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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

The Coming of ‘Disruptive Politics’ in Asia


November 12, 2018

The Coming of ‘Disruptive Politics’ in Asia

Khmer Times

ttps://www.khmertimeskh.com/category/opinion/

A few years back, the world was shocked by the political developments in Europe which saw the rise of right-wing nationalism across several countries in the continent. Despite the hope of globalisation being kept alive by the election (and re-election) of pro-establishment forces in France and the Netherlands, the same cannot be said for its other European counterparts.

To the north, the British are certainly grappling on how to make a soft landing for its Brexit move, with many parties now calling for a second referendum to be held to resolve the on-going crisis. Months ago, the same unexpected situation also occurred in Sweden in which Prime Minister Stefan Lovren, as well as his Cabinet, was ousted from power following the post-election’s motion of confidence in the parliament, Riksdag. For sure, this is a blow to the EU as the country that accepted the most migrants, Sweden, is expected to depart from its existing migrant policy in the coming years or so. Germany, on the other hand, recently witnessed the emergence of the right-wing party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Whilst the European countries are struggling with right-wing nationalism in a wider scale, we, in Asia are also experiencing a new political wave that is relatively different than the former. The year 2018 is the most crucial year for the continent as there is an emerging trend of (political) regime changes in countries not expected to undergo regime changes in the first place. The main ramification, of course, is potential conflicts with the expansion of Chinese investments as well as China’s push for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in these countries.

There are two types of political regime changes that are occurring in this part of the world.

Image result for mahathir mohamad

The first stunner to the world and China will be the watershed victory of Malaysia’s Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the May general election this year. One of the longest surviving political regimes in the world, the then ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), had been overthrown from power since 1957. With its ouster from power, it further showed to other long serving regimes in Asia that it is totally possible for such deep-rooted political regimes to collapse through democratic electoral process.

As for China, the PH’s victory proved to be a challenging risk to infrastructure projects which it participated with the Najib administration. Adding to this is the property development and plastic recycling projects that are now being evaluated by the PH government for its multiplier effects and adverse impacts. The Malaysia case, therefore, is the clearest example of how political regime change is affecting not just Chinese projects but also China’s BRI push in Asia.

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Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s candidate, emerged victorious over incumbent president Abdulla Yameen in the election held on September 23.(Reuters Photo)

The other clear example will be Maldives. After its own watershed election, the Maldivian electorate sent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to power and ousted incumbent president Abdulla Yameen. This is yet another shocking development that rattled the world. Not to mention China which provided millions of dollars in loan to the island nation during the Yammen administration? More importantly, Mr Solih’s victory injected a sense of sanguinity to India as the former is seen to be closer to New Delhi instead of Beijing. Again, the political development in Maldives is worthy to be observed if such claims by Indian and foreign media will be translated into Malé’s different approach to the Chinese projects and the BRI push.

As for Pakistan, the victory of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e-Insaf (PTI) in the July election is unexpected in that pundits and media certainly did not foresee the big majority being garnered by the party. Adding to that is the victory of a political establishment which is not from either the Sharif or the Bhutto political dynasties.

Image result for imran khan

Also, the Pakistan case remains to be relatively clear example of how political regime change will affect both the Chinese investments as well as China’s BRI push in Asia. Following his election, Mr Khan declared his intention to strike a ‘balance’ between its all-weather partner, Beijing and its once ally, the US. Compounding the complexity will be Islamabad’s search for a rescue package from the US-dominated IMF — which in turn, asked the new government to reveal its Chinese debts as a pre-condition for such financial assistance — as well as China’s new loan offers to Pakistan to help solve its national debt crisis.

In all, the three cases of Malaysia, Maldives and Pakistan scenarios indicate that political regime change is an emerging trend in the Asian continent. Considering the fact that it comes at the time Beijing is expanding its footprints in the region and beyond, such trend of regime change is bound to affect in one way or another, Chinese investments as well as China’s BRI push in Asia.

Anbound Research Center (Malaysia) is a subsidiary of ANBOUND, a leading independent think tank headquartered in Beijing. The think tank is also a consultancy firm specializing in China-ASEAN cooperation. For any feedback, please contact: malaysia@anbound.com.

The Malays in Business–Summing Up


October 21, 2018

The Malays in Business–Summing Up    

by  Dr. M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for Malay in Business

Dr. The many soft barriers to Malay participation in commerce such as our poor quality of human capital and inadequate financial capital are at least correctable. Build better schools and have credit facilities a la Grameen’s micro-credit, for example.

Others are more problematic. The World Bank’s 2014 Report places Malaysia among the top ten in terms of ease of starting a business. However, ask a Malay would-be (or any small) businessman on the obstacles he faces, and you get a different picture.

The Bank studied only major corporations with their lawyers, accountants, and consultants. If you are a hawker dealing with City Hall, Kuala Lumpur, be prepared for the “hassle” factors. Witness the annual circus for its Ramadan stalls. The government is doing everything to discourge Malays at this most basic level.

I cringe whenever I see overzealous Bandaraya enforcers evict hawkers and destroy their stalls. We should be nurturing their enterprising spirit. If they are blocking traffic, provide alternate spaces. If their standard of hygiene is appalling and poses significant public health dangers, then supply portable water, cheap power, and help improve the physical facilities.

If they are successful, the government would save in not having to pay for their welfare. They would also not be tempted to protest on the streets. Their would then employ their teenage sons, reducing the Mat Rempit menace. Most of all they would gain self-respect.

Another elemental enterprise is driving taxis. Malaysian taxi drivers are at the bottom of capitalism’s food chain. In addition to high operating costs, he has to lease the license from a politician, pay usurious interest rates to buy his vehicle, and pay retail for its maintainence. Imagine if taxi licenses were given only to owner-operators and they have a co-op and could enjoy fleet discounts for their cars and servicing. You would remove or reduce two or three layers of costs, thus enhancing their income.

When Malaysian policymakers think of grooming entrepreneurs, they aspire producing a local Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Jack Ma. Those are outlyers, the black swans of entrepreneurs. You cannot groom them; they are in their own class. Focus on simple hawkers and taxi drivers. Begin at this most elemental level where mistakes would be less costly and the consequences less damaging. If you begin with multibillion-dollar GLCs, you are courting disaster. Witness the still evolving 1MDB saga.

This urge to start or think big right away when you are ill equipped with respect to talent, skills, experience, or social structure comes in the way of grooming Malay entrepreneurs. There are others.

 

One is exemplified by a recent video clip going viral on social media of a Malay salesgirl at a convenience store refusing to scan a beer bought by her customer. Her excuse? Alcohol is haram. Her personal salvation was more important than doing what she was paid to do–attend to her customers. What a misguided interpretation of our religion. More startling, her superior, also a Malay, defended her! I had expected him to at least apologize to their customer.

When these obstacles are cited, they elicit smug smiles from non-Malays, confirming for them the many presumed deficiencies of Malay culture. This apparent cultural aversion to commerce is not unique unto Malays. In ancient China and Japan, traders and merchants were in the lowest social class. They did not produce anything, unlike farmers who were held second only to scholars.

Expectations too are important. Make it too rosy and you set yourself up for failure. Be too pessimistic and you discourage many from even trying.

Image result for Robert Kuok

 

 

Malay leaders endlessly exhort their followers to emulate the Chinese tycoons. “Be like them!” is the endless nauseating line. If Malays were to be reminded not of the Robert Kuoks and Vincent Tans, but those Chinese who early in the last century idled their time smoking opium, frolicking with prostitutes, and endlessly dreaming of Balik Tongsan, then Malays would have a more realistic appreciation of the hard work needed to be successful. Better yet, translate Robert Kuok’s biography into Malay!

Many Malay entrepreneurs failed because they assumed that securing the contracts, permits, and loans was all they needed. They were under the misguided impression that the hard part was over, when in reality it had just begun.

The crucial question arises. How did this negative mindset get embedded among Malays? Current “successful” Malay entrepreneurs and their policymaker enablers bear much of the responsibility for this virulent socioeconomic malignancy.

It afflicts not just small-time village entrepreneurs. In the early 1980s I was involved with a group of bright young Malay doctors in starting a group practice in Malaysia. They already had a thriving practice, and one of its leaders was high up in UMNO. He was the rainmaker, and a very productive one, securing major contracts from federal agencies, GLCs, and other big corporations.

I visited their facilities and was impressed. Their waiting rooms were packed. The government too was eager to support the group as it was among the few made up of mostly Malay doctors.

Beyond that favorable first impression I was stunned to discover that they had no formal agreement. Their working relationship was:  “We trust each other; we are Malays!” To make matters worse, the rainmaker was busy with his political aspirations.

To make a long story short, I did not join. That proved prescient. Shortly thereafter the key players left to set up competing practices across the street. Incredibly, they had no “non-compete” clause preventing them from doing so. As for the rainmaker’s political career, that too went downhill. He thought that running a group practice was simple–just get the doctors and the contracts!

Those bright young doctors were no different from the simple villagers as far as their business acumen or expectations were concerned. This is what I mean by the soft obstacles being much more formidable.

Small states must play smart


October 5, 2018

Small states must play smart

by Chheang Vannarith

Cambodia Flag
“Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.”– Chheang Vannarith

The foreign policy of small states is constrained by the size and location of the country and its natural resources and population. Small states are more vulnerable to external changes and shocks, the level of dependency on external sources for security and development, and the perception of their national roles.

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Size does matter for small states. They find it difficult to have favourable foreign policy outcomes than larger nations. To make up for this, small states tend to focus on their immediate geographic area and economic diplomacy, with an emphasis on international rules and norms, while promoting multilateralism and international cooperation.

The primary objective of small states is to ensure their survival and strengthen their position and relevance in a fluid or even anarchic international system. The fast-evolving international system together with global power shifts is posing more challenges for small states to adjust and realise their foreign policy objective. Hence they must play smart and be innovative in order to achieve their foreign policy goals.

Cambodia is thriving to stay relevant in the international system through the implementation of a dual-track diplomacy: bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. Recently, Cambodia has taken a relatively proactive approach in strengthening multilateralism and a rules-based international order as these two norms are under stress and threat caused by unilateralism and protectionism. The US retreat from multilateral institutions has caused severe disruptions and turbulence in the international liberal order.

Cambodia’s foreign policy is at a critical juncture as the country remains at the frontline of geopolitical rivalry in the Mekong region – a new growth center and strategic frontier of Asia. Geopolitical risks are heightening as major powers are vying to create their own sphere of influence in the region. The Kingdom is very much vulnerable to becoming a pawn of major power politics if foreign policy is not managed carefully. The evolving geopolitical dynamics thus demands that Cambodian leaders be more adaptive, flexible, resilient, and pragmatic.

As geopolitical risks and vulnerabilities rise further, Cambodia’s foreign policy options could be more constrained. The strategic space for Cambodia to manoeuver is getting narrower. Once geopolitical power rivalry becomes clear-cut and all-out, Cambodia could lose its balance and would be structurally forced to hop on the bandwagon of a major power for its survival.

At the moment, Cambodia is pursuing a light hedging strategy and striving to strengthen multi-lateralism through an omi-enmeshment strategy – a diversification strategy to create an interlocking network of partners with common economic and security interests.

Hedging is the best strategic option for Cambodia, especially in dealing with uncertainty. However, implementing this strategy is a huge challenge. It requires strategic articulation on certain issues and strategic ambiguity on others. Even sometimes it requires to have contradictory views on certain issues but it must be implemented smartly in order not to lose trust with any major power.

The key challenge now for Cambodia is how it could gain trust from all major powers. At the moment, Cambodia’s relations with the US faces a serious trust deficit. It is urgent that Cambodia and the US find common grounds and explore innovative pathways to restore trust and normalize their bilateral relationship.

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Economic pragmatism, strategic diversification, a denial to a regional hegemonic power, and regime legitimization are the key components of a hedging strategy. ASEAN as a regional grouping is an important shield for Cambodia and the group’s other members to neutralize and cushion the adverse effects created by rivalry between the major powers.

Yet ASEAN faces the risk of being marginalized by two competing institutional frameworks – China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the US-initiated Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Unless ASEAN member states are able to stay united and forge a common foreign policy position, they risk becoming the proxy states of major powers. Consequently, the region will be divided into two diametric poles: the pro-China camp versus the pro-US camp.

To avert these risks, ASEAN must be more innovative and adopt a bolder approach to protect common regional interests. Just playing it safe and keeping a low profile is not a solution. ASEAN must be bold enough to stand up against any major power that intends to build its hegemonic dominence in the region at the expense of the core interests of its member countries.

Cambodia is of the view that ASEAN driven multilateral institutions and mechanisms play a critical role in constructing an open and inclusive regional order that can accommodate all major powers. ASEAN is widely regarded as the main vehicle for its members to engage and integrate major powers, and hopefully shape the behaviour of major powers.

Engaging major powers is a viable strategic option for small states. Engagement is a means to integration. Small states like Cambodia can partially contribute to constructing an international order by engaging and integrating major powers into a rules-based international system and getting them to assume responsible leadership role in multilateral institutions.

Dr. Chheang Vannarith is a board member and Senior Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP).