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.

Welsh on PAS in Terengganu


August 5, 2018

Welsh on PAS in Terengganu

by Dr. Bridget Welsh

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Terengganu Crystal Mosque

The so-called Islam Hadhari in Kuala Terengganu built during the Badawi Era

COMMENT | On Malaysia’s beautiful east coast, PAS is experiencing a sweet honeymoon in Terengganu. On the ground, PAS is similarly receiving the positive energy and goodwill felt in the Klang Valley towards Pakatan Harapan.

In fact, one could even argue that Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar’s leadership of Terengganu is seen as one of the most dynamic nationally at the state level. With less resistance to its leadership within the civil service, a young professional team and a focus on economic development for the state, PAS’ new government is working to establish itself. Dr Sam, as he is known, is quickly coming out of  Abdul Hadi Awang’s shadow, despite being his protégé.

The challenges PAS faces in Terengganu are significant. The state’s oil and gas revenue are on the decline. UMNO seriously depleted the state funds in its mismanagement, leaving little in the coffers. The sharp disparities between the wealthier south and poorer north remain large. Some of the northern areas around Setiu are among the poorest in Malaysia.

Read this: https://thetravelintern.com/reasons-you-should-visit-beautiful-terengganu-malaysia/

There remains a large dependence on government assistance, with a “bantuan” mindset deeply entrenched. There is a large young population in search of jobs, and a deficit of opportunities in the marketplace. Unlike in entrepreneurial Kelantan, more Trengganuites opt to stay in their own state and this reinforces a more insular orientation and conservativism.

 

These factors converge on three key issues – a need for money, a need for new drivers in the local economy and a need for leadership to move the state toward greater modernity.

Learning lessons

What will be crucial to PAS’ success in moving Terengganu forward is whether they learn the lessons associated with GE-14 and avoid their party’s mistakes of the past. The May 2018 election has striking similarities to that of 1999 when PAS won the state in the groundswell of anger against Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his local stand-in, Wan Mokhtar Ahmad, the former Chief Minister in office from 1974 to 1999.

PAS’ 2018 victory in Terengganu was decisive. Not only did they win 22 seats in the 32-seat state assembly, a large majority in the state government, they also secured six of the eight parliamentary seats. There was a swing of 8% overall toward PAS this election, which in the history of Terengganu is one of the largest swings, although not as large as that experienced elsewhere in GE-14.

A first potential mistake is to assume that this victory was a vote for PAS, rather than a vote against UMNO. Sure, the Islamic party’s grassroots did support the party, but the majority of new votes it received came courtesy of Najib Razak. Trengganuites voted strategically, for the party that was the most likely to defeat UMNO, most organised on the ground and most familiar in the risk-adverse environment.

PAS thus faces the task of giving voters a reason to continue to support it, as anger to Najib and his GST no longer serves as a lightning rod for discontent. Given the continued divisions within UMNO in Terengganu, however, PAS is in a relatively safe position, but its foundation of support remains weak.

Second, and perhaps even more important, in Terengganu, this election was not a “green tsunami”. The state’s vote was not about religion or even religious leadership. Voters were not voting for Hadi Awang, or the 2004 election slogan of “Islam for all”. The waters shaping the state’s political tide were BN blue and if there was a tsunami at all, it was a “greed tsunami” that drove Umno’s excesses at the national and state level.

This lesson is especially important for Terengganu as it is where PAS went wrong after 1999, interpreting its victory as a green light toward religious conservatism and the imposition of a restrictive religious agenda. While most Terengganuites are religiously conservative compared to many of their counterparts elsewhere in Malaysia and religion is an important part of their daily lives (which it is for most Malaysians across faiths), religion is not the main priority of voters. To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s strategist James Carville – it was the economy and to think otherwise would be stupid.

If there was an area where morals did in fact play a role, it is in the area of good governance. Terengganuites – as do most Malaysians – want a government that is not corrupt. There are residual questions involving the allegations on the use of UMNO money by PAS and the ties between the parties, which will not be cleared up with a legal case that will only serve to remind voters of this issue.

The challenge for the new PAS government will be not to return to the past when by 2004 questions were being asked about the distribution of contracts and patronage, and to make sure that the state government remains clean and different from that it kicked out of office. This will involve some clean-up within PAS itself, which will not be easy given differences within the party over contentious issues such as the relationship with Umno and management of money.

Difficult decisions

To embrace a focus on pragmatic delivery and better governance, PAS has to deal with two obstacles.

The first is within Terengganu PAS itself. This is the state where the traditional internal party struggle between the “professionals” and “ustaz” was perhaps the most acute. While these labels are no longer as relevant as they were in the past to define factions in the party (in part because many professionals are actually ustaz as well), Dr Sam’s team is now seen as the new “Young Turks” pushing for a different path within the party.

There is resistance from many older leaders to this change, especially since many of those being brought into the government and its GLCs are not from Terengganu. For now, Terengganu PAS is not focused on inclusive national governance, but on a path tied to having deliverables in the present rather than in the afterlife. The pull of conservatism within PAS in Terengganu is even stronger than the conservatism in the state itself. The question ahead is whether the older generation of leaders will give way to younger ones. Hadi Awang’s role is important in this regard.

 

The second obstacle for PAS is to manage the political relationships in New Malaysia. While those in Selangor focus on the UMNO-PAS relationship – it is one of the main issues in the Sungai Kandis by-election where in fact many PAS leaders (although not all) are supporting UMNO – on the East Coast, there is much greater distance between these two parties. In fact, to secure the oil royalty and the much-needed funds noted above, eyes are on Pakatan Harapan and especially the need for PAS to maintain cordial ties with Bersatu and PKR.

Terengganu PAS knows that a relationship with UMNO is no longer advantageous, and in fact would be seen negatively by many of its voters. UMNO now is a political liability and more in need of PAS than vice-versa. The status of the relationship between PAS and other parties is likely to unfold in the months ahead. There are different views and interests that point to greater distance rather than connectively between the two traditional Malay parties. The two obstacles are interconnected as what happens within PAS itself will shape who it allies itself with or whether it opts to go it alone – at least for now.

Developments in Terengganu will have national impact. This is another chance for PAS to show whether it is capable of governing, and Terengganu’s success will be directly tied to whether it can make a political comeback elsewhere. PAS remains an important national political player. Developments in the state will also reveal what its priorities are and shape relationships in New Malaysia.

For now, Terengganu PAS is capitalising on its welcome by voters, but as it moves forward, the lessons it learns and decisions it makes will determine whether Terengganu will make a turn toward a more modern future.


Dr, 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.

Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics


July 11, 2018

Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense… Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.” – Joseph Conrad.

I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.–S. Thayaparan.

COMMENT | It is really a funny question, right? When I say “our” and there are people who were born here, like Letchumie Sinnan who has been given the run around by the bureaucracy for 20 years and been stuck in permanent resident limbo, while a demagogue, alleged money launderer and extremist sympathiser like Zakir Naik get feted by the political and social elite.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Indians and Chinese who have to eke out a living and contribute to the economy but are not considered citizens of this country. Over the years, I have met and attempted to help – in my own small ineffectual way – dozens of Malaysians to get their MyKad. It is really galling to witness a religious hatemonger like Zakir Naik being defended by the political elite in this country of the Islamic persuasion, while so many – a legion, I would say – have no one to speak up for them.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The fact there are Indians and Chinese in this country who are considered, for whatever reasons, permanent residents (if they are lucky) and the state wilfully refuses to recognise them as citizens, while Zakir Naik gets to spread his horse manure in comfort, is an insult for anyone who has served this country, either in the state security apparatus, in the teaching profession or whatever else capacity that has made this country what it is today.

Let me say this. I bet my last ringgit that all these Malaysians who have been denied their citizenship, who have been given the run around by the bureaucracy and who toil in menial jobs unable to get a foothold, I bet that they have contributed more to this country than the radicals like Zakir Naik. All those people I have attempted to help over the years display a profound love and loyalty to this county, even though they have been marginalised.

Someone like me often wonders, how could you love this country when it doesn’t even recognise you? How can you be loyal to this country when it has willfully abandoned you? We live in a great country is their common refrain. Yeah, a great country, where the likes of Zakir Naik get to say what he likes and (now) to be deported only if he misbehaves.

 

Tell me, what does “not creating problems” mean? What would it take for Zakir Naik to be kicked out of this country? What exactly is the threshold here?

We all know that Zakir Naik uses words to instigate, demean and mock other cultures and religions. We know that his words are meaningful to large sections of the Malay polity, even though they may not understand him. We know that he remains unrepentant since he has probably met with every Malay power broker of note in this country. So, what exactly does misbehaving mean? His kind of Islam is supposedly the antithesis of the kind of Islam Harapan wants to propagate. Or is it?

Kudos to P Ramasamy, the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II, for giving it his all when it comes to the extradition of Zakir Naik. What I want to know is why aren’t the rest of the Harapan gang coming out with a unified comment on this issue. Are the major power players in Harapan reserving comment? Are they too busy, thinking up ways of how not to spook the Malays?

Freedom of speech?

Every time I write about Zakir Naik, I get many emails from people – Malays – berating me for insulting this man. I sincerely do not get it. When I provide evidence – Zakir Naik’s own words – of the racist, bigoted and inflammatory speeches he has made, it is ignored. When I explain why non-Muslims would be offended by what he says about our religions, it is ignored or dismissed, as not understanding his intent.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The Harapan Prime Minister is playing UMNO-PAS politics

When I attempt to provide an analysis of why, even if you were not religious, Zakir Naik’s words amount to incitement against secular democracies, I am told that he is an expert and thus qualified to speak about everything under the sun. Why do we need this man in our country? What possible service has he done for Malaysians that warrant the political elite to think of him as someone who is an asset to this country?

And here’s the thing, if there was freedom of speech like the kind Zakir Naik has for everyone, nobody would have an issue with him. But we have blatant double standards that border on malicious. It is the smirk which tells us that he can say things without consequences but the ‘kafirs’ have to take it.

The last time I wondered if Zakir Naik was a security threat, I got hate mail up the wazoo. Here’s what I wrote – “However, Zakir is a special case. In a time when the Islamist agenda in this country is taking new forms and the agenda is promulgated by new alliances, a preacher like Zakir who specialises in deepening already established cultural and religious rifts is a threat to national security.”

I get it. I see all these huge rallies, and the Malay/Muslim hegemons don’t want to be the Muslims who deported Zakir Naik to India. The country, which even our local preacher took a dig at in a poem which managed to insult the Hindu community, but he insisted was a personal letter to the Prime Minister of India. Nobody wants to be the pious Malay/Muslim political leader who said that Zakir Naik does not belong in this country.

Ramasamy hammers the point home when he reminds the Malaysian government that they deported Chinese Uighurs and Sri Lankan Tamils back to their countries of origin. What is the hold up with Zakir Naik? Why is he a special case?

You know what I think. I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.

Why is it, for some people, the beauty of their religion is only found in the vilification of other religions?


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.

Mahathir’s Bersatu– A Reformed UMNO?


June 25, 2018

Mahathir’s Bersatu– A Reformed UMNO?

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“We belong to a plural society and in this society, the Malay-bumiputera agenda must be carried out.”

– UMNO Acting President Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

 

COMMENT | Since I fancy myself as a sort of political Cassandra as opposed to a political Pollyanna, I am always interested in what former political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim has to say about Malay politics. His recent comments about how UMNO is not completely destroyed and has to reinvent itself has become a political Rorschach test for people who voted for Pakatan Harapan.

Image result for Najib Razak visits Anwar in Hospital

 

I wrote about this when Prime Minister (then) Najib Abdul Razak visited Anwar when he was recovering from surgery last year – “Despite establishment narratives that non-Malays – the Chinese specifically – seek to supplant Malay/Muslim power in Malaysia, the reality is that this could never happen. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but since Malay powerbrokers hold the keys to Putrajaya, the sight of Malay political opponents meeting always arouses speculation and yes, insecurity amongst the non-Malay demographic, especially those invested in regime change.”

Add to this, Najib’s telephone conversations with Anwar on the night of May 9, the seemingly never-ending public squabbles of PKR, the narratives of how Anwar “can’t be trusted”, the perception that PKR’s schism is the foundation for collusion with UMNO or PAS, and anything Anwar says is an invitation to vilify the former political operative who laid the foundation for the eventual takeover of Putrajaya.

Image result for Mahathir and UMNO

“It is no longer enough to remove Najib Razak from power. UMNO itself must be defeated”, Dr. Mahathir said. Will he  break up the political party he created in 1985 and abandon the Malay agenda he initiated when he first came to power in 1981 and held to the premiership for 22+ years?

I have always cautioned that this idea that UMNO and all it stands for is a relic of bygone Malaysia is foolish. Race and religious politics are sown into the fabric of Harapan with materials provided by the former UMNO regime. UMNO and PAS, and those that voted for them – comprising about 52 percent of the popular votes in GE-14 – are a formidable base which is currently being ignored by the numerous changes taking place in this country.

Let us forget about the narratives of a possible collusion by elements in Harapan and UMNO for a moment. Some folks have said that the people are the opposition. Great, but who do Malaysians vote for if Harapan does not live up to expectations in the Peninsular?

I doubt Chinese support for DAP will end anytime soon and since the “running dog” narratives take some time take root, it’s all good on their front. But if you are Malay, you got a “reformed UMNO” and PAS to choose from and this is where things get dicey real fast. By “reformed”, I mean an UMNO that is still entrenched in its ideology but with a new coat of paint to regain support from the Malays who voted against Najib.

Bridge between Bersatu and DAP

In all these think pieces I read online, it is PKR that is described as the bridge between Bersatu and DAP. In other words, the bridge between the so-called rural Malays and the urban Chinese. This, of course, is often portrayed as a class issue, but public comments from various Harapan leaders betray the reality that this is a race issue.

Bersatu was supposed to be the UMNO of Harapan – the linchpin for the new deal that would ensure that the races would cooperate in the old alliance way before the dark times of UMNO ‘ketuanan’ hegemony. It did not work out that way. UMNO still commands the Malay base and now PAS is slowly demonstrating that its outlier status is a political advantage in this new Malaysia.

Public comments from certain UMNO leaders – Khairy Jamaluddin for instance – of turning UMNO into a multiracial party could be post-traumatic stress from the recent elections. However, what he does represent even though the old guard of UMNO may not like it, is a leader who balances ‘ketuanan’ ideology with the pragmatism of compromise that is needed to win the cash cows which are the so-called “urban centres” that PKR is supposedly a bridge to. The UMNO meet-up will determine which forces in the party hold sway, of course.

It remains to be seen how exactly Bersatu handles the challenge of reforming the rural polities which was needed to take Putrajaya, or so we are told. And this also involves the greater need to reform the system where dominant race-based Malay power structures rely on to sustain them.

This is important because dismantling the architecture that enables the propagandising of race and religion is needed for the survival of non-Malay power structures in the long run.  Bersatu didn’t win this election for Harapan; it was a former UMNO grand poobah, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who did. Systemic reform without any thought or consideration to reforming structures that enable race and religious imperatives to remain entrenched  is foolhardy.

Take this lowering the voting age to 18 for instance. Great idea but I really hope Harapan strategists are discovering how deep the radicalisation process is when it comes to religious schools and the like. Young Muslims from these types of schools have to wait a few years before voting but 18 is just about the right age when the propaganda and religious delusions are still fresh in their minds and they want an avenue to express them. Not to mention, the years of indoctrination by a system created by the very person who has gained messianic status by true believers.

This is where UMNO or PAS could benefit more than a regime which has to compromise on its racial and religious imperatives – Bersatu – for the sake of the multiracial power-sharing formula that BN never paid much attention to. This, of course, is but one example of the fault lines that exist when making policy.

In all cases, deradicalisation should be central even in the more obvious of policy shifts. Is the Harapan regime up to this? Only time will tell, and there is only a small window of opportunity because personalities are old and the young blood is waiting in the wings.

So how do we combat the grand narratives of Malay supremacy in Harapan and UMNO and PAS? How do we ensure that these narratives are weakened over time? Here are some points to consider.

Decentralisation

Another Malaysiakini columnist Nathaniel Tan talks about regionalism. That is an important starting point I think. Federal power should be decentralised. This halts grander narratives of Malay and Islamic hegemony with local issues that could be dealt with state power. When people have a sense that their state governments can solve their immediate needs, there is no need to kowtow to federal power which brings with it forms of subservience that is detrimental to the democratic process.

This also should extend to local council elections. This brings communities together on issues of needs. If all politics are local, then people from communities rather than political parties determine what is important to them and this also safeguards against political interference.

More importantly, the media should be regional as well. Mainstream media news outlets shape the news often ignoring state level and local community level issues. This creates the impression that federal narratives – those that involve race and religion – are monolithic. This really isn’t the case. This is not something that the state governments or the federal governments should be involved with but rather independent regional media outlets, discussing local issues and ensuring that local politics remains in the forefront.

If you are really serious about people being the opposition – whatever that means – this is a good way to do it, further weakening the grand narratives of race and religion by concentrating on local issues which sometimes have nothing to do with what goes on in the urban polities.

In order to weaken racial and religious hegemony, it is important to diffuse power. The question has always been, is there a coalition willing to do this?

When people ask me who the clear winners are in this election, my answer is always PAS. What PAS has demonstrated is that it can survive definitely without BN and time will tell if it can survive without the Harapan regime. Mind you, the relationship between PAS and Harapan has not been as fraught as it has been with UMNO.

UMNO and PAS, and once the former gets their acts together, could turn out to be a formidable opposition, especially considering that sooner rather than later, Harapan will have to tackle issues concerning race and religion. We have witnessed a distinct lack of commitment among Malay power structures to buck the Islamic and Malay trend when it comes to voting on major issues involving race and religion. Will this change now that Harapan has taken federal power?

It is nonsensical to make the argument that UMNO needs to reform – become multiracial – when the there is a Malay power structure like Bersatu in Harapan chasing the same base. The great fear of UMNO has materialised – that is, the Malays are divided.

What people should be concerned with is the interactions between diffused Malay power structures in this new political terrain, and concomitant to this, the shape these interactions coalesce into.

 

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.

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians


May 20, 2018

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as  Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Ahmad Farouk Musa

Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.

PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.

“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.

A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.

They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.

Image result for maszlee malik simpang renggam

Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education

Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.

Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.

“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.

“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”

Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to PPSMI

Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.

This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.

“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.

“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.

A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.

The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.

“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.

Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.

The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.

Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.

But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.

Post GE-14:The Road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard


May 18, 2018

Post GE-14:The Road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard

by Clive Kessler

COMMENT | Malaysia’s recent national elections either announced a new dawn or they simply mark the beginning of another dark and difficult time in the country’s much-contested political story.

Image result for mahathir mohamad and malaysia's king

The great rush of recently unimaginable events over the last two weeks – when seemingly immovable structures and obstacles crumbled – suggest bright days are in sight for the Southeast Asian nation. Most dramatically, a convicted felon, pardoned by the Malaysian King unconditionally, has become a Prime-Minister-in-Waiting, and a recently omnipotent Prime Minister risks being branded a convicted felon.

But appearances may be misleading. So may the relief and enthusiasm that many Malaysians feel at the sight of the scandal-tainted Najib  Razak being forced out of office by Mahathir Mohamad.

A lot now hangs on the 92-year-old Mahathir and his allies. Should he fail to secure a long-lasting recovery in Malaysian democracy, it could signal doom for the hopes of peaceful democratisation throughout Asia and beyond. The implications of developments in this Muslim-majority nation for Islamist politics worldwide could be even more ominous.

The road ahead for Malaysia is long and hard. The problems facing Mahathir’s new Pakatan Harapan government are both personal and deeply political.

A New Order

Mahathir has returned to the top office, an ostensible national saviour with an opportunity too to redeem his own chequered political reputation. He will hand over to his ally Anwar Ibrahim, the man released from jail recently.

Anwar’s jubilant loyalists will want it to be sooner than Mahathir, and even 70-year-old Anwar (photo), who needs some recovery time after three years in prison, may wish.

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Some people fear the return of Mahathir, who governed Malaysia from 1981 to 2003 at the head of the dominant UMNO that his protege Najib later also headed. The old authoritarian will not have changed his stripes, say his critics.

But others would be happy to see him stay on a while. He knows better than anyone how to wield the levers of state power and so to consolidate the new order. He still has enormous standing among the public, and especially with UMNO loyalists.

These people will be less inclined to accept the more polarising Anwar. They fear that Anwar, who in his previous ministerial incarnation (as Deputy Prime Minister for five years in the 1990s) was a soft Islamist who often proved a facilitator for harder-line Islamists, may again succumb to the same temptations.

Mahathir, they know, is an Islamic “protestant” who gives primacy to individual religious conscience and abhors the traditional clerical establishment and their political pretensions.

But Anwar’s main in-house problem, when he enters cabinet, may not be with Mahathir. By the time he comes in, he will find Muhyiddin Yassin entrenched there, from the outset of the new era.

Like Anwar, he is a former Deputy Prime Minister (2009-2015) and a former long-serving UMNO politician, and he is a proven and wily grappler in close political combat.

Forced out of government by Najib for raising questions about the 1MDB state investment fund scandal, in which Najib was allegedly implicated, he had always been more acceptable to UMNO’s Malay support base than Najib. In his words and manner, he generated an aura of Malay authenticity and sincerity that was beyond Najib’s conjuring.

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The ultimately fatal estrangement between Najib and UMNO’s mass base began when he lost Muhyiddin as his Malay retail broker and intermediary. UMNO’s response to the emergence and consolidation of the new order will be crucial.

 

After a day of uncertainty following the voting on May 9, the surviving UMNO grandees decided to accept the outcome. There would be no attempt to resist or reject the new administration immediately. That was encouraging. But it was on their part a prudent as well as a proper response.

Rather than trying to undermine it from the start, many in a wounded UMNO will think it smarter to let the new administration make its own mistakes first, lose its fresh luster, create its own problems and set in train its own crises and perhaps demise.

There can be no easy assumption that a new ruling group so diverse and lacking in political coherence as the Pakatan Harapan government will find its way forward easily, and without divisive contention.

An Improbable Coalition

The five-party Harapan coalition is an improbable combination of social democratic secularists, traditionalist Muslims, moderate Islamists, Malay nationalists and local-rights-championing east Malaysian nativists. Will they find the discipline, judgement and good sense as well as the clear political program to keep them in power?

When they stumble, their adversaries will be ready to move: Not only the leading Umno politicians but also the various Malay supremacist activist groups that have long served as street enforcers for some of the outwardly more respectable Umno warlords – and who have shown their readiness to create civil unrest as a way of attempting to force the hand of the national leadership and Police.

These developments, or their possibility, are of more than national political significance. They have regional implications and international resonance.

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has proved a long, bleak winter. Should the far more securely grounded Malaysian democratic efflorescence fail, it will threaten the prospects for the peaceful development of democracy elsewhere in Asia and further afield. Even more worrying, perhaps, could be the impact on Islamist politics around the globe.

Image result for PAS

The Najib years saw an intensifying rapprochement between the once-secular nationalist forces of UMNO and the Islamist forces centered on PAS. Eventually, the urbane Najib became dependent upon Islamists for his political ascendancy and, ultimately, for his mere survival.

 

He came to rely upon the political support of PAS domestically and the financial support of Islamist money from the Middle East. This was as a key element in the entire 1MDB scandal, as Najib allegedly diverted money from the 1MDB fund and used it to fight and win the 2013 elections. Najib, who faces a new judicial investigation launched by Mahathir, denies wrongdoing.

After defeat and in opposition, the entente between UMNO and PAS may become even closer. And, should the new Harapan government stumble, it will be a far more cohesive, solidly grounded and purposeful Malay-backed Islamist force that will come to power in Malaysia and determine its direction.

Image result for malaysians rejoice the end of naijb razak

Tough Times for Najib and Rosmah after Defeat in GE-14

This is a far from impossible scenario. It is one that is full of dire implications not just for Malaysia but for the region and for a world gripped by anxiety about advancing Islamism.

A lot is hanging, worldwide, on whether the new Malaysian government will succeed.


CLIVE KESSLER is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He is an author who has observed Malaysia’s elections since 1967, and has written extensively on Malaysia for over 50 years.

The above article was first published in the Nikkei Asian Review.

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