Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerabilities in the states


June 27, 2018

Pakatan Harapan’s vulnerabilities in the states

Dr. Bridget Welsh @www.malaysiakini.com
In this era of ‘new Malaysia’, the need for capable and reform-oriented leadership at the state level will be essential to bring about the changes needed to improve governance…the federal government has the power of the purse to encourage greater reforms at the state level and can set important governance examples. Working collaboratively with state governments to move out of status quo politics toward reform from above and below is essential to reducing vulnerabilities of Harapan states.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | In the weeks following GE14, the focus has centred on developments at the national level, as Malaysians wait for a full cabinet and watch the new Pakatan Harapan government set in place its initial policies.

At the state level, there are equally important and transformative developments taking place, largely off the national radar. There are some worrying signs that greater attention needs to be placed on building the reform credentials of the Harapan government from below.

Varied tenuous patterns of state control

Harapan now holds power in eight states – Johor, Kedah, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Penang, Perak, Selangor and Sabah (despite the outstanding legal contest for the chief minister position). The remaining states are held by PAS (Kelantan and Terengganu) and BN (Pahang and Perlis) with Sarawak now Pakatan-friendly under a new configuration of the Sarawak Parties Alliance (Gabungan Parti Sarawak).

Among Harapan states, there are broadly three political conditions. The first is a large majority coming with incumbency, as in the case of Penang and Selangor, and with a decisive victory as occurred in Johor. In these states, the main challenge is to accommodate different coalition partners (and in the case of PKR, factions) with positions and adequate representation. The new chief ministers in Penang and Selangor are also facing the need to come out of the shadow of their predecessors.

The second group of states are those that have slim majorities. These include Malacca and Negri Sembilan with a three and four-seat majority respectively. They face an UMNO opposition, which at this moment is fragmented and inward-oriented.

All of the majority Harapan states are vulnerable to issues within Harapan itself. Beyond jockeying for positions, differences over race and religion have the capacity to divide the coalition and are especially impactful in states where UMNO and PAS are likely to play on these factors.

Unlike the situation at the national level, where Sarawak’s Pakatan-friendly orientation has shored up Harapan’s more inclusive position on race and religion, this is not the case in many of the Harapan states and thus makes these states more vulnerable to the mobilisation of political division along racial and religious lines.

The third group are states where Harapan holds the majority of seats but this majority can be overturned by a coalition among opposition parties or a reconfiguration of different partners. Here, Harapan governments are balancing a combination of internal and external pressures, including continued inducements for defections. The potential for political instability in these states is real.

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This is the case in Sabah, where Warisan is the largest party allied with Harapan to form government. Warisan (led by Shafie Apdal, photo) holds 23 seats, with Harapan parties holding eight seats, with a majority of two seats. Perceived unfair actions taken against Warisan partners in areas such as appointments by the federal government can potentially inadvertently contribute to instability in Sabah.

Perak and Kedah also fall into this category of possibly overturned majority states. In these two states, PAS holds greater political power. In Perak, Harapan holds onto 29 seats, with the BN at 27 and PAS at three, while in Kedah Harapan holds 18, with PAS at 15 and UMNO at 3. In the last month, there has been considerable wrangling over the speaker and deputy speaker positions in Kedah, with the possibility of elections should there be an impasse.

The balance of power in Perak remains fragile and given the history of induced political turnover in the state, it is arguably the most vulnerable to a change in government.

Chief minister choice

It is also important to appreciate that legal decisions involving the case of the chief ministership in Sabah and election petitions across the country have the potential to shift the numbers in these majorities. The sources of instability at the state level extend beyond managing numbers. Crucial is the choice of chief minister and the state leadership.

The royalty has played a pivotal role in deciding who should run the different states, from Selangor and Perak to Johor. This has placed constraints on the Harapan government(s). The royalty’s role has been prominent under the BN government as illustrated by the Terengganu crisis of 2014 and more recently in Perlis but is being more openly being discussed in the era of ‘new’ Malaysia.

At issue are not just concerns for representation, race and religion and economic interests, but the democratic fabric of Malaysia. Increasingly there is greater disgruntlement with royal interventionist positions.

This is especially the case in states where a sultan’s veto power has been seen to reduce the stability of a Harapan government or led to choices that are seen to bring into power a perceived less experienced candidate. The open criticism of the choice of new Selangor Menteri Besar, Amirudin Shari, is illustrative of some of the disgruntlement, although in this case these complaints are also reflective of the different factions within PKR.

Capability, qualifications and the reform orientation of the new state leaders are at the core of concerns surrounding the leadership of Perak and Johor.

Image result for Menteri Besar of Perak  Ahmad Faizal Azumu

 

The Perak Menteri Besar, Ahmad Faizal Azumu from Bersatu (pic above), whose fiasco in the handling of the Hari Raya open house in a theme park earlier this month was criticised, has yet to properly answer questions about the veracity of his academic qualifications. He is seen to be closer to Umno than to Harapan, coming from a traditional UMNO warlord family. While still early days, his leadership to date has failed to broach any of the scandals of the previous Zambry Abdul Kadir government and is evoking serious criticism from the ground.

The choice of Osman Sapian, the now Bersatu former UMNO three-term state assemblyman from Kempas, to be the Menteri Besar of Johor also signals the persistence of status quo politics at the state level. Osman’s choice has been seen as possibly limiting reform and not actualising the leadership potential for Johor at the state level.

The expectations in Johor are especially high, given its economic and political importance and the decisiveness of Harapan’s victory. The choice of Osman has emboldened UMNO who feel they can win the state back under Osman’s leadership and not evoked confidence among many Harapan supporters.

Reform from below and above

Decisions at the state level to date have showcased some of the ideological differences within Harapan itself, most notably the connection to Umno and its style of patronage politics. In other states such as Malacca, the early patronage to Harapan members, some of whom are not qualified for the positions in state-linked companies they were given, also raised eyebrows.

States play a crucial role in governance, and if reforms in Malaysia are to gain traction they need to happen at the state level as well. The same clean-up and oversight of government-linked companies touted by Harapan leaders at the national level should be paralleled at the state level, especially given the link between state governments and national scandals as occurred with Terengganu and 1MDB.

A failure to address reforms at the state level opens up Harapan for criticism and has the potential to undercut any reform at the national level. Keep in mind the greatest vulnerability the Harapan governments face is a loss of confidence among the electorate. It is at the state level, in vital areas of land development and social service management, that many witness first-hand abuses of power and corruption concerns.

 

Political transitions are not easy, especially given the resistance to these transitions and how vulnerable many of the state governments actually are to political turnovers and status quo politics. In 2008, it took some time for the Selangor and Penang governments to find their footing and this will likely be the case for the new Harapan state governments as well, and arguably pressures for reform were also curtailed.

In this era of ‘new Malaysia’, the need for capable and reform-oriented leadership at the state level will be essential to bring about the changes needed to improve governance.

Image result for lim guan eng at finance ministry

 

Unlike in the past, however, the federal government has the power of the purse to encourage greater reforms at the state level and can set important governance examples. Working collaboratively with state governments to move out of status quo politics toward reform from above and below is essential to reducing vulnerabilities of Harapan states.

A failure to do so puts these governments at risk and deepens the challenges for the federal government itself.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Handling 1MDB Cash and other Assets: An Opinion


 

June 24, 2018

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Handling 1MDB Cash and other Assets: An Opinion

by Sarawak Report

The United States, Switzerland and Singapore have been at the forefront of seizures of illegal assets from 1MDB, which attracted the attention of the Malaysian people sufficiently for them to vote out their government and elect a new leadership that has made the retrieval of those assets a priority.

Very well and good.  The mechanism by which the governments of those countries return these assets to the people of Malaysia will hopefully be as expeditious as possible and will represent a huge step forward in global goodwill and cooperation, given the principles of decency behind those seizures and the man hours and foreign tax dollars that went in to capturing back all that cash.

Malaysians have every reason to be truly grateful to the foreign investigators, who played their part in netting the 1MDB billions, particularly since the case was so ‘cutting edge’ that it would have been extremely easy to take no notice. Australia, for example, has played little proactive part in hunting misappropriations by Najib’s sick regime and nor so far has Britain.

Indeed, it seems likely that 1MDB will go down as a test case in asset seizure, which will set principles for the future.  Previously, it generally took the removal of a tyrant for asset tracing to swing in motion; Prince Jeffrey of Brunei and the Marcos family of the Philippines had first to be ejected and for the governments themselves to demand restitution.

However, in the blatant case of 1MDB, these foreign law enforcers acted according to the principles of money laundering legislation in advance of any requests from the then government of Malaysia.

That was big progress for ordinary people against power abusers and that progress needs to continue, world wide.

What About Other Third Party Assets?

It means that, goodwill prevailing, the United States will be in a position, together with Switzerland and Singapore, to send back without too much trouble a few billion ringgit to help the new Finance Minister sleep better through his awful experience of taking over Najib’s department.

However, there is clearly far more money outstanding. What now has to be asked is to what extent massive global institutions – primarily the banks involved in this disgraceful heist – will find themselves ruled by the same concience as their country hosts?

Goldman Sachs (GSI), for example, took $600 million dollars in commission for three bond issues totalling $6,5 billion for 1MDB, that any twenty year old could have spotted as suspicious.  Of course GSI is populated only with the most enormously clever people (which is why they expect to be exponentially rewarded) which leaves one wondering why this top banker in the world failed along with others to spot the flaws in deals that netted so much cash?

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It can hardly be a coincidence that it was recently reported that Malaysia has issued an arrest warrant for the GSI link man and Malaysian national Roger Ng, who acted as the key contact point for the new South East Asia boss, Tim Leissner (featured above with celebrity wife Kimora Lee Simmons) but then resigned from the bank after questions started over the vast 1MDB commissions.

Nor can it be a coincidence that Goldman sacked Leissner once Sarawak Report and others  had thrown light upon the matter, owimg to an alleged unauthorised reference for Jho Low.

So, where does this go next?  Because, very large bonuses indeed permeatted the higher echelons of this bank following the influx of the $600 million from these questionable bond deals.

Will law enforcers include money that went to third parties in this misappropriation of 1MDB cash?  Alternatively, will GSI and other banks and big businesses caught up in receiving money from 1MDB perhaps volunteer to regurgitate those gross bonuses in favour of causes such as health and education in Malaysia?

Shake Off Feudalism: This is 21st Century Malaysia


June 7, 2018

Shake Off Feudalism: This is 21st Century Malaysia

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | “The people expect them to be the embodiment of all things good and holy. But the question is: Are they?”

– A Kadir Jasin, “Constitution: The King and the Pauper

I never thought I would say this, but former Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin questioning UMNO information chief Annuar Musa if the latter was still living in the Hang Tuah era, was pretty interesting blowback for Annuar’s urging of the state security apparatus to investigate Bersatu Supreme Council member A Kadir Jasin for his article allegedly “questioning” the royal institution.

Furthermore Maidin’s caution of not threatening the rakyat with “reckless feudalism” is also a reminder that perhaps, we are living in a new dawn of Malaysians politics, something which I am skeptical of. This idea that political hegemons “threaten” the rakyat with “feudalism”, reckless or otherwise, has always been the preferred weapon of the “bangsa and agama” (race and religion) crowd.

Here is an example of this narrative whereby the rakyat have been threatened with “feudalism”.

When Anwar Ibrahim goes on his royal tour, apparently to convince the royalty that all is kosher with “Malay rights” and “Islam”, this is part of the narrative that Malay rights and Islam are under attack.

Image result for Anwar Ibrahim a Royalist

Anwar Ibrahim–  A Reformist or a Fawning Royalist? Maybe a Political Chameleon. He should be grateful to Malaysians for his Pardon.

When Anwar Ibrahim and any Malay politician for that matter have to reassure the Malay community that for hithe appointment of Tommy Thomas will not adversely affect Malay rights and Islam, this feeds into the narrative that those ideas/institutions are under attack. The counter-narrative is, have they ever been under attack?

What did Kadir actually say in his pieces about the royalty? In his blog post, “Constitution: The King and the Pauper”, he:

  1. Questioned the journalistic integrity of the New Straits Times;
  2. Questioned if the Royalty was really insecure as some have claimed;
  3. Wondered why Anwar Ibrahim had to go on his royal tour; and
  4. Reminded the ordinary rakyat of how much is allegedly spent on the Agong and the difference of expectation between a pauper and a king.

To wit – “But unlike the pauper who evokes God’s name to earn sympathy of the passers-by, the Agong evokes God’s name in his oath of office.”

That’s powerful stuff coming from Kadir, and the reality is that this is what the average rakyat is wondering.

When kids carry out a car wash to contribute to the Hope Fund or whatever it’s called, people think it demonstrates how Malaysian we are.

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When the salaries of politicians are cut and the trimmings used to contribute to the Hope Fund, people think it demonstrates how politicians are playing their part in saving this country.

However, when the expenses of the royalty are brought into question, people wonder, why is it so much when we are told that we are on an austerity drive.

We have a Finance Minister who apparently has sleepless nights because of his fear of the financial time bombs that he would discover in the red files.

The rakyat also notices how the royalty, during the lead-up to the elections and post-elections, by word or deed have made extremely political overtures.

Of course, when you bring up the expenses of the royalty, you better cite sources which are credible, which is where Kadir’s piece suffers.

However, what should be done is that the Finance Ministry should immediately issue a response and tell the rakyat exactly how much is spent on the royal institutions.

After all, this is supposed to be a ministry which values truth above all else. Truth, we are told, is needed for this country to move forward.

So when Kadir makes a statement about royal expenses, his claim does not have to be challenged by the royalty but should either be verified and challenged by the Finance Ministry. End of controversy. However, Kadir’s piece is more than just about royal expenses.

Kadir’s conclusion is this – “In conclusion, our CONSTITUTIONAL monarch (emphasis in original) has nothing to fear if they understand their special position and stick to their duties as spelt out by the constitution – and the rakyat wonder, does the royal institution understand their special position and stick to their duties as spelt out in the constitution?”

When UMNO was in charge, there was never an issue when UMNO set policy. Even when former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak introduced the National Security Council Act – by the way Harapan folks, is this act going to be ditched? – the “issues” with the objections of the royalty were simply brushed aside.

Nobody in UMNO seemed to care that the royal institutions were sidelined because the sitting UMNO Prime Minister wanted more power than the Agong. Even Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said as much on the campaign trail.

Did anyone from UMNO or PAS object when the constitutional provisions that guaranteed certain rights to the royalty were supplanted by this most odious of “acts” from UMNO? Were the rakyat threatened by reckless feudalism from the UMNO state?

Did the royalty make noise that the powers they were guaranteed under the constitution – the very same powers, that Kadir argues, makes them immune from insecurity – were under attack from the Najib regime?

Did the Malays need to be reassured that the Malay institution was not under attack?

This idea that the royal institution has not changed through constitutional means is a myth, much like the mythical/mystical era – depending on the source – of the Hang Tuah era.

The current Harapan grand poohbah in his time went against the “reckless feudalism” and instituted changes that were embraced by some of the very same UMNO potentates who are now scrambling for power in the political party – UMNO – which has staked the “bangsa and agama” ground as its sole province.

Look even in the Sinar Metro article, all Kadir did was raise three points – in my opinion – which are vital to the economic and social stability of this country. Reproduced here in the original Malay:

  1. “Mereka dibayar gaji oleh rakyat jelata dan segala keperluan rasmi mereka ditanggung oleh kerajaan. Dalam keadaan di mana hidup rakyat susah dan kewangan negara sempit, kerajaan tidak boleh sekali-kali membazirkan wang untuk sesiapa pun. Biarlah saya kata macam ini: Istana-istana yang ada itu sudah mewah.
  2. Dalam usaha kerajaan baharu mempertahankan hak rakyat jelata dan melindungi institusi negara daripada sebarang bentuk pencabulan maka adalah penting diambil tahu pembabitan raja atau istana dalam kegiatan-kegiatan tidak rasmi seperti perniagaan dan social.
  3. Kalau perlu kita kaji semula perlembagaan dan kontrak sosial bagi mengambil kira suasana dan realiti yang ada pada hari ini bagi mengharmonikan perjanjian antara raja dan rakyat jelata.”

My interpretation of Kadir’s words is as follows (you may of course disagree): In times of austerity, because the rakyat are in a crunch, the government of the day should scrutinise its expenses and the royal institutions should also play their part. That the royal institutions should not be involved in unofficial business and social enterprises, because it weakens the integrity of these institutions and encourages practices which are detrimental to a functional state. And as Malaysians we should understand that reforms of institutions – all institutions – are needed to save this country.

If anything, what Kadir is advocating is “responsible feudalism”, which I suppose is what a constitutional monarchy is all about.of


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

 

The Californization of America


June 4, 2018

SOQUEL, Calif. — Across the country, Democrats are winning primaries by promoting policies like universal health insurance and guaranteed income — ideas once laughed off as things that work only on the “Left Coast.”

At the same time, national politicians from both sides are finally putting front and center issues that California has been grappling with for years: immigration, clean energy, police reform, suburban sprawl. And the state is home to a crop of politicians to watch, from Kevin McCarthy on the right to Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris on the left, part of a wave that is likely to dominate American politics for the next generation.

California, which holds its primaries on Tuesday, has long set the national agenda on the economy, culture and technology. So maybe it was just a matter of time before it got back to driving the political agenda, as it did when Ronald Reagan launched his political career in the 1960s. But other things are happening as well. The state is a hub for immigrants, a testing site for solutions to environmental crises and a front line in America’s competition with China. On all sorts of big issues that matter now and will in the future, California is already in the game.

In a way, California even gave us Donald Trump. So much of his “training” to be president came while he was an entertainment celebrity, on a show that, for a stretch of its existence, was produced in Los Angeles. And of course the means of his ascent — the smartphone, social media — came out of Silicon Valley. That’s a lot to have on a state’s conscience.

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Governor Jerry Brown of California

California is a deep-blue state — only 26 percent of its residents approve of Mr. Trump, and Democrats dominate the Legislature, statewide offices and most large city governments. But the state’s leaders are also aware that setting the political agenda for the country means making a stark break with naked partisanship. Getting that right will determine whether California, in its newly dominant role, perpetuates the political divide or moves America past it.

For decades, California, even as it grew in size and wealth, was seen as an outlier, unintimidating, superficial and flaky. We were no threat. We were surfer dudes and California girls who got high and turned on, tuned in and dropped out. We spawned Apple and Google, but we also spawned hippies and Hollywood. For a time, our governor was nicknamed Moonbeam.

As recently as the 2000s, with California at the center of the subprime-mortgage crisis, it was fair to wonder whether we had a future; a popular parlor game was to imagine how the state might be divided up into more manageable statelets.That was the old California.

The new California, back from years of financial trouble, has the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of Britain and France. Since 2010, California has accounted for an incredible one-fifth of America’s economic growth. Silicon Valley is the default center of the world, home to three of the 10 largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

California’s raw economic power is old news. What’s different, just in the past few years, is the combination of its money, population and politics. In the Trump era, the state is reinventing itself as the moral and cultural center of a new America.

Jerry Brown — Governor Moonbeam — is back, and during his second stint in office has been a pragmatic, results-focused technocrat who will leave behind a multibillion-dollar budget surplus when his term ends in January. But he has also been a smart and dogged opponent of the Trump agenda, from his high-profile visits to climate-change negotiations in Europe to substantive talks in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

California is hardly monolithic. The region around Bakersfield provides the power base for Mr. McCarthy, the House majority leader and an indefatigable defender of President Trump, who calls him “my Kevin.” Other sizable pockets of Trump supporters live along the inland spine of the state, especially in the north near the Oregon border.

Still, there’s no doubt California runs blue — so blue, people say, that its anti-Trump stance is inevitable. But that’s not right; in fact, California defies Mr. Trump — and is turning even more Democratic — not for partisan reasons but because his rhetoric and actions are at odds with contemporary American values on issue after issue, as people here see it, and because he seems intent on ignoring the nation’s present and future in favor of pushing back the clock.

California doesn’t just oppose Mr. Trump; it offers a better alternative to the America he promises. While Mr. Trump makes hollow promises to states ravaged by the decline of the coal industry, California has been a leader in creating new jobs through renewable energy.

While Mr. Trump plays the racism card, California pulls in immigrants from all over the world. For California, immigration is not an issue to be exploited to inflame hate and assuage the economic insecurities of those who feel displaced by the 21st-century economy, it’s what keeps the state economy churning.

For us, immigration is not a “Latino” issue. The state’s white population arrived so recently that all of us retain a sense of our immigrant status. My great-great-grandfather Gerhard Kettmann left Germany in 1849 and made his way to California during the Gold Rush. That’s why everyone is able to unite, even in our diversity.

And the draw of California is more powerful than ever. People come not only from countries around the globe to work in Silicon Valley — more than seven in 10 of those employed in tech jobs in San Jose were born outside the United States, according to census data analyzed by The Seattle Times — they come from all over the country.

It seems as if every other idealistic young person who worked in the Obama White House or on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign later moved to California. All these new arrivals create major problems, from housing shortages to insane Los Angeles-style traffic in Silicon Valley. They also create a critical mass of innovation.

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

 

Many Californians see the next decade as a pivot point, when decisions about the environment and the economy will shape America’s future for generations to come. “It’s ‘Mad Max’ or ‘Star Trek,’” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and leading candidate to succeed Governor Brown. It’s no mystery which movie he thinks Mr. Trump is directing.

Nationally, Mr. Newsom is known mostly as a cultural pioneer, having allowed same-sex marriage as the mayor of San Francisco in 2004 — among the first big-city mayors to do so. But he sees himself in more pragmatic terms, more like a latter-day Robert Kennedy, a believer in the idea that government can do more for the people if it’s smarter about trying new ideas and updating old assumptions.

Mr. Newsom doesn’t mind making bold claims, and he and his main Democratic challenger, the former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are both vowing to build 500,000 homes in California every year for seven years. He also wants to provide single-payer health care to everyone in the state and commit the state to 100 percent renewable energy for its electricity needs. Sure, these are campaign promises — but in California, they suddenly seem like practical, feasible ideas.

California for years was divided between its main population centers. Northern California, birthplace of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the Summer of Love in San Francisco later that decade, was often at odds with large sections of Southern California, particularly Orange County, a bastion of suburban Republicans.

That divide is eroding. Orange County even went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. California remains diverse culturally, but politically, it is increasingly unified. That can be a potent engine for social and economic progress; it can also be an excuse for insularity and political grandstanding.

The key, many of the state’s politicians say, is to promote the former without falling into the trap of the latter — no easy task at a time when many Californians see their state as the base of the anti-Trump resistance.

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Vivek Viswanathan running for state treasurer of California

Take Vivek Viswanathan. Raised on Long Island by parents who immigrated from India, he did policy work for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and Governor Brown and is now running for state treasurer.

It would be easy for him to run far to the left, mixing anti-Trump rhetoric with unrealistic policy promises. Instead, he wants America to see a different California — a state that mixes pragmatism and progressivism.

“I’m one of those people that think the threats that we face from Washington are very real, and not just to the resources we need, but the values that make us who we are,” he said. “California is really a model for what the country can be if we make the right choices.”

The first test of a unified California’s newfound political heft could come this fall. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in the House of Representatives to win control of it, and they have their eye on seven California districts carried by Mrs. Clinton in 2016 that have Republican incumbents, including four that are wholly or in part in Orange County.

Further north, in the Central Valley, a deputy district attorney for Fresno County named Andrew Janz is running a surprisingly competitive race against Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Nunes has used his position to defend the president, while providing little congressional oversight — something that doesn’t sit well with even moderate California Republicans.

“The momentum is definitely on our side,” Mr. Janz told me. “My opponent is more concerned about blaming Democrats than getting the job done. The people here honestly want Nunes to focus less on creating these fake controversies and more on doing the work that’s required to move us along into the 21st century here in the Central Valley.”

Again and again, this is the message coming from the state’s rising politicians — anger with the president and his allies not out of an ideological commitment, but because the president seems more interested in personal gain than national progress.

The more visionary among California’s leaders, including Mr. Newsom, recognize that their state has the highest poverty rate in the country, by some measures, and that addressing the problem — through affordable housing, job programs and early education — has to be a priority. To the extent these are national problems, too, other states may soon be looking to Sacramento, not Washington, for leadership.

It’s also a given that one or more Californians could figure prominently in the 2020 presidential race, including Ms. Harris, a first-term senator who has gained a reputation for her withering examinations of the president’s cabinet nominees. Mr. Newsom, particularly if he wins the governor’s race this year by a convincing margin, could also make the jump to the national stage, following Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown.

Image result for Tom Steyer.

Billionaire Tom Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump.

To see how different the stereotype of California is from the reality, consider another of the state’s rising political figures, the billionaire Tom Steyer.

To most people in Washington or New York, Mr. Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump. Impeachment is a widely popular idea among Democrats, but political realists say it’s unlikely to happen absent a Democratic surge in the midterm elections — in other words, that’s California for you.

But at home, Mr. Steyer is anything but a dreamer. His organization NextGen America focuses on developing solutions to climate change and economic inequality, issues that resonate here, especially among the young. The goal is to show the way not through talk, not through TV ads, but through action.

“I think California has this great advantage, which is we have a functioning democracy,” Mr. Steyer said in a recent interview. “With all our problems — and we have a lot of them, the biggest one being economic inequality — we have a spirit in business and in politics that says, sure, there are big problems, but we can address them. That spirit is a great advantage and it’s not true in Washington, D.C., right now.”

Steyer’s bet — and that of millions of others in my state — is that soon, California will pick up the slack.

Steve Kettmann, a columnist for The Santa Cruz Sentinel, is a co-director of the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Californization Of American Politics. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to VOA


May 30, 2018

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to The Voice of America (VOA)

 

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, back in power after a 15-year hiatus, says his first 20 years in office were “fairly easy” compared to what is confronting him now — massive debt in a country with an international reputation for corruption. Mahathir returned to power on May 9 in a spectacular election upset that saw him unite with his former opposition foes to overthrow a prime minister — Najib Razak — who is accused of helping to steal billions from his country in one of the biggest corporate frauds in history. Najib denies all the charges. “Well my first 20 years as prime minister was fairly easy. I inherited a system that is already there. All I had to do is to introduce new ideas so that we can expedite the growth and development of Malaysia,” the 92-year-old Mahathir told VOA in an exclusive interview. “But here I am dealing with a country that has been actually destroyed. Its finances have been destroyed. The system of government has been ignored and not used and a new system, or rather an authoritarian system has been introduced,” he said.

https://www.voanews.com/a/hold-for-vi…

Is our debt really over RM1 trillion?


May 29, 2018

My Message to Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is this: You are no longer in the Opposition. You are a Cabinet Minister with a vital portfolio. Behave like one, the sooner the better; it is for the good of your reputation and your integrity as our new Finance Minister.

Image result for Tun Tan Siew Sin and Tun HS Lee

You should take Tun  H.S. Lee, and Tun Tan Siew Sin as your role models. Both men were not in the habit of giving press  conference on Malaysia’s finances. In recent times, Tun Daim Zainuddin was the quiet one. If I can recall, TDZ hardly spoke to the media. He was only heard when he was delivering his budget speech.

As Finance Minister, you  should know that what you say and do is market sensitive. It undermines investor confidence and Malaysia’s image.

“There is no need to demonise and put down the previous BN government at every turn in what are sometimes dubious ways. It is time to do what is needed and portray things in an accurate manner as possible to reflect the truth as far as that is possible. After all, the elections ended over two weeks ago.”--P. Gunasegaram

I have a lot of respect for Guna, who I know well over many years. He is one of the best analyst from Malaysia, known for his critical and incisive commentaries on business and financial issues.

His views in this article, Minister Lim, should be taken seriously. I know Najib Razak made a mess of our national finances when he was doing the job before you. He is being investigated for his malfeasance. Let the Rule of Law take over.–Din Merican

Is our debt really over RM1 trillion?

A QUESTION OF BUSINESS | The starting point of this debate was when Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the national debt was more than RM1 trillion without defining what the components of the debt were. Naturally, this caused a lot of confusion. Was the previous government lying about the debt figures?

Image result for lim guan eng at finance ministry

“We have found that our finance (status) eroded significantly (to the extent) we are having problems in (repaying) our debts, which have increased to a trillion ringgit,” according to a Malaysiakini report.

“This has never been done by us before […] if previously our debt stood below RM300 billion, now the debt has exceeded RM1 trillion,” Mahathir said during his first monthly assembly as head of the Prime Minister’s Department in Putrajaya.

That started alarm bells ringing and raised legitimate questions about whether there was obfuscation of government figures. This was fueled further when Lim Guan Eng in his first press conference as Finance minister confirmed what Mahathir had said.

He said this was revealed during the discovery exercise when all relevant departments were able to start consolidating their accounts and numbers, The Star reported.

“Previously, certain files were not accessible by certain people and therefore, consolidations were not available,” he said in his first press conference as the Finance Minister on Tuesday (May 22). This seemed to imply new figures after consolidations.

But when markets started to fall and former Prime Minister and Finance minister Najib Razak said the new figures “will just unsettle the financial markets, alarm the credit rating agencies and investors’ confidence in our institutions, such as our Bank Negara Malaysia”, Lim gave a breakdown (see table).

The total figure of RM1,087.3 billion (RM1.087 trillion) was given as debt and liabilities. The official government debt was given as RM686.8 billion which is about 6% higher than the figure of RM648 billion given in the Accountant-General’s report for 2016. Presumably, these are the figures for end-2017 which have not been publicly released yet. This is 50.8% of the GDP (gross domestic product – sum of goods and services produced in a year) and lower than the officially announced ceiling of 55%.

“However, let me emphasise that the obligations and financial commitments of the federal government are unchanged before May 9 and after elections today. The only change is that the new federal government has decided to call a spade a spade,” Lim clarified further. This implied that the official debt figure was correct, clearing up earlier confusion it may have been wrong and doctored.

The next line shows government guarantees. The Accountant-General’s report routinely included these as part of contingent liabilities and therefore it is not a new thing. There were concerns about contingent liabilities even during Mahathir’s previous tenure as Prime Minister from 1981-2003.

Lim explains this thus: “In addition, the government is already committed to paying for government guarantees for various entities that are unable to service their debts. This amounts to RM199.1 billion (14.6 percent of the GDP).

“The committed government guarantees would include entities such Danainfra Nasional Bhd (RM42.2 billion), Govco Holdings Bhd (RM8.8 billion), Prasarana Malaysia Bhd (RM26.6 billion), Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (RM14.5 billion) as well as an estimated RM38 billion for 1MDB.

Image result for prime minister mahathir mohamad

“Based on the two items above, the federal government debt would amount to RM885.9 billion. This represents the 65.4 percent of the GDP as highlighted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad yesterday.”

PPPs can be problematic

Lim should know that this is not included when the ratio is calculated in international debt figures. But, yes, government guarantees and contingent liabilities should be taken into account in assessing the overall debt picture correctly.

The next one that Lim includes is lease payments under public-private partnerships (PPP) of RM201.4 billion. But is this fair?

Here’s what Lim says: “However, in addition to the above, the federal government is also committed and obligated to make lease payments (including rental, maintenance and other charges), for a whole list of ‘Public-Private Partnership’ (PPP) projects such as the construction of schools, hostels, roads, police stations, hospitals, et cetera.

“The lease commitments which were designed specifically to circumvent the federal government guarantee and debt limits amount to RM201.4 billion (14.9 percent of GDP).’

This does not seem to be in the public domain. I tried looking for the official figures in the Accountant-General’s 2016 report but could not locate them. Yes, there are indications that this may have been on very favourable terms to those who obtained them but it is a legitimate means of reducing the government’s balance sheet practiced now in many countries around the world.

Essentially under these arrangements, the private sector undertakes a project, for example, constructing a government office. In return, the government commits to paying rent for, say, 20 to 30 years. While borrowings reduce, as a result, the government’s operating expenditure rises.

Even if including PPP as debt is considered to be the right approach, it will be inaccurate to take into account the full repayments as debt obligations, as payments are made over long periods and include interest charges. Instead, it should be the capital expenditure incurred if the government has to undertake the projects. Damansara Member of Parliament Tony Pua, who seems to be assisting Lim in these matters, puts PPPs entered into by the previous government at around RM63 billion in value.

There is no denying that PPPs can be problematic. A problem arises if the private sector investors get too high a return, and the government suffers as a result. PPPs will not be classified as debt under most classifications. But, yes both guarantees and PPPs should be taken into account in the overall assessment of the debt and liabilities situation of the government.

No, the official debt figure is still RM648 billion, not RM1 trillion. But if you include other figures, then the effective debt obligations might rise to as high as over RM1 trillion. Even for this, the contingent liabilities figure of RM199 billion is already in the public domain and analysts, including those who do ratings, have taken it into account.

Unless the Pakatan Harapan government has solid evidence to show national accounts are tampered with, they must not make statements which may make the public, including investors, conclude otherwise. It confuses, it throws up uncertainty and makes people lose confidence in the economy.

There is no need to demonise and put down the previous BN government at every turn in what are sometimes dubious ways. It is time to do what is needed and portray things in an accurate manner as possible to reflect the truth as far as that is possible. After all, the elections ended over two weeks ago.

https://www.ft.com/video/ea69ce82-ec13-4faa-aa16-45a45339335f?tagToFollow=c27e47f1-9be7-354c-a817-e79bfd535725


P GUNASEGARAM hopes that now polls are over, cyber-troopers will contribute in a real, responsible and reasoned way to discussions about our future instead of saying let those who run the government decide. That’s how we got into a mess in the first place. And please stop the personal insults and obscenities. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.