‘New’ or ‘old’ Sabah in New Malaysia?


July 18, 2018

‘New’ or ‘old’ Sabah in New Malaysia?

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

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Congratulations, Sir. May God Bless and Guide You

COMMENT | On the streets of Kota Kinabalu, there is open delight of the appointment of one of their own, Richard Malanjum, as the new chief justice. Across the diverse multiethnic mosaic of the state, many respond with the phrase “I feel Malaysian.”

Given the continued resentments of unfairness of the federal government that percolate, these sentiments highlight that inclusiveness and appointments based on merit do resonate, much more than the handful of narrow-minded, peninsula-based views featured in the media. Sabahans, in their open and optimistic style, celebrate the successes of their own across communities, as arguably the silent majority in the country does as a whole.

The question of the federal-state relationship and treatment of different ethnic communities were very much at the heart of why Sabah voted for Parti Warisan Sabah and Pakatan Harapan parties – and why they not only were critical for the coalition to form the numbers for their majority sworn into Parliament yesterday, but why there is a new Warisan coalition government in the state.

While acknowledging it is still early days, this article focuses on whether there are signs of change in Sabah, and suggests that the ‘old’ Sabah will constrain the ability of the new government to bring about meaningful changes in the short-term – but that in the longer-term, there are indications that a new political landscape is being formed with the emergence of a ‘new’ Sabah.

Local dynamics shaped GE14

The story of the electoral outcome and the new government in Sabah is quite different from the national picture. 1MDB and former prime minister Najib Abdul Razak, for example, were less central than the perceived corruption of the family of Musa Aman (photo) and their continued hold on power.

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Slating five members of the Aman family as candidates in GE14 did not go down well with many in the electorate. After 15 years in power, Musa and his cartel of interests still play a major role in the Sabah economy.

GST was an important issue, seen as a federally imposed tax that did not help the local economy. The tourist tax is seen the same way.

State rights and representation embedded in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) were also mobilised and remain so, as Sabahans expect a meaningful review of the federal-state relationship with greater respect, inclusion, and political autonomy and control over their own resources and economy. A crucial element in the review is protections for religious freedom, as the impositions on freedom are seen to be driven by developments in the peninsula.

Local racial differences, particularly differences between the rights of immigrants and resentments of the indigenous Kadazandusun Murut communities, played out in many local contests. This made the results in a handful of seats quite close, and brought to the post-GE14 the reality that, like the Malay support deficit that Harapan faces at the national level, the Warisan government faces the same from many of the Kadazandusun Murut, especially in more rural and semi-rural areas.

This has been ameliorated somewhat by the addition of United Pasokmomogun Kadazandusun Murut Organisation (Upko) into the state coalition post-GE14, but it does not take away from the fact that most Kadazandusun Murut did not vote for Warisan or Harapan parties. The political swing that took place was largely one along the east coast of Sabah and in the urban areas, representing primarily a Bajau/Suluk victory supported by ethnic Chinese and urban-based Kadazans.

Nevertheless, a majority of Sabahans showed that they were open to change, as they had been in 1985 when they voted in the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) government. Many of the same political demands for rights and representation were echoed, but the results reflect a different social base of mobilisation than in the past.

Legacies of the ‘old’ Sabah

Given Sabah’s mixed experience with a new state government in the past, expectation of change is relatively low. They place more hope in change coming about through a new federal government – namely, a new federal-state relationship that might emerge – and pressures for reform at the national level that will hopefully extend into the state.

The nexus between the federal and state is intertwined with the issues that make the management of the state so challenging. Three legacies in particular complicate the Sabah context.

First, the corruption in Sabah is deep, extending from business to the (mis)management of its borders. Decades of exploitation of the state’s resources by its political elites have bequeathed a governance mess. Early investigations of the state’s finances echo the financial mismanagement and indebtedness left by the Najib administration at the federal level, with allegedly millions missing and foundations and other state bodies plundered.

Sadly, this pattern of graft has happened all too often in Sabah, but what distinguishes the current situation is the sheer amount of greed involved. Chief Minister Shafie Apdal (photo) has inherited limited state coffers and a bureaucracy seen as tainted. Graft in the state has been accentuated by its large resource economy and rapid land development.

‘Contributions’ and ‘payoffs’ are everyday practices. Much of what has happened in the past few months have focused on assessment and clean-up. There have been early efforts to address illegal logging, but these are slow-going, given the scope of the problem.

Corruption is also connected to the thorny and sensitive issue of illegal immigration. This problem has its roots in the 1970s, in the era of United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) and later Sabah People’s United Front (Berjaya), but came to a head in ‘Project IC’ during Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s first tenure as prime minister. The systematic granting of citizenship to foreigners in the state was the subject of the Royal Commission of Inquiry in 2013, which provided recognition but little in the way of solutions.

Today, illegal immigration directly involves an estimated quarter of Sabah’s 3.9 million population, with thousands of stateless people, especially children, lacking access to education and basic healthcare. The exact number involved is unknown, as there are persistent concerns of continued streams of undocumented immigrants who are seen to undercut wages and have transformed the social fabric. Resentments run as deep as the corruption, if not deeper. The issue affects the state as a whole, its social fabric, economy and security.

The Warisan government has promised to move toward ameliorating the problem, but will need meaningful cooperation from the federal government to address underlying concerns about immigration, citizenship and the financial and social costs.

Many of those tied to the Bajau/Suluk community are expecting the Warisan government to act, given their electoral support in GE14, while others are anxious that solutions will be exclusionary and inadequate.

Mahathir has an opportunity to address a serious problem he himself exacerbated in his first term by working with a Warisan partner that has its roots within the migrant community, to move towards a more just Sabah and improve its welfare. Now is perhaps the best time in decades.

Closely related to the two legacy issues above is the incidence of poverty and economic vulnerability. Of all the states in the country, Sabah has the highest rate and numbers living in poverty. Officially, 2.9 percent of citizens live in poverty, according to statistics published in 2016, but in practice this number is much larger, with sharp income disparities and relatively low wages.

The federal government is often blamed, but the responsibility should be shared by state leaders as well, who have not done enough to address inadequate roads to Pitas, isolation in Pensiangan, nutritional deficits in Keningau and insufficient water supply across the state.

The new state government has only two of its leaders with experience in government, but many of its ministers are sincere. Nevertheless, there are grouses among the public that there have been few deliverables to date.

Reducing economic disparities needs to be a priority, as should integrating social justice with a plan for the economy. There are ideas percolating regarding localisation, but to date it is not clear what the priorities of the new Sabah government are, and if the team as a whole is working together.

Special care will be needed in managing the area of infrastructure – historically one of the more lucrative areas of graft – to assure that this is not a vehicle for further wealth aggrandisement and party patronage.

The emerging ‘new’ Sabah

If what the Warisan-led government faces is indeed challenging, changes in political conditions offer promise.

A younger generation of Sabahans are open to embrace change, eager to build their state and embrace new ideas. Nearly a third – 31.3 percent – of the population is under 40, offering energy and momentum for change. Younger voters were an integral part of the Warisan-Harapan victory.

Civil society in Sabah has grown and is eager to be a partner in bringing about greater prosperity. There are a plethora of local civil-society partnerships in education and the environment that can be strengthened. The sense of state nationalism that put the new government into office is a strong foundation to build on, one that can be embraced. Capitalising on this goodwill is essential.

Musa’s flight abroad has also brought forward an inevitable development – the end of UMNO in Sabah. Warisan has taken over UMNO’s political base on the east coast, decimated the latter’s base throughout the state, and cut off its access to the main ingredient of its political survival – money.

While UMNO still holds support among some Sabahans – with some of this base tied to the old Usno and Berjaya days – its strength came from its ties to the federal and state governments, relationships that it no longer holds. Already, four leaders have moved and hundreds of ordinary members are flocking away from the party.

Sabah UMNO faces the same problem that the party is beset with nationally – a leader refusing to leave gracefully. The money is on Musa not returning to be sworn in as an assemblyperson before mid-August, which will trigger a by-election and render moot his electoral petition for state leadership.

Musa and his economic cartel remain powerful, however, and limit the ability for alternative patronage networks to form. He – and others in Sabah UMNO – have the shadow of scandals and potential MAAC questioning hanging over them. As things stand, it is likely that UMNO supporters will morph into a locally-based party, rather than hold onto the baggage that Musa left them.

The pattern of political engagement in Sabah is also shifting. Traditionally, the state has been governed by elites and party warlords, who have served to distribute patronage with ordinary citizens getting the raw end of the deal. This sort of political patronage has been failing and in the longer term will be difficult to sustain.

The Warisan government will be forced to perform and yield deliverables as it is not in the same financial position to follow the previous model of engagement – at least not to the same degree.

It will also be forced to meet the expectations of change, to address the increasing demands of a greater informed population. This offers pressure, but simultaneously opportunity – funds now can move less into the hands of politicians and into solving problems and improving the well-being of Sabahans.

A new social contract can evolve for Sabahans. The promise of a ‘new’ Sabah is real, despite the legacies of old.


BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is titled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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

History: From a Burmese prison to Tunku’s home


July 13, 2018

Note: I will away from Phnom Penh from July 14- 17 and being outstation, where I will not have access to a computer, I am taking a break from blogging. But I will back soon enough.–Din Merican

History: From a Burmese prison to Tunku’s home

Image result for Photo Journalist Kim Gooi
 Photojournalist Kim Gooi

 

MALAYSIANS KINI | In 1977, the Bangkok-based photojournalist Kim Gooi was sentenced to a year in a Burmese prison.

He was said to have violated immigration laws after he slipped into the rebellious Shan State. He thought he would die in jail.

Death was common in Burmese prisons, the “hell on Earth” he describes in “The Poet of Keng Tung Jail,” published in 2013. The book chronicles the horrors he faced on the inside, along with poems written by a fellow inmate and some of Kim’s photographs.

Yet prison was also the place where Kim would meet those who would eventually lead him to Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Independence.

To Kim, the encounter with Tunku in 1978 was “a gift from above,” one of many recollections which he contributes to “Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking,” a 270-page compilation of anecdotes and essays by Malaysians about the country’s first prime minister.

While in prison, Kim was asked to pass a message to Tunku by a Burmese Muslim leader from Rangoon. At the time, 200,000 Muslims had just fled to Bangladesh due to persecution by Burmese authorities. It was also when Tunku served as the secretary-general of the World Islamic Council.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haji is No. 1 and will always be Numero Uno in  our pantheon of Malaysian Leaders

Kim was uncertain if Tunku would meet a “nobody” like him, but he took his chances and wrote to Malaysian Islamic Welfare Organisation (Perkim) anyway, as Tunku was head of the Penang branch.

“To my surprise, Perkim replied after a few days. They even asked for my mugshot as they wanted to print my letter to Tunku which detailed the plight of the Burmese Muslims,” Kim said in an interview with Malaysiakini.

He then managed to get the phone number of Tunku’s secretary, and fixed a date for a meeting.

“These are all very happy occurrences. I felt rewarded. A small occurrence, but this was something that filled my heart (with joy),” Kim recalls.

Image result for Photo Journalist Kim Gooi with Tunku Abdul Rahman

https://kimgooi.wordpress.com/category/home/

“I didn’t know what to expect as I’d never met Tunku before. There was a bit of apprehension on my part as I waited for him in his office,” said Kim, who has written for various news outlets in the US, UK, Australia and Malaysia, including New Straits Times, Harakah and Malaysiakini.

Kim couldn’t take his eyes off the mementos and gifts in Tunku’s office, including several tongkats and a tiger skin rug.

“Then Tunku came down, shook my hand and offered me coffee and cigarettes. I realised it was so easy to talk to him, there were no airs about him.”

Tunku was a “gold mine of information” and had a talent for making people feel at home. As Kim recalls, Tunku was generous, and had great empathy for common folk.

And so it was to his delight that soon after, he got the chance to meet Tunku again.

Kim’s passport was still under Malaysian custody. He had a new job waiting for him in Bangkok, but he knew it could be months, maybe years, before he’d get his passport back, as a friend in a similar situation said it would.

An officer at the Penang Immigration Department suggested that he ask Tunku for help. It didn’t occur to Kim that Tunku still wielded a lot of influence in the government.

And true enough, Tunku issued him with a letter of support. With that letter, Kim was able to get his passport from Immigration. His career was saved.

“Tunku was my saviour, redeemer, he saved my life and career and gave me a second chance.”

Since then, Kim has had a special bond with Tunku. When the Kedah prince visited Bangkok, Kim helped to round up a host of local and foreign journalists to attend his press conference.

Kim loved attending events organised by Tunku, like his birthdays, which he said was a real “sight to behold.”

“There were lots of Malaysian delicacies, but there were also a multiracial mix of guests at his parties, and lots of children, Tunku loved children. He was more than just a politician.”

Today, Kim lives in a modest terrace house in Tanjung Bungah with his family. He’s maintained a bit of his “hippie” lifestyle. Books and photographs lay scattered on the floor of his living room. His tiny garden is overgrown with plants and grass.

Dressed in a flowery orange shirt and sarong, he gives off the vibe of someone who’s seen it all. Now 70, Kim is an ardent practitioner of Chinese art and health. He still plays the blues on his harmonica, and still lives by his Taoist beliefs.

Here, in his own words, Kim talks about how certain world events shaped his life and career.

I AM INSPIRED BY TAOISM AND CHINESE SCHOLARSHIP AND CULTURE. Some may call me a “Chinese chauvinist,” but behind all these teachings is a universal humanitarianism. It is the only philosophy that can save mankind.

I STARTED MY CAREER IN JOURNALISM during the height of the hippie era. It was an incredible time of hope and optimism for the world.

MY CAREER WAS VERY MUCH INFLUENCED BY MUSIC, POETRY, PHILOSOPHY, AND DRUGS. It was all things combined. The hip word then was that these things were “groovy” and “cool.” I was called a hippie since my days at the polytechnic in Singapore, as I often wore blue jeans.

IN MY CAREER, I HAVE MET MANY WRITERS, SINGERS, POETS who introduced me to the world of photojournalism. They read a lot, and I learned from them. They also taught me how to travel the world, take photos, and get paid for it.

HIPPIES WERE FANTASTIC. They were highly educated and thoughtful people, and totally disillusioned with American culture, which we should emulate today, as it is the most rotten culture.

PEOPLE OF MY GENERATION ADORED THE USA. But from the hippies I learned the other side of the story. Look what they have done to the whole world, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and with the secret bombings in Laos.

BEING A JOURNALIST INTENSIFIED ALL THESE FEELINGS. I came face to face with American hypocrisy and lies, but at the same time, my experiences also led me to see that they have the “best” and “worst” the world has to offer.

THESE DAYS, JOURNALISM IN THIS COUNTRY IS VERY SAD. The world of journalism which I grew up with is no more. In my time, evidence mattered, and statements published were real, but today, you don’t know what is, with all the fake news on the internet.

From Merdeka Day to Malaysia Day, Malaysians Kini will feature personalities known to Tunku, as well as their memories about him. Their detailed recollections are featured in the book “Dialog: Thoughts on Tunku’s Timeless Thinking.”


MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on Malaysians you should know.

Previously featured:

War has no victors, says last surviving WWII vet

The one-man Malay literature archive

The last of generations of storytellers

Sarawak’s sape travels across the South China Sea

Art for the people – Manjat’s work transcends controversy

Economic Pragmatism and Regional Economic Integration: The Case of Cambodia


July 12, 2018

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Economic Pragmatism and Regional Economic Integration: The Case of Cambodia

by Chheang Vannarith

Chheang Vannarith, Visiting Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, explains that “International economic cooperation and regional integration are key principles of Cambodia’s foreign policy.”

Asia Pacific Bulletin, No. 429

Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy has been chiefly shaped and driven by “economic pragmatism,” meaning the alignment of foreign policy with economic development interests. The Cambodian government’s two main approaches to regional economic integration are (1) transforming the international environment into a source of national development and (2) diversifying strategic partnerships based on the calculation of economic interests. International economic cooperation and regional integration are key principles of Cambodia’s foreign policy, which emphasizes shared development and win-win cooperation.

As a less developed country in the region, Cambodia has a strong interest in promoting and realizing a more inclusive, fair, and just process of regional community-building that narrows the development gap and implements people-centered regional cooperation. Linking regional integration with national economic policies is critical to sustaining dynamic economic development.  Key tasks include improving regulatory harmonization and harnessing and synergizing various regional integration initiatives.  It is particularly important to link ASEAN community blueprints with sub-regional cooperation mechanisms such as the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) program and Mekong-Lancang Mekong Cooperation (MLC).

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Samdech Prime Minister Hun Sen–Father of Cambodia’s Socio-Economic Development

The Cambodian government perceives regional integration as a means to further advance its national development interests. ASEAN, GMS and MLC are the main gateways for Cambodia to reach out to the region and beyond. The ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint 2025 aims to achieve five goals: (1) an integrated and cohesive economy; (2) a competitive, innovative and dynamic ASEAN; (3) enhanced connectivity and sectoral cooperation; (4) a resilient, people-oriented, and people-centered ASEAN; and (5) a global ASEAN. GMS operates under the principles of non-interference, consultation and consensus, mutual interest and equality, win-win cooperation, shared development, and common destiny. GMS gives emphasis to practical or functional cooperation, aiming at achieving concrete results in poverty reduction. MLC promotes regional connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, trade and investment facilitation, customs and quality inspection, financial cooperation, water resource management, agriculture, forestry, environmental protection, and poverty reduction.

In the Rectangular Strategy Phase III, issued in 2013, a five-year strategic development plan, the Cambodian government set out a vision that states, “by the end of the first half of the 21st century, Cambodia is to reclaim full ownership of its own destiny, while becoming a real partner in regional and global affairs.” It further states that Cambodia is now “actively integrating itself into the regional and global architecture, and playing a dynamic role in all regional and global affairs on equal footing and with equal rights as other nations.”

The Cambodian government stresses several key benefits of regional integration, including regional peace and stability, the development of both hard and soft infrastructure, energy and digital connectivity, free and effective movement of trade and investment, human capital development, the expansion of regional production bases and networks, and stronger regional cooperation and coordination in agricultural development. Strengthening regional cooperation — especially in the Mekong region in rice production and trade facilitation — would contribute to improving farmers’ standard of living. Creating an association of rice-exporting countries will strengthen the global position of the Mekong countries.

Although there have been remarkable achievements over the last two decades in forging regional cooperation, integration, and connectivity, there are several challenges that Cambodia needs to overcome. Those challenges include socio-economic inequality within the country and the region, weak institutions and governance, and the lack of national capacity in implementing regional projects. Income disparity within the regions and localities contributes to political instability, trans-boundary crimes, illegal labor migration, and human trafficking.

Institution-building based on good governance remains a key challenge to the effective implementation of regional policies. The national capacity of each member country of the GMS in transforming and integrating its regional development agenda into a national development action plan is limited. The lack of resources in realizing regional development projects requires more investment and participation from the private sector.

Local government plays a significant role in regional cooperation and integration. Recognizing the role of local government in socio-economic development, in 2008 the government adopted two Organic Laws and established a National Committee for the Democratic Development of Subnational Administrations. These measures are aimed at decentralizing power and creating a sub-national governance system. Delegating power and resources to local governments at the commune, district and provincial levels not only contributes to national development but also connects governments with neighboring countries, especially in the border areas.  For instance, the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle was formed in 2002 to link 13 border provinces of the three countries.

A major challenge is that both the central government and local governments in Cambodia lack sufficient institutional capacity and resources to effectively implement the country’s regional cooperation and integration agenda which includes the budget infrastructure connectivity projects. It is therefore necessary to forge a closer partnership between the public and private sectors, especially in infrastructure development and connectivity.  Decentralization, delegating more authority to local governments, can facilitate public-private partnerships and stimulate national public administrative reform. Cambodia’s Ministry of Economy and Finance crafted a policy paper on public-private partnership for public investment project management, 2016-2020, which aims to “create an enabling environment for promoting the participation of the private sector and financial institutions in public investments.”

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

To enhance Cambodia’s competitiveness, and thereby to improve the depth and quality of its participation in regional economic integration, Prime Minister Hun Sen said at the GMS Business Summit in Hanoi in March 2018 that it was necessary to strengthen efforts in regional economic integration and connectivity through prioritized areas of finance, economy, e-commerce and cross-border trade.

The seize the opportunities arising from fourth industrial revolution and digital integration in ASEAN the Cambodian government is focusing on four pillars.  According to a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen at the 2018 Cambodia Outlook Conference in Phnom Penh, these are:

(1) Developing a skilled workforce by emphasizing education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and technical and vocational training, supporting linkages between education and enterprises, and creating a national accreditation system.

(2) Promoting a research and development network, a high-quality physical infrastructure, and a public-private partnership mechanism to support the establishment of research and development, the facilitation of information sharing and technology transfer, and the penetration of foreign markets.

(3) Further strengthening institutional, policy and regulatory frameworks by bolstering the implementation of intellectual property law, related regulations, and other regulatory frameworks in order to encourage and support entrepreneurs and scientists to innovate and sell their technology products and services.

(4) Inspiring public participation in the science and technology sector, promoting public awareness of the importance of STEM, and nurturing the talents of its population.

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Young and Better Educated Cambodians

As a small and open economy, Cambodia has taken a proactive approach in promoting regional integration based on the principle of win-win cooperation.  The government has taken measures to diversify the sources of growth by investing in knowledge-based economy and strengthen public-private partnerships. However, the lack of institutional capacity at both national and local levels remains a key constraint.

What are our Malaysian values,Dr. Mahathir?


July 11, 2018

What are our Malaysian values,Dr. Mahathir?

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for political islam in ‘new malaysia’

What happened to his Bangsa Malaysia? It became Bangsat Malaysia. Let us get real and ask ourselves whether Mahathir 2.0 a reformer that we make him out to be.

COMMENT | Is Pakatan Harapan(Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in particular) deliberately insulting our intelligence, and lying to us, about a foreigner, who condones the hatred of non-Muslims, and who has been given Malaysian Permanent Residency (PR), and allowed to remain in the country?

This is not fair! Malaysian children born out of wedlock, the Orang Asli who delay the registration of the births of their children, and children born to illiterate estate dwelling Malaysians, are all deemed stateless.

For many, GE14 was a declaration of our desire to be ruled by common sense and the rule of law. Determined to postpone criticism until the 100-day mark has been difficult, especially with the development of disturbing trends.

How can the women in Harapan sit still when, in 21st Century Malaysia, child marriages still occur? The 11-year-old who was married to a 41-year-old man is not the first to create headlines.

Image result for Wan Azizah and Nurul Izzah Anwar

Would Harapan MPs condemn their own children to a similar fate? Will they stop hiding behind the Muslim man’s assertion that it is his right to marry an underage child and have four wives, even though he can barely afford to feed himself?

Malaysians did not vote Harapan for our MPs to allow JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia) to keep its bloated budget and continue its divisive work. Malaysia must stop exporting extremism. Perhaps, Muslim Harapan MPs need reminding that they can be kicked out of office, in GE-15.

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Malaysia will put you in jail: Don’t waste our time, just plea bargain and go to jail

When in the history of Malaysian justice has a criminal been allowed to barter his bail? When has a criminal been able to manipulate the language used in the High Courts? The disgraced former Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak appears to be calling the shots from behind the scenes. Why?

Malaysia is perhaps the only nation where many of its citizens are afraid of their own nationality. At the height of Najib’s 1MDB scandal, many Malaysians, when overseas, were ashamed to admit they were Malaysian, as Najib represented corruption and a complete lack of moral fibre.

At home, we seldom talk about Malaysian values. We only refer to Malay, Chinese or Indian values, many of which are common to all the cultures, like family ties and filial piety.

Rebuilding Malaysia is about giving people hope

It took a lot of courage for many Malaysians, to take a leap in the dark and vote for Harapan in GE-14, thus ending 61 years of oppression.

Phase I in rebuilding Malaysia, was about giving people hope. That was the easy part. Phase II, which is currently experiencing a multitude of teething problems, is re-establishing Malaysian values. It is long term work.

In Phase I, we ejected Najib and UMNO-Baru from Putrajaya. It was about giving people control of their own destiny because change is possible, if we acknowledge that the first step towards change is always the most difficult.

In Phase II, we need to forge a Malaysian identity, and for that we need to re-establish Malaysian values; the values that have been eroded by 61 years of corruption and criminality.

We should try to live by Malaysian values in our daily lives. We have a common aspiration and we should derive our Malaysian values from the various aspects of our rich multi-cultural heritage.

If we were to ask the average Malay about his definition of Malaysian values, he would probably refer to Arabic, Islamic values.

For the Malays, religion can be a stumbling block to the forging of a common Malaysian identity. We have become more Arabicised and adopted Arabic phrases and clothing, because we confuse the adoption of Arab culture with being a better Muslim. We crave to be the perfect Muslim and become worse humans because of this. Our interpretation of the religion, has corrupted our morals. Don’t blame the religion.

Today’s Malay is blinded by materialism and the promotion of the self. Can he remember the core values of his grandparents’ generation? The community spirit, the engagement and interaction with people of other cultures, are largely missing. What happened to having a bit of fun, like dancing the joget at a wedding, attending a rock concert, or performing a ballet, and not feeling guilty about it?

Many Muslims have been so cowed by JAKIM, that they are afraid to speak out against it, even though they hate the organisation; just as they were afraid to speak out against UMNO-Baru, which they also hated, because they knew it was oppressing them.

Under UMNO-Baru, the Malays were force-fed a diet of quasi-superiority and bumiputeraism. They looked down on non-Malays, even though this group thrived and became successful by a combination of thrift, true grit, hard work, struggle and sacrifice.

In many parts of the world, including Malaysia, the young have been exposed to Western lifestyles. This has eroded our own core Asian values, like personal sacrifice, and family ties.

Two of the five “Singaporean values” are “putting the nation before community, and society above self” as well as making the “family as the basic unit of society”.

“Japanese values” are steeped in family, work, thinking of others, doing one’s best, and social interactions.

“English values” are incorporated in democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs.

The forging of Malaysian values does not diminish our individual cultural values. On the contrary, Malaysian values should help bring down barriers and forge closer ties with the other communities.

In the spirit of the new Malaysia, let us re-establish our Malaysian values. Those values are familiar to all those who grew up before the 1980s.


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

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

‘New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated


July 10, 2018

‘New Malaysia’ makes Singapore look outdated

by Dr.Bridget Welsh

https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/New-Malaysia-makes-Singapore-look-outdated

Mahathir’s triumph exposes shortcomings of city-state’s one-party rule

Over two months after Mahathir Mohamad’s election in Malaysia, the political reverberations for Singapore show no signs of fading.

The new Malaysian Prime Minister’s reviews of the key water-supply deal with Singapore and of the planned costly high-speed rail link from Kuala Lumpur to the city-state are only visible signs of a different — and more charged — Singapore-Malaysia relationship.

The key problem for Lee Hsien Loong’s People’s Action Party (PAP) is that developments north of the Johor-Singapore Causeway have exposed vulnerabilities at home. The PAP has become the longest-governing incumbent party in Southeast Asia, and it no longer has undemocratic immediate neighbors. Mahathir’s Pakatan victory mirrors the PAP’s worst fear: its own possible defeat.

Worse yet, some of the factors that contributed to the loss of Barisan Nasional (National Front) are also present in Singapore. The first is the challenge of leadership renewal. Over the past three years, the PAP has been locked in a battle over who should succeed Lee, 66, as prime minister, with the fourth generation (4G) leaders on display.

Among the leading contenders are Chan Chun Sing, the Minister for Trade and Industry and former army chief, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, former Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore and Ong Ye Kung, the Minister of Education and Second Defense Minister.

The problem is that these leaders are 4G without the connectivity. They are in a highly elitist party, largely unable to relate to ordinary Singaporeans. 4G leaders also suffer from the same issue that haunted the National Front, namely they are embedded in the system. Emerging from within the party and government, particularly the military, they are from the system and are seen to be for the system. The intertwining of the PAP and the bureaucratic state has created singular agendas and resulted in a distancing from the electorate and its needs.

For the first two decades of Singapore’s existence after independence in 1959, PAP secured all the seats in the legislative assembly. Since 1984, opposition politicians have won seats despite what the government’s critics describe as the sustained political harassment of opponents and the repression of public protests, combined with the alleged manipulation of electoral boundaries.

In the last election in 2015, PAP secured 83 out of 89 seats with 70% of the vote. Since that resounding victory, more conservative forces within the party have gained ground. Despite their popularity, reform-minded leaders such as Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Tan Chuan-Jin have been pushed aside in favor of conservative alternatives. At the same time, Singapore’s system has moved in a more authoritarian direction, with curbs on social media and attacks on civil society activists.

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Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Prime Minister Lee, the son of Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, is making the same mistake Najib did after the 2013 polls. He is depriving the system of a necessary valve for dissent, and moving the country away from needed reforms. He has failed to recognize that greater openness and policy reforms were integral parts of the PAP’s 2015 victory. The dominant mode has been to attack the Worker’s Party, its leaders and other opposition figures. These moves do not show confidence in a more open and mature political system — or even in the PAP itself.

At the same time, rather than being an asset to his party, Lee is becoming more of a liability. This is the same trajectory that occurred for Najib. Questions have been raised about Lee’s leadership from the very public “Oxleygate” row with his siblings over their father’s home to the managing of Temasek, the republic’s sovereign wealth fund, by his wife Ho Ching.

Singapore’s handling of scandal over 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the Malaysian state-run investment fund which saw millions of dollars siphoned out on Najib’s watch, will be in the more immediate bilateral spotlight; assessments will be made as to whether Singapore responded effectively to the alleged malfeasance and whether in fact Singapore’s purchase of 1MDB bonds strengthened the fund.

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Meanwhile, in Malaysia, Mahathir’s readiness to deal with 1MDB signals a willingness not only to clean up the system but to begin much-needed economic reform. Singaporeans will see obvious parallels with their own country’s economic policies.

Singapore’s gross domestic product growth is expected to reach 3% this year, which is a significant drop from a decade ago. Importantly, much of this growth is being driven by public spending (as occurred in Malaysia under Najib), notably on infrastructure. New jobs are not being created in Singapore at the same high rate as in the past. Even more constraining, PAP continues to rely on immigration as a driver of growth, failing to move on from using a combination of low-cost labor and imported foreign talent to expand the economy. Population pressures remain real for ordinary Singaporeans, who continue to feel displaced. They are disappointed with the PAP’s tenacious grasp on old and unpopular models for growth.

The pendulum of discontent has swung against the PAP. The government opted to increase water prices by 30% in 2017, and this year indicated it will raise the goods and services tax (GST) from 7% to 9%. The electricity tariff has risen by 16.8% to date this year alone. The cost of living remains high; Singapore has topped the Economist Intelligence Unit’s list of most expensive cities to live in for five years running. High costs are compounded by persistent inequalities that are increasingly entrenched. The Gini coefficient is at 0.46, but income gaps are deeply felt. Many locals feel they are being impoverished on account of foreigners. The social reform measures introduced for the “pioneer generation” (people born before 1950), and increased handouts before the 2015 polls, are being seen as inadequate to address the current social needs of disadvantaged communities.

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Changes in Malaysia have reduced Singapore’s regional comparative advantage. It is not just about greater democracy and changes in governance next door but also the attention “New Malaysia” draws to how Singapore has remained locked in the past, moving away from embracing an alternative future.–Bridget Welsh

By comparison, Malaysia has removed the unpopular GST, and reform pressures for addressing contracting social mobility and inequality are substantial. Malaysia is now seen as a potential role model in areas of governance. For example, greater transparency and attention to inclusivity are evident in the multi-ethnicity of new government appointees. Singapore’s 2017 Malay-only presidency contest in contrast sent a signal of exclusion and an embrace of race-based politics. This is being compounded by the fact that Malaysia is being seen as bucking regional authoritarian trends, promising substantive political reforms and the removal of many of the draconian laws that Singapore has on its books.

Changes in Malaysia have reduced Singapore’s regional comparative advantage. It is not just about greater democracy and changes in governance next door but also the attention “New Malaysia” draws to how Singapore has remained locked in the past, moving away from embracing an alternative future.

Bridget Welsh is associate professor of political science at John Cabot University, Rome

 

Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’


July 9, 2018

Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

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Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Today marks two months since the May elections, coming after a dramatic week of appointments, an arrest, and a nauseating court gag order.

These headlines mark the arrival of important changes taking place in Malaysia, in governance and in the adoption of new political positions. Key is whether actors in their new roles are genuinely willing to engage in departures from the past.

In looking at two important developments this week – the new cabinet and the first major response of UMNO as a political opposition – Malaysia’s past offers important insights to the development ahead.

Newbie cabinet

Malaysia’s new cabinet makes history not only for the fact that it is comprised of new faces from a new coalition, but it is made up of a record number of professionals and non-scandal tainted individuals.

This combination of talent and fresh eyes offers great promise, and over the past week since the new ministers and deputy ministers took up their appointments, there has been a variety of positive messages sent from open tender to much-needed reviews of contracts.

The appointees are taking their tasks seriously, and while there are steep learning curves ahead, the resolve shown reinforces the sense of confidence of voters last May.

Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.

Ministers can set examples in pushing for reform in everyday governance, as the bureaucracy should not be seen as a bastion for patronage and a centre of corruption.

One of the most important and welcome shifts of the early years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the refocus of the civil service on serving the public. This same administration also offers another lesson, as it was during this period that corruption became more entrenched within the civil service itself. This was primarily a product of an inadequate oversight of bureaucrats and poor management.

Civil servants need strong reminders that they are there to serve the public, not themselves or their political bosses. Good governance practices need to be incentivised from the onset.

The ongoing necessary removal of senior leadership within the bureaucracy and restructuring/consolidation of departments is positive, but it is stronger if accompanied by more fundamental and decisive shifts in norms and practices.

Rethinking representation

One important reframing of governance is to stop seeing the ministers as representing one ethnic community, party or state.

Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where the dominant counting is based on race. The cabinet selection process has been largely one of political accommodation, rather than focused on the leadership needed to resolve the problems that ordinary Malaysians face.

 

Political parties have been seen to narrowly focused on their numbers within the cabinet, with the usual petty grouses. This sends the message that the position is about themselves, their respective power, rather than serving the public. It is not a surprise that there has been public outrage with the position complainers.

The challenge ahead is to move beyond numbers, to move from nominal to substantive representation, a situation where a minister is seen to be representing people not for who she/he is, but for what he/she does; for an Indian Malaysian minister to be seen as equally representing all communities be they in Sabah, Johor or Kelantan, for an Islamic education minister to be seen as advocating and improving the education of all Malaysians irrespective of faith, and for racial and sectarian politics to be given the back seat to promoting the nation.

The Merdeka era of the early 1960s offers important lessons here. It was a time when talent was prioritised in appointees, both within and outside of government. The sincere goal of building Malaysia overshadowed narrow interests. There was a willingness to bring in appointees from the outside based on skills. Malaysia’s bureaucracy urgently needs to strengthen its implementation capacity.

In this time of transformation, there is an opportunity to harness the goodwill and strong underlying national commitment to public service by bringing in more technocratic expertise.

Repeat offender

That sense of public service was, however, not on show with the events around this week’s arrest of the former prime minister. The drama shows clearly that the de facto new leader of the opposition is none other than Najib himself. He overshadows Umno’s new President, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as Najib’s leadership continues to haunt the party.

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Stop lamenting and worry not, when the time comes, you will have plenty to do.

Once again, Najib has rallied the party faithful to his defence. The thuggish elements in the party have returned as the dominant public face of UMNO, adopting a narrative of racial confrontation. Najib’s battle for himself reveals what has long been clear – that his own personal future is more important than that of his party or the future of the country.

There are important lessons from his years in office that also merit recalling. Najib’s administration excelled in using the system to his advantage, particularly using the rule by law to stay in power. His approach was one focused on division and polarising Malaysia, rather than bringing the country together. All tactics, no matter how ruthless, were fair game.

A common practice was to obfuscate, to warp realities using slick storytellers. Najib’s administration set new lows in standards of dirty politics, seen to be fueled by cash payments. These trends have the potential to continue to dominate Malaysia’s political opposition narratives ahead, in what will be a long-drawn-out drama and in an opposition politics that is not focused on making Malaysia stronger.

Najib mistakenly believed that Malaysians could be fooled. May 9 showed him how wrong he was. He should have opted for a graceful departure. Instead, we have seen the arrival of a new battle for Najib’s survival, one in which the Malaysian public will face a repeat of the hubris and guile of his recent past.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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