Shifting Alliances in the Corridors of Power


September 21, 2018

Opinion

Shifting Alliances in the Corridors of Power

 

The Pathetic Inheritors of the Corrupt UMNO Najib Legacy

COMMENT | Former minister Nazri Abdul Aziz is now brazenly saying out in the open that UMNO’s best-case scenario for future prospects is to support and team up with Anwar Ibrahim.

More than any party here by far, UMNO is a collection of fat cats.They reached their heights of obesity and opulence by sitting in the free-ride comforts of a government they never imagined losing control of.

Quite simply, almost all UMNO leaders have absolutely none of the integrity, experience, gumption, skill, drive, motivation, diligence, intelligence, passion, know-how, fibre, endurance (you get the idea) or interest really, required for being an effective or successful politician outside of the federal government.

All the UMNO fat cats really want is a shortcut that will take them from the cold rain, in which they now shiver and starve, back into the warm government mansion they grew up in, to purr and preen in comfort amidst their never-ending gravy train.

The path Nazri seems to be advocating offers exactly that, and all they apparently have to do is to create enough friction between Bersatu and PKR, and make sure that Anwar becomes the prime minister.

As detailed in Part 1 of this article, Anwar could conceivably then dump Bersatu in favour of UMNO – especially if he starts to feel that Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed may renege on his promise to hand over power.

Mahathir could of course react by calling for early elections. Perhaps it was in anticipation of such a scenario that Anwar started courting good relationships with the Malay rulers very early on, as a refusal by the palace to dissolve Parliament could complicate matters.

Mahathir taking pre-emptive measures?

Image result for master yoda mahathir mohamad

Needless to say, Mahathir is far too intelligent to let such an outflanking manoeuvre happen without a response, and calling for early elections is likely a last resort rather than the first line of defence.

I think this is the context of UMNO’s recent resignations – the post-Port Dickson timing of which could be no coincidence at all.

Not every UMNO person buys Nazri’s plan. Indeed, while most of the party members do favour the fat-cat shortcut back to power, there appears to be considerable differences of opinion as to which shortcut in particular is best.

The three main schools of thought seem to be: through PKR, through PAS, or through Bersatu.

Nazri is probably correct in pointing out that going through PAS makes pretty much no numerical or ideological sense whatsoever.

Image result for Musthapha Mohamad and Anifah Aman

Perhaps the likes of Mustapa Mohamed and Anifah Aman(pic, above) are leaning towards the Bersatu route.

This is an interesting response. If there is a sufficiently large migration from UMNO to Bersatu, this could basically make Bersatu the new UMNO in terms of their position in the coalition – a big, Malay party that everyone agrees will nominate the PM.

Splitting UMNO could also neutralise any effort by Anwar to use UMNO as a threat against Bersatu.

If large numbers of UMNO MPs join Bersatu, then the UMNO support may no longer be the same bargaining chip it currently is.

Then again, for all an outsider like me knows, Mustapa and Anifah could be the ones looking to join PKR.

Either way, those who have left clearly do not have faith in UMNO as a bloc, and appear to be seeking their futures elsewhere.

Two out of three

In summary, in this bizarre love triangle between Bersatu, PKR, and UMNO, almost any two-out-of-three combination essentially produces a workable win.

There are a number of other factors, and/or radical possibilities.

DAP will obviously play a big role, while PAS, PBB, Amanah, and Warisan will play slightly smaller ones. Then there is the Azmin Ali factor.

Only while writing this article did the scenario occur to me: Especially if Azmin loses the PKR Deputy President’s race, what’s to stop him from defecting over to Bersatu?

This solves a number of different problems for both Bersatu and Azmin.

If the PKR elections go on in its current trajectory, the bad blood between team Azmin and team Anwar may be irreconcilable, and Azmin’s position within PKR may no longer be tenable.

Azmin moving to Bersatu would give the party a more viable succession plan with regards to subsequent PMs (a Goh Chok Tong to Mukhriz Mahathir’s Lee Hsien Loong perhaps?), and the numbers that could follow Azmin would also, again, help with Bersatu’s low-in-parliamentary-seats problem.

An exodus from PKR to Bersatu would be even bigger if Bersatu goes multiracial – further reducing the role or need for a party like PKR.

These battle lines are perhaps already visible in the copious amount of columns, blog posts, and viral Whatsapp messages that are either very strongly pro- or anti-Anwar, suggesting a consolidated and coordinated effort.

The race factor

Needless to say, all of this is speculation – and a somewhat sensationalist one at that.

For all I know, we could see a smooth transition to Anwar becoming the next PM, a stable rota system put in place to determine future prime ministers, and Harapan continuing just the way it is, happy as a clam.

Or, it could all be unrecognisable inside a year. It’s hard to say.

All these seismic shifts are potentially possible in large part because ideology has almost never played a big role in modern Malaysian politics.

The only vital and somewhat ideological question is how much of a factor race should be in Malaysian politics. This may come into play, say if Umno MPs need to decide which new party they want to support.

Perhaps some see maintaining Malay supremacy as the priority, a goal which can only be achieved by supporting Bersatu or PAS, while others may prefer the PKR route.

Other than that, Malaysian politics can likely be said to be dominated more by personality politics than anything else. It often comes down to which feudal lord one likes better.

Transforming incentive structures

Of course, just because this is the way it is, doesn’t mean that this is the way it always needs to be. Changing the incentive structures and the architecture of our political system could largely eliminate the need for many of the conflicts above.

One radical way to drastically cut back on inter-party conflict (such as Bersatu and PKR fighting over long-term stewardship of the PM’s post), is simply for all Harapan parties to merge.

Many would cite mind-boggling logistical difficulties (true, no doubt), and extreme resistance to the idea by conservatives.

If we think about it though, what function does having multiple parties in the coalition actually serve?

The old BN model was simple, for the peninsular at least. We have one party for one race. If you are Malay and have a problem, go see UMNO; Chinese, look for MCA; Indian, MIC.

It was devilishly simple in its concept, but simply devilish in the divided Malaysia it eventually created.

What about the realities of today? Do we want to follow the old formula? Malays see Bersatu, Chinese see DAP, and Indians can see the new Malaysia Advancement Party?

A merged party will still have leaders and elected representatives from every community that voters will likely find approachable.

True, little Napoleons will perhaps find themselves with less power, but wouldn’t that be a good thing?

It’s a bold idea that is unlikely to see the light of day, but regardless, I do hope we keep looking to radical solutions to blaze paths forward and leave behind the endless internal politicking that takes up far too much time and energy of Malaysian politicians.

After all, all the intrigue and speculation is somewhat entertaining, but don’t we have a new Malaysia to govern?

YESTERDAY: Future PMs: Many possibilities within Bersatu, PKR and Umno triangle


NATHANIEL TAN is eager to serve.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Anwar as Port Dickson MP


September 20, 2018

 Anwar  as Port Dickson MP

Opinion  |

COMMENT | If Anwar Ibrahim does make the cut, invariably, as the Member of Parliament of Port Dickson, perhaps something akin to a healthy rivalry with Langkawi island MP Dr Mahathir Mohammad will be immediately triggered.

Key government events should be held in Langkawi, either to brainstorm on the revival of Malaysia, or, the various ministries. Such events are bound to catch on in Port Dickson, too, which is just a short distance away from Putrajaya.

Image result for Langkawi

Indeed, high-end hotels, over the last 15 years, have also sprung up on Langkawi island (pic above), including the globally renowned Four Seasons. From time to time, it is not rare to see Indian families touring in huge numbers in Langkawi, too, often booking all their suites and rooms at one go.

Although Langkawi has also catered to the tourists of Scandinavia and Germany, who can often be seen basking in the sun, no discernible (foreign) presence has been seen at Port Dickson’s beaches as yet.

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Port Dickson Chalets

This is where Port Dickson has to stand out. Making its seas and shorelines pristine would make Port Dickson an ideal destination for families and international group tours beyond what has generally been provided to Malaysians.

If Anwar Ibrahim does somehow attract more Chinese to the beach town, the facilities in Port Dickson would have to be significantly scaled up – without which, the residents of Port Dickson would be looking at immense traffic bottlenecks and congestion.

Such negative externalities of tourism cannot be ruled completely. Polluted air, crowded bazaars, shortage of proper food and medical facilities, too, can all be a turn off to well-heeled Malaysian tourists.

In fact, without an iconic landmark, Port Dickson would be at a disadvantage, compared to Langkawi island. Langkawi, for example, hosts one of the longest cable cars in Southeast Asia that allows thousands of tourists to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the whole island.

Port Dickson, being flatter, is only known for its small-town feel and delicious local food. Perhaps a high tower should be built that would permit Port Dickson visitors to peer into the Straits of Malacca, and the thousands of ships that pass through it. It would seem that such a service should be introduced, in order to allow Malaysians to take a peek into what goes on in one of the busiest straits in the world.

The depths of the quays in Port Dickson should be constantly dredged and deepened, to allow bigger ships and vessels to berth, ideally ships that can ferry passengers across to Sumatera, Indonesia, which is just across the shores of Malaysia.

Image result for mahathir vs anwar ibrahim

To be sure, friendly ecological themes have to be worked into the grand schemes for all arrangements. Otherwise, a tourism scheme that is merely heavy on sheer human traffic alone is bound to create many side effects, beyond overcrowding, noise pollution, and inadequate waste disposal.

Either way, it is first time in the history of Malaysia that a reigning Prime Minister is an MP of a touristy constituency, indeed a tax-free zone to boot, which is Langkawi island. Should Anwar win the Port Dickson seat, the eighth prime minister of Malaysia would have to transform Port Dickson into a major township.

Port Klang was previously known as Port Swettenham, in recognition of the tenure of Resident Frank Swettenham in the 19th century. Over the years, Port Klang has morphed into a seafood attraction and high-density port.

No one knows if Port Dickson can become the hub of “bunkering,” a business that caters to refueling the ships and vessels that traverse through the Straits of Malacca.

If it does, this is an economic sector that is worth no less than US$1 billion a year. At least that is the current size of the bunkering business in Singapore, an idea that was ironically coined by Dr Mahathir previously.

It would help if Anwar Ibrahim could come up with such an industry-relevant solution, beyond merely looking to boost tourist numbers in Port Dickson.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The last stand of Mahathir Mohamad


August 28, 2018

The last stand of Mahathir Mohamad

 

Image result for Will Mahathir change his politics?

Is it far-fetched to think that the wisdom which comes with age came to Mahathir as an epiphany, writes Khoo Boo Teik.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim had their historic meeting on 5 September 2016.

Since then, much has been written on their reconciliation, Pakatan Harapan’s formation, and Mahathir’s nomination as Prime Minister if the opposition wins the coming general election.

About Mahathir’s political return, we now know many things except the puzzle that is the man himself, around whom an amazing turn of events revolves.

We can tackle the puzzle by raising two questions: what is the underlying motif of his intervention? What are his deep personal motivations for fighting Najib Abdul Razak and the Umno-BN regime?

Looking back, it seems surreal that all the opposition’s roads lead to Mahathir.

“Mahathir’s aura,” Mazlan Aliman of Anak Felda claimed, reassured Felda settlers that a Pakatan government would restore Felda and resolve the settlers’ financial burdens. Indeed, one Pakatan slogan for Felda areas is “Selamatkan Felda, Selamatkan Malaysia” (Save Felda, Save Malaysia).

Amanah leaders, such as Mohamad Sabu and Salahuddin Ayub, are confident that Pakatan Harapan’s nomination of Mahathir as ‘prime minister-in-waiting’ shattered UMNO’s propaganda that an UMNO defeat would mean “Chinese DAP domination”.

Mahathir has brought many advantages to the Harapan side. But his unsuspected value lies in his persona of a saviour. Historical circumstances and his exertions conferred that upon him.

The challenge

He was involved in the anti-Malayan Union movement that Malays regarded as the definitive event in saving Tanah Melayu and the special position of the Malays from colonial perfidy and immigrant domination.

Mahathir has brought many advantages to the Harapan side. But his unsuspected value lies in his persona of a saviour. Historical circumstances and his exertions conferred that upon him.

The challenge

He was involved in the anti-Malayan Union movement that Malays regarded as the definitive event in saving Tanah Melayu and the special position of the Malays from colonial perfidy and immigrant domination.

As a young doctor, he built up a good reputation for treating the sick, an esteemed way of saving lives. As was “Dr UMNO”, he was an ideologue for the mission of saving the ‘Malay race’ from poverty and economic backwardness.

Abdul Razak Hussein co-opted Mahathir for his project to recover UMNO’s pre-eminence that was battered in the May 1969 elections. In 1988, Mahathir ‘saved’ the deregistered UMNO by forming UMNO Baru.

He risked his own political survival to rescue the national economy in two crises (with the help of Daim Zainuddin). In 1986 he “held the New Economic Policy in abeyance”, one reason for Team B’s challenge to his leadership of UMNO. In 1998 he imposed capital controls against economic orthodoxy and international condemnation.

In Menghadapi Cabaran (The Challenge), a book he wrote when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, he endlessly lectured the Malays on their ‘unworthy values’, their tendency towards religious obscurantism, and their indifference to new forms of colonial subjection. It was tiresome to them but Mahathir meant to save the Malays from themselves!

One begins to see how a man with this background offers himself as a rallying point to rescue the economy from bankruptcy, the people from suffering and the nation from continued shame.

When Mahathir began talking to PKR leaders, Tian Chua said simply to me, “Ultimately Mahathir’s a nationalist.” The opposition leaders made a tacit bow before his saviour’s persona when they allied with him to fight Najib and UMNO-BN.

The ruling regime’s spokespeople mocked at Mahathir. They pronounced him too old and infirm. They chided him for not relaxing with his grandchildren. Such insensitivity only raised the sincerity and value of Mahathir’s sacrifice in the public eye.

Wisdom and epiphany

Mahathir is no more immune to hubris than other ‘patriarchs’ who cannot distinguish between their lives and those of their nations.

Mahathir did not act from political motives alone. He was probably driven by deep personal motivations between the 2013 general election and the exposé of the 1MDB scandal in 2015.

He was contemptuous of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and scarcely believed that Najib would lead UMNO-BN to a worse performance in 2013. For the next two years, Mahathir was preoccupied with UMNO’s weaknesses.

Dreading the thought of Anwar’s eventual triumph, he went to the ridiculous extent of patronising so-called ‘Malay-first’ bodies like Ibrahim Ali’s Perkasa. On hindsight, Mahathir pulled himself back when the 1MDB story broke across the world.

With his intelligence in different senses of the word, Mahathir grasped the reality of the Najib Razak-1MDB entanglement. He foresaw the destruction of all that he had worked for his entire life.

Image result for Khoo Boo Teik The Paradoxes of Mahathirism

Dr. Khoo Boo Teik’s Book The Paradoxes of Mahathirism is worth a re-read. Malaysians have put a lot of faith in Dr. Mahathir Mohamad by voting him to power in May 9, 2018 General Election. You are right to get rid on Najib Razak.

His 22-year premiership was imperfect but it brought successes that he valued: Malay progress, economic transformation, political stability, and, dearest to him, national dignity. We were admired abroad as an ‘Asian tiger’ before, he nostalgically told his audiences.

He found Najib’s record appalling: setbacks for Malay society and business, economic stagnation, social divisiveness and globally exposed national shame. If we are asked today where we come from, we lie that “We’re from Brunei,” he sorely joked with his audiences,

Mahathir claimed that Najib rejected advice on 1MDB and other issues. “I spoke to Najib because many people asked me to do something”, said Mahathir, “but Najib bragged that he could buy support because ‘cash is king’.”

Mahathir claimed Abdul Razak for his “idol” because of the latter’s contribution to rural development. But Razak’s son, Najib, only looked after himself, his wife, their children and their cronies. He showed not a drip of national interest, a prime minister’s ultimate sin in the eye of the ultimate nationalist.

Filicidal wrath

Is it far-fetched to think that the wisdom which comes with age came to Mahathir as an epiphany? In a flash, he saw the double injustice of his treatment of two protégés who looked to him as their political father.

Image result for mahathir and perkasa

On one of them, Anwar, he had visited filicidal wrath. He had elevated the other, Najib, to power. The one stood for reformasi, the other was kleptocracy itself.

The rest is not hard to grasp. It was not too late for Mahathir to atone for both dreadful errors but, past 90, he had to hurry.

He publicly humbled himself to who in power made it a point not to admit a mistake. Mahathir flayed himself for misjudging Najib: “He was not even a bit like his father.”

And so, Mahathir reconciled with Anwar, apologised to him and his family for their suffering, and declared himself indebted to Anwar for accepting his leadership of Harapan.

In the ways he knew best, which he knew better than anyone else, Mahathir set out to re-enact his previous ‘destroy-and-promote’ drama. This time he would reverse the characters: he would depose Najib and he would resurrect Anwar.

From Mahathir’s lenses (without belittling Harapan negotiations), that must be the meaning of the Mahathir-Wan Azizah-Anwar sequence for the post of Prime Minister.

Even Mahathir cannot unilaterally determine how his new drama will end. The general election will decide that. But as always when he set his mind on a project, he put his (somewhat ailing) heart and (probably pained) soul into leading Harapan’s charge against Najib and UMNO-BN.

Yet all this might have lifted a big load off his conscience, for he is unusually light-hearted at many ceramah.

A Harapan victory will be his finest hour. He can clear up many problems and allow Wan Azizah and Anwar to succeed him. He will retire after that, forever remembered for the truly noble legacy of delivering the nation from kleptocracy at his last stand. It is a strange scenario to contemplate.

Mahathir is no more immune to hubris than other ‘patriarchs’ who cannot distinguish between their lives and those of their nations.

But if he succeeds, we will understand why that sharp and irreverent blogger, SakmongkolAK47, was awed into calling Mahathir “The man who can walk on water”.

This article first appeared in Malaysiakini.

Dr. Bridget Welsh on 100 days of Pakatan Administration: Glass half full or half empty?


August 16, 2018

Dr. Bridget Welsh on 100 days of Pakatan Administration: Glass half full or half empty?

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for bridget welsh

“Harapan continues to be hampered by a trust deficit. Many of its own members are attacking one another. Conspiracies about alliances, intensive politicking and reports of infighting (often played out in the press) are taking away from what Harapan should be focused on – governing. After 100 days, these sorts of things should be declining, not increasing in prominence.”–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Today, Pakatan Harapan faces its 100-day report card. The idea of ‘100 days’ is somewhat arbitrary and any assessment in the early days of any administration should also be treated with caution – including this one.

This is especially the case given the difficult conditions Harapan has inherited, not only the financial liabilities caused by reckless spending and serious graft, but decades of erosion in institutional competence and good governance.

The problems lie not only with the political system but extend into society where social relations are deeply coloured by race and resentment as well as uneven education and entitlements which reinforced inequalities.

Let’s start with the positive

Let’s start with the positive, however. First of all, Harapan has shown that it can work together as a new coalition, and it has found its footing. While there have been moments of frustration – immature behaviour from those coveting position they somehow think they are entitled to – the five parties (with Warisan) have worked out many of their key differences and put in place a cabinet that while may lack in experience, is arguably the most talented and clean government in decades.

Over the past three months, these officials on the whole have worked hard to learn the ropes in environments that have been at times hostile and unwelcoming. They have been under the microscope and faced intense public pressure.

While there have been mistakes in (mis)handling questions on issues such as the United Examination Certificate (UEC), lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and foreign workers (and these speak to broader needs for greater reflection and engagement on these controversies), to date these mistakes have not fundamentally damaged the goodwill Harapan has from the majority of the electorate. One hundred days on, surveys show that the majority of Malaysians continue to support the bringing about a stronger ‘new’ Malaysia.

Second, there have been some important reforms introduced. Most of these have been internal and off the radar. The first has been granting more power to Parliament, an important strengthening of the checks and balances. The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), the Electoral Commission (EC), Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), The National Audit Commission, Public Service Commission, Education Service Commission and Judicial Appointments Commission all report directly to Parliament rather than the prime minister.

Decentralisation of power

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These initiatives have been led by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is now engaging in a meaningful decentralisation of executive power. Comparatively, Mahathir has also allowed ministers greater autonomy than in the past.

Third, there has been considerable restructuring of departments with the bureaucracy, with different agencies and units now coming under different jurisdictions. Some of these initiatives streamline governance and decision making, although not all of the restructuring has been clearly explained, leaving the impression (and in some cases, the reality) that turf wars are about politicking and positioning rather than governance. A good example is the divisions of the Ministry of Finance.

 

Fourth, there have been important reversals in entrenched exclusionary practices of the previous BN government. This week, the announcement of the end of propaganda outfits of the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) and National Service programme was made. Over the past three months, there have been scores of questionable contracts cancelled as part a broad review of spending and graft. Most of these have been done on an “ad hoc” basis but taken collectively, there have been important reviews in largely an inward-oriented process of assessment.

Fifth, there has been greater attention to corruption and abuses of power, particularly surrounding 1MDB. While many bemoan the slow handling of the serious corruption violations, including those associated with former Prime Minister Najib Razak, there has been a stream of reports of assets captured, investigations opened, scores of bank accounts frozen and, in some cases, charges filed. The MACC has been working overtime in carrying out investigations with greater independence than before.

Finally, there has been greater inclusion of Malaysia’s diversity in government and political life. From the composition of the cabinet to patterns of public engagement, more groups have had access, and with the greater press freedom, more issues have been raised in public, including many sensitive ones.

Despite continued reliance on race and religion on the part of the opposition parties (UMNO and PAS), there has also been considerable debate on a range of issues that speaks to underlying aspirations for different narratives and political participation. Even in Parliament, the focus has increasingly been on policy issues. In the spirit of the post-GE14 ‘durian runtuh’, the bitter and the sweet have offered more to the public to taste.

These changes speak to the new political environment as Malaysia’s ongoing transformation is unfolding. On the whole, the focus has been on the past, cleaning up the situation inherited and, in many cases, reversing unpopular policies. The guiding framework for changes has been the Harapan manifesto, which has proven to be both a basis for action and burden in that many of the proposals are financially untenable.

As Harapan has been in government, they have differed on whether some of the policies are politically viable, such as the UEC, and this shows that coalition dynamics are still evolving.

Legitimate criticisms

There are, however, quite different interpretations of the changes taking place, not only across the political divide but among different stakeholders. Legitimate criticisms can be made, as there is inadequate attention to addressing problems being currently experienced and indications of future trajectories.

The Economy

Foremost are percolating concerns about the economy. Harapan did a good job in managing the initial transition, instilling confidence. As time has progressed, this confidence has waned. While there has been a retail boom and a boost in some sectors from the end of the Goods and Service Tax (GST), many Malaysians have not witnessed a significant drop in prices.

Many businesses used the opportunity to rake in profits at the expense of consumers, a development that contributed to the negative impact of the GST originally. Many of the deep vulnerabilities with cost of living are still present, and deeply felt by vulnerable populations. There are worries that the return of the SST will lead to a similar negative impact on consumers.

Investors who have been waiting for approvals have been put on hold, now for most of 2018 as decisions were put off earlier in preparation for GE14. Impatience is growing. At the same time, the contract-driven domestic businesses are being dislodged from their hold on government largesse, and with these displacements, there is resentment.

In the climate of greater austerity, public spending is less of a driver for the economy. Collectively, there is a perceived slowdown in some quarters, which has been exacerbated by a lack of clear policy direction for the economy. To date, attention has focused on ending projects, not the experience of ordinary people. Harapan needs to be reminded that the main concern that brought them into power involved bread-and-butter issues.

 

This was closely followed by calls for reform. There are many visions of what the reforms should be and how they should be prioritised. The Institutional Reform Committee has made its recommendations and the public is looking for more substantive initiatives than those implemented to date.

Keep in mind, no draconian laws have been removed although a repeal of the anti-fake news bill has been tabled. No meaningful anti-corruption measures have been introduced, especially to prevent corruption in the Harapan government. The investigation of Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu’s aide for “crowdfunding” speaks to the problem of the urgent need for anti-corruption checks.

Programmes to prevent Police abuse and reduce trafficking have yet to be brought in, despite their inclusion in the manifesto. The need for Independent Police Complaint and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and investigation into human trafficking crimes in Wang Kelian is long overdue. The same lack of attention to improving electoral administration is also evident. Even in the area of child marriage – preventing the young from abuse – has been mired in a muck of unprincipled platitudes.

Along with the economy, Harapan based its legitimacy in GE-14 on bringing about change, and further delays in bringing about substantive reforms promised in the manifesto will undermine its support among its political base.

Malay votes

A problem that Harapan has experienced in the first three months is a fixation with those that did not vote for them. Harapan itself has focused on the “half empty” glass with high levels of sensitivity to what the rural/semi-rural Malay base may think of the new government.

My estimates of the results show that Harapan won 23.5% of the Malay vote nationally (compared to 44.5% won by UMNO and 31.9% won by PAS). There is indeed a Malay minority of support for Harapan.

Insecurity about a Malay deficit has been driving defensive responses and contributed to overcautious and doubletalk on many issues of race and religion. Harapan has unfortunately continued to use a simplistic ethnic lens to understand Malaysia’s diverse and complex society. This is hampering the evolution of a different narrative, a different Malaysian future.

Anwar Ibrahim

It has not helped that not all of Harapan seems to be on the same page about working collaboratively. While the coalition has come together, the splits that undercut support for Pakatan Rakyat are still present.

Image result for Anwar Ibrahim and Sultan of Johor

 

In the last three months, questions have been asked about PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim’s commitment to political reform, and whether his personal ambitions are colouring his actions, including an unsettling interview in Utusan Malaysia and an UMNO-like ‘defend the royalty’ narrative. At the same time, grouses are being made about the appointment of former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and perceptions of persistent patronage, with resentments growing and accusations being hurled. Despite taking on the task of governing, suspicion of Mahathir also persists.

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Rafizi’s Ambition knows no limits

Harapan continues to be hampered by a trust deficit. Many of its own members are attacking one another. Conspiracies about alliances, intensive politicking and reports of infighting (often played out in the press) are taking away from what Harapan should be focused on – governing. After 100 days, these sorts of things should be declining, not increasing in prominence.

Practices do not change overnight, and arguably they realistically cannot be expected to do so. The trajectory overall has been positive. This does not mean that attention should not be drawn to areas where there is dirt in the glass, and a possibility for a brighter future.

 


BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with co-author Greg Lopez) is titled Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Can Anwar be PM this time around?


August 15, 2018

Can Anwar be PM this time around?

P Ramasamy

 

ADUN SPEAKS | Anwar Ibrahim nearly succeeded in taking up the post of Prime Minister when he was the Deputy UMNO Chief and Deputy Prime Minister when Dr Mahathir Mohamad was in his first role as prime minister of the country.

However, Anwar’s quick rise within the ranks of the party and government led to his dismissal and subsequent imprisonment on a charge of sodomy.

It was the incarceration of Anwar that led to the reform movement with far-reaching political implications.

The reform movement that galvanised people across racial and religious lines sowed the seeds of the political decay of Umno and BN. The victory of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, and with PKR winning the most number parliamentary seats, is testimony to the powerful forces having their roots in the reform movement.

Anwar must be credited for being the force and personality who gave hope and trust to those Malaysians who wanted a better Malaysia.

Anwar was perceived as a threat and was charged, with sodomy again, and jailed the second time by the BN regime under Najib Abdul Razak. And, with the election victory by Harapan this year, on terms agreed by its component parties, Anwar was pardoned and released from his captivity.

Image result for pakatan harapan leaders

 

It was also agreed that Mahathir would serve as the Prime Minister for two years following which Anwar would take over as Prime Minister.

Anwar has been released and he recently he won the presidency of PKR, uncontested. The question now is when is he going to stand for election to Parliament – provided someone in his party is willing to vacate a seat.

As per the agreement before the election, Mahathir will be the prime minister for two years after which he will relinquish the post to Anwar.

Mahathir, being a man of his words, there is no question of him not stepping down.

Spoilers bent on derailing the process…

As we understand, he entered the political arena merely to oust the kleptocratic Najib government from power and to pave the way for better governance of the country.

 

While everything seems to point in the direction of a smooth transition of power from Mahathir to Anwar, there, however, are spoilers who are bent on derailing the process of this smooth democratic transfer.

It has not been proven, despite the challenge thrown by Mahathir, that there those within PKR who have joined forces with one or two powerful figures to ensure that Anwar does not assume the post of prime minister after the two-year period.

There are some who are claiming that Mahathir might not easily give up his post and that he had hinted a few times in the past that he might stay longer if the situation warranted it.

I am not sure whether we can create mountains of these insinuations and indirect statements, but nowhere is there solid proof that Mahathir might overstay in the post.

Mahathir might be credited for providing the critical leadership to Harapan in unseating the BN regime. However, let us not forget the formidable role of Anwar in creating and sustaining the forces, together with the DAP leadership, in creating a new Malaysia.

Twice Anwar has been “cheated” of the opportunity to become Prime Minister. I hope this time around he succeeds!


P RAMASAMY is Penang Deputy Chief Minister (II) and Perai Assemblyperson.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Ultra-liberals and the futility of discourse


August 14, 2018

Ultra-liberals and the futility of discourse

by S Thayaparan

Young, smart, ambitious, impatient and brash Rafizi Ramli

The political nature of man made it highly unlikely that a society designed to meet regularly would remain peaceable. “The way to make friends quarrel is to pit them in disputation under the public eye,” Jefferson said.

― Jon Meacham, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

COMMENT | Truth be told, I like Rafizi Ramli. Sure, we have had a very public spat but the reality is that for whatever reasons, he often kicks the Pakatan Harapan regime in the nut sack and more often than not, gets pilloried for it on social media.

The internal politics of PKR, I have very little interest in. No matter who runs the good ship, PKR politicians in Harapan will not stray too far from mainstream Malay politics even though they, like the DAP, claim to be a multi-racial party.

Malay establishment politicians have to pay attention to certain agendas and non-Malay establishment politicians have to enable such dictates. It does not have to be this way but it is easier to retain power this way.

Image result for azmin ali and dr. mahathir

Dato Seri Azmin Ali, as Economics Minister, is a key Cabinet Minister and ally of Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Recently, Rafizi labelled those hounding Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail on the whole child marriage fiasco as ultra liberals who “focus on the one issue”. Not nice, Rafizi.

Dismissing these critics, while saying these ultra liberals are not responsible for the poor (while the DPM was) is a strange way of deflecting from the criticisms of the cautious response of the DPM on this issue.

Firstly, child marriage, as in marriages between children and adults, is normalising sex with children.

Furthermore, it is normally the “poor” children who are exploited in this manner. Also, this idea that ultra liberals are single-issue advocates is rather bizarre, because it’s like saying that rights groups who advocate on a specific subject do not care about anything else – the poor – because they advocate for specific issues.

Last year when UMNO was in power, my Malay-speaking activist friends were always worried that the state labelled them as deviant and that meant they were liberal. As one young activist said (in Malay no less), how could he be liberal when he can’t even speak English that well.

Even now I do not want to go into the whole definition on the debate about what a liberal is even more so an ultra-liberal, which I suppose is akin to an ultra Malay or Islamist or howsoever else Malaysians define such things.

Image result for Dr Wan Azizah wears a tudung

Where is  Deputy President Azmin Ali?

It gets really messy when Rafizi claims that some activists are biased against Wan Azizah because she wears a tudung, more “Malay” looking in her outlook and appearance and behaves like a moderate. Really?

Some would argue that Wan Azizah is an idealised version of a Malay woman. A fair skinned, tudung wearing, religious and socially compliant political operative. I mean we are talking about a community which is a melting pot of various people foreign and domestic, right?

Why even say horse manure like that? And what does having a Malay outlook mean and does having this Malay outlook, trump whatever agreed upon principles that the opposition says it has? How does one define the middle ground this way?

But wait. Rafizi already staked out the middle moderate ground.  “And the moderate centre behaves like Wan Azizah. The moderate centre does not behave like very vocal social activists who want outright political condemnation,” he said.

Wait, so all those years when tudung wearing Malays were outright in their condemnation of UMNO policies and rhetoric, they were not the “moderate centre”? All those social activists many of whom were tudung clad did not represent the centre of Malay politics, which is what the opposition (Harapan) was saying was the true face of this country?

What about those who do not wear tudung? Are they somehow less “moderate” in their views? Does the content of the criticisms change depending on whether one wears a tudung or believes in a specific religion?

Muddying up waters

But what is the moderate centre in PKR? By labeling activists who are vocal in their criticisms about a political operative who is also the women and family development minister, as ultra-liberal, then what is the moderate liberal’s position? Less vocal?

It is like PAS saying that anyone who disagrees with their interpretation of Islam is liberal but an ultra liberal is someone who actually voices out such disagreements. Where does someone like Zaid Ibrahim fall when it comes to the liberal and ultra-liberal label?

Which brings us to the futility of the discourse and the big tent approach of PKR. Let us be honest here.

In most cases, the discourse is between the Malay component – liberal or orthodox – and the non-Malay component of PKR.

Rafizi’s example of Malay groups who are not happy with the UEC recognition and bringing those who are and those who do not together sounds like a swell idea.

But really, when it comes to Malay rights, can there ever be a dialogue? Why do Malay rights groups oppose the UEC? The basis of their dissent is based on racial and religious supremacy, right?

So it’s how you have to allay their fears, right? But this is the problem right here. Non-Malays as citizens of this country should not have to allay the fears of their countrymen. How exactly does the UEC, for example, threaten the culture of the Malay community?

How exactly is talking about this with people who base their objection to specific issue along racial or religious lines going to get us to that place, where we are all treated equally before the law?

How erectly does the discourse work with people like this? I mean really, saying non-Muslims can use the word, Allah – as long as it was not misused – is something to be proud of? If I ask an orthodox Malay who believes in Malay supremacy how do the non-Malays misuse the word Allah, he or she would say that by uttering the word, they would be misusing it.

For whatever reason, Rafizi is the only political operative who pisses in the Harapan kool-aid occasionally. I will take occasionally over the prostrating of most political operatives at the altar of the great old one.

But for Allah’s sake, be mindful of how you respond to criticism. If your critics are wrong just say they are wrong and but don’t engage in identity politics.

The discourse is hard enough already without folks who should know better than muddying up the waters even more.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.