Malaysia’s Political Gridlock and Why Najib is not going to Jail


January 12, 2017

Malaysia’s Political Gridlock and Why Najib is not going to Jail

by Ooi Kok Hin

Despite protests, political realities will keep the prime minister’s coalition in power through 2017 – and beyond.

http://thediplomat.com/2017/01/why-malaysias-najib-razak-isnt-going-anywhere/

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

On November 19, tens of thousands of Malaysians assembled in the capital to demand for a free and fair election and the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is implicated in a massive financial scandal. Yet, Najib’s ruling coalition looks set to prevail in the next general election, rumored to be held this year.

Why is this so? I argue Malaysia’s political gridlock is prolonged largely by four factors: electoral malpractices, institutional failures, political fragmentation, and societal fault lines. Until and unless these are changed, reforms will be flimsy at best, and cosmetic at worst.

Electoral Malpractices: Keeping the Incumbent in Their Seats

In the previous general election, the ruling coalition won 47 percent of the popular vote but nearly 60 percent of the parliamentary seats. The opposition coalition won 51 percent of the votes but only 40 percent of the seats (the remaining 2 percent of the vote was split among marginal parties). The discrepancy is caused by the uneven weighting of popular representation. A constitutional clause grants over-representation for rural voters either spanning a large landmass or difficult to reach areas. However, even after taking this clause into account, electoral malpractices are severe.

In a study I co-wrote with fellow analysts from the Penang Institute, we found that at least 68 parliamentary seats and 162 state seats are either excessively under-represented or excessively over-represented under the latest redelineation proposed by the Election Commission. If the proposal comes into effect during the next general election, the outcome is effectively a forgone conclusion because of severe malapportionment and gerrymandering.

Malapportionment isthe disparity of constituency size caused by redelineation. It results in inequitable representation because it provides unequal vote value. For example, one voter in Putrajaya has a value equivalent to one voters in Kapar, as both constituencies have one seat each — even though Putrajaya has roughly 15,991 voters and Kapar has 144,159.

Even within the same state, the disparity of constituency size is striking. In the state of Selangor, Damansara is four times the size of Sabak Bernam. Any of the three excessively under-represented parliamentary constituencies in Selangor are bigger than the three small constituencies combined.

This is not a purely mathematical disparity of constituency size. It is a deliberate packing of opposition supporters into a mega-size constituency, diluting their ability to win other seats and making the neighboring marginal seats more winnable for the ruling coalition. Not surprisingly, Damansara is held by the opposition and Sabak Bernam is held by the ruling party.

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

Gerrymandering, meanwhile, is the practice of deliberately drawing constituency boundaries based on the voting pattern of constituents so that a party may benefit. Malaysia’s redelineation does this in three ways: the creation of constituencies spanning multiple local authorities, the arbitrary combination of communities without common interests, and the partition of local communities and neighborhoods. Voters living on the same street find themselves in different electoral constituencies. The confusion is compounded by the lack of information and publicity about the changes made to constituency boundaries and, crucially, voting districts.

Political Fragmentation: Weaker and Disunited Opposition

Given the steep electoral obstacles which the opposition has to overcome, it is no surprise that the National Front (Barisan Nasional, BN) is one of the longest ruling coalitions in the world. The then fully united opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, failed to unseat BN in the 2013 general election. The erstwhile alliance brought together three major opposition parties: the People’s Justice Party (PKR), Democratic Action Party (DAP), and Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). Any hope of taking advantage of Najib’s crisis has been dampened by the collapse of Pakatan Rakyat due to a quarrel over a chief minister’s position and the Islamist party’s insistence on the implementation of Sharia laws.

Amidst the open animosity between the opposition parties, pragmatist PKR is negotiating a miracle. They are appealing for a one-on-one fight; a scenario which even the most hardcore opposition supporter would find unlikely.

Image result for Bersih 5.O November 19, 2016

The Fractured Opposition

Hostility is mutual between PAS and DAP/Amanah. Bersatu, the new party setup by ousted Deputy Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin and former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, is beset with internal issues and looks the least of a threat to Najib’s UMNO. A united opposition is anywhere but visible in Sabah and Sarawak, the two states which won the election for Najib, whose coalition took 47 out of 56 seats.

If PAS explicitly teamed up with UMNO, there is some hope that their grassroots and longtime supporters (who view UMNO as a nemesis) may vote for the opposition coalition as a protest against their leadership. Tacit cooperation is more likely, however, and in three-cornered fights, the ruling party will sweep all the marginal seats.

Institutional Failures: Culture of Unaccountability, Graft, and State Repression

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Institutional failures have doomed any formal case again Najib for the financial scandal centered on 1MDB. Former Attorney General Gani Patail was terminated just as he was allegedly drafting a charge sheet against Najib. The chief of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission was replaced, its senior officers transferred out, and one investigating officer’s home was raided by the police. Three out of four figureheads of the special taskforce setup to investigate 1MDB were replaced within months.

The various institutions that were supposed to hold the government accountable have all faltered in one way or another. A concentration of power has enable the state leviathan to dismiss any institution that could actually hold it accountable.

Ideally, legislative institutions should uphold the principles of democracy and justice enshrined in the Constitution. But under the forceful thumb of the executive, they continue to either pass or fail to repeal draconian laws stretching from the colonial era. The Sedition Act, which criminalizes any speech deemed hateful or contemptuous towards the ruler or government, is routinely abused due to its vague clauses. The notorious detention without trial, another colonial legacy, gave powers to the executive to imprison political opponents for lengthy periods without a day in the courtroom. Most recently, the leader of a civil rights movement calling for free and fair elections, Maria Chin Abdullah, was detained under one such law.

The list of institutional failures includes that of the media. Some outlets fought and went down, like The Malaysian Insider. The mainstream press is owned directly by political parties or businessmen friendly to the establishment. Periodic license renewals keep them on their toes. Newspapers editors who did report on 1MDB were called in for police investigation.

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Malaysia’s Infamous Auditor-General

Institutional failure and lack of accountability are not limited to 1MDB. Year after year, the Auditor General has revealed staggering cases of mismanaged public funds. Government bodies bought wall clocks at RM 3,810 a piece (the market price is easily below RM 100) and scanners for RM 14,670 (market price: RM 200). The “normalization of corruption” is deeply embedded in the existing hierarchy, from the top to the bottom. In the newly released report, the auditors found that the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) lost hundreds of millions due to multiple transactions without proper authorization, dubious planning and execution, and complete mismanagement. It made news for two to three days before disappearing, like pretty much every other scandal. Corrupt acts are committed and revealed, followed by public outrage. But with no institution to exercise accountability, the news eventually disappears. It has become a normal cycle.

Late last year, the National Security Council Act was passed to enable the prime minister to declare an area of emergency as he deems necessary, without the approval of any other institution. Which raises the question: Are there any institutional safeguards to guarantee a peaceful transition of power even if the government fails to recapture popular support in the election?

Societal Fault Lines: One Cleavage Too Many

The fault lines of Malaysian society are too many and too deep, with groups frequently divided along ethnic and religious lines. Due to this, Najib can easily turn a once-unified opposition against one another.

Dr Jamil Khir Baharom, a minister in charge of religious affairs under Najib’s cabinet, paraded a bill amendment to increase the power of the Shariah court. PAS’s dream is to establish an Islamic state by implementing Islamic law, which cannot be fully enforced given the current restrictions on the maximum punishments the Shariah court can spell out. Under the revised version of the proposed amendment, the Shariah court will be strengthened by raising the punishment ceiling to 30 years in prison, a RM 100,000 fine, and 100 strokes of caning.

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Playing with the Islamic Fire

Najib’s olive branch to PAS is working, enticing the party away from cooperation with the opposition and thus sapping the opposition’s strength among the all-important Malay and rural areas.

In Malaysia ,where nearly everything is seen through the lens of race and religion, the push for Islamic law will effectively split society. Since all Malays are Muslims in this country (one’s professed religion is one of the constitutional definitions of being an ethnic Malay), debates on the bill can dangerously be turned into a sectarian conflict.

In the run-up to the November 19 rally, thugs dressed in red threatened the Bersih convoy. The Red Shirts, as they came to be known, are all ethnic Malays led by an UMNO division chief. Threats of violence aside, the racial rhetoric has become too discomforting. Last year, what was a typical robber and shopkeeper brawl turned into dangerous racial gatherings as the two groups called their friends, resulting in a mini-riot that night. In the aftermath of the previous election, the prime minister and the party’s de facto mouthpiece, Utusan Malaysia, denounced the Chinese as a scapegoat of opposition agents. All these societal fault lines testify to the enormity of the task to to unseat Najib.

The by-elections last year might provide some hint as to how the general elections will turn out. Najib’s coalition won both of them. I was in the suburban areas when opposition parties held a town hall panel session, inevitably speaking in English, touching on issues such as the removal of the Attorney-General. While these are big, national issues, it felt out of place. There is a visible gap between the politicians, the city folks, the demonstrators who so urgently and desperately want reforms, and the voters outside the cities, who voted for candidates affiliated to Najib’s party.

To speak plainly, people don’t mind the status quo as long as they are not affected at the most immediate and personal level. The whole 1MDB scandal has been too complicated to be explained to non-English literate voters with no understanding of the complex technical terms, in a five-minute rally. Financial scandals grow more complicated and people just lose interest. Maybe they underestimate the cost of it all, maybe they don’t care enough or just don’t lose enough; either way they are not angry enough to want to change the status quo.

Image result for Anwar and Mahathir

The partnership that can rattle the beleaguered Al-Kebas aka Malaysian Official 1–Najib Razak

What’s next? Even the unholy alliance between Anwar and Mahathir won’t be able to fight off the structural inequality of power and institutional failures. If political change is not sufficient, will it take an economic downturn to bring change in Malaysia, like Indonesia? In 1998, a combined factor of internal dissidents and economic instability brought the dictatorial Suharto era to an end and ushered in the Reformasi period. If neighboring Indonesia can live embedded in a dictatorship for 40 years and then undergo rapid democratization in so short a time, we can’t and shouldn’t rule anything out yet in Malaysia. But it will take a miracle.

Ooi Kok Hin is an analyst with the Penang Institute. He writes on political and social developments and Southeast Asian affairs.

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The Unending 1MDB Financial Scandal–Swiss Banker charged


January 6, 2017

The Unending 1MDB Financial Scandal–Swiss Banker charged

Former Falcon Bank Singapore head accused over more than $1.2bn of suspect fund flows

by: Michael Peel in Bangkok

https://www.ft.com

Image result for Najib and Imdb

A Swiss bank executive in Singapore has become the first western national to face criminal prosecution over the suspected looting of billions of dollars from Malaysia’s 1MDB state investment fund.

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Jens Sturzenegger (pic above), former head of Falcon Private Bank’s Singapore branch, will plead guilty to some of a 16-count charge sheet related mainly to the alleged falsification or withholding of information, his lawyer told a court hearing in the city state on Thursday.

The case is the latest in a series mounted by Singapore over the 1MDB scandal, which has also spawned probes in the USSwitzerland and other countries where stolen money allegedly flowed. The affair triggered a political crisis in Malaysia and embroiled Najib Razak, the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Sturzenegger, who was arrested in October, is charged with offences related to alleged money transfers totalling more than $1.25bn. Tan Hee Joek, Mr Sturzenegger’s lawyer, said his client planned to admit guilt, although he did not say to which charges.

The 42-year-old Swiss banker is accused of lying to authorities by denying that several Falcon bank accounts were linked to Taek Jho Low, a high-profile Malaysian businessman and socialite. Mr Low is close to Mr Najib and is accused by US authorities of being a main architect of the laundering of 1MDB funds.

Image result for Riza Aziz and his associates

Mr Low has previously denied any wrongdoing. He has not been charged with any offence. Falcon, which is owned by Abu Dhabi’s state International Petroleum Investment Company, has emerged as a central player in the 1MDB case. In October it was fined by Swiss authorities and shut down in Singapore for allegedly processing almost $4bn linked to 1MDB.

The Singapore action against Mr Sturzenegger also meshes with claims made in a lawsuit filed by US authorities in July to seize property and other assets allegedly bought with misappropriated 1MDB funds. Mr Sturzenegger is accused in the Singapore case of failing to report a suspicious transfer of $378m in March 2013 from a Falcon account held by Granton Property Holding to a company named Dragon Market.

US authorities separately allege the same transaction was part of a bigger plot to siphon off more than $2.5bn from a pair of bonds totalling $6.5bn issued by the Malaysian fund in 2012 and 2013 and backed by Ipic The US lawsuit, which does not name Mr Sturzenegger, claims Mr Low is the beneficial owner of the Dragon Market account.

Another Singapore charge is that Mr Sturzenegger allegedly failed to report a suspicious $9.19m transfer to a company named Helly Nahmad Gallery Inc. The US lawsuit does not name the gallery but alleges that Mr Low and others used 1MDB money to buy more than $130m of artworks, including two paintings by Claude Monet and one by Vincent van Gogh. Helly Nahmad Gallery Inc could not immediately be reached for comment.

Falcon bank has come under further scrutiny after Swiss authorities accused it of failing to adequately investigate the commercial background of $681m of “pass-through transactions” in 2013 and the return six months later of $620m. The $681m is the exact amount of mysterious payments made at that time to Mr Najib, who chaired 1MDB’s advisory board.

Malaysia’s Attorney-General(Najib crony Apandi Ali) has said the money sent to Mr Najib’s personal bank accounts was a gift from the Saudi Arabian Royal Family. The claim has never been independently verified.

Falcon declined to comment other than to confirm Mr Sturzenegger was a “former employee”. The bank has previously said it has put in place measures to prevent future problems such as those found by regulators in the 1MDB case.

Other banks have faced questions over their roles in the 1MDB affair, with fines already levied on Switzerland’s UBS and BSI, and DBS of Singapore. Goldman Sachs, which arranged the $6.5bn of bond issues for 1MDB, has denied any wrongdoing.

 

Crony capitalism–Dealing with murky moguls


December 4, 2017

Crony capitalism

Dealing with murky moguls

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21698261-how-disentangle-business-government-dealing-murky-moguls

THE past 20 years have been a golden age for crony capitalists—tycoons active in industries where chumminess with government is part of the game. As commodity and property prices soared, so did the value of permits to dig mines in China or build offices in São Paulo. Telecoms spectrum doled out by Indian officials created instant billionaires. Implicit state guarantees let casino banking thrive on Wall Street and beyond. Many people worried about a new “robber baron” era, akin to America’s in the late 19th century. They had a point. Worldwide, the worth of tycoons in crony industries soared by 385% in 2004-14, to $2 trillion, or a third of total billionaire wealth; much of it (though by no means all) in the emerging world.

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Now cronies are on the back foot. Their combined fortunes have dropped by 16% since 2014, according to our updated crony-capitalism index (see article). One reason is the commodity crash. Another is a backlash from the middle class. Corruption scandals have lit a fire under governments in Brazil and Malaysia. Elsewhere, pressure is coming from the top down. India’s reforming prime minister, Narendra Modi, is trying to subject his partly closed economy to a blast of competition. Xi Jinping, China’s autocrat, thinks graft is the big threat to one-party rule, and is trying to root it out.

Crony capitalism—or “rent-seeking”, as economists call it—shades from string-pulling to bribery. Much of it is legal, but all of it is unfair. It undermines trust in the state, misallocates resources and stops countries and true entrepreneurs from getting rich. So the dip in crony activity is welcome. To stop it roaring back, governments need to seize the moment.

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A few will not want to. Cronyism is central to Vladimir Putin’s vision of Russia, the country that scores worst in our ranking. Others, though goaded by public anger at inequality and corruption, will find it hard to confront vested interests. On April 29th Mexico’s Senate failed to pass two anti-corruption measures (see article). Often the biggest difficulty is knowing where to start. It is all very well to demand efficient courts, fair regulators and an end to illicit political funding. These matter, but are the work of generations.

The quickest fixes

So governments should focus on four quicker steps. The first is to take care when public resources pass into private hands. Botched privatisations created Russia’s oligarchy—and many cronies elsewhere. Mexico is opening up its oil monopoly; Saudi Arabia plans to; and other developing countries, from Brazil to India to China, may privatise state-controlled firms to raise cash and improve efficiency. Unless the sales are fair, a new generation of cronies will be born.

Second, governments must rein in state-owned banks. In the past decade state-lending booms in Brazil, India and China have enriched well-connected moguls—and built mountains of bad debt. Rather than prop up the banks, governments should overhaul the way they are run.

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The third step is to make it harder to stash crony cash overseas. Global capital flows have made the world richer, but also allowed cronies to hide in tax havens. Public registers of “beneficial ownership”—the humans behind the trusts and shell companies—would make that harder. This is on the agenda of an anti-corruption summit in London next week (see article).

Finally, be prepared for cronyism to adapt. China’s epic industrial boom will not be repeated; the days of making billions by shipping iron ore from Goa to Guangdong are over. Technology may be cronyism’s next frontier. It is ripe for rent-seeking: profits are huge and monopolies arise naturally. Governments should not seek to micromanage tech firms, but ought to push vigorously for competition and transparency.

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America’s original robber barons provoked a reaction that led to the Progressive era. At the turn of the 20th century, politicians passed antitrust laws and corruption ebbed. America became richer, stronger and more politically stable. Emerging economies face a similar moment. They should not waste it.

2017: Due Year for Najib, Rosmah and Gang


December 31, 2016

2017: Due Year for Najib, Rosmah and Gang

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

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Image result for Najib, Rosmah and 1mdb

Look at those high heel shoes of Malaysia’s Beauty Queen!

Best wishes to all those who’ve done something – anything – in 2016 to deserve a happy New Year of 2017. And worst possible wishes to all the others for the decidedly unhappy New Year that they’re due for having deliberately done wrong or else failed in their duty to do right by their fellows over the past 12 months, or in many cases far longer, and have no intention of changing their ways.

Of course in the former category I include a whole spectrum of people ranging from those who’ve strenuously striven to be outstanding human beings in their ordinary, everyday lives on the one hand, to heroic humanitarians and ferocious fighters for justice and human rights on the other.

I’m conscious that I should be careful in naming any of the people or organisations I have in mind here, lest I cause offence to some by forgetting or not having sufficient space to include them, or else embarrass or endanger them through public exposure.

Suffice to mention, then, by way of example, such friends and former colleagues as ‘Chemical’ Ali, Alice and her husband Stephen; fellow-travellers in the quest for truth, integrity and transparency in government, like the management, staff and most of the readers of Malaysiakini; literally countless fellow pro-democracy writers and bloggers like Azly (Rahman), Din (Merican), Mariam (Mokhtar), KJ (John), S Thayaparan and Zan (Azlee); and, last but as far as possible from least, the inimitable and unquenchable anti-regime cartoonist and lampoonist, Zunar.

Image result for Zunar and his cartoons

Some of the similarly countless organisations I can’t help thinking of as well-and-truly due the happiest-possible wishes for this and every other New Year include Malaysia’s Sisters in Islam, Sarawak Report and now sadly inactive Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM), France’s Médicins Sans Frontières, Reporteurs Sans Frontières, Syria’s non-government civilian volunteer rescue workers, the White Helmets, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

As for all those who are not due a New Year at all, let alone wishes for a happy one, the first lot I can think of, as long as I’m concentrating on Malaysia for this column, are the members, cronies and supporters of the ever-ruling UMNO-BN regime.

As of 2017, this cartel of ‘criminals’ posing as a coalition government has enjoyed an unbroken run of 60 years of allegedly happily robbing Malaysians of their rights, freedoms and protections and their nation of its natural resources. Thus these political ‘predators’ deserve to rot for years in prison, not to be wished, let alone allowed another happy year in power at the public’s expense.

All the signs are there, however, that they have every intention of celebrating in 2017 as happily for themselves and as unhappily for the people as they did in 2016 and for decades before.

Continuing to avoid and evade the fact

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Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak continues to avoid and evade the fact of, let alone his responsibility for, the massive 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) brouhaha. And his cabinet ministers and other sycophants, supporters and apologists are still solidly behind him in his campaign of denial and deception.

Meanwhile the regime has even more daylight robberies in train. Literally, as in the case of the allegedly monstrously over-priced MRT rail system currently under construction.

So rather than yet another happy year, I, along with the majority of Malaysian citizens, I suspect, hereby wish UMNO-BN a decidedly crappy or even accursed year.

In the fond if admittedly faint hope that the US Department of Justice will finally bring criminal charges against Najib and his accomplices in the 1MDB imbroglio; or that Najib will call the 14th general election (GE14) and that Chinese numerology will come to the party and make sure that for UMNO it turns out to be truly ‘forever die’.

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And then there’s always the chance that the RAHMAN prophecy will come true, and Najib’s fall will finish off BN forever.

But of course it’s not only Najib and UMNO-N who are well and truly due, in fact way overdue, for a deservedly unhappy New Year.

There are also Bashar al-Assad, his murderous regime and its brutal Russian allies, for example, who are due endless retribution for five years of slaughter of the Syrian people and destruction of their homeland.

Then there are the likes of Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and all the other similar death-squads, many of which have been happily getting away with their crimes against humanity for far too many years.

And finally, who knows whether to wish the US and its citizens a Happy New Year? With president-elect Donald Trump just weeks away from being sworn-in to office, it’s anybody’s guess how 2017 will turn out for ‘God’s Own Country’ and the rest of the world.

Given Trump’s stated intention of greatly beefing-up the US’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, chances are that rather than a Happy New Year we could well find ourselves facing the unthinkable horrors of a Happy Nuke Year.

In which case the displays of fireworks on which Sydney and so many other cities squander such a fortune for the sake of celebrating the New Year could this time around portend the possibility that far more serious and deadly global or regional fireworks, or at least a decidedly dangerous arms-race, may be due in the very near future.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

 

Najib Razak’s Malaysia Sentences Another Critic


November 18, 2016

Najib Razak’s Malaysia Sentences Another Critic

by Asiasentinel Correspondent

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/beset-by-scandal-malaysia-sentences-another-critic/

Image result for malaysian official number 1

Malaysian Official No. 1–Malaysia’s 6th Prime Minister

Malaysia’s 1MDB financial scandal – the biggest in its history – has seen its first conviction but not one that will bring any cheer to those questioning Prime Minister Najib Razak’s pet project, which has run into at least RM50 billion in debt. Instead, the government says it will jail one of its most effective critics and whistleblowers.

Although the state-backed investment fund is under investigation in a half dozen countries and Najib himself has been accused of channeling more than RM2.67 billion (nearly US$700 million) into his personal bank accounts, a Malaysian court has sentenced Rafizi Ramli, the vice president and secretary-general of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, to 18 months’ jail for releasing a classified government audit of the controversial state investor.

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Rafizi, who was sentenced on Nov. 14, announced he would appeal the sentence, which could see him disqualified from running for parliament for five years after his prison release. His party chief, Anwar Ibrahim, is also in prison on a second sodomy conviction that has been widely criticized as trumped up to wreck his political career.

Remember the beef?

The 39-year-old Rafizi, a chartered accountant who once held several important positions at the state-owned Petronas energy giant, has been a thorn in the side of the United Malays National Organization, which leads the government, almost since he got interested in politics in 2012. Besides exposing substantial wrongdoing at 1MDB, he deeply embarrassed the government in 2013 by exposing extensive corruption at a state-backed enterprise to raise halal beef in Malaysia.

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“Cowgate,” as the National Feedlot Corporation scandal was known, ensnared Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, the Women, Family and Community Development minister and a close ally of Najib. Shahrizat, then the head of the women’s wing of UMNO, and her family were accused of misusing RM250 million in public funds, buying expensive cars, flats in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and taking overseas trips. Shahrizat was cleared by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in an action that was interpreted as a cover-up.

Rafizi was threatened with exposing official secrets in that case as well. Nonetheles, he went on to reveal a long list of other government missteps, including awarding overpriced closed tender projects and purchasing overpriced assets from UMNO cronies.

“Rafizi Ramli’s sentence should be quashed immediately and he should be protected against any retaliation stemming from the disclosure of information that shows wrongdoing,” Amnesty International said in a prepared release that threatened to name him a Prisoner of Conscience. “By invoking the Official Secrets Act, the Malaysian authorities are yet again taking the cover of national security to stop people from raising legitimate questions about the 1MDB funds and obstructing the society from receiving such information.”

I expected it

“I expected a jail sentence and planned my life along that,” Rafizi wrote in his Twitter account, hours before the sentence was imposed. “We all have a responsibility to right the wrong within the time and space given to us.”

Just after his sentencing, Rafizi posted that “I am not shocked, sad, angry, afraid or anything. No such feelings. Just another day. Been like this. What doesn’t kill u makes u stronger.”

Rafizi was found guilty of violating Malaysia’s Official Secrets Act (OSA) by possessing and disclosing part of a government audit report on the debt-laden 1MDB, which was set up by Najib in 2009 as a joint-venture with a Saudi firm to finance strategic industries.

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Lawyers have questioned the court proceedings as the alleged government audit leak was heavily redacted when shown in court and prosecutors had relied on videos to prove Rafizi possessed and disclosed the alleged classified document.

Whistleblower website Sarawak Report has said it had the entire government audit and had also uploaded it on the Internet. The website has been blocked in Malaysia after revealing 1MDB’s financial irregularities.

1MDB has been at the center of investigations in the United States and several countries amid allegations of a global embezzlement and money-laundering scheme reaching the highest echelons of government.

Wretched excess

Najib, with the help of young financial wunderkind Jho Taek Low, restructured 1MDB with a joint venture from Saudi Arabia out of a Terengganu state fund shortly after taking office in 2009 ostensibly to promote strategic development projects but the venture accumulated billions in debts over the years.

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The US Justice Department has said that at least US$3.5 billion has been stolen from 1MDB by several people close to Najib including Jho Low, as he is universally known, and initiated civil action last July to seize US$1.3 billion that it said was taken from the company to buy assets in the United States.

The US civil action also identified the US$700 million plus that landed in the accounts of “Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)” – who was not named but the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said later it referred to Najib.

Government minister and Najib’s party communications strategist Abdul Rahman Dahlan has also told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that it was obvious that Najib was MO1 but said the prime minister had nothing to do with the scandal.

Najib spoke to Japanese weekly Nikkei Asian Review this week, however, claiming he initiated the investigations into the 1MDB scandal. “It was I who first instructed multiple authorities in Malaysia to conduct investigations,” said Najib in remarks published by the weekly on Nov. 15.

Najib is now on a three-day visit to Japan, two weeks after he a high-profile visit to China that has been interpreted as a swing to Beijing away from the US after the US probe into his affairs.

The prime minister said the 1MDB issue had been highly politicized by “certain elements within Malaysia” attempting to exploit the issue for their personal “political benefit”, in an apparent reference to predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, who has been campaigning to unseat Najib since the scandal erupted last year.

Rights groups have denounced Rafizi’s conviction, saying it was “dangerous chill” on free speech that could lead to a more repressive and unaccountable government.

Excessive

Malaysia’s Lawyers for Liberty rights group called the sentence harsh and excessive, saying Rafizi was just performing his duties as a politician and questioned the reasons for the Auditor-General’s 1MDB report being classified as an official secret.

The Auditor-General’s reports on government ministries, departments, agencies and firms are usually tabled in parliament and deliberated by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which can direct further investigations although it has no say over prosecution and punishment.

Malaysia’s Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali has said there is no wrongdoing by the Prime Minister but investigations will go on. His office has also refused a request for assistance from Swiss authorities, citing on-going investigations.

But the Police have yet to issue any progress reports on the investigations, except to probe those speaking out against 1MDB, leaving critics to assume that the government intends to shut down talk of the scandal.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Finance has said it will take over 1MDB’s businesses and shut down the debt-plagued company after all debts are cleared. 1MDB has sold its energy and utilities assets and land to Chinese investors to pare down the debts.

 

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

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Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).