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?

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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?”.

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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


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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.

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society

November 7, 2017

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society

by Kevin Hewison@www.newmandala.org


In the mid-1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the expansion of civil society in Southeast Asia. At the time, there was an efflorescence of activism as activists campaigned against trade agreements, foregrounded gender issues, worked to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment, advocated for workers and consumers, exposed corruption, bolstered human rights and agitated for democracy.

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The optimism of the decade was driven by a feeling of confidence that democracy was taking root in the region, growing on a foundation of thriving capitalist economies. The resonance of 1960s modernisation theory was palpable—the “Third Wave” of democratisation was said to be washing over the region. This was emphasised by the triumphs of popular uprisings in the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), Thailand (1992) and Indonesia (1998). These events were associated in the theory with the rise of the middle class and an expansion of civil society.

Two decades later, this optimism has faded. There is now more pessimism about civil society and democratisation. To understand these changing perspectives, it is necessary to give attention to recent political events, and rethink how we conceptualise civil society and its role in Southeast Asian politics today.

Civil society and democratisation

The notion of “civil society” has meanings embedded in the development of capitalism and the end of absolutism in Europe, and the consequent reduction of the weight of the state. The idea of a space relatively autonomous of the state developed quite late in colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. While anticolonial, socialist and communist movements, religious and educational organisations, trade unions and the like were established from the late 19th century, they were usually repressed.

When writing of civil society in late 20th century Southeast Asia, analysts tended to emphasise the non-state nature of civil society organisations (CSOs). Many have agreed with David Steinberg, who defined civil society as:

composed of those non-ephemeral organizations of individuals banded together for a common purpose or purposes to pursue those interests through group activities and by peaceful means. These are generally non-profit organizations, and may be local or national, advocacy or supportive, religious, cultural, social, professional, educational, or even organizations that, while not for profit, support the business sector, such as chambers of commerce, trade associations, etc.

The organisations mentioned can be formal or informal, may be charitable, developmental or political. Yet when considering democratisation, authors usually associate civil society with efforts to expand political space. Some authors identify a “political civil society,” where “non-violent … organisations and movements … seek to promote human rights and democratisation…”. Their efforts mean that the political space of civil society becomes a site of intense competition and struggle—including for the organisations that occupy this space.

Civil society and political conflict

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But this conceptualisation of civil society—one which views the groups making up civil society as only being non-violent and peaceful—is too limiting. Civil society and its political space is open to many groups, not just those considered “democratic” and “progressive”. That space can also be occupied by state-sponsored, right-wing, anti-immigrant and anti-democracy activists, and many others considered nasty, fascist, and reactionary. That the groups occupying civil society’s political space will sometimes be violent, and will oppose other groups, should be no surprise when we consider that all societies are riven and driven by conflict over all manner of resources.

Thinking this way of political space and civil society is not uncontroversial. Much of conventional political science, heavily imbued with modernisation theory, has romanticised civil society as the natural domain of individual and group freedoms, and sometimes conceived of NGOs and CSOs as representative interest groups. Such a perspective treats conflict and division as pathological, and misses the fact that political space is created through contestation with the state and with other groups in society. It is a view that fails to give sufficient attention to how civil society groups have actually behaved.

Contestation within civil society

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Bersih Movement in Malaysia

When we think of civil society as a site of struggle, it becomes clear that it is not always a ballast for democratisation. Islamic militias in Indonesia, racist Buddhist gangs in Myanmar and right-wing ultranationalists in the Philippines and Thailand are not forces for a democratic society—yet each undoubtedly occupies the space of civil society.

Islamic militias have re-emerged at various times during Indonesia’s reformasi era and engaged in mobilisation and violence. While the use of violence might exclude such groups from the romanticised approaches to civil society, militias have occupied a space created by democratisation, even if their activities are meant to mobilise anti-democratic groups and against some freedoms. A recent example of such anti-democratic opposition was seen in the defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the 2017 Jakarta governor’s election. The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) joined with several political parties to oppose Ahok in an acrimonious contest that involved the mobilisation of Islamic identity in huge demonstrations that targeted Ahok as a Chinese Christian portrayed as “threatening” Islam. Eventually, Ahok’s opponents gained the support of elements of the state to jail him on charges of blasphemy and inciting violence.

In Myanmar, religious groups have also engaged in racist and xenophobic activism. Radical Buddhists such as the ultra-nationalist 969 Movement and Ma Ba Tha (Myanmar Patriotic Association) have been able to mobilise mass demonstrations against Muslims and have fuelled extreme communal violence since 2012. Such groups have also been supported by elements of the state and by elected politicians, all the while taking advantage of the expanded political space created by Myanmar’s political transition to mobilise and propagandise.

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Buddhist monks walk during a prayer ceremony for the victims of the recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay, at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s capital Yangon on Friday, July 4, 2014. (Reuters)


Indonesia and Myanmar demonstrate how extremists use the political space of civil society, and elements of electoral democracy, to oppose and challenge the freedoms that have come with democratisation. These groups are connected with some of the most regressive elements that continue to populate some state agencies. So far, they have not managed to destroy the political basis of these new democracies. But to see how the political space of civil society was used to re-establish authoritarianism in a Southeast Asian “democratic success story” of years past, we only need to turn our eyes to Thailand’s decade of high-octane political contestation.

Thailand: civil society for military dictatorship


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The Yellow and Red Shirts of Thailand

Thailand’s recent political mobilisations have been designated by the colours that define their motivations. Their massive street demonstrations mobilised many, including NGOs and CSOs. The broad Red Shirt movement and the official United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship bring together supporters of electoral politics, those opposed to military interventions, and supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirts, of course, developed to oppose the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement. The latter initially coagulated as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), wearing yellow to announce their royalism. Yellow Shirts tend to support the status quo, are anti-democratic, ultranationalist, and supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups.

In the 1990s, Thailand’s civil society, dominated by middle class interests, gained a reputation for opposing the military’s domination. NGOs and CSOs also tended to support the liberalising ideas that permeated the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997. When Thaksin was elected under the rules of this constitution in 2001, his government gained the support of many NGOs and CSOs. This support was forthcoming because of Thaksin’s initial nationalism, and his attention to grassroots issues and poverty eradication. That early support quickly drained away, with Thaksin coming to be viewed as authoritarian and corrupt.

The PAD, which was formed to oppose and bring down the popularly elected Thaksin, came to include many CSOs and NGOs which, at the time, would have been bundled into the broad category of “progressive civil society”. As the anti-Thaksin campaign expanded, the middle class, including spokespersons for civil society groups, began to denigrate the grassroots. The latter appreciated Thaksin’s “populist” policies and, especially in the north, northeast and central regions, voted for his parties in large numbers. Mobilised Yellow Shirts vilified this grassroots support for Thaksin, labelling those who voted for his party as ignorant, duped or bought.

As pro-Thaksin parties won every election from 2001 to 2011, the Yellow Shirts began an inevitable shift towards the denigration of the electoral processes itself, while declaring themselves the protectors of “true democracy”. The Yellow Shirts—the PAD and its clone, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)—emphatically rejected electoral politics, arguing that electoral victories amounted to a dictatorship of the majority. In the 2013–14, PDRC protesters opposed an election called by then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yellow Shirts blocked candidate registration, prevented the distribution of ballot papers, and tried to prevent voting on polling day. The PDRC argued that no election could be “free and fair” until the “Thaksin regime” had been destroyed. Their ultimatum was that the Yingluck government had to be thrown out, replaced by an appointed government and an appointed “reform” committee to purge those associated with Thaksin’s rule.

Backed by Bangkok’s middle class, including CSOs and NGOs, PAD and the PDRC campaigned for a “democracy” that rejected voting and elections. They wanted a greater reliance on selected and appointed “representatives”, usually opting for a royally- appointed government of “good” people. This paternalism was taken up by protesters, who claimed to champion transparency and anti-corruption while begging the military for a coup. Such Orwellian doublespeak was also in evidence when the military responded and seized power in 2014. The junta defined a coup and military dictatorship as a form of “democracy”. One pronouncement called on:

all Thai citizens [to] uphold and have faith in the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State. [The] NCPO [junta] fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democracy and a violation of the people’s liberty. However, this military intervention was inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy (emphasis added).

The result has been more than three years of military dictatorship that has narrowed political space and heavily restricted much civil society activism. Red Shirts had championed electoral politics, arguing that winning elections should count for something and reckoned that electoral democracy was the appropriate platform for political reform. Under the military junta, they have been demobilised, jailed, and repressed.

Interestingly, most of the PAD and PDRC-affiliated NGOS and CSOs have either supported, or at least not opposed, the junta. Some have continued to receive state funds. However, the relationship with the junta remains tense, not least because the junta sees some of these groups as contingent supporters, worrying about their capacity for mobilising supporters and considering them more anti-Thaksin than pro-junta. Few high-profile leaders of these groups have expressed regrets about having supported the 2006 and 2014 coups.

Complicating “civil society”

The travails of electoral democracy in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are not unique in Southeast Asia. Certainly, any notion that increased national wealth results in a civil society that becomes a “natural” ballast of democratisation should be rejected. Democratisation does increase the space identified as civil society. However, this space is not always a stronghold of progressives. As a site of struggle, civil society can be occupied by groups that are anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist, and sectarian. As the experience of Thailand and other countries has made clear, much abstract talk of “civil society” runs the risk of crediting its constituent parts with a uniformly pro-democratic outlook that they manifestly do not hold.

This post appears as part of the Regional Learning Hub, a New Mandala series on the challenges facing civil society in Southeast Asia, supported by the TIFA Foundation.

FELDA Global Ventures is bigger scandal than 1MDB, says Jomo

November 4, 2017

FELDA Global Ventures is bigger scandal than 1MDB, says Jomo

by Geraldine Tong@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for jomo kwame sundaram


The Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) scandal is bigger than the one surrounding 1MDB because it affects more people, opined prominent economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

“There is a tendency for everyone in the opposition to focus on 1MDB, but there is a lot of nonsense going on and it is not all 1MDB.

“The bigger scandal in my view, affecting more people, is FGV,” Jomo said in a forum titled “Envisioning the Future: Malaysia Beyond GE14” in Bangsar today.

He pointed out that Felda settlers took part in the “second biggest IPO (initial public offering)” in the world with FGV in mid-2012, but now the stock prices are less than 40 percent of their original value.

This has caused Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to resort to giving Felda settlers “bribes” in the form of a RM5,000 replanting grant as well as instructing banks to forgive all their loans, he said.

“This underlines how sensitive the issue is,” he said.

Jomo stressed again that there are other scandals in Malaysia aside from 1MDB and even FGV, including the Gatco issue in Negeri Sembilan.

Amanah strategic director Dzulkefly Ahmad, another forum panellist, denied that the opposition only focuses on 1MDB. Dzulkefly said that Pakatan Harapan also focuses on the cost of living, GST, the Mara scandal and many others, including FGV.

When FGV was first listed, its stock price was RM4.55 per share. It is currently listed at RM1.83 per share.

FGV had also come under investigation by the MACC in June after its former CEO Zakaria Arshad was given leave of absence, and CFO Ahmad Tifli Mohd Talha along with two other senior management members were suspended.

‘Incompetent’ opposition

Jomo said that BN is likely to gain strength in the upcoming general election if things remain as they are now. “It is not as if BN, UMNO or the Prime Minister is very strong. Rather it is the situation of the incompetence of the opposition”.

Meanwhile, Jomo said that BN is likely to gain strength in the upcoming general election if things remain as they are now.

“It is not as if BN, UMNO or the Prime Minister is very strong. Rather it is the situation of the incompetence of the opposition,” he said.

This will lead to three-cornered fights, which will subsequently open a path for BN to secure a two-thirds majority, which he said will give the ruling coalition greater legitimacy and allow them to reform laws to suit its interests.

Image result for Malaysia's Most Corrupt Prime Minister Najib RazakThe Most Corrupt Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak is poised to win a stronger mandate in GE-14 because of the incompetence of the political opposition, says Dr. Jomo

“The opposition, by being unable to unite, is going to give this government, arguably the most corrupt government we’ve ever experienced in my lifetime, a stronger mandate. That is, unfortunately, the dystopia we face (in the future),” Jomo said.