Cambodia: Stability, Security and Economic Growth amidst Geo-Political Uncertainties remains top priority

March 22, 2017

Cambodia: Stability, Security and Economic Growth amidst Geo-Political Uncertainties remains top priority

by Dr. Sorpong Peou

Cambodia’s ruling party is seeking to shore up its chances of electoral success with recent changes to the rules governing political parties, Sorpong Peou writes.

Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.–Dr. Peou

Is Cambodia heading towards a single party dictatorship? This is a legitimate question after the Cambodian government took a drastic but unsurprising step in February 2017 to amend the law on political parties – a step that its critics consider undermines liberal democracy. In my view, Cambodia has not resembled any form of liberal democracy since 1997, and the existing hegemonic party system is likely to remain.

If and when it comes into effect, the amended party law will allow the Supreme Court to dissolve any political party with leaders who have criminal records and to bar such party leaders from standing for political office for five years. Moreover, the new law requires that any party that loses its President find a replacement within 90 days of the King’s signature.

The amended law will also allow the Ministry of Interior to suspend indefinitely any political party that the government considers to be involved in activities resulting in an “incitement that would lead to national disintegration” and subversion of “liberal multi-party democracy.”

The amendments were designed to ensure that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by Prime Minister Hun Sen will remain politically dominant, but not to eliminate opposition parties. They were intended to further empower two CPP-dominated state institutions – the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Interior – to prevent opposition parties, especially the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), from winning enough seats to form a government.

The CPP does not want to see the 1992 or the 2013 national election repeated. It lost the UN-organised election in 1992, but forced the winning party (led by the Royalists) to share power, and then removed the royalist prime minister from power by force in July 1997.

The multi-party system has since weakened, giving rise to a hegemonic party system, with the CPP as the dominant power. However, the party was badly shaken by the 2013 election results: it won only 68 seats (compared to the 55 seats gained by the CNRP), leaving it with fewer seats than the previous elections.

Image result for Hun Sen-- Peace, Stability and Sustained Economic Growth

Attempts by Hun Sen to seek reconciliation with CNRP’s Sam Rainsy has not been successful

After the 2013 election, the CPP leadership did a lot of soul searching and took a number of steps to weaken the CNRP. Opposition politicians have been subject to intimidation and litigation. Sam Rainsy, ex-President of the CNRP and opposition leader (in exile since 2015), has been sentenced to a total of seven years in prison. CNRP Vice-President Kem Sokha had been subject to criminal prosecution and sentenced to five months in prison (for not showing up in court for a dubious lawsuit against him) before he received a pardon from the King at Hun Sen’s request.

All this goes to show that the CPP leadership was well aware of the fact that it would not do well in the upcoming commune election in June 2017 and the National Assembly election in 2018 – if the CNRP could have its way. After the July 2016 killing of Kem Ley, a popular political commentator known for his strong criticism of the government, the CPP has become increasingly unpopular with growing public anger directed toward them.

Government officials have confidentially indicated that the CPP is determined not to lose in the upcoming elections and that it would not transfer power to any winning party if it lost. The amendments to the party law were just another step the CPP has taken as part of its pre-emptive measures designed to avoid the repetition of the 1992 and 2013 elections.

Much has been written about the Cambodian culture of impunity as an obstacle to democratic development, but what is still least understood is the fact that the persisting culture driven by the fear of personal retribution (actual or perceived) has been a principal threat to democracy.

Top members of the CPP elite remain as insecure as ever. What else can explain the fact that the (CPP) Prime Minister has up to 6,000 personal bodyguards? Opposition members have called CPP leaders traitors and threatened to bring them to justice for their past human rights violations (perhaps including some of those committed under the murderous Pol Pot regime) and rampant corruption. CPP leaders, thus, appear to believe that their political fate would be sealed if they lost the elections.

It is reasonable to assume that the CPP is not interested in turning the country into a single-party dictatorship, as some commentators think. The ruling party would be happy if it could just maintain a party system that would allow it to remain dominant and secure.

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 Cambodia has enjoyed peace, stability and sustained economic growth since 1998

The CPP’s behaviour may s also help explain weak reactions from members of the international community, especially donors, some of whom seem to prefer political stability under a CPP leadership to chaotic democratic politics. Others may simply have come to the realisation that there is not much they can do to weaken the CPP’s grip on power.

Over the past several years, CPP leaders have worked harder to deepen their relations with two powerful authoritarian states – Russia and China. China has emerged as Cambodia’s largest donor. Sino-Cambodian relations have grown much tighter in recent years. The harsh reality is that the CPP leadership remains suspicious of Western democracies’ regime-change agendas and wary of any criticisms directed at the human rights situation in Cambodia.

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The current global political environment also does not allow democracy in Cambodia to thrive. The looming return of fraught geopolitics (the rise of China, the escalating tension in the South China Sea, the ongoing confrontation between Russia and the West over Crimea and Ukraine), the rise of right-wing forces in Europe and the United States, and the persistence of authoritarianism in Southeast Asia – have all produced negative effects on Cambodian politics.

Dr. Sorpong Peou is Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, Canada, and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies.

This article is a collaboration with Policy Forum — Asia and the Pacific’s leading platform for policy analysis and debate.

Steve Bannon, Ryancare and the Fate of Trump’s Agenda

March 18, 2017

Steve Bannon, Ryancare and the Fate of Trump’s Agenda

by Ryan Lizza

Image result for Steve Bannon and Healthcare

the White House, Steve Bannon’s office, on the first floor of the West Wing, is called the war room. Bannon, the Administration’s chief strategist, has cleared out much of the furniture, and on one wall has hung an enormous whiteboard on which he has scrawled every promise that Donald Trump made during the campaign. Bannon and the war room are the heart of the effort to turn Trump’s populist campaign into a policy agenda that can pass Congress or be implemented through executive actions.

Bannon is trying to infuse Trumpism with a coherent nationalist “workers’ party” agenda. Trump’s health-care bill was written by the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who is a more traditional conservative, and, as the Congressional Budget Office and other nonpartisan analysts have noted, older, rural, low-income white voters—the Trump base—would fare worse under the new legislation than under Obamacare. This makes the American Health Care Act a poor showpiece, to say the least, for Trump’s alleged transformation of the Republican Party into a vehicle for white-working-class assistance.

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Ryancare–Doomed to Failure

Nonetheless, Bannon knows that the Ryan bill’s failure would be catastrophic for the rest of Trump’s agenda, because it would break a core campaign promise and sap Trump’s already limited political capital. So, on Saturday night, Bannon secretly hosted Mark Meadows, the leader of the Freedom Caucus, for several of hours of negotiations in the war room. (At least one of Meadows’s own top staffers didn’t know he was there.) The Freedom Caucus, which is made up of some forty of the most conservative members of Congress, opposes the Ryan bill on the grounds that it’s too similar to Obamacare. The resistance from Meadows and his allies threatens to hobble the entire effort—Ryan cannot lose more than twenty-two House Republicans and still pass the bill

The details of the deal that may emerge between Meadows and the White House are still murky, and might not be enough to overcome all the obstacles in the House. But a top White House official insisted that the meeting was the moment that “the real deal started getting done.” A G.O.P. aide familiar with the negotiations said to me, about the meeting, “there’s a bigger play in the works here.”

It’s prudent to remain skeptical. Any concessions to Meadows—who laid out his demands for a less generous bill yesterday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed co-authored with Senator Ted Cruz—might scare off moderates who want more assistance for low-income Americans through Medicaid or the individual market. But perhaps Bannon and Ryan can overcome the bill’s challenges. From a political standpoint, the White House is correct in assuming that the downfall of the Ryan health-care bill could have a cascading effect on the rest of Trump’s agenda.

Consider for a moment how Trump’s agenda is faring compared to the last President’s. By this point in his Presidency, Barack Obama had passed an eight-hundred-and-thirty-one-billion-dollar stimulus bill, a sweeping piece of legislation that alone would have made his first term memorable. By early April his first federal budget had passed both chambers of Congress, laying the groundwork for his overhauls of health care and government spending on education. Obama signed these large-scale policy changes into law the following year, along with the rewrite of Wall Street regulations known as Dodd-Frank. Of all the major pieces of legislation that Obama pushed during his first two years, only his climate-change plan, which passed the House and died in the Senate, failed. In all, it was the most significant period of legislating since Lyndon Johnson’s first few years in office.

Obama had several major advantages over Trump: a high approval rating, a large majority in Congress that was relatively united (including, for a stretch in late 2009, a filibuster-proof Senate), and an economic crisis that created a sense of urgency. Obama, like previous Presidents, understood that his best chance for getting big things accomplished was at the start of his first term.

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As Trump hit fifty days in office this week, his Presidency was teetering on failure. Health-care reform is hobbled by divisions between conservatives who want to cut Medicaid deeper and faster and moderates who want to preserve the Obama-era expansion. Yesterday Trump released a budget with eye-popping cuts to discretionary spending that many Republicans have described as dead on arrival. Even with the proposed increase in Pentagon spending, many defense hawks are opposed to the draconian cuts at the State Department.

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After 50 days

More moderate Republicans, especially the two dozen who are in districts carried by Hillary Clinton in the last election, are balking at the annihilation of popular programs, such as federal assistance for Meals on Wheels and spending on clean-air and water programs. Unlike Obama’s first budget, Trump’s will be rewritten in Congress, as numerous Republicans made clear yesterday. Meanwhile, Trump’s second attempt at an executive order banning travel from several Muslim-majority countries is again being successfully challenged in the courts, eating up more time and resources in an overwhelmed White House. The Russia investigation, which will begin on Monday with potentially damaging testimony from the F.B.I. director, James Comey, is only beginning.

But Trump’s first test is his ability to fashion a complex deal on health care—a task that would be difficult for even the most skilled Washington negotiator. In the Bannon war room, there are only a few items with check marks next to them on the whiteboard. If health care dies, there won’t be many more.

*Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and also an on-air contributor for CNN

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia

March 14, 2017

Gauging The Hudud Thing in Malaysia–Political Islamism out of UMNO’s desperation

by Rashaad Ali

Image result for The Hudud Thing in UMNO's Malaysia

The Desperate Godfathers of Hududism in Malaysia–UMNO’s Najib Razak and PAS’Hadi Awang

The 18 February 2017 rallies both for and against the bill to amend the 1965 Criminal Jurisdiction Act, known as RUU 355, have opened yet another political and social schism in Malaysian society. RUU 355 began as a private member’s bill by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) President Hadi Awang and seeks to raise the penalties for certain crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of sharia courts in Malaysia.

Public opinion appears divided on the issue, as the continued politicisation of religion takes precedence over authentic religious debate on the matter. Some see the bill as a facade for the eventual entry of hudud — Islamic — laws into the country. PAS held the rally in support of the bill, which drew a reported 20,000 people, while the counter rally was organised by the non-governmental organisation Bebas and drew a much more modest crowd of around 200.

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Hudud –The  Political Hypocrisy of  It All

Support for the bill is significant enough. Various surveys, including one conducted recently amongst university students, indicate Malay-Muslim support for the amendment and for the implementation of Islamic laws. The pro-RUU 355 rally emphasises this and the numbers indicate some level of moderate success for PAS — mobilising 20,000 odd people for a rally is no small feat.

But as the subject of this bill is central to the party’s aims, larger numbers could have been expected. This suggests a difficulty in appealing to urban folk and that mobilised supporters from other, more remote parts of the country account for the majority of the turnout.

Image result for zaid ibrahim dapThis Guy does not  know where he is coming or going in Malaysian Politics–UMNO to PKR to DAP and what next?

The counter rally, held at the same time but at a different location to the PAS gathering, better demonstrates the mood regarding the bill. While the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) was critical of the bill when it was first announced, it eventually distanced itself from the counter rally completely. The only DAP name who attended was Zaid Ibrahim, and that was in his individual capacity rather than as a party member.

The DAP’s absence is unsurprising as the issue puts it in a difficult position: the DAP may not support the bill, but attending the counter rally would cement the perception that they are an anti-Malay and anti-Muslim party. The discourse surrounding this issue has been very black and white; support for the bill is seen as a Muslim’s religious duty, while opposition to it is deemed vehemently anti-Islamic.

The general public’s low attendance at the counter rally suggests that the issue was not significant enough to take to the streets in numbers. For Malay-Muslims, the fear of reprisal for attending a rally seen as anti-Islamic is a significant factor in keeping people away. It appears easier for the pro-RU 355 rally to draw Malays, as the narrative is more populist, keeps with a conservative Islamic position and is supported by major Malay parties like the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and PAS.

As for non-Muslim participation, it appears this issue is neither relevant nor attractive enough to drag would-be participants out of bed in the morning. They can hardly be blamed as many voices from the pro-RU 355 camp constantly state that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Although this amendment does not mean that non-Muslims are suddenly going to be tried under sharia law, having two legal systems for two different groups of people brings the notion of equality before the law into question. For a multicultural country that should seek to be inclusive instead of exclusive, these amendments are not helpful, especially when considering the knock-on effect it will have on the country as a whole.

Past cases of overlapping jurisdiction between sharia and civil courts, such as conversion cases or burial rights of non-Muslims indicate that the separation of the courts is not clearly defined. While the bill aims to raise the penalties for certain crimes under sharia law such as murder and theft, some constitutional experts argue that these crimes fall strictly under the purview of federal, not sharia, law. This bill exacerbates an already highly polarised society divided along racial and religious lines.

It is also another episode in the overall Islamisation trend happening in Malaysia that directly and indirectly affects all groups in society. Various incidents in the past few years point to how religious relations in the country can easily sour. A church was forced to take down its cross display in 2015, there have been recent issues with the usage and distribution of paint brushes containing pig bristles and there is now moral policing of dress code at government buildings.

The issue is complicated further because it is primarily for political rather than religious purposes. Putting aside PAS’ ambition to see this through, the bill is an obvious affirmation of the party’s own religious credentials. In the current climate, this helps to regain the trust of its core supporters, which also explains why the UMNO has jumped on the bill’s bandwagon. It helps the UMNO bolster its image at a time when the administration has suffered a dip in popularity. The timing of this issue is also convenient, as elections are due to be held by 2018.

As it stands, it would not be surprising if the bill passes next month when it comes to parliament. Opposition members who oppose the bill are likely to be absent from the vote for fear of being branded anti-Islamic. If the amendment passes, the biggest concern is whether it will worsen existing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Given the political dimension of the bill and the looming general election, a more inclusive Malaysia is not yet on the horizon.

Rashaad Ali is a research analyst with the Malaysia Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This article was first published here on RSIS.



Malaysia Takes a Turn for the Religious Sinister Side

March 7, 2017

Najib’s Malaysia Takes a Turn for the Religious Sinister Side

by Asiasentinel Correspondent

The fate of Koh is evidently meant as a warning to non-Muslims. In the context of Peninsular Malaysia, where Malays are deemed to be children incapable of making their own decisions about religion, it is also a racist message to the non-Malay 30 percent of the population: leave us to our intolerance or we will punish you.

In the longer run, it may also be a message to the peoples of more tolerant Sarawak (where only 33 percent are Muslims) and Sabah that they do not belong in a nation whose political leaders rely on religious bigotry for their survival.

Image result for Pastor Raymond Koh Keng Joo

Two very worrying trends in Malaysia may have come together: the rise of religious intolerance and the use of murder as a political weapon.

The well-organized kidnap and disappearance of a Chinese Christian pastor, Raymond Koh Keng Joo on Feb. 13 in the middle of Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur, was clearly driven by his promotion of Christianity. His disappearance and the lack of any news or ransom demand suggest he has likely been killed and his body disposed of. If so, whether his corpse was blown up in the manner of Altantuya Shaaribu, the pregnant Mongolian model and translator murdered by then-Defense Minister Najib Razak’s security personnel, or in a drum of concrete like 1MDB investigator from the Attorney General’s department, Kevin Anthomy Morais, or otherwise, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the broad daylight morning kidnap operation was brazen and highly organized. Witnesses and a video posted on-line reported that three large SUVs, two following cars and two motorcycles were involved, with masked men holding up traffic, blocking Koh’s car, seizing him and bundling him into one of the vehicles. Witnesses reported that there were at least five abductors, who were driving black 4x4s, and that one of them calmly filmed the incident. The operation of less than a minute took place just 100 metres from a police complex.

Despite the evidence of witnesses and the video, the police have made no progress either in identifying the kidnappers or tracing the victim. Koh’s family has offered a RM100,000 (US$22,500) reward for his safe return but there has been no response. It is not clear how much effort an increasingly politicized police force has invested in finding Koh and his kidnappers.

Koh was viewed by some Christian groups as being too high-profile for his own good given the rise in Muslim fanaticism in what is supposed to be multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation. In 2011 Koh was accused by the Selangor Religious Affairs Department of trying to convert Malays to Christianity. However, the issue was dropped due lack of evidence.

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One the Islamic Hypocrite and the other the Islamic Bigot–God Help Malaysia

The kidnap and possible murder coincides with the introduction into parliament by the head of Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) leader Abdul Hadi Awang of a long-delayed bill to increase the powers of sharia courts which in turn could lead to the introduction of hudud, seventh-century Islamic corporal punishments including amputating limbs of thieves and stoning to death of adulterers, more likely, in this society, adulteresses while their lovers walk free.

Although the bill is unlikely to become law, the massive 1Malaysia Development Bhd. scandal, in which as much as US$1 billion of public funds is suspected to have flowed into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s  bank account, and other scandals besetting the prime minister are making him ever more susceptible to trading religious intolerance for support at the polls, a scenario that the rural-based PAS is only too happy to take advantage of.

Although an absurdly skewed electoral system makes a nonsense of democracy in Malaysia, Najib has become increasingly ruthless in his treatment of critics and is open to all methods of keeping himself in office ranging from asking Chinese state companies to help to bail out 1MDB and Muslim extremists who claim they represent Malay interests but in practice like to impose medieval Arab forms and dress on Malays.

Image result for Najib the hypocriteKetuanan Melayu Leaders

The fate of Koh is evidently meant as a warning to non-Muslims. In the context of Peninsular Malaysia, where Malays are deemed to be children incapable of making their own decisions about religion, it is also a racist message to the non-Malay 30 percent of the population: leave us to our intolerance or we will punish you.

In the longer run, it may also be a message to the peoples of more tolerant Sarawak (where only 33 percent are Muslims) and Sabah that they do not belong in a nation whose political leaders rely on religious bigotry for their survival.


Will Russia connection become the Trump administration’s Watergate? ( A Political Waterloo too)

March 5, 2017

Will Russia connection become the Trump administration’s Watergate? ( A Political Waterloo too)

As more details emerge of meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and TV hosts have a field day, the scandal seems unlikely to disappear soon

Trump arrives aboard Air Force One in Orlando, Florida Friday.
Trump arrives aboard Air Force One in Orlando, Florida, Friday. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
by in Washington

Donald Trump flew out of Washington on Friday but was unable to leave a gathering storm of allegations, intrigue and unanswered questions about his ties to Russia behind him.

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It was Watergate, now it is likely to be Trump Towers Scandal–Momentum to Impeach 45th POTUS grows stronger, thanks New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN

The US President’s joint address to Congress this week was well received but was rapidly overshadowed by revelations that his Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, had twice spoken with the Russian Ambassador during last year’s presidential election.

As it has emerged that other members of the Trump campaign – including his son-in-law Jared Kushner – also met with the Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, the Kremlin connection seems destined to be the putative scandal that will not go away for the White House.

The relentless drip-drip of evidence has prompted comparisons with the Watergate affair that felled President Richard Nixon. It has also become regular sport for comedians on late-night TV.

Image result for Nixon and WatergateTricky Dick sounds like Tricky Trump

In Florida, the President was due to visit a school and meet Republican leaders on Friday but Democrats kept up the pressure in Washington. They argued that Sessions’ meetings with the ambassador contradicted his own sworn statements to Congress during his confirmation hearing. Sessions claimed on Thursday that he met the ambassador in his capacity as a senator, not as a campaign surrogate.

On Friday, the White House tried to steer criticism of Trump associates and their meetings with Russian officials away, by drawing parallels with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, who was photographed meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in 2003.

In a characteristic diversionary tactic, Trump tweeted an old photo of Schumer and Putin smiling and snacking together with the message: “We should start an immediate investigation into @SenSchumer and his ties to Russia and Putin. A total hypocrite!”

Schumer swiftly replied: “Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ’03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team?

Chuck Schumer Retweeted Donald J. Trump

Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in ’03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team?

Chuck Schumer added,

Speaking to reporters, the White House deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders echoed the president: “I mean Chuck Schumer sitting and having drinks with Putin and that’s not a news story, but apparently a volunteer for a campaign bumping into one at a conference where there’s, again, dozens of other ambassadors is newsworthy.”

Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, said the Attorney-General’s decision to recuse himself from an investigation into Russian-backed hackers’ interference in last year’s presidential election did not go far enough.

“Everybody knew that there was something completely out-of-order that was going on, so for him to say, well, I was just meeting with him in the normal course of a senator meeting with an ambassador, the Russian Ambassador, everybody knew was hacking our system is beyond naive,” she told an event organised by Politico in Washington. “It’s almost pathetic. It’s almost pathetic.

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Trump’s Attorney-General Jeff Sessions may have committed perjury

“So he did not tell the truth, and now it has come out that he did not tell the truth, and now what you see is there are other people in the Trump administration who have met with the Russian ambassador, in view of some one of the biggest intelligence officers of the Russian government, in Washington DC.”

Some US media reports have suggested that Kislyak acts as a spy recruiter, a charge that Moscow has ridiculed as paranoia.

Pelosi added: “So this recusal is an admission that something went on but it’s not sufficient. There are two things. One is the recusal as a surrogate of then candidate Trump’s campaign and having communication with the Russian government knowing they were hacking our system. That’s what the recusal is about, however narrow it is.

“The other part of it is the possibility of perjury, which is punishable by law for anybody else. Certainly we should have that be standard for the highest-ranking law enforcement person in our country.”

Sessions, who was the first senator to endorse Trump for president, told his confirmation hearing in January that he “did not have communications with the Russians” and did not know of any by other campaign staff.

Democrats have variously called on him to recuse himself from all potential investigations, retestify before Congress, resign or be charged with perjury, while demanding an independent commission to investigate. Richard Blumenthal, senator for Connecticut, urged the embattled attorney general to return to the Senate judiciary committee to “testify under oath” about the conversation at his office with Kislyak.

“I’d like him to explain what was said during that September 8 meeting,” Blumenthal told MSNBC’s Morning Joe program. “And what came of it, and also what other meetings there may have been, because if he misled us as to that meeting, what other meetings might he also have failed to disclose?”

The congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, has called for Sessions to quit, saying he “clearly misled” the Senate about contacts with Russian officials, and demanded that a special prosecutor be appointed.

Schiff also accused the FBI Director, James Comey, of withholding crucial information about its investigation into Russian meddling in the election, and raised the prospect of subpoenaing the agency.

“I would say at this point we know less than a fraction of what the FBI knows,” the California Democrat told reporters after a briefing with Comey. “I appreciate we had a long briefing and testimony from the director today, but in order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we’re gonna need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting. At this point, the director was not willing to do that.”

Speaking to Fox News on Thursday evening, Sessions, a former senator from Alabama, reiterated that he did not discuss the campaign with Kislyak. “When I campaigned for Trump, I was not involved with anything like that,” he said. “You can be sure.”

Despite the conclusions of US intelligence agencies, Sessions refused to say whether Putin favoured Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential race. “I have never been told that,” he told the host, Tucker Carlson. “I don’t have any idea, Tucker – you’d have to ask them.”

Trump has consistently denied business or political ties with Russia but has also been conspicuously reluctant to criticise Putin and raised the prospect of reviewing sanctions against the country. Opponents argue there is circumstantial evidence that Trump colluded with Moscow to help his campaign but definitive proof has remained elusive.

Last month Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign amid controversy over his discussions with Kislyak in late December.

Image result for Jared Kushner and Russian AmbassadorThe Russian Ambassador  Sergey Kislyak in the eye of an oncoming political storm in Washington DC

On Thursday, it emerged that Kushner joined Flynn at a private meeting with the Ambassador at Trump Tower in New York. Another campaign aide, Carter Page, did not deny meeting Kislyak during the Republican national convention.  And the Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s son, Donald Jr, was probably paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year at a French  think tank whose founder and wife have strong ties to Russia.

Trump, meanwhile, said that Sessions was the target of a “witch-hunt” and declared his “total” confidence in him.

He tweeted: “This whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. The Democrats are overplaying their hand. They lost the election, and now they have lost their grip on reality.”

Malaysia-North Korea Quarrel–National Security

March 2, 2017

Malaysia-North Korea Quarrel–National Security

by Dr. James Chin

Malaysia has a long history offering sanctuary to political exiles and while it does, political violence will continue to play out on Malaysian soil, James Chin writes.

Malaysia has always been an unofficial sanctuary for all sorts of political operators not welcomed by their own governments. Many of these operators have used Malaysia as a base from which to carry on their activities, as a transit point or as a safe haven for some rest and recreation. Many of them are in fact wanted by their own governments.–James Chin

Well done UMNO and thank you to Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak for taking such good care of Malaysia’s security and reputation. Isn’t it time to review our diplomatic relations with this murderous Hermit Kingdom and reassess our relations with some African nations and other rogue countries, tighten our immigration laws and beef up our security? Do it to avoid further damage to our country’s image and security.–Din Merican

Killing Mr. Kim

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For the past few weeks, the top story coming out of Southeast Asia is the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, the step-brother of Kim Jong-un, the ruler of North Korea. The assassination itself is still a mystery and does not follow the usual pattern employed by North Korea. For example, the two female assassins who sprayed the toxin on Kim Jong-nam’s face were not North Koreans but an Indonesian and a Vietnamese with no prior links to intelligence work. It will take a while yet before the entire story unravels.

One question that is often asked, but not adequately answered, is the issue of why Kim Jong-nam would travel to Malaysia often, and for this fatal trip, travel without bodyguards. There are credible reports that he has been travelling regularly to Malaysia since 2010, most probably because his relative, Jang Yong-chol, was the then DPRK ambassador to Malaysia. By all accounts, he should have stayed away from Malaysia after Yong-chol and his family were executed in December 2013 as part of the purge in Pyongyang.

Image result for korean community in kuala lumpur

Not all publicity is good, and South Koreans working in Malaysia are finding this out. South Korean businesses here have been receiving media attention in the wake of the murder of Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But they don’t want the publicity, preferring to be left alone to do their business.

– 23, 2017)

What is not widely known, inside and outside Malaysia, is that there is a vibrant Korean community in Malaysia. There are approximately 15-20,000 Koreans living in Malaysia. The overwhelming number of them are South Koreans. In fact, the Korean community in Malaysia is large enough for two ‘Korean towns’ in the capital Kuala Lumpur – one in Ampang and the other one in Mont Kiara. Kuala Lumpur is also one of the few places with a full DPRK Embassy and, until a few years ago, you could catch a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, North Korea’s official airline famed for using old Russian jetliners.

It is also not widely known that there are a few dozen North Koreans working in mining operations in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, arranged through a special deal between the governments of North Korea and the Sarawak state government. What is unusual about this deal is that the North Koreans can only work for that particular mining company and they cannot work elsewhere in Malaysia.

Malaysia has always been an unofficial sanctuary for all sorts of political operators not welcomed by their own governments. Many of these operators have used Malaysia as a base from which to carry on their activities, as a transit point or as a safe haven for some rest and recreation. Many of them are in fact wanted by their own governments.

There are numerous examples going back decades. In the early 1960s, when a group of rebels linked to Partai Rakyat Brunei (the Brunei Peoples’ Party) failed to overthrow the Brunei Sultan, the rebel leadership was given sanctuary in Malaysia before they eventually moved to Indonesia. When Ferdinand Marcos was forced to flee to Hawaii in 1986, some of his children and immediate relatives relocated to Kuala Lumpur and some of them were enrolled in an international school there.

Members of the Cambodian royal family lived in Kuala Lumpur throughout the era when Cambodia was under the reign of the murderous Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). For the past decade, the daughter of late King Norodom Sihanouk has been the Cambodian Ambassador to Malaysia. During the 1994 political crisis in Cambodia, another of King Sihanouk’s sons was forced to flee to Malaysia first before leaving for France.

When the Maldives experienced political turmoil in the 1990s, several of their leading politicians moved their families to Malaysia. The most prominent of them was the Zaki family, owners of the Nazaki group in the Maldives. One family member ended up as the Maldives ambassador to Malaysia.

Since the late 1960s and 1970s, many leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Pattani United Liberation Organization have lived openly in Malaysia. The MNLF, for a short period, even had a training camp in Sabah in the early 1970s. Many other groups operating in Mindanao have links to Sabah and many of their leaders even carry Malaysian identity cards.

Image result for najib razak

Prime Minister Najib Razak–Not focusing on his job of protecting Malaysia from harm

Muslim separatists in Southern Thailand have always found sanctuary in the four northern Malay states. It is not uncommon for some members of the Malay community in Pattani to hold a Malaysian identity card in addition to Thai citizenship. In fact, one of the Pattani separatist leaders, who headed an outfit called ‘Bersatu’, was a lecturer at the International Islamic University in Gombak, Malaysia. When Wan Abdul Kadir Che Wan was exposed by the media in 2004, the university claimed they did not know his true identity. This was despite the fact that he was in regular contact with Malaysian security services who were acting as peace mediators in Southern Thailand.

Since the 1990s the operational headquarters of the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM) was based in Kedah (thanks to Mahathir and Sanusi Junid). In 2000, an Acehnese separatist leader, Teuku Don Zulfahri, was shot dead in Kuala Lumpur while having lunch. The leadership moved back to Aceh after peace was established due to the new political environment created by the tsunami in December 2004. There are still family ties between the factions in Aceh and Malaysia.

In more recent times, in the 1980s and 1990s, Abu Bakar Bashir, the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah lived openly in Johor for 17 years after the Suharto regime went after him. Bashir was not only a Malaysian permanent resident but he helped establish a religious school in Malaysia and hosted other Indonesian militants who were wanted by the Indonesian government.

In 2014, two Myanmar politicians, Aye Maung, a member of parliament, and Aye Thar Aung, the President of the Arakan League for Democracy, were fired upon by their countrymen in front of a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. It is widely known that the large Myanmar community (including the Rohingya) living in Malaysia includes some political exiles who are still active in Myanmar politics.

The most recent political exile operating openly in Malaysia is Dr Zakir Naik, the controversial Indian Islamic evangelist who operates an outfit called the Islamic Research Foundation. He has been accused by the Indian and Bangladeshi governments of inspiring young people to join Islamic State (IS). He has been denied entry to several Western countries, including the UK and Canada, for hate speech. Zaik is not only welcomed in Malaysia but he was given Malaysian permanent residency in record time. Earlier in 2013, the Malaysian government conferred a Ma’al Hijrah Distinguished Personality award to Naik. The award was personally presented to Naik by the King of Malaysia. The latest report coming out of Malaysia suggests that he has established a new office in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative capital. This would not have happened without the support of the Malaysian government.

So what does this all mean? It means that we should not be surprised that political assassinations take place in Malaysia occasionally. Kim travelled in and out of Malaysia because Malaysia has a long history of allowing political exiles from other countries freedom to come into the country. There was also a sizeable Korean community in Malaysia.

As long as Malaysia allows political exiles who are still active to live in Malaysia, political violence not related to Malaysia will occur on Malaysian soil. The Kim killing was not the first and will not be the last.

This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the premier website for analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and society.