GE-14: The twilight of 1Malaysia, the dawn of another

March 23, 2018

GE-14: The twilight of 1Malaysia, the dawn of another

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Putrajaya–The Seat of Power

by Kean Wong

GE14 is more than just a barometer of electoral sentiment. Whoever wins, Malaysia will be a different country afterwards.

In the final 100 days before Malaysia’s 14th General Elections (GE-14) must be called, the contest between two coalitions is already well underway, and growing fraught.

The campaigning inside these opposing coalitions of Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH)—for factional advantage, parliamentary seats and funds—may be as tough as what is projected (sometimes literally) outside, between the coalitions, with informal spoilers like the Islamist party Pas unable to stay above the fray, and assorted BN leaders suggesting violence as a solution.

Inside this apparent maelstrom of remaking Malaysia for its uncertain 21st century is a battle over a politics of moral rectitude, which has grown from the post-1969 urge to rectify racialised inequalities with the New Economic Policy (NEP), to today’s demands for a hegemonic Islamist politics.

It’s been a battle between the BN’s six decades of degenerating “business as usual” praxis that results in the global infamy of the 1MDB saga, and the past two decades of “reformasi” where jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim conjured a non-racialised politics, seeding a new storyline or narrative of good governance that in some ways spoke to the NEP’s original ideals of transcending a racialised political economy.

So the irony of GE-14’s contest—between a Prime Minister’s coalition blamed for corrupting the secular state now seeking Islamist political redemption, and an avowedly reformist opposition front led by the nonagenarian originally responsible for tormenting such reformists—is not lost on Malaysians.

Despite the widespread cynicism over how GE-14 is to be won—from the Elections Commission (EC) sanctioning glaringly unequal treatment of electorates to the long-standing complaints of “3M” (money-media-machinery of government) used to deadly effect—there remains some hope for change. There’s hope for some meaningful institutional reform in the unfinished nation crafted in 1963 out of geopolitical dispensations that still linger today.

That wavering hope has been driving so many Malaysian demands for a new narrative or storyline of what the nation should and could be. It’s reflected in the hundreds of thousands who have rallied at Bersih events in Malaysia and abroad, to the almost daily public forums about today’s political, religious and social controversies held all across the country in usually-crowded venues.

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Despite the apparent malaise among the professional pundit class that GE14 will be just another “boring” horse race, rigged at the outset, there are deep and abiding changes underway in how Malaysia is run, how it projects itself to the world, and how the nation reconciles its divisions over religion, class, and a tendentious cosmopolitanism linking the Borneo states to the Peninsula. Over the next several weeks, New Mandala hopes to share some of these discussions as the GE14 season ramps up, with a range of contributors from academia and beyond.

The Big Picture

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University of Malaya’s Prof. Dr. Terence Edmund Gomez

While Prof Gomez was emphatic at the forum about how selling good public policy can inspire winning electoral outcomes, he also explained how the crafting of public policy between five-year election cycles can change politics for the better when it’s not remote but fully engaged with citizens:

“But here’s the crunch—we do need a new model of development…   What we should be asking our politicians and coalitions is: ‘show us your public policies’.

What is your big idea? I’m not talking about small public policies on this aspect of taxation, etcetera. I’m talking about the big picture, the new economic model. The new economic policy, a new ‘Vision 2020’. Something major which shows us where you’re going to take us”.

But then there’s the issue of trust. Will the late decision by PH to reprise Dr Mahathir Mohamad as possible Prime Minister going into GE14 be enough to sway Muslim/Malay voters, leery of the previously Anwar Ibrahim-led coalition that’s now fallen out badly with PAS?

Image result for Ibrahim Ben SuffianPollster Ibrahim “Ben”Suffian

Pollster Ibrahim Ben Suffian found in his data a clear distinction between Malay and non-Malay respondents. Malay voters said they trusted Pas and UMNO more compared to PH on central issues of Malay identity and politics, over and above “managing the economy, reducing the problem of corruption, and protecting the political interests of Malaysia”. There’s again the underlying question of what narratives of nationhood are at play, and those who’re prosecuting these storylines across the campaign trail.

“This is the main takeaway point,” Ibrahim told the forum, “because there’s a lot of rhetoric going on in politics today about how PH is going into an emerging Malay tsunami. But I think this is how people are choosing: Malay voters trust the two principal Malay parties more, non-Malay voters trust the opposition more.”

”But how it translates into (GE14) results”, he said, “is governed by two things: number one, and most important, is how is the electoral district designed? How is the distribution pattern of the electoral district? …[W] e do know there is a severe malapportionment in terms of how the electoral districts are designed. Also, we have ethnic voting patterns embedded in the composition of voters in the district.

”But the second aspect is that voters have different levels of trusts in political parties. If the opposition is not able to gain sufficient levels of Malay support, then they won’t go through and this election may result in a very favourable result for the Barisan National [BN].”

From frustration to nostalgia

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri

There’s a “deep frustration” among this new generation of urbanised youth, said Fadiah Nadwa Fikri. It churns up a mix of responses to the political process that ranged from indifference to a nihilism suggested in social media campaigns over #undirosak (or “spoil your vote”). Young voters—that is, under 35 years old—came of age in the Mahathir era of boom, bust and reformasi. Politicised by the outrage over Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking and jailing, this is also a generation confronting the drudgery of urban working class ambitions, diminished by the past 20 years of a listless economy and squeezed in the transition to a services economy.

”It’s a given that we need change, but the problem is, we only have illusions of change,” said Fadiah. ”I think as a voter, a lot of us and particularly the youth, feel like they’re being forced to choose between the lesser evil. Lesser evil-ism is still the premise that is being propagated—that if you don’t do this, if you don’t choose Pakatan then you are responsible for BN, UMNO being in power again. I think something is wrong with our dominant political narrative.”

”When we talk about politics, I think it’s automatic that we only have electoral politics as our choice or as a platform for change. The discussion is very detached from the notion of change and its broad concept. This whole concept on #UndiRosak, there’s a lot of talk about the youth feeling disillusioned, frustrated because their voices are not heard. I would like to know why are they feeling the way they feel?”

”This thing of lesser evil-ism I think is very, very problematic—it somehow kills our imagination. As our country progresses, there are new ideas, there are new changes, things are changing very fast. And if we don’t reflect the changing times, I think we’re going to be stuck in that very moment that we don’t have the answer to.”

Fadiah conceded this disillusionment with the electoral process will play a role in dampening turnout come election day, to the benefit of the incumbents. But engaging with GE14 need not preclude the strengthening of a form politics her group works on developing every day, an urban phenomena reviving a process informed by the pre-war nationalist movement known as KMM (Kesatuan Melayu Muda).

”Electoral politics is not going away. But how do we strengthen people power so we can demand and we can influence how they behave, the kind of country that we want, and the kind of change that we aspire to achieve?

”It’s important because people keep saying if BN or UMNO wins the next election, we are doomed. I think that is a very, very dangerous position to take because it somehow incapacitates our ability to continue in the struggle. No one in their right mind would say that the struggle is a one-time event. It’s constant.”

Dr. Amrita Malhi

”This time, I’d argue that again there’s an even greater level of nostalgia, and an even more explicit ramping up of the nostalgia level in producing a new narrative of where the nation is going to go,” Dr Malhi said. ”And this time, it’s moved forward…they’ve moved the glory days to the 1990s. And it’s exactly the time before the economic crisis. And I’ve heard this put to me very explicitly by opposition strategy people: to talk about 1993–1996 in particular, the glory days of the Mahathir–Anwar team, before the struggles from 1997 and the financial crisis in 1998 began, and before this polity began fracturing and going in every single direction from 2008. Now this, I hear being referred to in PKR circles for example as a superb time, Malaysia at its peak.

”As the campaign heats up, I think the line is going be: let’s go back to this period in terms of the good times, the ’easy inter-ethnic interactions’. Notice the ’easy inter-ethnic interactions’ is moving forward by a decade each time. Doesn’t matter: sometime in the past it was easy. That’s the main point. But, with the proviso as well there has to be institutional reform to ensure that the original dream team can finish only their good work and now their bad work.”

Forks in the road

As the rest of March unfolds, with the Malaysian Parliament expected to pass controversial new electoral redelineation maps that allegedly skews against the opposition—and the prime minister poised to dissolve Parliament and call the elections soon afterwards—we hope to tackle some of the key themes arising from the GE14 season.

These themes include Islamist politics and the secular legacy of the Constitution, the federal–state divide over governance and political allegiances, Sabah and Sarawak autonomy and relooking at the 1963 agreement that made Malaysia possible, the electoral remapping and the national reality, how China works with a Malaysia diminished by global scandal, and how the economy needs desperate transformation if it’s to meet the needs of its citizens, never mind the ideals of Najib’s Transformasi Nasional 2050 or Mahathir’s Vision 2020. In the febrile GE14 season, these are among the implications facing a nation on the brink of fundamental change.



The Keruak has spoken: Government will block portals and websites–1MDB is fake news

March 23, 2018

The Keruak has spoken: Government will block portals and websites–1MDB is fake news

The Keruak has spoken but he conveniently forgets that the regime he serves is Malaysia’s No.1 dispenser of fake news. The authorities in Singapore, Switzerland and the United States are fakers on 1MDB?

The government will block websites and portals that spread information with the intent of causing a ruckus before the 14th general election (GE14), Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak said.

“We will work with the police and relevant agencies on the allegations. Of course, action will be taken against any party that violates the rules,” he is quoted as saying by Bernama.

Salleh said this after being asked about Police identifying 1,100 individuals and organisations that could potentially conduct a ‘surprise last minute attack’ and start a riot during GE14.

He said his ministry would conduct a thorough investigation before any action was taken.The government is set to table an anti-fake news bill in Parliament next week.

Salleh’s Deputy, Jailani Johari, told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that any unverified information regarding 1MDB was considered fake news.

Previously Jailani had also said that media publishing “fake news” about 1MDB included The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) and MSNBC.



Politics and Malaysia’s Youth

March 22, 2018

Politics  and Malaysia’s Youth

by Voon Zhen Yi, Centre for Public Policy Studies
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Observing the Parliament of Malaysia or indeed any of Malaysia’s 13 state legislative assemblies, one notices that the corridors of power are packed with the elderly. There are no elected politicians between the ages of 15 to 24 in the country, and more than 70 per cent of parliamentarians are above the age of 50. This is not a coincidence — Malaysian youths face various forms of resistance culturally and institutionally when it comes to political participation.

 As a young person ascends the political ladder via party branches, they often find themselves sidelined in favour of older party members who have waited a long time to contest an election. The Asian mentality of filial piety creates a form of oligarchy, which has meant that youths are often making way for older but not necessarily more capable candidates.


One of the few means by which younger politicians are able to break into the political scene is if they have family members already in politics. One of the youngest members of Parliament in Malaysian history is current Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was elected at the age of 23 in 1976. This was primarily due to the fact that he ran for a seat which was held by Abdul Razak (his father and Malaysia’s second Prime Minister, who had passed away that year). Najib won unopposed out of respect for the late Prime Minister.

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Senior politicians elevating family members is not exclusive to the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Lim Guan Eng, the son of Lim Kit Siang and the de facto head of the Democratic Action Party, was elected to the Parliament in 1986 when he was 24. De facto leader of Parti KeADILan Rakyat (the Justice Party), Anwar Ibrahim’s daughter Nurul Izzah, was elected to a parliamentary seat when she was 28 during the 2008 elections. This may not necessarily be political nepotism: it could merely reflect older family members teaching their young the ropes, or it could reflect that these younger politicians have gained the vision and aspiration to pursue a career in politics of their own accord. Nonetheless, having a family member in a senior political position undoubtedly clears the way.

There are also legislative barriers discouraging youths from getting involved in politics. Malaysia’s Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) prevents students from being involved in politics. In 2010, four students from a public Malaysian university faced disciplinary action for their alleged involvement in a by-election. Court actions found that the particular provision in the UUCA was unconstitutional and the Act has since been amended. Tertiary students can now, in theory, become members of a political party. But the Act continues to disallow active political participation. The situation is made worse by the fact that political parties are not allowed to set up branches in universities.

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Falling political interest, particularly among young upper middle-class opposition voters, has further escalated with Mahathir’s return and alliance with the opposition. Many youths from these parties are unable to reconcile working with an arch foe whom many blame for Malaysia’s current woes. Dissatisfaction is being voiced through the #UndiRosak (spoilt votes) movement, which is urging voters to spoil their ballot deliberately in a show of protest towards both the Barisan Nasional and the opposition parties.

Youth in Malaysia feel that their votes will make little difference to an election outcome or that no party is different from the other. Many opposition supporters are unable to be optimistic as three-cornered fights will likely take place between the opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition, the ruling Barisan coalition and the Pan-Islamic Party. The result will likely see many marginal Pakatan seats recaptured by Barisan. In the previous two elections, the opposition was able to gain ground as they agreed to reconcile their differences and instead compete with one another in a unified struggle against the Barisan Nasional. This advantage is set to diminish substantially in the upcoming election.

Recent polls find that 70 per cent of Malaysia’s youth have no interest in politics. As of August 2017, there were still as many as 3.7 million people between the ages of 21 and 30 who had not yet registered to vote — a number that is large enough to alter the election outcome.

Such phenomena are observed throughout the region as youths show general reluctance to be politically involved. This trend is particularly worrying when one considers the prospects for Malaysia’s political future — the youth of today, who will inevitably become the leaders of tomorrow, will be unprepared and lack experience.

Image result for Malaysia's Youth and PoliticsDeformasi  Nasional 2050?


To aviod such an outcome, parties must show sincerity towards youth involvement in politics and deliberately create opportunities for their voice to be heard. This will be to the benefit of the various parties as youths are able to better relate to the needs of other youths, who currently comprise the largest segment of the adult population — an opportunity for vote capture that parties should recognise. Malaysia needs to realise that age and competence are separate matters.

Voon Zhen Yi is the Manager of Programme and Research at the Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS), Malaysia.

CPTPP is good for Malaysia

March 22, 2018

CPTPP is good for Malaysia

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Malaysia’s MITI Minister Dato’Mustap Mohamed

THE Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the rebranded TPPA, was finally signed by 11 countries on March 8.

The pact had earlier raised anxiety among certain parties that it would jeopardise Malaysia’s sovereignty and undermine the well-being of its citizens. But if we look at the bigger picture, the pact will benefit the country in the long run because our economy depends largely on trade activities.

According to Moody’s last week, Malaysia would be the biggest winner from the deal as the CPTPP covers a market of nearly 500 million despite the absence of the United States.

This fact was reinforced by the Peterson Institute for International Economics’ (PIIE) research, which showed that the CPTPP would benefit palm oil, rubber and electronics exporters like Malaysia with export access to new markets including Canada, Peru and Mexico.

Looking at current data by the Malaysia External Trade Develop­ment Corporation (Matrade), Malaysia’s dependence on trade is undeniable, recording RM935.39bil in exports last year and RM838.14bil in imports. Malaysia enjoyed a trade surplus of RM97.28bil.

The electrical and electronics sector remains the top exporter accounting for 36.7% while palm oil products stood at 5.8%. Malaysia is also currently the largest producer of gloves, controlling almost 65% of the world market.

In view of this, the CPTPP will encourage existing manufacturers to expand as it provides access to new or untapped markets. It will indirectly reduce our reliance on the US market as well.

Ahmad Shahir Abdul AzizUniversiti Sains Malaysia

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READ: –by Dr Kwame Jomo Sundaram

The Malaysian DJ Blogger is blocked in Malaysia

March 21, 2018

The Malaysian DJ Blogger is Blocked in Malaysia


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I have received a few phone calls and messages on my Facebook to say that they can no longer have access to my blog. Even ASTRO which has a surrogate blog (Google: Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger – Astro) has stopped posting since March 16, 2018.

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This is regrettable since my blog is intended to stimulate discussion and free exchange of views not only on Malaysian issues but also on current developments throughout the world. I hope my friends outside Malaysia are still able to do so.

Keeping on reading because I intend to post articles of high quality and share my views with you. Being moral equivalent is not option for me. Like Noam Chomsky, Bilahari Kausikan, Kishore Mahbubani, Fareed Zakaria, Tom Friedman, and academics like Joseph Stiglitz, Jomo Kwame Sundaram,  Terence Gomez,  Paul Krugman, Robert Reich,  Philosopher A.C Grayling, Jeffery Sachs, Laura Tyson, Steven Pinker, Nick Kristof,  who I admire and respect, I will speak the truth to power. Thanks for your support and insightful comments.–Din Merican

Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in a Default Mode

March 20, 2018

Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) in a Default Mode

by T K  Chua@www,

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I just feel a little funny – Prime Minister Najib Razak wants MCA to win more seats to justify its number of posts in the cabinet. Former MCA President Chua Soi Lek, on the other hand, prefers MCA to stay out of cabinet since the party performed poorly during the last general election.

To me, MCA has worked itself into a position where it cannot win. The party has been and will continue to be a scapegoat, a victim of circumstances, a stooge, a subservient appeaser, and even a beggar.

Successive waves of MCA leadership have remained hapless, unable and unwilling to speak up honestly and forcefully to defend the party’s position. As a consequence, the rights of Chinese Malaysians whom the party purportedly represents have also been compromised or eroded.

At the same time, how dare some UMNO leaders blame MCA for being hapless and unable to perform? How dare UMNO continue to blame MCA for depending on Malay votes to survive?

Are UMNO and MCA leaders so blind to the fact that it was precisely the policies and governance of UMNO that caused the gradual demise of MCA?

MCA is expected to face a dominant UMNO, no doubt about that. But both UMNO and MCA must ensure that dominance is tempered with fair play, moderation and a genuine sense of power sharing.

Did MCA speak up forcefully and cogently on issues fundamental to Chinese Malaysians? Did UMNO listen and give due consideration to the grouses raised? Did UMNO give in on an issue based on what the party was willing to give or based on what was demanded by MCA?

To me, MCA is always pleading and begging but I don’t see UMNO conceding anything other than trivial matters or on a piecemeal basis. How then can UMNO expect MCA to perform and enjoy continued support from those the party claims to represent?  If MCA can’t speak of policies and governance, how is the party supposed to operate?

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Former MCA President Dr Chua Soi Lek knows that MCA is already a spent force in Barisan Nasional

So here is my opinion on Chua Soi Lek’s recent statement: it does not matter if MCA is in the cabinet or out of it.

The fundamental issue is whether MCA is willing and brave enough to speak up. Also, it is fundamental whether UMNO is willing to listen and compromise, based not on what the party is comfortable with giving, but on a genuine sense of fairness and inclusiveness.

Very often, we hear UMNO complaining of its sacrifices to carry the burden of MCA’s lack of support. Well, I have another idea: it is MCA which has been carrying the burden for UMNO for far too long, so much so that the party is losing its relevance.

There will be positions and perks to be enjoyed by MCA. But it can’t go on forever if the party has been ineffective. Sooner or later, people at large will realise that it does not matter whether MCA is in the cabinet or out of it.

TK Chua is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.