Congratulations Zunar

November 25, 2015

Congratulations Zunar

by Kean Wong

Sapuman -Zunar


For a well-travelled Malaysian zipping between London, Cambridge, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Washington DC and New York, cartoonist Zunar belies his reputation as a hell-raiser activist, always sketching our homeland in black and white, the splashes of colour only to accentuate the differences he has with the ruling Barisan Nasional.

Instead of his apparently fearsome reputation which has earned him a record nine charges for sedition and a possible 43 years in prison, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque is mild-mannered, a little droll, and funny in the way Malaysian ministers are not.

Like his satirical cartoons that often harshly portray a nation on the skids, the symmetry of culprits making off with glittering loot as the rakyat go under, the past week had a similar balance of scenes as US President Barack Obama thrilled his Malaysian hosts in Kuala Lumpur while Zunar made his case for urgent Malaysian reforms to the US Senate’s Human Rights Caucus in Washington DC and the US Mission to the United Nations in New York.

As Zunar claimed again last night in his speech in New York when receiving this year’s top media freedom prize from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “the government of Malaysia is a cartoon government – a government of the cartoon, by the cartoon, for the cartoon.”

“For asking people to laugh at the government, I was handcuffed, detained, thrown into the lock up,” he told a slice of Manhattan’s moneyed elite at the glittering black-tie gala in the storied Waldorf Astoria, which raised US$2 million (RM8.43 million) for the CPJ’s work.

Congrats Zunar

“But I kept laughing and encouraging people to laugh with me. Why? Because laughter is the best form of protest. My mission is to fight through cartoon.”

“Why pinch when you can punch? People need to know the truth and I will continue to fight through my cartoons. I want to give a clear message to the aggressors – they can ban my cartoons, they can ban my books, but they cannot ban my mind,” the political cartoonist said, echoing the points he’s been making in the past few weeks in London, Sydney and Washington DC.

In Sydney the previous week, Zunar had regaled the big crowd of Malaysians and Australians at the state Parliament how the corruption scandals that have rocked Malaysia inform his arresting caricatures, his trials of satire, and his outrageously popular female protagonist’s helmet-haired symmetry, consumed in flights of fantasy money and jewels.

Obama at Taylors University

Although he insists that Malaysia has become a “kartunation”, “run by kartuns for kartuns,” many Malaysians demurred with that last part, preferring they were left out of an increasingly melancholy joke’s punchline.

For his hosts the Sydney MPs Jamie Parker and Jenny Leong, they were bemused and perhaps a little incredulous that a colonial-era law like the Sedition Act was still widely used to silence critics of a government in a proudly independent Southeast Asian nation.

Leong, who explained her father was originally from Sibu but never returned after his studies in Adelaide, welcomed Zunar to “a nation, a Parliament that celebrates the freedom of expression”.

The Australia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Elaine Pearson, also took the lectern to congratulate Zunar for his “courage in cartooning” and for being awarded HRW’s Hellman/Hammett grant this year, which helps him work and publish at a time when his books are banned and whole print runs are confiscated in the thousands of copies in Malaysia.

In Washington DC in the past several days, Zunar caught up with his growing legion of friends and fans in the epicentre of America’s political cartooning community like Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Matt Wuerker of Politico.

For a town obsessed with China and its impact on the Asian neighbourhood now unsettled by apparently waning American power, Zunar’s interventions were effectively rendered in forums on Capitol Hill and media like The Washington Post.

While President Obama made plain the key role Malaysia (and Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak) plays in America’s plans coping with a rising China asserting itself across the region – in what some in Washington agreed was a “blingtastic success” among young people in Manila and Kuala Lumpur, thanks partly to Obama’s fable-like story of an Indonesian childhood – Zunar on the other side of the world stubbornly kept the stage curtains a little askew, to highlight what the cartoonist alleges was the misleading golf game indulged in at top levels.

Like many Americans following the clampdown on human rights in Malaysia, detailed in last month’s HRW report ‘Creating a Culture of Fear: the Criminalisation of Peaceful Expression in Malaysia’, Matt Wuerker is not amused.

“Sadly, Zunar’s case doesn’t surprise me,” said the softly spoken Wuerker, ahead of Zunar’s arrival in Washington.“It’s entirely too common the response to cartoons and satire in so many parts of the world today. In some sense, it’s a compliment to irascible cartoonists like Zunar. It just demonstrates the power and effectiveness their work.

“At the same time the response by a government that uses threats, lawsuits and other forms of intimidation to try silence dissent just demonstrates a weakness and fragility of their hold on power. Governments that are strong, popular and enjoy the support of their people have nothing to fear from a little ridicule and a few cartoons. Yes, I’m blessed to live in a part of the world where people can take a joke.”

For a Malaysian like Zunar facing jail time – and who has arguably cut through the fog of indifference about Malaysia in noisy power centres like Washington with little more than his starkly drawn portraits of a troubled nation and a rude sense of humour – it’s no joke.

Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

November 25, 2015

Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

by Azmi Sharom

Agong and Obama

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.

THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).

Whenever the President of the United States visits another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.

Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.

 Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.

What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.

This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).

Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.

The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?

Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.

And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.

They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.

We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?

Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.

It is trite to mention the hypocrisies abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.

Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.

azmi sharom

The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.



Defying the Islamic State–Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar

November 24, 2015

Defying the Islamic State--Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar and other Journalists in the front lines

November 23 at 2:59 PM

RECENTLY THE Islamic State in Raqqa sent an ominous message to an exiled Syrian journalist. Tell us who is filing covertly from the occupied city, the terrorists warned, or we will execute your father. The editor refused to name names. His father was shot to death.

We heard this story last week from AbdAlaziz Alhamza, who works for the same journalism collective as the grieving editor: Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. With a dozen reporters still filing from Raqqa, risking their lives every day, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is one of the few sources of independent news from inside its terrorized land of lashings, slavery, beheadings and crucifixions.

The collective is one of four 2015 International Press Freedom awardees who will be honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City Tuesday. They reflect both the lengths dictators will go to silence free speech — and the creativity and almost unimaginable courage that journalists summon in response.


In addition to the online collective of mostly anonymous Syrian reporters, the honorees include a Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known by his pen name, Zunar, whose work appears only online because the government allows no newspaper to carry his work; the Zone 9 bloggers, an Ethio­pian collective that came together as their government decimated the independent press; and Cándido Figueredo Ruíz , a Paraguayan journalist who shines a light on drug cartels and the corruption they engender. A reporter for ABC Color, one of his country’s largest newspapers, Mr. Figueredo holds perhaps the most traditional job among the winners. But there is nothing conventional about his bravery: He has been shot at numerous times, and now lives under constant police guard, as does his wife.


Zunar with Nathaniel Tan and Steven Gan (Malaysiakini)

Mr. Zunar, 53, will return to Malaysia to face a December court date on charges of sedition that could lead to a prison sentence of 43 years. The Ethio­pian bloggers too have been imprisoned and still have judicial proceedings hanging over them. Why go back, we asked Mr. Zunar?

“We do it for reform,” he told us during a visit to The Post. “We have been governed by the same ruling party for 60 years. Corruption is huge. There are so many injustices. . . . I know it is an uphill battle. I’m not sure when it will end, or will I see the change in my lifetime. It’s like an endless marathon, but as long as I’m on the track I’m the winner.”

Anwar Ibrahim

Mr. Zunar shared with us the cartoon he planned to post later that day: a drawing of President Obama, who traveled to Malaysia on Friday, stretching his arm around a prison full of political dissidents to shake hands with the Malaysian leader he has praised and golfed with, Najib Razak. For those of us who can take our freedoms for granted, the cartoon held a useful message: We should never forget the political prisoners, like Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, nor the journalists like Mr. Zunar and his co-winners who bravely take up the cause of freedom. “One of the great supports is to know I’m not alone,” Mr. Figueredo said.

Southeast Asian Snapshots

November 24, 2015

Southeast Asian Snapshots

Half-marathons running off into the distance, a missing opposition leader in Cambodia, more presidential drama in the Philippines, and Malaysian charity cases that aren’t.

In her weekly column New Mandala Associate Editor Mish Khan brings you the best and worst from the region.

Malaysia’s zakat squandered on splendour

Malaysia’s religious affairs minister, Jamil Khir Baharaom, has come under fire for allegedly paying for a luxurious eight-day trip to the US, totaling RM 410,000 with charity funds designated for orphans and the poor.

The money was drawn from the Islamic Economic Development Foundation (YaPEIM), originally formed to perform charity work in Malaysia or zakat. Akmal Nasir, the Director of National Oversight and Whistleblowers (NOW), claimed that during the lavish trip Jamil Khir and his wife played golf and spent time shopping at luxurious, upscale stores.

Jamil Khir. Photo: YouTube

Jamil Khir. Photo: YouTube

In response to public disgust, YaPEIM insisted that the amount was partially paid back by the Minister. However, no breakdown of the costs were disclosed.

Last week, NOW also exposed that YaPEIM had spent RM 290,000 to fund a 14-day marriage course in Paris, attended by Malaysian students studying abroad. The necessity of organising such a course for wealthy Malay students was widely questioned.

Jamil Khir has since filed a defamation lawsuit against Nasir, claiming RM 10 million in compensation.

Duterte snatches the reins

Jubilation spread quickly in the Philippines on Saturday night after Rodrigo Duterte, the highly popular mayor of Davao, officially announced he will run for president in 2016.

Duterte has for months denied any intention to run, but claims the sudden change of heart was inspired by the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) ruling allowing rival candidate Senator Grace Poe to proceed. Duterte states he will “never accept an American as president”.

The Philippine Constitution requires presidential candidates to be natural-born citizens. Senator Grace Poe is an adopted foundling, as well as a former US citizen.

Rodrigo Duterte - fending off foreigners since forever.

Rodrigo Duterte – fending off foreigners since forever.

A disqualification case was filed with the SET insisting that Poe fails to meet the Philippine citizenship requirements. Last Tuesday, the SET dismissed the case in a narrow 5-4 vote. This ruling is in disagreement with the Supreme Court, which found that under customary international law, Poe may be considered a naturalised citizen but not a natural-born citizen.

Duterte’s late-minute entry into the political race has uprooted the entire game thus far, with analysts certain he will win over votes from the other candidates.

Rain-sy, rain-sy, go away

Disappointed supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Resuce Party are hoping their party president Sam Rainsy will come again another day, following his decision to not return to Cambodia.

This follows the recent decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to enforce a long-dormant 2011 defamation conviction against him.

In 2008, Rainsy jabbed that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had run a Khmer Rouge prison. Last Monday, the ruling Cambodia People’s Party voted to remove him from the National Assembly stripping him of his parliamentary privilege.

Sam Rainsy (left) and Hun Sen in happier times. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Sam Rainsy (left) and Hun Sen in happier times. Photo: Wikimedia commons

Rainsy faces a two-year prison term if he returns to Cambodia. Although a CNRP spokesman originally announced Rainsy would return on Monday and face his arrest, Rainsy seemed to change his mind and is heading to France to seek political support in hopes of striking a deal.

The CPP are sceptical that Rainsy’s case will garner any interest in the West, stating “World leaders don’t have time for them due to the threat of ISIS… No one cares about the CNRP.”

They also berated him for comparing himself to Myanmar democracy figure Aung Sun Suu Kyi, who chose to face years in detention for her cause.

Opinions amongst CNRP supporters are mixed. Although many sympathise with Rainsy, others are disappointed in what they perceive as a demonstrated lack of bravery and a failure in his responsibility towards the Cambodian people.

Thailand’s mangled marathon

What do Thailand’s democratic transition and its annual half-marathon have in common? Answer: they are both poorly run and unnecessarily extended.

There was outrage in Thailand last week as it unintentionally became home to the world’s longest half-marathon.

The Standard Chartered Bangkok marathon, held on November 15, accidentally increased its 21 kilometre route to 27 kilometres. The Athletic Association of Thailand, which oversees athletic events in the country, said that race officials directed runners to turn in the wrong place and thus lengthened each lap.

Photo: Newsweek

Photo: Newsweek

A tirade of complaints were unleashed on social media, with comments criticising the race as “ridiculous,” a “massive miscalculation,” and “incredibly dangerous.”

Many have dubbed the event the “super half-marathon”, with one commenter noting that “they increased the price this year, so at least you get more kilometres for your money.”

Mish Khan is Associate Editor of New Mandala, and an Asian studies scholar at The Australian National University.  

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations

November 23, 2015

ASEAN Civil Society welcomes the Launch of ASEAN Community with reservations

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment.While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment  for the ASEAN peoples.


The ASEAN Civil  Society congratulates the ASEAN leaders for the launching of the new ASEAN Community. This community, our community, is what we have been looking forward to for a long time.

The 27th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits 2015 has officially signed the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the establishment of the ASEAN Community and the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

Further, we have also witnessed the signing of the ASEAN Convention against Human Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Actip).

For the peoples of ASEAN, this long-awaited moment is met with some disappointment. While the documents signed are replete with language premised on a people-centred community that belongs to all, there remains serious scepticism on the part of civil society as to what the agreements reached and commitments made by ASEAN governments will actually mean for human rights, democracy, development and environment for the ASEAN peoples.

Asean Economic Community 2016

In his opening address on November 21, 2015, Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, as 2015 chair of ASEAN, declared that Asean had stressed “community and consensus building, over the excesses of individualism and the seeking of selfish objectives”.

He added in his statement that the adoption of the ASEAN Community marked the culmination of decades of effort to integrate, cohere and to forge ahead together.

However, a dichotomy exists between the integration touted by ASEAN officials and the socially minded integration sought by civil society.

“What does this really mean for the peoples of ASEAN?” asked Jerald Joseph of Pusat Komas, chair of the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2015.

“Regional integration might be the goal but could it be instead selective integration, which has the potential of widening the development gaps? We recognise that this region has huge disparities in political, economic and social development and bargaining powers in the region.”

“Thus ensuring measures are in place to ensure fair representation of diverse interests of the peoples in ASEAN rather than certain dominant nations and interests of certain groups, especially the businesses and the multi-national corporations must be made a priority,” he said.

The ASEAN Community 2015 cannot focus only on integration policies which clearly provide economic and development gains without also removing its reluctance to commit to addressing issues which are deemed to infringe on national sovereignty such as internal conflict, territorial disputes, environmental degradation, treatment of minorities and human rights violations which have negative trans-boundary impacts and consequences.

Today we also witnessed the signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025, Forging Ahead Together, which incorporates the ASEAN Community Vision. The rhetoric around the vision claims that it will be a “bold, visionary, progressive and forward-looking document to reflect the aspirations of the next generation of ASEAN nationals”.

“A review of the document adopted falls short of the above aspirations,” said Joseph. “Despite the ambitious claim, it continues to retain mediocre ASEAN commitment.An example is the commitment to eradicating corruption which seem to focus more on ‘establishing support’, ‘developing programmes’ and ‘strengthening cooperation’, rather than actual commitment on policy and institutional changes. This is typical of ASEAN adopting the lowest common denominator as the threshold for action.”

This new vision gave the possibility of a new approach. Unfortunately it is again a missed opportunity.

The human rights agenda of ASEAN in its Vision 2025 yet again focuses too much on the promotional aspect without a solid protection framework inserted.

Civil society’s call for the mainstreaming human rights in the ASEAN Community 2015 process and in the ASEAN Vision 2015 has again been ignored or given peripheral attention.

“Commitment to human rights is again rather fragmented and established in silos in the 3 pillars’ blueprints,” said Wathshlah Naidu of Women’s Aid Organisation Malaysia, who led the drafting of the ACSC/APF 2015 statement and outcome document.

“It has not holistically addressed how Asean plans to respond to and share resources in addressing emerging issues and issues exacerbated by regional integration such as migration, asylum seekers and refugees and heightened extremism and terrorism.

“Purely addressing these regional concerns as security issues without a grounding in human rights principles and standards creates the path for continued human rights violations.”

Naidu added that “gender equality and the diversity of peoples of ASEAN are also not reflected comprehensively in the Vision.

“Eliminating all forms of discrimination and human rights violations is fundamental towards achieving regional integration that is rooted in achieving equality of all ASEAN countries and its peoples.”

Another key concern raised by civil society is the lack of meaningful and substantive participation, inclusion and representation of all peoples of ASEAN in the drafting process of the ASEAN Vision 2025.

“As civil society, we demand that ASEAN stop co-opting its peoples through its rhetoric on ‘people-centred’ or ‘people-oriented’ mantras without genuinely making the commitment and institutionalising a process where all interests of its diverse peoples are included in its policy documents and agreements through meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders,” said Soe Min Than of Think Center Singapore, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.

“ASEAN can only demonstrate its commitment to community building and implementation of the ASEAN Community agenda and the ASEAN Vision 2025 by ensuring engagement of all stakeholders through multifaceted dialogue, feedback and effective participation in determining and shaping the aspiration and future of the region and its peoples.”

As ASEAN moves on with its summit with various dialogue partners, ASEAN civil society again reiterates its concerns and recommendations made over the last 10 years of engagement and calls on ASEAN to escalate its responses to the interventions by the civil society.

“We look forward to strengthened solidarity, understanding and coordinated actions among ASEAN and civil society as key stakeholder for a truly ‘people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN Community’,” said Pen Somony of the Cambodian Volunteers for Society, who is also a member of the ACSC/APF 2015 Regional Steering Committee.


Obama to Najib: Release Malaysia’s Prisoner of Conscience

November 23, 2015

Obama to Najib: Release Malaysia’s Prisoner of Conscience

by John R. Malott


One person told me that Najib’s response was that he had to follow Malaysia’s legal system. To me, it is ironic that Najib wants to hide behind Malaysia’s legal system, because he certainly has had no hesitation to use and abuse it for his own political ends.–John R.Malott

I have heard from five people, both Malaysians and Americans and all in a position to know, that during his meeting with Najib Razak on November 20, US President Barack Obama called on the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib to release former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim from prison.

The request reportedly was made on humanitarian grounds, because of Anwar’s deteriorating health. But the US government position that Anwar’s trial was flawed and politically-motivated, and that Anwar is a political prisoner, is a matter of record.

One person told me that Najib’s response was that he had to follow Malaysia’s legal system. To me, it is ironic that Najib wants to hide behind Malaysia’s legal system, because he certainly has had no hesitation to use and abuse it for his own political ends.

And it’s not just against the opposition anymore. Now he’s going after critics in his own party, as well as investigators who have gotten too close to the truth.

A lot has happened since the famous golf game last December. Starting with Anwar’s conviction in February, there was that major front page expose in the New York Times, detailing all the allegations of corruption surrounding Najib and his family.

Sarawak Report started exposing more and more documents about 1MDB and the missing billions. The 1MDB reporting was all very complicated and convoluted, because the paper trails were hard to follow. But then The Wall Street Journal published an article that everyone could understand. US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) had allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal bank account, and for weeks he could not explain how it got there.

And then, just like magic, most of that money allegedly went overseas again – but no one knows where, and Najib isn’t talking. Everyone could understand that story – you don’t need an MBA in international finance. Then New York Times reported that Najib and his family were under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. What a name!

As for human rights and democracy, Najib’s crackdown on the opposition has been reported widely in the Western press. Human Rights Watch recently put out a 151-page report on the “climate of fear” that Najib has created. Unprecedented – 151 pages! Then there was that United Nations group that recently called for Anwar’s release.

Obama is a lawyer. He now understands that the evidence is overwhelming and that Najib is not the man he thought he was. As I have said before, Obama is not the only world leader who believed Najib’s rhetoric of reform. But put it all together, and with all the news this year, it reached the point where Obama finally recognised the reality about both Malaysia and Najib.

Change in stand

Last February we launched the White House petition on ‘We, the People’, which called for making Anwar’s release from prison a priority for US foreign policy. That has now happened.

But that is not thanks to me or the petition, it is thanks to the great investigative reporting in the world press, on Malaysian websites, and on Sarawak Report. Especially, it is thanks to the courage of so many Malaysians who refuse to be intimidated by the heavy hand and threats of Malaysia’s Home Minister and Inspector-General of Police (IGP).

ambassador-john-malottI agree totally with what Obama told the civil society leaders whom he just met in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. America has many interests in Malaysia – and not just the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It includes our longstanding trade and investment ties, military and foreign policy cooperation, and working together on so many issues like refugees, counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and the environment. But I am glad that human rights and democracy are once again on the list of our priorities in Malaysia.

I have been critical of Obama’s hands-off stance on human rights in Malaysia over the past few years. But now I have to say thank you. Not only did he discuss these matters with Najib, he is the first President to actually call for Anwar’s release from prison since Anwar was first jailed in 1998. Neither Bill Clinton nor George W Bush ever went that far.

I hope that this more visible and active US effort will continue, but not just to secure Anwar’s freedom. We need to be even more vocal in Malaysia and around the world in addressing human rights, political freedom, and religious and racial discrimination. Free and fair elections are essential to change. Corruption, the abuse of the legal system, and special treatment for government-linked companies (GLCs) hurts American companies trying to do business in Malaysia as much as it hurts Malaysian companies.

America needs to stand clearly on the side of those Malaysians who are seeking the changes that will lead to a brighter future for Malaysia. The current trajectory – with more and more Malaysians themselves starting to refer to their own country as a “failed” or “failing” state – should be of concern to everyone, and not just Malaysians.

This needs to be a coordinated international effort, working with the UN, human rights NGOs, and like-minded governments from around the world. It should not be just America alone, for the reasons that Obama described in his talk at Taylor’s University to the young Southeast Asian leaders. America should not be seen as the “nanny state,” lecturing others and ignoring its own shortcomings.

Malaysia, Najib, and the ruling party need the international equivalent of a “family intervention,” sort of a “Friends of Malaysia” grouping, where out of concern and love you try to break through the pattern of denial and help the person – or in this case, the country – get the “treatment” it needs before it destroys itself.

Finally, I am confident that there will always be courageous Malaysians who will continue to struggle for true democracy and political freedom, against the growing authoritarianism in their country. I hope their numbers will grow. For in the end, while the outside world can be supportive, only the Malaysian people can bring change.

As Obama said many times, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

JOHN R.MALOTT is former US Ambassador to Malaysia and a true friend of Malaysian Civil Society. We are grateful that Ambssador Malott continues to play an important role for us in Washington DC. American legislators in Congress need to know about developments in Malaysia. We cannot rely on our Ambassador in Washington, Dr Awang Adek, who is a UMNO politician and Najib’s personal emissary to the Obama administration, to speak up for us since he is a stooge. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of Malaysians who are living in the Washington Area for their support.–Din Merican