Malaysia: End of Media Freedom?

January 24, 2016

Malaysia: End of Media Freedom–Najib Razak on the Defensive

by Malaysiakini Reporters

Letter from MCMC to Din Merican


2016-01-20 9:00 GMT+08:00 MCMC New Media Unit <>:

Ruj. Kami     : SKMM(T)09-NMSMD/960/2016 (14)

Tarikh          : 20 Januari 2016

En. Din Merican (



 Dengan segala hormatnya perkara di atas adalah dirujuk.

2.Adalah dimaklumkan bahawa Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia (MCMC) mendapati bahawa pihak tuan telah menerbitkan sebuah artikel yang mempunyai maklumat yang tidak benar di bawah tajuk “Malaysia: Prime Minister Najib Razak on the way out?” melalui pautan berikut:

3.Untuk makluman tuan, pihak Suruhanjaya Pencegahan Rasuah Malaysia (SPRM) telah mengeluarkan satu kenyataan rasmi pada 18 Januari 2016 yang menjelaskan bahawa laporan portal berita Sarawak Report yang mengatakan kononnya terdapat 37 syor dakwaan berasingan telah dikemukakan oleh SPRM terhadap YAB Perdana Menteri Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak melibatkan kes SRC International, adalah tidak benar.

4. Oleh yang demikian, pihak MCMC dengan ini menyarankan pihak tuan untuk menurunkan dan menghentikan penyebaran kandungan berita palsu tersebut bagi mengelakkan daripada melakukan kesalahan di bawah Akta Komunikasi dan Multimedia 1998 (AKM98).

Sekian, untuk tindakan segera pihak tuan. Terima kasih.

Yang Benar,
Jabatan Rangkaian Media dan Pengurusan Keselamatan
Bahagian Pengawasan Digital
Suruhanjaya Komunikasi dan Multimedia Malaysia (MCMC)
Off Persiaran Multimedia
63000 Cyberjaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan
Tel  : +60 3 8688 8000
Fax : +60 3 8688 1000

  Che IconThe Iconic Che’

ANALYSIS: With Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak strengthening his position in the wake of the ‘donation’ scandal and launches a counter-attack against his critics, the media industry has become one of the first casualties.

This, coupled with a sluggish economy, resulting in a fall of advertising income, has impacted, in particular, a number of fledging online news websites.

A week ago, rumours began spreading within the journalists’ circle that the ownership of certain media organisations may change hands, a few will close shop, while some are altering their market position.

Among those affected is news website The Rakyat Post (TRP). Its investor is believed to have withdrawn funding and the portal could face closure, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The trilingual portal, which was set up after the 13th general election, provides tabloid-style news. It is believed that its former patron is a businessman who has an affinity to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Sources told Malaysiakini that TRP was facing a “cashflow issue”, resulting in late payment of salaries, and journalists were encouraged by the management to seek employment elsewhere.

Malaysiakini has contacted TRP for confirmation but has yet to receive an official response.Meanwhile, Astro Awani, a popular television channel that has successfully built a large Malay audience, will soon morph into an English-only outfit.

The MCMC is also after Bloggers

According to a source, it seeks to reposition itself as a regional news agency and will no longer focus solely on local current affairs. It is understood that Astro Awani will abandon its sizeable Malay-speaking market and is to broadcast entirely in English by April 1. A number of employees are expected to be laid off while some Malay-speaking reporters may opt to resign, according to sources.

The 24-hour Bahasa Malaysia news station was launched in 2007 in conjunction with the 50th Merdeka celebration. Two years later, it expanded its stable to include English programmes.

Astro Awani also operates a BM and English website, providing news not just in video but also in text. It is unclear if the website would be affected by the transformation.Observers believe that the language switch could help the government curb Astro Awani’s influence among Malay viewers.

Viewers of Malay language news and current affairs programmes will be left with RTM, Media Prima’s TV3 and TV9, and Astro’s TV Al Hjirah, which has an Islamic focus.

When contacted, Astro Awani Chief Executive Officer Faizal Mansor had this to say: “Astro Awani, Malaysia’s first and only 24/7 news channel, has built a strong franchise in BM and is looking forward to building on it to better serve our customers.”

Malaysian Insider put on the market

Another shocker is news on financial weekly The Edge, which is reportedly planning to sell The Malaysian Insider (TMI), allegedly as part of a deal with the powers-that-be to resolve the issue of its publication permit suspension.

Former New Straits Times Group Editor-in-Chief A Kadir Jasin has claimed in a blog posting that the potential buyer is someone from Najib’s camp.

The Edge was suspended for three months last year after publishing a four-page expose claiming that flamboyant tycoon Jho Low and PetroSaudi International had siphoned RM1.83 billion from 1MDB through the 1MDB-PetroSaudi joint venture company.

The Edge resumed publication in September after the Kuala Lumpur High Court dismissed the home minister’s suspension order.

The financial weekly, owned by tycoon Tong Kooi Ong, has recently conducted an exclusive interview with 1MDB chief Arul Kanda, which raised some eyebrows.

Ahirudin Attan aka Rocky Bru, a veteran newsman from the pro-Najib camp, said in his blog: “Does that mean Arul has won them over? It seems that way to me. The whole report on Arul and 1MDB was glowing, if you ask me.”

Tong bought TMI in 2014 from a group of unnamed investors. The news portal was launched in February 2008, just before the 12th general election, and is believed to have changed hands a number of times.

Steven Gan

Steven Gan and Malaysiakini Team

Malaysiakini has contacted The Edge and TMI, but both did not respond to questions on the matter.It is also learnt that a number of media organisations have received warnings from the Prime Minister’s Office in recent weeks not to play up issues that could cast a negative light on the government, such as the 1MDB scandal.

However, Malay daily Sinar Harian denied this in an email message to Malaysiakini, while another bilingual news portal has declined to answer queries on the matter.Sinar Harian is the only Malay daily that has no direct link to UMNO. Its sales have increased in recent years as its editorial stand is seen to be relatively more independent compared to its rivals.

The empire strikes back

Ever since Najib was implicated in the RM2.6 billion ‘donation’ scandal last year, he has mounted a series of attacks – using both restrictive laws and the state machinery – against the Fourth Estate.

Asia Sentinel is the latest casualty in Najib’s war against pestering websites. On Thursday, the Hong Kong-based current affairs news site was blocked by Putrajaya after it reproduced an article by Sarawak Report, where the latter claimed to be in possession of evidence against Najib in relation to the SRC International case.

Last November, the offices of Malaysiakini and The Star were raided by police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) over their reports on the transfer of a top government official involved in the SRC investigation.


Earlier this week, UMNO Mminister Abdul Rahman Dahlan filed a defamation suit against Malaysiakini over a vox populi article on his “reverse migration” remark.This is the second lawsuit against the country’s top news portal from a key member of the government. In 2014, Najib sued Malaysiakini for publishing readers’ comments which criticised him for alleged money politics.

Meanwhile, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has vowed that there would be more Internet policing on social media, as Malaysians “have shown to be less than mature” when posting their views.

The Communications and Multimedia Act will also be amended when Parliament resumes its sitting in March to block sites from defaming the national leadership, warned Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak.

Centre for Independent Journalism co-director Jac Kee has expressed serious concern over the troubling drift in the media industry.“If the purported news is true, then it signals a worrying trend where alternative news sources are becoming more scarce and under threat – not just from increasingly heavy-handed content regulatory laws, but also the tough economics of running online content sites.

“Unless we have a policy and legal environment that values and protects press freedom and diversity as fundamental pillars of a functioning democracy, then our media will always be at risk of such gaming tactics to consolidate power,” she said when contacted.

It has also been reported that KiniBiz – a joint-venture between business editor P Gunasegaram and Malaysiakini – is to end both its print and online run. An announcement will be made on February 1.

Defying the Islamic State–Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar

November 24, 2015

Defying the Islamic State--Congratulations to Malaysia’s Zunar and other Journalists in the front lines

November 23 at 2:59 PM

RECENTLY THE Islamic State in Raqqa sent an ominous message to an exiled Syrian journalist. Tell us who is filing covertly from the occupied city, the terrorists warned, or we will execute your father. The editor refused to name names. His father was shot to death.

We heard this story last week from AbdAlaziz Alhamza, who works for the same journalism collective as the grieving editor: Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. With a dozen reporters still filing from Raqqa, risking their lives every day, Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently is one of the few sources of independent news from inside its terrorized land of lashings, slavery, beheadings and crucifixions.

The collective is one of four 2015 International Press Freedom awardees who will be honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York City Tuesday. They reflect both the lengths dictators will go to silence free speech — and the creativity and almost unimaginable courage that journalists summon in response.


In addition to the online collective of mostly anonymous Syrian reporters, the honorees include a Malaysian cartoonist, Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known by his pen name, Zunar, whose work appears only online because the government allows no newspaper to carry his work; the Zone 9 bloggers, an Ethio­pian collective that came together as their government decimated the independent press; and Cándido Figueredo Ruíz , a Paraguayan journalist who shines a light on drug cartels and the corruption they engender. A reporter for ABC Color, one of his country’s largest newspapers, Mr. Figueredo holds perhaps the most traditional job among the winners. But there is nothing conventional about his bravery: He has been shot at numerous times, and now lives under constant police guard, as does his wife.


Zunar with Nathaniel Tan and Steven Gan (Malaysiakini)

Mr. Zunar, 53, will return to Malaysia to face a December court date on charges of sedition that could lead to a prison sentence of 43 years. The Ethio­pian bloggers too have been imprisoned and still have judicial proceedings hanging over them. Why go back, we asked Mr. Zunar?

“We do it for reform,” he told us during a visit to The Post. “We have been governed by the same ruling party for 60 years. Corruption is huge. There are so many injustices. . . . I know it is an uphill battle. I’m not sure when it will end, or will I see the change in my lifetime. It’s like an endless marathon, but as long as I’m on the track I’m the winner.”

Anwar Ibrahim

Mr. Zunar shared with us the cartoon he planned to post later that day: a drawing of President Obama, who traveled to Malaysia on Friday, stretching his arm around a prison full of political dissidents to shake hands with the Malaysian leader he has praised and golfed with, Najib Razak. For those of us who can take our freedoms for granted, the cartoon held a useful message: We should never forget the political prisoners, like Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, nor the journalists like Mr. Zunar and his co-winners who bravely take up the cause of freedom. “One of the great supports is to know I’m not alone,” Mr. Figueredo said.

Congratulations, Malaysiakini

October 30, 2015

To my friends Premesh, Steven, Guna, and the men and women behind MalaysiakiniDin Merican@Rosler and Kinibiz, congratulations on this significant award from me in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. May it be Gold the next time.

Because of the Internet, I,  as a loyal subscriber and keen reader, am able to access your portals and as a result, I am up to speed on political, economic and social developments in our country. I thank you very much for this service, and urge to keep up your good work. Please try to challenge yourselves and explore ways and means to communicate better. Being in the news business, you know, as well as I do, that we cannot please everyone. But we must never fail to try to be balanced and fair.

Your portals and I have been identified as being pro-Opposition. Nothing is further from the truth than that. We may be critical but we are not pro any coalition or party and certainly not anti-government which is elected by Malaysians, irrespective of the flaws in our electoral system. Unfortunately, I have had a hard time to convince UMNO and BN supporters that I am not the “enemy”. I have not stop trying.

Since coming to Phnom Penh and being an academic at Cambodia’s top private university, I am conscious that my friends and associates here look at me as a Malaysian and judge me on how I conduct myself as a Malaysian and on the quality of my pedagogy and research work, although when they read my blog, they know that I have been critical of my country’s leadership and their policies. Stereo-typing is convenient, but never helpful.

We are going through difficult times, to put it mildly. But as an optimist, I am embracing myself for better times ahead, anchored in my belief that tough times do not last, but tough Malaysians do.  Lest we forget,  Malaysia is not just Najib and his henchmen in UMNO-BN. Malaysia is all of us. We must work together for a great future.–Din Merican

Congratulations, Malaysiakini

Independent news portal Malaysiakini has been hailed as one of the top brands in Malaysia at the 6th Putra Brand Awards (tonight). While Malaysiakini has won awards on two previous occasions, it is the first time the portal bagged the silver in the Media Network category.

It picked up the bronze award last year and at the inaugural Putra Brand Awards in 2010. Wayne Lim (photo, left), CEO of Malaysia SME, handed over the award to Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran at a gala dinner in Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

The other media outlets that won awards in the Media Network category were Astro, TV3, and Era (Gold); Hitz FM (Silver); and The Star, ntv7, and The Malaysian Insider (Bronze). Meanwhile, Maybank, Malaysia’s leading bank with the widest network, won the Putra Brand of The Year award.

According to the brand awareness award host, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As), the Putra Brand Awards is unique as Malaysian consumers themselves are the judges.

A consumer research polling system involving 6,000 people helped select Malaysia’s most preferred brands across a spectrum of 24 categories, with the top three brands in each category being honoured with a gold, silver, and bronze ranking.

This is the largest consumer research sampling of its kind nationwide, covering both East and West Malaysia.

We thank our subscribers, readers, advertisers, and most of all the Malaysiakini team, who work tirelessly to give the country the news and views that matter. “The awards reflect that the internet today is the mainstream, with two internet brands winning awards,” said Premesh (photo).

Malaysiakini, launched in 1999, is the country’s top news website.According to comScore, the portal has the highest number of visitors in the first half of this year, ahead of both Star Online and The Malaysian Insider. American-based comScore is a global leader in digital media analytics.

RM2.6 billion doggie in Najib’s window

August 6, 2015

Malaysia: RM2.6 billion doggie in Najib’s window

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

Penderma UtamaPrime Minister Najib Razak’s Generous Donor

If, like me, you are frustrated and furious with the recent revelation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission that the RM2.6 billion that was deposited into Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak personal bank account was found to be from donor contributions and not from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), let me assure you that you are not alone.

Thousands of people across the country are clustered around tables at kedai kopi, mamak shops, dining rooms and even hipster cafes wondering what the hell is going on.

The whole thing feels like it was stage-managed to help take the heat off this particular issue in the wake of the reportage from The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), The Edge Financial Daily, The Edge Weekly and the Sarawak Report.

Earlier tweets from the honourable Member of Parliament for Kota Belud disparaged and mocked WSJ’s report last month, describing it as “gutter journalism” and a “wanton allegation.”  There was also his earlier vocal support for the continuation of the work of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee into the 1MDB issue to “end it” and provide closure.

Then came the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the raids on the MACC, the agency’s revelation regarding the RM2.6 billion, and the suspension of the PAC hearings.

azalinaMinister of Sycophancy

Newly-minted Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman wasted no time in distinguishing herself from the pack by actually saying that the amount in the Prime Minister’s personal bank account was not a big issue.

Congratulations Datuk Seri, on starting your ministerial stint by polishing the apple with a touch of sycophancy. But to be fair to that lot in the Cabinet, it sounds like precious little is shared on this issue during those weekly meetings. As was confirmed by a former member, you find out more from reading a copy of The Edge Financial Daily or The Wall Street Journal.

After all, collective responsibility only goes so far. It must also be great being a minister.

By stating that the amount in question originated from donor contributions rather than the 1MDB, the MACC announcement inadvertently confirms the following points which were earlier reported by the abovementioned publications:

That the funds existed and were a total of US$700 million or RM2.6 billion (would be worth more in today’s depressing value of the ringgit). That the amount was deposited into a personal bank account.

That the account holder was Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the current Prime Minister of Malaysia. RM2.6 billion is a heady sum. It would be strange if you felt that there is nothing wrong with this picture and that the PM is entitled to have that amount in his personal bank account.

To put the US$700 million into context, consider that this amount is equivalent to 1 per cent of the 2014 Federal Government Budget of RM262.1 billion.

If I were to take the MACC announcement at face value, I would have at least three questions to ask:

1. Who were the donors of such largesse? 

2. What were they expecting as a result of their generosity?

3. Why was the prime minister the recipient/ beneficiary/ trustee of these donations?

Let me say right now that to explain away RM2.6 billion as coming from contributions of UMNO members and various supporters, would be an insult to the Malaysian people’s intelligence. Don’t even try it.

If it didn’t come from 1MDB funds, from whom and where did this funding come from? I must surmise that with all this sudden talk about how it is alright for politicians to receive foreign funding, that this amount allegedly came from sources abroad.

If this funding which the ministers are now suddenly acknowledging exists and are claiming is above board, why then the need for secrecy and the reticence? Sure, it’s not a crime to receive all that money but whose money is this? Are the donors governments, organisations, companies or special interest groups? It is extremely important to highlight not only how much but where the money came from.

Is this why we have been bowing and scraping to various entities in the Middle East? What kind of influence do these unknown donors and benefactors have over our country?

Which leads me to the second question, what were or are they expecting in return? What is the quid pro quo? Nobody gives this kind of money dengan penuh tulus ikhlas, without expecting something in return. Let’s not be naïve.

This is a sobering reality as money is endemic in a democracy. There is a famous quote attributed to American politician Jesse Unruh who said that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Or in our case, this is probably susu kambing of some kind.

Private financing is a legitimate and necessary tool for political parties and their candidates. Campaign war chests are growing ever bigger with each election. In many countries, record amounts are being spent on elections.

Consider the following:

In the last US election according to the New York Times, Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 raised around US$770 million (not including the Democratic Party and political action committee funding). His opponent Mitt Romney raised US$467 million through his own campaign fundraising. In total, each had more than a billion dollars on hand to spend.

On the lower end of the scale, the cost of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (SPD) campaign in the last German federal election, was around 30 million euros or RM127 million. That was for everyone. From her all the way down to the junior parliamentarians. Not individually but everyone combined.

If RM2.6 billion was divided by the 726 seats (221 parliamentary and 505 state assembly) contested by the Barisan Nasional in the last general election, it would come up to RM3.6 million per seat. That’s assuming that the disputed funds were shared with all the Barisan Nasional partners and not for Umno alone.

However, under Section 19 of the Malaysian Elections Offences Act of 1954, each candidate is not allowed to spend more than RM200,000 (parliamentary seat) or RM100,000 (state seat) for campaigning.

The ability to raise private funds to finance political activities, especially from abroad, makes politicians and political parties vulnerable to a wide range of threats to democracy, especially those which affect government policies and actions.

Finally, the Prime Minister was the recipient and trustee of these funds. If we are to hold ourselves to a higher standard of transparency and accountability like that of developed countries, it would be very clear that nobody gives campaign donations direct to the personal bank account of a politician. Certainly not in these huge amounts.

For the sake of the dignity, honour and credibility of the position of the Prime Minister, this issue must be further clarified and explained.

PARLIMEN / ANIFAH AMAN / KIMANISNot too long ago back in 2012, Foreign Minister Anifah Aman stated that foreign funding of NGOs in Malaysia, could be “seen as interference in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state.” A whole buffet of pro-establishment Malay rights NGOs attacked their counterparts who received funding from abroad and accused them of helping to “destabilise the peace of the country.” Despite the fact that these civil society organisations were working to strengthen democracy and human rights in Malaysia, they got hell for this and were even accused of being foreign agents.

Suddenly, some are barking that “politicians are free to accept financial aid or contribution from abroad.” What are we to think?

There is an obvious and urgent need for political campaign finance reform in Malaysia as big money politics is threatening and compromising the integrity of this government and the country.

We need reform urgently because when you look at history and precedence, the pattern where there are huge amounts being spent which are extremely disproportionate to the number of registered voters and population, can be found in banana republics, authoritarian regimes and tin-pot regimes where corruption runs rampant and unchecked.

KUALA LUMPUR 29 NOVEMBER 2012 - PRESIDEN UMNO, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak tersenyum melihat Timbalan Presiden UMNO, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin yang mempamerkan sepanduk `Saya Sayangkan PM' semasa Majlis Perasmian Perhimpunan Agung UMNO 2012 di Dewan Merdeka PWTC di sini hari ini. Gambar: MOHD NAIM AZIZ Pemberita: TEAM UMNO UTUSAN/KOSMO!

The Price of Loyalty–Out of The Cabinet and Public Office–Stab in the Back Politics in Malaysia

The emergence of such “black money” in elections often leads to erosion of public confidence in the political process. We cannot let that happen.

I am willing to bet that there are many, many questions that the Malaysian people are asking about this RM2.6 billion which is probably just a part of a very large iceberg in our democracy.

But I have just one more before I end my piece: Unless it was all spent during the 2013 elections and its aftermath, where is the rest of the RM2.6 billion?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Malaysia: Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Defence Game

August 2, 2015

Malaysia: Malaysian PM’s Successful Defensive Game

by John

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

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

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

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

Scandal and tumult

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nur JazlanLoyalty over Duty=Promotion=Loss of Dignity

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

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

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

Deflect the bad news

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

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

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

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

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

Do average voters care?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

July 30, 2015

Malaysia: Kleptocracy, Corruption and Media Control

by Dr Syed Farid Alatas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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