Najib’s Vocal Defense of the Rohingya Backfire lacks credibility


December 6, 2016

Najib’s Vocal Defense of the Rohingya Backfire lacks credibility, given his domestic human rights record

http://thediplomat.com/2016/12/will-najibs-vocal-defense-of-the-rohingya-backfire/

Image result for Najib and The Rohingnya Protest

While Najib’s remarks at the Stadium Titiwangsa in Kuala Lumpur drew strong support from the Rohingya community in Malaysia, and marked the first time a Southeast Asian leader has condemned the Myanmar state’s actions in such strong terms, they should be treated with some caution.

A cynical reading of Najib’s address would see him reaching for the moral high ground at a time of immense domestic pressure. These, after all, have not been quiet months for Najib, who has battled corruption allegations over the 1MDB scandal since early 2015 – and has just emerged from a series of tense and highly visible protests led by BERSIH, a wide-reaching campaign for clean government. Despite winning a state election in Sarawak earlier this year, Najib’s ruling National Front has struggled to regain its former popularity, and was recently faced with allegations of human rights violations (from Laurent Meillan, acting representative of the UN Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia, no less) over the arrests of several activists at the Bersih rallies.

Image result for Asean and the Rohingya crisis

In this light, there is little doubt that Najib’s statements are at least partly designed to shore up his human rights record and regain much-needed political capital. State violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar has taken place since at least 2012, and it’s hard to overlook the particular timing of Najib’s unprecedented response. In a pointed statement ahead of the rally, the President’s Office in Myanmar called it a “calculated political decision to win the support of the Malaysian public.’”

But this was not simply the case of the wrong person saying the right thing at the wrong time. Najib’s statements reflect several political dilemmas that lie at the heart of the refugee question in Southeast Asia, and three elements of his speech deserve closer examination. First, it is worth noting that he chose to frame the issue with a moral vocabulary that other Southeast Asian leaders have, thus far, kept at arm’s length. He emphatically referred to the abuses as “genocide,” and called them, “by definition, ethnic cleansing.” With a characteristic rhetorical flourish, he asked the crowd: “Do they want me to close my eyes? Want me to be mute? […] What’s the point of a Nobel Peace Prize?”

Such statements, which not only imply that he is acting on a universal duty of response – and holding Suu Kyi to the global ideals that are seen to underwrite her Nobel Prize – are a deliberate departure from the position, long held among Southeast Asian policymakers, that regional and local values hold sway in Southeast Asian contexts. Building on the “Asian Values” discourse, Southeast Asian leaders  and diplomats have previously stressed the region’s “incommensurable differences from the West” as reasons to question the universality of human rights. Najib’s statements suggest a clear pivot away from the default Southeast Asian position, and besides voicing indirect criticism at his own region’s lackluster human rights record, they may also imply that the global community (and the support it can offer) seems somewhat closer to Najib at this point than his immediate neighbors.

Image result for Asean and the Rohingya crisis

The Rohingya Issue is an ASEAN and International Challenge

Second, Najib’s comments on the ASEAN Charter raise difficult questions about regional cooperation in a time of fraught relations. In response to the Myanmar government’s statement – which framed the planned protests as an external intervention in its internal affairs, and reminded Malaysia to adhere to ASEAN principles of noninterference –Najib said: “There is an article in the ASEAN charter that says ASEAN must uphold human rights. Are they blind? Don’t just interpret things as you choose.” In any case, he added, “this is not intervention. This is universal human values.”

These remarks come in the wake of palpable friction among ASEAN members over conflicting territorial claims in the South China Sea, and both the United States’ and China’s increasing involvement in the region. Noninterference by regional and global powers alike has been a core tenet of ASEAN’s institutional stability since its inception, and has been credited for promoting peaceful relations in Southeast Asia especially since the end of the Cold War. However, Najib’s comments have flagged up the uncomfortable truth that this insistence on traditional state sovereignty may be less and less tenable in the present global context, and especially with regards to transnational migration. From Malaysia’s perspective, with more than 56,000 Rohingya refugees already registered by the UN refugee agency within its borders, the question of what constitutes “external interference” seems especially urgent. Najib may have a point: that ASEAN’s ability to effectively tackle regional issues is not necessarily helped by its members’ sensitivities to others’ incursions on their turf.

Finally, Najib’s focus on the “root cause” of refugee flight – Myanmar’s internal abuses against the Rohingya – successfully presents the crisis as a national issue, and sidesteps the glaring evidence that countless refugees are trafficked across the region in horrific conditions, and fall victim to the combined effects of patchy law enforcement, organized crime, and Southeast Asia’s insatiable appetite for cheap labor. Many end up in Malaysia and Thailand, or in refugee camps in Indonesia; because none of these countries are signatory to the Refugee Convention, few enjoy the legal right to work or corresponding protections against abusive employers. In late 2015, the discovery of the mass graves of human trafficking victims in Malaysia brought the regional scale of the issue to global attention.

Najib’s call for Myanmar to cease crackdowns against the Rohingya, while valuable in itself, swept this wider incrimination of Southeast Asian governments, including his own, under the carpet. More than a choice of political convenience, it was perhaps a deliberate decision to downplay transnational aspects of the refugee question, and – by drawing on regional and global perceptions of Myanmar as a pariah state in transition – place the responsibility for regional crisis within the already-tied hands of an unstable administration. While raising his human rights credentials vis-à-vis his neighbors, thus, Najib simultaneously exempted them from adopting a concerted response.

For those concerned – as we should all be – about the increasingly dire situation facing the Rohingya in Southeast Asia, Najib’s decision to take the stage with firm words against the events in Myanmar offer limited consolation. Beyond achieving domestic political motives, his remarks have sharpened the existing tensions between global and local values, ideas of regional integration and national sovereignty, and questions of transnational and national responsibility. At best, we can hope that Najib continues to place valuable political capital behind his rhetoric. At worst, the ideals he has promoted may well be eroded by a failure to follow up with policy. It would not be the first time.

Theophilus Kwek is currently reading for a MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies at Oxford University. He has served as co-editor of the Journal of Politics and Constitutional Studies, publications director of OxPolicy, and vice president of the Oxford Students’ Oxfam Group.

Tunku Abdul Rahman–Father of Malaysian Freedom


February 19, 2016

Tunku Abdul Rahman–Father of Malaysian Freedom

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan

http://www.thestar.com.my

EVERY February since 2010 we at Ideas hold an event to commemorate the birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj. He was born on February 8, 1903 and he would have been 113 this year.

We will be holding a special dinner to mark his birthday on February 20. This will also be a celebration of the sixth anniversary of  IDEAS.

This year our celebration is a bit different. We are lucky to have been chosen as the host for this year’s Asia Liberty Forum (ALF), an annual gathering of the freedom movement from across Asia to discuss challenges facing the region and to learn from one another how to most effectively advance free-market reforms.

The ALF will take place at Renaissance Hotel Kuala Lumpur on Feb 19-20 and we will have the special dinner to celebrate Tunku’s birthday as the final session at this international conference. Tun Musa Hitam will be delivering the main speech.

I am proud that this year we are able to take the celebration of Tunku’s life and vision to this international platform. It is about time that those from outside Malaysia who share the desire to see more liberty and justice in this world get to hear about Tunku and his ideals for the country.

The Tunku’s championing of freedom is not restricted to our national borders. He had a vision for the region too, and that led him to push for the creation of the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA), which then morphed into ASEAN.

Writing in this newspaper on August 22 2007, the late Datuk Abdullah Ali, one of the pioneers of the Malaysian Foreign Service, said that the entire concept of ASA, as the precursor of ASEAN, “was founded, then developed to maturity, almost solely as a result of an idea that originated in the mind of Tunku.”

When ASA was mooted, this region was suffering from the communist insurgency. In Malaysia, the Tunku made it quite clear that his belief in liberty could not exist side by side with communism.

The world knew him as a consistent anti-communist leader, and this was recognised in the New York Times’ obituary for him published on December 7, 1990.

Today, perhaps not enough people appreciate why UMNO’s Second President was so strongly against communist authoritarianism. Malaysians of my generation did not get the chance to see what the communists did.

And those who visit Beijing or Shanghai today may very well come back thinking there’s nothing wrong with the leftist ideology.

Last weekend I visited Phnom Penh. Less than two hours away by flight from Kuala Lumpur, this is a city that felt the blunt force of an attempt to establish communist rule by the Khmer Rouge and their leader, Pol Pot.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Under the Khmer Rouge it was called the S-21, and functioned as the main prison and torture centre. This was a place that was once replete with suffering and deaths.

S-21 was a high school until the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. The communists changed the classrooms into torture chambers. The pictures displayed there now are very graphic.

People were detained and tortured to extract confessions, and many ended up giving false confessions in the hope that the torture would stop.

Pol Pot was a paranoid Prime Minister. He believed that it was better to act against an innocent person by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake.

He took action against anyone who showed signs of wanting to challenge him. At Tuol Sleng, Pol Pot instructed the killing of his own Deputy Prime Minister Von Veth and Kuy Thuon, chief of a northern state.

At Choeung Ek Killing Fields-pictures taken by Dr. Kamsiah Haider-February 7, 2016

The suffering caused by Pol Pot and his communist comrades was even more apparent at another memorial site, the Choeung Ek Killing Field. It took about half an hour to get there from Phnom Penh. I will never forget what I saw.

The Cambodian government has built a stupa to commemorate the site, filled with more than 5,000 human skulls found within the compound. It is estimated that close to 20,000 people were bludgeoned to death there because bullets were expensive.

The bodies were piled in rows of mass graves. There was even a tree where communist soldiers smashed the heads of babies, before throwing their bodies into a hole.

All this was done because the communist Khmer Rouge did not believe in dissent. To them, human lives were expendable.

They used to say that “to remove you is no loss, to keep you is no gain.” Such was the belief that led to massive suffering under an authoritarian regime.

When the Tunku was Prime Minister, the communists were not yet ruling Cambodia. But he knew the dangers authoritarianism can bring to us and he pre-empted it by engraving the values of freedom, liberty and justice in our Proclamation of Independence.

As we celebrate the Tunku’s birthday this month, let us remember him as the freedom champion that he was.

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

Understanding The Cambodian Tragedy


February 16, 2016

NY Times: Power Struggle in Malaysia


June 18, 2015

Power Struggle in Malaysia Pits Former Premier Against a Protégé

by Thomas Fuller and Louise Story

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/18/world/asia/malaysia-prime-minister-najib-razak-mahathir-mohamad.html

PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia — Malaysia’s governing party is at war with itself, embroiled in a power struggle that is destabilizing the country and threatening the party’s nearly six-decade stretch of uninterrupted governance.

The battle has revealed itself publicly in a nasty spat between two political titans. Mahathir Mohamad, a former Prime Minister who turns 90 next month, is the chief architect of a political insurgency aiming to oust the man he helped put into office six years ago, Prime Minister Najib Razak.

NY Times article by T FullerThe Man of the Moment

Having lost none of the combativeness honed during more than two decades in power, Mr. Mahathir is pressing allegations of malfeasance in a sovereign wealth fund, criticizing the “lavish” lifestyle of the prime minister’s wife, and has resurrected troubling questions about the murder of a Mongolian woman, the mistress of a former top aide to Mr. Najib.

“I’ve had quite a long time in government, and I’ve learned a few things,” Mr. Mahathir said in an interview at his office on Wednesday in Putrajaya, the administrative capital he built from scratch when he was Prime Minister.

Mr. Najib “wants to leave his own legacy,” he said. “But what he does is verging on criminal.”

Mr. Najib has denied allegations of abuse of power and urged patience while the country’s auditor general completes a report on the transactions of the sovereign wealth fund. “If there is any misuse of power, we will not shield anyone,” he told a Malaysian television channel in April. The report is due at the end of the month.

The political combat has transfixed this nation of 30 million people, an officially Muslim country with one of the most developed economies in the region.

The latest round took place early this month when Mr. Najib was scheduled to address a public forum on the questions swirling around his leadership.

When Mr. Najib failed to show up, Mr. Mahathir took the stage. But he had just begun to speak when the police shut him down, cutting off his microphone and escorting him off the stage.

This is the third time in Mr. Mahathir’s career that he has turned on his former protégés, and he succeeded in sidelining the first two. Another former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, is in prison on charges of sodomy, which is illegal in Malaysia. Mr. Anwar’s five-year prison sentence, affirmed by the country’s highest court this year, was the culmination of trials that began when Mr. Mahathir fired Mr. Anwar as his deputy prime minister in 1998, declaring “I cannot accept a man who is a sodomist to become the leader of this country.”

The second time was nine years ago, when Mr. Mahathir came out of retirement and lashed out at his successor, Abdullah Badawi, for what he said was poor economic management. Mr. Abdullah resigned, and Mr. Najib took over as Prime Minister.

Mr. Najib’s approval ratings have plummeted over the past year amid bleaker economic prospects and higher living costs, and Mr. Mahathir says he fears that the party will lose elections if Mr. Najib remains at the helm. But he also expressed little faith in the long-term prospects of the party, the United Malays National Organization, which has led coalition governments since independence from Britain in 1957.

In the interview on Wednesday, Mr. Mahathir said that the party he led for decades, known as UMNO, lacks vision and talented people, and that it has become a repository of patronage-seeking politicians seeking to monopolize the spoils of power.

“The little Napoleons in UMNO try to keep out people who are more intelligent than themselves,” he said.

Government Ministers and Members of Parliament have been pressed to declare their allegiance in the dispute, and many have been cagey, afraid to alienate either their current leader or the next one if Mr. Mahathir gets his way.

For now, the divided opposition poses little threat. Its leader, Mr. Anwar, is in prison, and the unwieldy three-party coalition he led appears to have dissolved this week.

The political imbroglio comes on top of economic problems. About a third of government revenues comes from oil and gas production, whose prices have fallen steeply, and the government has been forced to pass an unpopular sales tax to make up for the loss.

Murray Hiebert, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, says the country’s political troubles “could hardly come at a worse time.”

“The Prime Minister is focused on political survival when the country’s economy is slowing due to low oil prices and falling exports resulting from China’s economic slowdown,” he said. The combination, he said, is “giving pause to the foreign investors Malaysia is seeking to court.”

The sour economy has also thrown into relief what Mr. Mahathir and others describe as the Najib family’s jet-setting lifestyle of shopping trips in world capitals and the buying of expensive real estate in the United States.

Mr. Mahathir criticized Mr. Najib’s wife, Rosmah Mansor, for her “lavish lifestyle” and for acting “almost if she was a prime minister.”

Mr. Mahathir has also dredged up questions related to the case of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a Mongolian model who was murdered by two of Mr. Najib’s bodyguards in 2006. While the bodyguards were convicted, Mr. Mahathir has demanded to know who gave the orders.

But at the heart of his dispute with Mr. Najib is Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which has debts running into the billions of dollars and is overseen by Mr. Najib, who is  Chairman of its Board of Advisers.

Mr. Mahathir says the fund, 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, is missing “huge sums of money” that Mr. Najib has been unable to account for.

The fund has been criticized for the last several years for taking on expensive debt as well as for some of its investments, which opponents say have benefited supporters of Mr. Najib’s political party. “He has never been able to explain how the money was spent,” Mr. Mahathir said Wednesday. “They give a list of payments, but nobody believes it.”

Mr. Najib did not respond to requests for comment emailed to his spokesman.

The fund has also drawn controversy for its close relationship with a financier named Jho Low, a friend of Mr. Najib and of his stepson. Mr. Low has been involved in the sale of tens of millions of dollars of luxury real estate to the stepson in the United States.

Though Mr. Low holds no official position with 1MDB, he has acknowledged advising the fund, and several of his friends have held senior positions there. In recent months, documents have been published by The Edge, a Malaysian newspaper, and Sarawak Report, a British blog, showing that Mr. Low was instrumental in a deal between 1MDB and a Saudi oil company, PetroSaudi International. The newspaper also said the documents show that a company, Good Star Limited, was controlled by Mr. Low and received hundreds of millions of dollars from 1MDB as part of the oil deal.

Mr. Low did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to The New York Times this week, 1MDB said that Good Star was owned by PetroSaudi and noted that PetroSaudi had confirmed that 1MDB said it had provided information about these transactions to the Malaysian authorities that are investigating the sovereign fund.

The payments by 1MDB are attracting attention in part because the fund is floundering. In recent weeks, the government announced a restructuring plan that involves the fund’s acceptance of money from the International Petroleum Investment Company, an investment fund affiliated with the Abu Dhabi government that has also made numerous deals with Mr. Low.

1MDB has issued statements disputing the notion that it is being bailed out. “This is a business transaction, not a loan, not any kind of debt and not a bailout,” the fund said in its statement to The Times.

Mr. Mahathir’s criticisms of the management of 1MDB, which he makes in regular blog postings and in public comments, are closely followed in Malaysia. But they have also been greeted with cynicism by those who say that money politics and bailouts of government-linked companies were very much a part of Mr. Mahathir’s 22 years in power.

“Mahathir is being disingenuous,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the Merdeka Center, an independent polling company. “What we are seeing today did not happen overnight. It’s been heading this way for decades.”

Still, the concerns over 1MDB seem to have gained traction.

“We have been talking about and highlighting 1MDB for the last five years, and although it slowly gained momentum as a national issue, things changed the moment Mahathir picked 1MDB as an issue to bring down Najib,” said Rafizi Ramli, an opposition Parliament member. “For the first time, a government scandal has reached the attention of both sides of the political divide. In fact, it’s a bipartisan issue.”

Mahathir Mohamad-2014

Mahathir Mohamad, who served as Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, turns 90 next month. He is forcing his way back into the center of Malaysian politics with a fire hose of criticism for the man he helped install in office, Najib Razak, the current Prime Minister.

In an interview, Mr. Mahathir lashed out at Mr. Najib for what he described as wastefulness and lavish spending. But he also broached a host of other topics, questioning the tenets of modern democracy and calling for a boycott of Myanmar over its persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority there.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

On the splintering of Malaysian politics:

The reason why Malaysia has managed to remain stable and to grow economically was because there was one big coalition of parties. But now you can see there’s a breakup. What will happen in the next election is that no one will be able to gain a majority. This, of course, leads to instability.

On the current Prime Minister:

I had always supported Najib. I was in a way instrumental in his becoming Prime Minister. [But] the apparent disappearance of huge sums of money. This is not good. He has never been able to explain how the money was spent. He wants to leave his own legacy. But what he does is verging on criminal. He’s going to lose in the next election.

On the prime minister’s wife, Rosmah Mansor:

She projects herself too much. Normally, the wife of the Prime Minister should be in the background supporting the husband.

On Western-style democracy in Asia:

If you look at the history of democracy, initially it was all about the right of the people to choose their own leaders. Since then, we have added more things to democracy. You must have this freedom and that freedom. I know what is wrong about democracy. It is when people interpret it wrongly. And they seem to think that liberty, freedom is absolute. It’s not.

On the use of detention without trial:

Running a country is not just about being nice. Sometimes you have to be nasty to people who have evil intentions.

Farah Ann Abdul Hadi

On a Muslim Malaysian gymnast who was criticized by religious leaders for wearing what they described as a revealing outfit:

I feel that these people are interpreting the religion in the wrong way. The religion is not wrong. It is these people who interpret it to suit their own purpose.

On how to deal with conservative Islamists:

You have to reply to them in the language of the religion. But if you say, ‘This is not constitutionally right,’ it’s not going to work.

On Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya:

The Rohingyas3

This country claims that the Rohingya are not their people. They’ve been there for 800 years, much longer than the Chinese in Malaysia. The atrocities committed are terrible. They killed and burned people, they beat people to death. In this day and age, people should not behave like that. AASEN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] should do something. If necessary, I think I would expel this country. It’s terrible. The whole world should boycott this country.

On the reasons he has turned against his anointed successors three times:

They all looked good to me before they held power, but they don’t seem to manage power. They seem to think that power is to satisfy their own ambition. Power is there to serve the people. It’s not for enriching yourself and living a high life.

On turning 90 next month:

I never thought I would reach 90(July 16)

The Nobel Lady: The Rohingya Crisis must be handled with care


June 18, 2015

The Nobel Lady: The Rohingya Crisis must be handled with care

by AFP@www.freemalaysiatoday

WASHINGTON: In rare comments on Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged caution on granting citizenship to minorities, saying the sensitive issue must be addressed “very, very carefully.”

The Nobel LadyThe Nobel Lady

The Myanmar government is reviewing citizenship status and “should go about it very quickly and very transparently and then decide what the next steps in the process should be,” she told The Washington Post.

But in an interview published online late Tuesday, Suu Kyi dodged a direct question on whether the Rohingyas — who have triggered international outcry as they flee the country on rickety boats in their thousands — should be given citizenship.

“The protection of rights of minorities is an issue which should be addressed very, very carefully and as quickly and effectively as possible, and I’m not sure the government is doing enough about it,” she said.

“It is such a sensitive issue, and there are so many racial and religious groups, that whatever we do to one group may have an impact on other groups as well,” she stressed.

“So this is an extremely complex situation, and not something that can be resolved overnight.”

The plight of the Rohingyas, one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, has worsened dramatically since 2012, when communal bloodshed left scores dead and some 140,000 people confined in miserable camps in the Rakhine state.

The violence triggered a wave of deadly anti-Muslim unrest in Myanmar and coincided with rising Buddhist nationalism that has further entrenched animosity toward the minority widely viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In recent months, images of starving, desperate migrants hauled from vessels to Southeast Asian shores have spurred calls for immediate humanitarian action.

But pro-democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Suu Kyi, who became a beacon of hope during decades of house arrest under the military junta, has been accused of failing to speak up for the country’s powerless as she campaigns for elections due in November.

“We have many minorities in this country, and I’m always talking up for the right of minorities and peace and harmony, and for equality,” she told the Post, speaking after a landmark visit to China.

And she insisted in the “the government has not done enough to lessen the tension and to remove sources of the conflict.”

Buddhist hardliners want the estimated 1.3 million Rohingyas expelled from Myanmar.

And neither the government nor opposition parties have shown much appetite to confront communal tensions for fear of alienating Buddhist voters ahead of the polls.

All an illusion?

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party is expected to sweep the elections, but she is barred from the presidency under a constitutional provision excluding those with a foreign spouse or children from the top job.

Suu Kyi, whose husband was British, told the Post she believed “the government is totally opposed to constitutional amendment” that could pave the way to the presidency.

After long being an international pariah due to the military junta, Myanmar has embarked on a series of reforms bringing it back into the diplomatic fold.

“We do worry that the reforms will turn out to be a total illusion, and we think that we need more concrete steps to ensure that the democratization process is what it was meant to be,” Suu Kyi added.

– AFP/www.freemalalaysia.today

 

Dr. Farish Noor on Bangladesh and Myanmar


June 16, 2015

Dr. Farish Noor on  Bangladesh and Myanmar and the Rohingyas: A Bit of History

farish-a-noorListen to Rajaratnam School of International Studies @NTU Scholar Dr. Farish Noor tell  the story of Bangladesh and Myanmar and the Rohingyas, the Stateless People. I have always admired my dear friend Dr. Farish for his efforts in promoting inter-faith dialogue, tolerance,  mutual understanding, peace and cooperation in our region, ASEAN.

Like this respected academic and dedicated public intellectual, I too cannot understand why a people who have lived in Rakhine for centuries are today victims of racial and religious discrimination, and ethnic cleansing and are being denied their right to citizenship in their own homeland.

Understanding History can help us all to deal with our current problems. That is probably an understatement. Thank you, Dr Phua for bringing this to my attention.–Din Merican