Malaysia–GE-14: A Harapan Government next?

April 25, 2018

Malaysia–GE-14: On the verge of a Harapan Government

by Tommy Thomas

COMMENT | Foreign missions, election pundits, polls forecasters and secret or military intelligence all predict a comfortable victory for BN in the 14th General Election, with some even claiming that coalition chairperson Najib Abdul Razak is on the cusp of regaining a two-thirds majority.

But just as they failed to observe the trend in 2008 and 2013, I would suggest they are wrong again. The principal reason why I am confident that Pakatan Harapan will form the next government on May 10, 2018, is that they will receive about 60 percent of the popular vote. Hence, it is the voters who matter, and trying to understand what our voters desire in GE14 is the challenge.

What about the cheating? That is a given, and its effects must be overcome by overwhelming voter turnout and a massive swing to Harapan.

Recall the basic facts. Approximately 15 million voters have registered for GE14. Harapan should aim for about 13 million voters to cast their ballot, that is, a 86 percent turnout. Although polling is midweek, with sufficient initiative and drive, that figure is not unattainable.

To achieve a 60 percent vote, Harapan must secure 7.8 million votes out of the 13 million votes cast: a tall order indeed, but not impossible.

Thus, to get 112 seats, that is, just crossing the magic figure of 50 percent in the Dewan Rakyat, Harapan needs 60 percent of the votes. But to govern effectively, Harapan needs a comfortable majority, say, about 125 seats.

Profligate PM

I do not propose to enumerate the long list of reasons why voters desire the ouster of Najib, the caretaker Prime Minister. As one would expect from a government that has ruled a country for over 60 years, they have become absolutely arrogant and completely out of touch with the ordinary voter.

Corruption, nepotism and leakages are the order of the day. The over-centralisation of power in the office of the Prime Minister has resulted in the thousand most important positions of the state and its agencies to be in the gift of Najib, particularly his power to hire and fire, which he has exercised with cold efficiency.

A consideration of how the economy has been mismanaged by the caretaker Finance Minister and the specific examples of plunder in 1MDB and Felda would be sufficient to establish a case against BN’s re-election.

The debts of the government and its agencies have ballooned to about RM1 trillion in Najib’s nine years in office. This computation is wholly understated because it does not take into account contingent debts, like the countless guarantees given by the government which have to be honoured, and the off-balance sheet debts.

Najib may just be among the most profligate and wasteful finance ministers in the world. How he has survived in office for nearly three years after the world discovered that more than US$600 million was deposited into his personal banking account is perhaps the best proof of the extent of his power.

Institutions that are expected to provide checks and balances have failed miserably. The debts of 1MDB, which exceed RM40 billion, have to be repaid, along with the awesome debts of Felda.

In order to increase the national coffers to fill the holes created by his extravagance, GST was introduced, resulting in the suffering of millions of poor Malaysians eking out a living. Their real wages have not increased in years, but their living expenses have multiplied. Massive immigrant labour, both legal and illegal, suppress the wages of our workforce.

Hence, without having to consider their terrible policies in health, education, law and order and foreign relations – to name but a few – their economic mismanagement, considered on its own, is sufficient by any objective standard to vote them out. They are just unfit to rule. And our voters are aware of this.

I, therefore, believe that Malaysians in their millions are going to vote against the Najib administration.

Historical parallels

A historical example comes to mind. The Congress Party governed India for 30 years from 1947. For the last two years of its governance, then-prime minister Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency Rule, which resulted in the detention of thousands and the curtailment of civil liberties on a grand scale.

When a general election was called in early 1977, the ‘genie’ was let out of the bottle. Indian voters thrived in their newly-recovered freedom, and punished Gandhi at the polls. The Congress Party was heavily defeated, and Morarji Desai (a former deputy prime minister in a Congress administration) became prime minister in the Janata coalition.

These are sufficient parallels to the Malaysia of 2018. Malaysians too wish to be liberated from the clutches of Umno rule. Harapan is now a grand coalition of Bersatu, PKR, DAP and Amanah standing on a common logo.

DAP deserves credit for preferring the wider national interest over narrower sectarian advantages when they agreed to give up their famous rocket symbol.


Harapan is led by former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose return to power would constitute the most spectacular political comeback in modern history.

After a gap of 15 years, and heading a different party and coalition, he would return to office as the nation’s 7th Prime Minister, at the ripe old age of 92, to be followed by Anwar Ibrahim as our 8th Prime Minister, once the legal issues concerning his eligibility to run for Parliament are resolved.

Mahathir has spent his entire political career from his entry into Parliament in 1964 fighting for Malay rights, having championed their cause for half a century. Hence, the majority race in our plural society cannot find a better protector of their rights. They felt and would feel safe under his prime ministership.

After helming the nation for 22 years, he personifies the establishment. The Armed Forces, the Police and the deep state have full trust in him. The business community would recall him as a true friend to them.

As Najib is discovering to his dismay, Mahathir remains a formidable politician, having led his party to five successive general election victories.

There is no doubt that the momentum has swung to Mahathir. The snowball effect in politics is going to propel Harapan to victory.

Former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson once made a most profound observation: “One week is a long time in politics.” The two weeks to GE14 is even longer, and anything can happen.

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Political trickery and lies will flood our public space in the last few days before polling. The voters must stand vigilant and turn up in the millions to vote for Harapan so that a historic victory is achieved.

TOMMY THOMAS is a senior lawyer, who occasionally writes on political and economic matters.

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


Malaysia: GE-14: Why Is Najib Razak Strong Yet Weak ?

April 25, 2018

Malaysia: GE-14: Why Is Najib Razak Strong Yet Weak ?

By Rusman Husain*

* Rusman Husain who is a graduate of Georgetown University, Washington DC is a keen observer  of Malaysian politics. This article is in response to my request for his take on the forthcoming  May 9 GE-14 in Malaysia, which has been described as an epic battle between Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and UMNO President Najib Razak for the mandate to form the next Government in Malaysia. Rusman is more optimistic than I about who will emerge the GE-14 Victor.–Din Merican

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Graduates of the UMNO School of Politics, Anwar Ibrahim and Najib Razak with their Political Master Yoda, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad–A Twist of Fate for Malaysia

Like it or not, the 14th general election is the Waterloo of Najib—–with no escape. The furor that he and his inner circle have caused—-due to years of global gargantuan corruption—-will circle in to close down all his options across the board. In this sense, a post Najib era has begun, and a new Mahathirist and Anwar rapproachment has started in earnest.–Rusman Husain

Najib Razak has been at the helm of Malaysia since April 2009. What is exceptional about his arrival as the sixth Prime Minister of Malaysia is not much that he could climb the splippery pole of UMNO politics. Rather he didn’t do much at all to get to the top.

When his father passed away in 1976, Najib, who was studying in University of Nottingham in England, returned to Pekan, Pahang, to assume the parliamentary position of Tun Abdul Razak. The latter had been a household name in Malaysian politics due to the extent to which he helped the Malays, often by parceling lands to local farmers.

When Anwar Ibrahim, the president of UMNO Youth stepped to the fore to be the deputy president of UMNO, effectively allowing Anwar to first serve as the Deputy Prime Minister, Najib filled the lacunae left by Anwar in UMNO Youth. Invariably, when Abdullah Badawi resigned as the  Prime Minister of Malaysia in 2009, after experiencing a heavy electoral loss in 2008, Najib stepped up to the plate. The whole process of shoving and pushing Abdullah down was triggered by Muhyiddin Yassin, who is now one of the opposition stalwarts who have joined forces with Mahathir and Anwar to thwart Najib from winning another five year term on May 9 2018. Even still – as Prime Minister he waited until the very last minute, twice, to call an election, rather than aggressively going to the polls when he probably had a greater advantage.

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Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa (Mongolian language: Шаарийбуугийн Алтантуяа; sometimes also Altantuya Shaariibuu; 1978 – 2006), a Mongolian national, was a murder victim who was either murdered by C-4 explosives or was somehow killed first and her remains destroyed with C-4 in October 2006 in a deserted area in Shah Alam, Malaysia near Kuala Lumpur. READ ON:

Thus, in a political career spanning more than 40 years, Najib has had the good fortune of filling up key positions that had otherwise been made vacant by the passing and resignation of his political superiors. More incredibly, Najib was able to survive all charges of criminal complicity in the death of a Mongolian model, whose body was detonated into smithereens with C4 explosives.

A long political career shaped by fortuitous circumstances and survival, indeed back room maneuvers, is not one to be chafed at. Najib commands the human networks, and financial resources, to make his lieutenants stay true to him. But Najib is weakened by four factors that many analysts tend to forget.

One, Najib did not want the position by design. It landed on him by default. Such a leader is often long on “tricks,” no doubt picked up from a long career, but short on grits. The absence of the latter makes his followers vulnerable to the slightest public pressures. When push comes to shove, Najib lacks the stamina, and staying power, to withstand the human tide of opposition. By this token, one cannot rule out a police crack down too, even as Malaysia is waltzing towards the 14th general election.

Two, Najib has reached the peak through a constant process of ingratiation and careful calibration. Every speech act is articulated to gain a micro advantage. It is as simple as that. Yet, the absence of any courage, indeed, the aversion to any risks, will paradoxically convince his cabinet ministers that Najib will not be able to protect them at all. Thus, one will see more and more ministers defecting to the coalition of Anwar and Mahathir, if not openly, then secretly. What will begin as a trickle can potentially become a torrent (of betrayals).

Three,Najib has never felt the need to triangulate the inflow of his information. For the lack of better word, Najib has never learned how to trust and verify the incoming polls. It would not be surprised to see a Najib confident of winning 2/3 of the parliament of 222 seats, only to realize at the very last forty eights hours of the general election on May 9, that he has to negotiate a post election exit. Thus, May 7 and 8, will prove two of the most important dates in the four decade careers of Najib. Any miscalculation will lead to the fall of his proverbial house of cards.

Finally, with the absence of triangulation, comes a bubble effect. Najib is likely to believe that he can carry the full electoral mandate, which in turn affects his strategic calculation on May 7 and 8, leading to his willingness to risk it all by May 9. Such a bubble effect is likely to be all consuming and enveloping, preventing his wife, indeed, his inner circle to advise him to sue for peace, both before and after the parliamentary results that are likely to see a watershed defeat of Najib.

Like it or not, the 14th general election is the Waterloo of Najib—–with no escape. The furor that he and his inner circle have caused—-due to years of global gargantuan corruption—-will circle in to close down all his options across the board. In this sense, a post Najib era has begun, and a new Mahathirist and Anwar rapproachment has started in earnest.

Trump’s New National Security Team

April 24, 2018

Trump’s New National Security Team


While Mike Pompeo and John Bolton have shown that they can communicate with Donald Trump, neither has ever shown any capacity for dealing with a crisis, much less arresting the decline of US leadership in the world. The expected meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will be their first test.

DENVER – US President Donald Trump’s recent cabinet shakeup – with former CIA Director Mike Pompeo replacing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and foreign-policy hardliner John Bolton replacing H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser – represents a significant shift in national security priorities and attitudes. A dangerous world could become more dangerous still.

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After over a year of near-daily drama, the world has begun to adjust to the reality of the Trump Administration, which includes frequent ad hominem attacks on foreign leaders and capriciousness in relations even with close allies. Beginning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, America’s allies, especially in Europe, have recognized that they can no longer count on the US as a partner.

As a result, these leaders are increasingly attempting to mitigate the effects of the Trump Administration’s unilateral decisions, many of which directly undermine global cooperation. Notably, Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – two initiatives that would have helped to cement America’s global leadership, had the Trump Administration not insisted on regarding them as Lilliputian conspiracies against the US.


More recently, Trump doubled down on this approach, announcing stiff tariffs on aluminum and steel, from which some allies – but not Japan – are temporarily exempted. This doesn’t look good for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had rushed to be the first to embrace the Trump Administration. While Abe will recover his political footing on the tariff issue, he will be far more cautious moving forward.

As these developments unfolded, Tillerson and McMaster struggled. Diffidence and arrogance are a fatal combination for a Secretary of State, yet that is precisely what Tillerson displayed – and he rarely seemed to have a good day in the job. Similarly, McMaster – a hasty but welcome replacement for the disgraced Michael Flynn – seemed to be in over his head, unable to connect with the President or manage interagency dynamics.

By contrast, Pompeo and Bolton have shown that they can communicate with Trump – no small feat for a President who, well into his second year in office, has yet to develop a strong relationship with his National Security team. But neither has ever shown any capacity for dealing with a crisis, much less arresting the decline of US global leadership.


Becoming Secretary of State – the cabinet’s most prestigious position – is a significant step up for Pompeo, whose short tenure as CIA director was preceded by a six-year stint in the House of Representatives, representing Kansas’ fourth congressional district. Most Americans first heard of him in 2015, when he grilled then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her supposed role in the tragic death of the US Ambassador in Benghazi, Libya. While that performance could conceivably indicate a welcome concern about the security of US diplomats abroad, it also indicates a politicized approach to security and decision-making, which was also reflected in Pompeo’s tenure at the CIA.

As for Bolton, he has served as a political appointee in several administrations. He made his mark as an archenemy of traditionally apolitical government agencies, which Trump administration officials have now labeled part of the “deep state,” regularly accusing such professionals – as well as diplomats – of “appeasement.”

A relentless bureaucratic brawler, Bolton is not without accomplishments. His Proliferation Security Initiative, launched during President George W. Bush’s administration, is generally regarded as a diplomatic success that has helped to foster international cooperation. But, for the most part, Bolton has shown himself to be a foreign-policy hawk with a penchant for unilateralism.

With the North Korea crisis looming, the world will not have to wait long to find out how Bolton’s and Pompeo’s inclinations translate into action. Both are expected to start their new jobs in the run-up to Trump’s expected summit with Kim Jong-un – the product of yet another abrupt unilateral decision by Trump.

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Many within the Republican Party who are skeptical of diplomacy, of whom Bolton is a leader, have balked at Trump’s decision to meet with Kim, arguing that talks with dictators are a waste of time that ultimately play into autocrats’ hands. Even those who instinctively support diplomacy have serious doubts: with no further diplomatic steps available, if Trump’s gambit fails, only military solutions will be left.

Bolton and Pompeo may believe that the best possible outcome is for the meeting to take place, with Trump storming out angrily. But a negative outcome is not what most people want, especially given the lack of compelling alternatives. And it is almost certainly not what Trump wants, given his eagerness to prove that he was wise to accept Kim’s invitation to meet. The extent to which Pompeo and Bolton support the initiative will thus have a significant impact not just on the summit itself, but also on Trump’s presidency.

Successful summits tend to be those that are well prepared. Will Bolton be willing to engage the South Korea’s leaders, whom he has so often criticized as appeasers, in order to harmonize the US and South Korean positions? Will he or Pompeo work with the Chinese to identify an effective mode of cooperation? Will either official be willing to meet with the North Koreans before the summit to ensure a positive outcome?

A President may pull a rabbit out of a hat from time to time. But that trick is possible only when diplomats – usually led by the national security adviser and the secretary of state – have prepared the props. Whether Pompeo and Bolton can do so remains unclear. What is clear is that we will have to rely not on experience, but on hope.

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Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was US Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, a US special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, and the chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005-2009. He is Chief Advisor to the Chancellor for Global Engagement and Professor of the Practice in Diplomacy at the University of Denver, and the author of Outpost.

Revitalising The Commonwealth

April 23, 2018

Revitalising The Commonwealth

by John Elliot

“The Commonwealth is turning the corner – it’s not quite around it, yet but it’s turning,” a leading official involved with the 53-country organization, which gets more brickbats than praise, said to me at the end of the past week’s two-day summit and forums in London.

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That just about sums up the most optimistic view possible on the status of this strange post-empire body which, if it owes allegiance to anything or anybody, seems to do so to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth who was 92 yesterday. She has been the organization’s head, and has held it together, since her mid-20s. Two days ago she secured agreement from the 52 leaders attending the summit that Prince Charles, 69, her eldest son and heir to the British throne, will in due course take over from her.

The Queen and Prince Charles are therefore two of the week’s three top winners. The third is probably Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, whose country has shed its previous disinterest and is becoming a prominent player, doubling its contribution to a technical co-operation fund and providing funds and development work in other areas.

India’s new involvement was directly sought by the British government in a series of moves over the past year. This reflected both the organization’s urgent need for an injection of fresh thinking and action, and India’s growing international importance – it is expected to become the Commonwealth’s largest economy in the next year or two when its GDP overtakes Britain, and it accounts for more than half the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion people.

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Modi was wooed personally by Prince Charles, among others, to attend CHOGM, which no Indian Prime Minister had done since 2009, and to step up India’s involvement. Modi then championed the prince in discussions to inherit the Queen’s role.

Questions at a press conference two night ago about whether there were any objections to Charles drew answers that suggested not all the countries wanted him. The Ghana president, Nana Akufo-Addo, revealingly said there was “a strong consensus,” and Theresa May, the British prime minister said it was “unanimous” which, of course, does not mean there were no dissenters during the discussions.

Suggestions that the role could rotate around the members did not have much support, and there was no other international figure of sufficient stature. The decision could have been delayed, but the British government and royal family lobbied effectively against that happening.

After the three winners, May was the fourth important figure this week, but more as a survivor. She desperately wanted to use summit to pitch the UK’s interest in increasing its role as a trading partner after Brexit. Instead she was distracted by a row over the UK’s appalling treatment of Caribbean British immigrants, whose lives have been devastated by a “hostile environment” on immigration that she determinedly pushed as home secretary before becoming prime minister.


For months, she and her government ignored reports in The Guardian about the problems and rebuffed parliamentary questions, until a week ago when May’s office refused to arrange a meeting with Caribbean leaders. That triggered a crisis that continued this weekend despite days of apologies and offers of compensation.

This points to how accident-prone the summit, known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), can be. Four years ago, it was boycotted by three countries, and only 27 the 50 that attended were represented by heads of state, because of the human rights record of Sri Lanka, the host. It could be heading for a repeat of that because Rwanda, where human rights abuses have a longer and more embedded history than Sri Lanka, has almost unbelievably been chosen for the 2020 summit.

No management structure

The primary problems are that the 53-country body itself does not have an effective leadership or management structure and has been floundering for at least ten years as a worthy collection of nations with many laudable causes but no clear international role (which it did have for over 30 years against South Africa’s apartheid).

The Queen presides but does not lead, though Prince Charles, who champions various environmental and other causes, may begin to be more active before he formally takes over. The country that hosts the biennial CHOGM is regarded as the leader for the next two years, so Britain has that role till 2020. Frequently, however, the country involved has little capability or interest to push more than the ceremonials and summit.

Then there is the Secretariat, housed in Marlborough House close to the London’s royal palaces. At its head is a secretary general appointed by the member countries. The post is currently held by Baroness (Patricia) Scotland, 62, who was born in the former British colony of Dominica and was attorney general in the UK’s last Labor government.


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In the two years that she has held the post, the general view is that the secretariat has not functioned well – preparations for CHOGM were hived off to a special unit in the Cabinet Office reporting direct to the May and headed by Tim Hitchens, a senior Foreign Office official who was earlier ambassador to Japan and assistant private secretary to the Queen. Scotland’s predecessor, who came from India and held the post for eight years, was regarded as charming but ineffectual.

That is why it was crucial for this CHOGM to set a new course while the Queen was still the focal point. It was due to be held in Vanuatu in the Pacific, which was hit by a devastating cyclone, so the UK gladly took over, enabling the Queen (who no longer flies abroad) to be present.