Not easy to work with Dr M, says ‘heartbroken’ Nurul Izzah


March 25 , 2029

Not easy to work with Dr M, says ‘heartbroken’ Nurul Izzah

https://wordpress.com/post/dinmerican.wordpress.com/146500

 

 

t has been a difficult year for Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, as she revealed to Singapore’s Straits Times how she nursed a “broken heart” brought on by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s return to power.

“Oh, it’s been so turbulent and tumultuous.

“I’ve learned so much, but I think my heart’s been broken as well, somewhat,” said Nurul Izzah, who recounted Mahathir’s first stint in power when her father, Anwar Ibrahim, had served as the deputy prime minister.

Quizzed on the cause of her broken heart, Nurul Izzah told the Singapore daily it was not easy having to once again work with the man who brought down her father nearly two decades ago and sent him to prison.

“I mean having to work with a former dictator who wreaked so much damage, not just on our lives, but the system.

“It was not easy,” she admitted, although Anwar himself had openly made peace with Mahathir through a historic handshake three years ago, and is once again positioned as Harapan’s prime minister-in-waiting.

According to the Straits Times, Nurul Izzah still speaks with emotion about Anwar’s innocence and how imprisonment had taken him away from the family – including her mother, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail – and her five younger siblings.

Insya Allah,” she said, when reminded that Anwar would eventually assume the country’s top post.

Cambodian Minister: Incident should serve as lesson for everyone


February 17, 2019

Cambodian minister: Incident should serve as lesson for everyone

Bernama  |  Published:

The incident involving 47 Malaysians detained at the Banteay Mancheay prison in Cambodia should serve as a lesson for everyone, said Special Duties Minister in the Cambodian Prime Minister’s Department Othsman Hassan.

He said such a mistake should not be repeated in the future as the lucrative salary offered was too good to be true.

“If it is true that such lucrative salary to be paid, certainly the Cambodians will be employed first,” he said this during the symbolic handover of 47 detainees from the Cambodian government to the Malaysia and Sarawak governments in Siem Reap today.

Othsman represented the Cambodian government while Malaysia and Sarawak were represented by Sarawak Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development Minister Fatimah Abdullah.

Also present were Santubong MP Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Temporary Charge de Affairs at the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh Ruzaimi Mohamad and director of the Sarawak regional office of the Foreign Ministry Deddy Faisal Ahmad Salleh.

Meanwhile, Fatimah expressed her gratitude to the Cambodian government for providing good cooperation to the Malaysian government during the negotiating process to bring home all the detainees.

“With the power of Almighty Allah we have met with people such as Datuk Othsman and his friends who are sincere in helping us to secure the release of the detainees, as well as the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Foreign Ministry secretary-general,” she said.

Fatimah said the Malaysian government was in the midst of arranging the transportation to bring all 47 Malaysians home.

“Initially, we are planning to bring them home in stages, but it is better if all can return home in one group,” she said.

 

Bersatu and the shaping of new realities


January 19, 2019

Bersatu and the shaping of new realities

Opinion  |  Nathaniel Tan

 

COMMENT | I am grateful to be read by so esteemed and prolific a writer as S Thayaparan. Needless to say, like any two writers, the good Commander and I can hardly be expected to agree on everything – this is a healthy thing.

In his article on Jan 9, Thayaparan alludes to what I believe are a good many shared goals and even some shared analyses. What differences we may have could arguably be ascribed to the fundamental level of optimism versus cynicism. Of course, this is my own biased view.

I agree with Thayaparan that UMNO’s core strategy of feudal patronage was indeed very successful in securing Malay votes, especially in rural areas.

How else could we account for the fact that in terms of individual parties, UMNO had won the most seats in Parliament? Or the fact that nationally, Harapan only won approximately 25-30 percent of the Malay votes.

I also agree with Thayaparan in that this is a very tempting strategy to replicate, in order to achieve the same level of Malay support that UMNO achieved; as well as with the fact that there are undeniably some in Bersatu and Harapan who wish to pursue this path.

Thayaparan seems to believe that it is inevitable that Bersatu will indeed go down this same road. Here perhaps we differ.

I am no seer, so it would be foolish to say definitively whether Bersatu will or will not turn out like UMNO in the end. I will be willing to say however: it certainly isn’t an inevitability.

In terms of electoral strategy, I think the primary argument that should be put forth to those trying to emulate UMNO’s strategy of feudal patronage is that the votes you win very likely come at the cost of other votes.

Once again, I quote the Aesop fable where the dog with the bone saw his reflection in the river, and dropped the bone he had in greedy pursuit of a second bone.

Should a party follow UMNO too far, especially in terms of its approach to race, the backlash will be real. That constituency of voters should not be taken for granted, as GE 14 demonstrated decisively their willingness to vote in protest.

Knowing one’s opponent

Secondly, every political strategy must obviously take into consideration context and landscape.

Simply put, Harapan needs to know exactly who it’ll be up against in GE 15.

Thayaparan writes:

‘A Bersatu grassroots activist, who I usually call on because she gives it to me straight, told me that it is easy for the other Harapan components to criticise Rashid. It gets them good press and makes them seem like heroes, like young Syed Saddiq. But, the “beloved” (and she means it when she says this) prime minister not only has to ensure that Bersatu is a viable party, but also that “Harapan does not mampus (die)”.

Okay, I said, if your rural heartland base needs to be better informed, then why not begin the process of dismantling the system – political tactics included – which separates them from the urban Malay voter? “You want us to win or you want PAS or UMNOo to win?” she replied.’

Two prominent young Harapan leaders, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman and Setiawangsa MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad have both used America’s transition from Barack Obama to Donald Trump as an example of a right-wing backlash.

This article does not look to ‘ignore’ these warnings and advocate some sort of no-holds-barred progressive agenda; nor does it intend to underestimate any particular political movement.

That said, if Harapan is posturing to fight the wrong enemy in the wrong way, it could end up shooting itself in the foot.

Feudalism impossible without controlling the government

The main problem with UMNO and PAS is that they cannot rule alone; for the same reason they can’t rule alone, these two can’t rule together either.

The Malay population currently stands at 55 percent. Unless you twist and turn electoral boundaries into some unrecognisable mangle, it is essentially impossible for UMOmno and PAS to appeal to non-Malays enough to win the federal government without some sort of ally.

Indeed, one can very easily argue that this scenario has already played out – not in GE-15, but in GE-14.

UMNO’s entire mandate was based on its leadership of BN, where every community was supposed to be represented.

With whatever shreds of that illusion now being shattered conclusively, UMNO is left as a party with a very narrow, exclusive ideology, and very few genuine allies.

PAS meanwhile has a dismal history of going it alone. In 1995 and 2004, they contested alone and won only seven seats each time. In 1999, 2008 and 2013, they contested in coalitions with PKR and DAP, and won 27, 23 and 21 seats respectively.

2018 was a bit of an outlier, with PAS winning 18 seats, but with each and every one of those seats coming from only three states (Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah) – making it fairly obvious that PAS cannot win elsewhere without strong allies.

So, it has to be asked: Who will Harapan really be fighting in GE-15?

As always, we should not imagine voters to be stupid. Even if they wanted to vote in someone they think would be more willing to deliver them government goodies feudal-patronage style, surely they understand that their candidate cannot do so if he is not part of the federal government.

This brings us to the most important point – why do we have to ‘out-feudal’ the enemy, when the purported enemy is in no real position to be the next feudal lord?

Certainly one should not preach complacency, but one should equally not be sending warships into waters where there are no enemies, leaving other flanks vulnerable.

Indeed, Harapan’s biggest enemy could be Harapan itself; if elections were to be held, say within a year, the biggest reason behind votes against Harapan would likely be under-performance.

Worrying about maintaining and growing Malay support is not necessarily wrong, but this can easily be a strategic misstep as a counterpoint to enemies who are now mere phantoms.

Umno has already been defeated, and at its current state of disintegration – caused in the first place by the party’s dependence on government-funded feudal patronage – it remains to be seen if it would even exist come GE-15.

PAS on the other hand has shown extreme resilience over the decades, and we can expect them to be a real force, but unless they do a 180 degree turn and somehow start to appeal to non-Muslim political movements, they will not be a primary contender for the federal government.

Redefining Malay politics

This brings us to the question of what then will the fight for the Malay heartland be about?Image result for FEUDAL MALAYS

A  feudal Umno  Patron

The impression I personally got from Thayaparan’s article was a belief that these rural Malays will always be dependent feudal peasants.

I choose a more optimistic view.

Bersatu and Harapan’s unique position – resulting from UMNO’s and PAS’ extremely weak position – gives them a golden opportunity to redefine what Malay politics is about.

There are numerous examples of late showing that there are clearly elements within Bersatu who want to go the UMNOo way, but I daresay the battle for the party’s heart and soul is not over yet.

As I wrote recently, at the very top of Bersatu is Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, and his oldest dream to invigorate the Malay community – propelling them to become successful entrepreneurs, leading professionals and captains of industry.

While his unrelenting sarcasm and unfavourable comparisons might not be the best way to bring this about, I don’t think we can doubt the sincerity of his intentions.

All that remains to determine is methodology.

It won’t be any walk in the park, but I do believe that with the right leadership and policies, we can transition out from the rural heartland’s dependency on feudal patronage, into governance based on genuine empowerment – setting everything in place for Malays to succeed on their own merits.

If we take the time to look, there are always a few encouraging signs here and there – the takeover of Perlis Bersatu by Bersatu headquarters could be one such sign.

I am all for realistic analysis. It is foolishness not to base your plans on what the objective truth on the ground is. At the same time, all the realism in the world will do us no good if we have no vision; reality, after all, is often nothing more than what all of us make it.

Image result for Man of La Mancha

 

 

On my first day driving to my new job, I listened to a song from the musical The Man of La Mancha. Perhaps not for the last time, allow me – in the style of the good Commander – to quote some lines from the show:

‘I have lived nearly fifty years, and I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, hunger … cruelty beyond belief. I have heard the singing from taverns and the moans from bundles of filth on the streets. I have been a soldier and seen my comrades fall in battle … or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no gallant last words … only their eyes filled with confusion, whimpering the question, “Why?”

I do not think they asked why they were dying, but why they had lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!’


 

NATHANIEL TAN is delighted to have begun a new job at Emir Research.

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

A Tale of Two Malays


December 5, 2018

A Tale of Two Malays

by Tajuddin Rasdi

www. freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Asri and Mahathir

In this article I present my views on the different responses and approaches of two Malay and Muslim educated leaders to raise questions about nation building. The two personalities  are Prime Minister Dr Mahathir. Mohamad and the “respected” mufti, scholar and academic Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.

The scenario in question is the recent Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple incident. I do not view the temple incident as a racial one even though the police have established that the clash was between 50 Malay “hired thugs” and the devotees of the temple.

Image result for Asri and Mahathir

From the excellent police report and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement, we can gather that these Malays were hired to solve the problem of vacating the land in order for commercial development to take place. The company to which the land belongs has since denied it was involved in hiring thugs.

Image result for Malay thugs

I have heard whispers of this kind of thuggery being undertaken to resolve the problem of vacating people from state and private land. I have also heard whispers that police often turn a blind eye to such actions. I hope these whispers are not true but the glaring events at the Seafield temple have confirmed my personal fears that there may be truth to many of them.

Whatever the real and intended purpose of the Malay “thugs”, I am convinced it was not a racial conflict but a simple “Melayu-thugs-for-hire” one. But politicians, clerics and opportunists have grabbed on to this incident to colour it as a racial conflict. When I read that 70 Malays turned up later that day, I feared the worst but thankfully, our police force was at its best.

When Asri came out with a forceful statement about taking a harsh approach in dealing with “illegal temples”, I feared it would only aggravate the situation, especially with sentiments over the ICERD still strong.

Although Mahathir has reversed the government’s earlier decision to ratify the UN treaty, many, including the “respected” cleric, seem to be egging on a demonstration that I fear could pull this country apart. We know the damage that was done by the previous Jamal Yunos-led Red Shirts rally.

Here I wish to draw attention to the approach of Mahathir on the temple issue: he showed exemplary leadership in putting Malaysian, “Malaysianness” and nation building above the idea of “Malayness”, “Islamicness” and “Tanah Melayu-ness” of those in PAS and Umno, and now – sadly – Asri.

One excellent character trait of Mahathir that I admire is that he can stand firm, no matter what the ulama, royalty and politicians throw at him. From his writings, speeches I have heard and media statements, Mahathir does not come out as a simplistic “my race above all” thinker like Zahid Hamidi and Ibrahim Ali, nor does he comes off as an “Islam above all” thinker like Hadi Awang or Asri.

He has his own personal views of Islam which I have read, his own idea about Malaysia’s history as well as his own personal formula on how Malays should change. He even admitted his failure to change the Malays, giving as proof the vast corruption by Malay elites, including in UMNO and the civil service. He dumped UMNOo… twice! Yes, UMNO dumped him once, but he did it twice. He is even said to be engineering UMNO’s elimination and a reboot of his own version of “Malay-Malaysianess” in PPBM.

Personally, I think it will never work as he is too old and may not have time to train Malays in the new “Malay-Malaysian ideology” so that they become progressive and critical-minded Muslims with a Japanese work culture.

That model of “Malay-Malaysianess” never took off even when he was the leader of UMNO.

But what I admire most about the way Mahathir handled the Seafield issue is that he was decisive and humanitarian and he did it with a Malaysian finesse. The government has ordered the status quo to be maintained and for the rule of law to take effect.

The matter has been taken to the courts again by some devotees, and a few millionaires have started a campaign to raise funds to buy the land from the owner. I suspect Mahathir may have had a hand in the idea of buying the land.

Mahathir may have lost his credibility as a Malay, a Muslim and a leader among kampung-educated Malays, bandar-educated Malays and university-educated Malays. But he has won my respect and that of the non-Malays and the very, very few thinking Malays.

He has lost the Malay political mileage that is badly needed to restabilise Malaysia as well as prop him up as the PPBM and Pakatan Harapan leader. I think it is a costly price that he has paid personally, but Mahathir is no stranger to such sacrifices.

What matters to him is a clear and unadulterated vision of where Malaysia should be heading, a vision very few Malays understand and are willing to follow, both in the opposition and in the government. Mahathir has put his political career on the line for the sake of a peaceful Malaysia.

The same can be said about the ICERD issue. Many have criticised him for “backtracking” from his tough talk at the UN but I think it takes guts and a visionary leader to go against one’s “reputable standing” and make decisions within a dynamically changing socio-political scenario. Other politicians would have taken more time to weigh the political cost and delay their decision, but Mahathir was quick, decisive and clear over both the ICERD and Seafield issues.

In contrast, let us look at how Asri responded to the temple issue. A day after the reported clash, I was shocked to read his harsh statements encouraging the authorities to come down hard on the Indians with regard to the many “kuil haram” on land not belonging to that community. Although many Muslims I know will side with him in this very popular statement, I think it is selfish and immature with respect to the idea of nation building.

Although I have admired Asri for his academic and religious views framed in an intellectual stand on many issues, his statements suggest his stand on Indians is far from friendly. The first clue to this attitude was given in his Facebook posting about Hindus attacking Muslims in India as well as the burning of widows. He made those statements in defending controversial preacher Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India. I have also heard his veiled attempts at making Hinduism look bad by associating it with the abhorrent caste system.

I will answer his criticism of the Hindu religion by giving three points. Firstly, it is most difficult to discern the principles of a religion from the cultural practices of the adherents. Until I read 20,000 hadiths, I never knew that Malays were practising “Melayu-Islam” and not the Prophet’s Islam. When Asri criticised harshly many of the attitudes and practices of the Malays using hard textual evidence, many Malays despised him but I agreed 100% with what he said concerning this matter.

I have read the hadiths and so I know. Most Malays do not read and they depend on clerics like Azhar Idrus or Zamihan Mat Zin to fill them in on what Islam is. I am 200% behind Asri in his “war” against the Malays and their ethno-centric interpretation of Islam.

Having said that, I have to ask: does Asri know enough about Hinduism to separate the cultural practices or attitudes from the philosophical teachings of that religion? I have read several books on Hinduism, including the Bhagavad Gita and the meditative techniques stemming from that faith, and I find them filled with the wisdom of the ages.

Hindus dissected the self, the ego and the mind long before Prophet Muhammad was born. Much of the concept of “self” by Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali and Rumi echo the same teachings – not because they have been “influenced” but because of the generality and universality of the messages.

Most Muslims have a narrow window, framed in the 1,400-year scholarship of Islam, and refuse to take a walk outside of that box into the world of human civilisation and strive to understand who they are and how best to behave or act in a community of communities.

Secondly, with respect to the caste system, most societies, even the Malays, practise them. Abdullah Munshi detested the difference in punishments meted out to peasants, guards of the Rajas, the bangsawan or aristocrats and the Rajas, saying they were un-Islamic. To him all men were equal under Allah. I have many Hindu friends and I have never heard of widow burning or the imposition of the caste system; neither have I heard them threaten people of other faiths.

Thirdly, if Asri considers all Hindus as terrorists for atrocities committed against Muslims by some, then what of the Islamic State fanatics bombing here and bombing there, using lorries and other vehicles to knock down and kill non-Muslim civilians? Certainly Asri would point out that Islam the religion is free from such heinous acts and that those who do these things do not reflect Islam which offers a message of peace.

If that is so, why can’t Asri see the “terrorist Hindus” as a party totally different from Malaysian Hindus such as P Ramasamy and P Waytha Moorthy who are fighting peacefully in the political arena for the betterment of their own race? Clearly Asri has not acted with wisdom or out of consideration for the peace and safety of the many Malaysians in making such statements. He thought only about his own race and faith.

Thus, in conclusion, we can see two sons of Malaysia, two sons of the Melayu culture and two sons of Islam having two divergent approaches and attitudes towards the idea of building a peaceful nation.

One of them cares about all life in Malaysia while the other seems to care only about those of his race and religion. One has a long view of Malaysia’s future in the global community while the other has views limited to what is important to his own faith.

Malays have to decide who they should follow.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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Message to Pakatan Harapan Politicians–Stop the Blame Game


November 16,2018

Message to Pakatan Harapan Politicians–Stop the Blame Game

by S.Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”
– Calvin Coolidge, former US President

COMMENT | Now-retired Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) chairperson Daim Zainuddin’s rejoinder to the Pakatan Harapan government to stop playing the blame game is one of the more honest moments the establishment has had since gaining power on May 9.

Image result for daim zainuddin

“It has got to a point where every time the new government is waffling, demurring or flat-out reneging on their campaign promises or proposing unpopular policies, they blame the former UMNO regime.”

The minority (voters) who voted the previous government out do indeed know why they are happy to see the fall of UMNO, but for the majority Malays who voted for UMNO and PAS, all they see is the new administration blaming those whom they voted for.

They read about partisans who mock the UMNO  base, even though the Malay power structures in Harapan are desperate to shore up Malay support with the elected reps from the disgraced Najib regime.

Part of this is because of the platform that Harapan ran on. Before joining Harapan, Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, in various interviews, claimed that the primary goal was to remove a kleptocrat and that there were other “issues” that he could work with the coalition on, but which were secondary.

When he formally joined Harapan, he had to sublimate his own baggage of autocratic tendencies to work out a compromise with brokers in the coalition, that included a host of issues that were related to reforming the system.

He had to do this because his Bersatu was literally a newborn, while the other partners in the coalition, excluding Amanah, already had an established  base with ideas of institutional reforms which would truly save Malaysia. The formation of Bersatu itself was one of racial necessity, or at least this was the coalition’s party line.

Remember, it was not as if systemic corruption was unheard of in Malaysia. It is pointless dragging up the polemics of the then opposition when it came to the corruption and abuse of power during Mahathir’s regime.

Image result for daim mahathir

The fact is that Najib’s regime corruption was so blatant, the regime’s attempt to stifle dissent so heavy-handed and its attempts to shore up Malay-Muslim support so detrimental to non-Malay interests, that a sufficiently diverse minority was moved to replace UMNO-BN.

When Daim says that Harapan needs to fulfil its election manifesto, the reality is that the current Prime Minister has admitted that the campaign manifesto is a fiction based on the belief that the coalition could not win this election. In other words, it was a “say anything” manifesto.

This, of course, was met with blowback from other Harapan coalition members, but the cynicism of the old maverick’s statement is the kind of realpolitik that he and his kind of politicians have trafficked for decades.

Blaming a kleptocrat is easy. The real problem starts when the Harapan regime has to differentiate itself from the UMNO regime. This is where the trouble starts. It started when Harapan began waffling about removing certain laws.

Indeed, anecdotally speaking, there are more Harapan political operatives, Malay and non-Malay, who want election promises kept – or so they tell me – than the politburo of Harapan, which has never failed to find an opportunity to blame the former regime for Harapan’s lack of political will to carry out eforms

This is not that straw man argument about giving the coalition more time. There are already apologists who claim that the 100-day promises are a burden too heavy to carry. This is about outright not fulfilling promises and cynically expecting the base to support such decisions.

The shackles of reforms

And this is the problem right here. We are dealing with politicians whose currency is autocracy and a supplicating base, which was the norm for decades. These so-called reforms in the Harapan manifesto are in reality shackles for politicians who are used to dealing with the public, not as servants of the state, but rather as potentates to be followed.

Part of this is partisan politics, of course. These days, Mahathir has a loyal following in the Harapan political elite and amongst a certain segment of the Harapan base.

Image result for Tok PA

 

 

He gets to accept someone like Mustapa Mohamed – better known as Tok Pa – into Bersatu, claiming that the criteria for such entry was that Tok Pa had been cowed when it came to standing up to Najib. One assumes, I suppose, that his cowardice evaporates before the majesty of Mahathir and he will suddenly discover the strength to fight for his constituents now that he is in Bersatu.

When Cynthia Gabriel of the Governance, Integrity, Accountability and Transparency (Giat) coalition threatens to name and shame establishment politicians who do not declare their full assets and not just their incomes, she is vilified on social media.

Gabriel is just doing her job like she was when she was speaking truth to UMNO power, but now, she is vilified. One Harapan political operative even emailed me asking where “she gets her funding from.”

Before May 9, when Gabriel had said the same when she was raging against UMNO hegemony, Harapan partisans were ready to canonise her. This same political operative was worrying about her safety.

Image result for cynthia gabriel

As for what she thinks of her job, Gabriel said it all here, when she accepted the US-based National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) 2017 Democracy Award: “This is not something (in which) we can just say ‘enough’, or it’s time to shirk away and do nothing about it. It is important to stay the course, fight the good fight, it is important to seek the truth.”

You see, what is important is not just removing the kleptocrat. What differentiated Harapan from UMNO-BN was those promises in the manifesto which curtailed executive power, restored individual freedoms, reformed public institutions, and, most importantly, curtailed the power of the state security apparatus to hamper all of the above.

I mean, for a time there was talk of hate speech laws. This from a coalition which was targeted by the Umno state using instruments of the state for speaking truth to power. At a time when the Harapan government were waffling on repealing laws which limited our freedoms, there was actually talk of creating new laws which did the same.

Then, of course, Mahathir says this for justifying the retention of the Official Secrets Act 1972: “The law is not perfect. It is open to abuse, but you hope to find people who will not break the law, who will obey the rule of law. That is what is important.

“The last government did not follow the rule of law. They did what they liked with the law. The main thing is to find a government that will not break the laws.”

Does anyone really think that we have found a government which does not break laws?


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

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

 

Crunch time for Malaysia on economic reform


November 15, 2018

Crunch time for Malaysia on economic reform

by Stewart Nixon

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/11/04/crunch-time-for-malaysia-on-economic-reform/

Image result for dr.mahathir mohamad

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s honeymoon period after he swept to power in Malaysia may now be facing an economic reality test. Mahathir’s recent admission that his pre-election promises exceeded what can possibly be delivered is just the start. Analysts and investors alike are now hanging on further details of the government’s economic policy priorities.

In the six months since Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) under Mahathir ended more than six decades of one-party rule in Malaysia, the new government has taken a measured approach to policy development, allowing inexperienced ministers to get on top of their portfolios while it enjoyed electoral grace.

Image result for Mid-Term Review of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan

“Under-investment in human capital is perhaps the single biggest drag on Malaysia’s economic development. It is therefore a positive that human capital remains a high policy priority in Malaysia — commanding its own pillar in the Mid-Term Review and the highest share of budget expenditure. Some of the worthwhile measures include policies to address immediate skills mismatches, invest in school infrastructure and raise the quality of education.”– Stewart Nixon

The release of the Mid-Term Review of the Eleventh Malaysia Plan, as well as the government’s first budget, throws some light on where the government might head on economic policy. Stronger governance and alleviating cost of living pressures are underlined as priority areas, along with greater regional development, entrepreneurship and digitalisation. These priorities represent positive investment in government effectiveness and inclusiveness. But there are questions about economic policy direction.

The Mid-Term Review provides a blueprint loaded with high-level aspirations that would represent an impressive reform agenda if translated into successful policies. But aspects of the Review raise questions about the government’s real capacity to navigate medium-term risks. The 2020 balanced budget target has been abandoned and the budget deficit has widened to 3.7 per cent of GDP (with an aim to reduce this to 3 per cent of GDP by 2020), while public investment — most notably in major rail and pipeline projects — is set to contract.

The cancellation and postponement of mega rail and pipeline projects has rightly been applauded on governance grounds, but the fallout presents some economic risks. Debate about future infrastructure needs has been sidelined by fear mongering about debt. Investors also now face higher levels of uncertainty and risk. While Chinese investors have been hit hardest by the cancellations, both governments appear to have so far handled the diplomacy of recontracting deftly.

The Review also foreshadows a host of new expenditure in healthcare, social protection, rural infrastructure and the environment that will need to be financed by either undeclared budget cuts in other areas or additional revenues.

Revenue raising — or the failure to address the need for it — is a serious weakness in government plans. Tax revenue has fallen to around 13 per cent of GDP — compared to the OECD average of over 34 per cent — and the government’s decision to dump the goods and services tax (GST) for a narrower ‘sales and service’ tax will accelerate the decline. The budget estimates tax revenue at just 11.5 per cent of GDP in 2019.

The Mid-Term Review hints at plans to diversify indirect taxes and increase non-tax revenue. Increasing indirect taxes appears ambitious after the noisily populist anti-GST campaign, while non-tax revenue is code for increasing dependence on revenues from state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The budget highlights this, reporting a 33 per cent drop in indirect tax revenue in 2018 and dividend hikes on PETRONAS in particular amounting to a doubling of non-tax revenue by 2019.

The budget hits some easy targets with higher taxes on property gains, sugar beverages, casinos, imports and online services. However it ignores potential reforms to wealth and property taxes or to the income tax system that currently covers only 15 per cent of workers and transfers very little from rich to poor households.

While the Malaysian government’s footprint may be low in taxation and expenditure, its participation in the economy is pervasive. The highly centralised top-down federation (that cripples local government initiative) and government ownership of more than half the local stock market ensure that the vast majority of economic activity is directly affected by the state.

Despite enabling the corruption scandals that brought down the former government, SOE dominance is not earmarked for meaningful reform in the near future. The budget speech declares that stakes in ‘non-strategic’ government businesses are to be reduced, yet if anything the Mid-Term Review is a blueprint for reinforcing paternalistic control of local governments and enhancing the primacy of SOEs. This is moving the Malaysian economy in the wrong direction. Rather, the government needs to focus on decentralising local governance and diluting SOE market concentration.

The large program of policies favouring Malays and other indigenous groups (Bumiputera) in the Mid-Term Review is another possible economic destabiliser. There was much hope that Mahathir’s more representative government would bring an end to the country’s long-running and ill-targeted affirmative action program. Yet the Review simply reaffirms the government’s commitment to continuing it. Outdated and divisive policies serve to perpetuate negative perceptions of the majority Malays, deter investment and encourage the brain drain of discriminated-against minorities.

Underinvestment in human capital is perhaps the single biggest drag on Malaysia’s economic development. It is therefore a positive that human capital remains a high policy priority in Malaysia — commanding its own pillar in the Mid-Term Review and the highest share of budget expenditure. Some of the worthwhile measures include policies to address immediate skills mismatches, invest in school infrastructure and raise the quality of education.

Still, the perpetuation of myths that low-skilled foreign workers are a drag on the economy and misguided plans to curb migrant inflows through increased levies and by further outsourcing responsibility to businesses with a vested interest in increasing numbers raise doubts about whether the government understands the extent and causes of Malaysia’s human capital deficiencies.

In the face of headwinds from global economic crises and trade wars, ambitious reforms are a must for Malaysia’s new government. Replacing current unproductive and populist measures with a medium-term policy platform that tackles distortions and disadvantage would not only enhance the country’s economy but also give needed weight to the government’s economic credentials.

Stewart Nixon is a Research Scholar in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. He is lead author of a new report from the Asian Bureau of Economic Research in the Crawford School on the Malaysian economy and was co-author of the OECD’s inaugural Economic Assessment of Malaysia.