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.

Alabama–How Doug Jones Beats Roy Moore


December 14, 2017

Alabama–How Doug Jones Beats Roy Moore

Doug Jones beats Republican Cowboy Roy Moore, thanks to Black Alabamians, Barack Obama, Civil Rights Icon. John Lewis  and Charles Barkley

The Republican Party sold itself cheaply for the sake of an Alabama Senate seat—and it didn’t even get the win. On Tuesday night, Doug Jones, the Democrat, declared victory over Roy Moore, who is facing multiple allegations of predatory behavior toward teen-agers, by a margin of one and a half per cent. It was close, but, as President Trump, who had endorsed Moore and encouraged the Republican National Committee to rush funds to the campaign in the final stretch—which, to its shame, it did—said in a tweet, “a win is a win.” (Moore also had the full support of the Alabama Republican Party.) In particular, black Alabamians appear to have turned out in force for Jones.

His campaign had appealed for their support as a community. Charles Barkley, the retired basketball player and native Alabamian, campaigned for Jones, and President Barack Obama recorded a robocall. (Trump did one for Moore, in addition to tweeting for him.) Turnout was markedly higher in counties with large black populations.

These voters were the ones who defended the state’s respectability. Jones said, in his victory speech, that “this entire race has been about dignity and respect . . . This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state, regardless of which Zip Code you live in, is going to get a fair shake in life.” But he wasn’t only talking about teen-age girls. Moore had made his bigotry explicit, and the Republican Party had tolerated it. Jones placed the full Moore in front of voters, and he won.

Image result for Obama and Barkley support Doug JonesCharles Barkley with Doug Jones

There had been a certain amount of amazement that any Democrat, even Jones, a respected former U.S. Attorney who had successfully prosecuted some of the murderers in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing case, had a chance, given how Republican Alabama is. But it is Moore who should never have gotten this close. There is no alibi in this story for the members of the Republican establishment who, after Moore defeated their preferred candidate, Luther Strange, sighed and supported him, only to back away when the Washington Post broke the story of Moore’s alleged molestation of a fourteen-year-old girl when he was a lawyer in his thirties, and his pursuit of others only slightly older. That was followed by more, similar accounts; Charles Bethea reported, for The New Yorker, about how Moore had been a notorious presence at a mall in Gadsden. (Moore has denied the allegations.)

Image result for roy moore on horseback ridingRoy Moore riding into political oblivion taking the RNC with him

But to have supported Moore before the stories of the teen-agers emerged, as the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, did, including with funds from PACs beholden to him, was to support Moore after he had confirmed that he did not believe that Muslims should be allowed to serve in Congress. That alone ought to have been disqualifying. How would Republican senators have looked their Muslim constituents in the eye (and there are Muslim Americans in every state)? How would they have looked at themselves in the mirror? The support from McConnell and others also came after Moore had talked about instituting criminal penalties for homosexuality. It came after Moore said that America had been great during the era of slavery when, he argued, family ties really mattered. It came after a rally at which he referred to Native Americans and Asian-Americans serving in the military as “reds and yellows.” It came after he mooted theories about birtherism and all manner of conspiracies, human and divine. (This included suggesting that the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment for, among other things, America’s acceptance of reproductive rights and “sodomy.”)

In the last week of the campaign, CNN ran a story about a 2011 interview in which Moore said that many of the nation’s problems could be solved by getting rid of every amendment to the Constitution after the Tenth, which would include everything from emancipation and full citizenship for black Americans to the right of women to vote. For Republican leaders to act blindsided that such a man might have other character flaws is a dubious position.

Richard Shelby, Alabama’s other senator, and (since the end of the Dixiecrat era) a Republican, caused a stir by saying, on the Sunday before the election, that he could not vote for Moore because Alabama “deserves better.” Instead, he used his absentee ballot to write in “a distinguished Republican name,” which he declined to specify. Jones and others trumpeted Shelby’s position, and it may have made a difference; 1.7 per cent of the votes were write-ins, a proportion greater than Jones’s margin of victory and higher than what Alabama usually sees. Perhaps it also helped to keep some Republican voters home. And yet Shelby, when it comes down to it, was still encouraging a vote for someone other than Jones, the only person who could beat Moore; and he waited until two days before the election to do it. (He did get his say in before a final rally at which Moore’s wife, Kayla, decided to defend her husband against charges of religious bigotry by saying, “One of our attorneys is a Jew.”) Simply driving people away from electoral politics is not, in the long term, a healthy answer to the problem of candidates like Moore in a functioning democracy.

Image result for Screw you racist Steve Bannon

The Unkempt Racist Steve Bannon

The Republican Party had an opening, early on, to mount a real write-in campaign; it didn’t take it. There is little for anyone in the Party to take credit for now. Steve Bannon, the President’s former strategist and adviser, associated himself with the Moore campaign, and Tuesday was a significant loss for him, though it would be a mistake to underestimate what his prominence in the campaign also gained him, in terms of his efforts to position himself at the nexus of a political network. But, although Bannon was more visible, he was not alone, either in his proximity to Moore or in his raw opportunism. Or in his capacity for rationalization: on Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted, “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election. I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Moore lost because Jones beat him. He did so with the help of the national Democratic Party, and its associated resources, but also by presenting himself as a person who believed in certain principles and in the state of Alabama. He also, notably, won without backing away from his support for reproductive rights. He will have to run again in three years—since this was a special election for a seat left open by the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Trump’s Attorney General, Jones doesn’t get a full term. That will be a tough race, but, if nothing else, Jones will again have a better shot than any Democrat has had in a while. One of the criticisms that Barack Obama, among others, levied against Hillary Clinton’s campaign is that it did not work hard enough to persuade voters who weren’t already inclined to vote for her to change their minds. A Democratic win in red Alabama, as peculiar as this race was, may encourage more ambitious outreach in the midterms. It should.

The corruption of the Republican Party is not, or is not simply, one of tolerating candidates with personal flaws. (The Democrats have a measure of that, too.) It has been ideological. Doug Jones, with his hard-fought campaign, saved the Republicans from having to sit next to a gaudy incarnation of the present-day G.O.P. in the Senate chamber. But the ugliness is still there, and the Republicans can choose either to confront it or to debase themselves further. They might start in the coming days, as Moore, whose speech on Tuesday night, after the results came in, was a dark and Psalm-punctuated whine, said that he wouldn’t concede because he expected a recount. (The margin, though, was too large to trigger an automatic one.) For the moment, congressional Republicans appear busy trying to rush the tax bill through before Jones shows up and cuts their majority in the Senate to a single vote. McConnell indicated on Tuesday that he had a backup plan for that: stall on seating Jones until the new year. He did manage, after all, to kill Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court Justice by delaying it until Trump became President. But some reckonings can’t be put off forever.

  • Amy Davidson Sorkin is a New Yorker staff writer. She is a regular Comment contributor for the magazine and writes a Web column, in which she covers war, sports, and everything in between.

 

The State of Mainstream Journalism and Integrity of Malaysian Ministers


November 13, 2017

The State of Mainstream Journalism and Integrity of Malaysian Ministers

by R. Nadeswaran

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Tengku Adnan MansorNajib Razak and Tengku Adnan Mansor– Chickens of the same feather

COMMENT | It will not be the first time a minister has put his foot in the mouth without even realising it. It will not be the last either. The quality of people who are addressed as “YB Menteri” has certainly deteriorated.

Whenever this comes about, many will rush to the cause – to defend the faux pas or in most cases, words, phrases and views uttered that had caused more damage to reputation and status.

Usually, the common cry is “I have been misquoted” or “my words have been taken out of context”. They never admit that they uttered those offending statements and explain their reasons or justify the stand they had taken.

But when the Almighty is dragged into the defence and punishment in the after-life is offered as a threat, the whole issue takes a different dimension.

Suddenly, the journalist and media outlets are told that they have to answer to God – not the laws of the land or the Home Ministry, which has the power to revoke licences, suspend licences and block websites.

Speaking at a press conference after attending a public transport ceremony in Putrajaya yesterday, Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor entered the fray and said journalists have to be responsible for their reporting.

“I believe, after this, I will be (at fault), just like what Hamzah (Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Hamzah Zainudin) faced when he mentioned (the government’s) effort to reduce the cost of living in his speech, which was later spun to mean something else.

“I don’t know what will happen to this world, especially (to) all of you journalists. You are all responsible, what you are doing is… Remember, you all are going to see God and we will accuse you of lying and slandering towards the community, just to help some people gain success,” Malaysiakini quoted him as saying.

 

A Fake Hadith ?–Economics is Adam Smith’s and Adam Smith is a Man. The Prophet pbuh was  a merchant who understood Islamic Economics.

Hamzah (photo) had said the rise in living costs is God’s will, and quoted a saying, or hadith, attributed to Prophet Muhammad which states: “Verily, it is God who sets prices, who makes things hard, easy and gives out blessings”.)

Having read what Hamzah said and what was reported, why is Tengku Adnan taking umbrage? In the first place, what is the co-relation between God and food prices? What mortal sin have the journalists committed to face the wrath of God?

These are not problems but self-inflicted damage because most politicians open their mouths without engaging their brains in gear. When their words sometimes border on the ridiculous and ludicrous, they think they have found the escape hatch – blame the journalist and the media.

No journalist worth his salt wants to be labelled as a purveyor of fake or false news. Neither does he want to be accused of “manufacturing”, “creating” or attributing quotes which have been picked from thin air.

Editors who re-write to slant news

In some sections of the mainstream media, journalists have complained that their copy had been re-written by editors and seniors to slant towards certain parties and individuals. The editor has the final say and when he exercises his power, the only recourse the journalist has is: “I don’t want a byline as I don’t want to be associated with this article.”

There are few who take such courageous steps while many remain silent as they too become tools of the editor, usually a political appointee.

At a World Press Freedom day seminar a few years ago, I remarked that journalists first need “freedom from their editors” before even talking about anything else. The in-house censorship, the re-write desk and those politically connected have and will continue to change the course of events.

When was the last time you came across “1MDB” in the mainstream newspapers? Last week, US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions described 1MDB as “kleptocracy at its worst” in practice. That is how our country was described. It was not fake news. It was from a man in authority speaking of an organisation which was set up with taxpayers’ funds and has incurred billions of ringgit in borrowings. Aren’t we, as Malaysians, entitled to know about a Malaysian-owned government company?

Did you read about it in your daily newspaper or did you hear it on our news channels? Was it not news worthy to be shared with fellow Malaysians? Herein are the problem and a big difference. Some editors are professional and decide what is good for the country while there are those who decide what is not good for the government and its leaders.

Many believe that the “government censors news” but it is far from the truth. No government official is present when the newspaper is put to bed. It is the editor who decides what you should read.

Having said that, editors have a role to play in ensuring journalists don’t get carried away by taking all and sundry presented to them as gifts. Attempts will be made to feed information by one party which is detrimental to another. They have to ensure that the organisation and individuals do not become tools of certain people.

But to harass journalists for reporting what was said is certainly unacceptable. Having suddenly realised what had been said sounded idiotic, don’t blame the journalists.

They should not be allowed to be bullied by the likes of Tengku Adnan. If this minister and his colleague are aggrieved by what has been written, there are proper channels. Journalists, who now have recording equipment, cameras and mobile phones as tools of their trade, will be able to substantiate what they had written. Therefore, the likelihood of journalists misquoting anyone has been minimised.

It is rather surprising that no one has come to the defence of the journalists. Editors should not succumb to threats. They must be able to draw a thick line between the citizen’s right to know and officialdom’s attempt to cover wrongdoings.

So, let journalists do their jobs without outbursts, threats or invoking the name of the Almighty at the drop of a hat. We are doing them a service in educating, entertaining and informing our fellow citizens on issues that affect all of us. If that cannot be done, then the government will have to replicate the Pravda, a relic of what used to be the Soviet Union. Surely, we can’t come down so low.


R NADESWARAN is passionate about journalism and says freedom of expression and free speech must be encouraged and practised for democracy to thrive. Comments: citizen.nades22@gmail.com

An Interview with Mu Sochua


December 11, 2017

An Interview with Mu Sochua

In Jakarta on 8 December, politicians, activists, and scholars dug deeper into the themes covered in New Mandala‘s ongoing series on Southeast Asia’s crisis of democracy at a special forum hosted by the TIFA Foundation. Among the speakers was Mu Sochua, a senior member of Cambodia’s Cambodian National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by a court order on 16 November 2017. A long time human rights advocate and former Minister for Womens Affairs, she has now joined other CNRP figures in exile after being threatened with imprisonment. New Mandala editor Liam Gammon met with her for a brief interview about how the opposition is adapting to the crackdown.

Image result for An interview with Mu Sochua  New Mandala - 09 Dec, 2017

CNRP’s Mu Sochua on Democracy in Cambodia–Interview New Mandala

Do you think that by shutting off institutional avenues for opposition to his rule, Hun Sen has raised the probably of some sort of popular uprising—some kind of “people power” movement?

They are waiting for the opposition leaders to give the signal. In 2013 when we contested the result of the elections, we were in the streets for over three or four months. Up to half a million people were with us; we were at park called Freedom Park, it was the most beautiful, beautiful moment for democracy in Cambodia and never had it happened before.

Our party is not just a political party. It comes from a movement, from civil society, that has been able to plant democracy’s seeds in Cambodia for quite some time—after the Paris peace accords. It is actually the UN program on human rights free and fair elections that brought the Cambodian people the principles of democracy, of free and fair elections.

So, after that moment, people and then on the fourth of January 2014 Hun Sen brought the tank, shot the workers—since then, we have not been able to bring the people back. But then after that moment, when they shut down Freedom Park, I myself led a group—there were just two or three of us and then it went on to thousands and thousands—for three months, then I was arrested. Put in jail. And now my colleagues are now in jail for 20 years.

If you look back on the long road leading up to the crackdown this year, are you and other opposition figures thinking about some of the strategic mistakes that the opposition may have made? If you had to identify some things that you would have done differently, what would they be?

There are always gaps and short-sighted decisions. For example, at that moment when the tanks were coming at us—and every day we had half a million people with us—we were fighting all the time about whether to take the crowd to the right, or the left, you know—to confront the parliament and the government, to cross over the bridge, or whatever. So I was always in the camp of the young people—hot-headed, but my leaders are more like “no, we can’t do that”. I come from civil society, you see.

So we have always been, and even today, accused of not having good leadership. But we had half a million people—why did we not take over parliament? And we went over that for so long, even today. But one thing was very clear: we do not want to have bloodshed. Because of our past genocide. At any time in the day when Sam Rainsy said “march”, people will come out and march. But we’re not doing that. And we went into parliament after a year of boycott. When we signed the agreement with Hun Sen, we were too quick to accept the agreements. He [Hun Sen] promised that there be reforms in the judiciary, he promised that the opposition minority would be recognised, he promised that we could have our own TV. We signed the agreement, but we didn’t look at the details, and he didn’t deliver on the details. We lost at that.

Do you think there was an element of complacency within the leadership about whether Hun Sen would actually follow through on those commitments?

Image result for An interview with Mu Sochua  New Mandala - 09 Dec, 2017

Not complacency, but I think we were too—we made an agreement on the basis of mutual trust. But Hun Sen is not a democrat. And our mistake it that we assumed that he is a democrat.

And this is a central question for outside observers. If we’re making this claim that Hun Sen has killed Cambodian democracy, by implication we’re saying that from 1993 until 2017 it was a functioning democracy. In hindsight do you think that in reality this is not really the fall of a democracy or the fall of a pretence of democracy?

Full democracy, no. A façade of democracy. He allowed us to function in that framework. And the donors—we all knew. But we kept on going for democratic change within elections. But when he saw, and he sees now, that he will never win a truly democratic—even half democratic—elections, that’s why he had to kill it. However, we have 25 years of grassroots—this is not just elitist democracy, but grassroots. So we refuse to say we give up. We are banned from politics for 5 years, but we’re still very active. And we have to reconnect with civil society and our structure inside [Cambodia].

Image result for An interview with Mu Sochua  New Mandala - 09 Dec, 2017

On the China question: there’s an idea that’s getting stronger that part of the reason why Hun Sen has been so confident in cracking down on the media, civil society, and opposition forces is because Beijing, as it were, will have his back. I guess the question is are we in danger of overstating the influence of China? Would he have done this anyway?

No. I think the international community has been complacent. They want to say “okay, we’re finished with Cambodia”.

They saw it coming! The last time they had a real donor meeting with Hun Sen was four or five years ago. They made no demands whatsoever. And on top of that, I think they forget that Hun Sen needs the legitimacy. Hun Sen has a lot of money. His children have a lot of money. His cronies have a lot of money—invested in Australia, in France, in the USA. So when the US has imposed vis sanctions, within a day, Hun Sen says: “will you reconsider”. It touches a nerve, because he wants China and he wants the west at the same time. But the west is not willing to use its leverage.

It’s interesting that you mention the donor meetings, because they have become infamous as a ritual whereby the donors make of Hun Sen, there are promises that are never fulfilled, and they come back next year and nothing’s changed. Hun Sen has always done terrible things to the opposition—1997 for instance—and gotten away with it. Do international donors have to share in some of the blame for the current situation?

They put in five billion dollars and here it is. Look the judiciary. What reforms have taken place? Look at the scale of corruption. And even now, Australia, for example, still wants to engage Hun Sen, through this $50 million [sic] refugee deal that they made. What is this? So there is no way Australia can say “we didn’t know, we’re not part of it, we tried our best”. I just went to meet with your foreign minister, she still wants to engage Hun Sen. She doesn’t want to isolate Hun Sen. It’s because of the $50 million deal. This is really peeling [away] democracy. And this is how dictators survive. Even killers survive.

So if the threat of withholding western largesse hasn’t changed the regime’s behaviour before, why should we expect it to change now?

Before, Hun Sen didn’t have a lot of money. Now he has a lot of money. “He” meaning all his cronies, his generals. So they have to protect their territory. Before they fought to survive, now they fight to keep the money. To keep the prestige that they have, to keep the comfort that they have. But all of this could crumble very quickly, because he doesn’t fight on principle or anything, he fights just for his own power, so he’s very vulnerable.

This seems almost a silly question to ask, but do you see any role for Southeast Asian governments in disciplining Hun Sen?

Surely. Surely. We have to take measures to prevent another tragedy in Cambodia. If you study the ruling party structure, it has not changed from the communist structure. They had cells, groups, from a group of five, a group of ten, that spy on each other. Now, Hun Sen is doing the same thing. The parents are spying on the children because the youth are not voting for Hun Sen. But they are buying the parents, to force their children to vote for Hun Sen. And the children say no! in the past it was the children that spied on their parents—to see who is communist and who is not, to see who is Khmer Rouge and who is not. It’s the same type of control.

I assume you and your opposition colleagues are still communicating frequently?

There’s a lot of difficulty.

At what point do opposition leaders countenance trying, from abroad, to encourage street mobilisation?

Right now if we were to do it, I don’t know. We haven’t been able to meet in the same room to strategise. So it’s like dealing with this crisis one thing at a time, and that’s why we’re now saying we need to meet.

Within a party there are always differences. So we can fight within the party, and come up with a concrete game plan. Some people say “why don’t we go in. Why don’t we mobilise the people and march again?” Then some people say: “Are you crazy?” Some people are saying “how about a government in exile?”. But definitely, we are—

—strictly speaking, you haven’t won an election yet, so a government in exile might seem a little bit premature…

A shadow government. Although we knew that in 2013 we won, so we are capable of getting the votes. But we don’t want to think that way [about a government in exile], because that means long term outside, in exile. That would kill the hope of the people inside. We have to keep the hope alive.

So you envision a situation in which you and your colleagues could return to Cambodia?

Yeah. Any day. It could be any day. That’s why the role of ASEAN, the role of southeast Asian leaders—it may only take one person, to talk to Hun Sen and say, “what about a dignified exit strategy”.

Who do you think has that kind of clout in Southeast Asia?

Japan.

Do you see any movement there? Have they been sympathetic?

In the past, yes, it’s always been Japan who talked to Hun Sen.

The United States?

They are great at taking actions, but it antagonises. It’s good they deliver. But Hun Sen can say, “oh, it’s the United States”. And all the donors can say “that’s the US.”

It’s interesting that there’s this impulse to talk about the external influences, because one of the criticisms of the opposition, and of Sam Rainsy in particular, was that he was better at cultivating support and networks in Washington or Paris than he was in Phnom Penh.

No, no, no. Totally wrong. Of course, high ranking officials talk to him. But his popularity is in the country. Sam Rainsy can go anywhere in the country, the crowd around him. He’s a symbol. Like Khem Sokha. Even me, when I go to my country, I don’t need anything, I walk around and people get me a motorcycle.

We represent the hope of the people. He is educated, he speaks the language of an educated person. But if he were so close to France, to the Élysée, France would be working with us today. France is not working. We were saying, “France? Where are you?”

You have to live a life on the move now. Living in exile is expensive, isolating, stressful—do you feel safe in exile? Do you expect to be, or have you been, contacted by representatives of the regime?

In Thailand. When I go to Thailand, I don’t feel safe. Now that I talk a lot, that I am the face of the opposition—I’m on BBC, I’m on Aljazeera—I worry. You never know; you don’t want to touch these nerves. And I always go alone. The expenses are always covered somehow. And the loneliness, I have to deal with that. My children want me home, my grandchild wants me home. Of course, I just went through the passing away of my husband. So it’s been a long, difficult two years. However, serving democracy keeps me alive. And I refuse to slow down, although I wish I could, but that’s not a choice. And I have the choice of staying home in Cambodia, but staying behind in a cell. Being captured.

Now there are some CNRP figures left in Cambodia, are they able to engage in any political activity, or are they laying low?

No, they are laying low. Even in communicating with them, we try to not endanger them. We have many in Thailand as well, so even speaking to them—I’m going to go through Thailand, they come to meet me at the airport. I don’t go to visit where they are. And their places have been raided by the local police in Thailand.

So to put it in simple terms, you see the Thai regime as unfriendly to the opposition?

So far they have not kicked us out, but they have given us the message: don’t do anything political. But with Khun Kasit [Piromya], who is the go-between between us and the military, we have been able to stay in Bangkok.

Although you say you have the hope of going back to Cambodia, in the back of your mind do you think about a life outside of Cambodia forever?

[Smiles]. I don’t want to think about it. Because my husband’s ashes are at home. I had less than 24 hours to pack my bags. We had a beautiful home, and a beautiful life. My people are beautiful people. It pains me to stay away from them. It pains me to hear them crying, going back to the farm, going back to being motor taxi drivers, are used to living in exile, are used to hiding [sic], it’s very painful.

The clock is ticking; there’s going to be some kind of election in Cambodia next year, do you think there’s a possibility that Hun Sen could climb down from his current strategy and there could be some kind of free and fair contest? And if not, are you planning towards subsequent elections as a next goal?

At this point we want to be optimistic, so we are focused on lobbying ASEAN. We have done a lot of work in Europe and the US, now it’s ASEAN.

Do you have realistic hopes of being able to contest in 2018?

Yep. We only need six months. Because we are so sure of our strategy.

So in the short term, what do you define as success?

Free[ing] Kem Sokha on 10 December. And for us to go home.

The Politics of Zaid Ibrahim


December 11, 2017

The Politics of  Zaid Ibrahim

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

The only real radicalism in our time will come as it always has – from people who insist on thinking for themselves and who reject party-mindedness.”

– Christopher Hitchens, ‘Christopher Hitchens and His Critics: Terror, Iraq, and the Left’

COMMENT | I have no idea how this saga with former minister Zaid Ibrahim and his persecutors will end. When the late Karpal Singh spoke truth to power, he made two statements that sum up the mess we are in now:

1. “I hope the Royalty will not delve in politics. If it does, then it must be prepared to be criticised for whatever they say.”

2. “The question of being anti-Royalty does not arise. The Tengku Mahkota of Kelantan saw it fit to descend into the political arena by making a statement early this month that the non-Malays should not ask for equal rights.”

These are two powerful statements of principles from the late Karpal Singh.

Image result for hrh sultan of selangorThe Dynamic HRH Sultan of Selangor

 

The irony is, of course, Zaid said more or less the same thing when he responded to the Selangor Sultan.  For his defence of the former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he invited the usual charges of being anti-Malay and anti-Royalty. He also discovered that he had no “friends” in the opposition who were willing to stand with him in his time of need.

Image result for Pua Tony

 

When Tony Pua claims that Selangor DAP has “no position” on this issue, it is complete horse manure. A member of your political party makes a provocative statement and DAP has no stand on this issue, and going so far as to declare that his statement does not reflect on the party in any way because he is not an office bearer.

Does this make any sense?

Either you disagree with the statements Zaid made and make it clear that DAP does not condone engagement with the Royalty this way – which would be strange – or, you delicately phrase a response which does not make you sound like an arrogant political operative who just wants to save the party’s skin. It does not matter if Bersatu Youth wants Zaid to apologise, which is at least a position taken but rather that Zaid is from your party and has defended DAP numerous times against the assaults of the establishment and their proxies.

 

UMNO dulu, sekarang dan selama lamanya (UMNO past, present and forever)–Loyalty pays

Partisans claim that getting involved in this dispute is just falling into an UMNO trap, but the reality is that, UMNO will always use provocations to paint the DAP as anti-Malay. Pua’s statement is more damaging than anything UMNO can do because it makes those Malays who stick their neck out realise that they will not receive any support for their efforts. They will only be used as window dressing when it suits the purposes of oppositional political elites and thrown to the hounds when they make statements that most feel are right but are politically sensitive.

In addition, what does “would have to deal with whatever repercussions that come” mean? Zaid is being vilified by the outsourced thugs of UMNO. He has been threatened by establishment figures and harassed by the same people who claim that DAP is anti-Malay and wish to destroy Malay institutions, and the best DAP can come up with is to cut Zaid loose?

Speaking truth to power

Imagine if Zaid had said the same thing when DAP political operatives incurred the wrath of establishment figures for making provocative – in the Malaysian context – statements. Imagine if he played the game like Amanah, Bersatu and PAS instead of clearly articulating his stand on issues such as race and religion, which many Malays actually subscribe to but are afraid to voice out. Come on, anytime there were religious and racial provocations, Zaid was the first in the fight defending the secular and constitutional rights of all Malaysians.

The politically accident-prone Zaid Ibrahim

When I interviewed Zaid (photo), he said – “I always believe it’s better to state the right positions clearly and unambiguously on core delicate issues even if it means we have to ‘lose’ some support in the beginning. Politics is not just winning; but about doing the right thing. Long-term goals are equally important.”

The problem here is that people think that by cutting Zaid loose, it absolves them from this fiasco. But the real problem is that every Malaysian who wants to save Malaysia is part of this problem. We were part of this problem when Karpal spoke truth to power and we are a part of it now.

Yes, the establishment is going to vilify you. They are doing it already. But now every Malay who understands that he or she needs to speak truth to power will understand that if they belong to DAP, they are on their own. This is far more damaging than anything the establishment can do.

And for establishment types, the narrative will be that Zaid got what he deserved by joining the “Chinese” dominated DAP, who only used him to run down the Malay community. Right now, they are shovelling great huge dollops of schadenfreude down their mouths. I know, because some of them call me gloatingly about Zaid’s latest “blunder”.

If I were DAP, I would have just issued a statement along these lines making three important points:

1. DAP prays for the safety of Zaid and his family.

2. DAP does not believe that Zaid is anti-royalty or a traitor to the Malay race.

3. DAP respects the royal institutions of this country.

This would have been the honourable thing to do. I have no idea what Zaid will do now. Seeking protection from the man who advocates kenduri kendara gangsters seems tragic but understandable under the circumstances. In this climate, Malay opposition personalities get it worse and Zaid has done enough for the opposition. An UMNO friend told me, even though there may be no evidence that UMNO is still strong, but UMNO can still take down the opposition.

The coming days will see changes in the narrative. Zaid will either become a symbol of saving Malaysia or an object of derision. Either way, he is still not going to have any friends in the political elite.


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

 

Trump’s Reagan-like Relative Moralism


November 10, 2017

Trump’s Reagan-like Relative Moralism

https://www.economist.com

Fortunately, he has yet to notice

IF DENIZENS of political Washington recall the commotion, way back on February 24th, when President Donald Trump’s press team excluded CNN, the New York Times and others from a White House briefing, most probably shrug at the memory. Editors lodged formal complaints at the time, not least because the snub came hours after Mr Trump told cheering conservative activists that the “fake news media” are “the enemy of the people”. But there have been many commotions since, and worse snubs.

Image result for Trump and Hun Sen

 

Yet there are places where that kerfuffle in a White House corridor left a mark. Take Cambodia, the South-East Asian country whose autocratic government charged two ex-reporters in November with “espionage”, citing their previous work for Radio Free Asia (RFA), a news outlet funded by the American government. There is a direct connection between the detention of Yeang Sothearin and Uon Chhin, who face up to 15 years in prison, and that moment of early Trumpian bombast. Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, pounced on the humbling of reporters by the White House, declaring with approval on February 27th that Mr Trump, like him, sees the press causing “anarchy”. The gloating did not stop there. Denouncing a CNN report on sex trafficking in Cambodia in August, Mr Hun Sen grumbled that “President Trump is right: US media is very tricky.” Cambodian officials expelled the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based outfit that promotes free and fair elections with funding from the American and other Western governments, and ordered radio stations to stop carrying broadcasts by RFA and the Voice of America.

Escalating the fight, the government accused the main opposition party of being involved in an American-backed plot to overthrow Mr Hun Sen, offering as evidence images of opposition activists meeting diplomats and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Livid at being rebuked by the American embassy in Cambodia, Mr Hun Sen took his complaints to the top. Using a summit of Asian leaders in Manila on November 13th to praise Mr Trump face-to-face, Mr Hun Sen called him “a great person” wisely uninterested in human rights. “I don’t know if you are like me, or I am like you,” he swooned. He had just one gripe. Mr Trump should “admonish” diplomats at the American embassy who were working against his “great principle” of non-interference in the politics of foreign lands.

A summit photograph of Mr Hun Sen with Mr Trump, thumbs-up, beaming, was hailed by Cambodia’s former foreign minister as proof that it is better to “meet with the boss” than talk to “slaves”. It was a remarkable moment, and a misjudgment. Mr Hun Sen, along with other despots and autocrats, saw a soulmate in an American President who campaigned by attacking the free press and the judiciary, who threatened to lock up his opponent once elected, who kept secret his tax returns, who suggested that the presidential election might be rigged, and who scorned the idea that his country is a democratic model, growling: “The world sees how bad the United States is.” That led the Cambodian leader to a gamble which, from outside the country, seems highly confusing: to try to recruit America’s president as an ally in a purge built around an anti-American conspiracy theory. It failed. On November 16th the White House issued a statement expressing “grave concern” after Cambodia’s highest court dissolved the main opposition party, declaring that next year’s elections, on current course, “will not be legitimate, free or fair” and warning of “concrete steps” in response.

Cambodia’s story is instructive. Mr Trump has flouted norms upheld—at least in theory—by all modern holders of his office. He has scorned the very idea of American exceptionalism, telling Arab and Muslim leaders in Riyadh in May: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live.” A forthcoming national-security strategy is set to mark a step back from global leadership, towards a narrower, more zero-sum view of American interests. Nonetheless, some foreign rulers who felt emboldened to repress domestic enemies with impunity have been startled to find that no Trump doctrine reliably protects them.

The Trump White House is far too chaotic, riven by infighting and buffeted by the impulses of the president, to have clear doctrines about democracy promotion, or many other weighty questions of geopolitics, says a senior administration official. A position may earn signs of support from Mr Trump, but “you can take that to the bank for as long as you are talking to him”, says the official—before a presidential tweet says the opposite minutes later. Mr Hun Sen’s blunder, the official says, was to project his own absolutism onto America. “He seems to think that now we have this rich old guy in charge of the United States, [Mr Trump] can snap his fingers and everything will change.” American government is messier than that. With a small country like Cambodia, policy remains broadly set by career foreign service officers (among them the American ambassador), by staff in the National Security Council and by members of Congress sincerely aggrieved by Mr Hun Sen’s assaults on democracy and news outlets. That group includes Mr McCain and his Republican colleagues Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Congressman Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Image result for Viktor Orban

President Donald Trump and Hungary’s Strong Man Viktor Orban

A second telling case may be found in Hungary, a European ally and NATO member state whose increasingly autocratic government greeted Mr Trump’s election with glee, only to overreach in its turn. Relations between President Barack Obama and the Hungarian government led by Viktor Orban were icy, chilled by the passage of laws curbing the independence of the press, the civil service and the courts. They were made worse by official attempts to rehabilitate anti-Semitic Hungarian leaders from the second world war, and by Mr Orban’s admiration for Vladimir Putin’s Russia. At one point in 2014, the State Department banned six Hungarian officials from entering America on suspicion of corruption—a dramatic step against a NATO ally. One of them tried to sue America’s top diplomat in Budapest for defamation.

Mr Orban is proud of being the first European leader to endorse Mr Trump, says the Hungarian Ambassador to Washington, Laszlo Szabo. It is “very obvious” that the two leaders share similar views on defending their countries from illegal immigrants, a term which the ambassador uses to cover the vast majority of those who reached Europe during the refugee crisis of 2015. They also agree on the public’s yearning for strong, sovereign governments that stand up for their national interests with what Mr Szabo calls a “healthy self-consciousness”. In April the Hungarian Parliament amended a higher-education law in a way that threatened to close down the Central European University (CEU), a graduate institute founded by the Hungarian-American billionaire, George Soros, a bogeyman to conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. In June Hungary passed a law restricting foreign funding for civil-society groups, again singling out Mr Soros, and triggering legal action by the European Commission in Brussels, which believes the measure may breach EU fundamental rights. If Mr Orban expected to be thanked by the Trump administration or Republicans in Congress for this assault on Mr Soros, he was disappointed.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Chris Murphy of Connecticut, told Mr Orban that the law against CEU threatens academic freedoms. Hungary forgot that Congress has no desire to encourage despotic attacks on the many American universities with branches overseas. The Trump-era State Department called the law on civil-society groups “another step away” from Hungarian commitments to the values of the EU and of NATO. In October the American chargé d’affaires, or acting ambassador to Hungary, David Kostelancik, delivered a blistering speech on press freedoms, decrying the growing dominance of “pro-government figures” over the media, who quash articles critical of the government. Treading a delicate path, Mr Kostelancik conceded that “My president is not shy about criticising the media when he believes reporters get it wrong or show bias,” but noted that “in the finest traditions of our free press”, the targets of Mr Trump’s wrath often point out that “not every criticism of the government is ‘fake news’.” Most pointedly, Mr Kostelancik deplored the “dangerous” decision of media outlets linked to the Hungarian government to publish the names of individual journalists deemed “threats” to the country.

A former Republican congressman who now works as a lobbyist for the Hungarian government, Connie Mack, supported a handful of members of the House of Representatives as they complained about the chargé d’affaires to Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state. Still, Mr Trump has neither sided with Mr Orban nor yet welcomed him to the Oval Office. Frustrated amid the chandeliered splendour of the Hungarian embassy in Washington, Mr Szabo calls his State Department critics “old Obama administration technocrats” who do not speak for Mr Trump. Hungary’s problems do not reach the president, he says. “Decisions about Hungary are not happening at the levels we would like.”

Image result for al sisi president

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi– A Fantastic Guy doing “a fantastic job” says President Donald Trump

A third and final case study involves Egypt, a large, important and problematic ally whose strongman leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (with Trump at The White House), has not found the new administration as easy to handle as he seemed to expect. Few modern presidents have pressed Egypt hard on human rights, placing greater emphasis on the stability of the most populous Arab country, and on co-operation with the Egyptian military, intelligence and counter-terrorist services. Relations have been sweetened with tens of billions of dollars in American aid since 1948, much of it to buy weapons.

Early expectations for Trump administration policy were not high. Mr Trump praised Mr al-Sisi as a “fantastic guy” doing a “fantastic job” under trying circumstances, even as the State Department was preparing a formal memorandum to Congress accusing Egyptian authorities of arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances and reported extrajudicial killings. But in an unprecedented move the State Department froze nearly $100m in military and economic aid to Egypt, citing human-rights concerns, a move that a senior figure in the Obama administration applauds and calls “a significant piece of pain to impose”. Senators of both parties applied pressure to the State Department, freezing some aid for Egypt on their own initiative.

Mr Trump also secured the release of Aya Hijazi, an American dual national jailed on charges for which the authorities offered no serious evidence, after founding a charity to help street children. Her story caught Mr Trump’s attention—this is crazy, he told aides—and he proudly invited her to the White House after her release. The president, who is often highly interested in whether he, personally, will be given credit for an action, has said nothing in public about the other 60,000 political prisoners thought to languish in Egyptian cells.

A White House official says Mr Trump’s Egypt policy is proof that the President does work to promote human rights, despite his unconventional rhetoric. The approach of President George W. Bush was “to very publicly endorse this idea of pushing democracy and freedom. You saw the Obama administration very publicly embarrass leaders and say you must address these human rights issues,” says the official. But thanks to behind-the-scenes pressure, based on strong personal relations, Mr Trump “gets the results”. This aide casts the President as a Reagan-like realist, treating radical Islam as something akin to the communism of the age and working with imperfect allies, when necessary, to advance major reforms, notably in Saudi Arabia. “Look at the speeches that Bush and Obama gave, and nothing changed.”

Hardline nationalists in the President’s inner circle, notably his senior adviser, Stephen Miller, and colleagues in the Domestic Policy Council, enjoy unusual clout during debates about refugees or UN reform, leaving them locked in what one former official calls “open warfare” with NSC staff. Despite this, democracy promotion schemes continue on autopilot in many countries, shielded by multi-year budgets.

How America projects its values has real-world effects, says Steve Pomper, who worked on human rights in the Obama-era NSC and is now at the International Crisis Group. “It’s a choice: giving people reason to hope if they are languishing in prison, or giving their jailers hope that they can act with impunity.” Mr Trump’s instincts are causing “grievous damage,” concludes a senior administration official. But foreign autocrats are also learning that America’s president does not rule alone. “The president may scorn checks and balances,” says the official, “but we still have them.”

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Relative moralism”