Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics


July 3, 2017

Banyan

Mahathir Mohamad’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics

https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21724432-former-prime-minister-reinventing-himself-leader-opposition-mahathir-mohamads

The former Prime Minister is reinventing himself as a leader of the Opposition

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The Doctor seeks a Return to the House

WHEN Mahathir Mohamad spent a week in hospital last year, at the age of 91, talk naturally turned to his legacy as Malaysia’s longest-serving former Prime Minister. How naive. Dr Mahathir may have stepped down in 2003 after 22 years in office, but he has hardly been retiring in retirement. His constant sniping helped topple his immediate successor, Abdullah Badawi, who lasted until 2009.

Now the old warhorse is picking a fight with Najib Razak, the Prime Minister since then and now leader of Dr Mahathir’s former party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has run Malaysia for the past 60 years. Dr Mahathir has registered a new political party and persuaded Pakatan Harapan, the fractious coalition that forms Malaysia’s main opposition, to admit it as a member. Now Pakatan is debating whether to make Dr Mahathir the chairman of their coalition—and, perhaps, their candidate for Prime Minister at elections which must be held within 13 months. Having long said that he would not be returning to Parliament, Dr Mahathir has lately been hinting that he would consider another stint in the top job.

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In Politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely turn of events. The original incarnation of the coalition Dr Mahathir might soon be running was formed in the late 1990s to oppose his own interminable rule. Its founder, Anwar Ibrahim, was Dr Mahathir’s deputy until the latter sacked him during a power struggle; he was later jailed on sham charges of corruption and sodomy. The current government’s methods are copied directly from Dr Mahathir’s playbook. Since 2015 Mr Anwar has been back in prison following a second sodomy conviction, this one just as dubious as the first. The reversal of the authoritarian turn Malaysia took under Dr Mahathir is one of Pakatan’s main objectives.

What makes all this even tougher to stomach is that Dr Mahathir’s conversion to the Opposition’s cause looks disturbingly incomplete. Though he is hobnobbing with former enemies, the old codger still finds it difficult to apologise for the excesses of his tenure. Many of his views remain wacky: in May he told the Financial Times that he still thinks the American or Israeli governments might have arranged the attacks of September 11th 2001. Can Malaysia’s opposition really find no more palatable leader?

These are desperate times, retort Dr Mahathir’s supporters. Since 2015 news about the looting of 1MDB, a government-owned investment firm from which at least $4.5bn has disappeared, has dragged Malaysia’s reputation through the muck. American government investigators say that 1MDB’s money was spent on jewellery, mansions, precious artworks and a yacht, and that nearly $700m of it went to the prime minister. Mr Najib says he has not received any money from 1MDB, and that $681m deposited into his personal accounts was a gift from a Saudi Royal (now returned). He has kept his job, but only after replacing the Deputy Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.

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The Prognosis is that Najib Razak is likely to win GE-14

One might expect this scandal to propel Pakatan into power at the coming election, but instead the opposition looks likely to lose ground, perhaps even handing back to UMNO and its allies the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution. This bizarre reversal has much to do with Malaysia’s regrettable racial politics: the Malay-Muslim majority largely favours the government and the big ethnic-Chinese and -Indian minorities tend to vote against it. Mr Najib has baited an Islamist party into renewing calls for more flogging for moral lapses, forcing them to leave Pakatan. The split in the opposition will lead to lots of three-candidate races, in which UMNO will romp home.

Put in this context, Dr Mahathir’s reappearance is a godsend. It stands to transform Pakatan’s chances by granting access to a broad swathe of rural constituencies that they had previously thought unwinnable. Many Malays have fond memories of the booming economy of Dr Mahathir’s era (they overlook its crony capitalism and his intolerance for dissent); in their eyes, he put Malaysia on the map. As coalition chairman, Dr Mahathir might also bring some order to Pakatan’s noisy council meetings. His backing could be invaluable after a narrow victory or in a hung parliament, when UMNO’s creatures in the bureaucracy might be expected to put up a fight.

All these benefits could probably be obtained without offering to make Dr Mahathir the Prime Minister. But he may be the only front man upon whom most of the coalition can agree. That role had previously fallen to Mr Anwar, but it has become clear to all but a few holdouts that he cannot continue to manage the quarrelsome coalition from his cell. Voters are not sure whether to believe Pakatan when it says that, should it win, it will find some way to catapult Mr Anwar out of his chains and into the country’s top job. Nor are they much inspired by the notion of accepting a seat-warmer to run the country while this tricky manoeuvre takes place.

It could be worse

This is a depressing mess, even by Malaysia’s dismal standards. The opposition bears no blame for the dirty tricks which, over several shameful decades, the government has used to hobble Mr Anwar and many others. But by failing to nurture—or even to agree upon—the next generation of leaders, they have played straight into UMNO’s hands.

It is possible that the thought of hoisting Dr Mahathir into the top job will at last force the coalition to thrust a younger leader to the fore (some suspect that this is the outcome that Dr Mahathir, a shrewd strategist, has always had in mind). But it is also possible that, facing only uncomfortable options, they will end up making no decision at all. Some in Pakatan seem happy to barrel into the next election without telling voters who will lead Malaysia should they win. That might seem like pragmatism, but it is really just defeatism.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Doctor on call”

Hillary Clinton returns to Wellesley College


June 2, 2017

Hillary Clinton returns to Wellesley College

America listen  to Hillary  Clinton. You now realise what a colossal mistake you made when you put Donald J. Trump into The White House. Your 45th POTUS is not making friends.  To us who are not citizens, he is a disaster. But we are wondering what you and Congress what going to do about his conduct of public affairs? –Din Merican

When Giants Fail


May 8, 2017

When Giants Fail

What business has learned from Clayton Christensen.

Hoping for the Best Against Trump


January 30, 2017

Hoping for the Best Against Trump

By Ian Buruma

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/hoping-against-trump-by-ian-buruma-2017-01

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Is there any reason for liberals to feel optimistic after a year of political disasters? Is there even a shred of silver lining to be found in the tatters of Brexit, Donald Trump’s election, and European disunity? Christians believe that despair is a mortal sin, so one might as well try to find a glimmer of hope.

In the United States, many liberals console themselves with the belief that the obvious dangers of being governed by an ignorant, narcissistic, authoritarian loudmouth backed by billionaires, ex-generals, peddlers of malicious fake news, and neophytes with extreme views will help to galvanize a strong political opposition. Trump, it is hoped, will concentrate the minds of all who still believe in liberal democracy, be they left or even right of center.

In this scenario, civil-rights groups, NGOs, students, human-rights activists, Democratic members of Congress, and even some Republicans, will do everything in their power to push back against Trump’s worst impulses. Long-dormant political activism will erupt into mass protest, with resurgent liberal idealism breaking the wave of right-wing populism. Well, perhaps.

Others seek comfort in the expectation that Trump’s wildly contradictory plans – lower taxes, while raising infrastructure spending; helping the neglected working class, while slashing welfare and repealing the Affordable Care Act – will suck his administration into a swamp of infighting, incoherence, and incompetence.

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All these things might happen. But protest alone won’t be of much help. Anti-Trump demonstrations in big cities will no doubt annoy the self-loving new president, and the moral glow of joining the resistance will warm the protesters. But without real political organization, mere protest will go the way of Occupy Wall Street in 2011; it will peter out into ineffectual gestures.

One of the most dangerous ideas of contemporary populism is that political parties are obsolete, and should be replaced by movements led by charismatic leaders who act as the voice of “the people.” By implication, all dissenters are enemies of the people. That way lies dictatorship.

Liberal democracy can be saved only if mainstream parties can regain voters’ trust. The Democratic Party must get its act together. “Feeling the Bern” (the mantra of Bernie Sanders’ leftist campaign) will not suffice to stop Trump from inflicting great harm to institutions that were carefully constructed more than two centuries ago to protect American democracy from demagogues like him.

The same thing is true of international arrangements and institutions, whose survival depends on the willingness to defend them. Trump has expressed his indifference to NATO, and US security commitments in East Asia. His election will further erode Pax Americana, already battered by a succession of foolish wars. Without the US guarantee to protect its democratic allies, institutions built after World War II to provide that protection would not survive for very long.

Perhaps there is a tiny ray of hope in this gloomy prospect. Europe and Japan, not to mention South Korea, have become too dependent on US military protection. The Japanese have fairly large armed forces, but are hampered by a pacifist constitution written by Americans in 1946. Europeans are completely unprepared to defend themselves, owing to inertia, complacency, and lassitude.

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It is just possible that Trump’s blustering “America first” rhetoric will galvanize Europeans and East Asians into changing the status quo and doing more for their own security. Ideally, European countries should build an integrated defense force that would be less dependent on the US. And the countries of Southeast and East Asia could construct a Japanese-led variant of NATO to balance the domineering might of China.

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But even if these arrangements came to pass (a huge if), it would not happen soon. Europeans are unwilling to pay higher taxes for their own defense. Germany has neither the wherewithal, nor the will to lead a military alliance. And most Asians, including many Japanese, would not trust Japan to lead such a coalition in Asia. The current Japanese government, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would like to revise the pacifist constitution, as a necessary first step toward weaning the country off its total dependence on the US. But Abe’s revisionism is rooted in a nationalist ideology, which is prone to justifying historical atrocities instead of drawing lessons from them. This alone disqualifies Japan from leading others in a military pact.

So, while it might be time to rethink the world order built by the US on the ruins of WWII, the Trump presidency is unlikely to bring this about in a careful and orderly manner. His election is more like an earthquake, unleashing forces no one can control. Instead of encouraging the Japanese to think about collective security in a responsible way, Trump’s indifference is more likely to play to the worst instincts of panicky Japanese nationalists.

Europe is in no shape to rise to the challenge of Pax Americana’s erosion, either. Without a greater sense of pan-national European solidarity, European institutions will soon become hollow, and perhaps even cease to exist. But this sense is precisely what the demagogues are now undermining with such conspicuous success.

If there is reason for confidence, it is not in the liberal democratic world, but in the capitals of its most powerful adversaries: Moscow and Beijing. Trump, at least in the short term, seems to be good news for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Without credible American leadership, or a strong alliance of democracies, there won’t be much left to restrain Russian or Chinese ambitions.

This might not lead to catastrophe in the next few years. Russia and China are more likely to test the limits of their power slowly, bit by bit: Ukraine today, perhaps the Baltics tomorrow; the South China Sea islands now, Taiwan later. They will push, and push, until they push too far. Then anything may happen. Great powers often blunder into great wars. This is no reason for despair, as we begin the New Year, but no reason to be optimistic, either.

2016–The Harbinger of Troubled and Uncertain Times in 2017


December 20, 2016

2016–The Harbinger of Troubled and Uncertain Times in 2017

by Martin Khor@www.thestar.com.my

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‘It Is Our Soul’: The Destruction of Aleppo, Syria’s Oldest City : Information Clearing House: ICH
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The year 2016 will be remembered for the West ending its romance with globalisation, and its impact on the rest of the world.

JUST a few days before Christmas, it is time again to look back on the year that is about to pass. What a strange year it has been, and not one we can  truly celebrate!

The top event was Donald Trump’s unexpected victory. It became the biggest sign that the basic framework and values underpinning Western societies since the Second World War have undergone a seismic change.

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The established order represented by Hillary Clinton was resoundingly defeated by the tumultuous wave Trump generated with his promise to stop the United States from pandering to other countries so that it could become “great again”.

Early in the year came the Brexit vote shock, taking Britain out of the European Union. It was the initial signal that the liberal order created by the West is now being quite effectively challenged by their own masses.

Openness to immigrants and foreigners is now opposed by citizens in Europe and the US who see them as threats to jobs, national culture and security rather than beneficial additions to the economy and society.

The long-held thesis that openness to trade and foreign investments is best for the economy and underpins political stability is crumbling under the weight of a sceptical public that blames job losses and the shift of industries abroad on ultra-liberal trade and investment agreements and policies.

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Thus, 2016 which started with mega trade agreements completed (Trans-Pacific Partnership) or in the pipeline (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the US and Europe) ended with both being dumped by the President Elect, a stunning reversal of the decades-old US position advocating the benefits of the open economy.

2016 will be remembered as the year when the romance in the West with “globalisation” was killed by a public disillusioned and outraged by the inequalities of an economic system tilted in favour of a rich minority, while a sizeable majority feel marginalised and discarded.

In Asia, the dismantling of the globalisation ideal in the Western world was greeted with a mixture of regret, alarm and a sense of opportunity.

Many in this region believe that trade and investment have served several of their countries well. There is fear that the anti-globalisation rebellion in the West will lead to a rapid rise of protectionism that will hit the exports and industries of Asia.

As Trump announced he would pull the US out of the TPP, China stepped into the vacuum vacated by the US and pledged to be among the torchbearers of trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region and possibly the world.

The change of direction in the US and to some extent Europe poses an imminent threat to Asian exports, investors and economic growth. But it is also an opportunity for Asian countries to review their development strategies, rely more on themselves and the region, and take on a more active leadership role.

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China made use of 2016 to prepare for this, with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank taking off and the immense Belt and Road Initiative gathering steam. Many companies and governments are now latching on to the latter as the most promising source of future growth.

The closing months of 2016 also saw a surprising and remarkable shift in position by the Philippines (and Malaysia too for a different set of reasons), whose new President took big steps to reconcile with China over conflicting claims in the South China Sea, thus defusing the situation – at least for now.

Unfortunately, the year also saw heart-rending reports on the plight of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the deaths of thousands of Syrians including those who perished or were injured in the end-game in Aleppo.

On the environmental front, it is likely 2016 will be the hottest year on record, overtaking 2015. This makes the coming into force in October of the Paris Agreement on climate change all the more meaningful.

But there are two big problems. First, the pledges in the agreement are grossly insufficient to meet the level of emissions cuts needed to keep the world safe from global warming, and there is also insufficient financing to support the developing countries’ climate actions, whether on mitigation or adaptation.

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And second, there is a big question mark on the future of the Paris agreement as Trump had vowed to take the US out of it.

The biggest effect of 2016 could be that a climate skeptic was elected US President.In the area of health, the dangers of antibiotic resistance went up on the global agenda with a declaration and day-long event involving political leaders at the United Nations in September.

There was growing evidence and stark warnings in 2016 that we are entering a post-antibiotic era where medicines will no longer work and millions will die from infection and ailments that could once be easily treated by antibiotics.

The world will also be closing in a mood of great economic uncertainty. In 2016 the world economy overall didn’t do well but also not too badly, with growth rates projected at 2.4 to 3%.

But for developing economies like Malaysia, the year ended with worries that the high capital inflows of recent years are reversing as money flows back to the US. The first in an expected series of interest rate increases came last week.

All in all, there was not much to rejoice about in 2016, and worse still it built the foundation for more difficulties to come in 2017.

So we should enjoy the Christmas/New Year season while we can. Merry Christmas to all readers!

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre.

The New Muhyiddin Yassin baptised by BERSIH 5.0?


November 2, 2016

The New Muhyiddin Yassin baptised by BERSIH 5.0?

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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Former Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin speaks to the crowd at the Bersih 5 rally in Kuala Lumpur November 19, 2016. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

If ever there was a rousing speech to stir the masses to fight for Malaysia and eject Najib Abdul Razak and his cronies, this had to be it. This was the ‘mother-of-all-speeches’, not just because of its content, and delivery, but more important because of the man who made it.

Who would have thought in their wildest dreams that former Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Muhyiddin Yassin, who uttered the infamous words, “I am Malay first, Malaysian second”, would have become the latest darling of Malaysia?

One could easily argue that the speech, which he made from the back of a truck in the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers, was the most important political speech of Muhyiddin’s life.

Having worked his way up to the post of DPM, then vilified for his ‘I am Malay first’ speech, then unceremoniously chucked out of Najib’s cabinet for opposing him, Muhyiddin has made a spectacular political comeback.

He said, “I must appeal to all of you (to) set aside all our differences, so that we may face (BN) on a one-to-one basis.We want an honest and clean government.”

His speech was spontaneous and off the cuff. There were no teleprompters. He spoke in English and Malay, sending the crowd wild with jubilation.

Who would have thought that the former UMNO Baru strongman would demand clean elections, and a democratic government?

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Such was his punchy delivery that he overshadowed former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had spoken before him. The former DPM has undergone a political rebirth from his political pariahdom. His reincarnation has been both elating and confusing.

Some of the nuggets in his speech, were; We must see change happen, in the next general election. The present government does not care about you, they only care about themselves. They have sold our pride. Malaysians must show that we are united, irrespective of where we come from.

Let us hope he has been sincere and is not just spouting platitudes. He spoke about a fair, just government for our children and our grandchildren. “The time is up for BN. We must dictate the future of the country. This is the time for us to work together. Malaysia belongs to all of us.”

“Time is up for the cronies, Riza Aziz, Jho Low and the ministers who speak nonsense. Berani kerana benar.”

A few days before the BERSIH 5 march, the Malay NGO Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), announced that the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) should investigate Muhyiddin for his alleged affair.

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You just wonder what goes on in the minds of the JMM office-bearers. Are they obsessed with sex and time-wasting, or are they so obtuse that they cannot see that the nation is undergoing its most serious peacetime political crisis in living memory?

If JMM had any sense, and if they were of any use, they would have demanded that the religious authorities investigate Najib, his cabinet ministers, the zakat and Tabung Haji funds, and the mosque administrations to see the depth of corruption and abuses of public funds that have been allowed to go unchallenged.

Dr M will always be a crowd-puller

The other prominent ‘M’ for BERSIH 5 is former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who rushed home from a conference in Sudan to ensure he was able to participate in BERSIH 5. Mahathir has and will always be a crowd-puller.

Anyone with an elderly person in the family would be worried by Dr M’s gruelling schedule, but credit to the nonagerian, who was able to set aside his tiredness to come before Malaysians and encourage them to demand a clean and fair government.

Again, who would have thought that in our lifetimes, we would see the man, who once opposed protests and dissent, to declare that Najib must be taken down.

What a pity that his efforts to galvanise Malaysians towards reform have been dismissed by Najib, who said that Dr M likes making U-turns.

Finally, the most feared and respected ‘M’ is Maria Chin Abdullah. A fearless defender of human rights, a champion of women’s causes, and a mother of three. She does not present a threat to a clean government. All she, BERSIH 5 and decent Malaysians want are clean, free and fair elections and a return to good governance and democracy.

Locked in solitary confinement, in a 15ft by 8ft windowless cell, with two light bulbs on 24-hours a day, Maria’s comforts are a cold cement floor and wooden pangkin (bench).

So, why would the red-shirt thugs be ordered to terrorise all of Malaysia, and cultivate a culture of fear in the run-up to BERSIH 5? Why was her arrest ordered?

It is because Maria has the secret to the remaining ‘M’ – the largely sleeping dragon, the Malaysian rakyat, which she is trying to awaken.

Maria has the power to unite all Malaysians to oust Najib. That is why Maria has to be locked away in a secret location, detained for 28 days under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

She is not a terrorist; she is a freedom fighter. If Maria is free, Najib’s political future is at risk. No wonder Najib is afraid.