Many Chinese Malaysians Abroad are Thinking About Coming Home.


May 17, 2018

Affirmative Action Drove Many Chinese Malaysians Abroad. Now They’re Thinking About Coming Home.

Mahathir Mohamad’s new ruling coalition pledges level field after decades of affirmative action for ethnic Malays

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia– Robert Leong left Malaysia about 40 years ago, first for boarding school in Northern Ireland and then to study medicine in Dublin. He went on to the U.S., where he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and works in biotechnology.

Now, political upheaval back home is making it more likely that ethnic Chinese expatriates like Mr. Leong will return to Malaysia, bringing talent and capital back with them.

The electoral collapse of the ethnic-Malay-based party that ruled Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 is raising expectations that the new government will soften or end a decades-old affirmative-action policy that favors the majority Muslim Malay population, often at the expense of ethnic Chinese.

“Would I return? Yes, after allowing time for the new government to settle down and begin implementing reforms,” said Mr. Leong, who is 55 years old. “There is a huge pool of talented and experienced Malaysians living overseas that this new government could tap into.”

Before it was voted out of power last week, the ruling United Malays National Organization gave quotas, handouts and other preferential assistance to Malays to help them catch up with the generally wealthier Chinese. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese Malaysians left the country to seek a fairer hand elsewhere.

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The newly elected ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad—who championed affirmative action during his earlier, 22-year stint in the post—has decried the UMNO government’s “narrow racist rhetoric” and promised to level the playing field by providing support for all Malaysians who need it.

It is a sensitive and closely followed issue both here and abroad. The pledge from the Alliance of Hope coalition offers to ensure that “Malaysians of all backgrounds will enjoy a fair share of this country’s wealth.”

Mr. Mahathir suggested on Tuesday that the best way to encourage Malaysia’s diaspora to return is to expand the economy “so there are more opportunities for people to practice as professionals, as well as invest in this country.” Speaking via video link to a Wall Street Journal conference in Tokyo, he dodged questions about whether he would seek to remove racial quotas.

Removing the affirmative-action program could be difficult, with Malays and other indigenous groups making up more than two-thirds of the country’s 32 million people.

Hundreds of ethnic Chinese were killed in race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. Above, troops patrol streets in the Malaysian capital’s Chinatown.
Hundreds of ethnic Chinese were killed in race riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969. Above, troops patrol streets in the Malaysian capital’s Chinatown. Photo: Bettmann Archive/GETTY IMAGES

 

The pro-Malay policy emerged after 1969 race riots in Kuala Lumpur in which hundreds of ethnic Chinese were killed. The government introduced an affirmative-action system that, among other things, reserves many spots in college for Malays; they also benefit from subsidized housing and equity ownership policies and dominate the public sector. The programs have helped nurture an ethnic-Malay middle class, to the extent that some Malays in Kuala Lumpur and other cities say they no longer need help.

From the start, many Chinese Malaysians, unsure of finding spots in universities or getting scholarships, began sending their children to Australia, the U.K. and America. “That’s how the exodus began,” said Jason Wong, 23. “Anyone could get the money together would send their children overseas to try to get a foothold there.”

 

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He should know. Mr. Wong aims to return to Australia where he previously studied to pursue a doctoral degree in ecology. If he does, he would add to a brain drain in which 1 million Malaysians left the country as of 2010, according to a World Bank study published a year later, the vast majority of them ethnic Chinese.

“Whenever I read about what happens in Malaysia, I daydream—maybe one day I would visit home and change things,” said Chin Fen Teo, 38, who also lives in the Bay Area. “I wish Malaysia is a country where racial harmony is real, not like the fake posters that are plastered all over to promote tourism,” she said.

Newly installed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the best way to encourage Malaysia’s diaspora to return is to expand the economy.
Newly installed Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the best way to encourage Malaysia’s diaspora to return is to expand the economy. Photo: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg News

 

Half of the Chinese Malaysians surveyed last year by researchers from Oxford University said they would leave the country if they could. Malaysia’s Department of Statistics has predicted that the ethnic Chinese population could drop to 20% by 2040, down from 38% at independence and around 23% today, although higher birthrates among Malays is a contributing factor.

Mr. Wong says he would prefer to wait and see how the government tackles the affirmative action system before deciding whether to leave—noting that Mr. Mahathir is still leader of a party that segregates Malay and non-Malay membership.

“As long as his pride stops him from challenging the racial supremacism he engineered decades ago, it will continue drifting around in the Malaysian psyche,” Mr. Wong said. “But if circumstances force him to confront that racism, I suppose I’ll play along.”

Another wild card: Mr. Mahathir, who is 92 years old, has said he plans to hand power in a year or two to former rival Anwar Ibrahim, a longtime advocate of free-market economics, who was released from prison on Wednesday and pardoned for a sodomy conviction he says was politically motivated.

He heads the most avowedly multiracial party in the new coalition. Meanwhile, Mr. Mahathir is focusing his attention on building a case against former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who he accuses of receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB.

Mr. Najib denies any wrongdoing and has been barred from leaving the country. Police searched Mr. Najib’s residence for several hours overnight Wednesday into Thursday for evidence, taking away several boxes of personal items, one of his lawyers told reporters.

The issue of Malay supremacy will likely linger on in rural or semirural areas, where the idea that Malays serve as the bedrock of the nation and deserve preferential treatment has taken a deep hold, said Ibrahim Suffian, a political analyst at the polling company Merdeka Center

“It’s not going to go away,” he said. “The idea of Malay rights will still be a big part of the political landscape.”

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

Rebuilding Malaysia: Titanic Task


May 15, 2018

By John Berthelsen@ http://www.asiasentinel.com

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The defeat of the national ruling coalition (UMNO-led Barisan Nasional) in Malaysia was a remarkable political event.  But now seriously difficult work has to begin if the country is to regain its onetime position as one of Southeast Asia’s most attractive economies and indeed rebuild parliamentary democracy itself.

Virtually all of the country’s institutions have been debased, lots of them by Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former Prime Minister who has been greeted as Malaysia’s savior. In the atmosphere of relief and triumph that has swept Kuala Lumpur since the May 9 election, it is worth a look at how far the country has to go.  As Germany learned after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, rebuilding is a daunting job.

It was Mahathir, for instance,  who, prior to the 2013 national election, made his first break with the now deposed Prime Minister Najib Razak because he felt Najib wasn’t favoring ethnic Malays enough and was too easy on the ethnic Chinese.  Mahathir led his own nationwide tour built on Ketuanan Melayu, or Malays first, with a firebrand named Ibrahim Ali who stopped just short of threatening violence if the opposition prevailed in that election.  He hasn’t instilled a lot of confidence by saying he would restore press freedom — which he largely destroyed in his previous prime ministerial stint — but expects to retain the “fake news” bill put into effect right before the May 9 election.

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Home Affairs Minister Muhyiddin Yassin

Mahathir’s new political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, translates literally as Malaysian Indigenous United. Its officers include Muhyiddin Yassin, one of the country’s most dedicated Malays-first figures and one with a background that includes considerable unexplained wealth. The newly re-minted Prime Minister Mahathir has named Muhyiddin Home Affairs Minister.

Other party leaders are former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, former Information, Communication and Culture Minister Rais Yatim, and Rafidah Aziz, the former Trade and Industry Minister. Its newest members are renegades who quit UMNO .  They have vowed to give up Malays-first politics and Rafidah herself in May made a speech saying she had “always hated racial politics.”

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All of them may have changed their ethnically-oriented political spots, as Mahathir says he has. If they have, it is an extraordinary turnaround. It remains to be seen, for instance, how they, so recently in Malays-first mode, will interact with the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party. Rafizi Ramli, the Secretary-General of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat, headed by the jailed Anwar Ibrahim, has already complained that Mahathir is making decisions without consulting the three other parties in the Pakatan Harapan coalition.  Rafizi was immediately told to shut up by his colleagues.  But Rafizi may be remembering Mahathir as the autocrat he was as Prime Minister.

The country’s judges, all the way up to the Federal Court, the country’s highest tribunal, presumably will now have to relearn jurisprudence from top to bottom, or almost the entire judiciary is going to have to be sacked. For example the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim on bogus charges of homosexual activity that were clearly flawed. The complaining witness appeared to have been coached by Najib and his wife. Two hospitals found no evidence his anus had been penetrated. A full 50 hours elapsed before he found a hospital that would agree he had had sexual contact. DNA evidence that was supposedly Anwar’s was ruled by a lower court to be flawed.  Anwar had a convincing alibi.

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Nonetheless, the high court convicted Anwar in a case roundly condemned by international human rights organizations. That is only one of 30 years of skewed judicial decisions that began after Mahathir sacked Tun Salleh Abbas, the Chief Justice,  in 1988.  Presumably it is up to Mahathir, who has been on the receiving end of warped judicial decisions when his Parti Pribumi Bersatu was outlawed on a dubious technicality shortly before the election, to put the Judiciary right again.

The same goes for its Police Force, which showed little zeal in investigating a long string of crimes including the death of Kevin Morais, a deputy public prosecutor connected to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, whose body was found in a cement-filled oil drum in a river. Morais is believed to have been a major source for Clare Rewcastle Brown, whose Sarawak Report has excoriated Najib for the 1MDB affair with deeply researched and sourced allegations of corruption.

A report on corruption, apparently largely written by Morais, disappeared in 2016 – along with the previous Attorney General, Abdul Gani Patail – who was replaced by Mohamed Apandi Ali, an UMNO lawyer, and promptly said there was no wrongdoing connected to 1MDB.

The Malay business community has largely depended for its success on having its snout in the public trough. Some of the country’s biggest companies are linked directly to the political parties. Presumably, if good government is to prevail, many of these contracts will have to be unwound, particularly for infrastructure spending. Will the companies now have to learn to compete on a level playing field, or will they seek out sympathetic figures in the new administration?

Other institutions that face wrenching change are all of the mainstream media including the two leading English-language newspapers, The Star and The New Straits Times, which are still owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) respectively and the superstructures of the newspaper remain in the hands of those two political parties. Utusan Malaysia, also owned by UMNO and which was virulently racist against ethnic Chinese and Indians still has the same editorial structure, as do all the other major television, radio and other media.  All have been bitterly opposed to the opposition for decades, with their slanted reporting increasing as the May 9 election approached.

The education system, again a creature that came into being under Mahathir, not only largely excludes minorities, forcing them to go overseas for higher education, but has resulted in what amounts to a free pass and graduation for ethnic Malays, a system in which striving is unnecessary. It has resulted in a largely uneducated population. The system, with all of its vested interests, is going to be extremely difficult to reform. But for the country to regain its competitiveness, it will have to be rebuilt.

Perhaps most difficult to fix is its religious institutions, particularly Islam, which have been bent to serve political ends, first by Mahathir and then by Najib as they exploited the delicate ethnic balance in the country to keep UMNO  in power. Through the newspapers and other media, they cast the Chinese as grasping and ready to take political power. Christians – which make up a sizable portion of the Chinese population as well as indigenous tribes in East Malaysia – have been demonized.

In 2017, a popular Chinese pastor, Raymond Koh, was kidnapped. He has never been found, nor has Joshua Hilmy, a convert from Islam, who was reported missing along with his wife, Ruth, who were reported missing in March.  Koh’s wife has questioned whether people in power were involved in his disappearance. Police investigations into the kidnappings have been described as lackadaisical.

Najib was on the edge of pushing through a law in Parliament that would have allowed Parti-Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, to implement Shariah law, including prescriptions for seventh-century punishments, in the state of Kelantan, which it then controlled. PAS has now expanded its political hold to Terengganu as well.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail

In a country where distrust of ethnic minorities has been ingrained for decades, particularly in the most recent one, rebuilding trust is going to be difficult. Learning to compete may be even more difficult. The Chinese are largely more dynamic than the Malays, especially since the Malays’ education system, their political system, their social institutions as exemplified in the affirmative action program known as the New Economic Policy,  have all conspired to give them a free ride.

Shock Election Outcome and Malaysia’s Future


May 11, 2018

Shock Election Outcome and Malaysia’s Future

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By the early morning of May 10, results from the Election Commission indicated that Malaysia’s opposition coalition had secured enough seats to prevail in the country’s general election, effectively marking the end of the world’s longest continuing ruling coalition, led by scandal-ridden premier Najib Razak, and putting the country’s longest serving leader, Mahathir Mohamad, back into office.

Though an opposition coalition win would no doubt be historic, the election result has also quickly cast the Southeast Asian state into a period of uncertainty and raised questions about not just the transfer of power, but the future direction of its domestic politics and foreign policy.

“...one should not forget that it was Mahathir’s authoritarian rule for over two decades that paved the way for some of the trends the opposition rails against – from the erosion of Malaysia’s institutions to the lack of reforms in decades-old affirmative action policies. These are serious problems that cannot be fixed overnight no matter who is in office, and they are easier to talk about than to actually address.”

The opposition’s tally in the country’s 14th general election is nothing short of historic. Though the ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional (BN), had seen its support erode over the past decade under Najib – losing its much-prized two-thirds majority in 2008 and then the popular vote in 2013 – most had predicted BN would still nonetheless cling to power in GE-14 by employing its usual bag of political tricks, including gerrymandering and restrictions on the opposition. Instead, by early Thursday morning, results disclosed by the country’s Election Commission showed that the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition had surpassed the 112 of the 222 seats required in parliament with 121 seats, giving it an effective simple majority, with BN winning just 79 seats.

The result was above all an indicator of the high degree of frustration among the Malaysian electorate with the status quo. Najib’s declining popularity over the years had come amidst deep discontent – not just about the much-ballyhooed 1MDB scandal, but also policies such as the unpopular goods and services tax (GST) that hurt regular Malaysians.

GE-14 saw huge rallies for the Pakatan Harapan (PH) opposition alliance during the election campaign, significant turnout by Malaysians, and record losses by BN in terms of parliamentary seats. The demand for change in Malaysia was clear for all to see.

Yet while the opposition victory might mark the end of a historic election race, it also represents the start of an age of uncertainty for the Southeast Asian state. Given the unprecedented nature of the opposition’s tally, the immediate focus was around whether or not there would be a peaceful transfer of power that would see Mahathir sworn into office again as Prime Minister and Wan Azizah, the wife of his former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who he once deposed and is now behind bars, will be sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister.Whether or not this in fact occurs still remains to be seen.

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After Victory, what’s next?

During Najib’s first press conference since his party’s defeat on Thursday morning, he stopped short of conceding power, noting that no single party had received a simple majority – if the 121 seats are to be broken down by the 104 seats contested under the PKR logo along with 9 seats for the Democratic Action Party and 8 seats for Parti Warisan Sabah –  and that the King would have to determine who the next premier would be.

“…the deeper concerns lie in how the electoral outcome is likely to affect Malaysian domestic politics and foreign policy. As of now, things still look quite unclear on both fronts.”

Meanwhile, Mahathir’s swearing in, initially said to be set for Thursday, was delayed. The added period of uncertainty had the effect of feeding into rumors that BN may not accept an opposition win and raising concerns about the potential outbreak of violence.

Even if a peaceful transfer of power does occur, the deeper concerns lie in how the electoral outcome is likely to affect Malaysian domestic politics and foreign policy. As of now, things still look quite unclear on both fronts.

Domestically, the election campaign ahead of polls was dominated by a focus on personality attacks and cosmetic promises rather than substance, in spite of the fact that the country’s true challenges are structural and transcend party or person.

Amid the vilification of Najib, for instance, one should not forget that it was Mahathir’s authoritarian rule for over two decades that paved the way for some of the trends the opposition rails against – from the erosion of Malaysia’s institutions to the lack of reforms in decades-old affirmative action policies. These are serious problems that cannot be fixed overnight no matter who is in office, and they are easier to talk about than to actually address.

It would also be a mistake to conflate a historic electoral victory with sustained political dominance should the opposition go on to govern. As remarkable a triumph as the Malaysian opposition’s is, the fact is that it took a slow accumulation of several developments – including the deepening 1MDB scandal surrounding Najib, Mahathir’s unlikely re-emergence in Malaysian politics, and deep frustrations that translated into record turnout – to get to this historic outcome. Sustaining that kind of momentum will not be an easy task, particularly if and when the opposition transitions from campaigning to governing – with Mahathir claiming he will eventually step aside – and supporters of the defeated ruling coalition begin realigning post-Najib using their deep patronage networks and other levers of influence. The pendulum could well swing back in the direction of continuity after sudden change.

Things are equally unclear on the foreign policy side as well. Beyond shallow slogans and cheap talk from the two sides – from Mahathir’s promises to restrict Chinese investments to Najib’s self-congratulatory note on the relatively good state of Malaysia-Singapore relations – there was little substantive debate about the structural problems have eroded the exercise of Malaysian foreign policy and constrained the country’s maneuverability. These include a meager defense budget that limits Malaysia from addressing growing security threats to a more divided country that dilutes the support needed for the country to wage an effective foreign policy and preserve its sovereignty from outside threats from state and  non state actors.

“The immediate headlines so far have focused on the Malaysian opposition’s historic election tally, and deservedly so. But as the days and months progress, it will be equally important to pay attention to the country’s new period of uncertainty and what that means for how it conducts itself at home and abroad.”

Some might turn to Mahathir’s foreign policy record for a guide as to what might play out should the opposition indeed take the reins. But it has been a decade-and-a-half since he was in power, and the domestic, regional, and global realities that Malaysia confronts have changed significantly. It is also still unclear how the management of foreign relations will work under the opposition’s tenure, as well as the extent to which mulled changes will actually find their way through bureaucracies into implementation. For these reasons among others, doomsday scenarios, whether with respect to neighboring states like Singapore or major powers like the United States and China, are less likely to play out than subtler re-calibrations in the country’s key relationships.

The immediate headlines so far have focused on the Malaysian opposition’s historic election tally, and deservedly so. But as the days and months progress, it will be equally important to pay attention to the country’s new period of uncertainty and what that means for how it conducts itself at home and abroad.

Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall


April 18, 2018

Perpetual policy and its limited future as reforms stall

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Reforming Bumiputera policy is a colossal project both rival coalitions are reluctant to tackle. Yet the tentative consensus misconstrues an embedded but failing preferential regime.

Malaysia’s 14th general elections (GE14) will see an intense and dynamic battle for the Malay electorate, but also continuity of the extensive, embedded, and often misconstrued, pro-Malay ethnic preferential regime.

Tapping into widespread economic discontent and anxiety, particularly in the Malay population, incumbent Barisan Nasional (BN) and opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalitions both offer populist-flavoured menus, with varying signature dishes. BN will try to differentiate itself by drawing attention and emotion to the pro-Malay, and more broadly pro-Bumiputera, policies that it founded and continually implements.

The political rhetoric around Bumiputera policies will escalate in the coming weeks – and recycle simplistic and convenient stances. With polling day set for 9 May, the BN under the hegemony of UMNO and dependent on Malay vote bases, increasingly kindles notions of Malay unity and Malay interests, and stokes anxieties of purported erosion of ethnic primacy and privilege. Expect caretaker prime minister Najib Razak to sell the Bumiputera Economic Transformation Programme (BETR) as a big deal, and seek a mandate to stay the course.

But the policy may not make that much of a difference; PH broadly agrees with keeping this ethnic preferential system. The newly reconstituted coalition, with a Malay-based party led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, decidedly affirms the goal of Bumiputera empowerment. It minimally specifies how its approach differs from BN’s. Assuredly, as happened prior to the 2013 elections, Pakatan will decry the patronage and cronyism recurrent in various Bumiputera-favouring programmes, while taking care to avoid alienating the multitudes that benefit from the policy, as we can discern from its alternative budget.

Thus, Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime muddles along. Both coalitions have mellowed their stance compared to a few years ago, when there was more forthright talk of replacing Bumiputera preferential programmes, also termed race-based affirmative action, with “need-based” and “merit-based” affirmative action. Now the discourses imply all the above vaguely coexist, while occasionally accepting that perpetual ethnic preference is undesirable.

Clarity and precision are urgently needed, presenting coherent policy alternatives and workable solutions anchored to the objective of promoting Bumiputera participation in higher education, high-level occupations, enterprise and ownership. Policy objectives and instruments must be acknowledged, their breadth and depth grasped.

A systematic and viable roadmap for phasing out the existing Bumiputera preferential regime must lay the groundwork by broadly cultivating capability, competitiveness, and confidence. The different policy spheres also present different conditions. Higher education holds out a broad scope for “need-based” assistance for the poor and disadvantaged, through admissions policies, scholarships and financial assistance. For Bumiputera empowerment in employment and enterprise, “merit” considerations are paramount. The principal objective in these spheres is the cultivation of capable and competitive professionals, managers and enterprises – who are poised to graduate out of preferential assistance.

So-called needs-based and merit-based selections serve to complement and reinforce the Bumiputera preferential regime. Pronouncements to replace or systematically reform race-based affirmative action with such alternatives are premature and misplaced, lacking in systematic analysis. Emphatically, Bumiputera empowerment must be effective and broad-based before systemic reforms can take shape credibly and feasibly.

The regime has registered substantial achievements in promoting Bumiputera upward mobility, but shortcomings remain in terms of the ultimate goals of capability and competitiveness. By 2013, 28.4% of the Bumiputera labour force had acquired tertiary educational qualifications, compared to 26.6% of Chinese and 25.8% of Indians. However, graduate unemployment is a more acute problem among Bumiputeras.

The Bumiputera share of managers steadily rose to 45% in 2013, from 24% in 1970 to 35% in 1985. The public sector and government-linked companies considerably contribute to these figures, and among private enterprises, micro and small-scale establishments. In 2015, among Bumiputera SMEs, 88% were classified as micro, 11% small, and only 1% medium, while the corresponding figures in non-Bumiputera SMEs were 70%, 26%, and 4%. Bumiputera-controlled companies account for only 25% of the 800,000 registered companies in Malaysia.

The Bumiputera population at large must be adequately equipped before Malaysia can truly reform and roll back the system. As things stand, there is scant analysis of policy outcomes and mostly tacit acknowledgement of policy inefficacies, and no formulation of exit strategies for facilitating the graduation of Bumiputeras out of overt ethnic preferential treatment.

 

To be fair, the BETR, introduced in 2011, does modify policy objectives and methods. It is distinguishable from preceding policies, through the ways it reaches out to disadvantaged students and strives to cultivate capability and competitiveness in private enterprise. But these interventions are selective, not systemic. They leave swathes of the ethnic preferential regime untouched.

Indeed, the policy spheres with extensive outreach and potential to empower Bumiputeras – in pre-university programmes, university admissions, government contracting, microfinance and public sector employment – scarcely appear in long-term development plans. There is no commitment to apply lessons from the BETR’s focused interventions, let alone any intention to execute systemic reforms.

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And yet Malaysia arrives at an historical juncture, with GE14 determining who governs into 2020, the nation’s hallowed destination. Articulated by Dr Mahathir in 1991, Vision 2020 loftily aspired for Malaysia to be a “fully developed nation” economically, socially, politically, and culturally. More specific aims include the “creation of an economically resilient and fully competitive Bumiputera community so as to be on par with the non-Bumiputera community.”

Vision 2020, charismatic albeit flawed especially in neglecting education, enterprise development and democratisation, secured a place in the hearts and minds of Malaysians. So firm is the hold on the public imagination that even as the Vision’s progenitor Mahathir now assails Najib, the latter cannot forsake the brainchild of his new nemesis. Rather, Najib postures his administration as building on Vision 2020, merely implying there is some incompleteness in Mahathir’s treatise.

Beyond 2020, a new 30-year mission is being crafted under the TN50 (National Transformation) banner. This project adopts a more “bottom up” approach of compiling popular aspirations and engaging in public consultations. The templates and priorities already laid out are wide-ranging, sanguine and opportune – but conspicuously steer clear of the question of ethnic preferential policies.

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NEP (Tun Razak) –Wawasan 2020 (Tun Dr. Mahathir) and Transformasi Nasional 50 (Najib Razak)–where are we heading with billions misspent on Bumiputera Empowerment!–“Howk Aun-Lee

It has to be acknowledged that reforming Bumiputera policies is a colossal project, and the bi-partisan reluctance to deal with it partly stems from a desire to look beyond ethnic identity and to pursue non-ethnically delineated policies. But the political consensus, while striving to transcend ethnic policies in rhetoric, misconstrues and ignores the embedded ethnic preferential regime.

Resistance to change is often blamed on the political establishment, but this is too simplistic. On the ground, societal forces are also deeply apprehensive and resistant to change. Bumiputera households are not simply being played by politicians; they materially benefit from the policies. Why and how would any people rationally, willingly surrender privilege? There are no easy answers. But Malaysia’s political dispositions and policy discourses preclude candid, honest and rigorous engagement on these crucial issues.

Election campaigns will deservedly dwell on livelihood concerns such as cost of living, social assistance, housing and jobs, and developmental concerns like infrastructure, transportation, education and health provisions, and matters of governance and morality, including social justice, inequality and corruption.

Of course, politicians will stick to simple and straightforward promises, not complex and nuanced propositions. Consistently, candid and critical discourses appear neither during elections, when new visions and mandates might be projected, nor between elections, when necessary but inconvenient reforms might be pursued. For example, in making pre-university matriculation programmes more rigorous to better prepare university entrants, or in imposing greater demands and incentives for government contractors to raise work quality and scale up operations.

 

However, any grand quest to take Malaysia to the next stage must address the current state and future prospects of the Bumiputera preferential regime. Instead of suppressing such questions, or entertaining misguided notions that full-fledged transformation is already in progress, a true mark of Malaysia’s progress on this issue will be its capacity to appraise how effective it has been in promoting Bumiputera empowerment, while rekindling the intent – and audacity – expressed in the past for pursuing capability, competitiveness and self-reliance.

(published in collaboration with RISE: T.wai)

GE14: Last chance for change


March 22, 2018

GE14: Last chance for change

by Dennis Ignatius

GE14: Last chance for change

We are now at the cusp of GE14, one of the most momentous political events that any of us will quite possibly experience in our lifetime. Rarely in the history of a nation has so much depended upon a single decision: who we vote for will quite literally decide the destiny of our nation.

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To be sure, many are piqued and frustrated that it has come down to a choice between Najib and Mahathir. But this election is much more than a choice between personalities; it is a choice between two very different futures for our nation.

Politically moribund

UMNO-BN has now been in power for some 60 years. Like all political parties that have overstayed their welcome, they have become politically moribund. They have lost their way, their integrity, their credibility. They have neither the vision to inspire nor the moral authority to lead.

In almost every area of governance and leadership they have failed our nation.They have been extraordinarily incompetent and reckless fiscally, forcing our nation into levels of debt that were unheard of before. Billions of ringgit in public funds have also been looted with utter impunity or squandered through mismanagement and waste. GST is the price we are paying for their profligacy.

The 1MDB scandal, in particular, has been especially damaging to our nation’s international credibility, not to mention the loss to the nation’s coffers. More than 50 years of diplomacy promoting and positioning our nation has gone down the drain as a result.

It should be clear by now that they do not have the political will to eradicate corruption. When the system jails those who expose corruption and protects the scoundrels who rob us, you know the battle against corruption is over, and we’ve lost.

Under their watch, many of our once proud national institutions have been compromised or reduced to mere appendages of the ruling party.

Despite having amassed more power than any other administration since independence, they still feel vulnerable, still feel the need for yet more power, yet more limits on our freedom. Executive power is now so pervasive that we teeter on the edge of autocracy.

Can we trust a political party that has consistently abused their power with yet more power? Under their watch, our democracy has been hollowed out; gerrymandering and malapportionment have made voting itself increasingly meaningless. In fact, this might well be the last meaningful elections to be held in Malaysia if UMNO-BN is returned to power.

In the meantime, life continues to be a struggle for many. Twelve percent of our young people below 24 are unemployed; thousands of graduates cannot find jobs; the majority of young workers cannot earn enough to live decently. And while Kuala Lumpur has more millionaires than Abu Dhabi, 90% of rural, mostly Malay households, have zero savings.

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And this after 60 years of development, after decades of the NEP and other programmes.

Charting a different course

We must now ask ourselves whether or not we can afford another five years of UMNO-BN rule, another five years of the same failed policies that have impoverished our nation, undermined our unity and weakened our democracy. Can we afford another five years of corruption, scandal and international shame?

If we are willing to look beyond the personalities, if we are willing to overcome our fears and UMNO-BN’s scaremongering, if we are willing to settle for the pragmatic over the ideal, we might just discover that we actually have a unique opportunity to break with the past.

For the very first time, we have a multiracial coalition [Pakatan Harapan] led by experienced political leaders who are genuinely able to unite our nation behind a vision for reform and renewal. They may not be on the same page on all issues but they are united on the things that matter most – respect for the constitution, rule of law, national unity and good governance.

As for Mahathir, there is every indication that he will honour his commitment to ‘reformasi;’ it is his last hurrah and he wants to get it right. In any case, Anwar, Mat Sabu and Lim Kit Siang will be there to ensure that no one hijacks the reform agenda.

It won’t be the end of the struggle to reform our nation but it could well be the beginning that we have long dreamed of.

A second chance

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It is going to be an uphill battle to unseat UMNO-BN but we are now closer than ever before. The future of our nation is in our hands. We must seize the moment and do everything in our power – campaign, donate, support and vote – to ensure victory.

Few nations get a second chance; this is our tryst with destiny and we must not squander it.

The Malay or The Najib Malay?


March 17, 2018

The Malay or The Najib Malay?

Let the Late Malaysian Poet Laureate Usman Awang remind the present generation who they should be.

 

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They can longer be a people who have to depend a nanny state which is being run into the ground by a kleptocracy under Prime Minister Najib Razak. They cannot be bought by BR1M money and other handouts. They need to demonstrate that they are a proud, self-reliant, competitive and hard working people.–Din Merican