The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir.


January 10, 2017

The Malays are weak, says Dr. Mahathir. That’s rather bizarre logic

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini

“I’m a realist, I do what I can do, if I can’t do, I don’t.”

De facto Opposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad

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What if I said that Malays have a lazy, rent-seeking culture, relying on political and social influence to gain wealth and unable to retain power despite all their special privileges? Would this be wrong? Would this be racist? Would this be seditious?

How about if former Prime Minister and now de facto Oopposition Leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad said this? Would it still be “racist”? Would this be considered some sort of truth telling? Would it make a difference when he said this last week or when he was Prime Mminister of this country?

More than a decade ago, in an UMNO General Assembly speech (which also coincided with a celebration of sorts – 21 years in office), Dr.Mahathir as UMNO President engaged in some “realist” assessment of the Malay community he had led for over two decades.

As reported by Malaysiakini, he claimed – “If today they (Malays) are colonised, there is no guarantee they will have the capacity to oppose the colonialists.” The former Premier said Malays had failed because they were lazy and sought the easy way out by reselling their shares, licences and contracts to non-Malays.

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“They cannot be patient, cannot wait a little, they want to be rich this very moment… no work is done other than to be close to people with influence and authority in order to get something. After selling and getting the cash, they come back to ask for more”,he said.

Therefore, there is a rather bizarre logic in his thinking when he said that he had no regrets about stifling dissent in young Malay people during his tenure. Bizarre because the former Prime Minister has never been afraid of using the stereotype of the Malay community as a means of galvanising support.

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And this extends to the other communities as well. Well by “others”, I really mean the Chinese community because as we all know the Indian community is absent from the discourse. In the same speech at the 2002 UMNO General Assembly, he also referenced the Chinese community – the very community that UMNO has always demonised as a threat to Malay hegemony but in reality, meant they were perceived as a threat against UMNO hegemony.

He said, “If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and facilities for the Malays. Learn from the Chinese.”

Only Mahathir could balance such contradictions, playing the racial card against communities, including the one UMNO claims to represent. Which is why in Mahathir’s thinking there is really no reason why he should not be standing shoulder to shoulder with his former opponents in an attempt to bring down the Najib Abdul Razak regime.

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This is  truly bizzare

He really does not care what political pundits, who seek to remind people of what he did during his tenure, say because he knows that he then enjoyed the support of the majority of Malaysians and he did this using the kind of realpolitik that oppositional parties during his regime did not grasp or were uninterested in learning.

While some opposition supporters blather on about “truth and conscience” but offer no real evidence that these form the desideratum for oppositional forces in this country, the former prime minister has no problem twisting the facts on the ground or contorting social and economic realities to fit his narratives.

A clear example of this would be when in an interview, he acknowledged that discrimination was part of the system but that there were communities who thrived in spite of it – “The Chinese in Malaysia have no special rights, they experience discrimination. But they are more successful than us.”

This is exactly the system a Gerakan political operative was talking about when he mocked the opposition for subscribing to the same system as BN. And the same kind of thinking that for years sustained BN which led to the creation of the leviathan which in the Najib regime. We get the world we deserve.

Slaying sacred cows

And keep in mind that during Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO defined oppositional racial preoccupations because the slaying of UMNO sacred cows were the very definition (and still is) of any kind of egalitarian agenda that would truly “save Malaysia”. All those other so-called racial preoccupations, religious, social and economic are a direct result of the UMNO agenda and the mendacious ‘social contract’.

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Not True, Mahathir forgets easily

However, since the short-term goal of saving Malaysia means removing Najib, the real power brokers, those invested in the system – and they are not only Malays – would like to keep the gravy train moving, only with a different railroad engineer.

Unlike some oppositional voices who pontificate about “principles” or at least attempt to control the discourse, demonising those who dredge up so-called ancient history and engaging in victimhood to facilitate political expediency, the former prime minister is clear about the purpose of his alliance with the oppositional forces in this country.

As he told me when I brought up the trust deficit when it comes to opposition supporters and his new role as oppositional leader – “If Najib is there, the opposition will suffer. If Najib is there, even UMNO will suffer, the whole country will suffer. I think the opposition is not supporting me, they are interested in removing Najib. I have the same interest. It is okay to work together – only on that issue, not on other issues.”

Furthermore, he has had no problems claiming that he would slay Malay sacred cows for the benefit of the community – “I cannot predict how much longer this (affirmative action) will go on but at the moment, we are trying out… some kind of experiment… by withdrawing some of the protection in education,” he said. “We want to see whether they will be able to withstand the competition or not. Obviously if they prove themselves able to, we can think of reducing further some of the protection.”

This was always the stick component of the carrot-and-stick approach, and the former Prime Minster knew very well that affirmative action programmes had a deleterious effect on the Malay community.

Moreover, when he hinted that he would slay sacred cows, he was greeted with rapturous applause as some sort of truth sayer by the very same Umno who now endorse the Najib regime’s attempt to further consolidate power and engage with Mahathir’s sworn enemy, PAS.

But of course, now that the Malay community is fractured and the Malay opposition needs to reassure the Malay community, all those special privileges, all those affirmative action programmes, everything that the former prime minister said was holding back the Malay community, are off the table.

The only thing that discerning Malaysians have to take away from any of this is that Mahathir acknowledges that he failed to change the Malay community – “What else (can I do) … I have tried to be an example, tried to teach, scolded, cried and even prayed. (But) I have failed. I have failed to achieve the most important thing – how to change the Malays.”

When asked if there was anything he would do differently, he claimed that he wanted to be a “normal” UMNO member because he could not do anything for the Malays. Well, he is not even a member now and he is the power behind a nascent Malay power structure.

The big question is, will he fail again. More importantly, is changing the Malays really the agenda of the game for him or anyone else.

KJ John’s Comments on Bridget Welsh’s End of UMNO?


November 7, 2016

KJ John’s Comments on Bridget Welsh’s End of UMNO?

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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I attended a book launch on the ‘The End of UMNO?’ because my good friend Saifuddin Abdullah wrote the foreword and invited me to be present. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the veteran UMNO member and the best prime minister we never had gave the keynote address.

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The book has four chapters contributed by four authors, and edited by Bridget Welsh. Other chapters are by other equally renowned scholars; John Funston, Clive Kessler and James Chin. The chapters are good reading with titles like:

  • UMNO – From Hidup Melayu to Ketuanan Melayu
  • UMNO – Then, Now – and Always
  • From Ketuanan Melayu to Ketuanan Islam: UMNO and the Malaysian Chinese
  • Malaysia’s Fallen Hero: UMNO’s Weakening Political Legitimacy

It is a good political and truthful outsider view of the history of UMNO from its past to its natural and impending disastrous future. All speakers predicted the same fate to UMNO, similar to Japan and India with their politically and morally corrupt political parties of power, authority, and ultimate final loss of control.

Tengku Razaleigh’s thesis

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Given that this was only my second time hearing or being with Tengku Razaleigh; allow me to summarise his thesis because the UMNO leadership of the future needs to hear his complete argument; assuming they understand English.

In Tengku Razaleigh’s view, UMNO Baru started because the judges lacked wisdom; the High Court should have ordered regularisation of unregistered branches instead of declaring UMNO illegal. In his view also the original spirit of UMNO needs to be revived. UMNO Baru is not the UMNO of Onn Jaafar and the other such originalists.

Next he argued that the Conference of Rulers is still a relevant and significant part of both the Malaya and Malaysia Agreements. They are always a significant party and that singular constitutional amendment does not exclude them from their role as moral guardians of Malaysian Constitutionalism.

The UMNO Racists (Zahid Hamidi, Kerismuddin, Noah Omar, Khairy Jamaluddin, Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos and Criminal Najib Razak)

The MPs also have a role and responsibility of their Oaths of Office; to uphold, protect and preserve the Federal Constitution by which they took their oath. All MPs hold this responsibility to uphold the constitution as their supreme loyalty; as per Oath of Office. Even UMNO’s Supreme Council cannot and should not overrule this truth. This moral role of all MPs and Royalty needs to be better institutionalised for assuming full and moral responsibility.

To his mind and heart, our constitutional democracy and supremacy of the Federal Constitution specifically took a beating because of the policy of privatisation. Allow me to quote his most caustic description of the Malaysian political and policy problem today:

“The privatised corporate power became the defining factor in moving the country ahead, and in the process, makes a mockery of the sanctity and supremacy of our constitution. What we need to realise is that the country is not a corporation. We cannot conflate the two; for this would place corporate power above the constitution and the people. The problem and controversy surrounding the 1MDB issue is a classic example of the conflation.”

I fully and totally agree and I am amused that to date the federal government and all her agents and agencies, whether the Economic Planning Unit (EPU), or Auditor-General, or Bank Negara Malaysia, could not observe this issue clearly to rectify the mess we are already sinking into. 1MDB is simply a bad example of such abuse of power.

Conflicts of interest as operating paradigm

The older UMNO fought for the interest of others. The Rulers-in-Council also did the same. They all agreed that race-based parties were needed and therefore included MCA and MIC with their concessions. The British agreed with all these with new Malayan leaders of that time.

But today’s UMNO is now corrupted to the core; by the spoils of corporatisation through privatisation. No agency is spared including the Federal Land Development Agency (Felda), which has a clear and specific bumiputra agenda; but who cares right? It has also become a mere means to get rich through appointees and players (crony capitalism and rentierism).

The abuse of governance of this nation-state was fully institutionalised when the president of UMNO and Prime Minister becomes also became the finance minister; 1MDB is only one small case in point.

The entire Finance Ministry is today a framework for “piratisation of public assets for private benefit”. In fact, today the entire nation and all her natural assets are up for grabs. Anyone who can is already doing this; all in the name of privatisation but which has become ‘piratisation’.

The cabinet as executive arm of governance appears to have lost its significance and meaning. For example, Act 355 is a major policy issue for the governance of this nation-state; apart from its abuse of the Federal Constitution. But, to the best of my knowledge, it was never presented to the executive branch of governance. How then can it be tabled in Parliament, or even placed on the agenda list; without a serious discussion at the cabinet? Are all ministers colluding then?

Tengku Razaleigh warned that the government cannot simply table issues and concerns, after support of the Umno supreme council. Such lack of transparency and abuse of good governance principles needs complete review to check the other arms of governance; including by the Conference of Rulers.

Therefore, Bersih

Given this ugly reality of the blatant abuse of governance today by most in authority, is it unreasonable for civil activists to mobilise Bersih? After all Bersih now only wants the following five claims:

  • Clean general elections
  • Clean governance
  • Strengthening parliamentary democracy
  • Embolden and enable Sabah and Sarawak
  • The right of peaceful protest by citizens

Are we really asking for much more than Tengku Razaleigh?

Nazir Razak and Promoters of National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive


October 19, 2016

Message for Nazir Razak and Promoters of  National Consultative Council 2 (NCC 2)–Don’t be Naive

by Dr. Kua Kia Soong

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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My Advice to Nazir Razak and G-25–Remove this Toxicity First–Din Merican

…as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in UMNO will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light.

Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with UMNO Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.–Dr Kua Kia Soong

I understand the sentiments of “moderates” who are rightly alarmed at the increasing racism, religious bigotry and corruption in Malaysia and are proposing the establishment of a new ‘National Consultative Council’ (NCC2) like the one set up after May 13, 1969. But are they harbouring naïve views about how an NCC type approach can meaningfully address such concerns?

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The presupposition behind those who call for unity and good sense and a rational way ahead for the nation is that “racial” discord in our society and the present slide into a banana republic can be solved through a council of eminent persons who will plot the path forward for the nation. But was that what was actually achieved by the NCC after the May 13 riots in 1969?

Who were behind the May 13 incident?

The official version of Malaysian history places the cause of May 13 on an inevitable clash between the “races” because of intractable inequalities between the ethnic communities. ‘Tanda Putera’, the official film goes even further by imputing blame on “provocation of the Malays” by the Opposition after the 1969 general election.

What did the NCC actually achieve?

The National Consultative Council was headed by Tun Abdul Razak who became the new Prime Minister after Tunku stepped down. It formulated the Rukun Negara that was intended to create harmony and unity among the various races in Malaysia. Although the Rukun Negara has often been touted as the panacea for our current problems in the country, I demur on two grounds: First, this so-called “national philosophy” was crafted and promulgated under a state of emergency and not passed through the democratic processes afforded by the Federal Parliament; second, the ‘eminent persons’ responsible for it were not inclusive enough for they left out groups such as our indigenous peoples and Buddhists among others when they insisted on “belief in God” as one of the pillars of this state ideology.

The NEP was the game changer

Thereafter, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was launched in 1971. The NEP was aimed at “creating unity among the various races in Malaysia through reducing the economic gap between the Malays and Bumiputera on the one hand, and the non-Malays on the other”. It was a social re-engineering action programme formulated by the National Operation Council (NOC) formed in the aftermath of May 13, 1969 riots. This policy was intended to be implemented for a period of 20 years but it has since, under different guises, become a Never Ending Policy.

It is important to note that the New Economic Policy that has transformed Malaysian society and also institutionalised racial discrimination all these years was the prerogative of the National Operation Council (NOC) and not the NCC. The NOC was the preserve of the Minister of Home Affairs, the leaders of UMNO, MCA & MIC, Chief of Armed Forces Staff and Inspector-General of Police. The council of eminent persons in the NCC only dealt with the formulation of the Rukun Negara. The National Cultural Policy was announced also in 1971 after a conference at which a token number of non-Malay academics were invited.

So let us be clear about what the NCC actually achieved after May 13. The NCC certainly failed to prevent the numerous amendments to the Constitution which have entrenched inequality since 1971, the most serious of which has been Amendment 8A to Article 153 in 1971, allowing more racial discrimination through the “quota system”. Nor did it prevent the amendment to Article 121 in 1988 that made provisions for the recognition of Islamic shariah courts/laws – since then, the Judiciary has tended to defer its powers to the shariah courts whenever there are disputes in conversion cases.

A fine mess you’ve got us into

So how did we end up in the mess we find ourselves in at present that is troubling the “moderates” and corporate players?

First, we have to thank Dr Mahathir Mohamad for privatising most of our state assets when he came to office in 1981 right up to 2003. These were assets that we all owned that were sold for a song to private capitalists. By 1989, the contribution of the private sector to economic growth exceeded that of the public sector and Mahathir’s mission to transfer state capital to private Malay capitalist hands was well on target. During Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister, three main UMNO officials focused their attention on building “Bumiputera capitalists”. This was facilitated after Umno was declared illegal in 1988 and its assets were required to be sold off. The three were Mahathir himself, crafty Daim Zainuddin who was his finance minister during two phases in Mahathir’s term and thirdly, Anwar Ibrahim who, before his downfall in September 1998, was second in power to Mahathir. All three had their respective corporate connections.

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During the financial crisis of 1997, the state provided support for favoured firms linked to “Bumiputera capitalists” after the imposition of capital controls, such as reflationary measures that included cutting interest rates and making credit more readily available to these fledgling firms. Banks were also encouraged to lend more, and to bail out troubled firms – including that of Mahathir’s son – and a new expansionary budget was introduced in October 1998.

Apart from his historic creation of Malay private capital through privatisation of state assets and his grandiose projects, Mahathir left a racist legacy that was the result of his populist intention to win over the Bumiputera votes. The racial discrimination implicit in the NEP was continued without any public debate; poverty was racialised as mainly a Bumiputera phenomenon; “Bumiputeras only” institutions were expanded, and racial discrimination was extended to discounts and quotas for housing, access to investment funds, loans and scholarships. This racist legacy included a chauvinistic National Cultural Policy that tried to pander to Malay-centrism with dire consequences for ethnic relations, especially in 1987.

Mahathir’s term in office was marked by sensational financial scandals that were not unexpected of an authoritarian populist who did not pay much heed to accountability and good governance. No one knows about all these scandals better than the leader of the Opposition who must declare if Mahathir can get away with impunity.

Mahathir’s racist paradigm was translated across the board to incorporate political, economic, educational, social and cultural policies and he left a racist legacy that has today been latched upon by a far-right Malay supremacist group of which he is the patron. This Malay-centric ideology they purvey has become increasingly infused with extreme Islamic populism, leaving even “moderate” Malays worried for the future.

Najib has merely extended Mahathir’s methods of rule

At the 13th general election (GE13) held on May 5, 2013, the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won 133 of the 222 seats in Parliament, preserving its majority, despite the fact that it only received 47.38 per cent of the popular vote against 50.87 for the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition. Soon after GE13, UMNO decided to punish the non-Malays for their support of the opposition PR by giving only 19 per cent of places in public universities to Chinese students and 4 per cent to Indian students even though the two ethnic groups together make up about 30 per cent of the student population. Mahathir castigated Prime Minister Najib Razak for wasting election funds on Chinese voters.

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The GE13 results signalled a return to Mahathir’s strident racial politics and a U-turn on Najib’s pre-election attempt to reach out to the other races through his slogan “1Malaysia”. As noted above, Umno’s erstwhile Malay chauvinist credentials have since been farmed out to Malay far-right organisations like Perkasa and other groups. The latter will seek to prolong pro-Malay discriminatory policies and Najib’s pre-election attempts to cut back on ethnic Malay privileges in the NEP now seem politically futile.

While it is the growing trend of many countries to reduce their civil service, Malaysia’s Prime Minister’s Department in particular, has done the opposite. It has more than doubled its number of civil servants from 21,000 to 43,554. In stark contrast, the White House employs only 1,888 staff! To date, there are ten “Ministers in the Prime Minister’s Department” alone, on top of other important agencies or governmental bodies that fall within the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department. These include, among others, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Election Commission of Malaysia, Department of Islamic Development, Public Service Department, Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, the Judicial Appointments Commission, Economic Planning Unit and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency.

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The oversized bureaucracy and the Bumiputera-ist populism have, in turn, created massive leakages in the economy. In 2010, Cuepacs President Omar Osman revealed that a total of 418,200 or 41 per cent of the 1.2 million civil servants in the country were suspected to be involved in corruption. The 2009 Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report revealed that Malaysians generally consider political parties and civil service to be the most corrupt groups, and the government’s anti-corruption drive to be ineffective.

Thus, instead of focussing on remedying the particular needs of the various poor classes in Malaysian society, the state has chosen to blame the plight of the Malay peasantry on “Chinese dominance of the economy”. At the same time, the state’s populist Bumiputera policy is intended to win over the allegiance of the whole Malay community while mainly benefiting the wealthier strata most of all.

The NEP and the state’s authoritarian populism

The state has subverted the democratic process through the proscription of so-called “sensitive” issues that include questioning the special position of the Malays, the national language and the rulers’ privileges. These proscriptions have been implemented through the use of detention without trial laws as well as the Sedition Act. Thus, the demands of workers and peasants, educational, religious and cultural organisations, indigenous peoples and regional minorities have been summarily dealt with through the cynical use of such repressive laws.

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The NEP has served to institutionalise racial discrimination and its continuation is crucial to the authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state. This is blatantly practiced in the armed and civil services, education and economic sectors. Communalism, which is an intrinsic part of the state’s ideology, continues to produce tension in Malaysian society today and even more so after the challenge to the status quo at the 2008 general election. Even while Malaysia has been experiencing healthy economic growth rates since the seventies, the Malaysian state has had to rely on continued repression and communalist policies to divide the people.

The movement for genuine reforms

To conclude, as long as pro-Bumiputera policies remain useful in winning Bumiputera votes, it is unlikely that the ruling class in Umno will want to dispense with this method of rule. Racism has been thoroughly infused in all the national institutions, including racist indoctrination of Bumiputeras in state institutions such as the BTN that recently came to light. Since Najib introduced the slogan “1Malaysia” to try to woo the disaffected non-Bumiputera voters after the 2008 fiasco, strident racism often associated with Umno Youth has now been outsourced to the far-right Malay supremacist groups. They continue to play the role of storm troopers and disrupt activities organised by civil society to promote social justice, democracy and human rights. UMNO’s competition with PAS has also heightened Islamic populism in the country, with dire consequences for ethnic relations. Above all, racial discrimination facilitates crony capitalism that is essential to UMNO’s monopoly of power. This has not changed since the Mahathir era.

The ethnic Indian working class and the indigenous peoples in both East and West Malaysia are the poorest communities in Malaysia; the former and the Orang Asli cannot rely on “Bumiputera” privileges, while the indigenous peoples of East Malaysia do not enjoy the same amount of state largesse as the Malays in West Malaysia even though they are categorised as Bumiputeras.

So, if there is going to be an NCC2, will the new council of “eminent persons” be prepared to face this reality and join the movement for genuine reforms in order to progress into the future. The road toward uniting the Malaysian peoples is through a concerted effort for greater democracy not only in the political realm but also in economic, educational, social and cultural policies. The state’s ideological view of “national unity” through one language and one culture and the dissolution of Chinese and Tamil schools are intended to fuel Malay chauvinism. The basis of unity rests fundamentally on the recognition of the equality of all nationalities. The imposition of one language and one culture on all the communities will produce only a hollow unity.

The basis for unity among the people has also to embody a commitment to democracy and policies that will improve the living standards of workers and farmers of all communities and at the same time unite them. These components involve the lifting of restrictions on legitimate political organisation and activity, as well as the encouragement of social and political institutions that ensure genuine popular control.

Thus, the task for all Malaysians is to build a solidarity movement for democracy, fully cognisant of the need to improve the livelihood of the masses and build a society that is progressive, inclusive and truly equal.

Kua Kia Soong is the advisor of Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia).

Malaysia’s Najib mess is Mahathir-made


August 5, 2016

Malaysia’s Najib mess is Mahathir-made–The Summing Up

by  Dan Slater, University of Chicago

At least embattled Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak is right about one thing. The current mess in Malaysian politics is the making of his greatest nemesis, Mahathir Mohamad, who led the Southeast Asian nation with an iron fist from 1981–2003. What Najib fails to fathom is that Mahathir has not produced this mess by criticising his leadership, but by paving Najib’s path to power in the fashion he did during his decades in office. Mahathir may believe that he can end the crisis by bringing Najib down. But history should judge Mahathir himself as the author of a long national decline that has culminated in this latest crisis.

To be sure, Najib’s fingerprints are all over the current mess. The proximate source of the crisis has been the collapse of Najib’s pet sovereign-investment company, 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). This has caused Malaysia’s stock market and currency, the ringgit, to plummet in turn. All this has transpired amid credible allegations that the Prime Minister siphoned an eye-popping US$700 million into his personal bank account.

But this road toward ruin commenced with Mahathir, not Najib. It is vital to realise that Mahathir rose to power in blessed circumstances. Malaysia’s economy had been growing healthily for decades, thanks to the prudent economic management of a highly capable bureaucracy. Governance and tax collection were effective, and debts were few. Natural resource wealth, including oil, was professionally stewarded. A decade of muscular redistribution to the country’s ethnic Malay majority had restored social stability after the race riots of 1969. Incoming foreign investment was copious and about to mushroom even further. Mahathir commanded one of the most cohesive ruling parties (the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO) and coalitions (the Barisan Nasional, or BN) in the world. The regime was authoritarian, but not intensely repressive or disliked in comparative terms. In short, Mahathir was holding a winning hand when he became prime minister in 1981.

Then came the debt. Obsessed with following in the footsteps of Asia’s technological leaders, Mahathir began borrowing heavily to fund his ‘Look East’, state-led heavy-industrialisation program. Privatisation was part of his growth package, but the beneficiaries were businessmen of loyalty more than talent. When the global economy went into recession in the mid-1980s, patronage started drying up. UMNO split, largely in reaction to Mahathir’s strong-armed style of rule. Mahathir’s two most talented rivals, Tengku Razaleigh and Musa Hitam, bolted from UMNO despite their deep personal ties to the party, mostly to get away from Mahathir himself. Mahathir responded by launching a police operation under the pretext of racial tensions, imprisoning and intimidating political rivals, and cementing his autocratic control.

Hence by the late 1980s, all of the defining features of Malaysia’s current crisis under Najib’s leadership were already evident under Mahathir. The regime was increasingly repressive. The office of prime minister was becoming a haven of autocracy. Ethnic tensions had been reopened to political manipulation. The economy was worrisomely indebted. UMNO was shedding some of its most capable leaders. This was the beginning of Malaysia’s sad national decline, under Mahathir’s watch and at his own hand.

Fast-forward a decade and all of these syndromes would recur in even nastier forms. The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997–98 punished Malaysia for the unsustainable dollar-denominated debts it had accumulated under Mahathir’s single-minded push for breakneck growth. Mahathir blamed everybody but himself for the crash. He sacked and imprisoned his popular and gifted deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, largely for his temerity in suggesting that Malaysia needed deeper reforms to regain economic health.

Mahathir didn’t pull Malaysia out of its crisis with economic reform or adjustment, but with more and more borrowing and spending. This was possible because Malaysia was still sitting on the fiscal reserves it had been amassing for half a century, since the British colonial period. Mahathir grandiosely claimed that his imposition of capital controls had saved the economy. But capital flight had basically run its course by the time controls were implemented. Mahathir imposed them to facilitate political repression as much as economic recovery. The spectre of anti-Chinese riots in neighbouring Indonesia was then callously manipulated to keep ethnic Chinese voters in the BN fold in the 1999 elections.

Najib trained and mentored by Dr. Mahathir

Hence even before the turn of the millennium, Malaysia was hurtling down the very trajectory of decline we are witnessing in the current crisis. Like Mahathir, Najib assumed autocratic control over the economy and embarked on reckless borrowing and investment schemes, especially 1MDB. Like Mahathir, Najib unleashed a torrent of repression under antiquated security laws to protect his own position amid rising criticism from civil society and from within UMNO. Like Mahathir, Najib has recklessly played the ethnic and religious card as his position has weakened. And in consummate Mahathir style, Najib has now even sacked his deputy, Muyhiddin Yassin, for questioning Najib’s repression of the media in response to the 1MDB scandal. In sum, Mahathir has nobody to blame more than himself as he watches Najib drive Malaysia even further into the ground.

Neither Najib nor any of his current plausible replacements appear capable of reversing Malaysia’s decades-long decline. Herein lies perhaps Mahathir’s worst legacy of all. By forcing the three most capable politicians beside himself out of UMNO during their prime, Mahathir ensured that only relative lightweights would command leading positions in Malaysia’s most powerful political institution. If Malaysia is to exit this crisis on a path to restored health rather than steeper decline, the political and economic reforms first demanded in the reformasimovement of the late 1990s will finally need to put in place: either by a new generation of leadership within UMNO, or by Malaysia’s repressed but resilient political opposition.

Dan Slater is associate professor in political science at the University of Chicago.

Malaysia’s mess is Mahathir-made

The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered


New York

June 22, 2016

The June 2016 by-elections: The Opposition and Mahathir thoroughly plastered

by Dr Bridget Welsh (Received via E-mail)

The by-election results for Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar are in. UMNO held onto their seats, and increased its majorities.

Najib got the formula: Cash is still King

Given the tragedy surrounding the polls stemming from the helicopter accident in Sarawak last month, the fact that by-elections disproportionately favour those with access to resources, and the reality that these contests were three-cornered fights with a divided opposition, these results are not unexpected.

The important implications of these by-elections lies less in the winning, but in the losing – as the shifts in campaigning, voting and political alignments reveal that old dreams are gone. Malaysian electoral politics is shifting, and all indications are that the direction is not toward a stronger, more vibrant polity that offers meaningful choices to the electorate.

Declining engagement

At this marker before the next general election, it is important to identity key trends. Importantly, voters are not engaging as in the past. This is evident in the decline in voter turnout. Malaysians are tired of the politicking and turning away from elections.

The drop in voter turnout from 2013 was a whopping 14 percent in Sungai Besar and 13 percent in Kuala Kangsar respectively. Importantly voter turnout levels were also a drop from 2008. What is even more revealing is the decline in voter registration more broadly, especially among younger Malaysians.

Voters are disappointed with the options provided and tired of a political contest that appears to be about the fight for power rather than the fight for representation. Voter disengagement advantages incumbents, as shown in the by-elections results, and this unhealthy trend reinforces the sense of disempowerment that has deepened with the governance scandals over the last year.

Both campaigns were devoid of any meaningful new messages. They were not about any real reform or policies that help Malaysians. Neither side had anything substantive or new to offer the electorate. Instead the campaign was about fighting enemies, be they Mahathir Mohamad, Najib Abdul Razak or Abdul Hadi Awang.

Battles over personalities dominated over the concerns of ordinary people as the past featured more than the future. If there was any issue that stood out, it was hudud, which was carefully placed by UMNO to serve as a distraction to reinforce opposition splits, fears and insecurities – emotions that favour the incumbent.

UMNO’s use of race and religion for campaigning is not new. This issue however became less about hudud than about the person who introduced the hudud bill, namely Hadi, as here too the election became about old strategies rather than new ones. The overall shallowness of the campaign speaks to the fatigue in the political system and the widening deficit of new ideas and leadership for moving the country forward.

To fill the vacuum, both sides turned to relying on resources and patronage in campaigning. Buying votes has now become the norm for the BN, especially in by-elections. Yet, the crass exchange of funds for votes was so blatant that it set a new low standard of vote-buying. The Electoral Commission seemed to endorse this practice.

While the BN may relish in their victory, this practice will be difficult to replicate on a national scale, especially given the rising debt and fiscal constraints tied to the economic mismanagement of the Najib administration. This mode is not viable to win GE14.

The opposition on its part has joined the goodie game. In an ‘if you can’t beat, then join them’ dynamic, Pakatan Harapan parties handed out rice and other sundries. The use of state funds (or rather people’s funds) were similarly used to woo electoral support, feeding the practice that elections are about what you get materially in the short term rather than in the long term.

The opposition has adopted a campaign tactic it will always lose, not only for the fact that they do not have the funds to be competitive, but more for the reality that it undercuts the opposition from any advantage they have to fall back on principles. For every bag of rice they distribute, they undercut all criticisms of an unfair electoral process. They are becoming what they said they were fighting against.

Loss of dreams

The move away from campaigning over ideas and defending principles underscores broader shifts in the political disengagement among the electorate at large. The stakes in Malaysian elections have changed. While 2008 was about change, and 2013 about the possibility of a change in government, current elections no longer appear to offer the option of meaningful difference.

Today it is not clear what the opposition stands for. These by-elections did not reveal an alternative political narrative for the opposition, a wasted opportunity to genuinely construct a new foundation. For many voters, the dream of change is dead.

It is thus no surprise that there were political realignments in voting, with some Chinese and Indians moving away from the opposition (although between 5-10 percent in a preliminary study of the data). This lack of viable alternative leadership also contributed to the increasing fragmentation among Malay voters. Malays are more divided in UMNO’s favour. The overall momentum is changing, from anger directed toward UMNO moving toward disappointment with the opposition for failing to meet expectations and achieve its promises.

The by-elections do however suggest emphatically that another dream is dying – this is of PAS and hudud. The biggest loser in the campaign was Hadi Awang’s PAS, as the results show that the traditional Islamist party cannot even win second place in a seat where it has repeatedly campaigned and even in a Malay heartland seat in Perak barely scraped through in second place. Preliminary analysis of the data shows that PAS held onto around a third of Malay voters, a record low in recent decades. Its connection to UMNO was electorally toxic for the party.

Not only is Hadi Awang undermining any hope of PAS governing, voters have shown emphatically that they care less about hudud, with the majority rejecting it as the centrepiece of a campaign. PAS was not rewarded for pushing its archaic exclusive moralism, a sign ahead that the party under Hadi Awang is heading towards a minor electoral status worse than 2004. The by-elections show clear signs that the dream of hudud is dying, as the voters have spoken what surveys have long shown – hudud does not win votes. Hadi Awang’s leadership is destroying the party – a dynamic that truly makes UMNO gleeful.

Votes of (no) confidence

Immediately after the polls there were many groups claiming victory. The first was Najib’s camp, with claims of a ‘vote of confidence’. This is a gross error in interpretation. Polls continue to show that Prime Minister Najib remains deeply unpopular – and his lack of presence in these by-elections (as compared to other senior leaders) was telling.

Supporters of the PM may live in a dream world of believing in confidence, but they are fooling themselves if they think that two by-elections will translate into a national mandate for their leader. The reality is that UMNO’s chances electorally are stronger without the scandal-ridden PM.

A second claim of victory came from Amanah, whose first entry into peninsular politics showed that they are a significant new Malay party. They performed well. This performance, however, rested very much on the support and machinery of their allies, especially the DAP. This dependence is not healthy. Although it received multi-ethnic support, considerable support for the party came from Chinese voters.

Amanah under a Boria Joker from Penang

Amanah has a long way to go to show it is an equal independent partner in the opposition alliance, and faces an uphill battle to bring in mass Malay support. A key step in that regard is to stop its myopic fight with PAS and focus on what it offers on its own and for the country as a whole.

Another claim has revolved around the participation of Dr Mahathir, with UMNO belittling his role. The results show that support of Mahathir for the opposition did not translate into cutting into significantly UMNO’s political base, as the party held its own. What is not clear is how this happened.

Neutralising dissent within UMNO was effective as incentives and intimidation were used in the campaign, with grassroots leaders inside the party feeling the effects. Again, these tactics will be difficult to replicate at the national level. UMNO’s greatest enemy has been itself, and divisions within the party and its base remain.

The most substantive vote of confidence surrounded the opposition as a whole. Taken together (PAS and Amanah) the opposition support remained high at 45 percent of the electorate. This is a loss of less than 5 percent of voters moving away from the opposition parties. As such, the opposition’s core support remains significant in what continues to be a polarised polity.

Entrenched losing mentalities

Opposition support is now however more fragmented. Looking ahead, it is unlikely that a pact can be formed to prevent multi-cornered fights in the next election. It is also impossible that Pakatan Rakyat can be repaired. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall. Pakatan is broken. Even if Hadi steps down or is pushed out as leader in the next PAS party election, old formulas and coalitions are not viable.

As such, the reality is that the multi-ethnic opposition will need to address how it can maximise its support among opposition supporters and more importantly cut into UMNO’s traditional base if it to even maintain its electoral position.

These are difficult tasks ahead, especially given the internal divisions in PKR and imbalances among the opposition partners. A new viable national opposition cannot achieve these tasks with a focus on issues and enemies of the past, a lacklustre campaign that relies non-competitively on resources rather than people’s priorities and battles that appear to be about themselves rather than for the people.

If the opposition is to move out of a losing mentality, it will need to address three key issues: a new leadership, a new narrative and revamped principles/parameters for cooperation and campaigning. The burden on the opposition to change is higher than ever, to reject practices and behaviour that has resulted in losses since 2013.

In contrast, the by-election victories show that for UMNO, the strategies of maintaining electoral support remain the same – a controlling leader, a reliance on resources, the use of control of electoral bodies (through movement of voters as occurred in both by-elections and the advantages of delineation) and the manipulation of race and religion.

UMNO continues to effectively capitalise on fear and insecurity, touting the idea that any viable national alternative besides UMNO will result in loss of place and position for its political base. This may appear like a winning strategy for elections, but it remains to be seen how long a campaign based on a mentality of losing actually moves the country forward.

In this climate of economic contraction, the politics of losing is now more dominant than ever. Negative politics and politicking are defining the national landscape. Disengagement and division are eroding the democratic quality of elections. The June by-elections show that these developments are not a winning formula for ordinary Malaysians.

BRIDGET WELSH is Professor of Political Science at Ipek University, Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asian Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University, Senior Associate Fellow of The Habibie Center, and University Fellow of Charles Darwin University.

Malaysia Paddy Fields Are Najib’s Battlefield to Woo Voters


New York

June 20, 2016

Malaysia Paddy Fields Are Najib’s Battlefield to Woo Voters

by Shaminadam@shaminadam

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-19/malaysia-paddy-fields-become-battlefield-for-najib-to-woo-voters

Standing near paddy fields that stretched to the horizon, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had one message for voters of the rural district of Sungai Besar: My government will take care of you.

Fairuzita Mohamad Amir, who was in the crowd Najib addressed earlier this month in the state of Selangor, voted on Saturday in a by-election that saw his United Malays National Organisation crush the competition. The 51-year-old widow grows rice on 2.5 acres of land with the help of subsidies plus access to fertilizers and pesticides, for which she credits UMNO.

Fairuzita Mohamad Amir
Fairuzita Mohamad Amir
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

“I learned to say UMNO along with my ABCs,” Fairuzita said. Over the years, they have helped me a lot. I need their support and they have mine.”

Najib needs to keep smallholders like Fairuzita happy as he seeks the votes of rural and semi-urban areas to retain power in the next general election due by 2018. Farmers — many of them ethnic Malays — are a linchpin for his party, which leads one of the world’s longest-ruling coalitions. Their votes have a higher weighting than their work, which contributes to less than a tenth of gross domestic product.

Najib Scandals

“Even as Malaysia becomes more developed, the importance of the farmers and the rural voters remains intact,” said Khor Yu Leng, an analyst who has published papers on Malaysia’s political economy including voting trends in the 2013 election. “The concentration of seats in farming areas is quite big for Malaysia, and UMNO will want to strengthen that.”

At stake for UMNO is the unbroken rule of its Barisan Nasional coalition since independence in 1957. The party is watching Najib’s ability to shake off a year of political turmoil and focus on bolstering a slowing economy.

UMNO’s victories with bigger majorities in Sungai Besar and a northern state on Saturday indicate Najib passed the first test of public support on peninsular Malaysia since the scandals broke. Cabinet ministers made daily trips to the districts before election day, shaking hands and at times handing out bags of rice to the poor. An opposition in disarray, which fielded multiple candidates in each seat, also assisted UMNO.

Najib Razak
Najib Razak
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

Malaysian farmers have been hit by falling commodity prices, rising living costs and a stock investment that hasn’t always delivered what was promised. Najib has responded by pledging bigger subsidies for rubber planters and rice farmers in the 2016 budget. He announced monetary handouts this month for rubber farmers totaling 194 million ringgit ($47.5 million).

Farmers, Fishermen

Najib, 62, has battled graft accusations since July, and denies wrongdoing. He was cleared by the attorney general this year over revelations that $681 million appeared in his accounts before the last election in 2013. The money was a donation from the Saudi royal family and most was later returned, the government said.

The premier has also been embroiled in probes into the finances of troubled state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, while former leader Mahathir Mohamad and opposition groups sought to whip up anger over a goods and services tax that was imposed in 2015.

“Farmers and fishermen are from the mainstream Malay heartlands and those heartlands are key to Barisan Nasional regardless of any issue, whether it’s about GST or 1MDB,” said Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, dean of the college of law, government and international studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia. “If the prime minister continues to provide support to these groups, they will continue to support him in the future.”

Electoral Map

The importance of rural voters can be seen in Malaysia’s electoral map. Settlers under Malaysia’s Federal Land Development Authority — a government agency known as Felda formed in 1956 with World Bank funding to help steer the rural poor out of poverty by providing them with land to plant — are backbone voters in over 50 districts, according to the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research.

Farmers clear a path between rice fields in Sekinchan, Malaysia.
Farmers clear a path between rice fields in Sekinchan, Malaysia.
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

In the last general election there were 125 rural seats and 54 semi-urban ones, of a total of 222, said Khor.

“State assistance touches every aspect of their lives — an education grant for their children, an entrepreneurial grant, a house, or do they want to choose to go on their own,” Khor said of smallholder farmers, who number more than 600,000. “It might appear illogical to vote for the opposition because what if you get punished?”

‘All Because’

Still, some farmers have expressed unhappiness over a decline in the value of their shares in Felda, while others have criticized management’s investment decisions. Shares in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd. have fallen 67 percent since its listing in 2012.

“They make investment decisions without thinking them through and we are the ones paying a price,” said Saifuddin, a Felda settler who would give only a partial name. “I understand there’s nothing they can do about the price of palm oil because that’s world prices. But that doesn’t explain enough why the shares are doing badly.”

Najib in March asked second- and third-generation settlers to continue backing the government, saying he wants the group to be a “political powerhouse” and without that influence, Felda could cease to exist. The Felda leadership has backed UMNO’s claims of its role in helping settlers out of poverty.

“No one thinks about the Malays except UMNO, we must remember that,” Felda Global chairman Mohd Isa Abdul Samad said last month. “Our successes are not because of our own cleverness. Many Malays forget. It’s all because of UMNO.”

At the next election, Najib will probably further target the bottom 40 percent of the population who can swing votes in tight races.

Isman Abdul Karim at the oil palm plantation.
Isman Abdul Karim at the oil palm plantation.
Photographer: Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

Isman Abdul Karim, who grows palm oil on a 5-acre plot of land near Sungai Besar, won a manual oil palm roll picker at an event organized by the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities in the days before the by-election. Other prizes included bags of fertilizer, and a motorized palm oil fruit cutter.

The father of nine settled on the land in the early 1960s, and says his life has improved over the years. One child received a government scholarship to study in the U.S. and is now a computer engineer. Independent smallholders like him make up about 13 percent of palm oil planters, according to the Economic Planning Unit.

“I’ve been a UMNO supporter from way back,” the 78-year-old said, resting in a shed at his plantation. He works the land alone though gets help to pick oil palm fruits. “We used to get a lot of support for the land but now not so much. But there is no other party but UMNO for me.”