Malaysia’s Prime Minister at UNGA, 2018


September 29, 2018

Malaysia’s Prime Minister at UNGA, 2018

Friday, September 28, 2018: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad speaks to 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York (9/28/18) on September 28, 2018. PM Mahathir Mohamad speaks about Rohingya issue, United Nations Development goal at the UNGA 2018.

President of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad gave his speech at The United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday at 11:45 am, (28-9-18) on September 28, 2018 — and it could be one of his most important speeches yet.

Live streaming of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad Speech to the UN General Assembly 9/28/2018.

#MahathirMohamad #Speech #UnitedNations

The following is Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s speech at the general debate of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York

Madam President,

1. I would like to join others in congratulating you on your election as the President of the Seventy-Third (73rd) Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

2. I am confident with your wisdom and vast experience; this session will achieve the objectives of the theme for this session. I assure you of Malaysia’s fullest support and cooperation towards achieving these noble goals.

3. Allow me to also pay tribute to your predecessor, His Excellency Miroslav Lajcak, for his dedication and stewardship in successfully completing the work of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly.

4. I commend the Secretary-General and the United Nations staff for their tireless efforts in steering and managing UN activities globally.

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5. In particular, I pay tribute to the late Kofi Annan, the seventh Secretary-General of the UN from 1997 – 2006, who sadly passed away in August this year. Malaysia had a positively strong and active engagement with the UN during his tenure.

Madam President,

6. The theme of this 73rd Session of General Assembly, “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies” remains true to the aspiration of our founding fathers. The theme is most relevant and timely. It is especially pertinent in the context of the new Malaysia. The new Government of Malaysia, recently empowered with a strong mandate from its people, is committed to ensure that every Malaysian has an equitable share in the prosperity and wealth of the nation.

7. A new Malaysia emerged after the 14th General Election in May this year. Malaysians decided to change their government, which had been in power for 61 years, i.e., since independence. We did this because the immediate past Government indulged in the politics of hatred, of racial and religious bigotry, as well as widespread corruption. The process of change was achieved democratically, without violence or loss of lives.

8. Malaysians want a new Malaysia that upholds the principles of fairness, good governance, integrity and the rule of law. They want a Malaysia that is a friend to all and enemy of none. A Malaysia that remains neutral and non-aligned. A Malaysia that detests and abhors wars and violence. They also want a Malaysia that will speak its mind on what is right and wrong, without fear or favour. A new Malaysia that believes in co-operation based on mutual respect, for mutual gain. The new Malaysia that offers a partnership based on our philosophy of ‘prosper-thy-neighbour’. We believe in the goodness of cooperation, that a prosperous and stable neighbour would contribute to our own prosperity and stability.

9. The new Malaysia will firmly espouse the principles promoted by the UN in our international engagements. These include the principles of truth, human rights, the rule of law, justice, fairness, responsibility and accountability, as well as sustainability. It is within this context that the new government of Malaysia has pledged to ratify all remaining core UN instruments related to the protection of human rights. It will not be easy for us because Malaysia is multi-ethnic, multireligious, multicultural and multilingual. We will accord space and time for all to deliberate and to decide freely based on democracy.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad speak during the General Debate of the 73rd session of the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. NSTP/Video Grab UNWeb TV

 

Madam President,

10. When I last spoke here in 2003, I lamented how the world had lost its way. I bemoaned the fact that small countries continued to be at the mercy of the powerful. I argued the need for the developing world to push for reform, to enhance capacity building and diversify the economy. We need to maintain control of our destiny.

 

11. But today, 15 years later the world has not changed much. If at all the world is far worse than 15 years ago. Today the world is in a state of turmoil economically, socially and politically.

12. There is a trade war going on between the two most powerful economies. And the rest of the world feel the pain.

13. Socially new values undermine the stability of nations and their people. Freedom has led to the negation of the concept of marriage and families, of moral codes, of respect etc.

14. But the worse turmoil is in the political arena. We are seeing acts of terror everywhere. People are tying bombs to their bodies and blowing themselves up in crowded places. Trucks are driven into holiday crowds. Wars are fought and people beheaded with short knives. Acts of brutality are broadcast to the world live. Masses of people risk their lives to migrate only to be denied asylum, sleeping in the open and freezing to death. Thousands starve and tens of thousands die in epidemics of cholera.

15. No one, no country is safe. Security checks inconvenience travelers. No liquids on planes. The slightest suspicion leads to detention and unpleasant questioning.

16. To fight the “terrorists” all kinds of security measures, all kinds of gadgets and equipment are deployed. Big brother is watching. But the acts of terror continues.

17. Malaysia fought the bandits and terrorists at independence and defeated them. We did use the military. But alongside and more importantly we campaigned to win the hearts of minds of these people.

18. This present war against the terrorist will not end until the root causes are found and removed and hearts and minds are won.

19. What are the root causes? In 1948, Palestinian land was seized to form the state of Israel. The Palestinians were massacred and forced to leave their land. Their houses and farms were seized.

20. They tried to fight a conventional war with help from sympathetic neighbours. The friends of Israel ensured this attempt failed. More Palestinian land was seized. And Israeli settlements were built on more and more Palestinian land and the Palestinians are denied access to these settlements built on their land.

21. The Palestinians initially tried to fight with catapults and stones. They were shot with live bullets and arrested. Thousands are incarcerated.

22. Frustrated and angry, unable to fight a conventional war, the Palestinians resort to what we call terrorism.

23. The world does not care even when Israel breaks international laws, seizing ships carrying medicine, food and building materials in international waters. The Palestinians fired ineffective rockets which hurt no one. Massive retaliations were mounted by Israel, rocketing and bombing hospitals, schools and other buildings, killing innocent civilians including school children and hospital patients. And more.

24. The world rewards Israel, deliberately provoking Palestine by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

25. It is the anger and frustration of the Palestinians and their sympathisers that cause them to resort to what we call terrorism. But it is important to acknowledge that any act which terrify people also constitute terrorism. And states dropping bombs or launching rockets which maim and kill innocent people also terrify people. These are also acts of terrorism.

26. Malaysia hates terrorism. We will fight them. But we believe that the only way to fight terrorism is to remove the cause. Let the Palestinians return to reclaim their land. Let there be a state of Palestine. Let there be justice and the rule of law. Warring against them will not stop terrorism. Nor will out-terrorising them succeed.

27. We need to remind ourselves that the United Nations Organisation, like the League of Nations before, was conceived for the noble purpose of ending wars between nations.

28. Wars are about killing people. Modern wars are about mass killings and total destruction countrywide. Civilised nations claim they abhor killing for any reason. When a man kills, he commits the crime of murder. And the punishment for murder may be death.

29. But wars, we all know encourage and legitimise killing. Indeed the killings are regarded as noble, and the killers are hailed as heroes. They get medals stuck to their chest and statues erected in their honour, have their names mentioned in history books.

30. There is something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero. And so we still believe that conflict between nations can be resolved with war.

31. And because we still do, we must prepare for war. The old adage says “to have peace, prepare for war”. And we are forever preparing for war, inventing more and more destructive weapons. We now have nuclear bombs, capable of destroying whole cities. But now we know that the radiation emanating from the explosion will affect even the country using the bomb. A nuclear war would destroy the world.

32. This fear has caused the countries of Europe and North America to maintain peace for over 70 years. But that is not for other countries. Wars in these other countries can help live test the new weapons being invented.

33. And so they sell them to warring countries. We see their arms in wars fought between smaller countries. These are not world wars but they are no less destructive. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, whole countries devastated and nations bankrupted because of these fantastic new weapons.

34. But these wars give handsome dividends to the arms manufacturers and traders. The arms business is now the biggest business in the world. They profit shamelessly from the deaths and destruction they cause. Indeed, so-called peace-loving countries often promote this shameful business.

35. Today’s weapons cost millions. Fighter jets cost about 100 million dollars. And maintaining them cost tens of millions. But the poor countries are persuaded to buy them even if they cannot afford. They are told their neighbours or their enemies have them. It is imperative that they too have them.

36. So, while their people starve and suffer from all kinds of deprivations, a huge percentage of their budget is allocated to the purchase of arms. That their buyers may never have to use them bothers the purveyors not at all.

Madam President,

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37. In Myanmar, Muslims in Rakhine state are being murdered, their homes torched and a million refugees had been forced to flee, to drown in the high seas, to live in makeshift huts, without water or food, without the most primitive sanitation. Yet the authorities of Myanmar including a Nobel Peace Laureate deny that this is happening. I believe in non-interference in the internal affairs of nations. But does the world watch massacres being carried out and do nothing? Nations are independent. But does this mean they have a right to massacre their own people, because they are independent?

Madam President,

38. On the other hand, in terms of trade, nations are no longer independent. Free trade means no protection by small countries of their infant industries. They must abandon tariff restrictions and open their countries to invasion by products of the rich and the powerful. Yet the simple products of the poor are subjected to clever barriers so that they cannot penetrate the market of the rich. Malaysian palm oil is labelled as dangerous to health and the estates are destroying the habitat of animals. Food products of the rich declare that they are palm oil free. Now palm diesel are condemned because they are decimating virgin jungles. These caring people forget that their boycott is depriving hundreds of thousands of people from jobs and a decent life.

39. We in Malaysia care for the environment. Some 48% of our country remains virgin jungle. Can our detractors claim the same for their own countries?

Madam President,

40. Malaysia is committed to sustainable development. We have taken steps, for example in improving production methods to ensure that our palm oil production is sustainable. By December 2019, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard will become mandatory. This will ensure that every drop of palm oil produced in Malaysia will be certified sustainable by 2020.

Madam President,

41. All around the world, we observe a dangerous trend to inward-looking nationalism, of governments pandering to populism, retreating from international collaborations and shutting their borders to free movements of people, goods and services even as they talk of a borderless world, of free trade. While globalisation has indeed brought us some benefits, the impacts have proven to be threatening to the independence of small nations. We cannot even talk or move around without having our voices and movement recorded and often used against us. Data on everyone is captured and traded by powerful nations and their corporations.

42. Malaysia lauds the UN in its endeavours to end poverty, protect our planet and try to ensure everyone enjoys peace and prosperity. But I would like to refer to the need for reform in the organisation. Five countries on the basis of their victories 70 over years ago cannot claim to have a right to hold the world to ransom forever. They cannot take the moral high ground, preaching democracy and regime change in the countries of the world when they deny democracy in this organisation.

43. I had suggested that the veto should not be by just one permanent member but by at least two powers backed by three non-permanent members of the Security Council. The General Assembly should then back the decision with a simple majority. I will not say more.

44. I must admit that the world without the UN would be disastrous. We need the UN, we need to sustain it with sufficient funds. No one should threaten it with financial deprivation.

Madam President,

45. After 15 years and at 93, I return to this podium with the heavy task of bringing the voice and hope of the new Malaysia to the world stage. The people of Malaysia, proud of their recent democratic achievement, have high hopes that around the world – we will see peace, progress and prosperity. In this we look toward the UN to hear our pleas.

I thank you, Madam President.

 

Israel’s Prime Minister at  UNGA,  2018

 

Iran’s President Addresses UNGA, 2018

Malaysia’s tough reforms ahead


August 31, 2018

Malaysia’s tough reforms  ahead

Donald L Horowitz / Khmer Times
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Malaysia’s new government faces challenges. The most urgent parts of a democracy agenda, non-discrimination and freedom of thought, may be hard to secure rapidly or fully due to the constellation of forces now sitting in Malaysia’s Parliament, writes Donald L Horowitz.

For the first time in the history of Malaysia, the opposition has defeated a sitting government at the polls. During the long rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN), Malaysia suffered serious degradation of its legal and political institutions, and the new coalition government of the Pakatan Harapan knows that it must deal with daunting challenges of reform.

The challenges are many. The judiciary needs new and firm guarantees of its independence and competence. Official bodies that regulate elections, fight corruption and cope with crime require fool proof insulation from political meddling. The federal system must be revitalised to ward off discontent and separatism in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, whose powers have been eroded and resources exploited by the former BN central government and its local allies.

Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities are strong supporters of the new government and need to find their way into the country’s mainstream after a long period of marginalisation. Religious minorities have to be freed from harassment, even persecution, by an overblown religious bureaucracy that also victimises moderate Muslims and members of dissenting Islamic sects. A country that lost large portions of political freedom confronts a heavy agenda of revitalisation.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad might be thought an unlikely reformer, given his prior record in the office from 1981 to 2003. But his capacity to get things done – including a major progressive reform of Islamic law that he commissioned in the 1980s – should serve him well.

As head of the smallest party in a four-party coalition, he will be obliged to heed the voices of his partners in Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic but Malay-majority People’s Justice Party (PKR), the mainly Chinese and Indian Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the moderate Muslim National Trust Party (Amanah). All four are represented in a cabinet that consists of a mix of fresh faces and leaders who are experienced in running what were previously opposition states. It is far more heterogeneous than the BN’s last cabinet.

Many problems are urgent, and short-term remedies have already been initiated. Personnel of doubtful probity have been removed from important commissions, which have also been taken out of the prime minister’s office. A clean-up of the police is underway, and two senior judges whose appointments were seen by the bar as unlawful have resigned. The new government has been quick to act when it comes to tarnished officials, and it has promised to repeal oppressive laws.

Systemic reforms will be harder. Perhaps least difficult will be revision of relations with the two Borneo states, because a blueprint already exists. Malaysia’s central government violated commitments to Sabah and Sarawak by respecting neither their autonomy nor their claim on their own resources. A negotiated outcome on both states should be facilitated by the original agreement, made in 1963, and by the disproportionate number of seats the states occupy on government benches in Parliament.

Creating real independence for institutional bodies that need to be free of partisan meddling is more challenging. That will require borrowing of techniques developed elsewhere. At the very least, durable institutions depend on deliberate decisions that are made ceremoniously, are well recorded, and are widely agreed, so that any violation will be immediately obvious.

Knottier still are problems of inter-ethnic relations. Chinese and Indian voters overwhelmingly cast ballots for the new government, regardless of the ethnic identity of the specific candidate. Disaffected by discrimination, they are expecting a new deal. This expectation may well be fulfilled by a new generation of Malay politicians who consider these voters fellow citizens.

A major obstacle is the split among Malay voters. Only about 30 per cent of Malays voted for Pakatan candidates, and the now opposition Barisan Nasional received almost no votes from non-Malays. Malay voters have become used to claims that the Pakatan is really controlled by its Chinese component, the DAP. Malay parties in the governing coalition will be wary of providing anything that can be interpreted as confirmation of this claim. There have already been complaints about appointments of non-Malays to important positions.

There has also been resistance to reforming the religious bureaucracies that led the religious oppression of the last half-decade. The Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia and its subsidiaries in every state have been responsible for suppressing minority religions and independent religious thought and for instigating police raids and prosecutions of Christians and Islamic dissenters. Its director-general has been replaced, but its ranks need a shakeup that can only proceed gradually.

Formerly moderate and tolerant, Malaysian Islamic opinion and practice have become notably narrower in recent years. Opposition parties will be looking for signs of such forbidden dogmas as ‘liberalism’ and ‘secularism’. The revitalisation of judicial independence should aid in preventing the worst abuses, countenanced as they were by judges who were tolerant of the machinations of the previous regime.

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The Malaysian Constitution is decidedly democratic and contains clear guarantees of religious freedom that were badly misinterpreted in recent years. Still, the most urgent parts of a democracy agenda – non-discrimination and freedom of thought – may be hard to secure rapidly or fully given the constellation of forces now sitting in Malaysia’s Parliament.

Donald L Horowitz is the James B Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Emeritus at Duke University. This comment first appeared in East Asia Forum.

A bit of American History: Nixon, Clinton and Trump


August 20, 2018

A bit of American History: Nixon, Clinton and Trump

Twenty years ago last Friday, President Bill Clinton testified before the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, and a grand jury about his sexual relationship with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

That night, Clinton addressed the nation, in which he confessed:

I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible. But I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action. I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.

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The Triangle–Hillary, Bill and Monica

It was a clear admission, even if offered under duress and after the option to lie had vanished, and even if still splitting some hairs.

Months earlier, Clinton had bluntly said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people.”

Days after Clinton made his admission, Donald Trump gave an interview to Chris Matthews in which he said of Clinton:

I think his little speech after it was a disaster. It wasn’t the right tone, and I’m not sure he should have done it. And, I’m not even sure that he shouldn’t have just gone in and taken the Fifth Amendment, and said: “Look, I don’t get along with this man, Starr. He’s after me. He’s a Republican.” He’s this, he’s that, and you know, just taken the Fifth Amendment. It’s a terrible thing for a president to take the Fifth Amendment, but he probably should have done it.

Donald Trump made clear then his approach to dealing with these sorts of problems: Admit nothing, confess nothing, deny everything, attack the person pursuing you.

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Donald Trump: Admit nothing, confess nothing, deny everything, attack the person pursuing you.

 

For me, it is clear that there was at least an attempt by members of the Trump team to conspire with Russians to influence the elections. The evidence of that is now public record. And, it is just as clear that Trump has attempted to obstruct justice by hampering the investigation and continues to do so.

Whether the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will deem those actions to meet the legal threshold of criminality is another story.

But it seems to me that Trump is growing increasingly agitated over the very real possibility that more members of his campaign and possibly his family are open to liability and that he himself may be vulnerable to eventual impeachment.

As such, he is mirroring the actions of President Richard Nixon, who resigned before he could be impeached.

Almost 25 years to the day before Clinton addressed the nation with his confession, Nixon addressed the nation with a denial.

Nixon said:

I said on May 22 that I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate operation. In all the testimony, there is not the slightest evidence to the contrary. Not a single witness has testified that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break‐in. It is also true, as I said on May 22, that I took no part in, and was not aware of, any subsequent efforts to cover up the illegal acts associated with the Watergate break‐in.

We now know, of course, that that was a lie.

But a full reading of Nixon’s statements sound mild compared to the viciousness with which Trump is attacking the investigation looking into illegality, the press reporting on it and those providing information for it.

Even in Nixon’s false statement, one reads at least a rhetorical respect for American institutions and history, even if that respect did not exist in fact or in full. Trump has none of that.

I believe he has absolutely no plans to personally cooperate with the investigation by sitting for an interview. He may have once believed that he could bluff his way through such an experience, but now his hostility and fear about the inquiry’s conclusion has clipped his courage.

And, I don’t believe Trump is going to confess as Clinton did, or resign as Nixon did, regardless of what Mueller finds, whom he prosecutes or what he says in a report.

Trump lies about almost everything, but one thing that he says is true: He is a fighter. But he’s not a fighter because he is fearsome or brave. Valor has no relationship to the man. Trump fights for vanity.

One of Trump’s greatest fears and greatest insecurities is being embarrassed and being exposed. Trump is petrified that someone will remove the mask he has been crafting for seven decades, or of having it be revealed that that mask is made of paper rather than steel.

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Charles Blow joined The Times in 1994 and became an Opinion columnist in 2008. He is also a television commentator and writes often about politics, social justice and vulnerable communities. @CharlesMBlow Facebook

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: Nixon, Clinton and Trump.

Malaysia: Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14


July 7, 2018

Malaysia:  Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.