Najib Razak’s Cabinet–Hududism on the Way


August 2, 2015

Listen to Ambiga on kiniTv: PM gone crazy

Malaysia: More on Najib Razak’s Cabinet–Hududism on the Way

by AR Zurairi@www.malaymailone.com

Najib on HududA Hudud Prime Minister

A Cabinet reshuffle is not about dropping ministers who have underperformed or are unpopular with the public, at least not in Malaysia.

If that were true, then we would not still be seeing former Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan around after the massive kerfuffle with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.

Ahmad MaslanHigh GPA Minister

Instead he is now the Deputy International Trade and industry minister, with perhaps a role in the handling of the hot potato that is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

And we would not still see Ismail Sabri Yaakob, not after his call to boycott Chinese traders in February. And then, you have Jamil Khir Baharom, whose tenure as a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs has been nothing but horrendous with regards to the rights and civil liberties of not only non-Muslims, but some in the Muslim community themselves.

Datuk-Jamil-Khir-BaharomLaksamana (Admiral) al-Hudud

The past few years have seen the divide between Muslims and others grow even wider as Islamic authorities gain the upper hand in determining the country’s policies and undermining the Federal Constitution.

Under Jamil, Islamic authorities — either federal or state — have only grown bolder in encroaching more into Malaysian lives with impunity and without rebuke.

State religious authorities have several times, in court and usually in judicial reviews, insisted that the Shariah court has jurisdiction over civil courts, and Shariah laws should not be subjected to the provisions in the Constitution.

Jamil himself has even alleged a “new wave” of assault on Islam here, accusing human rights activists of colluding with enemies of Islam to put its religious institutions on trial in a secular court.

Instead, Jamil now has a Deputy minister in the form of Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, the UMNO senator more popularly known as the head of Muslim missionary group Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (YADIM).

Judging from his track record, Asyraf is a perfect fit for Jamil, and we can expect more of the same from our Islamic authorities.

In 2013, Asyraf was among the speakers of the Symposium on Facing Foreign Agenda with the theme “Malay Leadership Crisis”, jointly organised by Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia and its student wing Pembina, where he urged Muslims to always prioritise their own rights over the non-Muslims.

More recently, his antics as a senator included suggesting in Dewan Negara that 24-hour eateries could be the cause of “social problems”, claiming no such outlets are available in developed countries.

But most of all, the Tumpat-born Asyraf is a vocal proponent of implementing the controversial Islamic penal code of hudud across the country, and he seems to have a clearer vision of it than Jamil.

Last year, YADIM organised a conference compiling working papers on implementing hudud from Muslim academics nationwide. The compilation was edited into a book by Asyraf and it was launched earlier this year.

Among those who submitted papers were former Chief Justice Abdul Hamid Mohamad, and Perlis mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin. But there were also PAS Ulama wing chief Dr Mahfodz Mohamed, Dr Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali who was then the wing’s information chief, and Kelantan exco member Dr Mohamed Fadzli Hassan, also from PAS.

The conclusion from the papers had been that it is not impossible for hudud to be implemented in the country, but it takes a bipartisan effort that puts Islam above all other considerations.

When met after the book launch, Khairuddin had coyly said this consensus on hudud is not a collaboration between UMNO and PAS, but rather a government-to-government deal between Putrajaya and Kelantan.

It has since been a tug-of-war between the two political parties. Ever since Kelantan passed an amendment to its Shariah Criminal Enactment to pave way for hudud, PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang has been trying to table private members’ Bills to clear any legal obstacles.

Even though Jamil had said that Putrajaya and UMNO have no qualms implementing hudud, he has stopped short of suggesting anything concrete. Hadi’s Bills have so far been put on the backburner in two previous Parliament sittings.

It has been suggested that the failure of PAS to push for hudud has been its recent haste in doing so, ignoring the blueprint allegedly drawn by Putrajaya to implement hudud in the country.

The paper, said to be prepared by a Shariah-Civil Technical Committee under JAKIM, the federal Islamic authority under Jamil, had concluded that the Constitution does not bar the incorporation of hudud into the Penal Code and its subsequent application to all Malaysians, not just Muslims.

It also stated it was vital for all local laws to be harmonised with Islamic principles.

Of course, the blueprint went out of the window after it was leaked to the public, and PAS meanwhile went ahead with its hudud plan in Kelantan to advance its credibility with its supporters prior to its annual congress and internal polls.

The move had arguably forced DAP’s hand which led to Pakatan Rakyat’s death, and also PAS’ progressive leaders in Harapan Baru which are now finalising plans for a new Islamic party.

With DAP and its progressive leaders out of the picture, and PAS going it mostly alone, its hudud goals might get a new life.And now PAS, and its clergy faction which took over the party, has one more ally in a high place: the now Deputy Minister Asyraf.

With UMNO grasping for support amid its fractious power struggle, will we see this alliance lead to a rekindling of the PAS-UMNO “friendship”?

“What is the most important is to ensure the agenda involving hudud can be realised, God willing,” Asyraf said in a status update on his official Facebook page on Wednesday following his appointment. With his newfound power, Asyraf now has carte blanche to realise this hudud ambition.

Malaysia: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Defence Game


August 2, 2015

Malaysia: Malaysian PM’s Successful Defensive Game

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

Najib-Razak-david-_3392712bNajib Razak got a message on Corruption from David Cameron

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has played a deft defensive game to keep his job in the face of what ought to be overwhelming forces to remove him. He has fired enemies, co-opted others and muzzled  the press.

That leaves only a handful who may stand in his way including Zeti Akhtar Aziz, the central banker, who is said to be under enormous pressure but who has access to incriminating bank records on both Najib and his wife, Rosmah Mansor. The other is Ahmad Hamdan Dahlan, the chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, who has remained silent on which way the commission may go. There are rumors in Kuala Lumpur that he may be the next to get the boot.

Political analysts now are trying to assess new damage from an explosive account in the UK-based Sarawak Report that published what are purported to be drafts of corruption charges to be brought by Malaysian former Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail, who was fired on July 28, and shunted into a make-work position. Rumors of Gani Patail’s decision to charge the prime minister circulated well before he was sacked.

Scandal and tumult

That was only the latest in a tumultuous week in Kuala Lumpur. For more than a  year, Najib has been ensnared in one of the biggest financial scandals in recent history.  But despite the ostensible damage, he is expected to survive, at least for now, partly because there is nobody around with the power to topple him. Even if the opposition were to somehow pull back together, he seems safe from a no-confidence motion in the Parliament and has until 2018 to regroup for the next general election.

While the economy may be more decisive in determining the outcome of the next general election, analysts expect the political cauldron to continue to bubble for the next two years, unless something unseen breaks. It is hard to see what that might be given the peculiar nature of Malaysian politics, as ethnic Malays, who make up 60 percent of the country, regard UMNO as their defender against the Chinese, who occupy the economic heights.  To many the continuing attacks on Najib and UMNO represent a threat against their guardian.

Over the years Najib has survived being caught in a Port Dickson motel room bed with an actress, being investigated by French prosecutors for taking a €114 million kickback on the purchase of submarines as Defense Minister and overpaying by a vast amount on the purchase of a wide range of other military weapons that probably resulted in kickbacks.

In the current episode, the Premier has muzzled the most influential business newspapers in the country and left those owned by the political parties, including UMNO’s vitriolic Utusan Malaysia, the Malay-language broadsheet, to blast opponents as agents of foreign powers. The English-language New Straits Times and Star have been content to largely parrot the government  line.

By firing Akhil Bulat, the head of Special Branch, Najib has pushed out what amounts to the police intelligence chief and the man who knows where the bodies are buried. Bulat, a source told Asia Sentinel, has grown increasingly critical of Najib in private circles, saying he has to go.

The most potent threat, beyond the Bank Negara documents, is the long-running and often-delayed investigation by the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee into the affairs of the troubled 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Najib has addressed that by appointing four UMNO members of the committee to cabinet positions when he reshuffled the cabinet and ousted his critics. The chairman, Nur Jazlan Mohamed, has been named Deputy Home Minister.

Nur JazlanLoyalty over Duty=Promotion=Loss of Dignity

While opposition members of the bipartisan committee have vowed to continue their work, other observers believe it has been effectively neutered, at least for now.

Whether or not Najib retains the loyalty of the 190-odd United Malays Organization district chiefs, he has neutered opposition there as well by pushing intra-party elections back by 18 months so that even if his enemies, including former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad could generate party support, it doesn’t appear that anybody can get at him. But pushing the elections back cuts both ways. Najib can’t be ousted but neither can Muhyiddin Yassin, fired as Deputy Prime Minister early this week, be sacked as Deputy President.

Najib also endured a tongue-lashing this week from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had the ill timing to land in Kuala Lumpur to peddle trade as the scandal blew open. The British premier skulked out of town as quickly as he could. It was hardly the reflected prestige that Najib was counting on to boost his street cred.

Deflect the bad news

As Najib’s supporters have done since the scandal blew open months ago, they sought to deflect the latest salvo by Sarawak Report, saying unnamed forces want to end parliamentary democracy in Malaysia. Apandi Ali, the new attorney general, who was appointed the same day Gani Patail was removed, said the documents were part of a “conspiracy to topple a serving prime minister” and a “threat to Malaysia’s democracy.”

Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the nakedly ambitious and often mercurial deputy prime minister picked to replace Muhyiddin, and Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar, went on the opposition against crusading Sarawak Report editor Clare  Rewcastle Brown, saying sedition charges are likely to be brought against her, a hollow charge since she operates in the UK, which is not about to bend to already-existing demands to extradite her. For weeks, forces believed to be paid by middle eastern oil interests have staged an all-out campaign to discredit Rewcastle Brown, stalking her in London to photograph people she meets and charging they are part of the conspiracy.  They paid a former Sarawak Radio official to accuse her of altering documents to discredit 1MDB.

In the latest case, Rewcastle Brown said she had verified the documents with senior officials before printing them. Gani Patail has been silent on it. One presumes he would denounce the documents if they were fake.

Americk Sidhu, a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer, went to bat for the documents. “The way those charge sheets are drafted indicates the person tasked with that job knew what he was doing,” Sidhu said. “There is a complex legal structure to both charges (in the alternative) which any layman would not be able to understand or even appreciate. The details are also too intricate to be made up. Remember these were still drafts. The final product would have been a little different but the substance would remain.”

The draft also contains a police report, on which the draft charge would have been based. “I have seen charge sheets before,” Sidhu said. “They look like this.” The documents indicate Gani Patail was about to charge Najib and a company director of the controversial state-backed 1Malasia Development Bhd with corrupt practices under Section 17 (a) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act, with the potential of up to 20 years in prison.

Do average voters care?

But Najib remains insulated from rank and file voters.  “IMDB is too complicated for the average Malaysian,” said a veteran think tanker, who pointed out that a decision to impose a goods and services tax in April has been hugely unpopular. 

“What the average Malaysian thinks is this – I have to pay GST because IMDB owes RM42 billion, can’t pay its loans and has to be bailed out by the government. Other missteps by government – petrol prices raised BEFORE [Ramadan]. Think of the impact on all those in the kampungs.  Consumer spending is down this year.”

The business community and the economy are being hit hard.  The ringgit, the Malaysian unit of currency, has fallen more than any other in Southeast Asia. Malaysian Industrial Finance  has reported that so far in 2015 nearly RM10 billion net has flowed out from the stock market after another RM6 billion plus in 2014.

He still faces opposition from Muhyiddin and Mahathir as well. Muhyiddin is still UMNO Deputy President despite having been sacked as Deputy Prime Minister. He retains considerable power in the southern state of Johor, an UMNO bastion.

“Now freed from government work, Muhyiddin can visit UMNO branches to canvas for support. He also has very, very well-heeled supporters, “said the think tank  operative. In particular, the Tunku Makhota, Johor’s crown prince recently attacked the handling of the scandal only to have UMNO figures lash out at him. That in turn earned the critics an investigation for insulting the Johor monarchy, further splitting the party in the state.

“I think Najib made a mistake in sacking Muhyiddin,” the think tank official said. “Sacking him will prompt Muhyiddin to go for broke. I think a better strategy would have been to allow Muhyiddin to remain as DPM but give him an inconsequential portfolio.”

David Cameron talks to Najib on Democracy, Civil Rights and Corruption


July 31, 2015

Bilateral Relations

David Cameron challenges Malaysian PM Najib Razak on Corruption

The Prime Minister urged Mr Razak to clean up his government and challenged the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim, the country’s opposition leader in jail

Najib-Razak-david-_3392712bDavid Cameron and Najib

Allegations that $700 million (£450 million) in state development funds ended up in Mr Najib’s personal bank accounts overshadowed a visit by the Prime Minister designed to build trade ties.

During a long, one-to-one meeting, Mr Cameron on Thursday urged Mr Najib to clean up his government.

In a pointed move, he then met with civil society leaders, including journalists, the G25 group of campaigners and lawyers, who are campaigning for greater democracy and a free press.Mr Cameron also challenged Mr Najib over the treatment of Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader in jail on sodomy charges.

Sir Kim Darroch, Mr Cameron’s national security adviser, met with Mr Anwar’s daughter who is playing a leading role in the opposition movement.They discussed building a free press and her father’s treatment.

The encounters followed demands from some opposition figures that Mr Cameron cancel the visit, during which he courted investors to fund the so-called Northern Powerhouse infrastructure projects in Britain.

The Prime Minister said: “It is right to go ahead with the visit, but nothing should be off the table. We should talk about these issues including the specific ones now,” he said.

“We always have discussions with civil society figures, anti-corruption campaigners, opposition leaders and all the rest and that will happen on this visit too.

“I don’t think it helps not traveling to a country and turning away. It is better to go and talk about these things.”

UK officials stressed the visit was to build relationships between “peoples”, not leaders.

After the one-to-one meeting, Mr Cameron is understood to have repeated the message to a wider gathering of Malaysian government figures in front of Mr Najib.

In an address in Singapore on Tuesday, Mr Cameron denounced corruption as the “enemy of progress” that held back growth and fuelled al-Qaeda and migration.

“We have a strong relationship and that enables us to talk difficult issues. I want to raise some of the issues I raised in my speech earlier in the week, such as ethics in business and fighting corruption,” he is understood to have said.

“We should be working together for an open society and open economy.”

Mr Najib is facing growing calls to resign over the allegations, which he denies. He this week fired attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail, who was investigating the scandal, and Muhyiddin Yassin, who had criticised him over the affair.

Time to welcome Timor Leste into ASEAN


July 31, 2015

Foreign Affairs

Bendera-Timor-Leste-2

COMMENT: Friends of Timor Leste welcome this initiative by the Jokowi administration to push for the country’s admission into ASEAN. There are no grounds to postpone this decision and one hopes that come November 2015 ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur ASEAN leaders will welcome Timor Leste as a full and equal partner.

It is commendable that Indonesia, a former occupier of this little island nation, should take the initiative to raise the matter at the forthcoming August 2015 ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur. This will be seen as a final reconciliation move and as formal endorsement of Timor Leste as a sovereign and independent nation state by Indonesia.

I remember  being in Dili several years ago when the question of Timor Leste’s admission into the ASEAN community was the sole agenda for the forum organised by the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research Institute. At the time, Timor Leste was protected by a UN Peacekeeping Force which included a contingent from our Royal Malaysian Police.

There was consensus among forum delegates that Timor Leste’s membership in ASEAN should be a non-issue. We, however, agreed at the time that their officials should use the interim period to learn more about ASEAN processes and work on a campaign to convince their own citizens that ASEAN would be good for their country. I was impressed with these officials for their commitment to and understanding of ASEAN.

I am now glad that the opportunity has come to admit Timor Leste. I am sure that we can look forward to welcoming the people of this beautiful island nation into our community in Kuala Lumpur at the  November 2015 ASEAN Summit. I thank President Jokowi Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi and officials of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry for this important initiative. Timor Leste deserves our support and encouragement. –Din Merican

ASEAN: Time Leste as 11th Member –A Welcome and Timely Move

ASEAN Community 2015

The Indonesian delegates would raise the issue of membership of Timor Leste in ASEAN during the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur early next month, an Indonesian official said in Jakarta today.

The Indonesian government would persistently attempt to include the new nation into the ASEAN membership, China’s Xinhua news agency reported MI Derry Aman, Director at the Indonesian foreign ministry, as saying.

“Indonesia will raise the issue of Timor Leste membership in ASEAN (at the meeting). It is time for the ASEAN member countries to consider the membership of Timor Leste,” he said at his office.

Indonesia is the first country giving support to the membership as the new nation is located in the Southeast Asia region, according to Aman.

“Indonesia’s commitment is clear that Timor Leste will be an ASEAN member country in the future,” he revealed.

A study on the readiness of Timor Leste on the membership has been carrying out which will determine whether the new nation will be accepted into the Asean membership, according to him.

– Bernama

Lightning Strike Against Enemies in UMNO and Public Officials may yet save Najib


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Lightning Strike Against Enemies in UMNO and Public Officials may yet save Najib

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

najib-low-yat2

Whichever way one looks at the changing of the Attorney-General, the appointment of a new Special Branch head and the cabinet reshuffle, they have everything to do with that self-styled strategic development company that isn’t – 1MDB. Just what is the Prime Minister trying to achieve with the 1MDB reshuffle?

Yes, it is the Prime Minister’s prerogative to reshuffle the cabinet and perhaps even to change the attorney-general and the Special Branch head. But if he hopes by this to show his strength, then he is mistaken. He exposes his weakness instead.

The cabinet reshuffle yesterday afternoon was preceded by the change of the attorney-general. Effectively Abdul Gani Patail was removed in an announcement by the Chief Secretary to the government, Ali Hamsa – the reason, health. But Abdul Gani himself was in the dark about the announcement and refused any comment to reporters.

So why was Abdul Gani so unceremoniously removed after his many years of service dating back to the time of Dr Mahathir Mohamad when he was Prime Minister? He was lead prosecutor in Anwar Ibrahim’s first sodomy case and became Attorney-General in 2002. He has served under three Prime Ministers.

More recently he became head of the task force investigating 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB). As attorney-general, he had the sole authority to decide on prosecution in the country. Others in the task force are Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia, the Inspector-General of Police Abdul Khalid Abu Bakar, and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Chief Commissioner Abu Kassim Mohamad.

Right now the Prime Minister is facing allegations, not properly denied by him or his office, that some RM2.7 billion was deposited into his accounts at AMIslamic Bank. This was reported by The Wall Street Journal which has unambiguously stood by its story. Perhaps the Prime Minister thinks that Abdul Gani is too close to Mahathir, a constant critic of him in recent times and especially over 1MDB, and therefore cannot be trusted.

The new Attorney-General is an UMNO loyalist and a former Federal Court judge. A change at this stage must raise questions as to whether it is being done to ensure that there is no prosecution of the Prime Minister in investigations related to him and 1MDB.

The change in heads at the Special Branch, which does a lot of undercover investigations, acts as the eyes and ears of the government and provides it with intelligence of what is happening on the ground, will raise similar questions especially about why the changes are taking place now.

And then there is the cabinet reshuffle which is related entirely to the 1MDB issue. First out was Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to be replaced by Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. And out was also another Minister, Shafie Apdal. Their only ‘crimes’ were to question the way the Prime Minister was handling the multi-faceted 1MDB problems.

Echoing the feelings of a section of the public

Muhyiddin had at the UMNO Cheras meeting come out strongly against 1MDB. Admitting that he read the suspended The Edge for some of his information on 1MDB, he was merely echoing the feelings of a wide section of the Malaysian public when he reiterated strongly that 1MDB has to be answered, putting the onus squarely on the prime minister. Presumably, as a member of the cabinet, he was not getting enough information on 1MDB.

The Prime Minister’s response was that Muhyiddin and others have to stand behind the concept of collective responsibility of the cabinet and therefore since they could not, they had to go. It was generally expected that this would happen if there was a cabinet reshuffle and it should not have come as a surprise for either Muhyiddin or Shafie and the general public, too.

If Muhyiddin and Shafie expected this, then surely they have some other plans. One could be to force an extraordinary general meeting of UMNO, and the other to move a vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister in Parliament. Both don’t seem that likely to succeed considering that few have broken ranks and gone against the Prime Minister.

Insiders are reading some things into Muhyiddin’s remarks post the reshuffle. “What you know about 1MDB, I would know a little more than that,” he told a press conference at his residence in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.

If that implies there will be more information coming out about 1MDB, it is not certain if it will be enough to significantly affect the Prime Minister’s position. But one can expect the playing out of a game plan by those opposed to the Prime Minister although it is not visible yet.

The general expectation was that Ahmad Zahid would replace Muhyiddin and he did, which is not to say that his appointment would be widely welcomed. It helps that he has wide grassroots support in UMNO but not that he is considered a hardliner who as Home Minister  was directly responsible for suspending The Edge.

Much more surprising than Muhyiddin’s ouster was the appointment into the government of four members of the parliamentary public accounts committee (PAC) investigation into 1MDB, including its chairperson Nur Jazlan Mohamed who was appointed deputy home minister. This leaves four Barisan MPs out of eight still remaining as PAC members.

Nur Jazlan himself said that the PAC investigations have been stopped pending the appointment of new members which can take place only after Parliament sits again in October. That means PAC’s interview of, among others, 1MDB CEO Arul Kanda next week will have to be postponed. However, opposition MPs, including DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, have commented that investigations can still go on despite some PAC members joining the government.

Observers feel that the Prime Minister’s appointment of four PAC members into the government was deliberate and aimed at postponing the investigations into 1MDB, buying time for 1MDB and for himself.

Yes, it is the prerogative of the Prime Minister to make cabinet changes and perhaps even to change the attorney-general midstream, although legal opinion is divided on this, as well as the head of the Special Branch. But it certainly does not indicate strength.

It is because the Prime Minister’s position is weak that he has to resort to such strong-arm tactics to keep people supporting him. It is because his position is weak that he has to demonstrate that those who do not support him will have to be prepared to pay the price. It is because he is weak that he has to muzzle the press and stop them from reporting legitimately on 1MDB.

Emulating Mahathir

What he is doing emulates what Mahathir did in a bigger way in 1987 with Operation Lalang, when scores of people were detained under the Internal Security Act and The Star had its licence revoked. Mahathir even pushed members of the old UMNO out of his UMNO Baru, which he set up following a judicial decision against the old UMNO. He moved decisively against the judiciary the following year, raising questions of its independence till today.

He made numerous constitutional changes to the new UMNO, making it all but impossible for a candidate to challenge an incumbent president. Mahathir won very narrowly against Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah in 1987 in the closest battle for presidency in UMNO ever.

Razaleigh eventually set up the opposition Semangat 46 to challenge UMNO and Barisan Nasional but had little success except in Kelantan.

For now, the Prime Minister and UMNO President Najib Abdul Razak has the upper hand, and thanks ironically to Mahathir, his most vocal critic, it does not look like he will be dislodged anytime soon. Few who call themselves politicians will be foolhardy enough to go against Najib when they don’t see a viable game plan that can, well, overthrow him. Najib is certainly not popular in the court of public opinion right now but that does not mean that he will be exiting anytime soon.

Indeed despite the tide of public opinion against him, like Mahathir before him, he is likely to prevail. And then he will have to hope that people will forget or at least forgive, like they did Mahathir before him.

Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control


July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

by Dr Syed Farid Alatas

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

Syed FaridThe recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and Sarawak Report alleging massive corruption involving the upper echelons of the political and corporate elite of Malaysia have once again raised the question of whether or not Malaysia is a kleptocracy. The term is derived from the words ‘klepto’ — (thief) and — cracy’ (rule) and refers to a government dominated by those who use their office to seek personal financial gain, power and status at the expense of the governed. The impact of kleptocratic rulers and officials on a country is devastating. They rule with unscrupulousness and hypocrisy, and distort development planning and policy. Such rulers do not seem to have any interest in the rights, opinions or sentiments of the people they govern. Under their watch a country would undergo large-scale resource depletion and experience a loss of talented human resources. Kleptocratic rule also has dire consequences for the freedom of expression in a country.

A vital means of combating corruption and preventing the emergence of a kleptocratic state is the maintenance of a free press. Although it is true that the irresponsible exercise of the freedom of the press and freedom of expression in general can be harmful to the stability and security of a country, the muzzling of voices of conscience pose a greater danger. Excessive media control is a symptom of authoritarianism. The gradual imposition of high-handed governmental controls over the media takes place as rulers feel more and more insecure and vulnerable as a result of their misdeeds being publicised and debated by academics, activists and the population in general.

The kleptocrats impose restrictions and controls over the media in order to shield themselves from criticism, minimise public information and debate about their misadventures, and eventually prevent voters from acting against them at the polls. It is obvious that the freer people are to obtain information, analyse government decisions and actions, and criticise the perpetrators of illegal and despicable acts, the stronger those people become vis à vis their government. Is that not how things should be? After all, elected polit In fact, there is evidence from cross-country research to show that “a free press is bad news for corruption”.

In a study published in 2003, Aymo Brunetti and Beatrice Weber showed that having free media was positively correlated with better governance (A Free Press is Bad News for Corruption, Journal of Public Economics, 87). This is because press freedom allows for more information to be available to people which in turn enables citizens to exert more pressure on their governments.

Some days ago, the Malaysian Home Ministry suspended the publishing permit of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily for three months starting from July 27, 2015. The reason given by the Home Ministry is that the reports of the two publications on 1MDB were “prejudicial or likely to be prejudicial to public order, security or likely to alarm public opinion or is likely to be prejudicial to public and national interest”.

This is a claim that few thinking Malaysians would accept. Most Malaysians would also agree that the real danger to the nation is corruption. Furthermore, most people in Malaysia who support free reporting and public discourse on corruption would not condone the spread of rumours to destabilise our country. Those who do act in this irresponsible manner should be dealt with by the law. But, the media should not be gagged. This is because the media have a vital role to play in preventing instability.

Research has shown that it is corruption that results in instability. Sarah Chayes, in her book entitled Thieves of State: Why Corruption threatens global security (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015), investigates how kleptocratic governance results in civil unrest and even provokes violent extremism. To the extent that a free media results in pressures on the government to clean up or at least minimise the incidence of corruption, it can be said that freedom of the press, far from being prejudicial to public interest, is necessary for the stability of the nation.  The probability that kleptocracy would be publicly debated and kleptocrats investigated, exposed and prosecuted, is higher in a country with a free press than in one with a controlled and irresponsible press.

In Islam, as in all the great religious traditions that make up Malaysia, there is the universal value of attachment to the truth. It is regarded as sinful to provide false information, particularly about events that one has personally witnessed. Equally sinful is the withholding of the truth. The Qur’an frequently exhorts humans to avoid concealing testimony and refrain from confounding the truth by lacing it with falsehood.

If it cannot be proven that The Edge reported falsehoods and violated journalistic norms or broke the law, the suspension is against both the standards of universal values as well as Islamic tradition. Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. Therefore, Malaysians expect the politicians and civil servants to rule with justice and integrity.

The Qur’an commands those entrusted with public and professional duties to carry out their rule with justice and fairness (4:58-59). The vizier and scholar of the eleventh century Seljuq Empire, Nizam al-Mulk, in his famous treatise, the Siyasatnameh or Book of Government, advised his sultan that he should listen to the grievances of his subjects directly, without intermediaries.  A thousand years later, this is still what we want from our leaders.

The fourteenth century Muslim social theorist, Abdul Rahman Ibn Khaldun, believed that government decisions were as a rule unjust. This was based on his study of West Asian and North African polities as well as his experience with the vicissitudes of political life. More than five hundred years later, the Spanish philosopher and intellectual leader of the Spanish Republican government, José Ortega y Gasset, referred to the state as the greatest danger. He believed that state intervention was the greatest danger that threatened civilisation. Malaysians want a strong state that can establish and maintain public order and run an efficient administration. But we do not want a dangerous state, one with disproportionate power such that its intervention results in rule by thieves.

* Dr. Syed Farid Alatas is the Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, in the National University of Singapore.

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