Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. It is an unacceptable act of tyranny


October 23, 2018

Malaysia takes a stand on–Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. “It is an unacceptable act of Tyranny”

by Bernama

The Face of an Arab Tyrant  

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has described the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an extreme and unacceptable act of tyranny.

He said Malaysia does not support the killings of government critics. “We all have someone we dislike, but we cannot simply kill him because we don’t like him. I used to be hated by many, and if we have the same system like Saudi Arabia’s, I probably won’t be here talking to you today.

“Alhamdulillah, we don’t see such acts of tyranny here in our country,” he said at the “Bicara Minda Bersama Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad” talk moderated by veteran journalist Johan Jaafar at Dewan Karangkraf in Shah Alam yesterday.

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The Prime Minister said this when asked about Malaysia’s stand pertaining to the murder of the journalist. Last Saturday, Saudi Press Agency reported that Saudi Arabia had admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul.

The report stated that the discussions allegedly held between the Washington Post columnist and those he met in the consulate had turned into a fight which led to his death.

Following Khashoggi’s death, the international community began to put pressure on Saudi Arabia. Several countries have pulled out of the Saudi investment summit in Riyadh.

– Bernama

Growing Disaster of Trump’s Foreign Policy


October 15, 2018

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Growing Disaster of  Trump’s Foreign Policy

by: Philip Bowring

https://www.asiasentinel.com

The developing world is being slow to wake up to the potentially devastating consequences of a key aspect of US President Donald Trump’s foreign policies, particularly now that that John Bolton and his strident “f… the world” views have become so important.

News almost everywhere is dominated by the display of politics and hypocrisy accompanying the appointment of a member of the US Supreme Court, a supposed judicial appointment marred by tawdry performance on all sides. One needs to ask why this display should concern a world simultaneously confronting three frighteningly serious economic issues.

The first is the long-needed rise in interest rates which is necessary but unsettling after so long a period of cheap money, which has boosted asset prices more than economies. The second is Trump’s trade war. Its scope has narrowed with deals with Mexico, Canada and Korea that change the trade picture very little but provide the president with necessary political cover. But the war against China is ever more intense, with unpredictable consequences for world trade generally and Asian trade in particular.

The third however could prove as important as the other two. That is the US attempt to shut down Iran’s sales of oil. The mind boggles at how self-defeating this policy is to US global interests. The main beneficiary is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, which is not only reaping billions of dollars but becoming an even more influential player in the global oil market. Meanwhile US relations are growing poisonous with Europe, which refuses to go along with Trump’s agenda and is sticking with its nuclear deal with Iran. Then there is India, whose friendship the US badly needs if it is not to cede supremacy in Asia to China. It not only needs Iranian oil but has long seen Iran as an informal ally for influence in the Indian ocean, and countering China’s influence via its huge investments in Pakistan roads and ports.

Trump’s Iran threats have added US$15-20 a barrel to the price of oil, and a further rise to US$100 a barrel is widely forecast. The strains this is placing on the trade balances of the likes of India, the Philippines and Indonesia, not to mention an already troubled Turkey and countries in Latin America, has already shown up in steep falls in currencies and stock markets throughout the developing world, and has had an outsized impact on interest rates. As of now it seems unlikely to spark a major crisis, but if oil hits US$100 plus, there is no knowing the consequences.

 

As it is, the price increase is already limiting the room for the major east Asian importers China, Japan, South Korea, to spur domestic demand to offset weakness from the trade wars.

Trump has been complaining about the oil price rise, which is also hitting consumers, but he has only himself to blame for a policy towards Iran which has only two beneficiaries apart from Russia: Israel and Saudi Arabia. The former has had nuclear weapons for decades without being sanctioned by anyone.

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Now Trump is adding to support for a state which is not only self-evidently expansionist but is now overtly racist by law as well as practice. Thanks to US protection 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are under Israel’s iron fist, which also treats the 1.7 million Arabs in Israel as second-class citizens.

The other beneficiary is Saudi Arabia whose vicious war in Yemen is causing as many casualties as in Syria. Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has stirred up the Gulf while his promises of modernizing the country are largely for overseas consumption. A desert empire built by warrior King Ibn Saud is unlikely to last long if the price of oil falls back to US$40 and stays there. Such are the few friends of Trump’s America. No wonder the world laughs as well as cries and treats the US claim to be defender of liberty and democracy as a sham.

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It is reminder too of how childish the US can be – hardly the sign of a superpower with staying power. It took it 20 years to get over its loss of the Vietnam war. Its view of Iran is still driven by the need for revenge nearly 40 years after the 1979 overthrow of the Shah and the humiliation of the failure of its Tehran hostage mission. It is also a US view which conveniently forgets the CIA-organized coup against the elected secular nationalist Dr Mohammed Mossadeq in 1953, which enabled the Shah to impose a royal rule which became increasingly unpopular, leading to the 1979 revolution.

And it forgets US behind-the-scenes encouragement of the invasion of Iran by Saddam Hussein (later to become evil incarnate) which solidified the rule of the clergy under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Longer term, the biggest damage to the US from its Iran fixation will be to drive others away from using the US dollar. Dependence on that currency for trading and settlement has enabled the US to make it difficult for countries to buy Iranian oil without incurring US reprisals. US policies are already beginning to push countries to use other currencies such as the euro and yuan, but for now the mechanisms are poorly developed and oil majors also fear US reprisals in other ways.

But the more the wider world loathes US arrogance, the more it will seek alternatives to allying with a country which is untrustworthy as well as arrogant. Meanwhile those with smart ways around the sanctions will make a lot of money.

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In Asia, there one country which is benefiting from Trump’s Iran policy: Malaysia. He cannot like the thought, but luckily for retreaded Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, for the time being revenues from the oil price are partly offsetting the coalition’s rash promise to voters to abolish the Goods and Services Tax and bring in the narrower-based Sales and Services tax. Revenue from this source has been cut in half. As the Asian Development Bank in its mid-year update of the Asian Development Outlook points out, Malaysia’s goal of reducing reliance on commodity prices for revenue has “received a major setback,” endangering fiscal health unless new sources of revenue can be found.

CEP’s Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram–A Life of Public Service


September 24, 2018

CEP’s Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram–A Life of Public Service

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The Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), sometimes described as the Council of Elders, was set up to advice the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s new Pakatan Harapan government.

However, the CEP has also attracted a fair amount of controversy, including criticisms from within Harapan about the council’s role and powers.

One of the council’s members, economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, addresses those criticisms in a question-and-answer format.

Question: You have been quite quiet since you were appointed to the CEP.

Jomo: Yes. Given all the speculation and tendentious publicity, I did not feel it was helpful to provide more fuel to the fire. As you know, myths about the CEP thrived, and all manner of things were attributed to the CEP, often wrongly.

There were also things we did in our individual capacities, which were being attributed to the CEP. As a result, the initial goodwill, credibility and legitimacy the CEP enjoyed were undermined, and instead of being an asset to the government, especially the PM, we became the butt of many criticisms, including from within the Harapan coalition, largely due to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

I think I speak for all CEP members that if the PM needs our services, we will gladly serve in our individual capacities, and hopefully, become less of a liability to him.

Why are you reported to be against publication of the CEP report?

The issue is complex and nuanced. First, producing a single report for publication was not in the PM’s appointment letter or announcement.

Undoubtedly, some other bodies in the past, viewed by many as precedents, did produce reports after working for much longer periods, but some did not. For example, Tun Razak’s National Consultative Council after May 1969 did not do so.

Our brief was to help the PM, and the new government, with some immediate tasks at hand, especially the PH manifesto pledges for the first 100 days. To do that well, we tried to offer advice as soon as possible for him to consider and act upon, which is different from producing a report after 100 days.

But a report has been submitted to the PM?

While CEP members were agreed on most matters, there were also some disagreements, for example, on government-linked companies. As is known, some of us disagreed on privatisation policy decades ago, which has a bearing on contemporary debates.

It may be impossible to resolve some such differences, even after further discussion. In such situations, what does one do? Remain silent, or publish the chair’s view, as long as that is made clear.

The CEP chairperson has come under particular criticism from certain quarters.

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Former CEP Chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin–The Silent Man of Action

I am not sure what you are referring to, but his longstanding relationship to the PM was undoubtedly crucial to the CEP’s establishment and functioning, and the object of criticism by his or the PM’s detractors.

There were also many criticisms of his trip to China, but again, such criticisms were undeserved, in my view. Governments dispatch special envoys all the time to deal with sensitive matters discreetly.

But you were a critic of the earlier Mahathir administration.

Indeed, I was critical of some aspects, but if you read what I wrote, my criticisms were always intended to improve government policy, and I also shared his aspirations for the country, especially development, industrialisation, Wawasan 2020, economic nationalism, nation-building, the so-called Asian financial crisis.

The CEP has not been meeting after the 100 days, but yet a report has just been submitted to the PM.

While we have not met or reviewed draft reports since, our chair has been helping the MACC on certain urban land abuses, as he should. Remember he has vast experience in such matters for half a century, even before he was involved with UDA, the Urban Development Authority.

Some CEP meetings were like master classes where I personally learnt more than I could ever hope to learn from reading.

So, are you for or against publication of the report?

It is really up to the PM. There are many options, including partial publication. Remember there are some highly sensitive matters, in terms of official secrecy as well as other matters which may be sensitive in terms of market behaviour, international diplomacy or even legal procedure.

As someone who has been critical of the abuse of secrecy in the past, I must also acknowledge that there are legitimately sensitive matters, and full transparency may not always be in the public interest.

If the CEP had a different proposal on some issue from the one eventually adopted by the Harapan government, what is the point of publicizing such differences with the government of the day after the fact? It is likely to be used by detractors for their own purposes rather than for better purposes.

Also, as you know, two committees were set up. The Institutional Reform Committee prepared a long report with a view to publication, and the PM may wish to publish it. The other one on 1MDB has contributed to expediting investigation and action, but I doubt their recommendations were intended for publication.

So, you will have nothing to show for your 100 CEP days?

Serving the national and public interest was our priority, not publicity or publications.

What are you doing a month after the CEP’s 100 days ended?

No longer an elder, I already feel younger.Many people expect me to write about the CEP, its work and its recommendations. I have no such plans, but am very busy with earlier unfinished and postponed work as well as new work to help the new administration, preferably under the radar.

Conversation with Charles Krauthammer


July 20, 2018

Conversation with Charles Krauthammer

 

The Reagan Doctrine

“We must not break faith with those who are risking their lives on every continent from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth . . . Support for freedom fighters is self-defense.”

–President Reagan, in the State of the Union, February 1985

Ronald Reagan is the master of the new idea, and has built the most successful political career in a half-century launching one after another. His list of credits includes small government (Barry Goldwater having tried, and failed, with it first), supply-side economics and strategic defense (Star Wars). These radically changed the terms of debate on the welfare state, economic theory and nuclear strategy. All that was left for him to turn on its head was accepted thinking on geopolitics. Now he has done that too. He has produced the Reagan Doctrine.

You may not have noticed. Doctrines, like submarines, tend to be launched with fanfare. The Monroe Doctrine was instantly recognized, on both sides of the Atlantic, as a historic declaration; the Truman Doctrine was unveiled in a dramatic address to a joint session of Congress; and when President Carter announced a new aggressive Persian Gulf policy on Jan. 23, 1980, by the next morning the New York Times had dubbed it “the Carter Doctrine.” President Reagan saw fit to bury his doctrine in his 1985 State of the Union address beneath the balanced budget amendment, school prayer and the line-item veto. That he decided to make his a footnote is as much a tribute to Mr. Reagan’s prudence as to his modesty. Truly new ideas–what Democrats lie awake at night dreaming of–are as risky as they are rare. This one has already precipitated a storm.

The Reagan Doctrine proclaims overt and unashamed American support for anti- Communist revolution. The grounds are justice, necessity and democratic tradition. Justice, said the President in his Feb. 16 radio address, because these revolutionaries are “fighting for an end to tyranny.” Necessity, said Secretary of State George Shultz in a subsequent address in San Francisco, because if these “freedom fighters” are defeated, their countries will be irrevocably lost behind an Iron Curtain of Soviet domination. And democratic tradition, said the President, because to support “our brothers” in revolution is to continue–“in Afghanistan, in Ethiopia, Cambodia, Angola . . . (and) Nicaragua”–200 years of American support for “Simon Bolivar . . . the Polish patriots, the French Resistance and others seeking freedom.”

That tradition ended abruptly with Viet Nam. It is true that President Carter sent arms to the Afghan rebels and that Congress concurred. Congress has also gone along with economic aid to the non-Communist resistance in Cambodia. However, since the Clark Amendment of 1976 prohibiting aid to anti-Marxist fighters in Angola, Congress has refused to support war against indigenous Communist dictatorships, no matter how heavily supported by the Soviet Union or its proxies. President Reagan’s program of CIA support for the Nicaraguan contras, who are not fighting foreign occupation, broke post-Viet Nam precedent. At first, and for three long years, that new policy was given the flimsiest of justifications: interdicting supplies to the Salvadoran guerrillas. The Reagan Doctrine drops the fig leaf. It is intended to establish a new, firmer–a doctrinal–foundation for such support by declaring equally worthy all armed resistance to Communism, whether foreign or indigenously imposed.

To interpret the Reagan Doctrine as merely a puffed-up rationale for Nicaraguan policy is like calling the Truman Doctrine a cover for a new Greek and Turkish policy. In both cases, the principles established have a much more profound implication.

The Truman Doctrine set out the basic foreign policy axiom of the postwar era: containment. With J.F.K.’s pledge to “bear any burden . . . to assure . . . the success of liberty,” the idea of containment reached its most expansive and consensually accepted stage. With Viet Nam, the consensus and the expansiveness collapsed. Since then the U.S. has oscillated, at times erratically, between different approaches–different doctrines–for defending its ideals and its interests.

The Reagan Doctrine is the third such attempt since Viet Nam. The first was the Nixon Doctrine: relying on friendly regimes to police their regions. Unfortunately, the jewel in the crown of this theory was the Shah of Iran. Like him, it was retired in 1979 to a small Panamanian island. Next came the Carter Doctrine, declaring a return to unilateral American action, if necessary, in defense of Western interests. That doctrine rested on the emergence of a rapid deployment force. Unfortunately, the force turned out neither rapid nor deployable. It enjoys a vigorous theoretical existence in southern Florida, whence it is poorly situated to repel the Red Army.

If regional powers prove unstable, and projected American power unreliable, what then? It is a precious irony that the answer to that question has been suggested to Americans by a band of fanatical Islamic warriors in Afghanistan. Unaware of their historic contribution to the theory of containment, they took on the Soviet army, made it bleed and slowed its march to the more coveted goal, the warm waters of the Persian Gulf.

This insurgency, and those in Cambodia, Angola and Nicaragua, pointed to a new form of containment, a kind of ex post facto containment: harassment of Soviet expansionism at the limits of empire. There is an echo here of the old 1950s right-wing idea of “rolling back” Communism. But with a difference. This is not the reckless–and toothless–call for reclaiming the core Soviet possessions in Eastern Europe, which the Soviets claim for self-defense and, more important, which they are prepared to use the most extreme means to retain. This is a challenge to the peripheral acquisitions of empire.

The Brezhnev Doctrine proclaimed in 1968 that the Soviet sphere only expands. The Reagan Doctrine is meant as its antithesis. It declares that the U.S. will work at the periphery to reverse that expansion. How? Like the Nixon Doctrine, it turns to proxies. Unlike the Nixon Doctrine, it supports not the status quo but revolution.

And that makes it so hard for both left and right to digest. For the left it seems all quite paradoxical, and hypocritical: the Administration denounces Salvadoran guerrillas for blowing up power stations and attacking villages, while at the same time it supports Nicaraguan guerrillas who are doing the same thing only a few miles away. But the idea that intellectual honesty requires one to be for or against all revolution is absurd. You judge a revolution, as you do any other political phenomenon, by what it stands for. Suppose you believe that justice was on the side of the central government in the American Civil War. Does that commit you to oppose the Paris Commune of 1870 or the Hungarian revolution of 1956? In Salvador, the rebels want to overthrow the President, a Christian Democrat. In Nicaragua, the rebels want to overthrow the President, a Marxist-Leninist. To judge rebels by who they are and what they fight for, and against, is not a political morality of convenience. It is simple logic.

On the right, the idea of supporting revolution is equally hard to accept, though for different reasons. Conservatives may find it easier to support revolution in practice than in theory. This is already obvious from their choice of words. Reagan finds it hard to call the good guys rebels. Instead, he insists on calling them “freedom fighters,” a heavy, inconvenient term, with an unmistakable socialist-realist ring. “Freedom fighters” practically announces itself as a term of bias. Rebels, Mr. President. With practice, it will get easier to say.

Language, however, is the easier problem facing the Reagan Doctrine. Morality poses thornier ones. By what right does the U.S. take sides in foreign civil wars? What about sovereignty? What about international law?

The President may be revolutionary, but he is not reckless. To ensure that he does not stray too far from current thinking, he appends a reference to international law: “Support for freedom fighters is self-defense and totally consistent with the OAS and U.N. charters.”

This, it must be admitted, is stretching things. There are two difficulties. How can one plausibly argue that the success of Islamic rebels in Afghanistan is a form of self-defense of the U.S.? The Nicaraguan contras, perhaps, might qualify under a generous interpretation of collective security. But Cambodian rebels? Angolans? Eritreans?

The second problem is that if international law stands for anything, it stands for the idea that sovereignty is sacred. Rebels, by definition, do not have it. The governments they fight, no matter how tyrannous, do. How, ask congressional critics, can one justify violating the sovereignty of other countries by helping overthrow the legitimate government?

The answer must begin with cases. Consider Uganda under Idi Amin. Amin was the legitimate ruler when Tanzania invaded and overthrew him. The Tanzanians might say that this was in response to Ugandan border incursions, but Amin had ordered his troops withdrawn more than a month before Tanzania’s action. In any case, if repelling a trespass at the border was the problem, Tanzania should have stopped there. It hardly had to drive to Kampala and install the leader of its choice. Tanzania’s action, ridding the world of Amin, was a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. It is hard to see how it can be said to be wrong.

Morally speaking–and congressional critics of the Reagan Doctrine are speaking morally, above all–sovereignty cannot be absolute. Indeed, it is not a moral category at all. Why must it be accorded respect, moral respect, in cases where it protects truly awful regimes? The Nazis were the legitimate government of Germany. That does not mean that one is justified in overthrowing any government one does not like. It does mean that one has to face the crucial question: How awful must a government be before it forfeits the moral protection of sovereignty and before justice permits its violent removal?

In Congress today there is almost no opposition to supporting Afghan and (non-Communist) Cambodian rebels. There is a consensus that resistance to invasion warrants support. But by what logic should support be denied to those fighting indigenous tyranny? It seems curious to decide the morality of a cause on the basis of the address of its chief oppressors.

There are more relevant criteria. First, the nature of the oppression and the purposes of those fighting it. The difference between El Salvador and Nicaragua is that in Salvador, a fledgling democracy is under attack from avowed Marxist-Leninists. In Nicaragua, a fledgling totalitarianism is under attack by a mixture of forces, most of which not only are pledged to democracy and pluralism but fought for just those goals in the original revolution against Somoza.

A second important distinction is whether the insurgency is an authentic popular movement or a proxy force cobbled together by a great power for reasons of realpolitik. In both Salvador and Nicaragua, the governments say their opponents are puppets of different imperialisms. In neither case does the charge stick. Consider Nicaragua. As no less a democrat than Arturo Cruz, leader of the (nonviolent) opposition, writes, the contras–“the revolt of Nicaraguans against oppression by other Nicaraguans”–now represent an authentic “social movement.” Indeed, they are more than 12,000 strong and growing, even after the cutoff of American aid.

If a revolution is both popular and democratic, it is hard to see the moral objection to extending it support. But there is a practical objection: if every country decided for itself which revolutions to support, there would be chaos. What about the prudential reasons for respecting sovereignty and international law?

This argument has the virtue of recognizing that international law is not moral law but an arrangement of convenience: like the social contract in civil society, it is a way to keep the peace. This argument has the vice, however, of ignoring the fact that unlike the domestic social contract, international law lacks an enforcer. It depends on reciprocal observance. If one country breaks the rules at will, then later claims its protection, what–apart from habit and cowardice–can possibly oblige other countries to honor that claim?

The idea that international law must be a reciprocal arrangement or none at all is not new. As Churchill said to Parliament in 1940, “Germany is to gain one set of advantages by breaking all the (neutrality) rules (upon the seas) . . . and then go on and gain another set of advantages through insisting, whenever it suits her, upon the strictest interpretation of the international code she has torn to pieces.” He added, “It is not at all odd that His Majesty’s government are getting rather tired of it. I am getting rather tired of it myself.”

So is today’s American Government. There is something faintly comical about Nicaragua going to the World Court to accuse the U.S. of fomenting revolution and interfering in its affairs, when for years the Salvadoran revolution was quite openly headquartered in Managua–and not for a shortage of housing in the Salvadoran jungles. The Reagan Doctrine is more radical than it pretends to be. It pretends that support for democratic rebels is “self-defense” and sanctioned by international law. That case is weak. The real case rests instead on other premises: that to be constrained from supporting freedom by an excessive concern for sovereignty (and a unilateral concern, at that) is neither especially moral nor prudent. The West, of late, has taken to hiding behind parchment barriers as an excuse for inaction when oppressed democrats beg for help. The Reagan Doctrine, while still hiding a bit, announces an end to inaction.

Only a few months ago, a Nicaraguan friend, an exSandinista who still speaks their language, said in near despair that the struggle of democrats around the world was doomed by the absence in the West of what he called “democratic militance.” The Reagan Doctrine represents a first step toward its restoration.

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad Interview: The New Malaysia


July 6, 2018

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad Interview: The New Malaysia

The early signs of the New Malaysia, like 1Malaysia, are hopeful and exciting. But I hope Pakatan leaders do not let power  go to their heads. I am personally prepared to give them time since cultural change takes time. 60 years of UMNO–Culture of Corruption and Mediocrity will be difficult to change. That’s why Tun  Dr. Mahathir’s Cabinet comprises young ministers in the majority.

The civil service must be revamped and top civil servants who were associated with the previous corrupt regime should be replaced and the public service should be competent, transparent and accountable. A Culture of Competency and Meritocracy must,therefore,  be the order of the day. The quota system, for example, should replaced so the civil service must not be dominated by one race. –Din Merican

 

1MDB case must be watertight, says Malaysia’s Mahathir


June 21, 2018

1MDB case must be watertight, says Malaysia’s Mahathir 

 

As prime suspect – and defeated Prime Minister – Najib Razak holidays in Langkawi, Malaysia’s new leader says it is better to build an indisputable case than be swayed by populist sentiment into hasty action.

By Zuraidah Ibrahim/ Bhavan Jaipragas

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/2151474/1mdb-probe-needs-time-be-watertight-malaysias-mahathir-calls-cool

The Malaysian government is taking time to build a watertight case in the 1MDB financial scandal and not be swayed by populist sentiment, according to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib Razak: prime suspect in the 1MDB financial scandal. Photo: Xinhua

His predecessor Najib Razak is the prime suspect under investigation and has been banned from leaving the country. This week, Najib’s decision to go on holiday to the resort island of Langkawi – which coincidentally is the parliamentary seat of Mahathir – sparked fears he was trying to slip out of Malaysia.

Malaysia’s billion-dollar question: where did 1MDB money go?

The government and the people know that billions have been stolen, Mahathir said. But, calling for cool heads, Mahathir said in an interview with the South China Morning Post that the government wanted indisputable evidence. “So the prosecutors now are gathering that evidence so that when they go to the court of law, the judges don’t base their judgment on sentiment, but … on facts and evidence shown in the court of law. So that is why we are taking a little bit more time than we expected.”

 

He declined to give a timeline on the next stage of the investigations, even as speculation swirled in Malaysia that the charges could be filed against Najib as soon as the next two weeks.

But on Tuesday afternoon, he was quoted as saying that charges would be filed on key suspects – Najib, businessman Jho Low and “a few others” – within months, while a trial would begin later this year.

Charges against Najib would include “embezzlement, stealing government money, and a number of other charges,” he said in the interview with Reuters.

The 1MDB probe extends across six jurisdictions, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore. It has also targeted Najib’s wife, Rosmah, known for her flagrantly ostentatious taste in luxury goods. Set up in 2009 as an infrastructure fund drawn from oil revenues, it has lost US$4.5 billion and is now insolvent. Around US$731 million allegedly ended up in Najib’s personal account. The beleaguered former premier has denied any wrongdoing, insisting that the money was a donation from an Arab benefactor.

 

Rosmah Mansor, wife of Najib Razak, arrives at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission headquarters in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Photo: EPA

Pakatan Harapan: Vulnerable?

In the interview with the Post, Mahathir, who won a stunning election on May 9, was asked about his views of a rising China and the region. In addition to taking questions about the 1MDB scandal, he was also asked to comment on the possible vulnerabilities of his Pakatan Harapan coalition.

While Pakatan now claims 125 seats in the 222-seat Parliament, a recent survey by the reputable think-tank Merdeka Centre has found that the coalition did not win over the majority of Malays, who make up 65 per cent of the population.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is interviewed by the South China Morning Post in Kuala Lumpur. Photo: SCMP Pictures

According to the Merdeka Centre survey, UMNO retained 35-40 per cent of the Malay vote, while the rest was almost evenly split between Pakatan and the Islamic-based party, PAS. In comparison, 95 per cent of Chinese voters chose Pakatan.

Malays have special rights granted by Malaysia’s Constitution. Almost all Malays follow Islam, the official religion of the country. Under the previous Barisan Nasional coalition, the Malay-based United Malays National Organisation was the dominant component party led by Najib. Umno had increasingly played the ethnic and religious cards in elections over the decades.

Supporters of Mahathir Mohamad celebrate his victory in the May 9 election. Photo: Reuters

Commentators credited Mahathir for attracting enough Malays into the Pakatan camp to tilt the balance decisively in its favour. Mahathir has immense stature among Malays as a respected former Prime Minister who held office from 1981 to 2003. The argument, if correct, begs the question of whether Pakatan will be able to retain Malay support after Mahathir steps down, which he has promised to do after two years.

In the interview, Mahathir said there was a clear swing of Malay votes from the Barisan coalition to the opposition in the recent election compared with the previous one in 2015 that contributed to their victory.

Ignoring 1MDB scandal caused Umno’s downfall in Malaysia: Najib

But the Malay vote itself was split between the rural, suburban and urban areas. It was in the latter two areas that Malays had turned against the previous government because they were disenchanted with the “bad things” happening within Umno, especially the corruption scandal.

For rural voters, he said, such issues were harder to grasp but they could understand cost of living woes.

He shrugged off his own personal appeal in winning the Malay vote for the future, saying: “Well, I can’t always be popular, one day I will become unpopular because when you are in the government, you have to do unpopular things. That is not something permanent.” But for now, people were upbeat and they felt that life during his first tenure as Prime Minister was better than during Najib’s time, he said.

Let’s Get Physical

Mahathir, who turns 93 on July 10, was also asked about his physical energy. He laughed, saying it was the number one question he was asked. Although Mahathir, a trained medical doctor, has had two heart bypass operations, he feels fortunate not to have suffered debilitating diseases such as cancer.

His secret to good health? “I think simple things like not putting on weight, not eating too much, proper sleep, a little bit of exercise,” he said, adding that he gets “enough” sleep – about six hours. When he is not able to do that, he has short power naps.

In May, a picture of him at the dining table with just a few spoonfuls of rice on his plate caught the attention of internet users. But then a close-up showed that next to his plate was a small green canister of multivitamin supplements, Berocca. Sales of the supplement received a sudden boost.

Anwar Ibrahim with Mahathir Mohamad in 1997, during the latter’s first stint as prime minister. File photo

Moving On

Under a pact made with his former nemesis turned coalition partner, former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim, he is supposed to hand over the prime minister’s position after two years. However, there have been hints recently that Mahathir intends to stay beyond two years.

Asked about this, he admitted there was a lot to be done. Would he stay beyond two years? “Well, I don’t know whether people will permit me to stay longer. If there is some work I can still do, if I am still healthy, I can think and talk.”

But would he do so as Prime Minister? He demurred smilingly and said softly: “Ya”.

Throughout the interview, he answered questions evenly in his trademark unflappable tone, as an aide kept a strict watch on his time. Asked by a photographer for an autograph, he obliged willingly, noting aloud the date to write to accompany his signature. When the Post invited him to visit Hong Kong, the headquarters of the publication, Mahathir politely remarked about the times he spent there.

“My first ever visit to Hong Kong was in 1960. Where were you?” he quipped to his much younger interviewers.