At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

October 20,2016

At 50–Quo Vadis ASEAN

by Tess Bacala

As the international backlash continues over Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, the lack of due process and the consequent deaths of “suspects” in his campaign, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN), along with its individual member states, has been characteristically silent.

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For instance, ASEAN’s leaders and ministers met at their summit in the Lao capital Vientiane last September and discussed a range of issues in the region and beyond. But neither the organization nor its members raised a whimper about rights concerns on the extrajudicial killings of supposed drug users and pushers since Duterte assumed office on June 30.  News reports put the figure of alleged users and pushers killed at more than 3,000 since Duterte took over.

ASEAN’s silence on this issue was not particularly a surprise, but it was the latest example of how it is not the organization’s habit to tell off a member state about its domestic issues.

More typically, it was an outside state like the United States, though not a disinterested country, that brought up the issue of human rights at the September 6-8 summit, where Duterte made his debut on the regional stage.

To human rights advocates across the region, the 28th and 29th ASEAN Summits, held back to back this year, should have been an apt occasion to discuss a subject that is otherwise anathema to the Southeast Asian organization, especially given its theme, ’ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together’, which defines the vision of the ASEAN Community for the next decade.

At the ASEAN-US summit in Vientiane, President Barack Obama called to mind a “common vision” for the region — “(a)n open, dynamic and economically competitive Asia-Pacific that respects human rights and upholds the law-based order.”

But this is far from how the situation is from the view of the sectors that have been at the receiving end of certain governments’ systemic suppression of dissent at home. This also comes at a time when the ASEAN Community has been formed with its three pillars — political security, socio-cultural, and economic – and where its peoples can enjoy “human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

ASEAN continues to steer clear of human rights issues in line with the principle of non-interference in its member states’ internal affairs. But as ASEAN turns 50 next year, critics say this adherence to non-intervention should not be absolute, especially now that economic integration is going full throttle after the launch of the ASEAN Community’s in December 2015.

Economic but not political openness

The organization has shown much more openness – and willingness to let go of sovereignty concerns – in the areas of economics and business rather than in political areas such as human rights.

“ASEAN has promoted a harmful contradiction. Member states have abandoned ASEAN principles of ‘non-interference’ and ‘state sovereignty’ in relation to capital and economic policy but doggedly retained them in relation to human rights,” says the alternative document titled ‘Vision 2025: ASEAN Women’s Blueprints for Alternative Regionalism’.

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Ryerson University (Canada)’s Dr. Sorpong Peou

Over recent decades, Southeast Asia has experienced three ‘miracles’: economic growth, the disappearance of mass atrocities, and efforts to promote regional peace and community building,” said Dr. Sorpong Peou, chairperson of the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University in Canada. “Large-scale killings or genocide such as those in Indonesia (1965–66), Cambodia (1975–1978 under the Khmer Rouge), and East Timor (1975–1999 under the Indonesian occupation) “have all disappeared from contemporary Southeast Asia.”

“But authoritarianism keeps threatening to return,” wrote the Cambodian-born scholar in a commentary published by the East Asia Forum in March. “Below the surface of official declarations lies an acceptance among most ASEAN leaders that democracy and human rights should not be pushed too fast and too far.”

Appreciation and interpretation of human rights are subject to national interest rather than international human rights standards,” said Jaymie Ann Reyes, program manager of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. The Working Group, a coalition of individuals and organizations that include civil society and academics, engages ASEAN on specific rights initiatives.

Rights? It depends

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Some human rights themes and focuses are more acceptable to ASEAN such as women’s rights, children’s rights, and rights of persons with disabilities,” Reyes added.

All 10 member states have ratified the UN Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Rights of the Child, and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. “But there are more ‘sensitive’ issues that are not discussed for fear of violating the principle of ‘non-interference,’” she said.

One of these is refugee protection. The majority of ASEAN countries have not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1954 Statelessness Convention.

A wide range of other rights concerns continues to exist today across the region of 620 million people.

In Indonesia, the vigorous implementation of the death penalty, the enactment of more discriminatory laws against women, and violent attacks against religious minorities are bedeviling the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

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Neighboring Malaysia recently passed the National Security Council Act (NSCA), which empowers the government to declare martial law in areas where there are perceived security threats. Singapore’s Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill, passed in Parliament just a month ahead of the Vientiane summit, is seen as yet another attempt to muzzle freedom of expression in the city-state.

The decades-old Internal Security Act, which allows arrests without warrant and indefinite detention without trial, remains firmly in place in Singapore. (A similar law in Malaysia was abolished in 2012. Yet four years later, the NSCA came into force.)

Thailand’s new constitution — approved in a referendum on August 7 — is seen to reinforce the military’s two-year hold on power.

“For the people in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, the democratic crisis has meant increasing crackdowns on journalists, human rights lawyers, opposition politicians, bloggers, activists and religious leaders. Political deterioration has also contributed to internal conflict in Southeast Asia,” said Yuyun Wahyuningrum, senior advisor on ASEAN and Human Rights at the Human Rights Working Group, a coalition of more than 50 groups advocating for human rights in Indonesia.

The Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), sees “a trend of shrinking civil society space” despite “ASEAN’s aim to be a people-centered and people-oriented community”.

In Cambodia, government critics have been jailed, and more oppressive laws passed. For instance, Kem Ley, leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer, was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital Phnom Penh on July 10 this year.

Although Myanmar has ceased to be a pariah state, its democratic transition has been marked by concern over discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless in the mainly Buddhist country.

Punishment under Hudud

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Critics have also dubbed as medieval Brunei’s announcement in October 2013 to impose a tough shariah penal code system, after its chairmanship of ASEAN that same year.

Yet ASEAN prides itself on having an “overarching human rights institution” such as the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

In fact, the ASEAN Chair’s statement in Vientiane commended the commission for “the progress of (its) work” and urged it to “promote the mainstreaming of human rights across all three pillars of the ASEAN Community”. But how such “progress” is measured and improves the rights landscape is not clear.

On the eve of the Vientiane summit, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights appealed to ASEAN leaders “to press the Lao government to cease the abuses that have consistently placed Laos at the bottom of rights and development indexes measuring rights, press freedom, democracy, religious freedom, and economic transparency.”

This referred to the unresolved disappearance of Lao activist Sombath Somphone, missing since December 2012. The Lao government had earlier said the issue had no place at the ASEAN meetings.

Looking back, ASEAN’s road to setting up a human rights commission – whose limitations its own commissioners concede – has been far from smooth. The commission’s creation was already a feat by itself.

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ASEAN launched in Bangkok in 1967

The regional grouping laid down the ASEAN Charter in 2008, which stipulated the creation of a human rights body. AICHR was created in 2009. In a process criticized by civil society for falling short of international standards, ASEAN drafted an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration in 2012.

From being taboo, human rights principles were slowly integrated into ASEAN documents, institutions, and language. ASEAN bodies and government representatives are slowly adopting and using human rights language,” said Reyes of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism.

But the AICHR’s limited mandate does not include receiving and investigating rights complaints. “It is high time it (AICHR) evolved from promotion to the protection of human rights,” said a statement by the Thai Civil Society Network on ASEAN and AICHR.

Today, “all ASEAN human rights instruments recognise universal human rights standards with caveats: the principle of non-interference and due regard to the different culture, history, and socioeconomic condition in each ASEAN member state,” Ranyta Yusran, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Centre for International Law, said at a legal conference in Beijing in May.

Wahyuningrum of the Jakarta-based Human Rights Working Group said: “Human rights and democracy issues (in the region) are not going to simmer down. How is ASEAN going to keep up with these changes if it remains too bureaucratic and difficult to engage with?”

But she said there are encouraging signs. At a recent meeting she attended in Bangkok on legal aid and witness protection for victims of cross-border trafficking, participants acknowledged the political differences among the member states they were representing, but nevertheless focused on cooperation. The participants wanted to develop a cross-border witness protection standard operating procedure, which is a “good start,” she said.

Although AICHR has not adapted to “the changing context and structural challenges” of rights protection, Wahyuningrum credited it with initiating activities that have helped set “different platforms for subregional debate on human rights and clarified the ASEAN dimension on responses to human rights issues”.

For Reyes, there has also been “more robust engagement between and among non-governmental and civil society organizations,” though this faces challenges.

All eyes are now looking to 2017, when the Philippines takes its turn as ASEAN chair during the organization’s 50th year. The country has had a record of speaking up against rights abuses in ASEAN, but there are questions about how – and whether it can still do this credibly – given the furore over extrajudicial killings in the Duterte government’s crackdown on illegal drugs.

Tess Bacala wrote this as a fellow of the Reporting ASEAN project of Inter-Pres Service (IPS) Asia-Pacific (  This story was produced under the “Reporting Development in ASEAN” series of Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific. 

Excellence: A Point of View

October 18, 2016

Excellence: A Point of View

COMMENT: Everyone in Malaysia talks about the pursuit of excellence and some pretend to know what it means, especially  our mediocre politicians in power and men in the public service who are tasked to implement our national education policy and Blue Ocean Strategy.

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We employ snake oil consultants  and experts to write glossy blueprints and reports at horrendous cost to taxpayers but fail to execute them.  We create institutions like Pemandu to promote Najib’s deformation agenda, and Permata for bright kids, while our Chief Secretary to the Government makes himself advocate-in-chief of the Blue Ocean Strategy concept to suck up to Najib Razak. In reality, we do not know what excellence is, what it takes and how to get there.

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Excellence is a simple idea if we are serious about it. All we need to do is change our attitude. Talk is cheap. Stop it and start taking action.

Malaysia has an attitude problem and it is our greatest obstacle to our future as a people and a nation. Where to begin? It has to be first fixing our education system to become a nation of high achievers and second we must stop playing politics  with the education of our future generation. But we are not doing that because UMNO politicians are afraid of  smart and pushy Malays in particular.

I wish to share with you A C Grayling’s thoughts on Excellence. This philosopher is endowed with the ability to communicate with ordinary men and women in clear and concise language. Read his article and share your comments.–Din Merican

Grayling on Excellence

When Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy over a hundred years ago, he described the pursuit of excellence in the fostering of culture as “getting to know, on all matters that most concern us. the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.”

Arnold was an inspector of schools, and a champion of higher education, and he believed in excellence in education as the way not only to staff the economy but to produce an enculturated society which would live up to the ideal in Aristotle’s noble dictum about the educated use of our leisure.

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From China to France, every country that is or aspires to be developed has an elite educational stratum, aimed at taking the most gifted students and giving them the best intellectual training possible. In China this is done at an early age, with special schools for the brightest children. In France the system of Hautes Ecoles–superior universities, entry to which is fiercely competitive–creams off the outstanding minds and subjects them to a rigorous discipline. The aim in all cases is to enhance the best in order to gain the highest quality in science, engineering, law, national administration, medicine and the arts.

Few could object to the rationale behind this, save those for whom universal mediocrity is a  price worth paying for social equality (or in the case of Malaysia where mediocrity is a means of political control, added by Din Merican). But there is the danger to which meritocratic means to the cultivation of excellence – or what should be solely such – fall prey. It is if, after the establishment of the means, merit by itself ceases to be enough, and money and influence become additional criteria. In many, perhaps most, countries in the world, money and influence are the determiners of social advancement, even where meritocratic criteria still apply too: in America money is needed to gain social advantages, in China it helps to be a Party member.

The rich and the well connected are not the kind of elite an  education system ought to be fostering. It is easy for popular newspapers and populist politicians to make pejorative use of the term ‘elite’ to connote these elites of injustice; but they are just as quick to complain if doctors, teachers, or sportsmen playing for national sides fail our highest expectations- if, in short, they are not elite after all, in the proper sense of the term.

Although there are few if any true democracies in the world– most dispensations claiming that name are elective oligarchies–the democratic spirit nevertheless invests Western life, for good and ill both. The good resides in the pressure to treat everyone fairly, the ill resides in the pressure to make everyone alike. The latter is a levelling tendency, a downward thrust, which dislikes excellence because it raises mountains where the negative-democratic spirit wishes to see only plains.

But democracy should not aim to reduce people and their achievements to a common denominator; it should aim to raise them, ambitiously and dramatically, as close as possible to an ideal. And that means, among other things, having institutions, especially of learning, which are the best and most demanding of their kind.

The Meaning of Things–Applying Philosophy to Life by AC Grayling (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 2001) pp.160-161

2016 US Presidential Elections: The Power Nativist Populism

October 17, 2016

2016 US Presidential Elections: The Power Nativist Populism

by Matthew J. Goodwin


Don’t underestimate the power of nativist populism. That’s the harsh lesson we in Britain learned less than four months ago, when Brexit blew up in our faces and confounded nearly every prediction. It’s one the Austrians and French are learning even now, as they keep counting out (then are forced to count back in) right-wing populist backlashes to the establishment. And it’s the lesson that American pundits who are already predicting a comfortable victory for Hillary Clinton over the embattled Donald Trump—if not a historic landslide—should take on board before they start relaxing too much in the next few weeks.

Of course, every election, and country, is unique. And with little more than 20 days left until America elects its next president, there is reason for the new sense of confidence in the Clinton camp. In recent weeks, Trump has been engulfed by scandal, and Clinton’s position has strengthened considerably in the polls.

But recent elections outside the United States should check too much complacency in the Clinton camp, especially when the side that is perceived to be losing is preaching nativist populism to voters who have been economically left behind and feel culturally under threat from ethnic change. Voters, in other words, who are especially motivated to vote for change. Less than four months ago the United Kingdom held a national referendum on whether it should exit the European Union, known as Brexit. Ahead of that contest, the betting markets, pundits and media were united in predicting a comfortable win for the pro-EU side, who wanted the U.K. to remain in the EU. Most of the polls, too, put “Remain” ahead (especially polls conducted by telephone), while the few online polls that suggested a Brexit victory were dismissed as rogue outliers riddled with sampling errors. Pundits pointed to the unfavorable ratings of leading Brexiteers like Nigel Farage who, they argued, were too divisive for Brexit to win. Others pointed to how even most voters accepted there did not seem to be much of a plan for life after Brexit. The Remain camp, we were also told, had the superior ground game—it seemed to be knocking on more doors, had more offices and had a developed strategy for targeting young university towns.

These assumptions continued to guide the national debate right up until the contest itself. In the prediction markets, throughout the final week of the campaign, the percentage chance that Remain would win did not fall below 75 percent. In the final days, seven polling companies issued their “final” polls, none of which forecast the eventual result. In three cases, the result was within the margin of error, though only one had put Brexit ahead, while the remaining four had overestimated support for Remain. Every single poll, noted the British Polling Council, even those within sampling error, had overstated support for Remain. Even on the day of the vote, three polls put Remain ahead, one by a striking 10 points.

The betting markets were just as confident; on the morning of the referendum, they put Remain’s chance of victory at 76 percent and, by the close of voting, at 86 percent. When you asked voters who they expected to win, it was the same story; in the final 24 hours of the campaign, only 27 percent expected Brexit to triumph. Those who sought to keep Britain in the EU, having recruited President Barack Obama to their cause, expressed relief. An anxious Prime Minister David Cameron was told to relax.

Almost everyone was proved wrong by the massive turnout of Brexit voters, who had been derided by established politicians as loons and racists and who were not expected to be organized, especially at the polling stations. “Leave” won 52 percent of the vote across the U.K., and nearly 54 percent in England. This figure rocketed higher in poorer industrial and rural communities that had been cut adrift by globalization and felt under threat from unprecedented levels of immigration—the analogue to many Trump voters today (as even Trump himself has suggested, tweeting that he would soon be known as “Mr. Brexit”). Support for Brexit reached striking levels among those same groups of voters who are now backing Trump—nearly 60 percent among voters on low incomes, over 70 percent among manual workers and 75 percent among people with no qualifications. In forgotten England, the anti-elite and anti-immigration message had spread like wildfire. The left behind mobilized in a big way.

Turnout rates among poorly educated white voters threw cold water on the earlier claim that the angry white man would not show up, that he would be pushed aside by young cosmopolitans and the big cities. Overall turnout was high, at 72 percent, the highest for any U.K.-wide vote since 1992. Subsequent analysis of how this affected the vote suggests that Brexit won by mobilizing people who never normally vote, something that Trump hopes to emulate. The unexpectedly high turnout, especially in blue-collar communities, is why turnout models in the polls that were based on turnout at previous elections performed poorly; they failed to account for the mobilization of unlikely voters. Turnout was much higher among the Brexit-voting over-55s and strikingly lower among young voters who had promised to vote. Some estimate that whereas 64 percent of young people who were registered to vote did vote, this figure was 74 percent among people ages 55 to 64 and 90 percent among those ages 65 and above. In the aftermath of the Brexit victory, a petition emerged to overhaul the result through a second referendum. The largest number of signatures were in young and trendy areas like the London districts of Camden and Hackney, where voters had failed to turn out when it mattered.

The Brexit vote is a powerful reminder not only of how identity can trump economics but also of how supporters of populist insurgents are often more loyal than many think. While the pro-EU side had focused relentlessly on dry arguments about jobs, wages and appeals to economic self-interest, Brexit was pushed over the line by a campaign that tapped into an intense cultural angst among blue-collar, left behind and older voters. The core message of “Take Back Control” had resonated strongly among these voters who had long felt cut adrift from mainstream politics and under threat from rapid ethnic change. That culture was as important as economics was reflected in the fact that it was in communities that had experienced the most rapid ethnic change over the past 10 years where support for Brexit was often strongest. Presented with an opportunity to reassert their conservative values and disdain for a liberal mainstream, they took it. The intense power of this identity angst should have been diagnosed given that ahead of the referendum most voters readily admitted to pollsters that they would be willing to suffer an economic hit if, in turn, it meant they had greater control over borders and immigration. Political and media elites failed to diagnose the simmering anger and mistakenly believed that it could be soothed with appeals to rational choice.

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In the U.S. election, it is clear that the strategy of the Trump campaign is to rile up the passions of America’s disaffected in the same way—to the point where many people at his rallies are now saying they’re doubly motivated to go to the polls to ensure that the election isn’t “rigged,” as the candidate himself has been urging them to do.

Other experiences in Europe underline the durability of support for right-wing populists. Since the 1980s, the media and liberal progressives have written off anti-immigration and anti-elite populist parties, but they never go away and have only accumulated support. In Austria, since the mid-1980s, the populist xenophobic Freedom Party has sustained a strong following; today it is on the verge of possibly winning the presidential election in December. In France, Marine Le Pen is currently forecast to reach the final second-round of the presidential election next spring despite her party being widely written off after her father was defeated in the same contest in 2002 and then saw a drop-off in support in 2007. This durability flows from an economically disaffected, socially conservative, white, less educated and male electorate that has mobilized despite talk of its members’ alienation and apathy.

It is also worth noting another contest in Britain: In 2015, conventional wisdom had again mistakenly told us that the progressive, social democrat Labour Party would likely triumph. The polls and commentariat were united in claiming that no party would secure an overall majority, that Britain was thus headed for a hung parliament and that—most likely—there would be a coalition headed by the uninspiring but nonetheless competent Labour leader, Ed Miliband. Labour, we were told, also had a superior ground game (rooted in Labour’s promise to hold “four million conversations with voters in four months”). When some of the world’s most renowned political scientists gathered at a conference to share their increasingly sophisticated forecasts of the election, not a single one predicted the outcome—a majority Conservative government. The polls, too, had been wrong. A subsequent inquiry revealed they had consistently overestimated Labour support and were among the most inaccurate since election polling had begun in 1945. Their samples had too many “easier to reach” Labour voters and not enough harder-to-reach older and more socially conservative voters.

Donald Trump will most likely fail to win the presidency, not least because the mechanics of the race differ from those contests above in important ways. The electoral college stacks the deck against the Republicans; there is a sharp gender gap in current voting intention (which was not evident at Britain’s EU referendum); and the Trump candidacy is perhaps the most divisive in modern American history. But at the same time, recent history from across the Atlantic reveals why you should never dismiss the appeal of a populist insurgency, place blind faith in the polls and forecasts nor assume that populist voters will not mobilize when—in their eyes—it matters most. Anger goes a long way at the polls. Trump is still the underdog, but those who claim to be experts would still be foolish to completely write off the power of the revolt on the right.

Matthew J. Goodwin is Professor of Political Science at the University of Kent and Senior Visiting Fellow at Chatham House. He is author of Revolt on the Right: Explaining Public Support for the Radical Right in Britain.


Violence is in UMNO’s DNA–An Addiction to May 13

October 14, 2016

Violence is in UMNO’s DNA–An Addiction to May 13

by  Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” 

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Foundation’

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Red Shirt Commander-in-Chief

I have no idea if Sungai Besar UMNO chief Jamal Md Yunos made the alleged seditious Facebook post warning of a repeat May 13 on November 19 but I could care less if he did. Part of my apathy is because all this fall under the free speech which I support but more importantly, I see no reason to get upset or make police reports because (1) establishment politicians have issued similar warnings, and (2) it is not as if the police are going to investigate this latest incitement by an UMNO political operative.

As for (2), a good example would be when Sabak Bernam district police chief Nor Azmi Isa said there was no reason to investigate the egg pelting of a Bersih supporter because nobody was hurt. Silly me, I thought it was assault but maybe Bukit Aman should send out a memo that the police would only investigate cases were somebody was hurt. By the way, the definition of “hurt” will be defined shortly (forget the Penal Code) after the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) have arrested all those who take to Twitter and Facebook and “hurt” the feelings of those the state deemed worthy of protection.

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The Ikan Bakar Man

After all, the leader of the red shirts has publicly stated that more aggressive responses would be meted out to Bersih, not to mention threats of vehicular manslaughter against the protestors exercising their democratic rights. Either Jamal has watched far too many ‘Fast and Furious’ movies – one is excessively many except if the person is a Jason Statham fan, then any ‘Furious’ movie with him in it is worth a watch – or he does not understand physics.

However, threatening Malaysians with violence, especially racial violence associated with May 13, is what UMNO does best. Anyone interested in a brief summary with links to pro-opposition and pro-establishment narratives should refer to Greg Lopez excellent summary in the ‘New Mandala’. I quote this paragraph of his piece to make a point:

“However, one thing became very clear after May 13. Any attempt to challenge UMNO would be met with the strongest response – legitimately or illegitimately. May 13 established the concept of Malay supremacy through the blood of hundreds if not thousands of Malaysians, especially of Chinese heritage. This led to most non-Malays having no options but to accept UMNO hegemony (ketuanan Melayu/Malay supremacy) or leave Malaysia. Many choose to migrate – a trend which has continued as a result of systematic discrimination against the non-Malays.”

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The Buffoon UMNO Information Chief

Six years ago, Penang opposition leader Azhar Ibrahim in a spat with Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng not only referenced May 13 but also “saying UMNO has three million members, that he could call in the Malay ‘Tiga Line gang’ and asking the army to take over the duties of the police.” Of course, calling in outsourced thugs to secure political victory or usurp political power is a threat many in UMNO have no problem making.

Indeed, in my piece ‘In defence of our realm’, I took an exception to the police report filed by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) against Perak opposition leader Nizar Jamaluddin because he claimed that Prime Minister Najib Razak was having secret backroom talks with the security apparatus of this country.

The issue was this: “In 2010, Azhar Ibrahim was suspended for six months from the Penang state assembly for making ‘references to the May 13 incident and inviting the Armed Forces to take over the government’, not to mention his threat that Malay triad organisation ‘Tiga Line’ would be called in to teach the state government a lesson.”

“So, why no report against the UMNO assemblyperson? UMNO distanced itself from these inflammatory remarks, but my question is, why didn’t MAF chief General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin lodge a police report alleging sedition against UMNO’s Azhar?”

Political violence is new norm

Meanwhile, with UMNO potentates distancing themselves from the red shirts, the idea that political violence is the new norm is taking root in a political landscape dominated by an incompetent opposition and a kleptocratic regime riddled with internal schisms. And while a few members of UMNO make the appropriate noises about rejecting political violence, the reality is that because of the way UMNO is run, the line between being a UMNO member and outsourced thug is non-existent.

Remember what UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah said about the establishment – “(Bagaimanapun) jangan memandang rendah kepada kerajaan kerana mereka ada kuasa, ada televisyen, radio, duit dan media. Mereka juga ada alat-alat risikan dan sebagainya. Media dia lebih tahu pada kita. Dia tahu kita belum tahu lagi. Sama ada dengan kekuasaan itu, parti yang berkuasa akan kalah saya tidak tahu.”

So this idea that the criminal underclass and political power – some would argue that there is no difference – within UMNO is not something new except that these days the latter legitimises the former. This is why an organisation like the red shirts have a free reign. They do not answer to anyone except UMNO potentates and they fear no repercussions from the security apparatus because as Razaleigh said, “jangan memandang rendah kepada kerajaan kerana mereka ada kuasa”

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The UMNO Mafia(on extreme left IGP Khalid Ashburn)

And how does the establishment shape the narrative? As recent as three years ago, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi claimed friendship with a so-called secret society like Tiga Line even though it was outlawed by his own Home Ministry earlier in the year.

He said, “The 6,171 Malays, they are not real thugs (samseng), they were Pekida members and were part of the Tiga Line group, Gang 30, Gang 7 – these are festivities (kenduri-kendara) gangsters,” Furthermore he added, “I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done.”

And what exactly should these groups be doing? I would argue that if three years ago you made the claim that Tiga Line was disrupting Bersih activities, you would get UMNO members saying that these thugs are only doing what needs to be done.

Just to add a bit of nuance to this idea of political violence. Some folks would disagree with me for making this link but since I think it is a legitimate point to make, here goes, the current Deputy Prime Minster also made these statements with regards to the ‘shoot first’ policy of the PDRM:

“He was also reported to have advocated a ‘shoot first’ policy for the police at the same event, in dealing with suspected gang members in the wake of a violent crime spree that has resulted in, according to him, Malays making up the majority of the victims.

“He reportedly said there was nothing wrong with arresting the over 40,000 known gangsters in the country, half of whom are Indians.

“‘What is the situation of robbery victims, murder victims during shootings? Most of them are our Malays. Most of them are our race,’ he was quoted as saying.

“‘I think the best way is that we no longer compromise with them. There is no need to give them any more warning. If (we) get the evidence, (we) shoot first.’”

Therefore, while certain UMNO members are distancing themselves from the red shirts, I would argue that separating the red shirt DNA from UMNO is impossible. UMNO does not speak softly and carry a big stick. UMNO is the big stick.

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

Why is Najib still in power?

October 9, 2016

Why is Najib still in power?

by P Gunasegaram

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QUESTION TIME:  After all his failings and lies over his brainchild, 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), and at least US$3.5 billion (RM14 billion) embezzled from it, and as much as US$7 billion (US$28 billion) unaccounted for, why is it that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak remains in power?

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Tenacious Rosmah Mansor is the real reason why Najib Razak  is in Power

How could a nation keep a Prime Minister who is directly and indirectly responsible for the biggest fraud in Malaysian history and perhaps the biggest fraud ever in the world in power? The Minister of Finance Inc (Najib is Finance Minister, too) owns all of 1MDB, he was chairperson of the advisory board and the memorandum and articles of association of 1MDB required him to sign off on all major deals.

In other countries that practice true parliamentary democracy, that would have been enough to nail him and kick him out hard if he had not already resigned by then, but not here. Why?

Just because he was head of UMNO and Barisan Nasional or BN when the coalition won the last elections in 2013, it does not convey on him an automatic right to remain Prime Minister until the next elections.

A Prime Minister can be removed if he does wrong under the law but for that to work you need independence of both investigating and prosecuting authorities. Najib circumvented that by removing the previous Attorney-General (Gani Patail) under highly suspicious circumstances. At the same time, the country’s corruption-fighting body saw wrenching changes while central bank officials were questioned by the police for possible leaks of information over that US$681 million “donation” that went into the accounts of Najib at AmBank.

When dissent within his party began to surface, he took action against senior party officials culminating in the expulsion of his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin who, together with former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has now formed a new party.

That served as an example for any others who might want to challenge Najib’s leadership of UMNO and resulted in UMNO top guns and other heads of political parties within the BN coalition keeping mum and voicing their support for Najib.

UMNO party elections have been postponed to after the next general elections, preventing would-be contestants from ousting him. It looks like no one within UMNO is capable of organising a revolt or rebellion and to force an extraordinary general assembly which could remove him as party chief and hence Prime Minister.

That Najib remains PM, and UMNO President, is first and foremost a reflection of the poor leadership at the top of UMNO. Except for Muhyiddin, Shafie Apdal and Mukhriz Mahathir, no significant UMNO leader has opposed Najib over 1MDB and other matters. If enough UMNO top leaders join in the clamour against Najib, Najib will have to go – you don’t even have to wait for a grassroots revolt.

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Zahid Hamidi is still saluting Najib Razak

Let’s take it from the top. Najib’s current deputy, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, continues to make noises of support for Najib. This one-time solid Anwar Ibrahim supporter, jailed under the Internal Security Act (ISA) with Anwar in 1998 under Mahathir’s rule, must know that if Umno goes into the polls with Najib at the top, its chances of winning would be much eroded. But he does not want to make the mistake his former boss did of moving too hastily.

And then, with the exit of Shafie Apdal, comes Hishammuddin Hussein, Najib’s cousin and son of the third Prime Minister, Hussein Onn. Najib was son of the second. If Hishammuddin had his father’s guts, principles and integrity he would have no choice but to voice his opposition to Najib. But no, he does not but condones Najib.

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The Joker Hishamuddin Tun Hussein

And then there is UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin – suave, dapper and Oxford educated. A man in so much of a hurry to get to the top that one can’t expect him to be steadfast and upholding and give up what may, yes, get him to the top.

No ‘scrotal gumption’

For all three of them, does good politics dictate that they must support Najib no matter what, even if he allows Malaysia to be turned into a kleptocracy? Do they all not have the “scrotal gumption” – to borrow two words from former Court of Appeal judge Mahadev Shankar – to at least this once put nation and people above their own personal ambitions, and do what’s right even if it is risky?

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The Impatient Opportunist in UMNO

Who knows, their political ambitions may be furthered if they do that because a majority of Malays themselves are likely to support their actions. Polls indicate Najib’s support among Malays is at an all-time low of 25 percent.

Remember Mahathir’s meteoric rise after he lost his parliamentary seat way back in 1969, criticised then-prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, got expelled from UMNO and then became education minister in 1974 after he was given a seat to contest by Tunku’s successor, Abdul Razak Hussein, Najib’s father?

Clearly they don’t make young UNO leaders like they did before. And clearly too UMNO politics were rather devious even then.

And MCA and MIC, what say you? Does Liow Tiong Lai for a moment think that the ordinary Chinese think his support for Najib is justified? What about the Indians, Dr S Subramaniam, do you think they support Najib right now?

Over in Sabah and Sarawak, do Kadazans and Dusuns and others actually support Najib? And shouldn’t leaders of parties like PBS and PBB be more circumspect of their support for Najib as leader of the coalition? How about it, Joseph Pairin Kitingan and Adenan Satem? Is it not time to make your views felt?

UMNO after all had only 88 seats out of 133 seats at the end of the last elections in 2013 in the 222-seat Parliament. UMNO cannot rule without its partners no matter what some of their leaders say.

The combined opposition had one more than UMNO with 89 seats. If all of UMNO’s partners moved over to opposition, the government is toppled. In fact, if only 23 out of 44 defect, down comes Najib’s government. Surely they are collectively in a position to make some threats but why don’t they? Lack of scrotal gumption again?

He could be removed by Parliament – by a vote of no-confidence which will precipitate general elections if enough people vote with their conscience and not along party lines.

Najib stays in power because not enough elected representatives from the ruling coalition will say a word against him, let alone vote against him. UMNO has failed the people, MCA has failed the people, MIC has, and likewise Gerakan. The East Malaysian parties have also failed the people.

Ultimately, Malaysia’s elected representatives in Parliament collectively failed the people – they let a terribly tainted prime minister continue in office. Now all that is left is for the people to pressure the representatives to do their job and if they do not, kick them out unceremoniously when the time comes.

That will teach them to do the right thing the next time around.