Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its “best in the world” deradicalization progamme


December 4, 2017

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its  “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com

https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/malaysia-confronts-jihadis/

Image result for Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim

 

On November 24, a 26-year-old woman named Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim was sentenced to eight years in prison in a Malaysian high court for attempting to enter Syria in a bid to die a martyr’s death.

Although she was on her way to the Middle East, Nur’s story has achieved disturbing relevance with the collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as jihadis flee on their way back for sanctuaries in Southeast Asia.  How many Nurs there are – or their male counterparts – is unknown. But according to Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, regional groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Jemaah Islamiyah and others serve as what he called a “home away from home” for those fleeing the deteriorating situation in Mosul and other Middle Eastern cities.  Malaysia faces accumulating its own share of the fleeing returnees and what to do about them.

Nur’s father died when she was 17. She became a mistress until her lover died in 2014. Stricken by grief, she married her lover’s younger brother, a drug addict, but the marriage only lasted two months. She then resumed her studies in medicine before being befriended by a man on social media who agreed to marry her on condition she travel to Syria.

Having sold her car to fund her ticket to Turkey, Nur entered Istanbul on August. 30, 2016 and was finally caught trying to cross the border into Syria in February of this year, to be deported back to Malaysia.

Nur’s loneliness, the change in her personal circumstances and her vulnerability, made her easy prey for ISIS propagandists. Had she been persuaded by her internet lover that going to Syria would give new meaning to her life, help her overcome grief and her daily frustrations? What prompted her to tell her mother that she was migrating to Syria to have a martyr’s death? And can Nur and her fellow victims be turned around?

The Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi says yes, that his Home Ministry’s program to deradicalize former prisoners, is “the best in the world.”  The results, he told a crowd in Kuching in February of 2016, are encouraging and recognized internationally.

“We are not praising ourselves, this is a recognition by the United Nations, Interpol and others,” Zahid said, “which is why Malaysia hosted the International Deradicalization Conference last month.”

The Principal Consultant of JK Associates, Khen Han Ming, works in close collaboration with the media and law enforcement agencies on global security issues, intelligence and terrorism.  He is a skeptic.

The prevention of radicalization in prisons is all about damage control. Khen said, “Inmates jailed for non-terror related offences meet other inmates who may have become radicalized, either as sympathizers or members of a wider terror network, prior to their detention.  Harsh conditions of confinement, overcrowding, racial divisions and isolation of inmates are to blame for radicalization.

“In a recent exposé by The Straits Times, a 53-year-old former ISA detainee was shown to have been actively recruiting inmates in Tapah Prison after he was arrested in February 2013, for terror offences.”

Radicalization in prison, isn’t just a Malaysian problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Khen lists those who were radicalized whilst in prison.

“Guantanamo Bay once housed Said Ali al-Shiri, the late al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the 2008 attack on the US embassy in Yemen,” he said. “The current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was radicalized in Egyptian prisons, while the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempted to recruit fellow inmates to help him overthrow the government in Jordan.”

Richard Reid, the 2001 “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an airliner on a flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoes, was radicalized while imprisoned in the United Kingdom.

Although the British, European Union and American governments have yet to find an effective strategy, in Malaysia, Zahid is all praise for his own program. Implemented under the Malaysian Prisons Department blue ocean strategy, steps so far used on 130 convicts were outlined by Zahid.

Convicts were separated during detention to stop their influence on other convicts, and 97 percent of those who have been rehabilitated, haven’t returned to their activities, he said. The department has close cooperation with the Malaysia Islamic Affairs Department (known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM), psychology experts and NGOs.

“As a result, it makes Malaysia an example of the most successful country in the de-radicalization program, the best example in the world,” Zahid said.

However, Khen dismisses Zahid’s claim. “Zahid also said, in his entry in The Journal of Public Security and Safety, that “there is no formula by which one can measure the effectiveness of a given law, or in this context, the rehabilitation program. An effective de-radicalization program can be gauged by its rate of recidivism.”

Recidivism rates, he said, “can be very misleading because they reflect only what is known to intelligence services, which is limited to public knowledge. The 2004 Saudi de-radicalization program, also known as “PRAC” (Prevention, Rehabilitation, After-Care) was also described as one of the “best rehabilitation programs in the world,” and a role model for many countries.

It was considered a complete success until five years later, Khen said, when 11 former Guantanamo inmates and program graduates “were discovered to have returned to al-Qaeda.”

Another method for tackling radicalization is via community outreach programs involving both the private sector and NGOs. The aim is to take away the appeal of extremist groups like ISIS by disrupting radical and extremist narratives.

“We need a systematic program, which emphasizes inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, and which delegitimizes extremist ideologies such as the “them against us” mentality,” Khen said. Citing the approach adopted from The Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore, he added, “Community outreach clinics, or hotlines which offer help to people-at-risk, or individuals with information, widen the channels of communication and accessibility to information, which would otherwise be difficult.”

He strongly believes that local celebrities can help counter extremist views: “Malaysian Sultans and members of the Royal Household are increasingly getting involved, by speaking up against the encroaching Talibanization of our country. Celebrities have a huge following and are sometimes considered more reliable than politicians. They also have the capability to break the barrier of political distrust. They are often the symbol of solidarity and unity, when we see a terror attack, overseas.”

Many in the field agree that terrorism and violent extremism is a battle of ideology that must be addressed at many levels, using a multilateral approach. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Badrul Hisham Ismail, the Program Director for IMAN, an organization which conducts research on society, religion and perception, told local media that to achieve successful rehabilitation and reintegration  into society, “we need to regain or rebuild trust and confidence, not only in society, but also between governments, civil societies and communities, to ensure strong collaboration and cohesion across all levels.”

Badrul added: “It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities. Each of us must play a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity – the remedy for any form of extremism.”

Khen, who has been involved in the provision of security services for over a decade, agreed and said, “Private sector involvement helps to address these issues, which affect everyone. Radicalization is not limited to religious indoctrination, but includes socio-political groups and similar groups.  We need to combat radicalization and violent extremism by disengaging them at their source, by advocating moderation and activism, to disrupt the spread of radical ideologies.

“Unless and until the main source of the problem is addressed, we are doomed to repeat the cycle.” The state, he said, shouldn’t waste its time and resources on de-radicalization programs but instead focus on addressing the root cause of extremism.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol

 

Despite this, the authorities can appear to contradict themselves. In September, the Turkish moderate writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol, who was invited to give a series of talks in KL, was detained, while the Indian fugitive ‘terror-mentor’ Zakir Naik was given a safe-haven in Malaysia and made a Permanent Resident.

A controversial preacher, Zamihan Mat Zin, who outraged Malaysians and the Malaysian Royalty with his radical views on separate launderette facilities for “unclean” non-Muslims and his intolerance in race and religious matters, was found to be part of the deradicalization program.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysian journalist and a longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel

Fact-checking critics of Chinese aid


November 29, 2017

Fact-checking critics of Chinese aid

by Alvin Camba, John Hopkins University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for China's aid

Pundits and journalists have often argued that Chinese loans are expensive and harmful to recipient countries. But they fundamentally misunderstand how Chinese aid and investment works across different countries.

Criticisms of Chinese aid suffer from four crucial problems. First, Chinese interest rates have been higher than comparable loans from other OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries because China lends to states with low investment grades. Interest rates vary across different donors but loan parameters depend on the recipient country’s investment grade and the donor state’s funding program. Put simply, DAC interest rates could have also been higher had these states funded similar projects.

Second, DAC countries follow one set of criteria for loans while China follows another. For the DAC, a loan becomes a concessional project when interest rates and the grace period are about 25 per cent cheaper than a comparable market loan. Although China’s concessional loans operate according to some DAC criteria, China’s Export–Import Bank often subsidises the interest of the project. As a result, the interest is charged to the Chinese government’s external assistance budget. In this loan agreement, the recipient country pays for the actual price of the project instead of the interest on the loan, departing from the DAC’s model. In other words, some of China’s loans are cheaper than the DAC alternatives.

Third, because the World Bank and other DAC countries have moved away from funding large-scale infrastructure while Japan has been wary of funding energy-intensive schemes, there are no other external funders willing to finance such projects in developing countries. China was the only willing financier of some crucial infrastructure projects in many sub-Saharan African and Latin American states. Those arguing that Chinese interest rates have often been higher fail to acknowledge that unless a similar offer was put forward by alternative funders, ‘base’ market rates cannot be used for comparison. It is misleading to compare Japanese, Chinese and World Bank loans directly because the funding parameters of these projects were calculated under vastly different conditions.

And last, for all the criticisms that China gets, Western countries have been equally guilty of sending developmental aid and investment when these actions suit their national interest. The United States sends aid to states with questionable human rights records, including Saudi Arabia, Israel and Pakistan. Similarly, when they need to acquire strategic resources or cheap labour, the French and British invest in the Western Sahara and former colonies despite their questionable human rights and governance records. Indeed, the West remains the biggest source of debt, aid and investment for African countries.

Despite all this, China has been disproportionally painted as a ‘bad investor’ by major Western newspapers while drawing the public’s attention away from the involvement of Western companies.

Rather than a downward impact on GDP per capita or nominal growth rates, China’s rise in the global economy has pushed more countries from the periphery into the semi-periphery. Chinese companies invest in developing countries that are ignored by other major investors and target key sectors that have been overlooked by Western aid. China’s participation often increases competition among investors for key development projects, allowing recipient countries to bargain more effectively for better returns.

Image result for China's aid to Cambodia

This is not to say that China is the saviour of the developing world. Chinese aid brings potential negative implications, but it is important for recipient governments and their constituents to recognise the evidence-based dangers rather than popular arguments with minimal empirics.

While pundits often misunderstand aspects of China’s economic engagements, academics and researchers have long recognised and debated three main dangers of China’s aid and investment.

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China has asked for political returns in exchange for debt forgiveness. Apart from territorial expansion, China has been interested in acquiring ports located in the participant states of the Belt and Road Initiative, including in Sri Lanka, Djibouti and Malaysia. China’s territorial interests and port acquisitions have and will continue to elicit responses from competing states.

Another danger of Chinese investments and deals lies in the multiple actors involved in the process. China is not a monolithic actor, but comprises multiple state departments, state-owned enterprises, private corporations and citizens. While Chinese foreign direct investment has funded key strategic infrastructure, it has also spurred de-industrialisation and environmental degradation. Chinese aid and investors can be good or bad depending on the type of Chinese actor and the recipient governments’ response.

Finally, Xi’s China presents host states with a greater risk of falling into a debt trap. In previous cases when developing countries could no longer repay loans, China has allowed debt forgiveness and loan restructuring or has asked for specific and negotiable political or economic returns. Ironically, this is distinct from the policies of the World Bank and Western countries that put much of the developing world in a vicious debt trap in the 1980s. But with China’s economic slowdown, changes of leadership and geopolitical ambitions, China may not be as forgiving in the future.

Alvin Camba is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University. He also writes at the Alitaptap Collective.

 

The Robert Kuok Memiors: Devils’ to Friends


November 27, 2017

Devils’ to Friends – how China’s communists won over Malaysian PM Tunku; Hussein Onn clung to race-based politics

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/opinion/article/2121058/devils-friends-how-chinas-communists-won-over-malaysian-pm-tunku

Former Malaysian Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. File photo

COMMUNIST DEVILS? PLEASE, PRIME MINISTER

Malaysia has had six Prime Ministers since independence. I have known all six. The first, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had tremendous rhythm. He was a well-educated man, having graduated with a law degree from Cambridge. If you talk of brains, Tunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. His mother was Thai, and he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not. Tunku was less mindful about administrative affairs. But he had a good number two in Tun Razak, who was extremely industrious, and Tunku left most of the paperwork to Razak.

Tunku was like a strategist who saw the big picture. He knew where to move his troops, but actually going to battle and plotting the detailed campaign – that was not Tunku. He’d say, “Razak, you take over. You handle it now.” In that sense, they worked very well together. In my meetings with Tunku, he demonstrated some blind spots. He had a bee in his bonnet about communism. One day, when we had become quite close, he said to me, “Communists! In Islam, we regard them as devils! And Communist China, you cannot deal with them, otherwise you are dealing with the devil!” And he went on and on about communists, communism and Communist China. I responded, “Tunku, China only became communist because of the immense suffering of the people as a result of oppression and invasion. I think it’s a passing phase.” He interjected, “Oh, don’t you believe it! The Chinese are consorting with the devil. Their people are finished! You don’t know how lucky you Chinese are to be in Malaysia.” I replied softly, “Tunku, as Prime Minister of Malaysia, you should make friends with them.”

Tunku Abdul Rahman had a bee in his bonnet about communism.

 

Years later, when Tunku was out of office, he was invited to China. Zhao Ziyang, then Premier, entertained him in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Tunku travelled with a delegation of 15 Chinese businessmen who were good friends of his. On his way to China, Tunku stopped in Hong Kong and I gave them dinner. Then on his way out of China, he stopped in Hong Kong and we dined again. I asked him for his impressions. All of his old prejudices had vanished! He didn’t even want to refer to them. He just said the trip had been an eye-opener. “They are decent people, like you and me,” he said. “We could talk about anything.” From then onward, you never heard Tunku claim that the Chinese Communists were the devils incarnate.

Tun Razak. File photo

FRIENDS, NOT CRONIES

One thing I will say for Tunku: he had friends. His friends sometimes helped him, or they sent him a case of champagne or slabs of specially imported steak. He loved to grill steaks on his lawn and open champagne, wine or spirits. His favourite cognac was Hennessy VSOP. Tunku would also do favours for his friends, but he never adopted cronies.

When Tun Tan Siew Sin was Finance Minister, Tunku sent him a letter about a Penang businessman who was one of Tunku’s poker-playing buddies. It seems the man had run into tax trouble and was being investigated by the tax department, and he had turned to Tunku for help. In his letter, Tunku wrote, “You know so-and-so is my friend. I am not asking any favour of you, Siew Sin, but I am sure you can see your way to forgiving him,” or something to that effect.

Tunku would do favours for his friends, but he never adopted cronies

Siew Sin was apoplectic. He stalked into Tun Dr Ismail’s office upstairs and threw the letter down. “See what our Prime Minister is doing to me!” Tun Dr Ismail read the letter and laughed. “Siew Sin,” he said, “there is a comic side to life”. Ismail took the letter, crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the waste-paper basket. He then said, “Siew Sin, Tunku has done his duty by his friend. Now, by ignoring Tunku, you will continue to do your duty properly.” That was as far as Tunku would go to help a friend. Cronyism is different. Cronies are lapdogs who polish a leader’s ego. In return, the leader hands out national favours to them. A nation’s assets, projects and businesses should never be for anyone to hand out, neither for a king nor a prime minister. A true leader is the chief trustee of a nation. If there is a lack of an established system to guide him, his fiduciary sense should set him on the proper course.

A leader who practices cronyism justifies his actions by saying he wants to bring up the nation quickly in his lifetime, so the end justifies the means. He abandons all the General Orders – the civil-service work manual that lays down tendering rules for state projects. Instead, he simply hands the projects to a Chinese or to a Malay crony. The arms of government-owned banks are twisted until they lend to the projects. Some of these cronies may even be fronting for crooked officials.

Tunku was unnerved by the riots of May 13. After the riots he was a different man. Razak managed to convince him and the cabinet to form the National Operations Council, a dictatorial organ of government, and Razak was appointed its director. Parliament went into deep freeze. By the time the NOC was disbanded, Razak had been installed as Prime Minister. Tunku felt bewildered. He had helped the country gain independence and had ruled as wisely as he could, yet the Malays turned against him for selling out to the Chinese. In fairness to Tunku, he had done nothing of the sort. He was a very fair man who loved the nation and its people. But he knew that, if you favour one group, you only spoil them. When the British ruled Malaya, they extended certain advantages to the Malays.

Malay Sultans along with then Malayan High Commissioner Donald MacGillivray sign an agreement creating an independent Malaysia on August 5, 1957 in the official residence of the British high commissioner of Malaya. File photo

When the Malays took power following independence on 31 August 1957, more incentives were given to them. But there was certainly no showering of favours. All of that came later, after 1969. The riots of May 13, 1969, were a great shock to the system, but not a surprise. Extremist Malays attributed the poverty of many Malays to the plundering Chinese and Indians. Leaders like Tunku Abdul Rahman, who could see both sides, were no longer able to hold back the hotheads. The more thoughtful leaders were shunted aside and the extremists hijacked power. They chanted the same slogans as the hotheads – the Malays are underprivileged; the Malays are bullied – while themselves seeking to become super-rich. When these Malays became rich, not many of them did anything for the poor Malays; the Chinese and Indians who became rich created jobs, many of them filled by Malays.

ON PRO-MALAY POLITICS

I vividly recall an incident that occurred within a few months after the May 1969 riots. I was waiting to see Tun Razak when a senior Malay civil servant whom I knew very well came along the corridor of Parliament House and buttonholed me. He asked, “What are you doing here, Robert?” I replied, “Oh, I’m seeing Tun.” He snarled, “Don’t be greedy! Leave something for us poor Malays! Don’t hog it all!” I could see that, after May 1969, the business playing field was changing. Business was no longer clean and open. Previously, the government announced open tenders to the Malaysian public and to the world. If we qualified, we would submit a tender. If we won the contract, we would work hard at it, and either fail or succeed. I think eight or nine times out of ten we succeeded.

Don’t be greedy Robert. Leave something for us poor Malays! A senior civil servant friend

But things were changing, veering more and more towards cronyism and favouritism. Hints of change were there even before the riots. I was hell-bent on helping to develop the nation: that’s why I went into shipping, into steel – anything they asked of me. Even among the Malays there were those who admitted their weaknesses and argued for harnessing the strength of the Chinese. Mind you, that may have created more problems. If they had harnessed the strength of the Chinese, the Chinese would ultimately have owned 90 or 95 per cent of the nation’s wealth. This might have been good for the Malaysian economy, but bad for the nation.

Overall, the Malay leaders have behaved reasonably in running the country. At times, they gave the Malays an advantage. Then, when they see that they have overdone it, they try to redress the problem. Their hearts are in the right place, but they just cannot see their way out of their problems. Since May 13, 1969, the Malay leadership has had one simple philosophy: the Malays need handicapping. Now, what amount of handicapping?

The 1969 riots were a pivotal moment in Malaysian history. File photo

The Government laid down a simple structure, but the structure is full of loopholes. Imagine that a hard-working, non-Malay Malaysian establishes XYZ Corporation. The Ministry of Trade and Industry rules that 30 per cent of the company’s shares must be offered to Malays. The owner says, “Well, I have been operating for six years. My par value of 1 ringgit per share is today worth 8 ringgit.” Then the Ministry says, “Can you issue it at 2 ringgit or 2.50 ringgit to the Malays?” After a bit of haggling, the non-Malay gives way. So shares are issued to the Malays, who now own 30 per cent. But every day after that, the Malays sell off their shares for profit. A number of years pass and then one day the Malay community holds a Bumiputra Congress. They go and check on all the companies. Oh, this XYZ Corporation, the Malay shareholding ratio is now down to seven per cent. That won’t do. So the Malays argue that they’ve got to redo the shareholding again. Fortunately, the ministry usually acts as a fair umpire and throws out such unscrupulous claims.

The Malays’ zeal to bridge economic gap with the Chinese bred ugly racism

It’s one thing if you change the rules once to achieve an objective agreed to by all for the sake of peace and order in the nation. But if you do it a second time, it’s robbery. Why is it not robbery just because the government commits it? And when people raise objections, it is called fomenting racial strife, punishable by three years in jail. As a Chinese who was born and grew up in Malaysia and went to school with the Malays, I was saddened to see the Malays being misled in this way. I felt that, in their haste to bridge the economic gap between the Chinese and the Malays, harmful short cuts were being taken. One of the side effects of their zeal to bridge the economic gap was that racism became increasingly ugly. I saw very clearly that the path being pursued by the new leaders after 1969 was dangerous. But hardly anyone was willing to listen to me. In most of Asia, where the societies are still quite hierarchical, very few people like to gainsay the man in charge. As in The Emperor’s New Clothes, if a ruler says, “Look at my clothes; aren’t they beautiful?” when he is in fact naked, everybody will answer, “Yes, yes sir, you are wearing the most beautiful clothes.”

THE EAR OF THE PRIME MINISTER

I made one – and only one – strong attempt to influence the course of history of Malaysia. This took place in September 1975 during the Muslim fasting month. Tun Razak, the second Prime Minister of Malaysia, was gravely ill with terminal leukaemia, for which he was receiving treatment in a London hospital. My dear friend Hussein Onn, son of Dato Onn bin Jafar, was Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and acting Prime Minister in Tun Razak’s absence. He was soon to become Malaysia’s third Prime Minister. I went to Kuala Lumpur and sent word that I wanted to have a heart-to-heart talk. On the phone Hussein said, “Why don’t you come in during lunch time. It is the fasting month. Come to my office at about half past one. There will be no one around and we can chat to our heart’s content.”

Hussein and I go back to 1932 when we were in the same class in school in Johor Bahru. Shortly afterwards, his father fell out with the then-Sultan of Johor and the family moved to the Siglap area of Singapore.

 

Malaysia’s third Prime Minister Hussein Onn. File photo

My father would often spend weekends with Dato Onn. Two or three years later, Hussein returned to Johor Bahru and we were classmates again at English College from 1935 to 1939. Hussein’s father, Dato Onn, did not have a tertiary education. But he read widely and was very well informed. He was a natural born politician, a gifted orator in Malay and in English. He was a very shrewd man with a tremendous air of fine breeding even though he was not from Malaysian royalty. When you were in his presence, you knew you were in the presence of someone great. Dato Onn would go on to found UMNO, the ruling party of Malaysia, and become one of the founders of the independent nation of Malaysia. He set a tone of racial harmony for the nation – and he practised it. Our families were close.

So, I went to call on his son, my old friend Hussein Onn in 1975. His office was in a magnificent old colonial building, part of the Selangor Secretariat Building. In front of it was the Kuala Lumpur padang, where, in the colonial days, the British used to play the gentlemen’s games of cricket and rugby. I climbed up a winding staircase and his aide showed me straight to his room. There was hardly another soul in that huge office complex. After greeting one another, I warmed up to my subject with Hussein very quickly. I said, “Hussein, I have come to discuss two things with you. One is Tun Razak’s health. The other is the future of our nation.” I said, “You know, Razak has been looking very poorly lately. We all know he has gone to London for treatment.” Hussein interrupted: “Tun doesn’t like anybody discussing his health. Do you mind if we pass on to the next subject?” I said, “Of course not.” I continued, “I had to raise the first subject because that leads to the next subject. Assuming Razak doesn’t have long to live – please don’t mind, but I have to say that – you are clearly going to become the new Prime Minister in a matter of months or weeks.”

“I’m listening,” he said. “Hussein, we go back a long way. Our fathers were the best of friends; our families have been the best of friends. In our young days, you and I always felt a strong passion for our country, which we both still feel. Whatever has happened these past years, let’s not go backwards and ask what has gone wrong and what has not been done right. Let’s look at the future. If there was damage done, we can repair it.”

Hussein listened patiently. I pressed on, “First, let me ask you a few questions, Hussein. What, in your mind, is the number of people required to run a society, a community, a nation with the land mass of Malaysia?” This was 1975, when the population was about 12.5 million. He didn’t reply. For the sake of time, I answered my own question. “Hussein, if I say 3,000, if I say 6,000, if I say 10,000, 20,000, whatever the figure, I don’t think it really matters. We are not talking in terms of hundreds of thousands or millions. To run a society or a nation requires, relatively speaking, a handful of people. So let us say six or seven or eight thousand, Hussein. And of course this covers two sectors. The public sector: government, civil service, governmental organisations, quasi-governmental bodies, executive arms, police, customs and military. The private sector: the economic engines; the engines of development, plantations, mines, industry.

Robert Kuok. File photo

“The leaders of these two sectors are the people I am referring to, Hussein. If we are talking of a few thousand, does it matter to the masses whether it becomes a case of racially proportionate representation, where we must have for every ten such leaders five or six Malays, three Chinese, and one or two Indians?” I continued, “Must it be so? My reasoning mind tells me that it is not important. What is important is the objective of building up a very strong, very modern nation. And for that we need talented leaders, great leadership from these thousands of people. If you share my view that racial representation is unimportant and unnecessary to the nation, then let’s look at defining the qualifications for those leaders.

“Number one, for every man or woman, the first qualification is integrity. The person must be so clean, upright and honest that there must never be a whiff of corruption or scandal. People do stray, and, when that happens, they must be eliminated, but on the day of selection they must be people of the highest integrity. Second, there must be ability; and with it comes capability. He or she must be a very able and capable person. The third criterion is that they must be hard-working men or women, people who are willing to work long hours every day, week after week, month after month, year after year. That is the only way you can build up a nation.”

I went on, “I can’t think of any other important qualifications. So your job as prime minister, Hussein – I am now assuming you will become the Prime Minister – your job will then be from time to time to remove the square pegs from the round holes, and to look for square holes for square pegs and round holes for round pegs. Even candidates who fulfil those three qualifications can be slotted into the wrong jobs. So you’ve got to pull them out and re-slot them until the nation is humming beautifully.”

The best brains come in all shades and colours, all religions, all faiths. “We do not have all the expertise required to build up the nation,” I added. “But with hard work and a goal of developing the nation, we can afford to employ the best people in the world. The best brains will come, in all shades and colours, all religions, all faiths. They may be the whitest of the white, the brownest of the brown or the blackest of the black. I am sure it doesn’t matter. But Hussein, the foreigners must never settle in the driving seats. The days of colonialism are over. They were in the driving seats and they drove our country helter-skelter. We Malaysians must remain in the driving seats and the foreign experts will sit next to us. If they say, ‘Sir, Madame, I think we should turn right at the next turning,’ it’s up to us to heed their advice, or to do something else. We are running the show, but we need expertise.
You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein … your eldest son will grow up very spoiled

“You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein. The first-born is Malay, the second-born is Chinese, the third-born is Indian. What we have been witnessing is that the first-born is more favoured than the second or third. Hussein, if you do that in a family, your eldest son will grow up very spoiled. As soon as he attains manhood, he will be in the nightclubs every night because Papa is doting on him. The second and third sons, feeling the discrimination, will grow up hard as nails. Year by year, they will become harder and harder, like steel, so that in the end they are going to succeed even more and the eldest will fail even more.”

I implored him, “Please, Hussein, use the best brains, the people with their hearts in the right place, Malaysians of total integrity and strong ability, hard-working and persevering people. Use them regardless of race, colour or creed. The other way, Hussein, the way your people are going – excessive handicapping of bumiputras, showering love on your first son – your first born is going to grow up with an attitude of entitlement.” I concluded, “That is my simple formula for the future of our country. Hussein, can you please adopt it and try?” Hussein had listened very intently to me, hardly interrupting. He may have coughed once or twice. I remember we were seated deep in a quiet room, two metres apart, so my voice came across well. He heard every word, sound and nuance. He sat quietly for a few minutes. Then he spoke, “No, Robert. I cannot do it. The Malays are now in a state of mind such that they will not accept it.”

He clearly spelt out to me that, even with his very broad-minded views, it was going to be Malay rule. He was saying that he could not sell my formula to his people. The meeting ended on a very cordial note and I left him. I felt disappointed, but there was nothing more that I could do. Hussein was an honest man of very high integrity. Before going to see him, I had weighed his strength of character, his shrewdness and skill. We had been in the same class, sharing the same teachers. I knew Hussein was going to be the Malaysian Prime Minister whom I was closest to in my lifetime. I think Hussein understood my message, but he knew that the process had gone too far. I had seen a picture developing all along of a train moving in the wrong direction. During Hussein’s administration, he was only partially successful in stemming the tide. The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. Hussein wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.

The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. The capitalist world is a very hostile world. When I was building up the Kuok Group, I felt as if I was almost growing scales, talons and sharp fangs. I felt I was capable of taking on any adversary. Capitalism is a ruthless animal. For every successful businessman, there are at least 10,000 bleached skeletons of those who have failed. It’s a very sad commentary on capitalism, but that is capitalism and real capitalism, not crony capitalism. Yet, I’ve always believed that the rules of capitalism, if properly observed, are the way forward in life. I know that, having been successful, I will be accused of having an ‘alright Jack’ mentality. But I am just stating facts: capitalism is a wonderful creature – just don’t abuse its principles and unwritten laws.

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on December 1 and in Indonesia on January 1, 2018

The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption


November 25, 2017

The Next Battle in China’s War on Corruption

by Andrew Sheng* and Xiao Geng

http://www.project-syndicate.org

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Chinese President Xi Jinping knows well the threat that corruption poses to the authority of the Communist Party of China and the state it controls. But moving beyond Xi’s anti-corruption purge to build robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to enduring opportunities for bureaucratic capture.

HONG KONG – Corruption is a cancer to which no society is immune. It raised the death toll of Iran’s recent earthquake, owing to substandard housing construction ten years ago. It has afflicted the United States Navy, which is now investigating more than 60 admirals and hundreds more officers for fraud and bribery. It has brought down countless governments, from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s administration last year to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government of the Republic of China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, a keen student of history, is well aware of corruption’s destructive potential – and has confronted the phenomenon head-on. But, as China’s economy continues to modernize, much work remains to be done.

Prior to the economic reforms of the 1980s, corruption in China was relatively petty, as the market’s limited size constrained opportunities for administrative abuse. But, as the market deepened, inadequate legislation and weak institutional safeguards facilitated increasingly brazen corruption and administrative abuses. Meanwhile, as income and education levels rose, citizens became less tolerant of such abuses, increasingly demanding transparent and lawful delivery of basic public goods, from infrastructure to environmental protection, as well as a fair distribution of income and opportunities.

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Recognizing the potential of corruption to undermine the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China and the authority of the Chinese state, Xi has embarked on an anti-graft campaign that is unprecedented in scale, scope, and depth. Over the last five years, that campaign has resulted in the dismissal, sanction, or other punishment of no less than 440 provincial officials, 8,900 at the municipal level, 63,000 at the county level, and 278,000 at the village level. Some 58,000 individuals have been referred for further criminal investigation. All in all, 1.7% of the CPC’s 89 million members – including both “tigers” (Party leaders) and “flies” (petty officials) – have been affected.

But the initiative is far from over. At the CPC’s 19th National Congress last month, the Party endorsed the creation of a National Supervision Commission to consolidate and modernize the anti-graft agency, so that it will expand beyond Party members to cover all officials exercising public power at all levels. But building robust and lasting anti-graft institutions will not be easy, owing to the enduring ability of corrupt officials to capture such institutions.

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Consider the kind of corruption in advanced economies exposed by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, in which vested interests secure the enactment of laws and regulations that entrench their own advantages. In the US, the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision of 2010 actively encourages such outcomes, by allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums anonymously to help secure the election or defeat of individual candidates. As a result of the decision, outside spending in the 2016 election cycle reached nearly $1.4 billion in 2016, compared less than $100 million in the 2006 cycle.

So corruption is not just a failure of the state; it is also closely linked to the failure of market, legal, and ideological systems. If the concentrated economic and social power that financial markets and network economies tend to create can be used to capture and control political power, an effective system of checks and balances becomes virtually impossible.

The London School of Economics anthropologist David Graeber frames the problem in terms of how political actors approach bureaucracy. As Graeber points out, those on the political right condemn excessive bureaucracy. Yet their solution – to reduce the role of the state and allow market forces to take over – is actually what fuels cumbersome bureaucratic expansion.

Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang, pictured on trial in June 2015, is one of the highest profile victims of the crackdown on corruption.

Former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang, pictured on trial in June 2015, is one of the highest profile victims of the crackdown on corruption

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/2114437/chinas-corrupt-tigers-tipped-be-rarer-sight-plenty

Graeber sums up this argument in what he calls an “iron law of liberalism”: “any market reform, any government initiative intended to reduce red tape and promote market forces, will have the ultimate effect of increasing the total number of regulations, the total amount of paperwork, and the total number of bureaucrats the government employs.” In other words, markets can work efficiently only with the guidance of a competent, honest, and fair state, with effective protections against abuses and graft from both the market actors who offer bribes and the officials who accept them.

Maintaining accountability and preventing vested interests from capturing institutions – a process that involves entrenching morality within vulnerable bureaucracies – will be no easy feat. It may well be the toughest challenge Xi faces in realizing what he calls the “China Dream.” But, for now, China’s anti-corruption agenda seems to be on the right track.-Sheng and Geng

What does this mean for China? For starters, the country needs to develop modern mechanisms for resolving civil disputes arising from unclear property rights or rules for market transactions. Here, China can take inspiration from the Western common law system, in which cases are decided on the basis of existing precedents, or from the use of administrative courts to resolve disputes between individuals and the bureaucracy. Hong Kong’ Independent Commission Against Corruption also provides a useful model.

At the same time, China must reduce the incentive for graft, by raising the pay of public servants at all levels. As it stands, officials’ salaries are usually set with reference to the overall level of national income. But the resulting pay is not high enough to mitigate the temptation officials face to use their enormous power to profit in key sectors, such as energy, finance, and real estate.

Similarly, in advanced economies, officials not only receive much higher pay; they are also often subject to limitations on what they can do, and when, after they leave office. In China, by contrast, officials can exchange favors while in office for higher-paying jobs or benefits after retirement.

Maintaining accountability and preventing vested interests from capturing institutions – a process that involves entrenching morality within vulnerable bureaucracies – will be no easy feat. It may well be the toughest challenge Xi faces in realizing what he calls the “China Dream.” But, for now, China’s anti-corruption agenda seems to be on the right track.

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable Finance, is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission, and is currently an adjunct professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His latest book is From Asian to Global Financial Crisis.

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018


November 21, 2017

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018

by Astrid Norén-Nilsson, Lund University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

The looming dissolution of the CNRP follows the September arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the flight from the country of leading CNRP parliament members and a clampdown on the press.

Promising the de facto return to one-party rule, the recent political crackdown is indisputably the most serious assault on Cambodian democracy since the 1993 reintroduction of multi-party elections.

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The CPP has delivered Peace, Stability and Development for Cambodians since 1998.

The sheer nerve of the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in invalidating nearly 3 million votes came as a surprise. Until now, the move was considered so unlikely that each successive CPP step to weaken the opposition has been interpreted as an attempt to gain a bargaining chip rather than an overture to foreclose electoral competition outright.

But it is now hard to believe anything but that the CPP is delivering its final blow to the opposition according to a long-term strategy that spans its entire mandate.

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Cambodia–The Kingdom of Wonder

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia

Following the post-election protests of 2013–14, which were violently broken up, the CPP neutralised the CNRP through a one year ‘culture of dialogue’ that reined in CNRP’s tough rhetoric. After that, consensual politics were replaced by attacks on a weakened opposition. While recent local elections offered a period of relative calm — presumably because the CPP aimed to test its electoral strength — the CPP is now putting in motion the machinery of legal measures that they have carefully introduced through legislative changes over the past few months.

Political change of some sort in Cambodia has an aura of inevitability since the 2013 elections. This is an aura that the CNRP has fought hard to project, and which the CPP has now unravelled. The CPP is gambling on the presumption that the 44 per cent of voters whose votes were invalidated will not take political action. This is important given that the CNRP has a strong support base among the almost two-thirds of the population who are below the age of 30. Lacking memories of the Khmer Rouge regime, which the precursor to the CPP toppled, Cambodian youth are both less grateful to the CPP and less fearful than their elders. The CPP is putting this emerging fearlessness to the test, and the outcome is unpredictable. The lack of a strong domestic reaction to the undemocratic measures put in place so far opens up a new range of until now unimaginable political possibilities for the emboldened CPP.

 

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For the last two decades Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Asia with an average annual real GDP growth rate in excess of 7.0  per cent.

 

With eight months to go until national elections, the previously unthinkable scenario that the CPP will be the only main party to contest the 2018 elections now looms. The crackdown does leave a window open for a resolution allowing the weakened opposition to contest the 2018 elections, perhaps under a different name and with a partly different leadership. The CPP could court elements of the CNRP leadership to head a salvaged party, similar to how Ung Huot replaced Ranariddh as first Cambodian Prime Minister in 1997. If deemed unthreatening, a defanged opposition could be allowed to contest the elections to give an outlet for oppositional energies and a boost to the CPP’s electoral legitimacy.

Its imminent outlawing marks the logical endpoint of the CNRP’s position to obey the rule-of-law designed by the CPP. To continue to exist, the CNRP would have to renege on its twin constraints: bending to the legal framework defined by the CPP and avoiding the possibility of violent confrontation at all costs.

To have a real shot at regime change through elections rather than merely nominal inclusion in some form on electoral rolls, the CNRP would have to find its way back to connect with the electorate in the streets. Capitalising on the party’s dissolution to create popular momentum may be a hard but not impossible feat. The opposition managed to quietly build support in a repressive climate ahead of the 2013 election, and then in that year’s electoral campaign galvanised oppositional energies through mass gatherings. Last year, two and a half years after mass demonstrations came to an end, an estimated 2 million people turned up for the funeral procession of the assassinated government critic Kem Ley.

The CNRP has so far placed its hopes in growing international pressure. But this hope may be in vain, with Hun Sen trying to kill two birds with one stone: the CNRP are accused of conspiring with Western governments and media outlets, which makes Western criticism of the 2018 election wholly irrelevant. From the Cambodian government’s perspective, the transition to a stance backed by China to turn away from the West may now be complete. Whether severe economic and diplomatic consequences could reverse the CPP’s course of action will now be put to the test.

The logic of the situation will compel the CPP to maintain its strong-arm tactics up until the election despite increasing popular alienation. There is no authoritarian nostalgia in Cambodia like that in the Philippines or Thailand. This makes the ongoing crackdown more out of tune with public sentiment and potentially more volatile.

Astrid Norén-Nilsson is an Associate Senior Lecturer at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University and author of Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy.

 

Revisiting “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”–One Year of Trumpism


November 11, 2017

Revisiting “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”

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A year ago, panicked friends were writing to ask me what to do now that the United States had elected Donald Trump. Like I’d know: I had spent years writing and organizing in opposition to Vladimir Putin, only to have to leave Russia. But a decade and a half in Putin’s Russia taught me something about living in an autocracy. I am familiar with the ways in which it numbs the mind and drains the spirit. I wrote a piece called “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” which was published by The New York Review of Books and read by millions of people. Today seems a good day to look at how well my proposed rules have held up.

Rule No. 1: Believe the autocrat. I argued against the expectation that Trump would change in the months following the election, becoming somehow “Presidential” and abandoning his more extreme positions. This belief, it seemed to me, stemmed from the inability to absorb the fact of a Trump Presidency, and not from any historical precedents of similar transformations. The best predictors of autocrats’ and aspiring autocrats’ behavior are their own public statements, because these statements brought them to power in the first place.

Trump had repeatedly made several promises that many people hoped or expected he would drop post-election: to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to repeal Obamacare, to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and, of course, to “lock her up!” I wrote, “If Trump does not go after Hillary Clinton on his first day in office, if he instead focuses, as his acceptance speech indicated he might, on the unifying project of investing in infrastructure (which, not coincidentally, would provide an instant opportunity to reward his cronies and himself), it will be foolish to breathe a sigh of relief. Trump has made his plans clear, and he has made a compact with his voters to carry them out. These plans include not only dismantling legislation such as Obamacare but also doing away with judicial restraint—and, yes, punishing opponents.”

It would be an exaggeration to say that Trump has focussed on infrastructure. He has not let go of the Obamacare repeal or the wall, he has pushed various versions of a travel ban to keep Muslims from entering this country, and “Crooked Hillary” is a recurrent target of his Twitter storms. What makes the attacks on Clinton particularly disturbing is that, in order to go after his political opponent, Trump would have to turn the judiciary into an instrument of the executive branch. His renewed emphasis on “locking her up” has coincided with his tantrums about the Justice Department, which, he has discovered, does not report to him.

A year ago, much of our attention was focussed on the vacancy on the Supreme Court. I feared that Trump would appoint “someone who will wreak havoc with the very culture of the high court.” This did not happen: his pick, Neil Gorsuch, could have been chosen by a conventional Republican President. But Trump has nominated more than fifty judges to federal courts—this seems to be an extraordinary pocket of efficiency in his Administration—and many of these nominees personify an attack on the judicial system. The judges are very young, very conservative, and very much outside the existing culture of the judiciary. The American Bar Association has characterized four of the candidates as unqualified (in two cases by a unanimous vote, and in two more by the vote of a majority of the panel). In the case of Leonard Steven Grasz, nominated for an appeals court, the A.B.A.’s standing committee concluded that the candidate lacked respect for precedent and judicial procedure.

A year ago, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie were believed to be potential candidates to head the Justice Department. Imagine, I wrote, one of them going after Hillary Clinton, “quite aside from their approach to issues such as the Geneva Conventions, the use of police powers, criminal justice reforms, and other urgent concerns.” That sounds almost quaint now. Trump chose Jeff Sessions, who has spent the last ten months undoing federal civil-rights protections. His Justice Department stepped back from pending cases on the Texas voter-I.D. laws and on the North Carolina anti-trans bathroom bill; Sessions has moved to reduce the Justice Department’s oversight of policing; and he has issued homophobic and transphobic “religious freedom” guidelines. The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, David Cole, has called Sessions “more dangerous than Trump.”

Rule No. 2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Most catastrophes unfold over time. Following the shock of a disastrous election—or a Presidential tweet—the sun rises again in the morning, and life appears to proceed as before. One adjusts, until the next shocking event.

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Trump has moved faster, assaulting our senses in more ways and more often than I (and, I think, most other people) expected. The sun still rises every morning, but an early-morning barrage of Trump’s tweets might obscure it. The word “Presidential” has gradually faded from the conversation: no one expects the President to live up to the standards of speech and behavior that his office would seem to demand. Instead, we have settled into constant low-level dread: a state in which a person can function, but can hardly be creative or look into the future. A Russian writer who blogs under the name Alexander Ivanov-Petrov, writing of a different time and place, has called this state of living “provincial time.” It is a time in which people continue to think and create, but “in some fundamental way lack agency or the ability to be fully aware of themselves.”

This state renders us incapable, too, of absorbing the bigger threats, ones that strain the imagination. For months, we have been living with the very real threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the near-inevitability of irreversible and unmitigated climate change, made that much more catastrophic by the actions of the Trump Administration. In this context, Trump’s daily dreadful tweets, and our ability to feel something in response, pass for small signs of normality.

Rule No. 3: Institutions will not save you. During the election campaign, one often heard the argument that institutions of American democracy are strong enough to withstand attack by Trump. A year ago, I pointed out that many of these institutions are not enshrined in law—rather, they exist as norms—and even those that are enshrined in law depend for their continued survival on the good faith of all actors. There is no law, for example, guaranteeing daily press briefings at the White House and media access to these briefings. I predicted that the investigative press would be weakened and that reality would grow murkier.

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The institution of press access indeed came under attack immediately; the institution of the blatantly lying Presidential press secretary came into existence as well. Media access to the State Department has virtually vanished, but then so has the State Department itself.

At the same time, the investigative press has been reinvigorated. New collaborative models of reporting have come into being, as exemplified by the investigation into the Trump family’s real-estate malfeasance in New York City. Public hunger for and financial support of news reporting has skyrocketed, as evidenced by growing subscription numbers (a.k.a. the “Trump bump”). The loss of media access to the White House has been counterbalanced by leaks the White House continues to spring.

Some institutions have indeed saved us, some of the time. The courts have stepped in to stop Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban and part of his ban on transgender people in the Military. But Trump is waging a constant attack on the judiciary, both on Twitter and in the Senate, which is holding one judicial confirmation hearing after another—most of them obscured by louder and faster news.

But perhaps the scariest institutional development is one I didn’t foresee: the appearance of the generals in the White House. When General H. R. McMaster replaced the unhinged Mike Flynn as national-security adviser, and when General John Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as chief of staff, widespread consensus had it that grownups had entered the room, and this was a good thing. Both generals have since betrayed our hopes by lying for the President and, in Kelly’s case, by adopting the rhetorical logic of a military coup. In fairness, though, alarms should have gone off earlier, when so many people seemed eager to see generals exercise control over an elected President.

Rule No. 4: Be outraged. If you follow the first three rules, you ought to be outraged. But I know from experience how hard it is to be the hysteric in the room.

A year on, progress is mixed. Activist groups like New York City’s Rise and Resist, founded by alumni of the AIDS-activist organization ACT UP, stage regular, vivid, ACT UP–style actions. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the election, they vowed to begin weekly demonstrations demanding impeachment. The A.C.L.U. continues to file lawsuits; late-night comedians continue to amplify the painful absurdity of Trumpism. On the other hand, Washington has absorbed Trump, and so has the Republican Party. (It’s the other party whose national organization is imploding these days.) No single event or revelation has produced enough outrage to cause Trump to be removed from office, nor has one seemed to hurt his chances for reëlection. Not Charlottesville. Not the revelation of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton. Not the regular revelations of past acts of corruption and of current lies. Not the continued spectacle of a government of haters and incompetents. The outrage dissipates, and Trumpism persists.

Rule No. 5: Don’t make compromises. I predicted that Republican Never Trumpers would fold and offer their loyalty to the new President. I also feared that a great many federal employees would face an impossible choice between staying in their jobs under a reprehensible Administration and leaving, forfeiting the chance to do good within a system that had started rotting from the top. Trump’s attacks on the institutions of government have been so fast and brutal, however, that many people made the choice without torment: they left. (Remember the President’s arts and humanities committee? Or the business advisory councils?) Still, a few people remain in what’s left of the State Department; some people have joined the Administration with the explicit goal of using their expertise to help minimize damage. But to watch General McMaster struggling to mislead journalists on Trump’s behalf is to see the built-in problem with the project of minimizing damage: one inevitably becomes an accomplice.

Still, this is the most problematic of my rules, because it calls forth the strongest counter-argument. Democracy is based on compromise. A commitment to purity can ultimately serve only to widen the divide between those who elected Trump and those who could not imagine his Presidency. A commitment to purity, in fact, risks becoming a commitment to refusing to imagine his Presidency, even a year after the election. A commitment to purity is antithetical to political engagement. Yet political engagement risks or even demands a measure of normalization.

The tension is irresolvable. This rule should be amended to read: Pay attention to the ways in which the Trump Presidency breaks the moral compass.

Rule No. 6: Remember the future. There will come a time after Trump. What will we bring to it? I wrote that the failure to imagine the future—to offer a vision in opposition to Trump’s appeal to an imaginary past—had cost the Democrats the election. A year later, the national Democratic Party does not seem closer to proposing a vision (or a candidate); instead, the last week has seen the Party plunged into a vicious re-litigation of the 2016 primaries.

We will enter the post-Trump future with decimated federal agencies and a frayed judiciary stacked with Trump appointees. Much of the opposition, however, has been concerned less with preserving or revitalizing institutions than with devising novel means of removing Trump from office. Last year, the “Hamilton electors” advocated changing the rules of elections midstream, which would have set a decidedly undemocratic precedent. An organization of mental-health professionals, and a best-selling book written by psychiatrists, propose removing Trump on the basis of his poor mental health, by creating a body of experts who can override the choice made by voters. Finally, half the country seems to be committed to the fantasy that revelations of a collusion with Russia will magically cause Trump to disappear.

And yet, a year after Trump’s election, the states of Virginia and New Jersey rejected Trumpian gubernatorial candidates, electing Democrats. The state of Maine voted to expand Medicaid. Virginia voters also elected a transgender woman to the state legislature, unseating a twenty-six-year incumbent who had, among other things, proposed anti-trans bathroom-use legislation. Danica Roem, who is thirty-three, campaigned on school policy, traffic improvement, and transgender rights. These Democratic victories occurred in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; portraying the elections as referenda on Trump would be overstating the facts. Several victories, however, suggest that the energy of the resistance has fuelled sustained political work. To take us into the future, this energy has to transcend local and state-level races and “provincial time.” If we are lucky, that process begins today.