How Will Malaysia’s Najib Razak Fare in 2018?


January 12, 2018

How Will Malaysia’s Najib Razak Fare in 2018?

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has been doing the Christmas/New Year rounds, touting his government’s successes while predictably ignoring his crackdown on dissent, the jailing of the country’s more popular opposition leader, religious bigotry fed by Islamic hardliners, and the problematic aspects of his own record.

It’s a festive message typical of Najib’s New Year addresses. But it is also a recipe which bodes badly for a leader who, though widely expected to capitalize on a heavily gerrymandered electoral system and probably win a national poll due within the first half of 2018, is nonetheless badly damaged by scandal and continues to undermine his country’s future prospects.

Rarely has a political leader of any political stripe clung to power in the face of such a breathtaking array of charges and investigations into colossal corruption and even murder. Despite this, Najib has ignored calls for his resignation, which in a real democracy would have been a mere formality.

That’s why his gestures of goodwill — to many an empty vessel of self-promotion – over the festive season are struggling to find any traction, particularly the lectures from his New Year’s address.

Lines like “I believe that the fathers of our independence would be proud to see what their countrymen and women have achieved” were as glib as they were predictable.

“Our economy beat all expectations” was hardly convincing, especially when he added, “because of the efficient, business-friendly environment this Government has been creating.”

This was mixed with some spin-doctoring like, “Malaysia’s leadership was also recognized at the United Nations”; gross annual assumptions like, “for it was a year in which we redoubled our efforts to ensure good governance in all sectors”; and a warning that his government “is cracking down on the crony capitalism culture.” Few Malaysians would find these remarks credible given Najib’s own record.

Image result for Najib Razak and FELDA Scandal

Another Financial Scandal–FELDA–under Najib Razak’s watch

Then, he took aim at his critics while hinting at a leadership challenge, commenting that “neither is it acceptable for a former leader to attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government in the hope that his ambitions for his son may be realized.”

It was a veiled reference to Malaysia’s longest serving leader Mahathir Mohamad, who has led calls from within Najib’s opponents for the premier to step down. In the process, the former prime minister has won over many of his own political detractors. Meanwhile Mahathir’s son, Mukhriz, has said he harbors no designs on the leadership.

But Najib did not end it there.“In a democracy all that should matter is the wishes of the people as expressed at the ballot box, not the selfish dynastic desires of one man,” he said.

That was an odd line given Najib’s own record, but even more galling for those familiar with Malaysian history, given that Najib’s father also served as Prime Minister.

Stranger still was Najib’s reference to the “wishes of the Malaysian people.” If he truly values popular sentiment, then Najib might consider releasing Anwar Ibrahim from prison and installing him as prime minister, given he won almost 51 percent of the popular vote at elections almost five years ago but lost through gerrymandering.

The trials and tribulations of Najib’s scandalized time at the helm of Malaysian politics have been scrutinized by journalists, the police, and authorities across the world.

As long as Najib and his unpopular first lady Rosmah Mansor remain ensconced, the murder of Mongolian model and translator Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa as well as their personal records of dealings will remain in the international debate, alongside a French court case into Malaysia’s acquisition of two submarines amid charges of graft.

Beyond this, Najib’s appeasement of Islamic hardliners has badly tarnished Malaysia’s reputation as a secular state and compromised a cornerstone of any democracy: the separation of powers between church and state, and arguably the courts as well.

A blanket ban on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” made about as much sense as a police investigation into a teenage boy who “liked” Israel on a Facebook page. It should be noted that such anti-Israel sentiment didn’t stop Najib from reportedly employing an Israeli public relations firm to spruce up his image.

Image result for Najib Razak and Jerusalam

 Foreign Policy–Playing with Saudi Arabia (on Yemen), United States and Israel (Jerusalem) and Palestine–driven by domestic politics.

Najib’s Middle East policy, according to political commentator Din Merican, is muddled and smacks of “sheer hypocrisy.” He opposes U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but maintains close ties with the Israeli government while boasting of his friendship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who is threatening to cut financial aid to the Palestinians.

Najib’s handling of two downed airliners fell short of the mark, as was the case with his handling of the crisis with North Korea, after assassins chose to kill Kim Jong-un’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam inside a Malaysian airport.

But on the economic front, the latest scandal has been breathtaking.Authorities in Singapore and in the United States, Switzerland, and Hong Kong are still investigating the disappearance of more than $1 billion from the 1 Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund amid allegations it was stolen by people close to Najib.

They believe that money went into his personal bank account, although Najib and officials from 1MDB have denied any wrong doing.

Despite the denials, a string of arrests has followed and sentences meted out by the courts over the past year, which, despite Najib’s feigning of indifference, must have unnerved him.

An election must be called by mid-year. But though Anwar may be released by then, the upholding of his 2014 conviction for sodomy, sharply criticized by civil society groups as being politically motivated, means he won’t be allowed to contest the poll.

The important issue between now and then is whether or not Najib’s own party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), will attempt to limit the political fallout by ousting him before the poll (rather than sometime after) or take their chances on a scandalized leader whose tenure has proven remarkable for the sheer scale of the allegations brought against him.

Image result for Najin and China

Selling 1MBD assets to China

Najib’s Christmas cheer and message of hope and stability for the New Year was calculated and timed for a holiday noted for goodwill and cultural celebrations. Whether he is still around to trot out similar disingenuous lines 12 months from now remains to be seen.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt

 

Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy


December 22, 2017

Donald Trump’s big-power bullying diplomacy

by Dennis Ignatius

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for nikki haley's diplomacy

 

COMMENT | The United States Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, warned recently, in what can only be described as the height of arrogance, that the US “will be taking names” during an upcoming vote in the UN General Assembly on the status of Jerusalem. In a letter to dozens of member states, including our own I suppose, she put them on notice that “the President and the US take this vote personally.”

She also warned that she had been instructed to send the names of all countries that vote against the US directly to President Trump, presumably for further action.

In other words, there will be consequences –  retaliation or punishment – if countries do not support the US on this issue.

Trump himself has complained that other countries “take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars [from us], and then they vote against us.” Clearly, Trump intends to link foreign assistance with how countries vote on issues important to the US.

The US aid budget currently amounts to more than US$48 billion annually – US$31 billion in economic assistance and US$17 billion in military assistance. US aid, however, is mostly tied to US agricultural products and US military equipment and training. The five largest recipients of US aid are Israel (US$3.1 billion), Egypt (US$1.5 billion), Afghanistan (US$1.1 billion), Jordan (US$1 billion) and Pakistan (US$933 million). Malaysia receives about US$10 million annually, mostly in military assistance.

The US warning comes after a vote earlier this week on a resolution in the UN Security Council which overwhelmingly condemned Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Fourteen out of the 15 members of the Council voted for the resolution. Although the US vetoed the resolution, the message from the international community was clear enough.

Stung by the vote in the council, Ambassador Haley is now trying to forestall a similar rebuke in the UN General Assembly where the Permanent Five do not enjoy veto powers. The 193-member UN General Assembly will hold a rare emergency special session on Thursday at the request of Arab and Muslim states to discuss the US decision on Jerusalem.

If precedent is anything to go by, the US will very likely suffer a crushing defeat on this issue when the Assembly votes.

Self-appointed class monitor

Whichever way you look at it, Ambassador Haley’s letter is nothing less than big-power bullying. After insisting in the UN Security Council that the US will not be bullied into deciding where to locate its embassy in Israel, she is now proceeding to bully the rest of the world into acquiescing in the US decision.

While big powers often indulge in high-powered lobbying to gain support on critical issues, they rarely resort to such threatening and demeaning language, behaving like some self-appointed class monitor taking names of unruly students to report to the headmaster for punishment.

Even in far more critical situations before – on the eve of the first Iraq War, for example – when the US was desperately trying to obtain international consensus, the US never resorted to threats. I recall a meeting in early 1990 between our then Foreign Minister Abu Hassan Omar and US Secretary of State James Baker in Los Angeles, when the US laid out its case for the invasion of Iraq and the liberation of Kuwait.

Malaysia was on the Security Council that year and Baker appealed for our support. There was never any hint of threats or retaliation, just a sincere plea for support, as it should be between friendly nations. Malaysia eventually voted in favour of the US-led intervention.

Trump and his team now appear to be bringing the proverbial big stick to the table of international diplomacy, hoping to bully and cajole their way in international affairs. If Trump thinks this is the way to enhance US power and prestige, he is going to be disappointed. Threats might work in limited circumstances but it is no substitute for diplomacy and consensus building.

As the continuing standoff with North Korea aptly demonstrates, the US needs international support and consensus to help resolve important security issues.

Besides, as the world returns once again to a more multipolar global architecture, thanks to the rise of China, bullying might just prove to be counterproductive.

As for Jerusalem, whether the US likes it or not, its status is going to have to be decided at some future time as part of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Moving the US embassy might make for popular politics at home but that does not make it the right thing to do for other nations.

I hope the General Assembly will send a resounding message to President Trump that the world will not be bullied this way, and that Malaysia’s name will be on that list that Ambassador Haley sends to the White House. I, for one, will consider it a badge of honour.

 

Najib Razak’s Muddled Mid-East Policy–Sheer Hypocrisy


December 16, 2017

Najib Razak’s Muddled Mid-East Policy–Sheer Hypocrisy

by Mat Sabu@www.malaysiakini.com

Related image

 

COMMENT | On December 13, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, in his own words, dropped everything on his lap, including a meeting with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, to attend the extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey.

The goal was to register the Muslim world’s urgency and protest against the recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Israel.” The OIC meeting was hopeless for several reasons.

First, Najib had already affirmed to the rest of the world, that US President Donald Trump is his golfing buddy and his friend.

In his trip to Washington in September 2017, Najib even boasted that Trump personally sent him to his official car, of all places in the basement of the White House.

The above is not hearsay. It came right from the horse’s mouth: Najib. It was Najib who showcased his tight bond with Trump.

 

 

Secondly, directly or indirectly, this has strengthened Trump’s resolve to gift Jerusalem to Israel. The false step by Najib is no less damning than the mistakes of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia.

Both the father and son praised Trump as a world-class leader when Trump made a trip to Saudi Arabia. Emboldened by his relationship with King Salman and MBS, Trump went one step ahead of the duo.

He immediately flew to Israel, and promised a radical change in the US policy on the Middle East. Such a radical change was, of course, the gift of Jerusalem to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo), whose popularity was not only sagging in Israel, but is also widely considered a dishonest and ineffective Israeli leader.

 

Second, Najib flew to Istanbul to join a chorus of leaders to admonish and reprimand Trump. But was that really the case?

The US Ambassador to Malaysia was not summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office nor Wisma Putra for a thorough dressing down. Even when the UMNO Assembly was ongoing, little attention was granted to the injustice of Trump.

Third, in a press release by Wisma Putra, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs merely affirmed that Trump should “reconsider his decision.” Wisma Putra did not express its vehemence against Trump.

Fourth, instead, it was the opposition front that raised a huge outcry on Trump’s utter betrayal to the Palestinians.

To the credit of Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, she saw the betrayal as sufficiently serious to call for the possible boycott of US goods and services in Malaysia.

 

Fifth, Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad (photo),  together with Amanah and Bersatu, challenged the whole treasonous act of giving Jerusalem to Israel when there are 86 countries, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, that do not agree with Trump. Even Pope Francis of the Vatican Council was against Trump wholesale.

Thus, what is the point of flying to Istanbul to block the proverbial horses that have been let out of the stable? Trump has betrayed the Muslim world not once, but from the very beginning of his presidency. He has passed the Middle East policy to Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, who is a known Zionist.

Sixth, it shocking that UMNO and PAS still support Trump by not voicing out more openly, and by coming up with a series of measures to put a stop to this madness.

Fortunately, the 14th general election is just months away. Christians and Muslims, indeed all groups and races that are anti-Israel, can set things right: by voting out Najib, PAS and, indeed, UMNO, for coddling the Zionist conspiracy.

Malaysian foreign policy has never seen such a disaster until now. It is time to correct it with a new government that is not beholden to US Zionist policy.


MOHAMAD SABU is president of Amanah. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue


December 15, 2017

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk Defense Minister’s Empty Talk On Jerusalem Issue

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

“A soldier is someone’s son or father or brother,” he said. “The public has a right to know where we are sending our soldiers and why.”–– Mohd Arshad Raji, retired Brigadier-General

COMMENT | Chickenhawk politicians are usually extremely gung-ho about military action, especially when nobody holds them accountable for their words. Kudos to Rais Hussin and P Ramasamy for calling out Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on his extremely cavalier reminder that the Malaysian security apparatus is ready for action when it comes to the Jerusalem issue.

Image result for Malaysia soldiers in Saudi Arabia/Yemen

Malaysia’s Chickenhawk  Defense Minister –Hishamuddin Hussein Onn

I wonder what would have happened that if instead of international mockery, someone took up Malaysia’s preparedness to send troops to Jerusalem? What would have been the response then? Would we have backtracked and attempted to explain that in Malaysia, establishment politicians can say anything they want but they cannot be held accountable for what they say?>

On the other hand, maybe what the current UMNO grand poohbah said in his big meet-up in Istanbul with other concerned Muslim potentates that US investments trumps any real action to go with that outrage, is a more acceptable solution? And let us not forget the ever-reliable strategy of dragging the United Nations to voice out whatever grievances that Muslim potentates claim on behalf of Palestinians.

In other words, the Defence Minister’s words were just more empty talk to burnish Malaysia’s increasingly joked about Islamic preoccupations on the world stage. No doubt whatever we learned from whatever we were doing in Saudi Arabia would have come in handy if we decided to ship our lads to Israel. Speaking of what we learned in Saudi Arabia, I am still unclear as to why we were there in the first place.

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22 members of Malaysian Armed Forces receiving their certificates and medals from Saudi Government for services rendered during  Ops Yeman since May, 2015.

In 2015, Arab News, under the chest thumping headline, ‘Malaysian troops join Arab coalition’, claimed that – “Malaysia has become the 12th country to join the coalition after Senegal which is sending 2,100 troops to fight the Houthis and the forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Ministry of Defence explained that the coalition’s operations centre is preparing for incorporating the Malaysian and Senegalese forces into the ranks and determining the nature of tasks assigned to them.”

Now, of course, under questioning by Amanah, among others, we are told by the Defense Minister that all we were doing there, besides “learning” that is, was evacuating Malaysians who were in Yemen. Why we need to “join a coalition” and send troops to evacuate Malaysian citizens when there are so many other less controversial and effective means of evacuation is beyond me.

Amanah, of course, loses points because one of their predictable concerns was that the presence of Malaysians troops there is awkward “because Western powers such as France and Britain were also present. These countries, the opposition party said, had anti-Islam policies” – which is dumb because thousands of Yemeni Muslims are butchered by another Muslim country.

A learning expedition

Of course, ever since the House of Saud got entangled in the 1MDB fiasco, Malaysia seems to have become extremely chummy with the Kingdom. Indeed, not only was the visit by the Saudi monarch memorable for reasons, which is beyond the scope of this piece but which I have documented elsewhere, we even managed to foil an assassination attempt allegedly planned by Yemeni operatives.

Image result for Najib and Saudi KIng

 

As reported in The Independent, Malaysia foils ‘Yemeni attack’ on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’ – “Malaysian police said they foiled an attack on Arab royals by suspected Yemeni militants.

“Seven militants, including four Yemenis, two Malaysians and one Indonesian, were arrested in separate raids ahead of Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz’s visit to Kuala Lumpur…

“‘They were planning to attack Arab royalties during their visit to Kuala Lumpur. We got them in the nick of time,’ National Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters.”

To our former IGP, getting terrorists in the nick of time is not something you want to be proud about and certainly not something you publicise. Now of course, if people who are at war with the House of Saud realised that we were in the kingdom not as allies but merely “learning” and evacuating citizens, they would be more inclined not to view citizens of where they were planning their attacks as collateral damage. And please note, a Malaysian citizen was also part of the kill team.

With this Jerusalem move, Al-Qaeda has called upon all Muslim nations to destroy Israel and this only makes it more complicated when we have citizens in this country who support these Islamic extremists for various reasons.

The United Nations has reported on the human rights violations that have been carried out by Saudi forces (and their allies) – which they deny – but of course, Malaysia only response that it was in fact only there on a learning expedition. Now how do you think this sounds to a demographic of disenfranchised Muslim Malaysian youths who seem to be ripe for radicalisation?

Already the plight of the Yemeni people has gained traction among a certain crowd of tech-savvy youths all over the Muslim world who blame the House of Saud for perpetrating crimes on innocent Muslims.

Way back in 2014, Harezt ran an interesting piece on why the Islamic State was not too interested in attacking Israel – “The Islamic State’s target bank contains a long list of Arab leaders – including the Saudi and Jordanian kings, the Prime Minister of Iraq, the president of Egypt and even the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood – before it gets to the Jews and Israel.”

So, while Jerusalem may not exactly be the issue that ignites Islamic radicalisation in this country, the alleged atrocities committed by the House of Saud and their allies, which includes Western powers and their Muslim proxies, may be ripe soft targets for radicalised Muslim youths who benefit from organisations like Islamic State who have declared Southeast Asia as their new theatre of war and destruction.

Now, I am not saying that Malaysia has troops fighting in Yemen – I have no evidence of this – I am just saying that for radicalised Muslim youths in the region latching on to the plight of the Yemenis, it will not make a difference.

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences


December 14, 2015

Trump’s Jerusalem Rationale and its Consequences

The US administration seems to believe that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are so concerned with the perceived Iranian threat that they will put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel. The problem is that the new Saudi crown prince’s highest priority – to consolidate his power – may lead him to reject a peacemaking role.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on Jerusalem

 

NEW YORK – It is 50 years since the Six-Day War – the June 1967 conflict that, as much as any other event, continues to define the Israeli-Palestinian impasse. After the fighting was over, Israel controlled all of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, in addition to the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

Back then, the world saw this military outcome as temporary. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, the backdrop to what was to become a diplomatic solution to the problem of the stateless Palestinians, was adopted some five months after the war ended. But, as is often the case, what began as temporary has lasted.

This is the context in which President Donald Trump recently declared that the United States recognized Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. Trump stated that the US was not taking a position on the final status of Jerusalem, including “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty” there. He made clear that the US would support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides. And he chose not to begin actually moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv, even though he could have simply relabeled what is now the US consulate in Jerusalem.

The attempt to change US policy while arguing that little had changed did not persuade many. Most Israelis were pleased with the new US stance, and most in the Arab world and beyond were incensed.

Just why Trump chose this moment to make this gesture is a matter of conjecture. The president suggested it was simply recognition of reality and that his predecessors’ policy failure to do so had failed to yield any diplomatic benefits. This is true, although the reason diplomacy failed over the decades had nothing to do with US policy toward Jerusalem, and everything to do with divisions among Israelis and Palestinians and the gaps between the two sides.

Others have attributed the US announcement to American domestic politics, a conclusion supported by the unilateral US statement’s failure to demand anything of Israel (for example, to restrain settlement construction) or offer anything to the Palestinians (say, supporting their claim to Jerusalem). Although the decision has led to some violence, it looks more like an opportunity lost than a crisis created.

What made this statement not just controversial but potentially counterproductive is that the Trump administration has spent a good part of its first year putting together a plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This announcement could well weaken that plan’s already limited prospects.

What the Trump administration seems to have in mind is to give outsiders, and Saudi Arabia in particular, a central role in peacemaking. Informing this approach is the view that Saudi Arabia and other Arab governments are more concerned with the perceived threat from Iran than with anything to do with Israel. As a result, it is assumed that they are prepared to put aside their long-standing hostility toward Israel, a country that largely shares their view of Iran.

Progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would create a political context in the Arab world that would allow them to do just this. The hope in the Trump administration is that the Saudis will use their financial resources to persuade the Palestinians to agree to make peace with Israel on terms Israel will accept.

Image result for Trump and KushnerPresident Donald J. Trump and his Mid-East Expert-Advsor Jared Kushner

 

The problem is that the only plan to which this Israeli government is likely to agree will offer the Palestinians far less than they have historically demanded. If so, the Palestinian leaders themselves may well determine it is safer to say no than to sign on to a plan sure to disappoint many of their own people and leave them vulnerable to Hamas and other radical groups.

The Saudis, too, may be reluctant to be associated with a plan that many will deem a sellout. The top priority for the new Saudi leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is to consolidate power, which the prince is doing by associating himself with an effort to attack corruption in the Kingdom and by pursuing a nationalist, anti-Iranian foreign policy.

But neither tactic is going entirely according to plan. The anti-corruption effort, while so far popular, risks being tarnished by selective prosecution of offenders (which suggests that it is more about power than reform) and reports about the crown prince’s own lifestyle. And the anti-Iran efforts have become inseparable from what has become an unpopular war in Yemen and diplomatic embarrassments in Lebanon and Qatar. Meanwhile, ambitious plans to reform the country are proving easier to design than to implement, and are sure to alienate more conservative elements.

The problem for Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law who leads US policy in this area, is that the Saudis are likely to prove much less of a diplomatic partner than the White House had counted on. If the new crown prince is worried about his domestic political standing, he will be reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with an American president seen as too close to an Israel that is unwilling to satisfy even minimal Palestinian requirements for statehood.

Image result for Richard N. Haas on JerusalemRichard N. Haas

All of which brings us back to Jerusalem. Trump argued that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process and the work towards a lasting agreement.” More and more it appears that Trump’s move will have just the opposite effect.