The Glory of Democracy


December 16, 2017

 

Image result for the fall of the berlin wall

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Communism fell with it. Liberal democracy seemed triumphant. Democracies sprouted in Central Europe. Apartheid fell in South Africa. The Oslo process seemed to herald peace in the Middle East.

Then it all went bad. Tribalism and authoritarianism are now on the march while the number of democracies declines. Far worse has been the degradation of democracies, especially in our own country. The Congress barely functions. We have a president who ignores facts and violates basic decency. On college campuses, according to a Brookings/UCLA survey, 50 percent of students believe that “offensive” speech should be shouted down and 20 percent believe it should be violently crushed.

In short, we used to have a certain framework of decency within which we held our debates, and somehow we’ve lost our framework. We took our liberal democratic values for granted for so long, we’ve forgotten how to defend them. We have become democrats by habit and no longer defend our system with a fervent faith.

So over the next few months I’m going to use this column, from time to time, to go back to first principles, to go over the canon of liberal democracy — the thinkers who explained our system and why it is great.

Image result for Thomas Mann on Democracy

I’m going to start with Thomas Mann’s “The Coming Victory of Democracy.” Mann, possibly the greatest novelist of his era, fled the Nazis and came to America. In 1938, he gave a series of lectures against fascism, Communism and the America Firsters

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

“Man is nature’s fall from grace, only it is not a fall, but just as positively an elevation as conscience is higher than innocence,” he writes. Original sin “is the deep feeling of man as a spiritual being for his natural infirmities and limitations, above which he raises himself through spirit.”

Democracy, Mann continues, is the only system built on respect for the infinite dignity of each individual man and woman, on each person’s moral striving for freedom, justice and truth. It would be a great error to think of and teach democracy as a procedural or political system, or as the principle of majority rule.

It is a “spiritual and moral possession.” It is not just rules; it is a way of life. It encourages everybody to make the best of their capacities — holds that we have a moral responsibility to do so. It encourages the artist to seek beauty, the neighbor to seek community, the psychologist to seek perception, the scientist to seek truth.

Monarchies produce great paintings, but democracy teaches citizens to put their art into action, to take their creative impulses and build a world around them. “Democracy is thought; but it is thought related to life and action.” Democratic citizens are not just dreaming; they are thinkers who sit on the town council. He quotes the philosopher Bergson’s dictum: “Act as men of thought, think as men of action.”

In his day, as in ours, democracy had enemies and the prospects could look grim. Mann argued that the enemies of democracy aren’t just fascists with guns. They are anybody who willfully degrades the public square — the propagandists and demagogues. “They despise the masses … while they make themselves the mouthpiece of vulgar opinion.” They offer bread and circuses, tweets and insults, but have nothing but a “rabbit horizon” — all they see is the grubby striving for money and power and attention.

Image result for Thomas Mann’s “The Coming Victory of Democracy.

The authoritarians and the demagogues subjugate action through bullying and they subjugate thought by arousing mob psychology. “This is the contempt of pure reason, the denial and violation of truth in favor of power and the interests of the state, the appeal to the lower instincts, to so-called ‘feeling,’ the release of stupidity and evil from the discipline of reason and intelligence.”

They possess the “kind of contempt which strives with all its might to degrade and corrupt humanity in order to force the people to do its will.”

Mann has confidence in democracy’s ultimate victory because he has confidence in democracy’s ability to renew itself, to “put aside the habit of taking itself for granted.”

Renewal means reform. He calls for economic and political reform that, quoting a French deputy, “will create a true hierarchy of values, put money in the service of production, production in the service of humanity, and humanity itself in the service of an ideal which gives meaning to life.”

Mann’s great contribution is to remind us that democracy is not just about politics; it’s about the individual’s daily struggle to be better and nobler and to resist the cheap and the superficial. Democrats like Mann hold up a lofty image of human flourishing. They inspire a great yearning to live up to it.

Malaysia: Najib Razak set to strengthen grip on power


December 16, 2017

Malaysia: Najib Razak set to strengthen grip on power

by James Chin, University of Tasmania

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Najib Razak remains strong in UMNONajib’s political status and reputation as Malaysia’s Teflon prime minister is assured with the help of DPM Dr. Zahid Hamidi and PAS’Hadi Awang

2017 could not have been a better year politically for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. On the surface, Najib appeared to be in political trouble with the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MBD) scandal hanging over his head and with his arch-rival former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad leading the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition coalition. But in reality, Najib could not be politically safer. With a general election due early next year, he is in a solid position to be re-elected.

 Najib would certainly be pleased with the personal deal he struck with Abdul Hadi Awang, the leader of Parti Islam Malaysia (PAS). Under Hadi, PAS has refused to join the PH, citing the omnipresent influence of the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP). Hadi claims that the DAP’s secret agenda is to stop the creation of an Islamic state and to promote Christianity. While this may be a real fear in the Malay community, the more tangible reason is Hadi’s personal disgust with Mahathir for successfully oppressing PAS’s political agenda when he was in power.

Najib, on the other hand, is playing along nicely with Hadi. Najib has promised Hadi that the United Malays Nationals Organisation (UMNO) (head of the ruling political coalition) will support RUU 355 — an amendment to increase judicial penalties under Sharia Law. Most legal experts believe that once RUU 355 is passed by parliament, it will be the first step in altering Malaysia’s largely secular federal constitution. The unwritten deal between Hadi and Najib is that once Najib wins the general election, UMNO will adopt RUU 355 as a government bill.

Image result for Najib Razak remains strong in UMNO

If the deal holds, PAS will field as many candidates as it can against UMNO in the 110–20 largely rural Malay-majority seats. While on the outset this looks terrible for Najib, it must be understood in the context of Mahathir’s PH also going after these Malay seats. It is impossible to win a general election in Malaysia without winning a large proportion of Malay seats.

Malaysia operates under a first-past-the-post electoral system, so with the opposition vote split between PAS and PH, UMNO will win the bulk of the Malay seats and will therefore win the general election. Najib is so confident of this strategy that he has told his inner circles that UMNO is aiming to take 140–160 seats in the 222-seat parliament.

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The Tiff with HRH Sultan of Selangor puts the Political Opposition at a serious disadvantage while Prime Minister Najib Razak surges ahead with strong UMNO and PAS support

By contrast, without the powers of patronage and the government machinery, opposition leader Mahathir is finding it increasingly difficult to influence the electorate. Mahathir’s problem is his strongman legacy. Many in the middle-class and the opposition want him to apologise for human rights abuses during his 22 years in power, including the jailing of opposition leaders under the infamous Internal Security Act. Mahathir has steadfastly refused to do so and merely said he ‘regrets’ some of his actions.

There is a sense among urban voters that Mahathir cannot be trusted and is only using the opposition to capture power. Some fear that once in power, he will revert back to his authoritarian ways. Hence, there is a real danger that educated, urban voters will protest Mahathir’s recalcitrance by simply staying at home during the general election rather than voting for the opposition, which indirectly helps Najib.

The 1MDB scandal also does not appear to have gained political traction. Despite the best efforts of the opposition to paint Najib as a kleptocrat and an international pariah, Najib managed to meet US President Donald Trump in the White House. Najib even had the nerve to tell Trump that Malaysia was going to ‘make America great again’ by investing more than US$20 billion in the United States.

Immediately after Washington, Najib flew to London to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May. The photo ops with Trump and May effectively numbed the opposition’s propaganda campaigns in Malay rural areas.

Najib also blunted the opposition’s claim that Saudi Arabia was unhappy with Najib for implicating the Saudis in 1MDB by hosting King Salman in Malaysia. Najib even took King Salman’s first selfie and the Saudis promised investments in Malaysia worth US$7 billion.

Najib’s one weak point is the economy — in particular the strength of the Malaysian ringgit (RM), which has lost more than 20 per cent of its value since he came to power. But the business community is slowing getting used to the weakened ringgit: the exchange rate is not expected to go back to RM3 to US$1 any time soon, and most people will tolerate the ringgit at its current level of roughly RM4 to US$1.

Najib has cleverly used the 2018 budget to channel aid to more than seven million Malaysians in the bottom 40 per cent of the population using cash transfers and individual tax cuts. The 1.5 million-strong civil service will get additional days off, unrecorded leave for umrah pilgrimage and easier promotions.

By the end of the year, Najib will be politically stronger. His deal with PAS has effectively blindsided Mahathir and PH, and the 1MBD corruption allegations are by and large considered ‘old news’ by the all-important rural Malay electorate.

Going forward, the only danger facing Najib is Hadi’s health. Hadi has suffered several heart attacks and there is a possibility that a fatal heart attack could occur anytime. If he dies, PAS will split and Najib may not be able to hold the new PAS leaders to the deal made with Hadi.

As long as Hadi lives until the next general election, Najib’s political status and reputation as Malaysia’s Teflon prime minister is assured.

James Chin is Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.

The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda


December 14, 2017

The Rebranding of Altantuya Shaariibuu’s Surrogate Lover–Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com

Image result for perfume of arabia macbeth

“Here’s the smell of blood still. All perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”–In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Oxford-educated Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda, the one-time adviser and close confidante of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was once romantically linked to the murdered jet-setting Mongolian translator and party girl Altantuya Shaariibuu, has popped up after years of discreet absence in the UK.

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The  disheveled and frightened-looking Abdul Razak Baginda

For someone who has been out of the public eye for the past decade, Razak Baginda has wasted no time, propelling himself onto the Malaysian lecture circuit over the past six months but at the same time inadvertently reminding the public he had been a key figure in what had been the biggest scandal in the country’s history until an even bigger one blew up over the state-backed investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the subject of a US Justice Department investigation into the looting of public assets.

Razak Baginda is very different from the disheveled and frightened-looking man who emerged from jail on October 31, 2006, acquitted without trial of abetting the murder of Altantuya, who was alleged to have once been Najib’s paramour. The 28-year-old mother, who was believed to have been pregnant at the time, was shot twice in the head by one of Najib’s bodyguards and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside the suburban city of Shah Alam.

The allegation that Altantuya had been Najib’s mistress was revealed by the late private investigator P Balasubramaniam, engaged by Razak Baginda to stop Altantuya from creating a scene outside his house. According to a letter found after her death, she was demanding a cut of kickbacks from a multi-billion ringgit Malaysian government deal to purchase submarines from the French.

Razak Baginda once was one of the closest advisers to Najib, then the Defense Minister and Deputy PM (2000-2008), on government arms procurement projects. The political analyst was involved in the purchase of two Scorpene-class submarines and one Agosta-class submarine from the French naval dockyard unit DCN (Direction des Constructions Navales). The deal was worth around RM5 billion.

Hasty departure for the UK

On his release and acquittal, Razak Baginda was swamped by reporters who tried to interview him, but was guarded by a wall of policemen. A month later, at a press conference, he was guarded by a team of lawyers who monitored his answers. He immediately decamped to England, ostensibly to complete a doctorate at Oxford.

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 The Rebranded Dr. Abdul Razak Baginda–Founder, Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

Seven years later, on October. 26, 2015, Razak Baginda emerged to deliver his first public talk in Kuala Lumpur at a “Special Forum” called “Reforming Malaysia: A Conversation with Razak Baginda.” The session was organized by a new think tank he had founded, called the Center for Global Affairs (ICON).

The former Malaysian PrimenMinister, Mahathir Mohamad once said, “Melayu mudah lupa” (Malays easily forget) and Razak Baginda probably thought that Malaysians would have forgotten about him and the brutal murder.

Living abroad helped Razak Baginda avoid the glare of publicity and the anger of the Malaysian public who were furious at the High Court’s handling of the trial. The motive for the murder was never established although the murderers were said to have been offered RM50,000 for the killing.

Wife Implicates Najib

Few can forget the hysterical shout of Baginda’s wife, Mazlinda Makhzan, at the time of his arrest: “Why charge my husband, he does not want to be the prime minister?” an apparent reference to Balasubramaniam’s statement that Najib had passed Altantuya on to the political analyst because it wouldn’t look good to have a foreign mistress when he was elevated to become the country’s leader.

Importantly, there were also unexplained phone texts between Najib and Razak Baginda’s lawyer, Mohamad Shafee Abdullah, which alluded to Najib’s alleged interference in the case. One message read, “Pls do not say anything to the press today. i will explain later. RB (Razak Baginda) will have to face a tentative charge but all is not lost.”

Altantuya’s father, Setev Shaariibuu, has not received any justice for the murder of his daughter and has continued to demand that the Malaysian government give him answers about her death.

Two policemen, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, were found guilty of Altantuya’s murder in a trial that critics said was carefully orchestrated to keep from answering questions who had hired them to kill her. Sirul is now languishing in the Villawood Detention Center outside Sydney, vigorously wheeling and dealing for his release and asylum. Azilah remains in a Malaysian prison.

Razak Baginda probably thought that he could lead a quiet life by relocating to England but he didn’t reckon on the persistence of SUARAM, the Malaysian Human Rights NGO, which complained to the French authorities about the Scorpene deal in November 2009. That triggered a preliminary inquiry and a judicial investigation in Paris in 2012.

Investigative stories Tell Tale of Scandal

The investigation was the subject of a multiple series of investigative stories by Asia Sentinel that won the Society of Publishers in Asia award for excellence in investigative reporting – Asia’s version of the Pulitzer Prize.

Finally, years later, on July 18, 2017, Razak Baginda was indicted in France for “complicity of bribery, acceptance of bribes and concealment of misuse of company assets.”  Two officials of a DCN subsidiary were also indicted on charges specifically of having bribed Najib Razak.

On August 4, the SUARAM adviser, Dr Kua Kia Soong said, “The first indictment of the arms maker shows that SUARAM’s suspicion of commission paid to Malaysian officials in the Scorpene deal is well founded, and we have been vindicated.”

Asia Sentinel reported that the French investigation had revealed that Terasasi HK Ltd., a company owned by Razak Baginda and his father, received €30 million in “consultancy works,” the accepted terminology for kickbacks. Terasasi existed only as the name on the wall of a Hong Kong accounting company. As Asia Sentinel reported, French investigators also uncovered evidence that a Malaysia-based shell company, Perimekar, owned by Baginda’s wife, had received another €114 million in “consultancy services.”

The money was said to have been passed on to the United Malays National Organization with the full knowledge of then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, among others, according to evidence provided to Asia Sentinel.

Timely Rebranding

Baginda’s rebranding is timely, especially as Malaysia’s 14th General Election is due soon. He could have retired a rich man from his alleged kickbacks from Scorpene and lived a life of luxury in England. He could have avoided the scrutiny of the Malaysian public.

Image result for Razak Baginda With Najib Razak

Malaysia’s Infamous Couple–Prime Minister Najib Razak and his FLOM Rosmah Mansor

“He probably thinks that the Malaysian public have forgotten (and forgiven him),” said a social cynic who declined to be named. “He believes he has done nothing wrong, especially as the courts did not find him guilty of Altantuya’s murder.”

It is highly likely that Razak Baginda is repositioning himself in the Malaysian political world, according to a Kuala Lumpur-based political analyst. “Perhaps, Najib summoned him to return as his confidante,” he said. “Najib’s Washington trip was a wash-out. It was probably arranged on the advice of his foreign advisers. The Malays disapprove of Trump’s anti-Islam and anti-Muslim policies.”

A Malay, Muslim and Malaysian, the political analyst “will be in a better position to advise Najib on foreign matters. He is probably testing the waters and seeing how the Malaysian public react to him over a range of issues like education, religion and radicalization.”

However, it is more likely that the French indictment may have spurred Baginda’s return to Malaysia over a desire to remain free.  Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with France, unlike Britain. His stay in England would be risky.

Razak Baginda dismissed the French charge and said, “The French legal process is different from the Malaysian legal process. The term ‘charged’ in the context of the inquiry means placing the said individuals under ‘formal investigation’.”

We now see the comeback kid, Razak Baginda, re-engaging with Malaysian politics. He appears to be pushing the right buttons on many subjects. More importantly, as long as Najib is around, there is money to be made. ICON has held several forums and issued press releases with alarming regularity.

Pretensions as Oracle

This is proof that he wants to be heard on a range of subjects, upon most of which many Malaysians agree. On radicalization, he has urged the Home Ministry to monitor students, who studied in the middle-east, and warned that Malaysia was losing its reputation as a moderate nation. He has warned that the prominence of religion in schools will lower the quality of education. He questioned the failure of Malaysian leaders to confront the nationalists.

Razak Baginda has defended the bloated Malaysian civil service and blasted the journalist John Pennington for an article in “Asean Today” that unfavorably compared the Malaysian civil service with its Singaporean counterpart.

He also criticized Najib for his silence on the Rohingya issue at the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, saying it was a “missed opportunity” and then, on the following day, offered a groveling apology to Najib, saying “I got it wrong.”  He praised Najib’s sincerity in helping the Rohingyas, raising the issue with the Myanmar state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, and with President Trump. Saying that Najib’s actions were unprecedented, Razak Baginda described him as bold and strong, willing to voice his displeasure over a matter he cared about.

“Never before has a fellow ASEAN leader brought out what could be regarded as a domestic issue of another member country,” he said. “Kudos to the prime minister, as it shows his commitment to help the Rohingya.”

Still Buddies?

So are Najib and Razak Baginda in constant contact? Or is he positioning himself and working towards a smooth transition to become Najib’s political analyst? On his re-emergence onto the Malaysian socio-political scene, Suaram’s Kua said: “He seems to have a knack of seeking publicity when he’d be better off staying out of media attention. He’s more of a liability for Najib by showing up all over the place and reminding us of Altantuya. But he seems pretty gung-ho about his ‘freedom from prosecution’. We shall see.

Both men have to tread a cautious path, said a political analyst, “but do they care? There is only so much Razak Baginda can do to help Najib, because one wrong step could make the whole Altantuya and Scorpene scandal blow up in Najib’s face, and further reduce his chances in GE-14. Even if it were true that Najib and Razak Baginda have resumed their cozy ties, it is established that they need one another to keep their secrets safe. Remember the adage about keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer still.

Perhaps Najib is willing to take that chance, especially after the warning issued by the American Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, on Dec. 4, when he said that Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal was the worst example of kleptocracy he had ever seen. Razak Baginda may need Najib to prevent an attempt by the French to subpoena him to the Scorpene trial, but Najib has an equal need to prevent Razak Baginda from giving evidence.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysia-based journalist and a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel

 

The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO


December 12, 2017

Image result for Quote by FDR

My short message to Rais Hussin: Please do not invoke God’s name whenever we are in a crisis. That is most convenient way out when we are in a fix. The problems we as Malaysians face today especially in politics are of our own making. Therefore, the fear you talk about is something we created  for ourselves. We are scared of our own shadow.. It is better to admit for  all of us that we are all cowards  than throw our hands in the air in despair.

Image result for Din Merican

Najib Razak is not endowed with supernatural powers, although it is said that our FLOM Rosmah Mansor is protected  by a number of powerful shamans from the Indian subcontinent.Our incumbent Prime Minister can be removed from office through the ballot.  If we in large numbers vote against UMNO-BN in GE-14, Najib Razak is gone in a jiffy. No Shamans can help Rosmah too. But the question is will we? –Din Merican

The Political Manipulation of Fear by UMNO

by Rais Hussin

Image result for Najib Razak Bulllshit
He should fear us, not the other way round

COMMENT | Fear is a primal instinct, driven into our brain, to survive the harshest environment since the dawn of the Homo sapiens.

No one can be blamed for exhibiting various forms of fear. During the Jurassic age, where dinosaurs roamed the world, humans existed purely as hunter-gatherers, armed with sticks and spears.

Without the help of iron and bronze, powerful catapults, and fire, Homo sapiens would have lived at the bottom of the food chain.

Things have, of course, taken a dramatic change over the last five centuries. With the advent of what anthropologist Jared Diamond called “guns, germs and steel,” Homo sapiens have transformed their sense of powerlessness not merely against the animal kingdom, but their fellow kind.

Spanish colonialism of the entire American continent, which obliterated the native tribes, where millions died, began on such account. Invariable, to steal a march on their Iberian neighbour, Portugal did the same.

The likes of Vasco Da Gama and Alfonso di Albuquerque first rounded the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, then Goa in India, before crossing the Andaman Sea, to hold the Sultanate of Malacca to a complete siege between 1511 onwards.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra–The First Decent Malaysian Prime Minister

When UMNO, together with other coalition partners, liberated Malaya from the clutches of colonialism from the British in 1957, one of their goals was to free Malaysians from the politics of fear.

But with the communists breathing down their neck, they couldn’t emancipate the country completely and psychologically. From time to time, UMNO and their coalition partners had to point to the threats that exist.

However, there are no communists anymore. In fact, UMNO and MCA appear to enjoy stronger and better trade relations with the Communist government of China now. Each loan from China is ledgered in the  billions of ringgit.

Yet, in spite of this, UMNO has warned Malaysians that it is Pakatan Harapan that they must fear. In the words of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, it is better to have UMNO ruling for “1,000 years”, than the opposition front.

Dr. Zahid Hamid and his Boss united the face of the Political Opposition

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi averred that the opposition front has “six captains in the cruise ship” and will drive the country to nowhere.

But psychologist John Bargh has shown through numerous studies that ruling politicians thrive in striking fear in the hearts of the people. The fear they instil is manufactured to create a sense of sheer panic or crisis, in order to cannibalise the voters.

By making the opposition small and insignificant, the ruling party would stand a better chance of consolidating their iron grip. As John Bargh explained: “research has found that when people become new parents of a tiny, vulnerable baby, they begin to believe their local crime rate is going up, even if it is falling.”

“That happened to me,” to which Bargh admits. “After my daughter was born, suddenly we felt that the neighbourhood was getting so dangerous that we had to leave.”

UMNO and BN have always introduced new stop gap measures, such as BR1M (cash transfers) when elections are near. Even the 2018 budget that Najib presented in the Parliament was screamingly front-loaded, that even BN MPs privately admitted that was indeed an election budget.

 

That is not fear-mongering, but vote buying

Front-loaded in the sense that many different cash payouts are dished out to many group of voters targeting the low middle-income and low-income groups, which includes, but is not limited to Felda settlers, farmers, fishermen, civil servants, military, police, teachers etc.

When Malaysians find some petty cash in their hand, they begin to believe that a new government will take them away — not realising the new entity can actually eliminate corruption, malfeasance, abuse of power and other malpractices allegedly perpetuated by UMNO and its coalition partners, to better the living standards of Malaysia.

Ask the voters in Selangor or even Penang, has their welfare improved after UMNO was defeated in 2008? The answer is undoubtedly, and a resounding yes. Even the Malays stood to gain more in terms of support from the Penang and Selangor state governments. With such positive records, Malaysian voters should not be lulled and fooled by Umno again and again.

As the late US President Franklin Delani Roosevelt once said: “One has nothing to fear but fear itself.” How one eliminates fear, in other words, is to stop others from manipulating them. In Malay adage, the advice is even more poignant: “Berani kerana benar.” One should be brave because one is truthful.

Having fleeced the country of billions, making it the worst “kleptocracy in the world,” it is UMNO that has all to fear from the wrath of the people at the 14th general election.

God save Malaysia.

Constitutional Democracy and Royalty


December 11, 2017

Constitutional Democracy and Royalty: The Dignified and the Efficient

by Nathaniel Tan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | On Friday, we discussed the appropriateness of celebrities commenting on politics and current affairs.

Today, as Season 2 of “The Crown” is upon us, perhaps we can discuss constitutional monarchy and some of the challenges it faces today.

“The Crown” may be particularly relevant as, after all, many constitutional monarchies in the Commonwealth are largely modelled on the British one.

 

Related imageHer Majesty Queen Elizabeth reigns and Prime Minister Theresa May governs. This system works as long as each institution performs its duties correctly, and respects their boundaries diligently.

I probably know Peter Morgan’s Queen Elizabeth more than I do the real one, and I have never had the slightest bit of interest in the British monarchy prior to this little TV series.

A persistent theme in Morgan’s large body of work on the monarchy is the place of the institution in ever-evolving modern society, and the challenges monarchs face in maintaining the dignity and purpose of the monarchy.

Checks and balances

Constitutional monarchy evolved over time from absolute monarchy, a time where the monarch’s word was law. Eventually, forces for democracy in some countries moved societies away from such absolute rule, but chose to maintain royal institutions, having them co-exist with democratic practices.

It is often a subtle balancing act to be sure, but in theory, the crown and the government – the dignified and the efficient, as it were – are institutions that are meant to balance and strengthen one another.

This system works as long as each institution performs its duties correctly, and respects their boundaries diligently.

The rights of the monarch

The most definitive of said boundaries is that the monarchy must always be above politics. It is the duty of politicians and governments to politick and govern, and it is the duty of the monarch to never interfere with either.

The concept of the dignified and the efficient mentioned above was first written about by British journalist and businessman, Walter Bagehot in 1867 in his enduringly influential treatise on the English Constitution.

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Bagehot also wrote at length about the rights of the monarch, with regards to governance – namely the right to be consulted, to encourage, and to warn.  The manner in which Bagehot writes of these rights seems to suggest that said rights are to be executed in a private manner, between monarch and prime minister, and perhaps with the cabinet.

Influencing politics

I could be wrong, but I imagine both Bagehot and current effective and popular constitutional monarchs would be horrified at the idea of a sitting monarch making comments in the press that could be seen to be politically influential.

While the definition of what is or isn’t politically influential will surely be debated by some, I think we can perhaps examine a few cases in which a comment may be one or the other.

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For instance, if a queen was to make a public comment in the media about a politician’s character (especially an active one that is currently attached to an active party, and/or one who may be seeking public office), whether positive or negative, such a comment may be construed as being politically influential.

In “The Crown”, Queen Elizabeth has a conversation with her grandmother, Queen Mary, about the duty of the monarch to remain neutral. In this conversation, Queen Mary warns that even a smile or a frown in a particular situation can be construed as undue favour. If this is so, what more a direct comment on a politician’s character?

Being above politics

I’m not one to idealise our former colonial masters, or somehow compare one monarchy to another. Perhaps all we can say for now is that the most effective and popular constitutional monarchies existing today are the ones where monarchs have gone to extraordinary lengths to stay above politics.

The phrase ‘above politics’ purposely advocates the notion that there should be some institutions of government that are ‘higher’ than the worldly taint of shifting political winds and endless jostling for electoral favours.

Challenging though it can be on a personal level for monarchs, history suggests that this approach is the one that ultimately best serves both the monarchy and the nation as a whole.

Bank Negara Malaysia: Why Dr. Sukhave Singh Resigned


December 10, 2017

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Thank you, Dr. Sukhave for your service to Bank Negara Malaysia. What you have done by resigning is just examplary. It took courage and firm moral conviction to do it. As a Bank Negara alumnus who was with the Bank in 1960s, I am proud of you and wish you all the best. –Din Merican

Letter from outgoing Deputy Governor BNM–Why Dr. Sukhave Singh Resigned

If you are in a position of leadership, remind yourself, and remind yourself often, that leadership is a responsibility and not a privilege. Remember that nothing shines a brighter light into the depths of your character than your behaviour when you believe that you have power over others. It is never leadership to try to make yourself look good by depriving your subordinates of opportunities to be their best. It is also never acceptable to use bullying as a means to exert your leadership. Respect yourself; respect those who work for you.– Dr. Sukhave Singh

Image result for Dr. Sukhdave Singh of Bank Negara

Last week a long-standing and respected official, the Deputy Governor, Bank Negara Malaysia Dr Sukhdave Singh, resigned and people ought to take that move as a heavy hint as to what is going on behind the scenes.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As you all know by now, I am leaving the Bank soon. Some of you have asked me why I am leaving and I must confess that I have evaded the question.

All I can say is that my life in the Bank has been based on certain professional expectations, and when I find myself put in circumstances where those expectations can no longer be met, there could have been no other decision for me.

This past week has been an emotional roller-coaster. The days have flown by so fast and saying goodbye has been harder than I had anticipated. Meeting many of you has brought back a flood of memories and emotions. But I am grateful for the opportunity to personally wish you goodbye, and I thank you for the kind wishes you have expressed to me.

In parting, I want to express my gratitude to those of you who have worked with me and helped me succeed in my job. No one gets to my position without the help of others. I am unable to thank each of you individually but I hope you know that I am referring to you and please accept my heartfelt thanks.

If I have contributed to your own professional success, I am glad; but you do not need to thank me. Pay it forward – be a part of someone else’s success.

If you are in a position of leadership, remind yourself, and remind yourself often, that leadership is a responsibility and not a privilege. Remember that nothing shines a brighter light into the depths of your character than your behaviour when you believe that you have power over others. It is never leadership to try to make yourself look good by depriving your subordinates of opportunities to be their best. It is also never acceptable to use bullying as a means to exert your leadership. Respect yourself; respect those who work for you.

Well, my journey with BNM has come to an end, but yours will continue. I wish you fair weather and good sailing.

Goodbye and God bless.

Sukhdave Singh

– http://www.sarawakreport.org

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