Blame Thyself, UMNO-You had it coming to you


June 6, 2018

Blame Thyself, UMNO-You had it coming to you

by Zainah Anwar

Inevitable change: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announcing his resignation when Barisan lost GE14 after the people rejected the corrupt practices of some of the Barisan politicians.
Tears won’t do

It may have been a shock win for Pakatan Harapan in the recent election, but the writing has been on the wall for Barisan Nasional for more than a decade. Finally, change has come! It was simply inevitable.

I have been writing for over a decade of the politically manufactured extremism and intolerance within Malay society and how the 2006 UMNO General Assembly was the turning point when a party that had prided itself as the bedrock of centrist politics, presented an extremist face to Malaysians on live television.

The histrionics of race and religion under threat, the keris waving, and the full display of Malay-Muslim machismo alienated and scared not just the non-Muslims, but the many moderate and progressive Muslims in the country. UMNO had crossed the line. The belligerent UMNO speakers thought they reflected the mood on the ground, only to fast discover that the ground had shifted from under their feet, as the President tried vainly to do some damage control with his closing speech.

 

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By the 2008 General Elections, the resounding victory that then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi enjoyed in 2004 based on his change agenda was overturned. The rakyat inflicted the most crushing blow to Barisan Nasional. Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor fell to the Opposition, and the ruling party lost its much vaunted two-thirds majority.

It all went wrong within just four short years. Abdullah Badawi had led Barisan to its greatest electoral victory ever, winning 199 of 219 parliamentary seats in 2004. He promised to eliminate corruption, to introduce open tendering for government contracts. He regarded the NGOs as the eyes and ears of the government, he stood up for women’s rights and a progressive Islam (Islam Hadhari) that must be re-interpreted to deal with changing times and circumstances. He promised a kinder, gentler Malaysia and more open and democratic politics.

While many of us shared in the fifth Prime Minister’s vision of a democratising, transparent and accountable government and his promise of an inclusive rule for all Malaysians, his failure to deliver on much of this grand vision and his inability to take charge of his change agenda in the face of resistance from powerful centres of power within UMNO, within the civil service, the Police, and even within his own cabinet eventually led to a massive loss of confidence. It was not supposed to be business as usual. But on the ground, it was much too much of the same thing.

From the endless manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays to supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion, from the Lingam tapes to judicial integrity, from rising crime to rising prices, local development without public representation, political leaders behaving badly, and allegations of corruption and cronyism that did not abate…the electorate was in no mood to wait for the promised change to come or to even acknowledge that some change had indeed taken place.

Anything but UMNO

I had written after the 2008 general elections that the massive public repudiation of Barisan was not just a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s rule, but of all the corrupt, immoral, authoritarianism of Barisan politics and governance in its 50 years of domination. The public has had enough.

That Pakatan Rakyat won votes on a platform of change from “Ketuanan Melayu” to “KetuananRakyat” and a smorgasbord of promises to make democracy and good governance work for ALL citizens was beyond UMNO comprehension.

While the new alliance was fast capturing the shifting mood of Malaysian voters to a new political centre of equitable and fairer terms of engagement among the citizens, and between the citizen and the state, and generating excitement among young voters and community groups that their voices could indeed bring change, UMNO members were more preoccupied with power grabbing in the run-up to party elections in December 2009.

They might win party elections whooping their “Ketuanan Melayu” battle cry, but they would cause the party to lose the next general elections, I predicted. The ground had shifted, but they dug deeper into their bad old bag of tricks of race, religion, money politics, and self-enrichment. I never understood what was there for MCA, Gerakan and MIC to stay on with UMNO and its intemperate and relentless stomping and condoning of ethno-religious supremacy that was driving away Chinese and Indian voters into the waiting arms of PKR, DAP and even PAS. The mood indeed was anything but UMNO.

It was clear by 2008 that Malaysian politics was taking off into an epochal transformation from race-based to issue-based, I felt. Increasingly, Malaysians were building new solidarity based on issues, not race or religion. Be it human rights, women’s rights, free and fair elections, democracy, good governance, anti-corruption, freedom of the press, detention without trial, death in custody, local government, environment, land rights, quality education, arts and culture, … it would be issues that would bring Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds together, I wrote then.

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So Abdullah was forced into early retirement and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the Sixth Prime Minister, warning UMNO to “change or perish”. He called on UMNO members to be the eyes and ears of the rakyat so that UMNO could read accurately the pulse of the nation and translate that into policy and action. He called on the people to restore the bridges that brought us together and tear the walls that separated us. He introduced 1Malaysia and he wanted repressive laws repealed and UMNO party rules to be more democratic.

Regime crisis

That was 2009. But I wrote early on that Najib might have the dubious honour of being the first UMNO President to become Leader of the Opposition, as I saw no mood for change among UMNO leaders and members. They felt they were the only rakyat that mattered. All they were preoccupied with was to use the race card to enrich themselves – to get more handouts and more contracts into their grubby hands.

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2008 Elections–Malaysian Spring

Almost 11 months after the 2008 elections, UMNO lost a by-election in Kuala Terengganu as PAS, PKR and DAP displayed unprecedented cohesion and dazzled the voters with their unity, sharing the same platform everywhere.

It had made no difference to UMNO thinking and strategising that 74% of the Malays in the Kuala Terengganu constituency polled a week before polling day believed that “Malay political power was weakened by corrupt and self-serving leaders”, while only 17% said it was weakened by “demands made by the non-Malays”.

UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights.

That a newly cobbled coalition of strange bedfellows could present a united front and work together as a team and sell their multi-ethnic agenda to a Malay electorate showed what a pathetic empty shell Barisan as a multi-ethnic coalition had become.

2009 under the new leadership brought no respite to the rakyat. Incident after incident piled up and we felt as if the country was going to implode. Issues on whether one was a Muslim or not, whether a father who converted to Islam had the right to unilaterally convert his underage children, the sentencing of Kartika to caning for drinking a glass of beer, the arrest and prosecution of then former Perlis Mufti for teaching Islam in a private home in Selangor without a letter of authorisation…the endless sledgehammer of persecution in the name of Islam went on.

By 2010, the likes of the belligerent Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin had emerged as the poster boys of UMNO and the future the party believed in. It was their voice and those of their ilk that the government of the day seemed to listen to. Not the voice of Malaysians, who believe in our founding fathers’ vision of a modern, democratic, secular, culturally pluralistic and inclusive political community.

Unpopular tactic:: Umno continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

 

Contrary voices were either cowed into silenced or demonised. More demagogues were organised to whip up Malay sentiment against any attempts to discuss concerns arising from the makeover of the Constitutional idea of “the special position of the Malays” into Malay supremacy.

The idea of Ketuanan Melayu sits uncomfortably among many Malaysians, be they Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajaus, Orang Asal, Eurasians…. It is a racial supremacist idea, a far cry from the simple reality that Malays as the majority population of this country will naturally be the politically dominant group. And a far cry from the constitutional notion of the “special position of the Malays” which legitimised affirmative action as a temporary special measure to enable a historically disadvantaged group to catch up.

Obviously, Malaysia had entered into another “regime crisis”. The NEP-era political phase and governing mechanism exhaled its last breath on March 8, 2008.The Opposition had still not coalesced into a viable trusted alternative with a common political vision of Malaysia. The Barisan Nasional government showed no resolve to deal with the concerns and contestations over matters of race and religion, and human rights and fundamental liberties. This pessimism about the future of Malaysia continued to corrode the body politic and the public sense of well-being.

By mid-2010, I pronounced in this column that UMNO was beyond redemption. It had regressed into a dinosaur, too huge, too old, too fossilised in its ways to be able to adapt to new conditions. The sense of privilege and entitlement was too entrenched for UMNO members to ever want to change.

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 Pakatan Rakyat was born in 2008

While UMNO politicians and Perkasa pointed fingers at other races as a threat to Malay political survival, the Malays themselves saw something else. A Merdeka Centre survey revealed that 70% of Malays felt that the main threat to the Malay political position in the country was corruption among Malay leaders. Only 22% believed it was due to demands made by other races in the country. This national survey reinforced the Kuala Terengganu findings of January 2009.

The changing values and changing mood was clear. A significant 40% of the Malay respondents believed that citizens should be treated and accorded the same rights in Malaysia, regardless of race and religion. Forty-five per cent believed that government assistance programmes only benefited the rich and politically connected. The two top issues all respondents identified as being the most important in need of change were: “making the country more democratic” and “making our education system world class”. But 66% of the public felt a sense of powerlessness that they could influence government policy.

And yet UMNO continued to play its dangerous game for the future of Malaysia. And it did not care that continuing to abuse race and religion unabated spelt the death knell to its Barisan partners who could never hope to deliver the minority votes necessary for the ruling coalition to maintain power.

No political will

The then Prime Minister (Najib Razak) made attempts to bring UMNO back to the centre by calling for the voice of moderation to prevail in Malaysia, reminding UMNO members at the 2010 General Assembly that it was the Malay trait of moderation that had enabled the community to be accepted as leaders in a multicultural society.

But wasatiyyah required political courage. No one in UMNO had the political will to follow words with deeds. Its hypocrisy continued to stench. Sisters in Islam was called in twice by the Police for questioning under the Penal Code and the Sedition Act for standing up for Kartika. For the first time too, a state religious authority issued an official Friday sermon attacking Sisters in Islam and urged the congregation to take action against us. Global Movement of Moderates indeed.

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In frustration, I wrote a column in 2011 on whose voice should prevail in this country. Those who perpetually saw race and religion under threat and demanded that every person who believed, thought, behaved, dressed, acted, opined differently should be “fixed” through many state sanctioned operations – boot camps, rehabilitation camps, punished under the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act, or just denounced and demonised as enemies and traitors of race, religion and country?

Or those who envision a democratic and just future, where rights are recognised on the basis of citizenship rather than just race, religion, or sex.

The choice was obvious to most of us, the good citizens of Malaysia who loved this country, and who were determined to be resilient, resourceful, and open minded to face the challenges and realities of the 21st century.

The same old script

I was totally frustrated by the endless manufacturing of many more new threats. From the innocuous fun of poco-poco to the relativism of post-modernism, from calling Muslims opposed to UMNO and PAS unification as “pengkhianat Islam” (traitors of Islam) to accusing Christians of plotting to turn Malaysia into a Christian state! All these of course adding to the existing long list of threats that included pluralism, liberalism, feminism, secularism, kongsi raya, open house, tomboys, yoga…

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UMNO’s Racist Stooge–Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos–now on the run from the Malaysian Police

It was hard to understand why these same actors were trotting out the same old script that cost the Barisan Nasional government so dearly in 2008. It’s like as if nobody had learnt any lessons from that political tsunami. Since attacking liberal Muslims and ungrateful Chinese did not work in 2008, they amended the script to add Christians and even the passé Communists. Why would an unpopular political party create more enemies, instead of making friends?

And to be sure they added the promise of the Hudud law and its grim serving of chopped off Muslim hands and feet, stoning to death, crucifixion! What kind of future is that? “It’s ok to implement the Hudud law because it doesn’t affect non-Muslims.” So it’s ok for Muslims to be brutalised? “Non-Muslims should shut up because it doesn’t affect them.” But they are Malaysian citizens who have every right to speak up on laws that allow for brutal and inhumane punishments against their fellow citizens, the majority population to boot. “Muslims who are not experts on Islam should shut up”. Then please take religion out of the public sphere and make it private between us and God.

By 2012, a desperate UMNO, which for two decades under Mahathir’s rule had been consistently opposed to the Hudud law, embraced it as its own. One state assemblyman in Johor proudly proclaimed that the UMNO Hudud would be superior to the PAS Hudud as it would apply to all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims! And other UMNO leaders and entities in quick succession echoed the call, lest their piety be questioned. And they stoked the debate further by trying to portray the upcoming general elections as a choice between those who wanted the Hudud and the Islamic state and those against.

I wrote then that the choice before us was not between Islam and secularism, not between Hudud law and civil law, not between tradition and modernity. Those were false dichotomies created to divide us. The choice before us was between democracy and despotism, between good governance and corruption, between equality and discrimination, between social justice and inequity.

The UMNO-Perkasa-Utusan Malaysia nexus and its orchestrated battle cry of “Malays and Islam under threat” stoked Malay anxiety – enough to win UMNO support and make a nine seat gain in the 2013 general elections. Malays, who saw UMNO as its protector, bought into the emotive appeal that their special rights would be eroded by a Pakatan coalition that stood for affirmative action based on need, rather than race, and Ketuanan Rakyat rather than Ketuanan Melayu.

But the very political strategy that won UMNO support in the rural areas and among some segments of the Malay community, cost Barisan support among the Chinese, Indians and Malays in urban and semi-urban areas. For the first time, Barisan won the national elections with less than 50% of the popular vote.

The demands for reformasi that began in 1999 with the sacking and mistreatment of Anwar Ibrahim was steaming ahead. Barisan popular votes went down by 10% then and Umno and Barisan were saved by support from the Chinese, many of whom were spooked by reformasi in Indonesia. 2004 was just a blip in the downward slide with excitement over promises of change by a new Prime Minister. Performing from bad to worse in two successive general elections was unprecedented.

There were yet more calls for change. This time the then Deputy Prime Minister warned UMNO members to “change or be dead”. But no one was listening. Some UMNO leaders continued to blame others for their failures and shortcomings. And this time they told those who disagreed with them to leave the country. In the past, the retort used to be vote us out if you don’t agree, but by 2013 that was too painfully close to the truth to even utter.

At the UMNO General Assembly that year, the debate, in content and tone, did not provide voters with any indication or hope that UMNO was capable of change to win back the support it had lost in two successive elections.

The de rigueur threats were made yet again – from “liberalism, pluralism and secularism”, to threats from people who supposedly attacked “Islam, the Sultans, the national language, the NEP” all rolled in one breath, and threats from oh, those forever ungrateful Chinese. And then, of course, the same old demands for more handouts and economic assistance for the Malays. And nary a curious squeak as to why a Malay dominated government that has implemented affirmative action policies for over 40 years, with billions spent on bumiputra empowerment and economic advancement plus dozens of accompanying policy instruments, have still failed to address the needs of those left behind and build the resilient commercial and industrial community as envisaged.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the party Deputy President, gave a dire warning in his closing speech – that just a 2% swing in votes will cost Barisan to lose power.

Forty-four of the 133 Parliamentary seats Barisan held were regarded as “grey” seats where the party had won by a mere majority of between 0.1 and 5.9%. Without new initiatives to appeal to the electorate, Barisan would be in a “precarious position”, he warned.

I met a few UMNO leaders who were at that general assembly who said they cringed listening to the speeches and the non-debates. They felt they were in a sinking ship.

Then why didn’t you and people like you in UMNO speak out, I asked. One said, “Are you kidding me. I speak out, I turn my back, no one is behind me.”

Another said, “I speak out, they will send the income tax guys knocking on my door at 3am.”

The dinosaur was truly paralysed and rotten to the core. Malaysia has changed, more and more Malays were changing, but UMNO remained trapped in a dance hall, partying to its own music, oblivious that extinction was near.

In July 2015, I wrote a column, feeling choked and suffocated that this country and its rakyat were being crushed and pummelled by wrecking balls. The wrecking balls of race and religion, of insatiable greed, of desperation to stay in power, of never-ending sense of entitlements, of unpunished crimes and abuses, of ideology over rational thinking, justice, and fair play. These concerns were nothing new. What was new was the breathtaking scale, the endlessness of it all, and the shamelessness with which the perpetrators displayed their unscrupulous, destructive and criminal behaviour, in words and deeds.

The 1MDB scandal had broken. We began to live in an Orwellian world where bad was good and good was bad, where those who revealed abuses and scandals were detained, questioned, prevented from travelling, charged in court, sacked from their positions, while those accused proclaimed their innocence and carried on unimpeached, and buttressed to remain in power.

By this time, I felt UMNO was committing hara-kiri. It added yet more mind-boggling threats – “national security” and “parliamentary democracy” it seemed were now under threat as more and more damning evidence of kleptomaniac behaviour at the very top was revealed. To continue to talk about it posed a threat to the stability of the ruling party and therefore a threat to democracy and national security! What a mind leap we were supposed to exercise to believe in this Orwellian construction of truth.

I never understood why UMNO leaders or all the Barisan MPs still could not see that their rule was over. If the Prime Minister continued to lead the party, they would lose GE-14. Didn’t they consider working together to put pressure on him to step down in order to save the party and the country? Didn’t they consider working together with the Opposition MPs to mount a no-confidence motion in Parliament? It was staggering that a Prime Minister could ever accept RM2.6 billion dollars into his personal account – and still remain in office. It was as simple as that.

 

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“The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm.–Zainah Anwar

But too many on the UMNO bandwagon remained dazzled by the millions that had been dispensed to them and the many more millions that they could still make in power. So right up to May 9, they believed they would still obtain a handsome victory at the polls. The unthinkable, they thought, could not happen with the money spent, the gerrymandering and malapportionment, the mid-week polling day, the mainstream media on their side, the threat of arrests under the fake news law, the threat of an emergency under the new national security act.

But we Malaysians have had enough. The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm.

My friends and I knew this was the best chance to overthrow a party that had been in power since independence day. For the first time ever, we collected money to donate to candidates of our choice. Many of us in the women’s movement volunteered for Maria Chin, raised funds, managed her Bilik Gerakan, helped with her communications, outreach, worked as PACAs, pounded the streets at markets and neighbourhoods, and trudged up and down low-cost flats, to reach out to the voters in Petaling Jaya. We headed to as many ceramahs as possible in the Klang Valley. The idealistic fresh faces standing on stage promising a new democratic, inclusive, and clean government gave us hope.

While so many friends were still too scared to predict the outcome for certain, I just felt it in my old bones that Pakatan Harapan would sweep into power.

UMNO has no one else to blame but itself that Malays no longer see it as the protector of the race and religion. In swinging to the far right and representing the interest of only one segment of the Malay community, it lost the faith of many others that it was able to steer a moderate path to maintain Malaysia’s political stability and prosperity in collaborative partnership with others.

Today, the sun is shining again and I am so, so proud to be Malaysian. We bucked the global trend of elections bringing into power conservative and right wing parties. My friends abroad were thrilled that we Malaysians did it! – Through peaceful elections and a relatively smooth democratic transition to a new ruling coalition that stands for reform. If in the recent past they had asked me in despair what went wrong with Malaysia as it became known for the biggest kleptocracy scandal ever, this time with envy, they asked, “How did you do it?”

The Malaysian electorate has for decades wanted to see change in the way this country is governed, how law is applied, how politics is conducted and how business is run. The long standing public demand for greater transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, a free and responsible press, free and fair elections, a more just and open political system, an end to police abuse and misuse of power, and an end to the intricate web of business and politics that bred cronyism and corruption, that for decades remained unmet, now seem possible.

For Pakatan Harapan, winning was the easy job. The hard work now begins. And I have no doubt that the rakyat will throw them out if they fail to deliver on their promises. For this election victory is as much ours as it is theirs. It was us who led the demand for change for decades, and we never gave up. We delivered the victory to Pakatan. We all feel very precious about what we have achieved and we will remain vigilant. And we will not be cowed into silence.

Today, we live in hope and optimism that all good things are possible in this new Malaysia. Salam Malaysia Baru, my beloved.

https://www.thestar.com.my

Tengku Adnan:Overstaying his welcome


April 19, 2018

Tengku Adnan:Overstaying his welcome

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An Empty UMNO Vessel Makes the Most Noise

Tengku Adnan, the (caretaker) Minister for Federal Territories and UMNO Secretary-General followed a well-worn pattern of fearmongering when he warned recently of the threat posed by Christian evangelists.

Speaking to civil servants in Putrajaya last week, he cautioned them to be wary of the DAP (and by extension Pakatan Harapan) because, according to him, many DAP leaders are Christian “evangelists.”

Continuing, he stated that from Catholicism they become Protestants and from Protestants they become evangelists and born-again Christians, Methodists, etc.  “If they are Catholics, I can still believe them,” he said, “but when they are evangelists, they are considered new Christians. It is a problem.”

He went on to hint that the country’s sovereignty, the special rights of the Malays, the Malay language and many other things would be “destroyed if we are not careful.”

Appalling ignorance 

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UMNO Kelptocrats with the their Boss

In the first place, his remarks reveal an appalling ignorance about the Christian faith. He does not appear to even understand some of the Christian terms that he uses and yet  he is ready to condemn Christians. And he insults all Christians by trying to divide the Christian community into good Christians and bad Christians on the basis of their denominational affiliation.

If that is what he believes, he should explain what he thinks of the evangelical Christians who until the dissolution of parliament sat with him in cabinet and are part of BN. Are they, too, considered a threat to national security or are they good Christians by virtue of their support for UMNO?

An admission of failure?

The penchant of UMNO leaders to divert attention from pressing national issues by constantly playing up one imaginary threat or another – the Chinese, the Christians, the Jews, etc. – is tiresome and speaks more about their political bankruptcy than anything else.

It is, as well, simply mindboggling that a senior UMNO minister would be even obtuse enough to suggest that a small minority faith community [there are less Christians than UMNO members, for goodness sake] could depose the monarchy, overthrow the government, impose their faith on Muslims and abolish Malay rights. And this in a country that is staunchly Islamic, where Malay-Muslims vastly outnumber other ethnic and religious groups and have a near total monopoly of political, economic and military power.

If Tengku Adnan genuinely believes that our national institutions are still so weak and vulnerable after more than 60 years of UMNO rule, it would be a stunning admission that UMNO has completely failed the Malays, and indeed all Malaysians, and should be promptly removed from office come May 9th.

Faith and politics 

Of course, everyone understands that UMNO and the DAP are sworn political enemies and disagree on almost every issue. In a democracy, however, politicians discuss and debate their differences in a sensible and civilized way in order to give the voting public a better understanding of their respective positions.

What they don’t do is belittle their opponents’ religious beliefs or indulge in blatant racism and bigotry.

As a politician, Tengku Adnan should have the courage, if not the decency, to meet his political opponents head-on in a debate and challenge them on issues of importance rather than hide behind the walls of bigotry and hate and make snide remarks about their faith.

And in case he hasn’t noticed, non-Muslim politicians have, in general, been careful not to inject their faith into politics. You don’t hear non-Muslim politicians quoting their respective religious text, framing issues in a religious context or demonizing other faiths when discussing political issues.

It is not because they are less fervent in their faith but because they understand that in a multi-faith setting it is best to leave religion out of politics. After all, they are not in politics to promote their faith or to burnish their religious credentials but to promote policies, programmes and ideas that would help build a united, stable and prosperous nation for all Malaysians irrespective of race or religion.

Issues that matter 

Tengku Adnan should also know that the Christian agenda, if there is indeed one, is the same agenda that all Malaysians share  – a peaceful, united and prosperous nation. In fact, it was what UMNO itself used to care about before it allowed itself to be seduced by power and privilege. 

Rather than focusing on imaginary threats and sowing division and discord, therefore, Tengku Adnan might better serve voters by focusing on the issues that matter to  all Malaysians  – respect for the Constitution, good governance, corruption, national unity, the rising national debt, and the high cost of living. 

All the other issues – the position of Islam, the monarchical system, the special rights of Malay-Muslims as enshrined in the Constitution – are, in reality, non-issues because they are accepted and respected by all Malaysians including Christians. Only politically bankrupt leaders keep harping on these things because they have nothing better to talk about.

A great disservice

Tengku Adnan does Christians a great disservice by cynically stoking anti-Christian hostility to advance his political objectives. It recklessly endangers the safety and security of Christians at a time when radical militants are already targeting non-Muslims places of worship, as the police warned recently. It also feeds the kind of sentiment that very likely led to the abduction and forced disappearance of three Christian leaders last year. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

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Who should Malaysians turn to next?


January  23, 2018

Who should Malaysians turn to next?

Opinion: Daughter of Former Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad asks whether the big promises of Malaysia’s ruling party will be enough to gain back the public’s trust and win them power yet again.

by Marina Mahathir

This article was published in the January edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here

 

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With Malaysia’s general election due to take place by August of this year, the ruling party has already begun making big promises and dragging the opposition through the mud. But at a time of unparalleled distrust of those in charge of the country, it might not be enough to win them power yet again.

Malaysians are caught between a perpetual rock and a hard place when it comes to the politics of their country.

On the one hand, they are saddled with a government led by a man who has been accused by the US Department of Justice of running the “biggest kleptocracy in history”. On the other, they are sceptical about the alternative, the coalition known as Pakatan Harapan – the Hope Coalition – which until recently seemed unable to pull together a coherent and cohesive platform.

They have, however, now named my father, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as their candidate for Prime Minister and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as deputy prime minister – choices that make strategic sense but are likely a disappointment to young people who were hoping for fresh faces.

On the one hand, few can abide the most unpopular Prime Minister in Malaysian history and his wife. On the other, should the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) win again but then get rid of Prime Minister Najib Razak, his successor is most likely Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps this is why Malaysians have taken an inordinate interest in the goings-on in Zimbabwe, where the long-time president, Robert Mugabe, resigned only to be replaced by his former vice-president, a man who goes by the nickname of ‘Crocodile’. Given Ahmad Zahid’s track record as Home Minister, we may well get our own predatory reptile.

Speculation is rife that these are the actions of a government that does not have the imagination to reverse its unpopularity

The 14th general election is to be held by August this year, but they may be called any time between now and then, leaving Malaysians in coffee shops, boardrooms and home kitchens speculating as to when it is more likely to be called. Some were certain that it would be after the budget in October and before the end of last year. Others predict it will be in the first quarter of 2018, around March or even April. Still others think that Najib will repeat what he did in 2013 when he waited almost until the last minute to dissolve parliament.

Not that this has stopped him from campaigning. While election campaigning officially starts on the day elections are called, and last for only two weeks, it is clear that the BN election machinery has already started to grind. This takes two forms.

The first is the doling out of goodies, or at least the promise of them. The recently announced budget promised, for instance, to build thousands of low-cost houses for the poorest sectors, including 600 units to be built in ‘indigenous areas’ and unashamedly named ‘My Beautiful New Home’ or ‘MyBNHome’. A reduction in individual income tax rates by 2% has also been promised, although this has not been accompanied by a reduction in the very unpopular 6% Goods and Services Tax.

The second approach is by denigrating the opposition through the mainstream and online media. Opposition leaders such as Mahathir Mohamad have been attacked. He was called “an Indian masquerading as a Malay”. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng of Penang is being dragged through the courts for alleged corruption, and Shafie Apdal, who is leading the opposition charge in the Borneo state of Sabah, has been charged with misappropriation of state funds.

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Mainstream newspapers think nothing of putting photos of the children and grandchildren of opposition politicians on the front pages for supposedly leading a jet set life while ignoring the far more serious case of the PM’s stepson being named by the US Department of Justice in its kleptocracy case.

But speculation is also rife that these are the actions of a government that is feeling nervous and does not have the imagination to reverse its unpopularity by giving people what they really want, rather than what they imagine they should want. People want the sort of leadership that gives them a long-term and sustainable vision of their future, not short-term, stopgap, vote-buying measures. They would very likely still vote for the BN if they are presented with a vision they can believe in.

Unfortunately, unless the opposition coalition gets its act together soon, such hypocrisy is what we will be saddled with for a long while.

Also worrying is the rise of a strand of conservative Islam in Malaysia that increasingly mirrors the Saudi Wahhabi variety. Most recently the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs declared that not believing in God is unconstitutional because while the federal constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it does not allow ‘freedom from religion’. It is this type of twisted interpretation of the constitution that has led to increasing divisiveness in Malaysian society, leading some to believe that Islamic law supersedes the guarantees inherent in the constitution. It hasn’t helped that Najib has played to this particular gallery wholeheartedly, refusing to criticise inflammatory comments by radical preachers until forced to do so.

Image result for najib razak i am not a crookNajib Razak and his UMNO kleptocrats

 

In this vacuum it has been left to an undemocratic institution, the hereditary rulers of nine of the 13 states, to take a firm stand against such conservatism. Stating that incidents such as the establishment of a Muslim-only launderette are abhorrent in multiracial Malaysia, the sultan of Johor ordered the launderette to open its business to all or close down. The Council of Rulers then issued a statement condemning such divisive actions and words, a move that was unusual but much welcomed by the public when there has only been silence from the political leadership.

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Najib Razak shaking hands with an Islamic extremist  Dr Zakir Naik from India

The failure of government leaders to condemn such extreme views while espousing ‘moderate Islam’ abroad only underscores the public perception of a hypocritical and corrupt administration. Unfortunately, unless the opposition coalition gets its act together soon, such hypocrisy is what we will be saddled with for a long while.

 

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Marina Mahathir is a socio-political activist and writer focusing on the intersection of gender, religion and politics. She has been a regular newspaper columnist for more than 20 years, led a HIV/Aids NGO for 12 years and is currently involved in advocacy for justice and equality for Muslim women.

This article was published in the January edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine.

The Undoing of Pakatan


January 15, 2018

The Undoing of Pakatan

Simon Sinek

SIMON Sinek’s earlier book tells us to always start by asking why. The “why” of something is what drives people into throwing their passion into their work and their actions. He uses this to describe how Apple manages to entice customers.

Similarly, if you read Naomi Klein’s book on corporations, she tells us that products such as Apple’s devices are not just marketing an electronic device, it is about selling a brand.

With these two concepts, enter Pakatan Harapan. So why should one vote for Pakatan Harapan? Well, because they wish to reduce corruption, end kleptocracy, save the nation, ensure equality somewhat for everyone, and even look towards correcting whatever else is wrong in this country – like how the Premier League isn’t shown on television.

Personally, I didn’t even know that was a wrong thing since I don’t watch football. Either I’ve been blind to that fact, or the enticement of free football is pure escapism, but let’s get back to the topic at hand.

 Pakatan’s brand has always been to right the multiple injustices in the country, or to use Star Wars pop-culture, to bring balance to The Force. Unfortunately, their narrative has been complicated by asking Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to become their candidate for Prime Minister.

And this is why in the last week, Pakatan Harapan supporters and politicians have gone out of their way barraging the press with letters voicing their support for Mahathir and how there is no better candidate to win the Malay votes.

Let us be frank – Pakatan needs Mahathir “only” to win the Malay votes. And for that, they have sacrificed their “why” – reducing corruption, end kleptocracy, ensure equality and correcting the wrongs in this country – for the chance to win over enough Malays to get into the seat of power.

And this is why I often joke that whenever Mahathir talks about all these topics, even at the anti-kleptocracy rally – does anyone bother carrying a mirror to give the messenger some hint of the very audacity of the whole situation?

Image result for Mariam Mokhtar and Mahathir

 

Subsequently, you will notice that Pakatan supporters – the ones who chided Mahathir as “Mahafiraun” or even “Mahazalim”, have now had to come out to undo this narrative of an evil old dictator rivalling Mugabe which they have been selling for a decade.

And it isn’t working. Instead, Malaysians who were hardcore Pakatan Rakyat supporters now look at the pro-opposition activists in confusion.

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Hishamuddin Rais wants to get rid of UMNO, not Mahathir: UMNO-Baru was created by Mahathir after 1987  Party Crisis

One example of this is Hishamuddin Rais, who for so long condemned Mahathir as the major cause of the problems in Malaysia. And yet, at a forum last week, he was open enough to admit all that can be put aside because he wants to get rid of UMNO, not Mahathir.

And yet, here is the self professed non-government individual, in his own words in 2006, published in Central Market’s The Rice Cooker Shop. The title? Mahathir dan Labu-Labinya. In it Hisham admits that he would rather “trust Ibrahim Ali than Mahathir”, and how he revels in the fact that Mahathir had been abandoned by his own supporters.

Similarly, you have Mariam Mokhtar writing in asking who if not Mahathir. Her readers are just as confused, because this is contrary to everything she has stood for as highlighted in her Malaysiakini column in 2013 entitled “Apa lagi Mahathir mahu?”.

Image result for Mariam Mokhtar and Mahathir

In her own words: “Until we get a change in government, only one man can stop Mahathir’s deleterious effects on the nation – Najib Abdul Razak – but he either won’t or can’t bring himself to perform this saintly task. Such is the hold that Mahathir has over Najib.”

And yet, now she is backing Mahathir to the hilt because she wants that change in government, even if it is with the man who “cares for nothing but the continuation of his legacy, through his son, Mukhriz”.

This is Pakatan Harapan’s problem and why they will lose voters more than they gain. Primarily, it is because the Malays don’t vote for persona, they vote for brands – we have seen this with Semangat 46 even with the support of Tun Hussein Onn and Tunku Abdul Rahman, we have seen this with Onn Jaafar and his Parti Negara. Pakatan’s bet is that this will be proven untrue.

Second, their problem is that they have tainted their own brand, their own “why” by admitting the very person they accused of causing various problems. They used Mahathir as their scapegoat and now it seems they are using him as their idol.

French philosopher Jacques Ellul wrote that once propaganda has crystallized, confusion will ensue when you try and change the narrative. This sums up the problem Pakatan is facing. After 10 years of selling the same message, they now have to market something that has turned 180 degrees in less than two months.

And that confusion, that hypocrisy by their supporters, that double standard worthy of the very people they are trying to oust, will lose them the election.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner.

 

2018: Year of Change for Better or Worse?


December 31, 2017

2018: Year of Change for Better or Worse?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

As the year comes to an end the latest press statements from two civil society organizations – the National Association of Patriots ( NPA or Persatuan Patriot Kebangsaan) and G25 – provide renewed hope that the struggle for the freedoms and values of a robust democratic system will continue with key stakeholders providing overdue support.

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With scandals in his bag, Najib Razak needs to retain power and maintain the status quo. Keep praying Mr. Prime Minister.

For too long most Malaysians – outside the political arena who are well positioned to resist the authoritarian political and religious forces seeking to kill off moderate positions on regressive and illiberal socio-economic policies and programs – have remained quiet.

They have been spectators or have stood outside the political process hoping that the long entrenched ruling government is truly committed to building a cohesive and inclusive nation where no ethic, religious, geographical or class grouping is denied their rightful entitlements. They have also expected the BN to be consistent in pursuing a genuine pluralism that can be the foundation stone for peace and progress in our multi-racial society.

Many among our elite have also remained passive in the belief that opportunistic and repressive, and what constitute the more dangerous and real, not imagined, anti-national forces can be countered by institutional stake players located in the executive and legislative branches; as well as by the other constitutional checks and balances.

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That these two organizations – NPA and G25 – whose service and loyalty to the nation is irrefutable and unimpeachable have come out openly on developments which the government is in denial or prefers to draw a curtain of silence over reveals the deep concern and despair of respected armed forces and civil service leaders with current developments; and their lack of faith that the BN leadership is up to the task of steering the nation in the right direction to a better future.

Losers of the NEP and Religious Extremism    

The NPA’s subject of concern is the New Economic Policy and its successor policies, and their impact on the ethnic composition of the armed forces. Calling on the government to increase the recruitment of non-Malays by 10 per cent annually, the NPA statement explained that it was giving its views as truthfully as possible on “some of these issues that are ultra-sensitive.”

In its opinion, a policy favoring Malays in promotion and discriminating against non-Malays has made the latter feel demoralized and marginalized. Coupled with an increasing Islamic culture, this has negatively affected esprit-de-corps and comradeship in multi-racial military units.

According to NPA President Brigadier-General (Rtd) Mohd Arshad Raji Arshad these factors have not only affected the military but also the police force and other public service organizations.

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3 Penyamun Tarbus with medals

BG Arshad noted that “the problems faced today are an outcome of the policies and decisions of our government of the past few decades … The problem is endemic, a cause-and-effect of the ‘unwritten’ rules and regulations of the past.”

He pointed out that “to solve the problem, we have to first recognize the problem. The intention here is not fault finding, rather to fully comprehend the grievances from the perspectives of the non-Malays, and help those in position make decisions for the betterment of our country.”

A critical but balanced and rationally-based independent position can be similarly seen in the statements of G25 on the socio-economic and religious controversies that have beset the nation in the last few years.

In its statement on the latest controversies relating to the influence of political Islamic ideology in the country and the effort by Malaysian Islamic Research Strategic Institute (Iksim), the government-supported Islamic think-tank, to censure and punish University of Malaya Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi  and G25 member, Noor Farida, for their views on religious radicalism,  G25 has noted that while it “recognises the fundamental rights of individuals and Islamic activists to advocate their beliefs of political Islam”, government officials and leaders need to reassure the public that the government does not agree with such views as they are contrary to the intent and purpose of the Constitution and the Rukunegara.

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To G25, it is “when the government leaders keep silent and pretend not to hear that the public gets worried whether the government is using religion for its own politics. It’s the official silence and apparent acquiescence that make locals and foreigners get the idea there is radicalisation of Islam in Malaysia.”

Standing up for all Malaysians

What is especially encouraging about the statements by these two Malay dominated organizations is not simply the commitment to what G25 describes as a “national ideology of tolerance and respect for the diversity and differences among Malaysians”. It is also their willingness to stand up for the rights and freedoms of “other” Malaysians.

One response by a Patriot member to criticism by the Defence Minister of the press statement of BG Arshad provides comfort that even if 2018 turns out badly for moderate and progressive minded Malaysians on the political and religious front, there will always be our true patriots to fall back upon.

This is what Major Mior Rosli wrote in his reply. It provides such a contrast to the saccharin sweet, vacuous and meaningless New Year messages that will soon flood our print media from the PR offices of the country’s political leaders.  His entire note should be required reading for all young Malaysians and those of us who have become cynical about developments in the nation:

“We, the veterans Armed Forces Officers and the ex-senior police officers are the real Patriots. More Patriotic than any of you, “power and kleptocracy” crazy politicians. Don’t ever belittle us. If there is a war to defend the soil, we will be the second or third liners behind the regular forces to defend this country. Please don’t mess us up with your political dreams. (capitals and exclamation marks omitted).”

Electoral Integrity: Congrats Malaysia for doing better than Zimbabwe and Afghanistan


December 4, 2017

Electoral Integrity: Congrats Malaysia for doing better than Zimbabwe and Afghanistan

by Looi Sue-Chern

https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/25510/

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Kai Ostwald noted former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure from 1981 to 2003 had a large impact on the country’s political landscape, the independence of key institutions, the economy and the role of money in politics. But let us admit that under UMNO Prime Minister Najib Razak, democratic politics since 2009 has become a joke. GE14 is not likely to be better. Levels of malapportionment are now among the highest in the world.–Din Merican

MALAYSIA ranks higher than Zimbabwe, Vietnam and Afghanistan in electoral integrity, but far behind regional neighbours Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines, according to an academic paper on elections.

The research paper titled “Malaysia’s Electoral Process: The Methods and Costs of Perpetuating UMNO Rule” assigns a PEI (Global Perceptions of Electoral Integrity) score that measures electoral laws, electoral procedures, district boundaries, voter registration, party registration, media coverage, campaign finance, the voting process, and vote count to capture an electoral system’s degree of manipulation.

Malaysia ranked 142nd out of 158 countries in terms of electoral integrity. Zimbabwe were 143; Vietnam, 147; and Afghanistan, 150.

“Nearly all other countries in this category have experienced deep social and political instability like Afghanistan and Zimbabwe, or have single party system like Vietnam that precludes meaningful electoral competition,” the report said.

“Neither of these is true for Malaysia, making it a clear outlier in the category. Malaysia has a strong and well institutionalised state that has provided relative social stability, a high level of human development, and robust economic development. This developmental success brings Malaysia’s poor electoral integrity into stark contrast and suggests its deficiencies are the result of deliberate manipulations, rather than a by-product of developmental strife.”

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Denmark scored the highest PEI score of 86, while Southeast Asian neighbours Indonesia ranked 68, Myanmar 83, Singapore, 94 and the Philippines 101.

The research paper also found a strong bias in the delineation of electoral boundaries in Malaysia.

“Levels of malapportionment are now among the highest in the world; in fact, the EIP (Electoral Integrity Project) ranks Malaysia’s electoral boundaries as the most biased of the 155 countries assessed,” said the report.

EIP is an independent academic project based at Harvard University and the University of Sydney.

The paper was written this year by University of British Columbia’s Assistant Professor Kai Ostwald from the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs & Department of Political Science.

He uploaded the paper onto the site ResearchGate late last month.

The paper claims to act as a primer on elections in Malaysia by providing a systematic assessment of how the electoral process is strategically manipulated to secure the political dominance of UMNO and its coalition partners in Barisan Nasional.

It looks into the country’s institutional structure, electoral history, and how Malaysia allegedly manipulates its electoral system more significantly than other countries with comparable levels of development and institutionalisation.

Ostwald noted former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s tenure from 1981 to 2003 had a large impact on the country’s political landscape, the independence of key institutions, the economy and the role of money in politics.

The electoral process, he said, was systematically manipulated to bias outcomes meant to keep BN in power.

In the 2013 general election, BN won 83 of the 86 smallest districts, while the opposition – the now defunct Pakatan Rakyat – won a substantial majority of the largest one third of districts.

Despite getting only 47% of the popular vote, BN retained the federal government.

“The opposition in Malaysia is granted enough operating space to contest and win seats at the federal level, and occasionally to form governments at the state level. This does not make elections free and generally fair,” said Ostwald.

He also highlighted the ongoing attempt by the new opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan to register as a coalition, and the DAP’s troubles with the Registrar of Societies (RoS) over its central executive committee election.

“RoS, which falls under the Ministry of Home Affairs, has shown pro BN institutional bias. The RoS is responsible for overseeing the registration and operation of societies, including political parties. It has the power to block the formation of new parties or de register parties that do not follow its provisions, which cover a wide range of areas from parties’ internal governance to their names and symbols.”

Other issues Ostwald highlighted included the selective use of the Sedition Act and the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma); the widely questioned independence and partiality of the judiciary; control over the mass media through laws and ownership; and restrictions on the new media.