Najib Razak’s BN to retain Putrajaya


June 15, 2017

Najib Razak’s BN to retain Putrajaya, says former Singapore envoy to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

ST Global Forum discussion on next general election concludes 1MDB, billion-dollar deals with China will have no impact on how the majority vote.

PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional (BN) will continue its hold on Putrajaya by winning the next general election (GE14), as the status quo in Sabah and Sarawak and support from Malays in Peninsular Malaysia will remain, The Straits Times (ST) reported.

Image result for Ong Keng and Din MericanSingapore’s Ambassador at Large Ong Keng Yong (center)

This was the conclusion drawn from an ST Global Forum panel discussion held in Singapore yesterday. The forum was entitled Malaysia’s Next GE: The Perils And Prospects.

“I don’t think that it will be worse than what Prime Minister Najib Razak or the BN obtained in 2013. For the Malay voters, I think they will stick with what they know,” said Ong Keng Yong, who is Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign affairs, Former High Commissioner to Malaysia and Secretary-General of ASEAN.

Another speaker at the forum, Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian concurred, saying that even though Najib’s popularity remains low, BN remains the most trusted brand among Malay voters.

According to the Singapore daily, the rationale proffered by the speakers, which also included OCBC Bank Treasury Research and Strategy head Selena Ling, was that all the billion-dollar scandals and headline-grabbing deals with China would not have an impact on the vast majority of voters.

Describing the issues surrounding 1MDB as “approaching historical status”, Ibrahim said many Malaysians have gone beyond the issue. “1MDB has now been bundled as just being part of what is perceived as leadership weaknesses,” he was quoted as saying.

Image result for Najib RazakThe Likely GE-14 victor

Ambassador Ong believes the cases that have emerged over allegations linked to 1MDB in other countries, including Singapore, the United States and Switzerland, has only affected Kuala Lumpur’s standing from an international standpoint, but it “has not greatly harmed Najib or UMNO” in the homefront.

Meanwhile, Ling told the forum that Malaysia’s economic data was healthy, but that too would be of minimal consequence.“When it comes to elections, people are going to vote on bread-and-butter issues. It is not going to be because growth is 5% or less than 5%,” she said, according to ST.

The panelists all agreed that Najib’s biggest challenge will be overcoming the growing unrest over the cost of living, with the GST and lower value of the ringgit having an impact on the price of goods.

The reality on the ground remains harsh according to Ibrahim who spoke about the struggles of Malaysians, both young and old.“Young people are worried about finding a good job, married couples are concerned about whether they can afford a home and whether they can get a pay rise, while most retirees do not have sufficient savings to tide them over,” he was quoted as saying by ST.

The speculation over when Najib will call for GE14 is mixed with some predicting it will be held in the last quarter of this year, or early next year. However, the Prime Minister has until next June to decide when he wants to dissolve Parliament.

The Federal Constitution states that a general election needs to be called when Parliament is dissolved or it reaches a maximum term of five years. The current Parliament kicked off its term on June 24, 2013, therefore Parliament will automatically be dissolved as of June 24, 2018.

As a general election needs to be called no later than two months after Parliament is dissolved, therefore, the last possible date for the next general election (GE14) will be August 24, 2018.

Malaysia’s ‘Men of Always’


June 13, 2017

Malaysia’s ‘Men of Always’

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

 

“When I say devils, you know who I mean.
These animals in the dark.
Malicious politicians with nefarious schemes.
Charlatans and crooked cops.” – William Elliot Whitmore (Old Devils)

 

COMMENT | In the gripping if romanticised Netflix drama “Nacros”, Pablo Escobar, in a moment of inspired self-serving rhetoric, claims, “the men of always aren’t interested in the children of never”.

The men of always were the established political class of Colombia, but more importantly, they represented the idea of political permanence sustained by populism, corruption and systemic dysfunction. The children of never should be self-evident.

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The Men of Always–God help Malaysia

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, the IDEAS man, recently claimed that Pakatan Harapan needs to move on from the “old batch” and that “fresh blood” is needed. This comes at a time when most opposition supporters have made peace with the man they claimed destroyed Malaysia and laid the tracks of the Najib Kleptrocratic Express.

This writer, agreeing with Zaid Ibrhaim, wrote – “This is the game the opposition has chosen to play and if they want to win, they have to play for keeps. And that is the only way the former Prime Minister knows how to play.” I am, I suppose part of the problem.

The problem I have with Wan Saiful’s rejoinder is that there is no new batch. There is no fresh blood. Malaysia’s men of always have seen to it that their imprimatur is stamped on the new political operatives that are supposedly stepping out from their shadows.

While PAS has an ideology, granted one that any rational person would reject, the rest of the opposition is, in reality, playing the old alliance game of the politics of racial and religious compromise that has not worked.

This is the main idea of Malaysia’s men of always. That we have no choice but to embrace their ideas because it is the pragmatic thing to do. That it is the only thing to do because people will never change and we are all ghettoised in our racial cocoons.

The reality is that the Malay community has changed. This change was deliberate. The Chinese and Indian communities have changed. This change was reactionary. Change is not alien in Malaysia, just misunderstood.

Back in the old days, opposition to the Establishment meant something, those were the days when UMNO’s political operatives feared the opposition because their ideas of dissent were not diluted by establishment ideas that come with power. The opposition tsunami that brought UMNO to its knees was supposed to herald a change in the way how business was run, but not as a refinement of old ideas.

There is no “new batch” – only a political operatives cast from the same old mould but mimicking the rhetoric of progressive politics. There is no fresh blood, only blood infused with the DNA of old policies meant to divide us along racial and religious lines. This does not mean that there are no Malaysians who want real change, only that their voices are drowned out on social media and the endless new cycles of establishment malfeasances.

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Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (photo), in his comment piece about the possible lessons learned from the recent United Kingdom election, attempts to draw similarities with our own disparate opposition. This is problematic for a variety of reasons. I think there are some things we could learn from the recent UK election fiasco, but I do not think we should be so eager to see similarities when the our political landscape is very different.

Here are few takeaways from the recent election that may be helpful, if you wish to draw analogies.

(1) Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, although a polarising figure in the Labour establishment, won his seat at the head of the table legitimately and had an underlying ideology which, although not in the Labour mainstream, resonated with a diverse voting demographic that despised the May regime for a variety of reasons.

(2) Labour’s election manifesto was widely disseminated and struck a nerve with a diverse voting demographic because of its supposedly egalitarian values, not to mention an anti-austerity agenda that rightly pointed out that the Tories (Conservatives) were sacrificing the many in the name of the few.

(3) Although there has been no official data, young people came out and voted in large numbers because they rejected the politics of business as usual, which was the mainstream of the Labour and Conservative regimes.

(4) Theresa May ran one of the worst campaigns in recent memory and the rejection of the conservative party was seen mainly as a rejection of Theresa May, who had trust issues not only with Labour voters but with her own base as well.

Youth vote is extremely important

What I think could be of great use for those looking for regime change here in Malaysia, is point (3). The youth vote is extremely important and, as demonstrated in many countries where the ruling establishment has suffered shock defeats (or barely maintaining power), the youths have come out to vote strongly against the ruling establishment.

In my advice to the young political operative when he was setting up his Youth wing, I made two points: (1) “The younger generation of Malay voters are a promising demographic but they are currently embroiled in a culture war that consumes most of their energy and effort. Young Malay oppositional types not only have to contend with the UMNO regime but they also have to contend with the Islamic forces in this country, with no help whatsoever from mainstream Malay political parties or non-Malay political parties, which do not view them as part of a new deal but merely as a specific racial demographic needed to win the throne of Putrajaya.”

(2) “There are literally hundreds of fringe Malay groups of young people who form the complex structure of alternate Malay politics, and instead of carrying on ghettoising them and appealing to them when needed, they should form the mainstream of Malay politics or, at the very least, the mainstream of Bersatu Youth politics.”

So what is the real lesson we can learn from this? That the opposition needs a leader who, although dismissed by his own mainstream, resonates with a diverse, fractured voting demographic. That an election manifesto that takes into account the needs of the many, instead of the few, is a flashpoint for change. That the ruling establishment coasting on previous victories and running a poorly managed campaign is a soft target but more importantly, young people, if inspired, can wreck havoc on traditional political wisdom.

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Dr. Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj– A Model Malaysian Politician

My own fantasy is that PSM’s Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj becomes a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure in Harapan and manages to bring the existing regime to its knees. I know that this will never happen of course and that is really a shame, for this country.

The only way this can be done – is if oppositional politicans give people something other than what their bases think is important or pragmatic. The only way this could be achieved, if the opposition is so overtly different from the establishment, is when people who want change, but who do not necessarily support the opposition, think that their votes will make a difference. Especially young people.

Most importantly, you cannot serve the men of always and expect to free the children of never.

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

Putting Malaysia’s Future in the hands of Mahathir Mohamad


April 28, 2017

Putting Malaysia’s Future in the hands of Mahathir Mohamad

by P. Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

If only the Opposition thought like Mahathir and stayed focused on their goal – which is not to just remove Najib but to change the government for the better – they will stay well away from a man like Mahathir – his record is there for all to see. Instead they have been seduced by the mantra, let’s get rid of Najib first.

If Opposition, in its strange state of amnesia, continues to forget to remember, they are going to lose their chance to heal this nation, their agenda hijacked by the one who was ultimately responsible for all this.–P. Gunasegaram

Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the one who tore UMNO apart, six years after he became Prime minister in July, 1981 when a bruising battle saw him win the UMNO presidential elections against challenger Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah by the narrowest margin ever. But he did much worse than that.

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The Opposition trusts Mahathir, do we Malaysians? Hopefully we are not a bunch of suckers–Din Merican

When Razaleigh challenged the election results and the courts declared it illegal, he did not respect the law and hold a new election. Instead, he set up a new UMNO, UMNO Baru, using the power of incumbency to force officialdom to facilitate the transfer of assets to UMNO Baru from the old, original UMNO.

He excluded from UMNO Baru those who considered his opponents compelling Razaleigh to form the alternative Semangat 46. He went about solidifying his position in UMNO Baru by altering the party constitution making it well nigh impossible for anyone to challenge the party president again, removing a check-and-balance so vital for democracy.

In 1987, via Operasi Lalang, he imprisoned over 100 people under the Internal Security Act or ISA and shut down several newspapers ostensibly to defuse interracial tension and bring back order, sending waves of shock and fear throughout the country and consolidating his then tenuous hold on power.

He is the man who is a master at exploiting racial divisions for his own gain, using it pre and post the May 13, 1969 riots – riots whom by some accounts he “predicted” will happen – to gain rapid ascension after Malaysia’s First Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was effectively deposed by his deputy, Abdul Razak Hussein, current Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s father. Razak worked closely with young Turks within UMNO who included Mahathir and Musa Hitam among them.

Mahathir took revenge on the Judiciary in 1988, emasculating them by suspending Tun Salleh Abas,the Lord President and several Supreme Court judges and putting puppets in their place, a body blow from which the judiciary is yet to recover. Then on, Mahathir played enforcer, prosecutor, and judge. He could pretty much do what he wanted without controls, setting the stage for Malaysia’s descend into an abyss from which it is struggling to crawl out of now

There’s a fuller list of questionable things he did in an article I wrote for The Edge in June 2006 which was used in The Sun, three years after he stepped down, which posed a series of 22 groups of questions on his leadership, one for each of the 22 years he held the reins of power in the country.

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Then and Now (below)

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During the Asian financial crisis in 1998, he again resorted to strong-arm tactics to stay in power when his deputy then Anwar Ibrahim, now jailed opposition leader, mounted a thinly-disguised challenge to his leadership as the ringgit declined precipitously and the region was in turmoil following sharp falls in regional currencies.

Mahathir reacted swiftly and sharply, expelling him from all government and party posts and then sending in an elite squad to capture him at machinegun-point and detain him under the infamous ISA. He simultaneously imposed capital controls to stem the damage on the currency. And then came the sodomy charges against Anwar.

Paradoxically, it was Anwar who ensured Mahathir’s narrow victory in the 1987 party election when he prevailed upon Najib to cast the votes controlled by his block to Mahathir. If Najib had not and favoured Razaleigh instead, Razaleigh would most likely have won.

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Mahathir Mohamad with Singapore’s Philosopher-King Lee Kuan Yew

Mahathir did not even use the benefit of his dictatorial powers for the sake of the nation the way Lee Kuan Yew did for Singapore as I pointed in an article comparing the two. Lee used his immense powers to cut corruption, improve the quality of education and evolve a strong, competent and incorruptible civil service amongst others. Mahathir effectively promoted corruption and patronage, oversaw a decline in educational standards and undermined one of the finest civil services in Asia with his arbitrary decision-making.

What is it about Mahathir that makes the Opposition so enamoured of him? People like Anwar and Lim Kit Siang who directly suffered so much from his blatant misuse of authority to perpetuate his own power and continuance?

Forget to remember

Perhaps the Opposition feels, like a lot of people, that Mahathir has some power of invincibility and that he can influence the people. But an examination of history does not show this as I explained in an article in 2006.

Mahathir was elected MP for the Kota Setar Selatan seat in Kedah in 1964. It was established early on that he was not invincible when he lost the seat to PAS’ Yusof Rawa in 1969. According to some accounts, he had said in 1969 that he did not need Chinese votes to win.

Following the May 13, 1969 riots, Mahathir wrote a widely-circulated letter criticising then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. He was dismissed from his UMNO supreme council position and expelled from the party. The following year, he wrote the controversial book ‘The Malay Dilemma’ which was promptly banned, the ban being lifted in 1981 when Mahathir became Prime Minister.

Mahathir was readmitted into UMNO 1972 after Razak assumed the mantle. The Tunku had stepped down in 1970 after the 1969 riots. Mahathir stood for the Kubang Pasu parliamentary seat in 1974 and won unopposed, retaining the seat until 2004 when he did not contest after his retirement. He was appointed education minister in 1975. The vital turning point for Mahathir came the following year when Hussein Onn became Prime Minister following Razak’s untimely death. Hussein picked Mahathir as his deputy.

And this was not because Mahathir enjoyed overwhelming support in UMNO. Mahathir was picked over two UMNO Vice-Presidents who had higher votes than him, Ghafar Baba and Razaleigh. An accident of fate put Mahathir in line for the top position. When Hussein retired due to failing health, Mahathir became Prime Minister in 1981.

And in 2006 when he attempted to get elected as a delegate to UMNO, after stepping down as Prime Minister, so as to voice his opinions at the UMNO General Assembly, he got a thumping defeat, meriting an article in The New York Times. He was placed ninth in a field of 15 for delegates from Kubang Pasu, his former seat! Mahathir pleaded money politics – something he never bothered to check during his time.

Despite his intense, tireless campaigning at the age of over 90 in both Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar in June last year, BN won handsomely in both seats, indicating that Mahathir has insignificant sway with the Malay voters anyway.

The Opposition is not likely to benefit much from Mahathir and his party Bersatu, especially with PAS now seeming to align itself with the government. It seems unlikely that the disunited Opposition will win.

But what if the Opposition won? What if Bersatu held the balance of power? Would it stick with Pakatan Harapan or would it go over to UMNO and make a deal by telling to get rid of Najib and bring back Muhyiddin Yassin to take over as Prime Minister?

Surely Anwar as PM would be unthinkable for Mahathir even if a process of pardon could be initiated. Mahathir can tell Harapan, no deal unless Muhyiddin becomes PM. And so we go from Najib to Muhyiddin – is that a big improvement in the overall scheme of things.

Image result for Mahathir Mohamad, Badawi and Najib

Mahathir Mohamad and his Accomplices in the Political Destruction of Malaysia

That’s what Mahathir wants to be – a power broker, the king-maker. That way no matter who is in power, he is not going to be brought into account for his past misdeeds. That way he has a pretty good chance of putting his son, Mukhriz, in a strong position to assume future leadership. That way he is assured that history – written by the victors as the wise tell us – will be far more kindly to him.

If any one takes the trouble to remember what this man did and stood for, he would be mad to think that Mahathir is the solution – he was, and is, the problem. Without him and his 22 years of misrule, Malaysia would not have descended to what it is today.

Mahathir was accountable to no one. Not the people, not the party, not the judges. He could do almost anything he pleased and get away with it using the apparatus and machinery of control he had put in place.

He made opaque many decisions of government, putting anything marked secret by the government as secret under the law by removing the power of judges to judge even if the secret posed no danger to the country but only embarrassed the government and exposed its corrupt ways

That was the legacy he left behind – and a leader who followed him used it to do nasty things, some worse than that by Mahathir. Now we expect Mahathir – the source of all this – to save us Malaysians from Najib!

Is that why Mahathir is sticking his neck out? For the good of the country? But remember he had his chance – 22 years of it. He bungled – all he did was to stay in power and do the greatest damage to the country ever by any one, Prime Minister or not

His goal now is not to get into power but to ensure that whoever comes into power does not destroy him. As far as Mahathir is concerned, it is always about him – not Malaysia, not Malaysians, not even the Malays.

If only the Opposition thought like Mahathir and stayed focused on their goal – which is not to just remove Najib but to change the government for the better – they will stay well away from a man like Mahathir – his record is there for all to see. Instead they have been seduced by the mantra, let’s get rid of Najib first.

If Opposition, in its strange state of amnesia, continues to forget to remember, they are going to lose their chance to heal this nation, their agenda hijacked by the one who was ultimately responsible for all this.

 

Black Swan Moments–Najib Razak’s Options


April 19, 2017

Black Swan Moments – Najib Razak’s Options

by Liew Chin Tong, MP

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the first half of my article (Expect more black swans to appear in Malaysian politics), I explained why Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak was in a precarious position. What then are Najib’s strategies for survival? It is not that Najib doesn’t understand the precarious position he is in. He does know that Umno will not be able to win an outright mandate in the coming election.

Hence, Najib has been trying to break up the opposition as soon as the 2013 General Election was concluded.

There were even attempts by Indonesian Vice-President Yusof Kala, between June and August 2013, to broker deals between Najib and Anwar Ibrahim, which Anwar rejected.

And, since then, Najib’s strategies have included:

  • Putting Anwar Ibrahim behind bars, hence depriving the Opposition of its prime ministerial candidate and unifying figure;
  • Luring PAS into a de facto alliance with UMNO on the pretext of promoting hudud legislations; and
  • Portraying the Opposition as a DAP/Chinese-dominated alliance.

However, in his grand scheme to win by default, Najib did not anticipate:

  • The Opposition surviving despite Anwar’s imprisonment;
  • A sizable number of ousted PAS leaders forming Parti Amanah Negara in September 2015 to continue the struggle, and many in PAS still disagreeing with their top leaders’ collusion with UMNO; and
  • UMNO splitting in 2016, and Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia being formed and joining Pakatan Harapan.

Broadly, even without Najib at the helm, UMNO is weaker than in the 2013 General Election for the following reasons:

First, since independence till the 2004 general election, UMNO had ruled through an extended coalition of Alliance/Barisan Nasional, and governed with substantial support from the non-Malays.

But the comfort of buffers formed by BN component parties in the Peninsula eclipsed after UMNO made a right turn – becoming more visible in its claim of Malay supremacy – in July 2005 with Hishammuddin Hussein waving the kris at the UMNO General Assembly, which led to massive defeats for its allies, the MCA, MIC and Gerakan, in both the 2008 and 2013 general elections.

UMNO dug in deeper since 2008 to push racial politics in the hope of expanding Malay support, but has achieved surprisingly little.

Second, since UMNO was incapable of expanding its support base since 2013, collaborating with PAS became an attractive option. ithopes that by colluding with PAS to polarise society into a struggle between Muslims/Malays and non-Muslims, the UMNIO-PAS de facto alliance will win enough seats between them to form the next government.

However, as an unintended consequence, such a move further alienates non-Malay voters in the Peninsula, as well as a majority of voters in Sabah and Sarawak.

Third, while Najib the man managed to command more support among Malay voters compared with UMNO the party in the 2013 election, such is no longer the case. Najib is now a burden to UMNO due to the 1MDB mega scandal, and unpopular economic policies such as the implementation of the goods and services tax (GST), fuel hikes and cuts to subsidies for basic amenities like health and education.

Frustrated UMNO leaders and members led by former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad formed Bersatu and this new Malay party is making rapid inroads in areas previously inaccessible to the Opposition.

In short, UMNO under Najib is on a narrowing path that now relies on a much smaller base than ever. If Najib is still perceived as strong, it is because the Opposition is seen as weak and disunited.

What lies ahead?

The knowns are that Najib is not popular, and there is serious discontent among the Malays. But there are certainly challenges for the Opposition to overcome in order to precipitate change.

First, the Opposition needs to stand for something inspiring and visionary, and not depend solely on the anger against Najib as its forward strategy. The Opposition must stand for more than just removing Najib. The economy and the well-being of the people should be its number one priority.

Second, the coming together of Bersatu and the Pakatan Harapan parties, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Parti Amanah Negara and Democratic Action Party is a reconciliation of former foes.

Who could have imagined Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar Ibrahim forming an alliance nearly 20 years after their very bitter fallout in 1998? But the coming together of the once political father-and-son can unleash huge energy, if handled properly. After all, both Mahathir and Anwar are positive leadership figures compared to Najib, and they each appeal to certain segments of the Malay electorate.

Third, to present a common agenda that appeals to both Mahathir’s audience and to DAP’s supporters is a big challenge. If Mahathir and Bersatu go on a racial campaign, it will depress the support of non-Malay voters and create a lose-lose situation for the entire Pakatan Harapan coalition.

Likewise, the regime’s argument against Mahathir and Bersatu is that they are associating with the DAP. The presence of the DAP can also depress the support for Bersatu and other Malay-based parties like PKR and Amanah if the opposition is unable to break out of Umno’s racial playbook, and articulate a new narrative that can rally all groups in a larger vision.

In short, Pakatan Harapan needs to ‘reset’ the national conversation to one that centres around ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ and ideas of common destiny for the nation.

Fourth, PAS, as UMNO’s ‘new friend’ as Zahid calls the party, is a reality, and the sooner a deep line is drawn between the genuine/official Opposition, Pakatan Harapan, and the pseudo ‘third force’ PAS, the clearer the situation becomes for voters. This will weaken PAS’ usefulness as an UMNO-directed spoiler in the coming election.

Fifth, the ultimate challenge for the newly re-aligned Pakatan Harapan that now  includes Bersatu will come if Najib suddenly exits the scene and takes out the raison  d’être for the opposition and dissipates much of the anger in the Malay community.

 

If this is to happen, can the opposition in its present format survive this unlikely, but not impossible, Black Swan?


This perspective is based on a public seminar given by LIEW CHIN TONG at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute on April 13, 2017. Liew was formerly a Visiting Fellow at  the Institute. He is the Member of Parliament for Kluang, and a member of the central executive committee of the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

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Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

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Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

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Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?


March 2, 2017

The Look of a Winner: Mahathir-led BERSATU?

by Saleena Saleem

https://www.policyforum.net/look-winner/

Image result for Bersatu's Mahathir

Malaysia’s new opposition party, Bersatu, needs to change public perceptions to win support at the next election, Saleena Saleem writes.

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The elections come after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations levelled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Bersatu, led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, would lead a massive breakaway faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest did not materialise.

Image result for Najib RazakMalaysia’s Love Story–Rendezvous in Port Dickson

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within party ranks for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party – for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to the PM’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of dishonesty and hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy. Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for – he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition political coalition, Pakatan Rakyat saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues – for example, the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014, and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment) – that eventually led to its collapse. The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

Furthermore, the opposition’s current narrative on “Save Malaysia from Najib”, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived “Save Malaysia” movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections. When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Although a new political party, Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members. Addressing public perception challenges and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may paradoxically require less of a reliance on its aging political giants. Instead, an effort to introduce younger politicians could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

This article is published in collaboration with New Mandala, the premier website for analysis on Southeast Asia’s politics and societies.