ASEAN needs the support of its Leaders and the private sector

November 29, 2015

COMMENT: It is true that ASEAN has come a long way, makingDin Merican@Rosler considerable inroads in its effort to bring together all peoples in Southeast Asia. Since its founding in Bangkok in 1967, it has grown into an organisation that is taken seriously by Australia, China, the European Community, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States and other nations.

All ASEAN leaders and officials too are working hard on the basis of mutual trust and renewed self belief in the pursuit of peace, sustainable socio-economic development, and cooperation.

Success poses a challenge, one of managing high expectations from the business sector, civil society and the people. Right now, the ASEAN Secretariat is working on a shoe string budget and with limited professional staff. It is time for the secretariat to be strengthened. While we should avoid being another Brussels, we should at least ensure that the secretariat is given the resources needed to carry out its awesome tasks more effectively.

One of its biggest challenge is how to bridge the development gap between the original ASEAN-5, Brunei, and the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam). It is time for ASEAN Leaders to consider the creation of an ASEAN Development Fund for the development of the CLMV region. Enough with the rhetoric and let us put money where it counts since high-sounding words and slogans are meaningless.

Laos as the next chair can take the initiative to propose this idea as part of its agenda in 2016-2017. Make the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together document a living reality.

It is necessary for the private sector to take a very proactive role in promoting cross borders investments and intra-regional  trade since ASEAN is a huge market of some 300 million people with rising incomes due to strong economic growth. So, I expect dynamism, entrepreneurship, and risk taking from the private sector since the ASEAN Free Trade Area is in existence.

An effective partnership between ASEAN governments and the private sector is vital if we are to promote economic integration and give meaning to the big ideas  as contained in the aforementioned ASEAN 2025 documents.


I welcome Dr. Munir’s idea that we should ” [T]each ASEAN history. Organiseinternship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees”. More than that is required.  For example, at the University of Cambodia’s Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations with which I am actively involved as Associate Dean and Professor of Political Philosophy and International Relations, on the initiative of our President, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn we are offering ASEAN studies at the Doctoral and Masters levels.

Dr Kao Kim Hourn
The University also organises courses leading to degrees in English Literature and Humanities, and conducts English-speaking courses for young Cambodians. All our degree courses are conducted in Khmer and English.

The University has established an ASEAN Leadership Center which has received books, research papers, reports, and publications from the ASEAN Secretariat, some ASEAN countries, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, IMF, UNDP, and friends and associates.We need contributions and support for our resource center, and grants for research in ASEAN studies.

We hope to form collaborations with reputable universities  and public policy schools in our region  and beyond for capacity building and faculty exchange. It is our intention to welcome researchers and scholars to our campus in Phnom Penh.

There is  a lot of work to advance the ASEAN Economic Community project. From here on,  ASEAN will be judged by results. Will we take the challenge or are content with business as usual with countless meetings, golf,  and durian eating sessions and expensive dinners funded by taxpayers; money? –Din Merican

ASEAN needs the support of its Leaders  and the private sector to move purposefully FORWARD

by Dr. Munir Majid*

Najib and ASEAN Leaders

Simple things must be done. These have been outstanding for such a long time that people wonder if ASEAN leaders are bothered about them. Make it easier for them to travel. Make them recognise things they have in common such as with food. Teach ASEAN history. Organise internship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees.–Dr. Munir Majid

The region has come a long way and can point to many achievements, says Dr. Munir Majid of the London School of Economics.

ASEAN is an association of states seeking to become a community of nations. There is no surrender of authority or sovereignty to any ASEAN supranational body. ASEAN works by consensus. Every member state in the association has to agree before any agreement can be said to have been concluded.

Yet ASEAN has come a long way and can point to many achievements. Many agreements on greater integration have been concluded. And there have been no major conflicts between or among ASEAN states since the association’s establishment in 1967 precisely to achieve peace and stability so that there can be economic and social progress.

The absence of war is a good sign of the ethic of cooperation which points to potential formation of community. While there can be debate over how much the existence of ASEAN contributed to the avoidance of conflict, it cannot be denied meeting regularly and working together towards regional cooperation provide strong incentives towards peaceable rather than conflictual relations.

In the economic sphere there is the ASEAN Free Trade Area whatever the non-tariff barriers that may be said to exist as indeed, they exist everywhere in the world. While much has been made of the unsatisfactory level of ASEAN trade, since the AEC 2007 Blueprint it has increased by US$1 trillion, and at US$2.5 trillion the 24% share is well above that of second placed China at 14%.

The single market and production base is well on its way. With size and growth of ASEAN economies expected to achieve 7% above baseline by 2025 through greater integration, and the reshuffling of manufacturing and services base from economic development, a greater complementarity that is currently not the case will definitely boost intra-ASEAN trade further.

ASEAN's Time

Just imagine if there was better progress in the flow of investment and capital and of skilled labour as well, ASEAN would surely be on the way towards becoming that fourth-sized global economy which even now attracts more FDI (foreign direct investment) than China, an 11% share of total global flows, when not too long ago it was the fear that ASEAN would fall between the two stools of China and India.

Another positive development not often credited, on the socio-cultural side, is the participation of social activists and NGOs in the ASEAN decision-making process who would otherwise not get the time of day in a number of national jurisdictions.

These groups and activists interact with leaders, ministers and officials at ASEAN summits – like the one a week ago – and also organise their own events and activities. As the ASEAN Business Advisory Council chair this past year, I have also been trying to accommodate them at private sector meetings, as there are many issues, such as treatment of migrant labour and responsible business practice, which have a bearing on the economy that need to be thrashed out. They are not political or purely social issues alone.

Of course no one is satisfied. Not the geopolitical strategist, the businessman or the social activist. When you call yourself a community, you raise expectations. You cannot expect to go round telling everyone to be grateful for small mercies. You have promised them big.

Dr Munir Majid

Whenever I am asked about the ASEAN community or the AEC, by local or foreign media representatives, the question is always framed in a skeptical manner. There is a lot of cynicism whatever the leaders and officials say.

Even when the numbers are thrown out, there is suggestion that they would have been attained without ASEAN integration which is characterised more by what has not than what has been achieved.

Even businessmen who have benefited by what has been achieved complain about all those barriers that remain. So do social activists who are dissatisfied particularly by human rights violations in the region which do not obtain ASEAN reprimand and by evident inability to work together to address transnational problems such as the smog (euphemistically called the haze).

There is no sense of being ASEAN, especially among the people the governments are supposed to serve. Simple things that can make them feel ASEAN have been outstanding for years. As usual, it is felt, it is big business that is getting the lion’s share of the integration attention.

If this distance between what the people feel – or not feel – and the high level integration process continues the ASEAN community will be nothing but hyperbole.

Simple things must be done. These have been outstanding for such a long time that people wonder if ASEAN leaders are bothered about them. Make it easier for them to travel. Make them recognise things they have in common such as with food. Teach ASEAN history. Organise internship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees.

So many have been suggested so many times in so many reports. If by the end of its first year the ASEAN community does not see these simple things materialising, its future development will be bleak. No point talking about a milestone in a process if the process at the people level does not move.

The 27th ASEAN summit ended last Sunday with a lofty declaration full of many promises. The ASEAN 2025 document pushes out much of the unfinished business while being loaded with some highly qualitative objectives for the next 10 years.

If with the quantitative ASEAN falls short, how will it do with the qualitative? There was a great sense of urgency running into the end of 2015. Now that’s over, however what has been achieved is felt and perceived, is there going to be a similar drive now that there are 10 years to play with?

Every ASEAN summit promises something. This last one of course the most. About community. After the song and dance, and the lofty declarations and linking of arms, ASEAN decamps. Everyone goes home. It feels like the morning after the night before.

But there is so much work to be done. There must be continued drive. Not just Laos, the next chair of ASEAN.

All member states. Association and community. High level and people-centric. Official and private. Relaxed and delirious. Developed and much less developed. Politically stable and not so stable. Closer to China and closer to the US.

There are always two parts to ASEAN. Diversity is a challenge. Convergence does not come of itself. The community must not have a split personality.

Where the differences have been most pointed is with regard to China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea. ASEAN Foreign Ministers failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in July 2012, exposing the fissures in the association on the matter. What will happen in 2016 when Laos takes the chair?

The most work has to be done where the greatest differences exist. The South China Sea is one such area. The foreign ministries have to work to fashion what can be a common position, and not just rush in and out of negotiations. Who is taking the lead, many people wonder.

So much work remains to be done. So many differences remain among member states. Without drive and leadership ASEAN will not get anywhere just because the ASEAN community has been inaugurated. ASEAN can have no morning after the night before.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Zaid Ibrahim to UMNO: Stop sucking up to Najib Razak

November 27, 2015

Zaid Ibrahim to Top UMNO Leaders: Stop sucking up to Najib Razak

by FMT Reporters


As UMNO readies itself for its General Assembly in December, former law minister Zaid Ibrahim has taken it upon himself to offer some sage advice to the party’s top leadership: stop sucking-up to Prime Minister Najib Razak.

He said it was time for the party to “move on” and that the only sensible thing left for its top leadership to do was exert immense pressure on Najib to resign because if the party president hung on to his post, it would spell the end of UMNO.

“We need to move on. In light of the deep crisis the country is facing, it’s irresponsible for UMNO’s top leaders to do nothing but suck up to Najib,” he wrote in his latest blog entry, saying that only fear prevented them from doing the right thing.

Describing Najib as the party’s “biggest liability” in its entire history, Zaid said, “If Najib survives, UMNO will surely fall.”

Zahid Hamidi--Malay Rights

The Next Prime Minister of Malaysia?

He said the strategy to unseat Najib was simple enough and all Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had to do was win over Najib’s former Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin.

“Muhyiddin is not young anymore and all he wants, I think, is to be treated fairly and honourably by the party he loves and has dedicated his life to. He has probably given up the idea of becoming PM.”

He also said other top UMNO leaders like Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishamuddin Hussein should support Zahid’s plan to be the next Prime Minister.


The Suave Deputy Prime Minister (?)–A Refreshing Prospect

“Khairy is definitely in the running for the top spot in the next 10 to fifteen years,” Zaid said, adding that Hishamuddin should “embrace” Zahid as Prime Minister and accept the position of Deputy Prime Minister without kicking up a fuss.

He said grappling with the issue of Najib and his refusal to resign should be the crux of the General Assembly instead of the usual fare where delegates launch their “tirades” against the Chinese, Jews and Malay liberals.

However Zaid feared that this General Assembly would be like most others. “Will the delegates dare talk about putting Deputy Prime Minister Dato Seri Zahid Hamidi in the top seat before everyone is drowned? Unlikely?”

Hishamuddin Hussein

The Joker Minister of Defence cannot be Deputy Prime Minister

He said the watching world was stunned at the “paralysis” of the country’s biggest party and said, “I thought UMNO’s keris-wielding leaders were made of sterner stuff.”

Burma’s General Ne Win–A Political Biography

November 26, 2015

Book Review

General Ne Win–A Political Biography

NeWin-200Robert H Taylor, General Ne Win: A Political Biography, (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2015)

Reviewed by Frank Milne

Ne Win, the dictator of Burma from 1962 to 1988, looms large in the nation’s modern history and memory. With historic free and fair elections – the first in 25 years – having just taken place, one wonders what he would think of the country today.

As he died while under house arrest in 2002, we can’t ask Ne Win about his nation’s political transformation. However, in Robert H Taylor’s General Ne Win, we are provided with an illuminating and important study of one of Burma’s most controversial political figures.

This excellent biography addresses Ne Win’s career and his place in Burmese political movements in the 20th century. It is a thoroughly researched account of the period. There is less information about his personal life and views outside politics, as he left no collection of papers, and contemporary accounts were mostly written by those who had fallen out with him.

I served in the Australian Embassy in Burma for two separate periods (1963–65 as Second Secretary and 1982-86 as Ambassador) which book-ended the Ne Win period. The earlier period was gloomy, as the economy was dislocated by wholesale nationalisation, political opponents were jailed, political parties banned, and the press strictly controlled. Burmese officials went to ground, and contact with foreigners was restricted.

I had one opportunity to meet Ne Win at a small lunch he gave for the Australian Foreign Minister Paul Hasluck in May 1965. His conversation over lunch was genial but general, though he did not conceal his low opinion of the Burmese people’s capacity for sustained effort, and the need for a firm government hand.

Ne Win was not simply a general who staged a coup d’état as a road to power and fortune. His lifelong commitment was to the unity of Burma and its independence from foreign political or economic control. In the 1930s, well before his military career, he was politically active in the nationalist association Dobama Asiayon pursuing independence from British colonial rule. He was one of the Thirty Comrades trained by the Japanese, to form the nucleus of the Japanese-controlled Burma Independence Army. This later became the Burma Defence Army, which in 1945 turned to the allied side against the Japanese.

In the internal upheavals before and after Independence in 1948, Ne Win, now one of the senior figures in the new Burmese army, played a major part in defending U Nu’s socialist government against ethnic insurgents, and Communist rebels.

Taylor’s book provides a rigorous account of the roller coaster ride that followed.

In 1949, now supreme commander of the armed forces, Ne Win was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Home and Defence Minister, but resigned his ministerial positions in 1950 to concentrate on the armed forces.  His brief cabinet experience gave him distaste for party politicians whom he regarded as preferring self-interest above the national interest. This jaundiced view of politicians was shared by his subordinates in the Army for the next 50 years.

In 1958 a split in the ruling party led to a constitutional crisis. This was resolved in 1959 by Ne Win taking charge as caretaker prime minister to restore order before new elections.  Ne Win ensured that the army remained politically neutral, but was not prepared to let the communists come to power, when it seemed that U Nu was prepared to make concessions to win their support. His nonpartisan and technocratic government provided a period of stability, but the 1960 elections won by U Nu’s Union Party did not provide a lasting solution.

Amid growing political unrest and dissension, and concerned for the future of the Union if U Nu were to grant greater autonomy to the ethnic minorities, Ne Win took power in a sudden and largely bloodless coup in March 1962. He did not follow the policy of his previous caretaker government, but embarked on a new socialist revolution and a one party system under his leadership – The Burmese Way to Socialism.

Though he was not a Marxist, and indeed was strongly opposed to the Burmese communists, he regarded Marxist methods as a useful means of establishing the control needed to get the easy-going Burmese people to become self-reliant, develop the country and protect their own culture. He was above all concerned to protect the integrity of the Union of Burma against foreign and domestic challenges.

By 1982 Ne Win had handed over the Presidency to San Yu, though he remained a controlling presence as Party Chairman. He no longer had any contact with foreign missions. The socialist revolution was then running out of steam, and its first rigours were somewhat relaxed, but the economy was at low ebb. The ethnic insurgency rumbled on in the background, though the communists, now confined to the northern border area, now longer posed a serious threat.

In the epilogue summing up Ne Win’s career, Taylor notes that the Ne Win revolution was not bloody but it was admittedly not cost-free. On the credit side he suggests that Ne Win did create a nation with the resilience from its own resources to withstand over 20 years of economic sanctions. He succeeded in his principal foreign policy aim of keeping Burma out of external entanglements and free of foreign political and economic influences, although at the expense of opportunities foregone.

He was prepared to accept the cost of rejecting foreign loans or assistance that came with strings. He did not want Burma to be enrolled in either side in the cold war, with the risk of exposing the country to the sort of great power conflict which ravaged the countries of Indochina. He was equally suspicious of Chinese intentions and the potential for United States interference. He carried his policy of neutralism to the extent of abandoning the non-aligned movement when he considered it had abandoned its founding principles.

His economic policies were not successful. Taylor points out that many social indicators such as literacy, infant mortality and basic health care improved under Ne Win. However such improvement might well have been greater under a more pragmatic economic regime. Partly because of the insurgency, expenditure on the Armed Forces greatly exceeded the funds devoted to health and education. Whether a more flexible government might have been able to negotiate a better and less expensive settlement with the ethnic minorities without breaking up the Union is another question. But Ne Win normally preferred the stick to the carrot.

Taylor notes that by persisting in failed policies long after it became clear that they had failed, the government did less than it could have done to reverse Burma’s economic decline. He suggests that Ne Win knew the policy of Socialist autarchy had failed, but feared the alternative of re-engaging with the world economy, partly because those around him were averse to change and those he had to work with had been cut off from knowledge of the new ideas and new developments in economic theory and the sciences by the country’ self-imposed isolation.

He also feared that the Burmese people, despite cajoling and coercion, might not resist the temptations of a new foreign economic invasion. But a more productive economic policy would surely have been possible without harmful foreign entanglements, if the government had been prepared to listen to better advice.

Despite Ne Win’s genuinely patriotic intentions, the end result of his regime was to keep Burma in a time warp for over 40 years, from which it is only now starting to emerge. The consequences of his political career, make Taylor’s book a must read.

Frank Milne was Australian Ambassador to Burma from 1982-86.


Bicameral Parliament–The Future of Dewan Negara (The Senate)

November 26, 2015

COMMENT: I am not a legal person, neither is Ramadin-merican in sing Ramanathan. He is an engineer and I am an economist by academic orientation. But I can understand his views on our parliamentary system. In fact, I compliment him for raising the issue of the future role of the Malaysian Senate (Dewan Negara) in our constitutional democracy.

I will, however, take issue with his view that the difference between our Parliament (bicameral) and that of Singapore (unicameral) is because Singapore is a city whereas ours is a Federation of 13 states. That distinction is strictly not a valid one. Both Malaysia and Singapore are independent sovereign nations. Singapore chose to have a Parliament without a Senate for reasons of their own. But that is not an issue. I differ with him since I  do not see any value in a piecemeal approach to democratic reform. Our whole system is problematic.

Of what  use  are a Senate and our Lower House which are mere rubber stamps.  We cannot even have a healthy debate on bills and policies proposed and dictated by the Executive Branch. All our Parliamentarians and Senators cannot influence policy making since they are required to act along party lines,  and  are unable to perform their proper roles in our system of checks and balances as provided for in our constitution and they cannot decide in the interest of their respective constituents.

Tun Dr MahathirOur constitution mandates clear separation of powers between Parliament, the Judiciary and the Executive Branch. But over time, our former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad made sure that the legislative and judicial branches answer to an all-powerful Executive Branch. We the voters were equally culpable when we gave UMNO-BN under his leadership two-thirds majority to govern after every election throughout his 22-year rule. That enabled Tun Dr. Mahathir to amend the constitution as he saw fit to become a powerful Prime Minister.

Today both Dewan Negara and Dewan Rakyat are dysfunctional. Our Dewan Rakyat in particular has become a monkey house (with due respects to our distant cousin).

We do not need a rubber stamp legislature because we already have a powerful Executive Branch. Why do we have a Parliament that is just a symbol of democratic governance and elections that are not free and fair. Imagine the millions upon millions of ringgits we can put to better use for nation building.

In reality, we need government, not anarchy. It is an indispensable institution but we have to make it function better. To do so, let us start by undertaking a complete  review of our constitution so that the three branches of government operate as our original constitutional experts designed it at the time of our independence 58 years ago, but one that is adapted to meet our present circumstances and stage of political development.

Let us undertake electoral reform to ensure free and fair elections, revise rules with strict criteria for choosing candidates (including background checks) for elections, establish rules with regard to campaign funding, and undertake systematic delineation of electoral constituencies to prevent gerrymandering.

After all that, we can decide whether we should retain our present bicameral Parliament (which is like in the UK), adopt the Singapore unicameral model, or use the American model where Senators and Representatives are elected by the American people. In the United States, the Congress, the Judiciary and the Executive Branch perform their  respective roles in accordance with the Constitution. Otherwise, we will be putting the cart before the horse, so to speak.

Finally, we as Malaysians have to decide what democratic governance we want  which will be based on a new constitution. We cannot leave this important matter in the hands of politicians, be they from UMNO-BN or the so-called Pakatan Harapan. A national referendum on the new constitution should be conducted for this purpose.–Din Merican

Bicameral Parliament–The Future of Dewan Negara (The Senate)

by Rama Ramanathan

Malaysian Parliament 2

The job of Parliament is to ensure that the Cabinet, composed of the Prime Minister and ministers, carries out the will of the people. The Cabinet is supposed to carry out the will of the people by crafting policies and laws for approval by Parliament and by executing them under the supervision of Parliament.

The Parliament of Singapore is unicameral, whereas the Parliament of Malaysia is bicameral. That means Malaysia has a lower house (House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat) and an upper house (Senate or Dewan Negara) to represent the people, make laws and monitor the Cabinet, whereas Singapore only has one house.

Why is there a difference between Malaysia and Singapore?It’s different because Malaysia is a Federation, while Singapore is a city-state.

In a bicameral system, all policies and laws, except “money bills,” must be approved by both houses. Typically, the lower house – the Dewan Rakyat – is composed of members (MPs) elected by citizens in largely self-governed, distinct geographical areas.

In Malaysia, states and Federal Territories are largely self-governed; so, they elect MPs to the lower house. Because the number of persons living in these areas varies, so does the number of MPs from each area.

For instance, the population of Johor is over 10 times as large as that of Perlis. Should Johor and Perlis have the same number of representatives in the Dewan Rakyat?

The Federal Constitution answered the question in 1957. The answer hinged on the principle of proportional representation.

Under that principle, areas with larger populations get more voices in Parliament, and thus more opportunity to influence national decisions.

That principle still applies. Presently, amongst the Peninsular states, Johor has the largest number of representatives (26) and Perlis has the smallest number (3).

One of the dangers of states with larger populations having greater influence over national decisions is that factors other than size of the population may be ignored in decision-making.

For instance, a policy to accept refugees crossing the Thailand-Malaysia border may put a greater burden on citizens in Perlis than on citizens in Johor. Residents of Perlis may suffer more.

Similarly, if we made an international commitment to stop cutting down our forests, state revenues will go down more in Pahang and less in Johor. Pahang may have to cut spending or raise land taxes; residents of Pahang will suffer more.

In a Federation, the Senate is designed to ensure that the interest of each area is carefully considered before national decisions are made.

In Malaysia, as in most other nations, the upper house (Senate) cannot reject decisions of the lower house; it can only delay them. But this still works as a strong incentive for the Cabinet to craft policies and laws which will not be delayed by the Senate.

The characteristics of a well-functioning Senate which I’ve alluded to above are not today’s reality. The reality is different for many reasons. I’ll list just five.

First, in 1963, when the Federation of Malaysia was created, Sabah and Sarawak were over-represented and Singapore was under-represented in the Dewan Rakyat – instead of in the Dewan Negara (Senate).

This was a tacit acknowledgement of the lack of electoral legitimacy on the part of Senators, whether they are “elected” (with no competition) by state governments or by the Federal government.

Second, Senators appointed by the Yang diPertuan Agong (actually proposed by the Prime Minister) vastly outnumber Senators from the states.

Decades ago, when there were only 11 states, there were to be 22 senators from the states and 16 appointed senators. Today, with 13 states and 4 Federal territories, there are 30 senators sent by the areas and 40 senators appointed by the Federal Government.

Third, the government uses Senatorial appointments to put unelected persons – who cannot be punished by voters at elections – in Ministerial offices.

Fourth, the Cabinet bypasses Parliament and works through ministerial dictates.

Fifth, though the constitution provides (Article 66), for the Senate to initiate Bills which may eventually become law, I’m not aware of the Senate ever having done so. Neither am I aware of any Bills defeated in the Senate.

The Senate was designed to be a tiger. It has neither roared nor taken prey because the ruling coalition practices “winner takes everything” politics, not politics which acknowledges the Cabinet is subject to Parliament; not the kind that works for compromise and the best satisfaction of the people’s will.

What are Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan’s plans for the Senate? Will they misuse, terminate, revive or re-invent the Senate?

Najib’s Political Mess

November 26, 2015

Najib’s Political Mess

by  Arnold Puyok, UNIMAS

Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

Najib’s Albatross and Rm2.6 billion Mystery

These are tiring times for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib has so far managed to stay in power despite the flurry of attacks on his leadership. Political debacles have almost cost Najib his primeirship and the popularity of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). Facing the prospect of losing the people’s mandate in the 2018 general election, Najib is racing against time to regain public trust and confidence.

Earlier in 2015, an expose revealed a controversial 2.6 billion ringgit (US$700 million) ‘donation’ into Najib’s personal account. This was initially attributed to Najib siphoning funds from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s state-owned development company. Najib appeared on television to answer questions from critics and gave point-by-point rebuttals to the 1MDB controversy. But these have failed to assuage public dissatisfaction.

Some critics still believe that Najib siphoned public funds from the 1MDB — even though that allegation has not been proven in court or by independent audit firms. Najib is now left with the CEO of the 1MDB Arul Kanda to address the misconception toward the 1MDB and to implement a rationalisation plan in order to reduce its debt.

Moga Rosmah

Najib’s Waterloo

Najib’s problems do not end there. The 2.6 billion ringgit in his personal account has dented his reputation further, even though the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has evidence that the money was from a donor, not the 1MDB. Critics are still unhappy as questions such as what the money was for, and whether there were any strings attached, have not been answered.

Mahathir the Architect

Malaysia’s Former Prime Minister with a Tattered Legacy

The person who has launched a major ‘crusade’ to end Najib’s political career is none other than Najib’s predecessor-turned-nemesis Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir — the ‘PM slayer’, as one author has put it — is the single most potent force behind the campaign to oust Najib. The 90-year-old former premier’s allegations against Najib are not without defect, but many think that Mahathir is telling the truth.

After 22 years of entrenched rule in Malaysia, Mahathir is seen by some as the ‘knight in shining armour’ that could save Malaysia from Najib. Even though the prospect of Mahathir making a comeback is next to impossible, he still has influence in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Mahathir and Najib’s political party. Anti-Najib party members are supporting Mahathir either openly or secretly. While most UMNO divisional leaders are firmly behind Najib, this may change depending on the momentum of the anti-Najib movement in UMNO.

Although he is criticised and mocked on the home front, Najib has scored some brownie points on the international stage. In the aftermath of the MH17 crash in July 2014, Najib negotiated deftly with pro-Russian rebel leaders to allow rescuers to extract bodies and to secure crucial flight information from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Najib has to also play a tough balancing act dealing with China and the United States — the two major superpowers arguing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Najib has established good ties with both countries by allowing both American and Chinese naval ships to use Malaysian ports for transport or military training purposes.

So, can Najib and the BN survive the general election in 2018? The answer to this question depends on how Najib and the ruling party react to calls for reform. Before attempting to address Malaysia’s domestic impasse, it is important for Najib to exert a stronger and firmer hold on the government, especially the civil service. The civil servants are the key to the success of Najib’s ‘transformation agenda’. But some civil servants are bent on Najib’s downfall. Many sensitive government documents have been leaked on social media and opposition leaders have used them to attack the government.

The BN should learn from Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP), which won the 2015 Singapore general election. Its success taught a valuable lesson to incumbent governments around the world about securing electoral victory in the face of growing public disenchantment.

Lee Hsein Loong

Singapore’s Winning Captain–Integrity,Competency and Meritocracy

The key to winning is to boldly address public concerns by making tough policy decisions. In the 2011 election, the PAP won with a popular vote of only 60 per cent — the lowest it had ever recorded in its 60 years of history. It reacted proactively to public criticism, and changed many of its policy positions on issues such as affordable housing, immigration and economic stagnation. In September, the PAP won the election with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

The PAP’s major electoral victory in Singapore shows that a dominant party system is still alive in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, the BN lost its two-thirds majority in 2008 and 2013. There is a real possibility that its popular support will dip further in the coming election. It is important for Najib and the BN to display some real leadership in addressing people-oriented issues.

Najib should push for good governance and take matters of public interest to heart. The goods and services tax has forced more people to dig deeper into their pockets despite rising prices of essential goods and housing. The most hit economically are young middle-income professionals and graduates. While the 2.6 billion ringgit donation, the 1MDB and Mahathir’s challenge are major headaches for Najib, they will not matter much in determining his and the BN’s future in Malaysian politics.

Arnold Puyok is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

UMNO Politics : So far so good for Najib

November 25, 2015

UMNO Politics : So far so good for Najib

by Jocelyn Tan

Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak is very strong in UMNO, he has the numbers in Parliament and he has survived the ‘Mahathir virus’.

INCREDIBLE as it may sound, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak has survived the epic clash with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It is no mean feat because very few have been able to endure an offensive by the awesome Dr Mahathir and emerge alive, politically speaking, that is. Some big-name casualties have included Tun Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It has been one long year of attack after attack by Dr Mahathir – at home and abroad, in the foreign media, via his blog, at public forums and generally to anybody who would listen.

Dr Mahathir

Is he singing the Blues?

The Tun has thrown everything including the kitchen sink at Najib. And the amazing thing is that, through it all, Najib did not once make any critical or personal remarks about the elder man.

The relationship between Najib and the man whom he once looked upon as a mentor figure is beyond repair. Dr Mahathir is a gentleman in many ways but he is no gentleman when it comes to losing. He hates losing, he is not used to it and he has vowed to continue his campaign against Najib. That is his right, no one can make him shut up and, besides, he still has a sizeable audience out there.

But here’s the thing, whichever way one looks at it, Najib has won the fight although his supporters prefer to say he has survived. They know that although their boss has emerged the winner, he has not been left unscathed.

“He is very strong in the party, I don’t think anybody is going to argue about that,” said Temerloh UMNO Division Chief Dato’ Sharkar Shamsuddin.

Najib’s political clout was further reinforced last week when the 2016 Budget was passed with 128 votes by the Barisan Nasional side against 74 votes by the Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Harapan side.

It was the second time in a month that his ruling coalition had proven that they have the numbers in Parliament. The first time was when Barisan MPs approved a motion to suspend DAP’s Lim Kit Siang with 107 votes against 77 votes by the opposing bench.

It effectively buried the opposition’s claims that they had support from Barisan MPs. They could not even get the support of the MPs from PAS.

“Look at our side – Kuli (Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah) and Tan Sri Muhyiddin (Yassin) were there, they voted for the Budget,” said Deputy Finance Minister Dato’ Johari Ghani.


Najib and Rosmah2

Malaysia’s First Royalty

The opposition bench had portrayed the Budget vote as a vote of no confidence in Najib but it failed. Instead of embarrassing Najib, the opposition exposed the split on their own side. Not all the PAS MPs came along and the opposition bench was split between the two Pakatan groups.

It is clear that Najib has the support in UMNO, he has the numbers in Parliament and he has survived the “Mahathir virus”.

The year 2015 has been Najib’s annus horribilis but, said his old friend and former Malaysian Ambassador to The Philippines, Dato’ Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, “he has come out of the woods” and is on firm ground again. But he still has a few more hurdles to clear, namely the PAC investigation on the 1MDB issue and the UMNO General Assembly in December.

This is not going to be an easy party General Assembly given the tensions between him and his Deputy President Muhyiddin. It will be awkward, too, for the new Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Everyone will be watching the delicate triangle on stage – a Deputy President who is not the Deputy Prime Minister, the vice-president who took over as Deputy Prime Minister and the president who made it all happen. Every facial expression and gesture will be scrutinised by the delegates and media.

The circle around Najib is concerned about what Muhyiddin may say or do during the assembly. The Deputy President traditionally addresses the joint-opening of the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings and also does a winding-up speech at the end of the general proceedings.

Muhyiddin is still hurt over the way he was treated and there is no predicting whether he will use the stage to voice his unhappiness over the 1MDB issue.

Or will he be stopped from speaking given the speculation of disciplinary action against him and several others for statements deemed as damaging to the party?

Dr Mahathir will be a no-show. He snubbed a few of these assemblies during Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s presidency and it will be an outright boycott this time around.

UMNO General Assemblies have become quite predictable over the years because speakers are carefully selected so that they do not go too far out of line .

The more cynical say it will be the usual retinue of jokes, praises and bodek (apple-polishing). Actually, a large part of the debates often touch on issues close to the Malay, Muslim and nationalistic heart of UMNO members. Issues like threats to their religion, education and language, the economy, religious terrorism and, of course, the opposition will feature in the debate.

Some suggested that Dr Mahathir’s “de facto opposition leader” role the last one year may also crop up in the debate. Kok Lanas assemblyman Dato’ Alwi Che Ahmad said any criticism of the former Premier will be understated and indirect. Alwi’s dazzling oratory has seen him picked to debate the motion of thanks on the president’s speech the last two years.

“Tun Mahathir is like our father. We don’t like to argue even though we disagree. He reminds me of my late father who insisted on renovating the house every time one of my sisters got married. It was a waste of money but it was his house. When my son got married, we held it in a hotel,” said Alwi.

According to Dr Ibrahim, even though UMNO members are critical of Dr Mahathir, deep in their hearts, they still want him as part of the family.

Sabah rising star Dato’ Rahman Dahlan said there will be no gag order on issues like 1MDB or even the controversial RM2.6bil donation.

“I don’t think they (the delegates) should be stopped from talking on things they care about. But every year, we have a pre-council briefing for the delegates before the assembly starts for the leadership to set the tone and this always helps control the temperature,” said Rahman who is Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister.

As for concern about whether Muhyiddin could be the wild card in the assembly, Rahman said the President has the last word at every assembly during the winding up.

“That is an important speech during which the president has the last say and is able to answer to anything that has been raised,”he said.

Najib will have to bring it on this time, both at his opening presidential address and also in his closing address. He may have to deliver the most crucial speeches of his political career.

This assembly, said Alwi, is also special in that it will be Dr Ahmad Zahid’s first as Deputy Prime Minister. But given the awkward circumstances, he will have to hold back the elation.

Zahid Hamidi--Malay Rights

The Man from Ponorogo–Javanese or Malay Tune Player?

Becoming the country’s No. 2 has been a dream come true for this popular Perak-born politician. He was also a victim of Dr Mahathir back in 1998 but he has come a long way since. His once fractured English is behind him, and he now has an easy-going command of the language.

Dr Ahmad Zahid marked his first 100 days, in a low-key fashion, with a tahlil for about 500 of his close friends and supporters at the Deputy Prime Minister’s official residence. He has yet to move in, and that evening was the first time he set foot in the residence.

He has never been busier. He has made three official trips overseas and he has been going round to meet party grassroots leaders in all the states.

Everyone wants a piece of him and he tries not to turn down any invitations. His days are so jam-packed that he tells his aides that he feels lucky when he has time to sleep and eat.

What is more important is that with his natural political skills, he has been able to lighten the political workload of his president.

Najib’s journey of survival is reminiscent of the Salami Principle, a Cold War analogy that refers to a political agenda that is subtly advanced. It is based on the idea that no sensible person would consume an entire salami in one sitting but if fed one slice at a time it can be consumed with little notice.

Step by step, he has inched his way out of quick sand onto more stable ground.He needs a smooth and trouble-free UMNO general assembly to further consolidate his position.