Malaysia: Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14


July 7, 2018

Malaysia:  Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

Image result for Dr. Meredith Weiss

On May 9, 2018, Malaysians threw the bums out, voting decisively against the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), the coalition of broadly right-wing and center parties that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957. The election poses the question: has Malaysia bucked a global anti-democratic trend?

The conventional wisdom is that a feisty, beleaguered opposition coalition made up of a somewhat motley mix of leftist catch-all, progressive Islamist, and communal parties bested the behemoth BN by force of ideals, pluck, and the charisma of a former “dictator,” as the new prime minister now delights in branding himself. The BN’s decrepitude, born of too many years of untrammeled authority and political inbreeding in a cronyistic, dynastic order, cleared the way for new leaders. All the while, rising costs of living, increasingly stark economic inequality, and spreading awareness that the state- and party-controlled mainstream media were not telling the whole story had left the mass of voters hungry for change.

The Malaysian narrative is one of voters reflecting critically on a well-lubricated patronage machine and rejecting it, at least in part, out of aspirations for democracy, justice, and good governance. But like any good story, this one has a more complex plot line than that, peppered with stratagems, reversals, and ironic turns. What too-pat narratives obscure is the wider context and what we might expect — and voters might seek — to change or maintain.

The Scene As It Stands

Image result for Mahathir Wins

At the helm now, thanks to a weird twist of fates and strategy, is one-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, one of the world’s longest-serving heads of government — and also now among the oldest, as he approaches his ninety-third birthday. Although he did voluntarily step down in 2003, after twenty-two years in office, Mahathir has continued to yank at the strings of state since then, and had become increasingly apoplectic at incumbent Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s running the party and government, per Mahathir’s reading, into the ground through rent-seeking verging on plunder.

To hear breathless popular accounts of the “Mahathir factor,” one might assume ethnic Malays — who, together with smaller indigenous groups, collectively termed Bumiputera, comprise slightly more than two-thirds of the population — to be blindly feudalistic, swiveling to heed the call of their once and future master. (Just under one-quarter of Malaysians are of Chinese ethnicity and about 7 percent, Indian.) Mahathir does have his devotees, but to some extent, this common narrative reflects media sensationalism more than reality. Frustration with rank corruption, inequality, and poor governance galvanized many or most opposition supporters, independently of the icon propounding those messages. Nevertheless, Mahathir’s savvy articulation of his coalition’s objectives and BN pathologies, as well as his charisma, helped to tip the scales.

Initially organized as the three-party Alliance, the BN structures itself largely along communal lines. Its core parties represent ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians, respectively. First among nominal equals — and increasingly dominant over the years — is the United Malays National Organisation, UMNO, Mahathir’s home since its founding in 1946 until he left and launched Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party, PPBM) in 2016.

Essentially ideology-free otherwise by this point, the BN claims support for having delivered development, with something for (almost) everyone. Opposition parties tend to cluster largely in an Islamist camp dominated by the Parti Islam seMalaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS), or else along class lines, from a Socialist Front defunct by the early 1970s; to the social-democratic Democratic Action Party (DAP), rump successor to the People’s Action Party after Singapore’s short-lived merger with Malaysia in the mid-1960s; to the small but embedded Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

To take on the BN required merging these camps. First-past-the-post voting rules, coupled with heavy-handed gerrymandering and constituency malapportionment, often make three-cornered fights difficult for the opposition; pre-election coalitions are a must. That imperative is at the heart of any assessment of how far Malaysian political alternatives have come and where they may be going: Malaysia’s sociopolitical landscape makes for quirky pairings.

Coalitions require glorification of the least common denominator. Starting in the late 1990s, that galvanizing, offensive-to-few message came to be “justice,” centered initially around sacked, then imprisoned former UMNO deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his purpose-built Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party). Now, in the wake of one of the world’s largest money-laundering and graft sagas, that of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign-wealth fund, the message centers around an obvious anti-corruption theme.

The coalition had maintained a non-communal premise since an initial foray as the Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999. Now it includes a Malay-communal party: Mahathir’s PPBM, made up mostly of his fellow exiles from UMNO. Having made incremental, inconsistent headway in cementing cooperation and securing seats since the late 1990s, the opposition coalition — reconstituted first as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), then as Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) — gained control of several states, and now the federal government.

In the last election, in 2013, Pakatan Rakyat won a slim majority of the popular vote but fell short of winning the federal government. This time, Pakatan Harapan won the government with just shy of a popular-vote majority, given divided support for the BN and the no-longer-in-Pakatan PAS, which remains independently potent in Malaysia’s northeast.

The BN is left in shambles, its remains eroding further by the week. Pakatan Harapan is up and running, but it is not entirely clear yet how far or how fast.

Pakatan Harapan will surely make positive, progressive changes to what has become an ossified, decreasingly legitimate, increasingly illiberal system. Already they have begun investigating ousted prime minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor — whose penchant for exorbitantly priced handbags rivals Imelda Marcos’s yen for shoes — and the 1MDB saga, the convoluted, seedy story of how Najib and various others misappropriated an estimated several billion dollars from a state investment fund launched in 2009.

More than that, the new government has spoken plausibly of plans, once parliament convenes in July, to revise or revoke controls on media, association, and speech; to release the political reins on schools and universities; to implement open tender and stronger oversight on government contracts; and more. Heads of statutory boards are starting to roll, and bloated or needless government agencies are coming under scrutiny.

Most cabinet appointments, finalized only in mid June, reflect real expertise rather than political concessions, as under the BN model. The coalition itself is far more equally balanced among its component parties than the BN ever has been — and that those parties do differ in meaningful ways, in their goals or membership, ensures a wider range of alternatives may reach the policy table.

Already the results have reset the stage for states’ rights, too. Leaders of awkwardly incorporated, underdeveloped Sabah and Sarawak, states on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles across the South China Sea from the peninsular mainland, have broken with the federal BN — not just eviscerating their former coalition, but staking a firm claim to fairer status and reward in the federation.

If Malaysia is to emerge from its increasingly authoritarian past, having this new government emplaced is a good thing. Yet of course, it will not change all things, and it may achieve far less than years of opposition manifestos have pledged in terms of ushering in a more equitable, consultative order.

Two lenses are especially germane in understanding the capacity and limits of reform, given this mix of old and new: economic policy, including the extent of communalism (as codified especially in far-reaching race-based preferential policies); and the tension between a highly personalized (however party-centered) and more issues-based or ideological politics.

Where Paths Lead

First, economics. Survey after survey suggests the key issue for Malaysians, election after election, is the economy, and particularly rising costs of living. However, a thick tangle of affirmative-action policies to favor Bumiputera, dating to British colonial times but strengthened under the 1970s New Economic Policy (NEP) and a series of successor plans, tempers what it means to prioritize household economics.

The UMNO-led BN has held pro-Malay policies to be sacrosanct. Revising the criteria for qualification to be need-based rather than race-based would not dramatically shift the beneficiaries; race and class substantially align, particularly since the benefits of preference have flowed disproportionately to already-wealthy “UMNOputera,” the well-connected ruling-party elite. A better lens on economic voting in Malaysia considers not just financial standing, confidence, and progress since the last election, but which party voters trust to manage the economy.

Here we see an ethnic divide, with Malay voters typically disproportionately trusting UMNO, whatever they think of the party otherwise. The most plausible explanation is that these voters believe the best way to ensure their economic wellbeing is by maintaining preferential policies, on which opposition parties, but never UMNO, have equivocated.

The Malaysian constitution grants Bumiputera special stature in the polity; accumulated norms (backed by potent sedition legislation) translate that standing to irrefutable political dominance and economic privilege. At no time has Pakatan seriously challenged Malay primacy, but they have promised a less communally structured economy.

Pakatan’s embrace of the communally focused PPBM shifts the key. Critical to the coalition’s gains this time, especially in winning over Malay voters, appears to have been the reassurance Mahathir — whose early writings inspired and informed the NEP — and his party offered, that Pakatan would uphold pro-Malay policies. Now in office, the coalition has limited room for maneuver, especially with their main opposition still Malay-based (in UMNO as well as PAS) and only a slim parliamentary majority.

Importantly, since taking office, Mahathir and his government have insisted on their determination to maintain an even keel: to push back against some mega-investment from China, perhaps, and to cancel at least one particularly costly boondoggle — a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — but to keep investors confident.

Mahathir is Malaysia’s original mega project mastermind: the “national car” intended to galvanize industrialization in the 1980s (Proton, short for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional, or National Automobile Company, 49.9 percent owned by China’s Geely Holdings as of last year), the Petronas twin towers, an extravagant new capital at Putrajaya: glamorous, expensive grand gestures intended to signal Malaysia’s developmental success. His newly appointed finance minister, the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, previously the chief minister of prosperous, opposition-held Penang state, likewise caught flak there for his coziness with developers and embrace of ambitiously grand infrastructure and real-estate projects.

Related image

Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons (L-R): Robert Kuok, Zeti Aziz, Hassan Marican, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram and CEP Chair Person Tun Daim Zainuddin

An appointed Council of Eminent Persons, named after the elections to advise on economic policy, includes the renowned, respected, and progressive economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, but also billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok and Mahathir’s erstwhile UMNO bagman Daim Zainuddin — so their advice could pull in any of several directions. (Already, members have come under fire for meddling beyond their mandate.)

These economic impulses and incentives taken in sum, we should assume an at least somewhat more transparent, less cronyistic system, but still with a heavy emphasis on foreign investment–led, large-scale developments (with requirements intact to ensure Malay contractors’ protected share in the bounty), faith in the blessings of neoliberalism, and politically fruitful (commonly dubbed “populist”) wealth-sharing to amplify otherwise-tepid trickle-down effects.

More broadly, both coalitions are neoliberal at their core. Both offered a host of makeshift measures to reduce the pinch of rapid, top-heavy development, ranging from targeted cash-transfer and voucher schemes (for children, students, seniors, newlyweds, the bereaved, housewives, entrepreneurs, and the poor), to subsidized utilities, to reduced road tolls. But neither suggested any fundamental branching from that economic path beyond, for instance, expanded educational opportunities to prepare Malaysians better to embrace the modern economy.

Image result for dr michael jeyakumar

Indeed, Pakatan essentially shut out the anti-capitalist Parti Sosialis: in allocating seats, the coalition offered the socialist party a meager one constituency in which to contest (in which PSM was the incumbent). When PSM insisted on standing in others, Pakatan revoked even that paltry offer and competed against PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, defeating him. (In pushing on to prove their point, both sides took the very real chance of splitting the vote and delivering the seat to the BN.)

Second, like the government it replaces, Pakatan is highly leader-centered, to the point of obscuring an emphasis on issues or ideology. Its commitment to term limits is a definite improvement (while Mahathir’s old age offers reassurance of his own commitment not to outstay his welcome; the plan is to hand the reins to Anwar within about two years). Yet Malaysian politics has been and remains deeply clientelistic across parties, despite  significant overseas and internal rural–urban labor migration, economic diversification, and sufficient state capacity that party machines should be off the hook for welfare services. A “personal vote” matters even when parties are at their most pulled-together — and even those candidates able to coast on their party’s coattails prioritize “going to the ground” for grassroots constituency service and mingling among the masses.

However much media and pundits exaggerate the extent of his personal responsibility for Pakatan’s win, Mahathir did help to tip the scales, and it remains to be seen what Mahathir the man represents vis-à-vis a reform agenda. More to the point, that the best Pakatan could do in terms of a broadly palatable leader — realizing the imperative in Malaysia of a leader to lead the charge, no matter how deeply unpopular their rival — was the long-retired Mahathir, architect of the system now in place and whom so many within PH once reviled as a despot, could bode poorly for its sustainability and depth of support.

On the other hand, Pakatan has a clear advantage on this score — though less in Mahathir’s PPBM than in its partner parties. Spurred not least by predations during Mahathir’s previous longue durée, Malaysia has developed a vibrant civil society, encompassing not only largely urban, middle class–based advocacy NGOs, but also mass-based Islamist organizations, deeply embedded communal and cultural associations, and more. Many of these groups, from Chinese educationists to Muslim dakwah activists to human-rights campaigners, have a clear political, and often partisan, orientation. That rootedness in civil society gives Pakatan not only a loyal base of volunteers for get-out-the-vote and other efforts, but also reinforces its orientation around issues of better governance, social justice, and civil liberties.

That said, Pakatan’s record of governing at the state level revealed greater ambivalence than many activists had expected about their collaborating with advocacy NGOs in particular. Even many Pakatan legislators who cut their political teeth in those same NGOs came to consider their one-time colleagues too single-issue-oriented or impatient for improbably sweeping change and found the constant pressure irksome.

Promises of reserved seats for civil society activists in appointed local councils, for instance — as a stopgap remedy until Pakatan could restore local-government elections, halted since the 1960s — withered in Pakatan-held Penang and Selangor over the past decade. (Pakatan’s national manifesto does not promise restoration of local-government elections, but pressure is sufficiently high that progress toward that goal seems likely.)

Moreover, women’s organizations in particular have urged all parties to improve the gender balance in representation in public office. While these efforts have yielded aspirations and quotas, no party has come close to meeting them, even for appointed offices with a clearly sufficient female pool from which to draw. So while the close ties between civil society and Pakatan parties bode well for generating sufficient new leaders to sustain real competition, among candidates with skills and experience for leadership roles, recruitment could still fall short in terms of enhancing representativeness and idealism in practice.

And at the end of the day, there is always another election ahead. Pakatan developed under BN rule; it may hesitate to change the rules of a game it has only so newly mastered. Nor can it risk losing its lead. Some Pakatan support is proactive: champions of change, away from the too-long-entrenched BN and toward cleaner, more accountable and responsible governance. Some, though, is reactive: voting against Najib, but without necessarily seeking any dramatic overhaul beyond that purge — hence the appeal of not-too-different PPBM and Mahathir.

To win a second time, Pakatan needs to keep both camps in its corner. Unless electoral rules change (unlikely, although entirely reasonable to consider) or something else goes really awry in Malaysia (always possible), the wider frame of these recent elections suggests observers keep their expectations of systemic change in check.

Malaysia is unlikely to return to the old Mahathirian model, which Najib stretched to its extremes, of an excessively strong executive, rapacious ruling party, and snowflake-sensitive public authorities. On the other hand, quick, dramatic change toward a much more politically competitive or economically progressive order is equally unlikely, given the pull of the status quo. (Nearby Indonesia, having just marked twenty years since the Reformasi that ousted Suharto and his New Order regime, is a sobering Exhibit A.)

What the wider context suggests is something in between: an order that increases the political space for, and responsiveness to, alternative voices and ideas, within and outside parties; that does less to stifle efforts within civil society toward more coordinated, efficacious advocacy; and that encourages — even just by dint of a multipolar electorate and fissiparous coalitions — real competition around principles as well as personalities.

Malaysia has opened the door to fundamental reform, even if new leaders do little more than peek around the corner in these early stages, and even if its citizens opt ultimately to update the décor rather than shift the socioeconomic foundations of the state.

About the Author

Meredith L. Weiss is professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Rejoinder by  Dr.Rais Hussin: Bumiputeraism is not the root issue

http://www.malaysiakini.com

American political scientist Dr. Meredith Weiss has done extensive field research in Malaysia. The country needs more academics like her to cast light on the dynamics of Malaysia. However, the accolades stop there. Her article in Jacobin recently has all the drama and flair of a New Yorker literary piece. Yet, it went off on a tangent. How?

First, Weiss warned that the new electoral landscape is not necessarily new. While she did not warn of the spectre of Mahathirism, which implies a return to authoritarianism, she hinted strongly at the complexity of unravelling the National Economic Policy, which in her view amounted to all the same anyway. Again, how?

Entrenched Malay interests in the political, corporate and other sectors would be too deeply embedded. A single electoral victory from Pakatan Harapan, even one led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, would not be enough to alter the dramatic and complex landscape.

Second, Weiss averred that any reforms would not be smooth sailing, especially when the tensions between the top members of the coalition look all but impossible to overcome.

Therefore, the significance of May 9, 2018, would fade in due course. The internal solidarity of the elites forged before and on that date would crack. While she didn’t specifically mention the causal or ideological factor that could lead to its fissure or implosion, Weiss implied that their personal animus and histories are enough to warrant deep concern.

Third, Weiss argued that Pakatan Harapan is bound to make progress in light of the insidious practices of UMNO that had set the bar so low, the mere rejection of corruption alone would be Harapan’s defining moment. Just by saying ‘no’ and the latter would enjoy more confidence from the public. Wrong.

In fact, Weiss is wrong on all counts. To begin with, the optic she adopted is one devoid of variant analysis. Even before the events took place, she had already claimed that everything else would either fail or fail to move forward. But then how does Weiss explain the power of the May 9 election?

Voters were given a choice between more billion-dollar handouts and subsidies by the Najib-led BN, or liberation from becoming the object of international ridicule.

While 45 percent of the voters rooted for UMNO, this also marked the Malay behemoth’s dramatic fall from grace. From a high of 88 parliamentary seats in the 2013 election, Umno now only has 52 parliament seats, and the numbers are still dropping as elected UMNO members declare themselves independent.

Corporate and economic reforms are bound to be difficult. Not for the reason of race or race-based preferential policies alone i.e., bumiputeraism, which pervades Weiss’ article, but the massive size of the national debt due to liabilities from government-linked companies.

Image result for edmund terence gomez university of malaya

Research by Edmund Terence Gomez and his associates show close to 900 such entities have accepted some form of government bailout and are swimming in a sea of red ink. The gravity of the situation begins from the Gordian knot of these companies, not the problems rooted in bumiputeraism.

Finally, why should the egos of the different Harapan personalities matter, when the coalition has merely won the general election once? Unlike how UMNO warlords, who had won in quick succession since 1955, had a sense of self-entitlement and invincibility, Harapan leaders know that if they screw up, the coalition will be booted out regardless of whether Mahathir or Anwar Ibrahim is at the helm. In other words, perform, or be put out to pasture.

Not surprisingly, some MPs had tried to remain in their comfort zones before the election but this backfired for some.

Tan Kee Kwong was not even nominated by his own party. He had to give up his Wangsa Maju seat to another PKR candidate.

Liew Chin Tong, marginally lost his seat in Ayer Hitam in Johor, thus depriving him of the chance to be the transport minister, as his successor Anthony Loke admitted.

Indeed, DAP fielded more Malay candidates under 40 across the board in GE-14, more than even what UMNO could attempt. These and other factors are more important to understand how the new Malaysia came to be rather than how old Malaysia will be resistant to change.

To begin with, sheer defiance of a kleptocratic regime is a given. Members of UMNO like Bung Mokhtar even claimed that the ill-gotten gains of Najib Razak are the assets of UMNO. Najib, meanwhile, insists many were gifts accumulated over his over 36 years in politics. Does he mean the business of being a politician is to be in business? Now that Najib has been arrested, more of the truth will be unveiled.

Anyway, Weiss is welcome to undertake more research on Malaysia. But she should understand that change, in fact, is happening at breakneck speed. There is the Council of Eminent Persons, the Harapan manifesto, and cabinet orders to reform the country within 100 days and over the next five years. Meanwhile, 17,000 political appointees have been terminated, and more are expected to face the same fate.

Even politically appointed Ambassadors of Najib Abdul Razak will not be spared. Heads of government-linked investment companies, such as Abdul Wahid Omar of PNB, have resigned.

Rome was not built in a day. The Harapan government is learning through adaptation to see which elements of the previous policies can be kept, and which policies cannot be phased out immediately, or, suspended, in order to allow a thorough review of various projects with Chinese private construction companies.

If Weiss were in Malaysia at Mahathir’s side, she would be shocked at how the doyen of Malaysian politics is slashing the excesses of the previous government, in order to set things right. It is far too easy to be an armchair critic, and Weiss seems to have made that faux pas to critique from the safe confines of her ivory towers in US.


RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

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

 

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States


July 6, 2018

Data Driven Preventive Diplomacy For ASEAN Member States

by Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla, The Habibie Center

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for ASEAN Security

ASEAN countries are no strangers to conflict and violence. As a region comprising diverse nation-states, Southeast Asia has experienced a number of inter- and intra-state conflicts. Political stability in the region has improved over the last decade, especially due to a decline in inter-state disputes. But intra-state disputes in the form of ethnic conflicts, violence against minorities and violent extremism — including terrorism — are gaining ground.

 

There are ongoing reports about Rohingya trying to escape from Myanmar and seeking refuge in Malaysia. Amid the Myanmar army’s denial of its alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, about 700,000 Rohingya have reportedly fled the country since August 2017.

Image result for asean and rohingya crisis

Meanwhile, according to the Global Peace Index, the Philippines is one of the least peaceful countries in the region due to its bloody war against drugs and crime that has resulted in increasing rates of homicide, incarceration and extrajudicial killings. Based on the same report, Indonesia had the greatest performance drop in the Asia Pacific in terms of peacefulness due to an increase in politically-motivated terrorism and growing tensions between hard-line fundamentalists and minority groups. Indonesia is also more and more vulnerable to the threat of an alliance between the so-called Islamic State, Darul Islam and some local violent extremist groups, as shown in the recent Surabaya bombing.

Even decades before the United Nations’ An Agenda for Peace report in 1992, ASEAN had committed to maintaining peace in the region without using the label of ‘preventive diplomacy’. From its inception, ASEAN was intended to be a regional conflict-prevention mechanism that internalised the practices of peaceful dialogue, consultation and consensus building among its members, amid the geopolitical uncertainty and diplomatic breakdowns that characterised the Cold War period.

The ASEAN Regional Forum defined preventive diplomacy for ASEAN in 2001 as member states’ diplomatic or political action to prevent disputes or conflicts that could pose a threat to regional stability, with the purpose of preventing such disputes from escalating to armed confrontation and minimising the impact of those conflicts and disputes on the region.

But in practice, preventive diplomacy in ASEAN is limited to the execution of forums and meetings that do not necessarily producing binding mechanisms to resolve potentially destabilising intra-state conflicts. ASEAN seems to be stuck in confidence-building measures and has not completely implemented preventive diplomacy as envisioned by the United Nations.

Image result for The ASEAN Way

Critics point to the development gap and significant political differences between ASEAN member states. The ‘ASEAN way’ that rests on the principles of consensus building and non-intervention is often cited as one of the factors that undermine a deeper commitment to implementing preventive diplomacy. ASEAN’s limited definition of preventive diplomacy is also criticised for constraining the practice of preventive diplomacy in the region to only include conflicts between and among states. This excludes non-state and intra-state conflicts or violence, which are seemingly growing in the post-Cold War era.

But the biggest challenge to preventive violence in ASEAN yet to be taken seriously is the lack of knowledge about conflicts and violence. To this day, it remains a challenge to pinpoint the general trend and exact number of violent events and conflicts within ASEAN. Some instances were allegedly perpetrated by the state, while others were committed by non-state entities and individuals. Although some reports intuitively indicate that violence in ASEAN is increasing, it is hard to identify the exact number of incidents because the data is scarce and rarely updated.

The limited reliable data that is available reveals that each country in Southeast Asia has its own patterns and characteristics of conflict and violence. In terms of intensity, there are also differences in the number of casualties and frequency of incidents. The types of violence also differ and include civil wars, insurgency, crimes, communal conflicts and violence against minority groups.

Relatively little data on violent incidents existed until recently, and the data is generally focused at the national level. Data on regional trends is patchy and scattered across various sources, which makes it difficult to generate a quick and accurate analysis to aid policy making processes. Not all countries have the capacity to record such data, which itself can be a controversial process in a number of ASEAN member states where conflicts are sometimes highly political.

Knowledge about the distinct features of violence in ASEAN is crucial to enable policymakers and stakeholders to identify shortcomings in the region’s approach to responding and preventing conflict. Such knowledge would also equip them to come up with effective policies and strategies to promote peace and stability in ASEAN.

A knowledge-based approach would enable stakeholders to resolve conflicts more effectively — not only by managing the impacts but also by preventing the escalation of future conflicts and violence. It would also encourage better practices of data collection and recording violence in and between ASEAN member states — which is essential to monitoring and evaluating preventive diplomacy and progress towards peace in the region.

Hana Hanifah and Askabea Fadhilla are Researchers at the ASEAN Studies Program, The Habibie Center, Jakarta.

 

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


June 21, 2018

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

 

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

By Zuraidah Ibrahim/ Bhavan Jaipragas

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pakatan Harapan: Vulnerable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Physical

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

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

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

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

Moving On

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

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

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

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

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

Cut out middlemen and save billions – and the rakyat


June 19, 2018

Cut out middlemen and save billions – and the rakyat

by P Gunasegaram
QUESTION TIME |Coming in the wake of the decisive election victory for Pakatan Harapan, the Ramadan bazaar scandal in Jalan Masjid India, Kuala Lumpur is a clear indication of the kind of corrupt patronage middlemen deals that the coalition has to face and overcome as it moves forward.

 

Such deals where political clout is used to dish out projects to essentially middlemen who subsequently just palm it off to others for huge profits is one of the major forms of leakage the economy is currently facing.

Most of the projects may be small but the same process is repeated in large contracts too where the company that gets the project oftentimes does not have any expertise in the project area and simply gets in partners from elsewhere, earning a fat commission in the process for basically doing nothing but getting the project in.

If the government had long ago stopped such middlemen from profiteering at the expense of nation and rakyat, we would be in much better shape now. But instead, such deals worsened with outright kleptocracy, using 1MDB to first borrow funds and then steal from it. It is now incumbent upon Harapan to bring about such a change, nothing less.

The Ramadan bazaar is an excellent case study of middlemen pilferage and how politicians and authorities facilitated it. According to the exclusive report by Malaysiakini, a Bersatu party leader used political connections via a DAP MP who issued a “letter of support” for the Ramadan bazaar in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

‘Letter of support’

The Bukit Bintang Bersatu Youth chief, Mohd Noorhisyam Abd Karim, secured approval from Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to organise the bazaar with this “letter of support” from DAP Bukit Bintang MP and DAP treasurer Fong Kui Lan. A letter from DBKL to Mohd Noorhisyam, which had gone viral on social media, showed that 80 lots were approved for nine days for RM6,238.

This included a payment of RM180 per lot (RM20 per day) for licensing, space and cleaning fees for the bazaar which stretched from the Mydin hypermarket in Pudu to Masjid India. In the Ramadan bazaar case, the government got a little over RM6,000, while the middleman allegedly could have pocketed RM400,000 from the sale of the 80 lots at RM5,000, each making an incredible 66 times his initial outlay.

This is classic UMNO-style patronage politics at its worst which worrisomely, has infected Harapan so early in its term of office. It has to get rid of this forthwith if it is to make plenty of savings from procurement contracts and get revenue for the government directly instead of much of it going to middlemen.

Fong, while admitting he issued the “letter of support”, told Malaysiakini that Mohd Noorhisyam promised him that no money would be collected. “He promised they would not collect money and they would not obstruct the shops. I gave him a support letter to help hawkers who could not get a license from DBKL,” said the five-term MP.

Fong also denied receiving a cut from Mohd Noorhisyam or his associates.

Meanwhile, DBKL hawker licensing and development department director Anwar Mohd Zain told Malaysiakini that City Hall was unaware that Mohd Noorhisyam was allegedly charging exorbitant fees for the bazaar lots.

Mohd Noorhisyam has since denied the allegations against him and told Malaysiakini that he had not taken any money from traders.

Still, there is vital explanation required. Why does DBKL have to issue lots through a third party? Why does Bukit Bintang MP Fong need to issue a “letter of support” to a middleman, when he could have done it directly to DBKL? What is the role of Mohd Noorhisyam in all these, especially when DBKL could have issued the lots directly to traders through a bidding cum draw?

Nefarious activities

If true, such an outlandish profit came from the poor stallholders who were trying to make some money during Ramadan but whose profits would have been massively scaled back by the RM5,000 they had to shell out for the nine-day period, equivalent to a massive RM555 a day.

That shows the nature of the greed of these unscrupulous people who during the holy month of Ramadan, fleece RM400,000 of their own kind who are poor and struggling to make ends meet. Where is their moral and religious conscience?

Think of things like these repeated many thousands of time all over Malaysia at local and district levels and the billions pilfered or lost. Think of all the hassle that people who are trying to make a living with small businesses suffer at the hands of enforcement agencies such as DBKL scattered throughout the country.

Think of all the bribes they have to pay and the harassment they get even if they are fully compliant with all council regulations and think of all the rules and regulations flouted by those who “pay” the authorities regularly.

Think of all the revenue that the government, state and local authorities can raise if they directly, properly, efficiently and cleanly allocate precious resources without resorting to politically-connected businesspersons and those willing to grease palms.

Harapan now controls seven out of 11 state governments in the peninsula while Sarawak and Sabah are already in the hands of parties now friendly to Harapan. Together they can draw up and implement measures throughout the country to ensure that everything is run in the interest of the rakyat and the government – and profiteering is no longer allowed at any level via middlemen.

Indeed, those who are involved in such nefarious activities must be brought to book and the weight of the law brought to bear upon them without discrimination from the largest to the smallest projects.

 

For those states still ruled by parties other than Harapan, the call should be made to follow the example of the other states in the award of all contracts and for all procurement. If they don’t, the warning should be issued that the police and the MACC will be on the lookout for any malpractices and will bring miscreants swiftly to the book.

Proper procedure

This does not mean sidelining bumiputera entrepreneurs and companies but ensuring that they really are that and not acting as middlemen for others and that they actually have the capacity to undertake projects and that they are actually needed to do the job.

Genuine bumiputera contractors who bid for the job could be given a small price advantage as part of the continuation of affirmative action programmes and other advantages, much like what some government agencies currently did for bona fide bumiputera contractors in the past.

This is not an abandonment of Malay rights or privileges provided for under the constitution but actually a reinforcement of that through a proper procedure which weeds out profiteering that only benefits middlemen at the expense of real bumiputera entrepreneurs as it was with this Ramadan bazaar incident.

Harapan has a responsibility to ensure that incidents such as this Ramadan bazaar spectacle never happens anywhere again and that all blood-sucking middlemen are removed forthwith from the scene. Doing so would not only save the country billions of ringgit but ensure that the rakyat benefits from the proper use and allocation of scarce government resources.

We did not vote in Harapan for another new crop of leeches coming up to suck the nation and the rakyat dry. Such notions must be suitably disabused by quick action over the Ramadan bazaar case to bring to account everyone involved – politician, middleman and the overseeing authority.

Otherwise, Harapan is going to lose credibility pretty fast.

 


P GUNASEGARAM says that being in government is more onerous than being in opposition. He hopes fervently that Harapan will rise to the occasion and not succumb to the habits of old. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

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

Altantuya Shaariibuu Murder: In the name of Justice, Najib Razak must be made to answer


June 19, 2018

Altantuya Shaariibuu Murder: In the name of Justice, Najib Razak must be made to answer

Shaaribuu Setev will be meeting AG Tommy Thomas later today, and PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad tomorrow to discuss the possibility of reopening investigations into his daughter’s murder.

Image result for setev shaariibuu

Shaaribuu Setev, the father of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu who was murdered in 2006. 

KUALA LUMPUR: The father of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu, who is seeking to reopen investigations into her murder, today asked why his daughter had not been deported to her home country.

“Why didn’t they just handcuff her and send her back? Why kill her? “I want justice for my daughter,” Shaaribuu Setev said in a press conference here.

Shaaribuu will be meeting Attorney-General Tommy Thomas at 3pm to discuss the possibility of reopening the probe into her murder.

His lawyer Ramkarpal Singh, who was also at the press conference, said his client would meet with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at 5pm tomorrow.

Image result for altantuya shaariibuu

Altantuya, 28, was killed between October 19 and 20, 2006 by Azilah Hadri and Sirul Azhar Umar who were part of an elite police commando unit that provided bodyguards for Malaysia’s top leaders.

She was shot twice in the head before being wrapped in military-grade C-4 explosives and blown to pieces. The motive for the crime as well as the source of the order for her death remains unknown.

Azilah and Sirul were convicted of her murder and sentenced to death. However, Sirul fled to Australia before the final court verdict and has been in detention in Sydney for nearly two years.

Altantuya’s murder also attracted attention due to the involvement of Abdul Razak Baginda, who was once an aide to former Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Razak was charged alongside Sirul and Azilah, but he was acquitted without his defence being called. He had also confessed to having an affair with Altantuya.

The case has been linked to Malaysia’s purchase of two French submarines, a deal which is still under investigation in France for alleged kickbacks involving a company linked to Razak Baginda.

Last month, Shaariibuu pleaded with the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government to reopen investigations to uncover the identity of the person who ordered Altantuya’s murder.

In a letter to Ramkarpal, he said “a powerful person” must have sanctioned the crime.

Following PH’s electoral victory on May 9, Sirul said he was prepared to return to Malaysia and expose those he said were behind the murder. However, in an interview with The Guardian, he rejected Ramkarpal’s suggestion that his death sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

He also claimed that he was a scapegoat “in an elaborate political crime” and denied he had ever confessed to killing Altantuya.

US Mounts Major Global Anti-Money-Laundering Campaign


June 19, 2018

US Mounts Major Global Anti-Money-Laundering Campaign

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

The US Treasury Department has initiated a wide-ranging campaign against money laundering across the globe and is leaning on governments particularly in Cyprus, Beirut, Singapore and the Gulf states including Dubai in an attempt to stop the flow of billions of dollars that wash through the financial system every day from Russia, Iran and China.

Although planning for the campaign, headed by the department’s Marshall Billingslea, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime, began during the administration of former US President Barack Obama, the Trump administration is seeking aggressively to stop the flow of illegally gained money from the three countries into UK and French real estate, small German banks and the Gulf states.

Related image

Paul Manafort is charged for money laundering.

It is uncertain how much of the new assertiveness can be traced to the US initiative. A spokesman for the Treasury Department said only that the department is “undertaking initiatives against money laundering in several different countries as part of an ongoing process.”

Image result for US Launches anti moneylaundering campaign

 

However, banks from Cyprus to Singapore to the long-standing boltholes for hot cash in the Caribbean are being told to clean up their act or lose access to the Belgium-originated Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication – the SWIFT system, as it is known, through which almost all of the world’s financial transactions travel. Hundreds of billions of dollars a day move through the system, which enables the world’s financial institutions to send and receive secure information about financial transactions.  The SWIFT system has come to dominate the world’s movement of money.

Sources speculate that the US aggressiveness played a role in the demand last week by the UK government, also triggered by the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, the owner of the Chelsea Football Club, explain the source of his vast wealth before he is granted a new UK visa. The UK government has launched a further crackdown on wealthy investors into the UK.  Offshore destinations of illicit funds in the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, Gibraltar and Nassau are also under the microscope.

Image result for US Launches anti moneylaundering campaign

Read this:  https://www.khmertimeskh.com/92067/

The amount of money spirited out of developing countries is astonishing. The Washington, DC-based NGO Global Financial Integrity, in a 2017 report, estimated that illicit currency flows in and out of the developing world amounted to at least 13.8 percent of total trade, or US$2 trillion, in 2014, the last year for which reliable data were available. An astonishing US$3.97 trillion in illicit funds left China between 2000 and 2011 alone, according to Global Financial Integrity.

Laundered money has been pouring out of Russia for the better part of two decades as oligarchs made rich by the Putin regime have looted a long string of government-linked companies, particularly in oil and gas. The money has gone into expensive homes along the Cote d’Azur in France as well as London, and New York and Beverly Hills in the US. At one point, realtors in New York said roughly 30 percent of condominium sales were going to buyers who listed international addresses including – notably – the family of the now-disgraced former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, as well as Viktor Khrapunov, the former mayor of Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capital city, who has been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the country.

With the Trump administration on a rampage against Iran, US authorities are seeking to shut down Iranian funds flowing into Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar as well as banks in Asia including Woori Bank and Industrial Bank of South Korea, according to Bloomberg News Service, which cited documents and testimony on how Iran siphoned US$1 billion from escrow account funds to evade US-imposed sanctions. Other banks that have been hit with compliance lapses included the Agricultural Bank of China, one of the country’s Big Four banks as well as

Songhua Bank of South Korea and Mega International Commercial Bank of Taiwan, according to Bloomberg.

The campaign to lean on Middle Eastern banks could well cause a liquidity crisis in the region including Dubai and Qatar, two of the region’s biggest banking centers, as well as in Lebanon, equally with Cyprus a repository of laundered funds that have flown into financing of terrorist activities by Hezbollah and other groups.  One source speculated that uncertainty over a liquidity crisis was spurring unsettled emerging markets over the past couple of months, with Argentina again facing crisis.

The problems for Cyprus are enormous.  Stelios Orphanides, writing in the Cyprus Business Mail on May 29, said that there is “increasing concern in the ranks of professionals and entrepreneurs in Cyprus over the impact of stricter anti-money laundering and terrorist financing practices being applied, amid fears that recent US pressure on the islandʼs financial and business service providers to take US sanctions more seriously into account, may have a transformative effect on the economy.”

Image result for John Berthelsen

The disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor are now under investigation

The problems are exemplified by the notorious FBME Bank, headquartered in Tanzania although at least 90 percent of its business was conducted in Nicosia before it was shut down by the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN last October after a three-year campaign. The bank, owned by Fadi and Ayoub-Farid Saab, was the repository of funds from such notorious characters as Dmitry Klyuev and Andrei Pavolov, key suspects in the looting of Hermitage Capital, once controlled by William Browder before he was driven out of Russia. Dozens of outlaw organizations allegedly banked at FBME, although the Saabs continue to deny any wrongdoing.

Image result for John Berthelsen

 

The Hermitage looting and its aftermath resulted in the so-called Magnitsky Act, passed in the US Congress after Sergei Magnitsky, an associate of Browder’s, was beaten to death in a Russian jail while he was attempting to investigate the theft. As a result, a list of top Russian officials were barred from transacting financial business through the SWIFT system.  Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-backed lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others in Trump Tower in June of 2016, was attempting to get the Magnitsky Act reversed. That meeting is now a subject of the investigation by Robert Mueller into Russian attempts to subvert the 2016 election that brought Trump to power.

FBME was the subject of a 2016 series of stories by Asia Sentinel that described the alleged laundering of millions of US dollars out of the Indonesia-based Bank Mutiara, formerly known as Bank Century, which was looted by its owner, Robert Tantular, and others during the global financial crisis of 2009.  Bank Mutiara was taken over by the Tokyo-based J Trust financial conglomerate, heavily backed by Nobuyoshi Fujisawa.  J Trust and the Saabs have threatened multiple lawsuits against Asia Sentinel over the stories. Asia Sentinel stands by its reporting.

Another of the primary targets of the campaign is Singapore, which by one report has the equivalent of US$368 billion from Indonesia in its banks – 40 percent of the island republic’s total bank deposits. In one astounding heist, more than  US$13.5 billion was looted from the Indonesian central bank’s recapitalization lifeline to 48 ailing banks during the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. As the government poured money into the banks in the attempt to save them, the bankers were stealing it and moving the money to Singapore.

According to a 2007 Asia Sentinel story, some 18,000 Indonesians described as “rich” live in Singapore. They were said to be worth a combined total of US$87 billion, more than Indonesia’s entire annual government budget at the time.

Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission is said to be investigating the movement of as much as US$1.5 billion from Bank J Trust, the former Bank Mutiara, which was sold to the Japanese financial services corporation J Trust Group. J Trust is heavily backed by Taiyo Pacific Partners, the Washington State-based investment fund whose chief investment officer was Wilbur Ross, now President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary. The Indonesian bank is believed to be connected to some of the country’s most powerful politicians. KPK targets are said to ionclude Boediono, the former central bank governor and vice-presidential running mate of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Others are said to be Rafat Ali Rizvi, a British citizen who at one point faced the possibility of a death penalty for helping to loot Bank Century, the carcass from which Bank Mutiara was fashioned, and Hesham Al Warraq, a Saudi national who was also a major shareholder in the bank. Only Robert Tantular, the president of Bank Century, has been jailed.

Image result for John Berthelsen

 

Other countries’ leaders have used Singapore as a piggy bank as well, including Myanmar, whose generals moved millions of stolen funds out of their country into Singapore banks. The Singaporeans were so grateful that in 2009, they named an orchid planted in their spectacular Singapore Botanic Garden for Thein Sein when he paid a visit.  More recently, Singapore cracked down on Swiss banks BSI Bank and Falcon Private Bank and withdrawing their licenses in 2016 for acting as conduits for billions of dollars funneled from the scandal-ridden 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Two other banks – the Singapore-based DBS and the major Swiss bank UBS were hit with heavy fines.