirectly helps Najib.

The 1MDB scandal also does not appear to have gained political traction. Despite the best efforts of the opposition to paint Najib as a kleptocrat and an international pariah, Najib managed to meet US President Donald Trump in the White House. Najib even had the nerve to tell Trump that Malaysia was going to ‘make America great again’ by investing more than US$20 billion in the United States.

Immediately after Washington, Najib flew to London to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May. The photo ops with Trump and May effectively numbed the opposition’s propaganda campaigns in Malay rural areas.

Najib also blunted the opposition’s claim that Saudi Arabia was unhappy with Najib for implicating the Saudis in 1MDB by hosting King Salman in Malaysia. Najib even took King Salman’s first selfie and the Saudis promised investments in Malaysia worth US$7 billion.

Najib’s one weak point is the economy — in particular the strength of the Malaysian ringgit (RM), which has lost more than 20 per cent of its value since he came to power. But the business community is slowing getting used to the weakened ringgit: the exchange rate is not expected to go back to RM3 to US$1 any time soon, and most people will tolerate the ringgit at its current level of roughly RM4 to US$1.

Najib has cleverly used the 2018 budget to channel aid to more than seven million Malaysians in the bottom 40 per cent of the population using cash transfers and individual tax cuts. The 1.5 million-strong civil service will get additional days off, unrecorded leave for umrah pilgrimage and easier promotions.

By the end of the year, Najib will be politically stronger. His deal with PAS has effectively blindsided Mahathir and PH, and the 1MBD corruption allegations are by and large considered ‘old news’ by the all-important rural Malay electorate.

Going forward, the only danger facing Najib is Hadi’s health. Hadi has suffered several heart attacks and there is a possibility that a fatal heart attack could occur anytime. If he dies, PAS will split and Najib may not be able to hold the new PAS leaders to the deal made with Hadi.

As long as Hadi lives until the next general election, Najib’s political status and reputation as Malaysia’s Teflon prime minister is assured.

James Chin is Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO


December 12, 2017

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My short message to Rais Hussin: Please do not invoke God’s name whenever we are in a crisis. That is most convenient way out when we are in a fix. The problems we as Malaysians face today especially in politics are of our own making. Therefore, the fear you talk about is something we created  for ourselves. We are scared of our own shadow.. It is better to admit for  all of us that we are all cowards  than throw our hands in the air in despair.

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Najib Razak is not endowed with supernatural powers, although it is said that our FLOM Rosmah Mansor is protected  by a number of powerful shamans from the Indian subcontinent.Our incumbent Prime Minister can be removed from office through the ballot.  If we in large numbers vote against UMNO-BN in GE-14, Najib Razak is gone in a jiffy. No Shamans can help Rosmah too. But the question is will we? –Din Merican

The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO

by Rais Hussin

Image result for Najib Razak Bulllshit
He should fear us, not the other way round

COMMENT | Fear is a primal instinct, driven into our brain, to survive the harshest environment since the dawn of the Homo sapiens.

No one can be blamed for exhibiting various forms of fear. During the Jurassic age, where dinosaurs roamed the world, humans existed purely as hunter-gatherers, armed with sticks and spears.

Without the help of iron and bronze, powerful catapults, and fire, Homo sapiens would have lived at the bottom of the food chain.

Things have, of course, taken a dramatic change over the last five centuries. With the advent of what anthropologist Jared Diamond called “guns, germs and steel,” Homo sapiens have transformed their sense of powerlessness not merely against the animal kingdom, but their fellow kind.

Spanish colonialism of the entire American continent, which obliterated the native tribes, where millions died, began on such account. Invariable, to steal a march on their Iberian neighbour, Portugal did the same.

The likes of Vasco Da Gama and Alfonso di Albuquerque first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, then Goa in India, before crossing the Andaman Sea, to hold the Sultanate of Malacca to a complete siege between 1511 onwards.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra–The First Decent Malaysian Prime Minister

When UMNO, together with other coalition partners, liberated Malaya from the clutches of colonialism from the British in 1957, one of their goals was to free Malaysians from the politics of fear.

But with the communists breathing down their neck, they couldn’t emancipate the country completely and psychologically. From time to time, UMNO and their coalition partners had to point to the threats that exist.

However, there are no communists anymore. In fact, UMNO and MCA appear to enjoy stronger and better trade relations with the Communist government of China now. Each loan from China is ledgered in the  billions of ringgit.

Yet, in spite of this, UMNO has warned Malaysians that it is Pakatan Harapan that they must fear. In the words of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, it is better to have UMNO ruling for “1,000 years”, than the opposition front.

Dr. Zahid Hamid and his Boss united the face of the Political Opposition

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi averred that the opposition front has “six captains in the cruise ship” and will drive the country to nowhere.

But psychologist John Bargh has shown through numerous studies that ruling politicians thrive in striking fear in the hearts of the people. The fear they instil is manufactured to create a sense of sheer panic or crisis, in order to cannibalise the voters.

By making the opposition small and insignificant, the ruling party would stand a better chance of consolidating their iron grip. As John Bargh explained: “research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling.”

“That happened to me,” to which Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

UMNO and BN have always introduced new stop gap measures, such as BR1M (cash transfers) when elections are near. Even the 2018 budget that Najib presented in the Parliament was screamingly front-loaded, that even BN MPs privately admitted that was indeed an election budget.

 

That is not fear-mongering, but vote buying

Front-loaded in the sense that many different cash payouts are dished out to many group of voters targeting the low middle-income and low-income groups, which includes, but is not limited to Felda settlers, farmers, fishermen, civil servants, military, police, teachers etc.

When Malaysians find some petty cash in their hand, they begin to believe that a new government will take them away — not realising the new entity can actually eliminate corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power and other malpractices allegedly perpetuated by UMNO and its coalition partners, to better the living standards of Malaysia.

Ask the voters in Selangor or even Penang, has their welfare improved after UMNO was defeated in 2008? The answer is undoubtedly, and a resounding yes. Even the Malays stood to gain more in terms of support from the Penang and Selangor state governments. With such positive records, Malaysian voters should not be lulled and fooled by Umno again and again.

As the late US President Franklin Delani Roosevelt once said: “One has nothing to fear but fear itself.” How one eliminates fear, in other words, is to stop others from manipulating them. In Malay adage, the advice is even more poignant: “Berani kerana benar.” One should be brave because one is truthful.

Having fleeced the country of billions, making it the worst “kleptocracy in the world,” it is UMNO that has all to fear from the wrath of the people at the 14th general election.

God save Malaysia.

Populist Politics in Indonesia


December 8, 2017

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Number 407 | December 7, 2017

ANALYSIS

Populist Politics in Indonesia

by  Ehito Kimura

Indonesia’s Varieties of Populism

Image result for Jokowi and Prabowo

Indonesia–From Sukarno to Jokowi–Prabowo next? “Prabowo offered his angrier and even demagogic populist style. He railed against corruption, called for economic nationalism and for more “firm leadership.”  Prabowo’s populism looked backwards, with the candidate self-styling himself on the image of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president”.–Ehito Kimura

Populist politics burst onto Indonesia’s national stage in 2014 during the country’s presidential election which pitted two leaders with starkly contrasting styles. Joko Widodo, dubbed a “polite” or “technocratic” populist campaigned against the establishment by portraying himself as an affable “man of the people” and a pro-poor reformer with a track record of getting things done. Prabowo Subianto also campaigned against the establishment but more angrily and bombastically, condemning corruption and economic ‘traitors.’ More recently, Jakarta’s 2016 gubernatorial elections saw a surge of Islamic forces engaging in populist-style politics, organizing mass rallies against the Chinese Christian incumbent and claiming that he had committed blasphemy.

What explains the rise of this form of politics in Indonesia?  Is it part of  a global wave of populism seen in places as disparate as Austria and the United States? What role do Indonesian national and local conditions play?  Part of the answer is that populism is not just a movement but also a political strategy. Indonesia is the world’s second largest democracy and voting rates are high.  The varieties of populism in Indonesia can in part be understood as a function of the varied roots of populism and its appeal to different kinds of audiences.

Global Roots

Populism is often associated with reactions against globalization and neo-liberal reform policies.  In Europe, the recent spate of populist elections suggests a frustration with free and open trade as well as migration and immigration, both of which are components of a more globalized world.

Indonesia is no stranger to the politics of globalization, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis led to the fall of the Suharto regime and the transition to democracy.  Since then, Indonesia has been experiencing broad based economic growth, although globalization and neo-liberal development policies over the years also arguably led to rising inequality, a large urban poor, and an emerging but fragmenting middle class including an Islamic middle class which may feel that they have not reaped the full benefits of developmental policies.

In this context, one audience of populist politics is the constituency which views the global economy and ‘foreign powers’ as culprits in their own economic malaise.  This became a central part of Prabowo’s campaign in 2014. It may also be part of the structural foundations of an Islamicized populist politics which in 2016 came to frame the discourse of an ethnic Chinese Christian as incompatible with or even hostile to economic and spiritual well-being. But global factors only partially explain populist appeal.

National Context

Nationally, Indonesia was not experiencing any profound degree of economic or political turmoil in 2014. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s administration oversaw not just an era of broad-based economic growth but also a decade of political stability, including the institutionalization of many parts of the political system.

However, deep structural problems persist. The sheer size of Indonesia’s population meant that even though poverty rates fell to about 16 percent, tens of millions still lived below the poverty line. Corruption too remained endemic. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) investigated and prosecuted several high level officials for financial improprieties including graft and extortion. In 2012, investigations tarnished the president when several members of his own party were accused of corruption, with some eventually jailed. Furthermore, in the waning years of his term, President Yudhoyono engaged in nepotistic tendencies, pushing to transfer power to his other family members, a prospect that led many voters to eventually abandon his party.

By the 2014 election, it became clear that Indonesians were ready for a change, and both Jokowi and Prabowo offered stark contrasts to the Yudhoyono era. Jokowi emerged as the fresh and humble candidate, forward-looking and drawing on his own biography and his local experiences as mayor of Solo and governor of Jakarta.  Prabowo offered his angrier and even demagogic populist style. He railed against corruption, called for economic nationalism and for more “firm leadership.”  Prabowo’s populism looked backwards, with the candidate self-styling himself on the image of Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president.

Local Roots

Finally, local politics mattered too. In the wake of Indonesia’s democratization and ‘big-bang’ decentralization in the late 1990s, local leaders had been empowered in new and unprecedented ways. In some cases it led to the decentralization of corruption and personalist politics in the regions. But it also produced leaders like Joko Widodo, whose national popularity emerged from his local level success.

A decade before becoming a household name, then-Mayor Widodo implemented pro-poor reformist policies in areas such as healthcare, education, welfare, and infrastructure. He gained a reputation as a leader who embodied both pro-investment and also pro-poor goals, and he was charismatic yet “down-to-earth” and humble. Under his tenure, his city, Solo rose to the top ranks in national governance and business attractiveness surveys and Mr. Widodo gained national and international recognition.

By the end of his second term, Jokowi’s popularity soared to the extent that in his reelection campaign, he received an extraordinary 90% of the vote. He rode that momentum from the mayor of Solo to the governorship of Jakarta and then all the way to the presidential palace. In other words, Jokowi’s ‘technocratic’ populist appeal can only be understood from its local beginnings.

2019

If recent trends are any indication, the 2019 presidential elections in Indonesia will once again feature populist politics though in what configuration is still impossible to say.  Today, President Jokowi’s popularity remains relatively high, especially around his technocratic agenda such as infrastructure development initiatives. At the same time, the sheen of his reformist and populist image has worn off somewhat as he has become mired in the everyday politics of governing. Prabowo may be seeking an electoral rematch and honing his angry and demagogic populist style. And the role of Islamic populism which surprised many in 2016 may also have a pivotal role to play.

About the Author

Ehito Kimura, is Associate Professor and Undergraduate Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai’I at Manoa. He can be contacted at Ehito@Hawaii.edu.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.
Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

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The Moment of Truth for Malaysia’s Race-Based Politics


December 7, 2017

The Moment of Truth for Malaysia’s Race-Based Politics

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2123120/moment-truth-malaysias-race-

Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

As the UMNO General Assembly gets underway, the time has come to deal with the long-term negative consequences of the party’s Malay-centrism.

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

After all the analysing done by pundits on Malaysia’s political dynamics in the post-Mahathir period, the country has now come to the strange point of being in a potential pre-Mahathir period.

There is now the more-than-theoretical possibility that 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will return to lead the country, should the opposition coalition win the coming general election. Though unlikely, the chances of that happening are not exactly slim.

In many ways, Malaysia has been locked in a period of transition for two decades. One could say this was triggered by the Reformasi movement in 1998 when the country’s two top leaders fell out with each other, and behind that, by the socio-economic travails ignited by the Asian Financial Crisis; or one could claim that it began with Mahathir’s retirement in October 2003, or that it started with the surprising results of the 2008 elections when the ragtag opposition managed on election night to win five of the 13 states.

Behind these unending trends lies the fact that a new generation of young leaders – some inspired by the 1998 protests but most thrust into the limelight in 2008 – have been waiting impatiently to take over but are still playing merely a supporting role, not only because the old leaders are still active but also because of the solidity of the discursive and economic domination of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition over the rural population in particular.

Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

Supporters of the United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO.

Then there was the advent of the internet news media, a prominent milestone of which was the founding of the Malaysiakini news website in 1999. This was followed a decade later by The Malaysia Insider (brought to its knees by political pressure in 2016 and since resurrected as The Malaysian Insight) and by other websites. Social media also appeared after the turn of the century to act as an effective new tool for political activism.

Where the opposition parties are concerned, we have seen its major coalitions evolve from the Barisan Alternatif in 1999 to Pakatan Rakyat in April 2008 to Pakatan Harapan in 2015, which since then has evolved to include two newly formed Malay-based parties: Parti Amanah Negara (splintered from the Islamist Parti Agama SeMalaysia (PAS) and Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (consisting of Umno dissidents).

How you can be sure the Malaysian election date will be …

The dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has in the meantime gone through its own transformation, taking more and more conservative racial and religious stances the more its defences crumble, which they did in 2008 and 2013. Abdullah Badawi’s huge popularity in 2004 dissipated surprisingly quickly, and his replacement, Najib Razak, the present prime minister, went from being much more popular than his party at the time of his rise to power to being a big burden to its reputation today.

Image result for najib razak and mahathir

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak: An Albatross Around UMNO’s neck

Transitions that go on and on are of course not really transitions any more. Instead, they define the new normal, if for no other reason, then surely by virtue of the fact that the status quo has over time managed to dig itself in. Malaysian politics in the 21st century is now best described as a state of trench warfare. How, or if, this will end any time soon is the big question.

The return of Mahathir in politics should thus be of the greatest interest to Malaysianists. What are the dangers that Mahathir, a man who has been at the heart of Malaysian politics since the 1960s, sees in the Najib administration which brought this nonagenarian out of retirement so fully that he would form a new party, bring it into the fold of the opposition coalition, and manoeuvre himself into the chair of this body?

Why does he eat humble pie the way he has done, and approach Anwar Ibrahim, the man he so mercilessly sacked in 1998 and put in jail, for rapprochement? Why has he been traversing and criss-crossing the country, with his faithful and aged wife in tow, whipping up dissent against Najib, the son of the man who brought him in from the cold in 1972.

Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

Najib depends on Malay support

Few know more than him how UMNO politics and Malaysian governance have relied on dubious processes covering corruption, political patronage, vote manipulation, mass media control, and draconian laws. What is different now?

The fact that he calls his new party a “Pribumi” party, highlighting the fact that it is a Malay-based party, is key to understanding what the situation in Malaysia is today, at least to his mind. Bersatu is also a race-based party that immediately and paradoxically wishes to go into coalition with Pakatan Harapan, whose expressed concerns are about good governance and not racial one-upmanship, and in which the Democratic Action Party (DAP), long dubbed by Umno as an anti-Malay Chinese-chauvinist party, is a founding partner.

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Within that nascent coalition are three de facto Malay-based parties, the other two being Amanah, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat. For the coming elections, these are arrayed alongside the DAP against Umno, the major Malay-based party, surrounded by its weaker or neutered Barisan Nasional allies, and tentatively supported by the Islamist PAS.

No wonder there is talk about a pending Malay voter tsunami against the federal government in the coming elections. The time seems to have come when the Malay community has to deal with the long-term negative consequences of Umno’s Malay-centrism on Malaysian nation building. The economic burdens on the lower classes are heavy, while national economic figures remain positive, and Umno governs in the face of four Malay parties in opposition to it. (No doubt, PAS seems more willing to put in its lot with Umno than with the others).

A vendor at the Siti Khadijah market in Kota Bharu, Kelantan state. The Malaysian economy is buoyant. Photo: AFP

One big definite change over the last few decades has been the emergence of a large enough educated urban Malay middle class whose members appreciate the social stability and cultural pride that only good governance can bring instead of acting out of highly augmented fear of economic and political irrelevance as a community.

The Bumiputra policy was never supposed to be a goal in itself. In fact, the success of Malay-centric nation building requires Malaysian nation building to remain successful. It is here, I believe, that Mahathir’s dilemma lies. Malay-centrism alone will get the Malays nowhere. As a slogan, Malay-centrism rings hollow if the country becomes ever more divided, the poorer classes become ever poorer, and nothing in its present trajectory promises stronger reasons for national pride in the immediate future.

Reforming Malay politics into a shape that accepts the multiculturalism that so clearly marks Malaysian society and that recognises the challenges the digital age poses seems to be the goal, for Mahathir and many others. There is real fear that Malay-centrism a la Umno has lost the plot, and acting in denial of this fact, is dragging the Malay community – and the country as well – into a political black hole.

Dr. Ooi Kee Beng is the Executive Director of Penang Institute. The think tank is funded by the state government of Penang, one of three states in Malaysia administered by the opposition, including one under PAS