Pakatan Harapan: What is so special about this Naik Fella from India?

July 12, 2018

Pakatan Harapan: What is so special about this Naik Fella from India?

By Dennis Ignatius

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Dr. Mahathir Mohamad protects an Indian Cobra

What’s so special about Zakir Naik? Why is he so uniquely deserving of Putrajaya’s support and attention?

These are among the many questions that Malaysians are asking in the wake of the government’s decision to allow him to stay; so far no satisfactory answers have been forthcoming.

Well-deserved reputation

Any which way you look at it, Naik is a highly polarising demagogue. Considered one of the most influential Wahhabi ideologues in the world, he aggressively propagates a version of Islam that even Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Salman says is in need of reform, and which, incidentally, the National Fatwa Council (NFC) of Malaysia declared “has no place in Malaysia”.

Countries as diverse as Canada, India, the UK and Bangladesh consider him an extremist who seems to endorse terrorism. Some countries have denied him entry as well. Bangladesh alleges that he inspired a terrorist attack in Dhaka in 2016 which left 22 dead. India’s National Investigation Agency is also investigating his foundation for alleged money laundering.

While he consistently denies these allegations and claims that he has been misunderstood or taken out of context, it’s hard not to conclude from even a cursory viewing of his many YouTube offerings that his reputation for extremism is well-deserved.

Dishonest and deceitful

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Now that he is in the dock of public opinion, and desperate for refuge in Malaysia, he is attempting an image makeover, claiming that his “primary concern” has always been “to foster social harmony”. He is, of course, being utterly dishonest given that he has a long history of being extremely intolerant, insulting and demeaning of other faiths.

And when cornered by his own remarks, he immediately cries that he is but a victim of some vague conspiracy against Islam, part of a “broader objective of demonising Islam and Muslims”, never mind that it is his own hate-filled invective that does more to demonise Islam that anything else.

Skillfully exploiting our divisions

While many of us might shudder at the thought of someone like Naik being turned loose in a country like ours which is struggling to contain religious and racial extremism, he has apparently no shortage of supporters. With the Wahhabi narrative already well-established in the corridors of power, the NFC’s opinion notwithstanding, he is of course a perfect fit. His choice of abode – in Putrajaya – is itself very telling.

He also seems to have adroitly exploited Malaysia’s political, racial and religious divisions to his advantage, endearing himself to many in UMNO and PAS by his endorsement of both Islamic and Malay supremacism. And they, in turn, have showered him with a level of praise, privilege and protection that he never found anywhere else. No surprise then that he loves it here.

Legal obligations

The Indian government is now apparently seeking to extradite Naik (who remains an Indian citizen) to face money laundering and terrorism-related charges.

Ultimately, extradition is a legal matter subject to treaty obligations which the courts must decide upon. The government must take a principled stand and affirm that it will respect its legal obligations. To do otherwise, to insist that Naik be treated differently from others in similar situations, would undermine the government’s own oft-repeated commitment to the rule of law.

Does Naik deserve to be here?

Beyond the issue of extradition, however, is the larger question of whether or not he deserves to be a Malaysian permanent resident. A strong argument can be made that extremists like Naik do not deserve residency status in our country.

His values, his actions and his worldview stand in sharp contrast to the kind of tolerant, respectful and inclusive nation we are trying to build. He has nothing to contribute to making our nation a strong, united and prosperous one. He is but an intolerant religious bully who does not deserve our respect let alone our protection.

And don’t forget that this is also the same opportunist who, convinced that UMNO would rule forever, insisted at a seminar last year that Muslims ought to vote for a Muslim leader who might be corrupt (read Najib) rather than a Muslim leader who depends on non-Muslim support (read Mahathir).

Of course, once Najib lost power, he immediately ingratiated himself with Putrajaya’s new leaders and now sings their praises. And this is the man that some in Pakatan Harapan are now defending.

Naik doesn’t belong here. If he doesn’t have the courage to return home to India to answer the charges against him, let him find sanctuary in Saudi Arabia; after all, he is a great admirer of the Wahhabi clerics who hold sway there.

Government owes us an explanation

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In the interest of transparency, the government has an obligation to explain why it refuses to extradite him and why he deserves to remain in Malaysia.

As well, the government needs to clarify whether it is paying for Naik’s ever-present security detail, whether he is receiving financial support of any kind from the public purse, and whether he is being considered for Malaysian citizenship now that India has withdrawn his passport.

Whatever it is, the government should not underestimate how deeply offended many Malaysians are with Naik and how deeply disappointed they are by the inexplicable and shocking decision to continue offering him sanctuary here.

Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Foreign Affairs: Time for East Asia

July 9, 2018

Time for East Asia

By Bunn Nagara@www,


AS an indication of how out of touch some international pundits of Asia are, they still call North-East Asia (China, Japan and Korea) “East Asia.”

East Asia as a region comprises the sub-regions of North-East Asia and South-East Asia, the latter being the countries of ASEAN and Timor-Leste.

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The ASEAN region developed steadily with peace and prosperity as its watchwords. It became known as a region consistently posting some of the highest growth rates in the world.

Yet ASEAN and its member countries were severely constrained by a lack of economic weight and global reach.

ASEAN’s diplomatic clout is fine, but South-East Asia as a region falls short of economic heft in a rapidly globalising world. Nonetheless, the forces of globalisation themselves would take care of that with growing economic integration within East Asia.

North-East Asia included two of the world’s three largest economies, so as a region it had no problems of limited reach or heft. Despite global constraints, China on the whole continued to grow.

As the economies of North-East Asia and South-East Asia grew more integrated, growth in East Asia as a whole would soon reach an altogether different plane.

Studies generally find intra-regional trade surpassing foreign direct investment (FDI). A 2009 study found that tariff reductions as well as closer monetary cooperation among East Asian countries made sense.

A report by the Asian Development Bank Institute last year acknowledged the impressive growth of East Asia’s intra-regional trade ratio over the past 55 years.

It noted how trade had become “more functionally linked to international production networks and supply chains” as well as FDI in the region. This is indicative of East Asia’s deepening regionalisation. Typically, after Japan’s export of capital to South-East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, China took up the slack as Japan’s economy leveled off from the early 1990s.

In 1990, ISIS Malaysia and Prime Minister Tun (then Datuk Seri) Dr. Mahathir Mohamad worked on a proposal for an East Asia Economic Grouping (EAEG). It was time for East Asia to come into its own.

When Chinese Premier Li Peng visited Kuala Lumpur in December 1990, Dr Mahathir proposed the EAEG to him. Li Peng accepted and supported it.

The idea had not been discussed within ASEAN before. Indonesia, the biggest country and economy regarding itself the region’s “big brother,” felt miffed that it had not been consulted about the plan.

Singapore’s position, traditionally more aligned to a US that was not “included” in the East Asia proposal, was slightly more nuanced. Lee Kuan Yew, upon becoming Senior Minister just the month before – and on the cusp of the Cold War’s demise – still preferred an economic universe defined by the West.

At the time this was the European community and the Uruguay Round as an outgrowth of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

It was still three years before the European Union (EU), and four years before the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Generally the world was still beholden to Western economic paradigms and game plans. The EAEG was thus seen as the work of some upstart Asians, in turns brash and occasionally recalcitrant.

Most of the six ASEAN countries, like South Korea, accepted the EAEG even as they tried to learn more about it. But it was still at best tentative.

The EAEG’s critics, however, proved more vocal. US President G.H.W Bush and Secretary of State James Baker wanted to crash the regional party by becoming a member also, or else would see the idea crash.

The Uruguay Round was then seen to be quite rudderless, and APEC, itself formed just one year before, appeared fumbling in the doldrums.

The EAEG, misperceived as an “alternative”, would be thinking and acting outside the box. An energised Asia owing nothing to Western patronage was far too much for an Occidental-conceived world order to contemplate, much less accept.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen and China’s President Xi Jinping

Malaysia tried to soothe anxieties about the EAEG by emphasising its soft regionalism. It was to be only “a loose, consultative” grouping and no more.

Why should a booming, rapidly integrating East Asia be deprived of a regional economic identity, when Europe and North America could develop their own?

Unfortunately the EAEG’s public relations campaign proved too little too late. The idea, albeit now conceived as an ASEAN project, lacked traction and ground to a halt.

Singapore saw its merits and tried a different tack. Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong proposed an East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) within APEC, allaying fears of an insecure US that this would remain within the ambit of a US-dominated APEC.

Several political speeches and conference papers later, the EAEC idea also failed to germinate. A Bill Clinton Presidency was lukewarm-to-cool to the idea, still without the encouragement Japan needed for a nod.

A flourishing East Asia would be left without a regional organisation of its own, again.

In 1997 the devastating Asian economic and financial crisis struck, hitting South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia particularly badly. If the EAEG had been in place by then, greater regional cooperation and coordination would have helped cushion the shocks.

Suddenly, South Korea took the initiative to push East Asia into forming a regional identity: ASEAN Plus Three (APT). This grouping would consist of the same EAEG countries.

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Indo- Pacific Partnership –An Alternative to China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI)

Japan this time was more accommodating, and the APT was born.

For decades, “the West” led by the US was identified with open markets and free trade. But now a Trump Presidency deemed protectionist, even isolationist, is hauling up the drawbridge and raising the barricades with tariffs and other restrictive measures.

These are aimed at allies and rivals alike, whether in Europe or Asia. Equivalent countermeasures have been launched, and the trade-restraining spiral winds on.

China, by now identified globally as a champion of open markets and free trade, has called on Europe to form a common front. Strategic competitors are making for strange trade bedfellows and vice-versa.

Dr Mahathir was on his annual visit to Tokyo last month for the Nikkei International Conference on the Future of Asia. He duly revisited the idea of an East Asian economic identity and community.

For emphasis, he added that he preferred this to a revised Trans-Pacific Partnership that the US has now rejected. How would an EAEG now play in today’s Japan and East Asia? More to the point, how would it play in Washington? The answer may still determine its prospects in Tokyo and East Asia as a whole.

It is possible that the US has become too tied to the idea of battling trade skirmishes, if not outright trade wars, with any presumed adversary to have time to frown on an EAEG.

Dr Mahathir has noted how this is the time for such a regional grouping, since we still need it and particularly when the US is helping to justify it. It is also conceivable that Japan today is more open to the EAEG, just like with the APT post-1997.

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America First Fallacy– In fact it is US retreat from global engagement


The more the rhetoric of a US-China trade war rages, the more likely East Asia can finally develop a regional economic identity of its own.

Even a US-EU trade conflict will do. East Asia should not be too choosy about its benefactors.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Bunn Nagara

Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

June10, 2018

Geo-Politics–Non-Western Eurasia rises

by Bunn

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.–Bunn Nagara

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Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit, in Qingdao, China on June 10, 2018.

THE week that was ended with a significant non-Western event often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

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Tajikistan President Imomali Rakhmon, left, Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, walk for talks at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong Province Sunday, June 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)


China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talk fest. Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of NATO, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

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Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a NATO member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its NATO credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

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Modi and Xi–A Strategic Partnership for development and progress

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month Nato voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.


Political Change in Malaysia: A View from India

June 5, 2018

Political Change in Malaysia: A View from India

“The importance of real democracy to ensure the welfare of people at large cannot be overstated. Though economic growth can be achieved with `limited’ or `no’ democracy, such a situation can lead to severe corruption, political highhandedness and restrictions on individual and political freedoms. What is needed is not merely formal democracy but an intensely competitive democracy.”

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I have written a book narrating a possible story of long-term political transition in different countries in 2014[i], and I have used that framework recently to discuss the political situation in South Africa, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela here.

The recent political developments in Malaysia fit well with the framework of the book. Let me narrate the story and the connection with Malaysian case briefly here.

Let us take the theoretical argument first. Desirable political change requires the mobilization of almost all sections of people (and not only the elites or middle-class). Moreover there should be adequate competition in politics. Each of the competing party/coalition should have a reasonable chance of coming to power. In the absence of such a competitive politics, there can be a number of issues even if the majority is mobilized politically, they participate in elections and governments are elected through formal democracy.

However there are barriers against the emergence of a competitive politics in certain situations. This may happen when the majority is mobilized on the basis of an ethnic/religious identity. Then there would be competition in politics only when the majority gets divided into two competing political formations.

The emergence of the competitive politics may be delayed or retarded when left-of-centre (for example, communist) parties have the support of the majority on the basis of their class-position. These parties may use different strategies to suppress the opposition in politics.

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We can use this framework to understand the political transition in Malaysia. The majority in Malaysia was mobilized politically by using the identity of ethnicity. Here ethnicity, religion and nationalism are mixed together. It is interesting to note that the main political party -United Malays National Organization (UMNO) uses three words (Bongsa- which is close Vamsha in Sanskrit- to denote ethnicity, Agama – religious ideals; Negara –nation) to project its ideological position.  This mobilization on the basis of Malay identity was also driven by the perceived need to control migrants (mainly from China and India) economically and politically.

Such a mobilization was successful in capturing the power, and changing the allocation of resources in favor of Malay people to some extent. Due to the support of the ethnic group which constitutes the majority, this political party/coalition could rule the country for a long time. The UMNO was in power under a coalition called `Barisan Nasional’ (BN) for 61 years.

Given this monopoly control of the government and the ideology and effectiveness of a leader (Mahathir bin Mohamad) who ruled the country for more than two decades until 2003, market-oriented and private-sector driven economic development could be facilitated in a top-down manner without much opposition. The majority benefited from this economic development too.

However, there were restrictions on democratic freedoms due to the monopoly of this party in government. In fact, the leader (Mahathir) was justifying openly the restrictions imposed on democracy. For him, such a control on democracy was in tune with Asian cultures and values. He used the majority and the lack of an effective opposition to make changes in laws which led ultimately to a certain concentration of decision-making power in the office of the Prime Minister.

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This is a general problem in democracy. The party in power wants to see a decline of the strength of the opposition. The current ruling party in India wants to create an India which is free from the major opposition party. However, people benefit from a democracy where there is an intense opposition. This is a case where there is a divergence between the interest of the ruling party and that of the people at large.

The lack of real competitive democracy and the monopoly of one party in the government (which may translate into the control of one leader) have also led to a kind of political highhandedness in Malaysia. The Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was fired and tried for what could be called `immoral actions’. It is not sure whether he got a fair deal in the trials against (and the punishments meted out to) him under different governments in the past. The trial might have been used to suppress dissenting voices within the party and government. There was a highhandedness on the part of the government in dealing with popular agitations too. The media was also controlled (over-regulated) by the government and ruling coalition. The government intervention has suppressed the views of opposition in different forms of media.

In summary, the monopoly of one party in the government has led to an arbitrary use of power and political highhandedness and finally severe restrictions on democratic freedoms.

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Such a situation can facilitate corruption by the top leadership of the government. There could be non-corrupt leaders during certain times, but that need not be the case always. When there is corruption at the top, it can trickle down easily to lower levels. Hence the corruption allegations against the previous Prime Minister in Malaysia (Najib Razak), if these are found to be correct, are hardly surprising. The political environment was facilitating such corruption. In fact, some of the changes made by Mahathir when he was in the government has strengthened the hands of the Prime Minister and his office, which in turn could give the person holding that position a relatively free-hand to indulge in corrupt deals. The allegations of corruption against the top leader of the government can affect the prospects for economic growth too, as experienced by the people of Malaysia in recent past.

Such a situation can be corrected only when the majority (which has been mobilized on the basis of the ethnic identity in this case) gets divided, or when there is another political mobilization representing sections of this ethnic majority. Though Anwar Ibrahim has started a political party, it could not get that much support until recently (even in the form of coalition with a few other parties).

However the serious corruption allegations against Najib Razak, and the decision of Mahathir to put his weight behind the opposition have given it certain credibility. This has led to an effective division of votes coming from the ethnic majority and that has enabled the voting out of the government.  Hence Mahathir is re-elected as the Prime Minister, representing a coalition which has campaigned against UMNO-BN that he has led more than two decades.

The recent experience in Malaysia should encourage Mahathir and other such leaders to change their views on democracy. [It looks that Mahathir has changed his views on democracy to some extent after his (first) retirement from politics.] Though some of them may see the virtues of a not-so-democratic republic for the economic development of the country, the same political situation may breed corruption and political highhandedness. Anwar Ibrahim should know the cost of such highhandedness and the majority of people in Malaysia know the cost of corruption on the part of top leadership. They should strive to sustain a fairly competitive democracy if these ills have to be mitigated in the long-run.

The UMNO or BN which has been ruling until recently needs to adopt strategies to enhance its credibility. Its internal mechanisms should be robust enough to control or remove the top leader who becomes corrupt. This is a struggle which African National Congress (ANC) of the South Africa has gone through recently (and somehow they could remove the leader and reinstate a new one). Internal accountability mechanisms of UMNO needs to be tightened and it may require a new and credible leader.

The reinvigoration of UMNO (and BN) is needed to strengthen the competitive democracy in Malaysia. Otherwise, there is no assurance that the current dispensation under its future leaders may not indulge in corruption or suppress political opposition.

The competitive democracy will also give a voice to the ethnic minorities in Malaysia. The intense competition between the two competing parties (or a narrowing of their margin of victory) may encourage each of these parties to listen and respond to the demands of these minorities. That would also be in the interests of Malaysia in the long-run.

The importance of real democracy to ensure the welfare of people at large cannot be overstated. Though economic growth can be achieved with `limited’ or `no’ democracy, such a situation can lead to severe corruption, political highhandedness and restrictions on individual and political freedoms. What is needed is not merely formal democracy but an intensely competitive democracy.

There is a similarity between UMNO in Malaysia and the BJP in India. Both attempt to represent the majority in these countries. However BJP may not get that kind of monopoly power in governance in India due to the active presence of other political formations and also the internal dissensions within the Hindu majority along caste and regional bases.

[i] Santhakumar, V. (2014) The Roots of Ill Governance and Corruption, Sage, New Delhi

Mahathir Mohamad and Narendra Modi Meet in Kuala Lumpur : Better Times Ahead with Act East India

May 31, 2018

Mahathir Mohamad and Narendra Modi Meet in Kuala Lumpur : Better Times Ahead with Act East India

by Debasis Dash@

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India’s Act East Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Malaysia’s Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

(Tun Dr.) Mahathir Mohamad shocked the world by ending the 61-year reign of the ruling Barisan Nasional. The shocking election results bears resemblance to the Modi Wave which took place during the 2014 general elections in India. Then, a struggling national political alternative, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took over the helms of national affairs with a striking majority beyond the safety margin of two-third mark rule. Was it really a shock? If one listened hard enough, the signaling of an impending storm was felt in the dusty streets of Varanasi and along the countless tea stalls. Those were the places where people from lower rungs of society convened and influenced the minds of their likes. The masses dominated votes and drowned out the elites.

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama Congratulates Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

In Malaysia, this signal was of 92 year old Mahathir announcing his battle plans before the much awaited GE 14. This came as a surprise to many. Barisan Nasional (BN) has a long history that dates back to the nation’s post-independence, weaving people from three major races into a single thread. However, the party was unable to keep its momentum alive despite playing on its personality-based popularity. This is evident from the fact that, even after two decades of ruling experience by BN, Mahathir with his alliance Pakatan Harapan (PH) was able to overthrow BN’s leadership.

Signaling of an Impending Storm

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GE-14–Malaysia’s Hibiscus Revolution?

The signal was clear to me when I spoke with people from different walks of life. This was exactly the case with (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi whose political charisma and persona, was able to secure BJP’s resounding victory in India’s last general elections. However, the two leaders have similarities when it comes to geopolitical realities and their influence on domestic economic health. Both are political realists and don’t like to mince their words.

In his interviews, Mahathir was clear enough to check rampant Chinese investments happening in different parts of Malaysia and to take a realistic assessment of their economic value and influence on nation’s fiscal discipline. He also spoke of influx of labors from China and their employment in key construction activities without hiring local people. His views in this area also garnered support from his followers.

Keeping China in Check

In the sleepy town of Malacca, I came across some of Mahathir’s followers who were concerned about the level of dredging activities carried out by Chinese investment companies. This sort of concern is notable, when similar complaints are being heard from different parts of Indo-Pacific. The strategy of diplomatic arm twisting through financial investments into projects with questionable economic utility has become a new norm in China’s rule book. This is in line with China’s grand strategy. Under Modi’s leadership, India has been quite proactive on all fronts to counter the growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean. With Mahathir’s return to power, there is hope that his pragmatic views would find reverberation with India’s Act East policy and help check China’s growing influence in the region.

Malaysia: The Way Forward

It is also expected that his immediate priorities would involve strengthening the underperforming economy and infusion fiscal discipline to check rising inflation. Besides that, he has to deal with his poll promise of winding off the controversial goods and services tax (GST) with that of a viable alternative sales and services tax regime. Another challenge for him would be to reconcile the differences between the three different races and lead them into a modern society beyond the rhetoric of “Satu Malaysia”.

Debasis Dash is a Graduate Student (Strategic and Defense Studies) at the Dept. of International & Strategic Studies from University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

INDIA: Congratulations, Prime Minister Modi on Successful 4 Years in Office

May 27,2018

Congratulations, Prime Minister Modi on Successful 4 Years in Office



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On the international front, the diplomatic initiatives of the Prime Minister all over the globe are being cited as examples of his ability to become an integral part of the global leadership, offering the Third World countries a model of development and diplomacy.

AS Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance Government completes four years on Saturday, the party is set to make a big competition between its 48 months performance and six decades of Congress rule.

The BJP leadership has drawn out elaborate programmes for launch of extensive campaign to highlight achievements of Modi Government. It will launch nationwide rallies to be addressed by about 15 Central Ministers. The rallies will commence on May 29 and will continue till June 5. Union Ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, J P Nadda, Smriti Irani have been shortlisted among others for addressing these rallies, sources said.

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It was on May 26, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet was sworn in, becoming the first Prime Minister to head a party with a clear majority in decades. That performance had been seen as sterling against the background of coalition politics that come to stay in the country. The BJP, however, continued with its NDA allies in the Government, thus demonstrating its faith in collectivism.  As he took oath of office, Prime Minister Modi had also demonstrated his vision by inviting heads of governments from neighbouring countries. And as he entered Parliament as Prime Minister, he knelt at the steps, placed his head at the anvil, and then walked in — to show his utmost respect to the highest institution of Indian democracy. Since that moment, the country has seen a surge of developmental activities, as well as aggressive politics by the BJP whose influence has grown from just a handful of States to the most parts of the country.

As the Modi Government enters the final year of its tenure, it has planned a lot of developmental initiatives in addition to political activities to prepare its rank and file for the electoral challenge next summer. Some of the most critical achievements of the Modi Government were the Jan Dhan Yojana, demonetisation, and introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). Despite initial teething troubles, all the flagship initiatives have begun yielding great results, as the Government claims rightly.

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Even as the Modi Government continues its assertive performance on all fronts, the Opposition is now trying to build a common front to fight the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. While the Opposition is treating the developments in Karnataka as a test case, the BJP has taken the episode as a proof of its growing political influence since it raised its tally of 40 legislators to 104. For the BJP as well, the Karnataka developments will come as another reason to believe its growing political and electoral prowess.  On the international front, the diplomatic initiatives of the Prime Minister all over the globe are being cited as examples of his ability to become an integral part of the global leadership, offering the Third World countries a model of development and diplomacy.–Third World Diplomacy.