Happy New Year-2017


December 23, 2016

Happy New Year

Christmas is only two days away. Dr. Kamsiah and I wish Merry Christmas to all our Christian friends around the world. At the same time let us spare our prayers for the victims of war who are trying to survive.

2017 is likely to be a difficult and very troubled one. That said, we cannot allow our politicians a free hand to do what they please. We must now take charge our own future and have the courage to make our leaders accountable for their actions. Let us resolve to act in 2017.

To Fellow Malaysians, we have this to say–how much longer  can we tolerate this corrupt and incompetent  Najib regime? Don’t we, especially the sentimental and easy to pamper Malays,  realise that he and his cabals are running our country to the ground. It is time for us to use the ballot box to get rid of this political  cancer once and for all.  Together we can make a difference in 2017. Happy New Year.–Dr.  Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

Anwar Ibrahim’s Quest for Freedom denied by Federal Court


December 14, 2016

Anwar Ibrahim’s Quest for Freedom denied by Federal Court

by Hafidz Yatim

http://www.malaysiakini.com

This outcome is not unexpected because our Judiciary is not independent.  Out of the window goes our system of checks and balances when the Executive Branch overpowers our Judiciary and Parliament (the Legislative branch), and the Rule of Law is absent.

As my friend  Stanford University’s Dr. David Cohen said at a seminar at The University of Cambodia Human Rights Forum a few days ago that without the Rule of Law a citizen is denied Justice. “The Rule of Law is the foundation of Human Rights and good governance is an essential element of the Rule of Law.”–Din Merican

The Federal  Court today dismissed PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim’s review of the Sodomy II conviction and sentence. With this, Anwar, formerly Malaysia’s opposition leader, is expected to remain in jail until mid-2018.

Image result for Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin

Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin

The Five-member bench led by Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin ruled there was no bias or procedural unfairnes in the decision of the previous Federal Court panel.

On the issue of the premature and swift response from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Sodomy II verdict on February 10 last year, Justice Zulkefli said while the statement, as argued by the appellant, had given the public the impression that Anwar did not receive a fair and independent hearing, the court took the view it was not within the control of the court to stop the issuance of the statement.

“As a separate branch of the government, the Judiciary and the courts operate independently in their decision-making process, with no interference from other branches of government.There has to exist a clear separation of powers between the judiciary and the other two arms of the government in order to uphold the rule of law,” he said.

Ruling further that there was no merit in the allegation that the statement was issued prematurely, he added this did not fall under the ambit of Rule 137 (that allowed a review).

“There is no evidence to show that there was any communication whatsoever between the PMO and the Federal Court, either prior or subsequent to the decision on the case,” Justice Zulkefli said in the unanimous decision.

The other judges were Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Richard Malanjum, along with Federal court judges Hasan Lah, Abu Samah Nordin and Zaharah Ibrahim.

However Justice Malanjum was not on the bench today as he had to attend the funeral of a relative who had passed away.

Shafee’s conduct no bearing on outcome

The Federal Court also dismissed the questioning of the conduct of senior lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who led the prosecution team in the Sodomy II appeals in the Court of Appeal and Federal Court, by Anwar’s lawyers.

Image result for Shafee Abdullah

Justice Zulkefli said while the appellant contended that Shafee’s speech at a roadshow had tainted the prosecutor’s office in conducting the trial fairly, the court was of the view that the alleged misconduct, if any, had no bearing on the outcome of the decision of the Federal Court.

“We noted there is no evidence furnished or averment of any sort made by the applicant to suggest that this alleged misconduct of the lead prosecutor had influenced the decision of the Federal Court on Feb 10, 2015,” he said. The judge further cited Shafee’s appointment as prosecutor by the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

On the earlier Federal Court’s judgment by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria, which made mention of previous sodomy incidents that had been ruled as expunged by the High Court, Justice Zulkefli said this issue of misevaluation of evidence, improper direction and non-direction of the trial judge were not within the permitted circumstances that the court could exercise its inherent jurisdiction to review.

“We would like to state on this issue now raised before us that we found that it was not raised before the Federal Court. It is for this reason that we think the Federal Court did not address this point at all and hence no reason was given on the issue of the admission or rejection of the alleged inadmissible evidence,” he said.

On the issue of complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan not bringing the lubricant KY Jelly, the Federal Court said according to the record of proceedings in the High Court, it was dealt with extensively by both the defence and the prosecution.

Justice Zulkefli said the earlier judgment by the Federal Court court held there was no conclusive proof that KY Jelly had spilled on the carpet and it was of the view that the carpet was not a critical piece of evidence to the prosecution’s case. “It is therefore our judgment that this issue of KY Jelly raised by the applicant is a non-issue and it had not caused injustice to the applicant,” he said.

While Anwar’s defence team maintained the integrity of the crime scene was compromised as Saiful had claimed the incident took place on the carpet in Unit 11-5-1, whereas the carpet was found in Unit 11-5-2, the court held that it could not accept the argument as the earlier panel ruled the issue of how the carpet was moved was not critical to the prosecution’s case.

“We do not think that we should look into what that other compelling evidence was as found by the Federal Court,” Justice Zulkefli said.

The court also ruled there was no merit to Anwar’s defence contention that there was a break in the chain of evidence, saying there was no serious injustice in the chain of custody of the exhibits.

“For the above reasons, we find there is no merit in the application and this is not a fit and proper case for the court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to make any order for the case to be reviewed,” Justice Zulkefli said.

Under Trump,US Allies in Asia May Look to Themselves for Security


November 13, 2o16

For years, American allies in East and Southeast Asia have been quietly preparing to rely less on the United States for regional stability and security. That shift came despite President Barack Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia, which was a centerpiece of his administration’s foreign policy and was likely to continue if Democrat Hillary Clinton had won Tuesday’s U.S. presidential vote — notwithstanding her election-year renouncement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Image result for Obama's Pivot to Asia

President-elect Donald Trump’s upset in the election, however, could mean a very different future for U.S. foreign policy in the region, and could hasten the drive toward the self-reliance among Asian allies that is already underway.

“Asians have quietly been hedging their bets for many years that America’s distraction with the Middle East and lingering budget woes would eventually lead to a retrenchment of American leadership,” said Lindsey Ford, who advised senior Defense Department officials on Asia policies for more than four years under the Obama administration, until 2015.

“Unless a new Trump administration moves quickly to assuage these fears, this trend will only increase,” Ford, now director of Asian security at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said in a statement just after Tuesday’s election.

On the campaign trail, Trump said he would call on Japan and South Korea to pay more of a share in the expenses of security cooperation with the United States, and expressed openness to the idea of nuclear proliferation among U.S. allies. Obama is set to leave office at a time of rising tensions over disputes in the East and South China Seas and North Korea’s continued development of nuclear weapons. Foreign Policy asked Ford to outline a sense of what U.S. allies in East and Southeast Asia should expect.

Under Trump, U.S. Allies in Asia May Look to Themselves for Security

This interview, conducted by email, has been condensed and edited.

FP: What is the most telling example of Asian allies hedging in preparation for a diminished U.S. presence in the region?

LF: One of the most telling examples of Asian hedging is the careful balancing act we’ve seen Association of Southeast Asian Nations nations engaging in for quite some time. This has included diversifying both their economic ties as well as their military investments between the U.S. and China. Witness this past month’s visits by [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte and [Malaysian] Prime Minister Najib [Razak] to China as a great example. We’ve also seen this balancing act play out time and again in the South China Sea, where ASEAN nations have wrestled with how to avoid hewing too closely to either the United States or China.

FP: What specifically might Trump do to assuage these fears?

LF: President-elect Trump could begin by publicly reaffirming that America’s extended deterrence commitments — its nuclear umbrella — remains rock solid. His earlier suggestion that countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea should perhaps seek out their own nuclear capabilities seriously spooked Asian partners. While he may not wish to explicitly walk back these statements, he needs to make clear that nuclear proliferation is in no one’s best interests and that the United States remains firmly invested in protecting its allies from nuclear attack or provocation.

FP: U.S. partners like Japan and the Philippines are already looking to further boost their own military capabilities — what might an acceleration in those efforts look like?

LF: Under President [Shinzo] Abe, Japan has slowly dipped its toes in the waters of becoming a more “normal” military power for the first time since World War II. Thus far, Japan has proceeded relatively cautiously in reinterpreting its definition of “self-defense” and the appropriate role for its military forces. However, this change could be accelerated should Japan feel more convinced it could not rely on the U.S. security umbrella. We could potentially see Japan moving to increase military spending above its traditionally limited levels of one percent of gross domestic product. We could see an Abe government push to more fundamentally revisit or overturn Article 9 of the Constitution, allowing Japan to build a more traditional “offensive” capability for its forces. Either of these developments would worry neighbors such as the Republic of Korea and China, potentially setting off ripple effects in terms of their own military spending and posture.

FP: Does the imminent breakdown of the Trans-Pacific Partnership have security implications?

LF: From a security perspective, the biggest implication of our failure to secure the TPP would be the loss of American credibility in Asia. If our allies and partners view our failed follow through on issues such as TPP and Syria as evidence that America will not make good on its word, it will greatly diminish their trust in our security commitments and leadership. This could, in turn, make it harder for the U.S. to build coalitions of support on any number of thorny international security problems, such as countering the Islamic State and deterring North Korean provocations.

FP: A line of presidents have failed to make substantial diplomatic headway with North Korea. What might a Trump approach look like — are there any clues?

LF: Dealing with the North Korea situation is perhaps the biggest looming issue in Asian security affairs at the moment, and one that the incoming president will need to move quickly to address. There is very little indication that Donald Trump has already developed these plans, or that he fully appreciates the long graveyard of failed North Korea policies that have preceded him. In brief statements on the issue thus far, he has suggested he would merely tell China “this is your problem.” This approach will almost certainly fail. One can only hope that in the coming months he will reach out, as he has suggested, to solicit creative thinking on this and other issues.

FP: Does Taiwan face increased risks under Trump?

LF: It’s simply too soon to speculate what a Trump presidency could mean for Taiwan. Taiwan has typically enjoyed strong bipartisan support within the U.S. Congress, but like the rest of Asia, they will need to spend some time sounding out the new team and taking the temperature to see where things stand.

The Unsung Heroes behind Bersih


September 1, 2015

The Unsung Heroes behind Bersih

And after that came Bersih 2 and  Bersih 3, and now, Bersih 4. But the Bersih that came after the 10th November 2007 Bersih march was not what we had in mind. It was not a political movement. It was neither pro-government nor pro-opposition. It was a reform movement, first for electoral reforms and then for political reforms.

THE CORRIDORS OF POWER

by Raja Petra Kamarudin

RPKI did not write anything over the last one week because Malaysia was experiencing Bersih fever and no one really wanted to read anything that had nothing to do with Bersih. But then if you do write about Bersih people would expect you to write something pro-Bersih and in support of Bersih. Any article that does not ask people to come out in support of Bersih would be seen as anti-opposition.

So I thought better I do not write anything and allow Bersih to end first before writing, although a number of people did ask me why I am so quiet after sometimes coming out with three articles a day.

So, yes, people are still talking about Bersih till today. Many are analysing Bersih from this or that angle. So I, too, will write about Bersih, but not from the pro or anti angle. I will just write about…Bersih.

Bersih was first mooted in 2007 after the launch of the anti-Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi movement in 2006. Of course, it was Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was behind that movement so understandably we did not get the support of the top leadership of PKR and DAP. The PAS leaders, however, did not seem to have much problems working with Dr Mahathir.

Soon after the 2006 ‘Get Badawi’ movement was launched, Dr Mahathir suggested that the pro-government and pro-opposition Bloggers unite. We had our first meeting at the Press Club attended by Bloggers from both sides of the political divide where we formed a committee. They suggested that I become the President but I declined. I suggested instead that Mahathir loyalist Ron should take that post but he, too, declined. So finally another Mahathir loyalist, Rocky, was appointed the President instead.

It was soon after that when PKR held its annual assembly in Penang, which I also attended but only as a ‘reporter’ and not as a delegate or party member. Azmin Ali took the stage and in front of hundreds of PKR delegates he shouted, “All those who are collaborating with Dr Mahathir can fook off!” Anwar Ibrahim was smirking as he looked at me, giving me a very clear message that that meant people like me who were now working with Dr Mahathir.

t was DAP leader Ronnie Liu, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of Bersih, who contacted me to ask me to get involved. They needed someone who could reach the palace because the plan was to march to the Agong’s palace to hand over a petition for electoral reforms. I then contacted the late Tunku Vic and asked him to also participate because I would need his help to talk to Istana Negara.

It was around that time that UMNO Youth organised a blood donation drive at the Kampung Baru mosque and I asked Ronnie to mobilise a group of DAP supporters, of course all Chinese, to go and donate blood at the mosque, which they did. I felt if DAP could bring along a group of Chinese to donate blood at Mukhriz Mahathir’s event in Kampung Baru that would be good for the planned cooperation between us from the opposition and those pro-government supporters.

We had a number of meetings leading to the 10th November 2007 Bersih march, some in a DAP chap’s house, Uncle Lee, and some in Ron’s house. I even brought along some UMNO supporters to the DAP meeting. Clearly Bersih was not an opposition effort but a joint effort between pro-opposition and pro-government people. Ron even arranged for someone to donate Bersih T-shirts and baseball caps.

The key to the whole thing would be to get His Majesty the Agong to agree to receive the petition from Bersih. And this was the work of Tunku Vic and Din Merican who made numerous phone calls to the right people to obtain the consent of Istana Negara. We made it very clear that Bersih was not a political movement but a non-partisan movement that was supported by opposition as well as government supporters, the UMNO supporters in particular. Basically it was a peoples’ movement with no political affiliations and one that was only interested in electoral reforms.

We eventually received consent from Istana Negara and were told that only ten representatives would be allowed to enter the palace. The rest, which we expected to number in the tens of thousands, would have to remain outside the palace gates. And with that the police, which had initially classified the planned march as an illegal gathering, reluctantly had to agree to let us march.

Bersih was now a movement officially recognised by the government and Istana Negara. We then sat down to prepare our list of electoral reforms that we wanted to hand to His Majesty the Agong.

On 10th November 2007, we marched to the palace but on reaching the palace gate we were told to wait outside and not go in yet. The palace representative came outside to meet us and said that our ten representatives are welcome to enter the palace and we replied that we had been told to wait because some of the party leaders were on the way.

The crowd that had been waiting for almost an hour began to get restless. Some walked up to me to ask what was going on. Is the palace now refusing to allow us in? No, I replied. In fact they came out to invite us in. But we had been told to wait for the party leaders.

Eventually the party leaders arrived and immediately took the petition from us and walked into the palace. After handing over the petition to the palace they came out and started making speeches. We could see that the police were becoming agitated because we had assured them that this was not going to be turned into a political rally.

After the party leaders finished giving their speeches we broke up and went home. The Bersih rally, which had originally been intended as a peoples’ march to the Agong’s palace to hand a petition calling for electoral reforms, had been turned into a political rally. Understandably Tunku Vic was not too pleased because that had more or less violated the trust that the Agong had placed in us when we assured His Majesty that this was not about politics but about electoral reforms.

After that, of course, came the 2008 general election, which could be said to be partly influenced by Bersih and the Hindraf rally that same month. It also cannot be denied that Pakatan Rakyat’s success was also because the pro-government and pro-opposition Bloggers united to send the same message to the voters, which is vote for change.

Never before in history had those from both sides of the political divide united under one cause.

2008 was the year when we came under the banner of Barisan Rakyat and not Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat. We even had our own poster. After the 2008 general election we decided to take the Bersih effort one step further. Bersih was about electoral reforms. However, to be able to see electoral reforms we need to first see political reforms. So we met, yet again, in Tunku Vic’s house together with Umno and DAP supporters to come out with a document that listed down what political reforms were needed.

Basically, electoral reforms would be part of or a component of political reforms. If we can see political reforms then electoral reforms would come as well. It is not enough we just see electoral reforms. We need more than that. We need political reforms first, which would include electoral reforms.

But by then those in Pakatan Rakyat no longer wanted to talk about this. They had already won five states and had denied Barisan Nasional its two-thirds majority in Parliament. They were confident that in the next general election in 2013 they would be able to win the federal government.

Those in Barisan Nasional, such as Dr Mahathir, also no longer needed to fight for reforms. Their only interest was to oust the Prime Minister and that had already been achieved. And that was the only objective they had in mind. Reforms were the excuse they were using just to get rid of the Prime Minister.

So we found that the fight for political reforms was no longer on the agenda of both sides of the political divide. So this meant electoral reforms would also no longer be on the agenda as well. And this meant we would need a third force if we wanted to achieve the reforms we were seeking. And this would have to be something that the civil society pushes for.

Barisan Rakyat-2007Barisan Rakyat not Pakatan Rakyat

And that, of course, was when we came out with the idea of a civil society movement that we called the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement or MCLM. But that is a story I have told many times so no need for me to repeat myself.

And after that came Bersih 2 and  Bersih 3, and now, Bersih 4. But the Bersih that came after the 10th November 2007 Bersih march was not what we had in mind. It was not a political movement. It was neither pro-government nor pro-opposition. It was a reform movement, first for electoral reforms and then for political reforms.

But I suppose that is something that can now never be achieved. Anyway, to me, the unsung heroes who made Bersih back in 2007 a success were Tunku Vic, Ronnie Liu, Din Merican, Ron, Uncle Lee, Jad, and many more from UMNO, DAP, PAS and PKR, Bloggers included, who put aside their political differences for the sake of seeking reforms.

source: http://www.malaysia-today.net/the-unsung-heroes-behind-bersih/

 

Happy Birthday Singapore, Happy Birthday Rosli Dahlan


August 19, 2015

Happy Birthday Singapore, Happy Birthday Rosli Dahlan

by Din Merican in Kuala Lumpur

RD 198I just came back from Cambodia for a short visit two days ago. As I landed in KLIA after a very nice and comfortable MAS Flight 755, I felt a sense of longing (rindu) for my home country. For all my criticisms of the kleptocratic UMNO government led by a dishonest and lying Prime Minister,  I love Malaysia. As I look around, I see only beautiful Malaysian faces, which adds to my sense of longing.

Then I got into a taxi with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah and almost immediately the taxi driver talked about a topic that he must have spoken about to every passenger who sits in his taxi. He talked about 1MDB. He spoke of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s RM2.6 billion bank account. He was agitated by the Prime Minister’s family displaying opulent wealth during their daughter’s wedding. He mentioned the Prime Minister’s stepson, Riza Aziz, living the high life in New York and bankrolling Hollywood films of greed, sex and debauchery (he must be referring to Wolves of Wall Street) that could not even be screened in Malaysia.

Then he told us about about how difficult life has ‎been for him and other ordinary struggling Malaysians since the implementation of the GST and the con job of BR1M in making the people feel grateful to Prime Minister Najib whereas the Najib government that declared itself as a government that cared for the people in its slogan “Rakyat Didahulukan” (People First) is actually a betrayer of the people when all its actions are actually “Rakyat Dimangsakan”  (People Oppressed)and “Negara Dikorbankan” (Nation Plundered).

He spoke about how the  Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General were sacked, the MACC officers and Deputy Public Prosecutor arrested, the Public Accounts Committee of our Parliament disbanded, and the Task Force outlawed. He spoke about all these matters with such detailed knowledge and then finally said “Kita rakyat awam malu, Malaysia malu. Apa dah jadi dengan negara kita?” (We the general public are ashamed, Shame Malaysia, What has happened to our country)  with such great despair that I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for myself as a Malaysian. Indeed, what has happened? Or do I just cry for my beloved country?

DM and KAM LaksaI asked the taxi driver to stop by a roadside laksa and cendol stall and invited him to join me. As we ate our Kedah laksa and cendol (local delicacies), the same topic was discussed by every one eating at the stall.

Then one lady said “Nasib baik ada juga pegawai berani macam Governor Zeti Bank Negara dan‎ Pengarah SPRM Bahri”.( Luckily we have brave officers such as The Governor of BNM and MACC Director Bahri ) And another quipped ” Ada juga orang awam berani macam loyar tu….apa nama?”. (and there also brave layman like that lawyer… what’s his name ?)

My wife immediately added “Lawyer Rosli?” and they all answered “Haah, betul! Loyar Rosli Dahlan!” (That’s right, that lawyer Rosli Dahlan) and they spoke loudly about some of the things he did and said and then hurled insults against IGP Khalid Abu Bakar as a running dog. What extreme comparisons.

Hearing all these reminded me that just last week I wrote out of Phnom Penh about my young friend Lawyer Rosli Dahlan offering to help the MACC officers and all other government officers who have been victimised as a result of the 1MDB investigations. About Rosli saying it’s about principles not personalities.

I wrote about how MACC Bahri vowed to seek justice against his oppressors Till Kingdom Come!‎–Read HERE

I wrote about Rosli’s plea and warning in his letter of 2010 to MACC Chief Commissioner Abu Kassim‎ that the MACC will one day be destroyed for the things they did to him, and today the MACC is in ruins and tatters. Rosli prophetic words were:

 “I implore you not to allow this sacred institution (Institusi Keramat ini) to be used as a tool of oppression and persecution in the guise of false prosecution against innocent citizens. Otherwise, you will one day see your own hands in the destruction of t‎his institution.”

Today, Rosli’s prophecy is fulfilled. Gani Patail who had fixed Rosli and Dato Ramli Yusuff has been removed in the most humiliating manner and the MACC is as good as destroyed. What goes around comes around- the law of Karma. God’s retribution to Gani Patail and the MACC, especially Abu Kassim for not standing up for the truth by feigning illness. Abu Kassim has totally lost my respect, a general abandoning his army when they needed him most. Shameless man!

DM and Kamsiah at Spore ReceptionHappy Birthday, Singapore

Last evening I attended Singapore’s 50th National Day reception at The ShangriLa Hotel hosted by HE Ambassador Venu Gopala Menon, Singapore High Commissioner to Malaysia. The topic of discussion among guests at the reception was the same as what I have described above.

50 years on after Separation and Singapore has grown into a strong and dynamic city state proud of its nation building achievements. 50 years on and Malaysia is sliding down the slope to becoming a failed state. What a sharp contrast considering that Malaysia has oil and gas and other resources but Singapore has none. But Singapore has brain power and a hard working and united people, and a government that practises good governance.Today Malaysia is lagging behind, only marginally ahead of Robert and Grace Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, while Singapore forges ahead in the big league of advanced nations.

Rosli ans Sing Friend2Then I remembered that Rosli has strong roots in Singapore. He schooled in Singapore and trained with the current Chief Justice of Singapore, Sundaresh Menon, who is an outstanding lawyer and was also the former A-G of Singapore. I begin to understand Rosli from researching about and now knowing his background. Then I remembered that Rosli’s birthday is 10 days from Singapore’s National Day. That his birthday is today, August 19, 2015

So, in a hurried manner I penned this as a tribute to my outstanding friend whom I had known and become close under very strange and unlikely circumstances. I will say this to Rosli, I am proud to be your friend and I hope you will continue to be a role model and a beacon for truth and justice.

Happy Birthday, Singapore, Happy Birthday, Rosli Dahlan.

Malaysia: The Case for Regional Coalitions?


August 17, 2015

COMMENT: There is no democratic (political) future for Malaysia without  clean, open, transparent and accountabledin merican government working in partnership with Malaysians for justice and fairness. What we will likely have instead is a kleptocracy and  secular economic decline with serious income disparity between the rich and the poor.

All coalitions in Malaysia including the new coalition of PKR, DAP and the renegade PAS alternative will fail if they do not observe the tenets of good governance.

Our national culture treats corruption as a way of life and cash as king with a system that allows our Prime Minister to put his hands in the national coffers. We cannot have such a coalition government if we have a dysfunctional and incompetent civil service, a compromised Judiciary and a rubber stamp Parliament with a biased Speaker. Can we create a culture where corruption is viewed as a disgrace ( like in the Scandinavian countries).

There is no case for regional coalitions unless and until our institutions are thoroughly revamped. MP Zairil Khir Johari is jumping the gun. He is attempting to put the cart before the horse. I would advise him to go back to basics, get our politics right, and stop dreaming.–Din Merican

A post-Barisan, post Pakatan Rakyat future for Malaysia?

The Case for Regional Coalitions

by Zairil Khir Johari (received by e-mail)

Zairil Khir Johari, CEO, Penang Institute

Many Malaysians are understandably dismayed by the recent break-up of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the seven-year-old coalition made up of the Democratic Action Party (DAP), Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).

At its peak, the PR’s control of five of 13 states had raised hope it would congeal into a permanent alternative to the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. But in truth, the fundamental differences within the coalition had always put its sustainability in doubt.

With the next general election due only in 2017, there is time to reconfigure the Malaysian political landscape by introducing a more progressive form of coalition politics — one that recognises the vastly divergent regional and cultural interests of Malaysia and does not seek to bind them together in a uniform, permanent and centripetal manner, BN-style.

The old rigid model, in place since Merdeka in 1957, has run its course.In the case of the BN, it is held together only by the practicalities of power and the fact that it is dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), a party that holds two-thirds of the coalition’s parliamentary seats. Smaller parties have steadily lost relevance and today, their loyalty in the coalition is assured only by the promise of positions and largesse.

Now even UMNO itself is split, after Prime Minister Najib Razak’s sacking last month of his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and others critical of his handling of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal.

The PR coalition did not share the dynamic of a single dominant partner, and the friction between the leadership core in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and the periphery regions proved to be its undoing.

Outside the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, the PR concept itself was a nebulous one. For example, while Penang, Selangor, Perak and, to a lesser extent, Kedah, could rightly be described as PR states, the same label was always dubious in reference to Kelantan. How was Kelantan a PR government when DAP does not contest in the state and PKR only has one single representative? For all intents and purposes, it was and still is, simply a PAS government.

The hudud issue — the straw that broke the camel’s back — was a manifestation of this conundrum. The Kelantan state government felt it was merely exercising its democratic rights in pursuing its legislative aspirations — the constitutionality of it notwithstanding.

However, because hudud was not part of the PR Common Policy Framework that all three parties signed off on, PAS Kelantan’s attempt to implement it constitutes a clear breach of agreement. Therein lies a bigger question — should the PAS state government have been bound by the PR contract, when it was in actuality not really a PR government? The problem, therefore, was a structural one.

Central vs Regional

That some interests and aspirations of the various regions of our country differ and, at times, even seem at odds with one another, should not come as a surprise. After all, every region is different, culturally, socio-economically and demographically.

Hence, instead of trying to impose the unwieldy structure of a permanent coalition for all, a better option is to encourage decentralised coalition-building through non-permanent, contractual coalitions. This means that different regions or states could have their own local coalitions, which may be very different from their own party’s coalition at the federal level.

Such a concept is widely practised elsewhere. In Germany, for example, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) forms a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) at the federal level, while the opposition bloc is made up of the Green Party and Die Linke.

However, the configuration is vastly different at the state level. In the state of Brandenburg, the SPD governs in partnership with Die Linke, while in North Rhine-Westphalia, the SPD shares government with the Green Party.

These flexible configurations make a lot of sense, as they reflect the needs and aspirations of the different regions and levels of politics. Each coalition is bound by contractual agreements for a set duration — a single electoral cycle — and these agreements are made public so the people know exactly what to expect.

This also allows minor parties to play an important role without permanently binding themselves to any particular coalition. The smaller Free Democratic Party, for example, by playing the role of junior coalition partner in both CDU and SPD governments at separate times, has been in power longer than any other party in Germany.

Decentralised coalitions are also less polarising. Two-party or two-coalition dichotomies often manifest itself in very antagonistic terms, such as is the case in Malaysia, leaving very little room for compromise and cooperation. However, when parties are aware that their opponent today may become their partner tomorrow, there would be an instant, moderating effect.

This would also mean that coalition-building in Malaysia could be flexible and pragmatic. For example, DAP could form government with PKR in Penang in a coalition that excludes the Penang chapter of PAS, while a different arrangement could take place in Selangor — on the condition that a clear coalition contract is agreed to by all parties involved.

In the same vein, PAS could choose to be coalition partners with Umno in Kelantan if it so wished, while choosing to oppose UMNO at the federal level. Meanwhile, various possible configurations could be conjured in Sabah and Sarawak.

If arrangements could be non-permanent and contractual, we would also be likely to see the emergence of smaller local parties and even “third force” parties at the national level.

A natural question is whether the Malaysian electorate is mature and sophisticated enough to grasp this idea, given that they are so used to the existing framework.

I am also often advised that I should not compare Malaysia with Germany, as the latter is an advanced, democratic country. But lest we forget, the whole of Germany has been democratic for only the past 25 years following the collapse of the Iron Curtain and German reunification in 1990. Even the former West Germany had been democratic only since 1949. Before that, Germany was the most infamous fascist dictatorship in the modern world.

Furthermore, it is not only advanced countries such as Germany that practise decentralised coalitions, but also our neighbours such as Indonesia and the Philippines. Therefore, there is nothing to suggest why Malaysians would not be able to comprehend the concept.

Given the demographically diverse make-up of our federation and the clear differences among the various geographical regions, decentralised coalitions may actually be the most practical and efficient political configuration for our country. Not only would it encourage the formation of regional coalitions that better reflect local aspirations and needs, it would also set the tone for a more progressive and inclusive political landscape.

Hence, in the midst of the ongoing political crisis in our country, with the PR dissolved and the BN heading towards implosion, there is much hope and opportunity that a brighter and more democratic future for Malaysia can be forged. — TODAY