The Destiny of Malaysia

September 1, 2016

Spoken like a Malaysian: The Destiny of Malaysia

By Dharm Navaratnam

I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States…the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.–Dharm Navaratnam

I was born 10 years after Merdeka so I wasn’t privy to the feelings that my parents or the older generation would have felt when the country gained independence from the British. It must have been an amazing feeling to witness the birth of a new nation.

For those of my generation and after, we have always belonged to an independent nation, a nation called Malaysia. I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States.

Some stories have it that my great-grandfather was born in this land as well but I can’t verify that. At the very least, I am thus a third generation inhabitant of this country. My roots certainly go very deep in this land.

I have not only watched this nation grow but I have grown with it. I have seen how the country has evolved and how things have changed. Some for the better and some for the worse.

In terms of development, we seem to have made huge strides but at the same time the developments seem to be centred around the urban areas of the country. There are still many areas, especially in the East Coast and East Malaysia that are still far from developed.

Image result for Poverty in the background of Malaysia's Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers–A Mahathirian edifice–in the distant background. Poverty amidst urban affluence is not sustainable. The NEP should be about fostering Unity, achieving economic and social justice and building national resilience, not Malay kleptocracy. Why can’t we work toward a Vision of a United and harmonious nation. Of course, we can if we care enough for the future of our grandchildren. It then becomes a question of individual and collective wills.

Diversity is our strength. Ethnicity is our road to perdition. We  must never forget this, if we are to avoid being manipulated by our irresponsible politicians in UMNO and our political opposition.–Din Merican

We have the tallest Twin Towers in the world, huge shopping malls, large airports and we even host Formula 1 races. At the same time however, we have fellow Malaysians living in rundown houses, some with no access to clean water, barely making ends meet and worried where their next meal is coming from.

This is the reality of the situation. There is somehow a wide imbalance in the socio-economic structure of our country.

As far as education goes, there never seems to be anyone satisfied with our education system. So much so, we have so many different types of schools. The list includes national schools, vernacular schools, religious schools, technical schools and residential schools. Then you have schools that get more funding depending on whether they are classified as high-performance schools or cluster schools of excellence. Throw in private schools and international schools and you have an even more complicated system. What about home schooling then?

Image result for National Unity--Malaysia

National Unity: A Farce

In terms of unity there seems to be two schools of thought. Many of the general public feel that we are united. However, if you read the newspapers there seems to be someone or the other spewing racial vitriol almost every week, if not every day.

Why is there so much emphasis on race when we are all one people? Why are we so fearful of our fellow Malaysians just because they look different?

Surely we have spent enough time together to understand and accept each other. We are, after all, supposed to be Malaysian.So, enough of playing this race card. Kind of makes a mockery of the National Day theme Sehati Sejiwa.

Olympic medals

Image result for Malaysia's Olymics Silver Medalliats

Image result for Malaysia Olympic Silver Medallists swimming Rinong and partner

They are Malaysians (without Race)

In sports, where we were once a superpower in Asian football and world hockey, we seem to struggle greatly in those sports now.

Fortunately we still seem to perform at badminton and have made inroads in diving and cycling. From the days where we only dreamt of taking part in the Olympics, we now are able to count how many medals we have won, notwithstanding the elusive gold medal that has yet to be achieved.

Image result for tunku abdul rahman

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Bapak Malaysia

While many of us complain about the state of the country and how much better it could be, I am inspired by the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman (above) in his Merdeka Speech at Stadium Merdeka 59 years ago.

“But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility. Let no one think we have reached the end of the road. Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign state. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya. To work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty – a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.”

There are many things that we can find fault with but at the same time there is plenty to be thankful for. Let’s not forget that. So complain about the country all you want but don’t just complain. Do something, however small it may be. Make a difference.

Ultimately it is not the government that decides the future of this country. In truth, the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.

Stymied U.S-Malaysia Relations

February 16, 2016

Stymied U.S-Malaysia Relations

By Dylan Kean

President Barack Obama’s Flawed Judgement of Character–Befriending the Most Corrupt Malaysian Prime Minister in our History

“Najib was no boy scout before the 1MDB scandal, but for many in the U.S. policy community he was at least a credible leader who could get things done. Now it appears that the embattled Prime Minister is more interested in protecting himself than accomplishing the grand reforms he had promised. It’s unclear whether Najib’s hold on power will last, but as long as scandal and corruption continue to plague Malaysia’s government, relations with the United States will have little hope of reaching their full potential.”–D. Kean

It was Christmas Eve 2014 and President Barack Obama had arrived in Hawaii with the First Family several days earlier for some much needed rest and relaxation, which meant golf. While neither golf nor the choice of venue were out of the ordinary, Obama’s partner, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, certainly was. Najib’s presence in Hawaii was not a happy accident, but instead a sign of the warming relations developing between the United States and Malaysia, strengthened by Obama’s state visit earlier that year – the first such visit by a sitting U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson.

At the time, the countries seemed poised to elevate relations to their highest point in more than a decade, buttressed by the seemingly friendly rapport developing between the two leaders. Less than a year later in a disappointing turn of events, Najib, the person to whom much of this optimism was attributed, would emerge as a new obstacle to overcome in the bilateral relationship.

So what went wrong?

It all began in 2009 when newly-elected Prime Minister Najib set up the strategic development fund known as 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). Najib would later distance himself from the fund, but as prime minister, finance minister and chairman of 1MDB’s board of advisors, his close ties to 1MDB could not be overstated. Flash-forward to 2015 and 1MDB is in shambles, owing in excess of $11 billion. In June The Wall Street Journal published a story claiming that Malaysian authorities investigating 1MDB had traced nearly $700 million in deposits to what they reportedly believed were Najib’s personal bank accounts. The revelation sparked outrage in Malaysia, dealt a body blow to Najib, and threatened to derail Obama’s upcoming visit to Malaysia.

In response to the article, Najib came under intense scrutiny from Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Malaysian Parliament, at least four foreign law enforcement agencies (including the FBI), domestic and international media outlets, his own party, and the Malaysian people. However, despite the unprecedented level of attention paid to the scandal, Najib has continued to avoid any legal consequences. This is due in large part to his powerful position within the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and his support among the Malay ethnic majority. Najib has also been quite adept at silencing those who oppose him, including defiant members of his own party. When his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin publicly criticized the prime minister’s media crackdown and questioned the slow pace of the attorney general’s investigation, both he and the Attorney-General were sacked. The investigation limped along after that, but without any hint of credibility; the replacements were handpicked by Najib himself. As a result, when the new attorney general recently announced that Najib had been cleared of all charges regarding the deposits into his personal accounts, it did little to deter domestic and international critics.

Despite the negative impact of Najib’s scandals on Malaysia’s credibility abroad, the U.S.-Malaysia relationship remains deep and complex, based on mutual benefits that are often insulated to a certain degree from domestic political dynamics. As a member of the U.S.-led Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Malaysia has been a strong voice against violent Islamic extremism. With the very real threat of ISIL fighters returning to Malaysia and radicalizing new recruits, cooperation on this front is unlikely to cease.

Malaysia’s decision to join the 12-party Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement also shows that it recognizes the need for better economic cooperation with countries like the United States in order to escape the middle-income trap. With the recent passage of the agreement through Malaysia’s upper and lower houses of parliament, progress on this front also appears steady.

Nevertheless, strategic cooperation only goes so far. Anti-corruption bodies in the United States, Switzerland, Singapore and Hong Kong are all actively investigating the 1MDB scandal, and French authorities recently announced a separate bribery investigation dated back to Najib’s time as defense minister. Meanwhile, civil society organizations like Human Rights Watch and Transparency International have harshly criticized Najib for his frequent use of sedition laws to silence opposition voices and his administration’s anemic response to human trafficking.

As a result of Najib’s worsening reputation and its effect on Malaysia’s international standing, the Financial Times recently penned a biting commentary, dubbing him “a disastrous prime minister for Malaysia.” At some point, the elites in Kuala Lumpur have got to be asking themselves whether defending Najib is worth the trouble.

Najib was no boy scout before the 1MDB scandal, but for many in the U.S. policy community he was at least a credible leader who could get things done. Now it appears that the embattled Prime Minister is more interested in protecting himself than accomplishing the grand reforms he had promised. It’s unclear whether Najib’s hold on power will last, but as long as scandal and corruption continue to plague Malaysia’s government, relations with the United States will have little hope of reaching their full potential.

Dylan Kean is a Graduate Fellow at McLarty Associates where he provides research and analysis to the firm’s Fortune 200 clients operating in East and Southeast Asian markets. He also serves as the Asia-Pacific Research Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. The views expressed belong to the author alone, and do not represent the views of McLarty Associates.


TPPA: Trade and Geo-Politics

January 25, 2016

TPPA: Trade and Geo-Politics

by Dr. BA Hamzah


THOSE familiar with the literature on international trade will appreciate the symbiotic relationship between trade and geo-politics. Take the case of US-led economic sanctions against Iran and Cuba. They were not imposed for solely economic reasons. On the contrary, it is normal for major powers to use economic sanctions as a tool in making foreign policy. The tool can manifest in the form of trade barriers and restrictions on financial transactions to punish a state for “misbehaving”.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is no exception. World renowned Professor Noam Chomsky (pic above) of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015) believes the TPPA is designed to carry forward the neo-liberal project to maximise profit and ensure America’s domination of the world. So does Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz who views the TPPA as a managed-trade agreement of “unequal partnerships with the US dictating the terms”.

In Stiglitz’s view, partnership agreements like the TPPA “go beyond trade, governing investment, intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial and regulatory frameworks without input or accountability through democratic institutions.”

IMF Photograph

Professor Joseph Stiglitz

Under the TPP, the status of the MNCs has been elevated to that of a nation state. MNCs have used and intend to use the controversial investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism as an instrument in public international law to sue sovereign states for non-compliance with the agreement. In the opinion of many, the ISDS has elevated trade to a new geo-political height.

Should Malaysia not be concerned with the above observations as it hurries to ratify the TPPA before President Obama leave office in 2017? Obama minces no words on the geo-politics surrounding the TPPA as much as it is about international trade. He proclaimed to the world on October 5, 2015 that “this partnership (TPPA) levels the playing field for our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products.

The US President adds, “[I]t includes the strongest commitments on labour and the environment of any trade agreement in history, and those commitments are enforceable, unlike in past agreements.It promotes a free and open Internet. It strengthens our strategic relationships with our partners and allies in a region that will be vital to the 21st century. It’s an agreement that puts American workers first and will help middle-class families get ahead.”

America needs the TPPA to compliment Obama’s foreign policy of pivoting or rebalancing its military deployment (2011) to prevent its rival (read China) from dominating the Asia-Pacific region.

In a statement on the TPPA, President Obama asserted that “we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.”

In endorsing the TPPA, Secretary of State John Kerry told students at Indian State University (October 14, 2015) that the TPPA “matters for reasons beyond trade”. His remark that the Asia-Pacific region “will have a big say in shaping international rules of the road on the Internet, financial regulation, maritime security, the environment and many other areas of direct concern to the United States” clearly defines the US geopolitical agenda in the TPPA.

Secretary of State  John Kerry

I really don’t understand why some continue to deny the geo-political genesis and content of the TPPA. It is okay for Malaysia to adopt a pro-US policy to balance the rise of China but we should not plunge head on without reconsidering the consequences of becoming a party to the US strategic foreign policy of using the TPPA to contain China, our largest trading partner in South-East Asia. It may be perilous to our long-term geo-political interests to undermine China.

Like the US proposal for the Transatlantic Partnership in Investment and Trade for Europe, the TPPA is a tool of US foreign policy to retain its pre-eminence by writing the rules of the global trade and international security.

There is nothing sinister about the TPPA if Malaysia is prepared to embrace a trade deal that helps promote US foreign policy.Acknowledging the geo-political ramifications of the TPPA on Malaysia will result in greater policy transparency and reduce the trust deficit between the rakyat and the Government.

Reject TPPA for Malaysia’s sake

January 13, 2016

Reject TPPA, say  Centre for Human Rights Research, CLJ and Young Professionals

The Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA), Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ) and Young Professionals (YP) follow with concern ongoing domestic developments with regard to the intended tabling of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) for debate before Parliament scheduled for the 26, 27 and 28 of this month.

MITI's Mustapha Mohamed

News reports have quoted our International Trade and Industry (MITI) Minister Dato’ Seri Mustapa Mohamed as stating that the TPPA is now better received now that “in-depth” discussions have been held with the rakyat and Opposition MPs.

Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman chipped in quoting a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report, being a report prepared by a foreign and United States-based company, stating that participation of Malaysia in the TPPA negotiations was positive. Following Dato’ Seri Mustapa Mohamed’s statement, MITI has also released a booklet in Malay titled TPPA: Jawapan Kepada Kebimbangan, Salah Faham dan Tuduhan aiming to dispel so-called misconceptions on the TPPA arising ostensibly as a result of disinformation.

Alas, in our opinion, the said booklet has failed to achieve its supposed objectives, for far from dispelling concerns on the TPPA, it merely repeats bare and misleading assertions that the agreement will only be beneficial for Malaysia and in no way undermines our sovereignty.

This move, coupled with recent worrying actions on part of those in power especially in raising an objection to the application for leave for judicial review brought by three concerned non-governmental organisations (NGOs) casts serious doubt on the credibility and ability of MITI in particular, and the government in general, to keep the interests of the nation at heart when negotiating international agreements.

Since the government through their roadshows has confidently claimed that signing the TPPA will not infringe the Federal Constitution and would not affect the sovereignty of our nation, why then would they fear our courts hearing a challenge to the same on its merits? If indeed it is true as the government claims that signing the TPPA would not amount to bartering our independence for nothing, then they should not be afraid to let the court peruse and closely inspect the 6000 over pages TPPA to decide upon the constitutionality of the same on its merits — in pith and substance.

Certainly there are many aspects of the TPPA that concern us but for the purpose of this statement we would like to highlight in particular those relating to Chapter 28 on Dispute Settlement, known as ISDS.

According to the MITI-issued booklet, there is in place a transparent and predictable investment regime which allow recourse in the event of disputes and in these, there are clear provisions in the ISDS mechanism that ensures that the Government can control and avoid baseless proceedings made against it.


A careful scrutiny however, reveals otherwise. For one, the body that decides disputes arising under the TPPA are not the national courts and tribunals of the state parties to the TPPA, but a panel consisting of three privately appointed arbitrators (Article 28.9.1).

According to respected law academic, Alan B. Morrison, who is Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest & Public Service at The George Washington University Law School in the United States in his letter to his congressional representative dated June 10, 2015, these arbitrators are generally private lawyers who specialise in international trade and investment who themselves rely on income generated by representing investors suing governments, an observation echoed by University of Malaya law professor Professor Gurdial S. Nijar speaking at the Malaysian Economic Association’s forum on the TPPA on 11 January 2016.

Currently access to international arbitration is widely available for any trade dispute so it is hard to fathom why there is a need for this mechanism under the TPPA.

Further, under the TPPA, when laws and regulations are challenged by an investor, the sole defendant would be the Federal Government even if the law or regulation challenged is a state law or by-law, including Shariah enactments by the states. For example, the law and administration of waqf land which is under the jurisdiction of the states according to Item 1 of the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution. Were a corporation desirous of a certain parcel of land for development or in order to establish a factory and waqf law prohibits its acquisition by the said corporation, the corporation may then sue the Federal Government under ISDS.

Professor Gurdial at the above mentioned forum also mentioned that this is true in respect of the bauxite mining activities which have created serious environmental damage in the state of Pahang. The corporation which has caused the damage can and most certainly will sue the Federal Government over the move by the Pahang state government to stop such detrimental activities were the TPPA in effect.

Although pursuant to Article 80(5) arrangements may be made between the Federal Government and the state government concerns in respect of any dispute, there may be important legal and public policy differences that could hinder such cooperation, particularly when both governments are controlled by different political parties.

These raise four principal concerns: (1) the panel would be required to decide what are essentially matters of domestic Malaysian law which are reserved for our own courts; (2) the arbitrators are not officers of the Judicial and Legal Service established by our Constitution nor appointees by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong to our superior courts but are essentially private citizens that can be of any nationality; (3) the consent of Malaysia is a general consent at federal level and where there is a challenge to a state or by-law, the state or locality never consents and must rely on the Federal Government to defend it, raising federalism concerns; (4) there is no judicial review by our own courts or even any international court or tribunal of the merits of what is decided by the arbitrators, especially whether the TPPA has been violated at all, as all other courts and tribunals are excluded (Article 28.4.2). A proper ISDS mechanism is meant to assure investors that in the event of disputes, they have recourse in addition to domestic courts and not to their exclusion. In this regard the ISDS chapter certainly infringes on the policy freedom of the government by going beyond merely outlining the process by which a dispute over the underlining substantive principles in the agreement will be arbitrated.

And in fact, such arbitration can be resorted to by all parties without the need for this mechanism of the TPPA.

Under the previous version of Article 121 of the Constitution prior to the coming into force of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 1988 on 10 June 1988, judicial powers were solely vested in our superior courts.

Although the current version of the Article states that courts shall only have such jurisdiction as conferred by federal law, it is internationally recognised, and remains a fundamental element of sovereignty, that judicial decision making, in particular in disputes concerning national laws and regulations, are the sole prerogative of the respective national courts and tribunals, in the case of Malaysian laws, for the Malaysian courts.

Any transfer of this decision making process to three private individuals as provided for in the ISDS chapter in the TPPA is utterly abhorrent to our sovereignty and is unconstitutional. CENTHRA, CLJ and YP strongly believe that this concern on dispute settlement alone is reason enough to reject the TPPA in its entirety and calls upon the Government to do so immediately.

For the reasons enumerated above we call on the Government to heed the concerns of the rakyat not to sign the TPPA and to immediately cease all activities geared towards that end, and for Parliament to exercise its wisdom in rejecting outright, in totality, the TPPA. If, as the MITI Minister says, the TPPA will be signed without Malaysia as a result, then so be it, and we at CENTHRA, CLJ and YP believe that such an outcome would indeed be the better one for the continued independence of our nation. — Reuters


Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

November 25, 2015

Obama’s Visit–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

by Azmi Sharom

Agong and Obama

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.

THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).

Whenever the President of the United States visits another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.

Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.

 Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.

What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.

This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).

Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.

The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?

Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.

And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.

They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.

We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?

Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.

It is trite to mention the hypocrisies abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.

Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.

azmi sharom

The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.



Barack Obama is hypocritical on Human Rights abuses in Malaysia

November 22, 2015

Barack Obama is hypocritical on Human Rights abuses in Malaysia

by FMT Reporters

Obama shakes hands with Najib

Obama and his Golfing Buddy: US interests first

BERSIH leader Maria Chin Abdullah has spoken about US President Barack Obama’s balancing act, between US concerns about human rights violations in Malaysia and US concerns with its economic relations with the country.

“We will engage on business and trade, but we will also speak on civil liberties. Don’t think we can’t do both,”– Barack Obama

Her comment came after a meeting that civil society leaders had a private meeting with the US President at the US Embassy here.

Hours earlier, BERSIH had issued a press statement urging Obama and the US government not to appear hypocritical by supporting authoritarian leaders such as Najib for the sake of US interests while also preaching about human rights to the rest of the world.

Chin said civil society leaders at today’s meeting were told by Obama that “while the US recognised the civil liberties violation in Malaysia but at the same time they have to balance the issue with the economic ties they have with Malaysia”.

In remarks quoted by Malaysiakini, she said Obama had repeated the message twice. “So that tells you quite a bit,” she said.

Although Obama’s public statements have been muted, he had told the civil society leaders that he had raised several issues with Najib at their meeting yesterday. “We will engage on business and trade, but we will also speak on civil liberties. Don’t think we can’t do both,” Obama was quoted as saying.

Najib and ASEAN Leaders

ASEAN Leaders from left to right, Philippines’ President Benigno Aquino III, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Laos’ Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Myanmar’s President Thein Sein pose for photographs during opening ceremony of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, November. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Obama said he had raised human rights issues, the jailing of former opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and the treatment of political dissidents, according to former BERSIH leader Ambiga Sreenevasan.

“I also expressed that since we met last year, the current situation has deteriorated and he listened and appreciated that we are now facing some difficulties,” said Ambiga.

Civil society leaders had also raised issues such as the RM2.6 billion deposited in Najib’s personal bank accounts, attack on human rights, selective prosecution and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The TPPA is the centrepiece of Obama’s “pivot to Asia” foreign policy in which he has sought to counter China’s growing political, economic and military strength by building economic and security alliances around the Pacific rim.

Dato’ Ambiga said Obama had assured them that the US ties with nations accused of abuses did not mean that his country was not concerned over the various issues raised against such governments.

“We raised what you would expect us to raise, which would be the corruption, 1MDB, TPPA, the arrests of civil society members…” Ambiga was reported as saying. “Since the last time he came here, things have got worse. We made that very clear… ” she said, according to the report.