Mahathir Using Economic Council to Edge Anwar Out in favour of Azmin Ali?


February 16, 2019

By: Yusoff Rawther

Image result for azmin ali and mahathir

A glance at the newly-announced lineup of Malaysia’s Economic Action Council (EAC) poses more questions than answers. It was formed to respond and take action in addressing economic issues. Objectives include stimulating economic growth, ensuring fair distribution of wealth and improving the well-being of the people as well as focusing on issues related to cost of living, labor, poverty and home ownership.

What is its relevance? It sounds eerily like a cabinet within a cabinet, and at a transitionary period, it looks like a redundant idea that will prove to be merely a political tool.

In less than a year since assuming the premiership, the 93-year-old Mahathir Mohammad has flip-flopped on various issues, most obviously his firmly stated assurance in May 2018 that the victorious Pakatan Harapan coalition would not be accepting turncoats from the losing United Malays National Organization.

Yet, along with the announcement of the creation of the economic action body,  Mahathir happened to embrace seven former UMNO MPs into his own Parti Pribumi Bersatu, an act of betrayal to the people of Malaysia. UMNO was thoroughly discredited as a party corrupt to its very roots – by MPs who were kept loyal to the previous premier, the disgraced Najib Razak, by outright bribes.

Anwar Ibrahim has been unceremoniously left out from the EAC, an indication that Mahathir is once again vying to divert as much power and attention towards the lesser known and underperforming Minister of Economic Affairs, Mohamad Azmin Ali, the former chief minister of Selangor and an ambitious pretender for the leadership of the coalition.

Aside from the fact that the council’s existence shows failure on behalf of the prime minister to appoint qualified people to the cabinet, if we are to accept the premise that the council should exist, the right thing to do is to invite the premier-in-waiting to be a member in a move to demonstrate your confidence in your designated successor to the voters as well as giving Anwar a role to play in contributing to the agenda set forth in the EAC’s charter. Malaysians should beware lest Mahathir smuggles old failings into the mix whilst our attention is held elsewhere.

The political heavy lifting was done by Anwar, who from his prison cell pulled a lax opposition and the complaining class into the fight alongside his supporters to create the conditions for change. Conditions that proved vital in the overthrow of the Barisan Nasional regime.

It is evident that something more than elections are necessary to create a genuine new dispensation of sustainable democratic good governance.

 Creating the EAC and sidelining the PM-in-waiting is not a good indicator of that. Authoritarian rule is not just about figureheads. They use power th to maintain themselves is institutionalized and embedded in deep structures of privilege that corruptly deliver a nation’s bounty into the hands of a chosen few.

If Anwar Ibrahim is the icon for democracy, then Mahathir is the icon and spokesperson of the embedded structures of inequity.

As the principal architect of genuine reform,  to sweep aside the structures of authoritarian control and the inequity they beget, Anwar’s reform agenda seeks to eliminate  corruption, cronyism and nepotism, the elements of a bygone era.

It is the diligence and energy Anwar applies to promoting an alternate vision of good governance, one and of a free and competitive Malaysian economy and harmonious, multiracial society that  made him an important voice not only in Malaysia but around the world. Anwar has spent his career speaking for and articulating an alternative agenda of politics.

As a Deputy Prime Minister during the Asian Financial Crisis I988, Anwar came very close to dismantling the Mahathirist version of crony capitalism when he decided to implement an IMF style austerity program, suspend big-bulge infrastructure investment, and force big businessmen to take care of their own debts.

Anwarnomics promises to do away with state-backed racism. It promises to be inclusive, rules-based and competition-driven with a large, well-funded social safety net and he has reiterated time and again the need for uncompromising reforms.

Here are some of the things he has advocated for, long before the formation of the EAC:

Malaysia’s economic policies should be inclusive and to dismantle obsolete policies such as the New Economic Policy. Positive.

  • discrimination policies must be based on freedom, justice, and equity.
  • A sustainable economy is not one that is mainly driven by consumer spending fueled by high level household debt. “We cannot build a better life for our people if they need two to three jobs just to make ends meet. That is bad economics… even worst social policy.”
  • Affirmative actions taken must be based on needs.
  • It is important to enhance investment, trading and economic ties with China and India which are the engine of growth for global economy.
  • Social protection and poverty eradication remain central to the effort to ensure a better life for all.
  • Greater transparency and public participation is key in ensuring efficiency of social programs, to identify dubious programs, reduce duplication and waste of resources.
  • Economic policies to lure foreign direct investment must not neglect any region or community in the country. It is not a zero-sum game. If we choose to embark on pro-market reforms, it should not be an excessive capitalistic notion ignoring the plight of poor and marginalized.

Given the facts, it is only fair to question Mahathir’s  motives  in creating the EAC while failing to include the next Prime minister.

Malaysia is rich in resources and possibilities. Change will require more than just elections, it requires dismantling the institutional structures of inequity, most of all it will depend upon building the strength and capacity of civil society, the plethora of organizations and associations by which ordinary people hold their governments to account.

Najib, still the man?


January 25, 2019

Najib, still the man?

//www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/01/25/najib-still-the-man/

 

Najib Razak is certainly a man on a mission (decommission). He seems intent on trying to revive his standing by convincing his base that he was unfairly demonised by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and unjustly tarnished by the 1MDB scandal. His efforts appear to be showing some results; he was mobbed by villagers in Sg. Koyan and elsewhere in Cameron Highlands recently when he campaigned there on behalf of Barisan Nasional (BN).

And it was not just Cameron Highlands. In the last few months, despite multiple corruption charges hanging over his balding head, he has been more visible and more vocal than many PH leaders, dishing out advice, skilfully exploiting local grievances and hammering away at PH’s perceived failures. He even managed to steal the show at the Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.

He’s also proving adept at taking credit for everything good and blaming PH for everything bad, never mind that PH is struggling to clean up the colossal mess he himself left behind. But memories are short and the more gullible are already pining for “the good old days” under Najib.

In Cameron Highlands, he even had the audacity to tell voters, “Don’t allow them [PH] to cheat us… don’t trust them… how long do we want them to continue cheating us?” And this from the man who stands accused of cheating the people of Malaysia of billions of ringgits!

Image result for Najib in Cameron Highlands

Down but not out

Clearly, Najib may be down but he is not yet.

If he succeeds in convincing the Malay-Muslim electorate, in particular, that he is but a victim of a political vendetta or worse still, a non-Malay conspiracy (something that unfortunately all too many will be quick to believe), his influence will only grow.

Image result for Najib in  Anwar and Mahathir

After all, nothing can be ruled out in politics; if Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim can rise again from the ashes, so can he.

Unlike other UMNO leaders who remain largely clueless, Najib understands that the UMNO brand and its formula of racial and religious exclusiveness still retains its appeal among many Malay-Muslim voters and can be weaponised against PH. He knows too that his only chance of avoiding serious jail time lies in UMNO regaining power.

The feudal mindset of many voters also works in Najib’s favour. They are often willing to overlook serious, even criminal shortcomings in a leader so long as he is perceived to have defended Malay rights. They remain eternally grateful to a leader for building a mosque here or a road there, or for giving them a pittance in handouts while he helps himself to millions from the public purse.

Court of public opinion

PH has focused on bringing Najib to justice via the courts for his alleged criminal misconduct. To that end, the government has painstakingly built what looks to be a strong legal case against him with multiple charges now pending in court.

Of course, it is absolutely necessary to bring Najib to justice for whatever crimes he may have committed. However, the legal process is often a slow and cumbersome one and the outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Nevertheless, the case against Najib is more than a legal one; it is a political one and must be fought and won in the court of public opinion as well.

PH must rise to the challenge

If PH ever hopes to win the support of Malay-Muslims, it must persuade them that they will be better off in every respect under a clean and responsible government led by PH than a corrupt one led by UMNO.

The full extent of the corruption and the abuse of power of the Najib administration and how it has hurt the Malays themselves must be emphasised. Just look at the substandard housing of FELDA settlers in the Cameron Highlands constituency and the hardship they still face; if corruption hadn’t robbed the nation of billions, their lives would undoubtedly be far different today.

Of necessity, this is a political campaign that can only be fought and won by PH’s Malay leadership. They must be more proactive in carrying the fight to the Malay heartland where support for UMNO and Najib remain strong. And not just during by-elections. Until PH has firmly established itself in the Malay heartland, it needs to be in continuous election mode.

PH’s Malay leadership must also take on Najib more directly. Najib is, after all, challenging their legitimacy to represent the Malays and they must confront him. It wouldn’t have escaped notice that it is Messrs Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng who are constantly attacking or refuting Najib while PH’s Malay leadership remains largely silent, even deferential at times. This has allowed Najib to argue that only DAP seems “obsessed” with attacking him, that this is somehow racially motivated.

The battle against Najib (and UMNO) for the allegiance of Malay-Muslim voters is PH’s biggest and most important challenge; if they don’t rise to it sooner than later, they might well be forfeiting the future of Malaysia Baru.

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

Hadi, Le Hypocrite as Malaysian Prime Minister– GOD Save US from Bigotry


January 23, 2019

Hadi, Le Hypocrite as Malaysian Prime Minister– GOD Save US from Bigotry

by Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

At a party political campaign meeting in Cameron Highlands in support of the Barisan Nasional candidate, PAS president Hadi Awang insisted that it was the religious duty of Muslims to vote only for Muslims so that they could bring an “Islamic voice” to Parliament. He urged Muslim voters to trust only Muslims to represent them because non-Muslims apparently have no concept of sin and heavenly reward. Presumably, that makes them unfit to sit in Parliament.

Hadi, of course, is a bitter foe of DAP (although he was happy to embrace them when it suited him). His comments, however, speak to wider issues on race and religion in Malaysia and cannot be allowed to let stand.

Where was the Islamic voice?

In the first place, if an “Islamic voice” in Parliament is needed, Hadi and his cohort of Islamist politicians are hardly the ones to represent it.

For years Hadi and the whole bunch of PAS and Umno members of Parliament aided and abetted the cover-up of the 1MDB scandal, the biggest scandal in our history. Billions of ringgit of taxpayers’ money, money belonging to the voters of Cameron Highlands, Muslim and non-Muslim, was looted and squandered on high living, debauchery and partying all over the world. Expensive champagne, paid for with taxpayer funds, was flowing in distant playgrounds while the voters in Cameron Highlands had to struggle to earn a decent living.

Where was the “Islamic voice” of Hadi when all this was going on? Instead of speaking up for the voters and defending their rights in Parliament, Hadi was defending the kleptocrats and dismissing the 1MDB scandal as fake news.

A concept of sin without integrity

As a multiracial, non-religious political party, DAP, of course, takes no position on concepts of sin and heavenly reward. Nevertheless, DAP has a far better track record when it comes to integrity, justice and public service than religiously-inclined parties like Umno and PAS. Indeed, it was this commitment to integrity, justice and public service that led DAP on a long and lonely quest to expose the 1MDB scandal while Umno and PAS were doing their best to cover it up or look the other way.

Of what use is a concept of sin and heavenly reward if it does not lead to integrity, honesty and respect for truth here on earth? Umno was rejected by the people because it came to be seen as a highly corrupt party that was more interested in earthly rewards than heavenly ones. Did the millions in cash and jewellery found in Najib Razak’s house reveal nothing to Hadi? Even now, as the new Pakatan Harapan government uncovers scandal after scandal, PAS keeps insisting that Umno is the right party to represent the people simply because it is a Muslim one.

Is Hadi so blinded by his disdain for non-Malays and non-Muslims that he’d rather have a corrupt and discredited Malay-Muslim party in power than a clean and honest coalition of Muslims and non-Muslims in office?

And let’s not forget that the biggest victims of Umno’s abuse of power and the conniving silence of PAS were the Malays themselves. Even cherished institutions like Tabung Haji, LTAT and Felda that were set up specifically to help Malay-Muslims were mismanaged or plundered by Umno cronies. Nothing was sacred to them. All the talk about “bangsa, agama and negara” was simply a cover to enrich themselves.

Non-Muslims

Amazingly, after suggesting that non-Muslims were not fit to represent the citizens of Cameron Highlands in Parliament, Hadi had the audacity to appeal to non-Muslims to support the Umno candidate because Umno “has already proven that it respects their rights”.

Is Hadi delusional? Has he forgotten that under Umno our democratic space was vastly reduced, our economy was mismanaged, our sovereignty was endangered through unsustainable levels of debt, and the country itself became the world’s biggest kleptocracy?

Hadi himself has persistently advocated a kind of religious apartheid state where non-Muslims would be barred from holding high office, reduced to “dhimmitude” in their own country and subject to a form of shariah law that is so harsh that even Muslim countries shy away from it.

Hadi has done nothing to earn our trust and everything to earn our disgust. He’s the last person that anyone should listen to when it comes to casting their vote. If anything, voters can’t go wrong rejecting any candidate that Hadi endorses.

At the end of the day, our nation’s interests are surely better served by people with integrity and a proven track record of public service rather than by people who may have a concept of sin but are utterly lacking in integrity and a commitment to good governance and respect for diversity. Better non-religious politicians committed to serving the people than hypocritical ones hiding behind religion.

FOCUS On POVERTY alleviation, not income creation for billionaires–Mahathir’s outdated policy prescriptions


January 16, 2019

FOCUS On POVERTY alleviation, not billionaires —Mahathir’s outdated policy prescriptions

by P. Gunasegaram

Image result for the malaysian maverick by barry wain

QUESTION TIME | When Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad sank low to say that wealth should be distributed equally among races, he indicated plainly that he has no solid plan to increase incomes and alleviate poverty for all Malays and Malaysians. His priorities are elsewhere.

Note that he talks about the distribution of wealth, not increasing incomes, which is more important because this is what will eventually result in a proper redistribution of wealth by valuing fairly everyone’s contribution  to wealth creation.

During his time as Prime Minister previously for a very long 22 years from 1981 to 2003 out of 46 years of independence at that time – nearly half the period of independence – he had plenty of opportunities, but squandered them.

He did not care for the common Malay, but was instead more focused on creating Malay billionaires overnight through the awarding of lucrative operations handled by the government or government companies previously, such as roads, power producers, telecommunications and others.

He depressed labour wages by bringing in millions of workers from Indonesia, and subsequently Bangladesh and the Philippines, to alter the religious balance in Sabah. A significant number of them became Malaysian citizens over the years, altering the overall racial and religious balance in the country.

By doing that he let his own race down, many of whom were workers and small entrepreneurs whose incomes were constrained by imported labour. Even now, Mahathir has not shown a great willingness to increase minimum wages, which will help many poor Malays and bumiputeras increase their incomes.

As Mahathir himself well knows, distribution is not an easy thing. Stakes held by others cannot be simply distributed, but they have to be sold, even if it is at depressed prices as it was under the New Economic Policy or NEP, when companies wanted to get listed.

Instant millionaires

There are not enough Malays rich enough to buy these stakes, but many of them in the Mahathir era and earlier, especially the connected elite, became rich by purchasing the 30 percent stakes for bumiputeras that had to be divested upon listing by taking bank loans.

By simply flipping the stakes on the market at a higher price after they were listed, they pocketed the difference and became instant millionaires.

Image result for the permodalan nasional

It was Mahathir’s brother-in-law – the straight, honest and capable Ismail Ali – who was the architect behind the setting up of Permodalan Nasional Bhd or PNB to hold in trust for bumiputera stakes in major companies. PNB now has funds of some RM280 billion and has been enormously successful in this respect.

But Mahathir, with advice from Daim Zainuddin who became his Finance Minister, still cultivated selected bumiputera leaders, many of them Daim’s cronies, and gave them plum deals. A slew of them who were terribly over-leveraged got into trouble during the 1997-1998 financial crisis.

The government, often through Khazanah Nasional Bhd, had to rescue some of the biggest ones, resulting in Khazanah holding key stakes in many companies such as Axiata, CIMB, PLUS and so on. Recently, the government has been talking about, not surprisingly, selling these stakes to investors, accusing Khazanah of not developing bumiputera entrepreneurship, which was not anywhere in its original aims.

It becomes more obvious what Mahathir is talking about. Redistribution of wealth now will come out of the selling of government (Khazanah) and PNB stakes to individual Malay entrepreneurs to equalise wealth distribution among the races. To make it more palatable, some willing Indian entrepreneurs, too, may be found.

The modus operandi will be to sell the stakes when prices are depressed and perhaps even to offer a bulk discount to these so-called entrepreneurs who, of course, will not only be among the elite, but who are cronies. That will ensure a steady flow of funds into Bersatu in future from donations to help make it the premier party in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Image result for the malaysian jomo and gomez

Mahathir knows full well that equal wealth distribution is impossible – it’s never been done anywhere before and makes wealth acquisition disproportionate to intelligent effort and hard work, a sure recipe for inefficiency, corruption and patronage. As eloquently argued by prominent political economy professor Terence Gomez, patronage is king in new Malaysia – if it was cash during Najib’s time.

Mahathir does not have the wherewithal to lead anymore, if he ever had it in the first place. Eight months after GE14, he is still bereft of a plan to increase incomes and improve livelihoods. He needs to recognise he does not have one and that he stays in power because of the strength of the other parties in the coalition.

Wrong direction

The only way to close the wealth gap is to increase future incomes across all races. Anything else is the expropriation of other people’s wealth. In the meantime, the holding of wealth in trust by state agencies is perfectly acceptable because the income comes back to the government.

This can be wisely used to improve the quality of education, get better quality investments, raise productivity and hence labour wages, and provide equal opportunities for growth and innovation among all communities. As so many people have said before me, you can equalise opportunities, but not outcomes.

So far, 61 years of UMNO-BN have not managed to equalise opportunities for all as the government education system is in shambles, among others. And eight months of Harapan is heading in the wrong direction under Mahathir.

Despite Bersatu being a party expressly formed to fight for Malay rights, Mahathir’s party had the lowest support from Malays of parties looking after Malay rights, including Umno, PAS, PKR and Amanah.

He is still stuck in a mode to widen his rather narrow and vulnerable power base (his Bersatu won only 13 seats of 52 contested, the worst win rate of any party in the coalition) unethically by attracting tarnished MPs from Umno into the Bersatu fold, in the process willing to break agreements with other coalition partners and doing/advocating things which are against the principles of a properly functioning democracy.

He has also said he will not honour some manifesto promises, saying that these were made when Harapan did not expect to win the elections – a rather lame excuse. He has not even made solid moves to undo repressive laws introduced by his predecessor Najib Abdul Razak.

Mahathir, obviously, has no intention plan to improve the livelihood of the common Malay and all Malaysians;  he is stuck in old-school forced distribution which is injurious to the economy, maybe even fatal in the long term.

 Malaysians don’t want the creation of Malay (or any other ) billionaires from government wealth.


Old wine in a new bottle is still sour. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

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

 

 

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0


January 3, 2019

Bersatu’s inexorable move to becoming a sanitized, immunized and Bersih UMNO Terbaru 3.0

Opinion  | By P. Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

  QUESTION TIME | If anything, Bersatu’s recent annual general assembly starkly shows one thing – that it is merely an extension of the old UMNO (Baru,) and will use the model of Malay supremacy,ty and put back in place corruption via patronage politics.

The only way to check that unfortunate retrograde policy is for the other Pakatan Harapan partners, especially those who have three to four times the number of MPs Bersatu has, to exert their combined muscle to rightfully regain more influence in the coalition and restore the original reform agenda pre-GE14.

At the AGM, Bersatu vice-President Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, also a former Election Commission (EC) chairperson, termed pushbacks against delegates’ demands to be given government resources to help the party retain power as “stupid”.

Bad enough that you have the former EC chairperson advocating breaking laws but this same person was shockingly appointed in August last year to head a Putrajaya committee that will make recommendations on electoral law reform in two years time.

This same Abdul Rashid had been heavily criticised by both PKR and DAP, the dominant parties in Harapan, over his tenure from 2000 to 2008 as the EC chairperson. This continues a tendency for Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to appoint tainted,controversial and/or discredited people to important positions.

This includes Daim Zainuddin to head the Council of Eminent Persons; former Inspector-General of Police Abdul Rahim Noor (who brutally assaulted Anwar Ibrahim and gave him a black eye while in Police detention) to negotiate security arrangements with Thailand and former discredited aAtorneys-General to important positions.

Abdul Rashid’s comments at the Bersatu assembly are particularly galling and provocative and advocate extra-judicial measures to keep and extend Bersatu’s hold on power. These are clearly against the law but Abdul Rashid (photo) received a misplaced standing ovation from Bersatu delegates.

“Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out. It is lucky that the Prime Minister gave me a job with a big salary so that I can support my division,” said Abdul Rashid, apparently referring to his appointment to the government’s election reform committee.

“But the others, we don’t need to be arrogant by saying we shouldn’t give them jobs, that we would be taking away the jobs of others, that we should not take this or that. That opinion, to me, irresponsible. In the election, we must win by hook or by crook,” he said.

He added that although he did not like the idea of using government resources, it had to be done.

“All division chiefs should be given activities so that they can have the opportunity to defend their divisions,” he said.

Abdul Rashid also urged the government to restore the parallel village chief system practised by the previous BN government. “And our people must occupy these positions,” he said.

Village chiefs are traditionally appointed by the state government but the previous BN government appointed parallel village chiefs in states not under its control. The Harapan administration has abolished this parallel system.

“All development projects should be channeled to these (parallel) committees and the division chiefs must benefit,” he said as the crowd cheered him on.

Blown to smithereens

It is unthinkable that this man, who clearly advocates moves against current elections laws, heads Putrajaya’s committee on electoral reform. If anything, he will probably advocate changes in the law to allow these offences to take place.

Harapan leaders should forthwith put their foot down and demand that Abdul Rashid be removed as the head of the electoral reform committee as he has clearly shown, by his words at a public gathering, that he is not a fit person to come up with electoral reforms which are up to international standards.

That he had so much support from Bersatu delegates for his views is worrying, with other leaders echoing his sentiments. While Bersatu head Mahathir has said that what Abdul Rashid says is his personal opinion, he should immediately review Abdul Rashid’s position as head of the electoral reform committee.

The original UMNO  was founded in 1946 to champion Malay rights in the lead up to independence. Its founder Onn bin Jaffar left UMNO after the party refused to open membership to non-Malays. Tunku Abdul Rahman took over the helm and became Malaysia’s first Prime Minister.

That UMNO was de-registered in 1987 after the courts declared it illegal. Then prime minister Mahathir formed UMNO Baru or UMNO 2.0 and organised members of UMNO, who supported him to join this UMNO Baru, excluding others who did not. There was a breakaway group called Semangat 46 formed, headed by Mahathir’s then opponent , Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

Mahathir altered the constitution of the original UMNO considerably by making it next to impossible to remove a sitting UMNO Baru President. This resulted in a progressive erosion of government accountability and transparency, eventually leading to 1MDB and its excesses. And UMNOMNO-BN’s first loss in the general election last year.

As droves of MPs start to desert UMNOo Baru, Bersatu may well become Umno 3.0 if it accepts these UMNOo MPs as members. That will irrevocably change the complexion of the coalition and alter the balance of power within Harapan.

Other coalition partners, in particular, PKR and DAP, should clearly resist this and state their irreversible opposition to such moves, simply because all UMNO and BN MPs are tainted because they knew full well of the corruption and theft within 1MDB when they decided to stand for elections.

If all of the UMNO MPs are accepted within the Bersatu fold and become Harapan members effectively and those within Bersatu who call for extrajudicial measures to remain in power are not checked, it is inevitable that Bersatu will become UMNO 3.0 and the strongest party within the Harapan coalition.

With that, the hopes of the majority of Malaysians for a fairer, more equitable country, where everybody is considered Malaysian and where corruption is a thing of the past and accountability and good governance will be practised, will be blown to smithereens.


P GUNASEGARAM says we have to guard our newfound freedom zealously instead of surrendering it back to UMNO goons and gangsters who want a return to the past. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

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

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on


January 1, 2019

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on

Opinion  Phar Kim Beng

COMMENT | If one has had the benefit of following Malaysian politics since 1970 – a lifetime to many – several thinkers who have influenced the course of Malaysian history have become household names.

Image result for Rais Saniman

 

Dr. Rais Saniman

The New Economic Policy (NEP), for example, was the handiwork of Rais Saniman and Just Faarland. Both believed in affirmative action, though critics who panned NEP have often pointed out that affirmative action is meant for the “minority” – not the majority.

Come what may, Malaysia would have been a racial havoc if NEP, despite all its imperfections, have not been working. Take some of the latest statistics on household income, for example.

Research by Khazanah Research Institute has shown that four out of five Malaysians would retire without sufficient pensions when they turn 55 or 60. Indeed, 15 percent of Malaysia’s population would exceed 60 years of age by 2023, according to Muhammad Khalid, the economic advisor of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At this rate, Malaysia will begin to age sooner than expected.

The works of the late professor Syed Hussein Alatas has also been wonderfully powerful, as he referred to corruption as a “cancer” that can eat away the health – and wealth – of the country. Events between 2009-2018, through 1MDB, have proven that and more. Our national debt is now at USD 280.7 billion, while our GDP is merely USD 320 billion.

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The scholarship of professors Terence Gomez and KS Jomo have proved to be just as monumental, if not powerful. Since 1990, both scholars have warned of the insidious effects of “privatisation,” which if done incorrectly, can lead to “piratisation,” where the wealth nest of the government and the people are held captive by the vested interest of the narrow band of elites.

While little has been said, or, revealed about the scholarship of Salleh Yappar, a professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, his papers have identified various forms or varieties of “Islamism”.

They range from the sort one sees in Sufism, such as the order of Nashbandi, to the reformist movement of Angkatan Belia Islam Semalaysia. In fact, Salleh listed close to nine forms of Islamism in Malaysia between 1957-1990. Some of them involves cult like movements like Al Arqam, which has since been banned by Mahathir during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

Though, not strictly Malaysian, the works of William Case at University of Nottingham in Malaysia, have revealed the potentiality of a “pseudo democracy,” that is still “semi authoritarian,” in nature as Australian National University professor Harold Crouch called it.

Other commentators like Patricia Martinez, Noraini Othman, even Dina Zaman, indeed, Marina Mahathir, have warned about the danger of ignoring the gender bias that is embedded in most interpretations of religions.

Instead of “lowering one’s gaze,” as a man is urged by some religious scriptures to do, over domineering male preachers have insisted that women should cover themselves from head to toe.

Come what may, some of the Malaysian scholars in Borneo deserve greater mention too. Professor Jayum Jawan who has an interesting take that Sarawak was never colonised by the British government, let alone James Brooke, is interesting to say the least.

It calls into question the very fabric that makes the Federation of Malaysia: should the rights of the federal government always be greater than the states at hand, including Sarawak, even though it has a history that is unique compared to Peninsular Malaysia?

Elsewhere, professors Chandra Muzaffar,   Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Francis Loh Kok Wai and Khoo Kay Jin have always highlighted the importance of liberating Malaysia from the iron rule of the bureaucratic or single-party state, especially the feudalism of UMNO.

Indeed, commentators like P. Gunasegaran and Ho Kay Tat have been invaluable to understanding 1MDB, backed by foreign scholarship by Tom Wright and Hope Bradley at Wall Street Journal.

The works of Nanyang Technology University professors Farish Noor and Joseph Liow Chin Yong in Singapore, as was the superb commentary of Dr Ooi Kee Beng, even politicians like Liew Chin Tong and Ong Kian Ming over the years, have made a “New Malaysia” more and more plausible.

That being said, two of the most tenacious thinkers are without a doubt Mahathir and Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. Both are determined in their ideals to make Malaysia stronger and better, though with some nuance too.

Image result for Anwar' s Asian Renaissance

Mahathir seems sold on the idea that Look East can redeem Malaysia. Anwar, on the hand, believes that the rise and fall of Malaysia depends on the extent to which it can engineer its own “Asian Renaissance.”

Come what may, 2019 and 2020, are not going to be about transition from one reigning to another incoming Prime Minister only, but the extent to which both can master the art of promoting their ideas and ideals. These ideas and ideals must work too, without which Malaysia is back to the square one of 1970 if not earlier.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

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