A Message from John Malott


May 8, 2018

GE-14- Polling Day May 9, 2018 is 24hrs away. Fellow Malaysians do your duty. Go out in large numbers to vote Pakatan Harapan under the leadership of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. We must remove UMNO President Najib Razak regime. It is now or never. All the best from Phnom Penh.–Din Merican

A Message from John R. Malott*

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On Wednesday, the Malaysian people go to the polls. You’ve all seen my posts for years about the kleptocracy and corruption under Prime Minister Najib — we are talking billions, according to the US Justice Department — and it will only get worse if Najib is re-elected.

Things got so bad that Mahathir Mohamed, Malaysia’s Prime Minister for 22 years and the man who jailed Anwar, joined hands with Anwar and the opposition. Mahathir now leads the opposition coalition (because Anwar is still in jail). Mahathir is 92+ years old, but still completely vigorous, and so loved and respected in the Malay heartland that he could pull their votes to the opposition. That has scared the government, which rigs the elections in very subtle and not so subtle ways, like crazy.

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Malaysia’s Man of the Moment

The latest poll, although it is a new “art” in Malaysia, shows a total wipeout for Najib and his party among the Malay voters. Mahathir, Anwar and his wife Wan Azizah, and so many others are changing the tide, so maybe Malaysian democracy is not totally lost.

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The Face of a Loser. To turn the tide he is expected to commit massive voter fraud

This will create a last minute panic by Najib to commit voter fraud. The lights will go out in polling stations, and when they come back on, new ballot boxes suddenly will have appeared. Sacks of absentee votes will be turned in, showing that 94% of all military and civil servants voted for the government. And so on.

Anyhow, stay tuned. The elections are on Wednesday.

 

*John R. Malott was US Ambassador to Malaysia during the premiership of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream


March 17, 2018

‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

by Manjit Bahtia
Published on
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    Prime Minister Najib Razak met Mel at Taxpayers’  Expense

COMMENT | “When you know someone is a thief, you stay away from him,” Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Beverley O’Connor, host of “The World” programme by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.

Mahathir, of course, was referring to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is spending a long-weekend junket in Sydney at the ASEAN Heads of Government hot-air talk-shop – again at the expense of Malaysian taxpayers.

Thief isn’t the only label Mahathir used to describe Najib. He also called him a “monster”. There are far better labels for Najib and for UMNO-BN members. “Monster” is an appropriate enough metaphor. But beyond labels, Malaysia has a serious international image problem.

There was a time when Malaysia was known to the world for Mahathir’s neo-nationalist Malay brand of loud-mouthness. That’s whenever he railed against, say, Singapore, his racist rants against Jews and Malaysia’s British colonial masters – the very lot who taught him how to “divide-and-rule” his own multiracial citizens. Mahathir single-handedly made the term ‘citizen’ a profoundly dirty word.

Malaysia became even more famous after Mahathir cooked up “facts” to jail his then protégé Anwar Ibrahim and chucked him in prison. When top cop Abdul Rahim Noor black-eyed Anwar in jail, Mahathir merely shrugged in the “saya tidak peduli” manner.

Now Anwar and Mahathir have become bosom buddies in a double-act to exorcise from Malaysia’s ripped-asunder soul Najib.

 

The Mahathir hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed, as O’Connor reminded Mahathir.  Mahathir responded sheepishly, with the tiniest regret. He said it is more important to look forward to the future to overthrow the great big thief in their midst and an Umno that has moved so far to the right of its 1946 “objectives” that both the party and its president are rotten to its core.

Mahathir said UMNO has been destroying itself from within, that Najib “has destroyed” the original UMNO and that the party exists solely to support its President and an authoritarian regime.

Note that Mahathir never mentioned any of UMNO’s coalition partners-in-crime. Nonetheless, the mission now, as everybody knows, is for the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan cavalry to lead the charge and rout UMNO before Najib and his band of crooks rob the country blind.

Nothing new in all this. The lineage and the so-called discourse (whatever discourse means) and the battle-cries go right back to 1969 – the year democracy in Malaysia died after a long-simmering brain snap.

My friend S Thayaparan, a Malaysiakini columnist – whom I’ve never met – has been at great pains recently to make the case that “Malaysian voters” must stand up and save the country. If there’s a certain urgency in Mahathir’s determination, there’s equal stridency in Thayaparan.

But there’s also a problem. In fact more than one problem. First, the electoral system, run by the Election Commission, is not chartered to ensure full and fair elections; it remains chartered to ensure fully foul elections.

 

It’s also chartered not to uphold democracy, even democracy with Malaysian characteristics, but to maintain a Malay-led kleptocratic authoritarian regime that thinks it is above the constitution, therefore above the law. The regime is the law since rule of law has ceased to exist for nearly half a century.

Second, Mahathir had for 22+ years presided over just such a regime when he led it. He – more than Abdul Razak, Hussein Onn and Mahathir’s successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – had every time turned a blind eye to every skin-flake of known or rumoured corruption within his UMNO, his regime, his Malay-dominated bureaucracy and Police, and among the coterie of Malay, Chinese and Indian cronies or oligarchs he’d nurtured.

Those accused or nabbed, like Perwaja Steel’s Eric Chia, “somehow” managed to get off scot-free. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how.

Not when the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary, as a democracy would like to have it, disappeared virtually overnight under Mahathir. Yet here he is crying that Najib has violated everything decent and, worse, he’s getting away with it.

‘Muhibbah’ only in name 

Something else is worth remembering. What Najib is doing – centralising structural and institutional power in his hands through what I’ve called the UMNO-Leninist state – is very much the same thing Mahathir was doing when he ran the place like a dictator. Or close enough to one. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Third, the desperation among “Malaysians” opposed to the regime is perfectly understandable. The desperation for the coalition of opposition parties, Pakatan Harapan, is also perfectly understandable.

To go as far as enlisting Mahathir is one thing; to make him the leader of the pack and, more, Prime Minister if Harapan should win, is unthinkable.

 

The man who created the 21st century monster of Malaysia, among the many other monsters who clutter the regime from across the ruling coalition, was Mahathir. He gave each one of them long enough rope to enrich themselves, heeding Deng Xiaoping’s dictum. Najib too embraced the licence. Najib’s “living the good life,” Mahathir put it on television. So are Mahathir’s cronies and nepotists.

Mahathir can’t have it both ways. He needs to own up to the past wrongs when the rot started to really set in. Mahathir now says Malaysia needs to reset good governance by ridding the country of Najib et al. Fine.

But (a) what good governance did Mahathir bring to Malaysia when he was Prime Minister? And (b) he must not become Prime Minister a second time, not even as a seat-warmer for Anwar.

The King of Malaysia has a duty to the country. All the Sultans do. The King knows Najib has been ripping off Malaysia; he cannot continue to sit on his hands and wait for ridiculously pointless protocols before pardoning Anwar – if he dares to pardon Anwar at all. But he must if he does not want his country monster-ised further.

Anwar at the helm gives Harapan the legitimacy it needs to fight the elections. This is not to suggest Anwar (photo) is unproblematic. Even with Anwar at the tiller isn’t a sufficient condition to rule.

Thayaparan says “all Malaysians” must vote, that they must do their bit. I would agree if I knew just who “all Malaysians” were – another point Thayaparan missed in my letter. Show me one “all Malaysian”.

Here’s what I see. Here’s what I’ve always seen. And on my last visit to Malaysia very recently I saw this much more clearly.

There’s no “all Malaysian”. There are no “all Malaysians”. There are Malays, Chinese, Indians and so on – discrete ethno-tribal, sociological, economic and political units separated by competition between race, religion and ideology.

The old story. I don’t need to tell you this. The ruling coalition is also dominated by similar units separated by race and religion. So, too, Pakatan Harapan.As we do in primary math addition, this will be carried over into the future.

Therein lies Malaysia’s core problem. The country might be able to solve some of the economic divisions that rift the people, but it can’t and it won’t solve every one of them or every other accompanying problem until competition between race, religion and ideology is resolved.

“Muhibbah” exists but only in name. Always has since 1969. Najib, UMNO and their BN clan know this and they’ll play this up to the hilt, no matter what the fallout.

There are many other problems that will inevitably be brought into general election No 14 from GE13. Many are beholden to UMNO-BN. Some are also evident, again, in the opposition.

Like it or not, Harapan is divisive because it is itself divided. In fact – and I agree with Thayaparan – Harapan looks woefully inadequate. It hasn’t learnt from its mistakes from GE-13. Those mistakes were fundamental, starting with its rather lame manifesto.

Harapan may have done better than expected in that election but it can’t hope for the same lucky streak in GE-14 to break the proverbial UMNO-BN camel’s back once and for all.

It would be wonderful if it does but UMNO has some things on its side, and a certain important – no, critical – momentum that Harapan would wish it has too. It won’t if it keeps carrying on like it has. But Mahathir isn’t the answer.


MANJIT BHATIA, an Australian, is a US-based academic, researcher and analyst specialising in Asian and international economics, political economy and international relations. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Who should Malaysians turn to next?


January  23, 2018

Who should Malaysians turn to next?

Opinion: Daughter of Former Prime Minster Mahathir Mohamad asks whether the big promises of Malaysia’s ruling party will be enough to gain back the public’s trust and win them power yet again.

by Marina Mahathir

This article was published in the January edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here

 

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With Malaysia’s general election due to take place by August of this year, the ruling party has already begun making big promises and dragging the opposition through the mud. But at a time of unparalleled distrust of those in charge of the country, it might not be enough to win them power yet again.

Malaysians are caught between a perpetual rock and a hard place when it comes to the politics of their country.

On the one hand, they are saddled with a government led by a man who has been accused by the US Department of Justice of running the “biggest kleptocracy in history”. On the other, they are sceptical about the alternative, the coalition known as Pakatan Harapan – the Hope Coalition – which until recently seemed unable to pull together a coherent and cohesive platform.

They have, however, now named my father, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, as their candidate for Prime Minister and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as deputy prime minister – choices that make strategic sense but are likely a disappointment to young people who were hoping for fresh faces.

On the one hand, few can abide the most unpopular Prime Minister in Malaysian history and his wife. On the other, should the governing Barisan Nasional (BN) win again but then get rid of Prime Minister Najib Razak, his successor is most likely Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, the Deputy Prime Minister. Perhaps this is why Malaysians have taken an inordinate interest in the goings-on in Zimbabwe, where the long-time president, Robert Mugabe, resigned only to be replaced by his former vice-president, a man who goes by the nickname of ‘Crocodile’. Given Ahmad Zahid’s track record as Home Minister, we may well get our own predatory reptile.

Speculation is rife that these are the actions of a government that does not have the imagination to reverse its unpopularity

The 14th general election is to be held by August this year, but they may be called any time between now and then, leaving Malaysians in coffee shops, boardrooms and home kitchens speculating as to when it is more likely to be called. Some were certain that it would be after the budget in October and before the end of last year. Others predict it will be in the first quarter of 2018, around March or even April. Still others think that Najib will repeat what he did in 2013 when he waited almost until the last minute to dissolve parliament.

Not that this has stopped him from campaigning. While election campaigning officially starts on the day elections are called, and last for only two weeks, it is clear that the BN election machinery has already started to grind. This takes two forms.

The first is the doling out of goodies, or at least the promise of them. The recently announced budget promised, for instance, to build thousands of low-cost houses for the poorest sectors, including 600 units to be built in ‘indigenous areas’ and unashamedly named ‘My Beautiful New Home’ or ‘MyBNHome’. A reduction in individual income tax rates by 2% has also been promised, although this has not been accompanied by a reduction in the very unpopular 6% Goods and Services Tax.

The second approach is by denigrating the opposition through the mainstream and online media. Opposition leaders such as Mahathir Mohamad have been attacked. He was called “an Indian masquerading as a Malay”. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng of Penang is being dragged through the courts for alleged corruption, and Shafie Apdal, who is leading the opposition charge in the Borneo state of Sabah, has been charged with misappropriation of state funds.

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Mainstream newspapers think nothing of putting photos of the children and grandchildren of opposition politicians on the front pages for supposedly leading a jet set life while ignoring the far more serious case of the PM’s stepson being named by the US Department of Justice in its kleptocracy case.

But speculation is also rife that these are the actions of a government that is feeling nervous and does not have the imagination to reverse its unpopularity by giving people what they really want, rather than what they imagine they should want. People want the sort of leadership that gives them a long-term and sustainable vision of their future, not short-term, stopgap, vote-buying measures. They would very likely still vote for the BN if they are presented with a vision they can believe in.

Unfortunately, unless the opposition coalition gets its act together soon, such hypocrisy is what we will be saddled with for a long while.

Also worrying is the rise of a strand of conservative Islam in Malaysia that increasingly mirrors the Saudi Wahhabi variety. Most recently the Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs declared that not believing in God is unconstitutional because while the federal constitution guarantees freedom of religion, it does not allow ‘freedom from religion’. It is this type of twisted interpretation of the constitution that has led to increasing divisiveness in Malaysian society, leading some to believe that Islamic law supersedes the guarantees inherent in the constitution. It hasn’t helped that Najib has played to this particular gallery wholeheartedly, refusing to criticise inflammatory comments by radical preachers until forced to do so.

Image result for najib razak i am not a crookNajib Razak and his UMNO kleptocrats

 

In this vacuum it has been left to an undemocratic institution, the hereditary rulers of nine of the 13 states, to take a firm stand against such conservatism. Stating that incidents such as the establishment of a Muslim-only launderette are abhorrent in multiracial Malaysia, the sultan of Johor ordered the launderette to open its business to all or close down. The Council of Rulers then issued a statement condemning such divisive actions and words, a move that was unusual but much welcomed by the public when there has only been silence from the political leadership.

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Najib Razak shaking hands with an Islamic extremist  Dr Zakir Naik from India

The failure of government leaders to condemn such extreme views while espousing ‘moderate Islam’ abroad only underscores the public perception of a hypocritical and corrupt administration. Unfortunately, unless the opposition coalition gets its act together soon, such hypocrisy is what we will be saddled with for a long while.

 

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Marina Mahathir is a socio-political activist and writer focusing on the intersection of gender, religion and politics. She has been a regular newspaper columnist for more than 20 years, led a HIV/Aids NGO for 12 years and is currently involved in advocacy for justice and equality for Muslim women.

This article was published in the January edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine.

WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT


September 9, 2017

WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT–ENCORE Posting–SARAWAK REPORT

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 Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife are not welcome to the United States. Both are likely to get a roasting from the US media when they call on President Donald Trump and FLOTUS on September 12 at The White House. It is a repeat of the Obama Administration’s folly. Trump will blame the State Department for yet another diplomatic snafu.–Din Merican

 

by Sarawak Report

Today’s Editorial (September7)  in The Wall Street Journal (see below) will not go unremarked on Capital Hill.  More so, given it is just one of a growing body of articles condemning Trump’s ill-advised and so far inadequately explained invitation to Najib.

The WSJ points out that Trump is falling for the very same ruse that Malaysia’s Toxic Twosome pulled on Obama, employing yet another lobbyist who had been close to him on the campaign trail, Frank White.  Nowadays Najib has Healey Baumgardner, a campaign manager for Trump, on his payroll instead.

Image result for Najib and RosmahPresident Barack H. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama seen with Malaysia’s notorious couple

 

But, as the WSJ points out, The State Department bears responsibility for allowing Trump to step into this particular piece of dog-do that can only make his look both a hypocrite and a fool.  Neither will supporting Najib’s PR machine at election time do US interests one bit of good:

Trump’s Malaysia Swamp
Did Tillerson tell his boss he’s repeating an Obama mistake?

in the September 7, 2017 Print Edition

A visit to the White House is a diplomatic plum that world leaders covet. So why is President Trump bestowing this honor on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who jailed an opposition leader and is a suspect in a corruption scandal that spans the globe?

Mr. Najib will visit the White House next week for a presidential photo-op that could help him win the next general election and imperil Malaysia’s democracy. Yet it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are getting anything in return for associating with a leader their own Justice Department is investigating. This could set them up for a repeat of the way Mr. Najib humiliated Barack Obama.

Mr. Najib oversaw the creation of 1MDB, a state-owned fund that was supposed to attract foreign investment. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the Prime Minister and his associates looted the fund of $4.5 billion. The DOJ has filed civil lawsuits to freeze more than $1.6 billion of assets allegedly stolen from the fund. Five other nations are also investigating, and Singapore has convicted five financiers of money laundering and fraud. Mr. Najib hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing, and Malaysia’s Attorney General cleared him.

Under Mr. Najib, Malaysian authorities also conducted a six-year prosecution against opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That legal farce helped Mr. Najib’s party win a narrow victory in the 2013 election.

So how should the U.S. engage a troubled Malaysia? Mr. Obama cozied up to Mr. Najib and chose to ignore the prosecution of Mr. Anwar when he made the first visit by a U.S. President in 60 years to Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. Eight months later, he invited Mr. Najib for a showy round of golf in Hawaii.

But that precedent is not consistent with Mr. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. Two months after that golf round Mr. Anwar was jailed again. And shortly after Mr. Obama made nice with Mr. Najib, Frank White Jr. , who served as co-chair of President Obama’s re-election committee before becoming a lobbyist for Malaysia, sold a stake in a 1MDB-linked solar technology firm back to the fund for $69 million.

The benefits of communing with Mr. Najib aren’t obvious. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson thinks Malaysia will help tighten the financial screws on North Korea, which has long used the country as a business hub. But Mr. Najib isn’t likely to stop his strategic drift toward China. Keeping 1MDB afloat will require cash infusions, and China, eager to help fellow authoritarians, can deploy its One Belt, One Road slush fund. Mr. Najib can then buy off the opposition and consolidate power.

If Malaysia slides into dictatorship, it will almost surely fall into Beijing’s orbit. The U.S. relationship depends on Malaysia remaining a viable democracy. That’s why helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.

Mr. Trump will be told that it’s too late to cancel the meeting, but the U.S. can find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles. Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op.

 

 

The Power of Writing Regained


June 11, 2017

The Power of Writing Regained

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

After confessing in my column last week that depression was threatening to rob me of what I’ve long relied on as my last-ditch defence against the total disempowerment of despair – the power of writing – this week I have to admit that it didn’t help very much.

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It certainly didn’t do anything to dispel my lack of faith in the biblical alleged wisdom that “confession is good for the soul”, if only for the sole reason that I’m incurably skeptical about the existence of any such metaphysical entity.

But my confession was apparently cathartic or otherwise psychologically beneficial enough to my spirits as to restore my powers of written speech.

And kind comments on the ensuing column from two perennially-supportive pseudonymous Malaysiakini readers, JesuisAnwar and HaveAGreatDay, whoever they actually are, have greatly sustained my spirits since. So much so as to inspire me to the thought that it may not be depression per se that has been threatening to leave me lost for words all this while, but disappointment.

Disappointment at how little I feel I’ve achieved, both quantitatively and qualitatively, in my by now quite lengthy lifetime, and also at my apparent inability to redress these deficiencies, or at least make the most of the rapidly-dwindling time I have left to do so before death.

Or, to put this another way, I’m both metaphorically and literally dying to write as many and as meaningful words as possible before I reach my final full stop.

Unhappily, however, to return to the subject of disappointment for a moment, I’ve left so many of life’s fundamental questions so unnoticed, unexamined and unwritten-about, that I’m virtually dumbstruck with confusion as to which of them is most worth spending, my or indeed anybody’s last words on.

So rather than striving to have my final say on them all at once, as I’ve been so unproductively doing in my panic to meet my final, indeed terminal deadline, I’d better get myself focused, and fast.

By being smart enough, for a start, to think of my remaining writing time not simply in terms of how to best to “spend” it, as I see I thoughtlessly did two paragraphs ago, but how to invest it most intelligently on worthwhile topics or at least avoid squandering much if any more of it on trivia and trash.

Like, to cite the most vivid example of the latter types of topic than I can think of, in light of the almost 500,000 words I’ve wasted on them in this Malaysiakini column over the past 11 years, the corrupt, incompetent and ruthlessly truthless members and countless crimes and other misdeeds of Malaysia’s miserable, ever-misruling UMNO-BN regime.

Not that I’m promising to never mention them again, you understand, as long as Malaysiakini keeps generously granting me space on its site. But in future, I intend to mention this gruesome gang and all the world’s many other similarly blundering, plundering and people-repressing regimes only, if possible, in the context of or in relation to issues that are far more fundamentally interesting and important.

Like power, for instance, whose multitudinous and endlessly paradoxical manifestations are as all-pervasive in human lives and affairs as they are everywhere else in what we call the universe, and yet seems to me generally poorly comprehended or even perceived.

And like truth, which mankind seems to have spent its long history striving on the one hand to define, seek and discover, and on the other hand, and often simultaneously, seeking with equal if not greater determination, to ignore, avoid, contradict or deny.

In the process so apparently totally losing sight of the many and various meanings, purposes and perversions of truth as to seriously entertain the ludicrously ahistorical proposition that, because we can all post opinions on the net and the US has elected a lying pest like Donald Trump, we’ve reached the age of “post-truth”.

Another perennially pressing topic for as many last words as possible, of course, is the one that had inspired the ancient ethical philosophers, Western and Eastern alike, to ask “how should life be lived?”

But here the kind of confusion that’s been leaving me lost for last words starts to kick back in again. Because it’s impossible to consider and discuss ethics without consideration of truth and power, as well as what it means to be successfully and fully ‘human’.

A thought that brings me to what seems to me to be the ultimate topic for my or any other human who’s on a mission to make the most of his or her wits and words, last or otherwise: the exhortation carved in stone outside the Temple of Apollo at Delphi to “know thyself”.

This, of course, in light of the unfathomable complexities of and confusions and conflicts between our animal instincts and human intellects and conscious and unconscious minds, is paradoxically impossible.

In fact, as Socrates, my favourite philosopher, demonstrated to his own satisfaction and the outrage of his fellow Athenians, who for his pains condemned him to death for blasphemy and misleading the youth of the city, that nobody really knows anything.

And over a thousand years later, Frenchman René Descartes similarly set out to challenge every belief he had for which he could find insufficient support, and found that the only one he was left with was, as he famously expressed it in Latin, Cogito, Ergo Sum, or “I think, therefore I am”.

However skeptical about my own and others’ beliefs that I am, I certainly don’t kid myself that I’m in Socrates’ or Descartes’ class. But I’d most certainly consider my life far from wasted if I could come up with enough sensible and sincere last words to finally feel satisfied at the end with an epitaph along the lines of “I wrote, therefore I was”.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

Hishamuddin’s steps to power: Loyalty pays off


April 17, 2017

COMMENT:

Image result for din merican and dr. kamsiah haider

I have been very critical of Prime Minister Najib Razak on many issues, corruption and governance among them; more often than not, I have been brutally so. Frankly speaking, his record has been dismal since taking over from Tun Abdullah Badawi in 2009 (with thanks to the machinations of his political mentor, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad). Najib’s popularity is now at an all time low.

However, Najib’s decision to give Defence Minister Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn a special role in his administration is, in my view, a very strategic, politically astute and timely one. Every leader needs an aide he can trust, not someone who has ambitions of his own to be the 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia.

Hopefully, together and with the help of the charismatic  UMNO Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin, Najib and Hishamuddin can forge a strong alliance to face Malaysian voters in GE-14 on a Malaysia-centric political and socio-economic agenda rather than a Malay nationalist-Islamist one, with a view to bringing Malaysians together again.

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Najib, Hishamuddin and Khairy –a Formidable Combination for UMNO

Hishamuddin to Najib is what Tun Hussein was to Tun Abdul Razak with one fundamental difference. Tun Hussein was a reluctant politician who had the premiership thrust upon him. Our 3rd. Prime Minister was also a man of integrity, a lawyer of excellent aristocratic pedigree and a loyal son of Dato’ Onn Jaafar, who was UMNO’s founder President.

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Hishamuddin,  on the other hand, is a thorough bred UMNO politician who rose through the ranks at a measured pace. One needs to look at his resume to note that he has held key Cabinet positions. He performed  well and served the Prime Minister and UMNO loyally. Finally, his hard work and dedication to his responsibilities have earned him the right to take on this new job. But it is difficult to say that the premiership is his for the taking.

The incumbent Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Zahid Hamidi is a formidable rival with strong support among the UMNO grassroots and Malay nationalists of the extreme right. But at least Hishamuddin is an alternative who represents the moderate face of UMNO, which will be more acceptable to voters and UMNO’s Barisan Nasional partners (MCA, MIC and Gerakan) than the plebian Zahid. I did not mention PAS because I think this Hadi Awang-led Islamic party is headed towards political extinction after GE-14. –Din Merican

Hishammuddin’s steps to power

 by Scott Ng
 
The new Minister with Special functions occupies an unusual but maybe pivotal role.
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Hishamuddin as Malaysia’s Defence Minister in Singapore

 

The appointment of Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to the position of minister with special functions is one of the more curious political moves in recent memory. The buzz is that Prime Minister Najib Razak needs his first cousin as his right hand man. So one must wonder what must be running through the head of current DPM Zahid Hamidi, especially so close to a general election.

Zahid’s ambition has been noted by several quarters, with some critics believing that he veers too far to the right for the comfort of the public. Nonetheless, the DPM is a valuable asset to the Najib administration, but Hishammuddin’s sudden ascent has thrown the succession plan into disarray.

Hishammuddin certainly has a much better reputation with moderates than Zahid, and perhaps can be seen as something of a peace offering to those spooked by the new religious fundamentalist and ethno-nationalist approach of UMNO.

Unlike his cousin’s other lieutenants, Hishammuddin has kept a low public profile. While he is not looked to for an opinion like Khairy Jamaluddin is whenever a crisis erupts, he is seen as a quiet problem solver, brokering important defence deals in the Middle East and working with China on defence interests.

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Overall, he is seen as better spoken and more temperate a candidate for leader than Zahid, but memories may be long when it comes to perceptions of a politician’s character. People still remember his belligerence as UNMO Youth Chief. He brandished a keris during his speech at the UMNO General Assembly of 2005. He might have to do a little work to shake off that memory if he is truly positioned to take over as Deputy Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, Hishammuddin’s presence may yet prove to be appealing to the more cosmopolitan of the right wing and an acceptable compromise for the moderates and the left. Such an appeal is something that BN probably feels it needs in facing GE14.

However, the appointment does not signal a complete shift to the middle ground. GE14 is shaping up to be defined as a Malay vs Malay fight. If one thing is certain, it is that all parties will fight over the hallowed motherland vote and the insults will fly thick.

Hishammuddin may yet walk out of this the biggest winner, but only if he is the contrarian of his party and maintains the professional image he has groomed for himself over the past decade or so.

There are some who theorise that Hishammuddin’s appointment signals the beginning of a transition, that our Prime Minister is preparing to step down. If that is true, then all eyes will be watching how he behaves during the coming election campaign period.

At this point, Malaysians simply want a win, and if that win comes in the form of an heir apparent with all his clothes on, it will be a positive start.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.