Mahathir –The Amateur Eugenicist and Equal Opportunities Racialist, Prime Minister, and UMNO Dissident


May 27, 2017

Mahathir Mohamad

Image result for Doctor in the House Mahathir

 

Once one of the world’s most controversial leaders, the 91-year-old is spending his retirement trying to overthrow his successors

Lunch with the FT: Mahathir –The Amateur Eugenicist and Equal Opportunities Racialist, Prime Minister and UMNO Dissident

by Jamil Anderlini@www.ft.com

A “Japanese-style” bakery on the fourth floor of a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur is a curiously nondescript place to be meeting the last of the great Southeast Asian authoritarian leaders. I text a Malaysian friend to tell him where I’m having lunch with 91-year-old Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the autocratic Malaysian Prime Minister for 22 years who, long after he left office, still likes to meddle in politics. The puzzle is quickly solved: “Hahaha, it’s his restaurant!” Apparently it is just one in a chain owned by the man who still likes to be referred to as the “father of vision”.

At exactly 12.30pm, Mahathir himself appears at the top of a nearby escalator, surrounded by his escort of several plain-clothes policemen and dressed in his customary colonial-era grey “bush jacket” with matching trousers. His arrival causes a stir among passers-by in the mall. One even comes into the bakery so she can take a selfie with him. The only people who don’t seem excited are a man and a woman sitting at a nearby table working on laptops. They look to me like Malaysian state security agents. When I ask Mahathir later, he suggests they could be.

“I’m followed everywhere — it has become normal for me,” he says, claiming he is regularly harassed on the orders of the current Prime Minister Najib Razak. Mahathir helped him to power in 2009 — but now works tirelessly to evict him from office.

For more than two decades, Mahathir bestrode the world stage like an Asian colossus, with his fiery speeches on world events and his theory of “Asian values” which emphasised respect towards authority and collective well being above the “western” concept of individual rights. When he stepped down in 2003, Malaysia was seen as a shining example for other emerging markets, having weathered the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s rather better than most of the “tiger” economies.

Where contemporaries such as Marcos of the Philippines and Suharto of Indonesia were toppled in popular uprisings, Mahathir was able to hand Malaysia over power to his anointed successor. His supporters like to point to his victory in five elections, each with a near two-thirds majority, and to contrast this with the current state of democracy. But Mahathir himself persecuted opposition parties and dissidents — and today many believe he is simply unable to relinquish power.

Despite pledging to retire quietly and stay out of politics, he was instrumental in removing his handpicked successor, Abdullah Badawi, and replacing him with Najib. Now Najib is at the centre of global investigations into alleged corruption, involving billions of dollars siphoned out of 1MDB, a state investment fund Najib himself set up. Once again, Mahathir is  the chief critic and crusader. He has even established his own political party in an attempt to topple Najib in parliamentary elections to be held before August next year.

Image result for Mahathir, Badawi and NajibNajib Razak (left), Badawi and Mahathir (right)

“When you have a prime minister who is corrupt, then you can be sure that a country cannot be anything else but corrupt,” he says in a soft, slightly quavering voice. “From a country which was quite well admired as a model of how a developing country can achieve growth, we became known as one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world — that is how much change took place under Najib.”

We’re sitting in a cordoned-off area at the back of the bakery, surrounded by empty tables. The waiter approaches shyly, clearly in awe of my companion, and asks what we would like to eat. I turn to the proprietor for a recommendation. “I’ve tried most of the things,” Mahathir says, unconvincingly. “I’ll have the chicken tortilla.” Since I’m in Malaysia, I order beef and chicken satay sticks. We both order water — his warm and mine cold.

After training as a medical doctor and several false starts in politics, Mahathir rose rapidly through the ranks of the ruling party on a platform of ethnic Malay nationalism. Named Prime Minister in 1981, he was an unabashedly and increasingly authoritarian leader who was accused of emasculating the courts and constitutional monarchs and of crackdowns on the free press and political opponents. In the late 1990s he had his own deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, jailed on charges of sodomy that many believe were trumped up to discredit a rival and challenger.

Yet for much of our lunch he seems more genial great uncle than ageing autocrat. He chuckles regularly, leavening the impact of his often outrageous opinions. Things become a little tense when I confront him about his legacy, though. Wasn’t it his own concentration of power and his personalisation of politics that paved the way for Najib to act with the impunity he accuses him of?

“Don’t compare me with Najib!” he says with a flash of his famously fiery temper. “I allowed a lot of things to be done — even people to challenge me in my party. Najib expels those people. Anybody who does not agree with him he will expel.”

I start to point out he did the same in his time but he ignores me. “And I don’t steal money. I was happy to live on my salary, which to me was quite substantial, more than enough for my needs.”

Kit Siang and Tun Dr. Mahathir–No longer political foes, how convenient

When I recount this statement later to a diplomat and a western businessman who have had dealings with Mahathir, both react with spluttering laughter. But both also acknowledge that corruption in Malaysia is now far worse than in the past and that Mahathir himself, while sometimes accused of nepotism and corruption, was always more interested in power than money.

As the food arrives I ask him the secret to his longevity. “Everybody asks me that question,” he chuckles again. “It’s nothing very special — I never smoked and I don’t drink and when it comes to eating, I don’t overeat,” he says, while chewing a small mouthful of burrito. “I’m basically a creature of habit — I do practically the same thing every week, every day of every week: I go to the office, I meet people, I write, I read and of course I give lectures.”

He is also an avid user of social media and blogs prolifically against Najib. Have his attitudes to free speech changed since he was regularly named one of the world’s top 10 enemies of the press?

“As a politician I’ve been called all kinds of names. Your enemies, your opponents are not going to praise you — to justify their existence they have to demonise me and I demonise them also,” he says. “Freedom has limits,” he continues, in a statement that could be his mantra. “Free press is not absolute. In this country we say clearly if you start stirring up racial hatred then we will put a stop to it, we might even close down your paper because these things can only lead to a lot of riots and bloodshed.”

An irony of Mahathir’s new life as a dissident is that he has had to form alliances with the parties he once suppressed. When I put this to him, he responds nonchalantly.

“What happened in the past no longer matters; I am prepared to work with them and they are prepared to work with me because we have the same objective — overthrowing the government,” he says.

In contrast to the boom times of the 1980s and 1990s, today Malaysia is often used as an example of the “middle income trap” — where a country reaches a moderate level of prosperity but then struggles to raise living standards further. Its current per capita gross domestic product is just over $10,000 — only one-fifth the level of neighbouring Singapore.

“When I stepped down, the country was well on track to become a developed country by the year 2020,” he says, with some justification. “Of course they [his successors] are quite unable to achieve the objective.”

The economic success of authoritarian governments in Asia was once regarded globally as an attractive alternative to both democratic western capitalism and Soviet-style socialism. Mahathir, along with his rival, the late Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, were the strongest advocates of this idea on the world stage. But, in the wake of democratisation in places such as Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, autocratic Asian exceptionalism has lost much of its allure.

Today, countries such as Malaysia are often seen as evidence that authoritarian systems are quite well-suited to advancing from agrarian to industrialised economies, but that transforming into an innovative high-tech economy requires more freedoms and protection of the rights of individuals, including freedom of speech and ideas. This matters because of the implications it holds for China — a rising superpower that is only now reaching the level of development Malaysia achieved by the end of Mahathir’s tenure.

Mahathir does not acknowledge the link between freedoms and innovation — “From middle income to move up to higher income is much more easy and possible than from a low income level,” he insists — and, with my attempts to get him to accept some responsibility for the current state of the nation seeming fruitless, I urge him to eat the food, which is getting cold. He picks suspiciously at half his chicken burrito and eats two or three french fries while I chew on the dry and unappetising satay sticks.

We turn to the topic that made Mahathir one of the most controversial figures on the world stage. In preparation for our meeting I have read his 1970 book The Malay Dilemma, in which he comes across as an amateur eugenicist. I wonder if he would like to retract things he wrote, such as that there is “no reason to believe understanding and sympathy are strong Chinese traits”, or infamous anti-Semitic remarks about Jews’ features and their ability to “understand money instinctively”.

I’m expecting him to be embarrassed about or to disavow things he wrote nearly 50 years ago, but no. “Other people, you can criticise them, you can say nasty things about them. . . and nothing happens to you. Why is it that the Jews are so privileged?” he asks. He has, he says, no problem with being described as anti-Semitic.

While Malaysia has almost no Jewish citizens, around a quarter of its population of 30 millon are ethnically Chinese, and prospered under colonial rule but have subsequently suffered from official discrimination. The bumiputra (sons of the soil) affirmative action laws that Mahathir strengthened in office heavily favour Muslim Malays and indigenous tribes people living in Malaysian Borneo, which together make up about two-thirds of the population.

One of Mahathir’s quirks is that he appears to be an equal opportunities racialist. He is highly critical of ethnic Malays for what he perceives as their laziness, poor time management and a penchant for inbreeding.

“Even though you give the contract to a Malay, he’s not able to carry it out and eventually he goes to the Chinese,” he says. “The Chinese are a very dynamic people and despite having to cater to affirmative action the Chinese in Malaysia have done much better than the Chinese in the Philippines, in Indonesia or Thailand, which shows that they are a very resilient people who can survive under any condition.”

It is, though, a testament to Malaysia that it avoided the anti-Chinese violence that occurred elsewhere in the region in the Asian financial crisis. But Mahathir has no doubt that China is the biggest long-term threat to regional stability. “With the changes in [its] leadership, we see more ambitious leaders coming in and maybe they like to flex their muscles a bit and that is very worrisome,” he says. “Without actually conquering the countries they have managed to increase their influence over many countries in Southeast Asia, even in South Asia.”

He also foresees a clash between rising China and the US-dominated world order. “They’re not really communist but they are not democratic; they are inclined towards totalitarianism and obviously this conflicts with western ideas about implanting democracy in the countries of the world,” he says.

By contrast, he dismisses the threat to the region from radical Islamist extremism. “We have evidence that some of the followers of Isis are here [in Southeast Asia] but we don’t regard them as being Islamic fundamentalists or doing all those things because of Islam — it is political,” he says. He blames western meddling and relentless conflict in the Middle East for terrorist activity originating there.

This leads him inexorably to his well-publicised conspiracy theory about September 11 2001. Based on conversations with a janitor from the Twin Towers and on inconsistencies that he argues exist in official accounts, Mahathir insists the attacks on New York and Washington, DC were a “false flag” operation carried out by the US government, or perhaps Israel. He presents me with what he appears to think is his best evidence, namely that Arabs are customarily too disorganised to organise such an attack. “They are not the best of planners as I know,” he says.

I just don’t know where to start with this. So I point again to his pile of cold french fries and suggest he eat more. “No, no I don’t eat much. As I told you I am a small eater, I can survive with little food,” he answers politely.

A small crowd of people gathers in the mall to have their picture taken with him. Most appear to be ethnically Chinese. In a last-ditch attempt to elicit some self-reflection from him I ask for his greatest regret. “Perhaps,” he pauses and his tone turns wistful. “A lot of people told me that I should not have stepped down, so [another pause] sometimes I regret that because I’m not very good at choosing people, choosing my successors or encouraging my successors.”

As he stands up, he shares a final thought. “There were lots of accusations against me of being a dictator and all kinds of things. But I don’t think if I did so many things wrong people would ever want to take pictures with me or shake my hands.”

He walks over to his fans to pose patiently for photos. I look on, wondering how it is that nostalgia for authoritarian anachronisms so swiftly sets in.

Jamil Anderlini is the FT’s Asia editor

The Two Levels of Russia’s South China Sea Policies


March 29, 2017

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin
Number 376 | March 28, 2017

ANALYSIS

The Two Levels of Russia’s South China Sea Policies

by Alexander Korolev
Image result for The Russian Navy in the Asia- Pacific

Russia’s policies regarding the South China Sea (SCS) dispute are more complex than they might seem. Moscow’s official position presents Russia as an extra-regional actor with no stakes in the dispute. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, Russia “had never been a participant of the South China Sea disputes” and considers it “a matter of principle not to side with any party.” However, behind the façade of formal disengagement are Russia’s military build-up in the Asia-Pacific region, and the multi-billion dollar arms and energy deals with the rival claimants. These factors reveal that even though Moscow may not have direct territorial claims in the SCS, it has strategic goals, interests, and actions that have direct bearing on how the SCS dispute evolves.

One-fourth of Russia’s massive military modernization program through 2020 is designated for the Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Vladivostok, to make it better equipped for extended operations in distant seas. Russia’s military cooperation with China has progressed to the point that President Putin called China Russia’s “natural partner and natural ally.” The two countries’ most recent joint naval exercise – “Joint Sea 2016” – took place in the SCS, and became the first exercise of its kind involving China and a second country in the disputed SCS after the Hague-based tribunal ruling on China’s “nine-dash line” territorial claims. However, Russia’s relations with Vietnam are displaying a similar upward trend: Russia-Vietnam relations have been upgraded to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” comparable to the Russia-China relationship. Russia and Vietnam are developing joint gas projects in the SCS, and Moscow also is trying to return to the Cam Ranh naval base and selling Hanoi advanced weapon systems that enhance Vietnam’s defense capabilities.

Moscow’s actual behavior, therefore, hardly conforms to the neutrality of its official statements. The simultaneous enhancements of military cooperation with both Beijing and Hanoi – two of the major direct disputants in the SCS – make Russia’s intentions hard to interpret, and require a more holistic framework that encapsulates different levels of Russia’s foreign policy interests. Great powers play multi-level foreign policy games that may overlap in specific issue-areas. For Russia, the SCS issue is where two levels of its policies – systemic anti-hegemonic balancing and non-systemic regional hedging – intersect.

The first level – systemic balancing – is driven by the global power distribution and perceptions of major threats. As a systemic balancer, Russia challenges the US-led unipolarity in multiple ways, as evidenced by its policies in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria. The drive to balance the system leader (the United States) makes Russia seek alignment with China, which, like Russia, also challenges American unipolar dominance and perceives the US “Pivot to Asia” as a major threat to its security. Thus, Russian and Chinese assessments of external threats coincide in that both countries consider US policies – NATO’s eastward expansion in the Russian case and the “Pivot to Asia” in the Chinese case – threatening. The pressure originating from the US-led international system and the resultant incentives to resist it generate a strong bottom line that pushes Russia and China together. From this perspective, the SCS for Russia is a part of a bigger global game that dictates that Russia does not go against China’s interests, but rather provides some tacit, if not open, support.

The second level – regional hedging – is motivated by domestic and regional considerations and materializes in a combination of policies aimed at diversifying Russia’s regional links and averting potential instability that could affect Russia’s economic interests in the Asia Pacific. It also heads Moscow’s commercial desire to profit from energy, infrastructure, and arms deals. By strengthening connections with Hanoi, including arms exports, military-technical cooperation, and joint energy projects, Moscow creates a more balanced power-and-interest configuration around the SCS, and simultaneously diversifies its portfolio of Asian partners, with Vietnam also serving as an inroad to the ASEAN community. This explains why Russia, while not opposing China’s policies, also appears sympathetic towards Vietnam’s concerns in the SCS. The intersection of the two levels creates the intrinsic ambiguity of Russia’s SCS policies.

The main implication of this “two-level game” is that the nature of the SCS dispute for Russia, as well as Russia’s corresponding policy responses, is a variable rather than a constant: the more the SCS dispute deviates from a regional issue of sovereignty into the realm of China-US confrontation, the more Russia’s behavior in the region carries the features of anti-unipolar balancing. Conversely, the less the United States is involved, the more Russia’s policies in the area remain aloof from the system-level balancing and the more likely they are to carry features of regional hedging.

So far, the aforementioned two layers of Russia’s policies in the SCS have worked well without contradicting each other:

Vietnam has benefited from cooperation with Russia not only because such cooperation is valuable in its own right, but also because given the closeness of China-Russia relations, it provides an extra gateway for improving relations with China, which Hanoi values. Unlike relations with the United States, partnership with Russia provides Vietnam with needed access to advanced arms and energy technologies while simultaneously helping to avoid being locked between the hammer and the anvil of China-US competition. Plus, Hanoi has long experience using Russian arms and military equipment.

Russia’s policies also resonate with Beijing’s strategic calculations. While the Russia-Vietnam strategic partnership with its strong military component may look anti-China, in reality it works for Beijing’s interests because it helps to prevent the consolidation of a Hanoi-Washington alliance. While being unhappy about Russia’s arms transfers to Vietnam, Beijing recognizes that a decline or termination of such transfers would result in Hanoi shifting from its current policy of diversifying military contacts, to a stronger lean towards Washington; this shift would close the US-led containment ring around China. Therefore, despite the emphatic resistance against the internationalization of the SCS dispute, Beijing accepts Russia’s greater involvement as well as Russia-Vietnam military cooperation.

Russia, by engaging both China and Vietnam, realizes its regional and global goals. It increases its stake in the Asian balance of power, slows down the US-Vietnam entente, and shapes the SCS dispute so that there is more room for multilateral negotiations. For Russia, maintaining the status quo, however imperfect it is, is better than dealing with a victory of one party over another.

About the Author

Alexander Korolev is a Research Fellow at the Centre on Asia and Globalisation in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, of the National University of Singapore. He can be reached at akorolev@nus.edu.sg.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Peter Valente, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

Anwar Appeal Loss–Serious Setback for Malaysian Opposition


December 19, 2016

Anwar Appeal Loss–Serious Setback for Malaysian Opposition

Anwar Ibrahim’s December 14 failure of the final appeal to overturn his sodomy conviction and a five-year jail term is regarded by critics as little more than a subterfuge to keep him in prison for at least another 16 months and blocking him from competing in the next general election, which must be held by the middle of 2018.

Malaysia’s opposition believe the next polls are their best chance to unseat Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is mired in a huge financial scandal involving the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. and an unaccounted US$1 billion found in his personal bank account. The US Justice Department in July detailed the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, which is believed to have lost RM50 billion through theft and mismanagement.

The last time Anwar emerged from prison on what human rights organizations called trumped-up charges of sodomy and corruption was in 2004. He immediately galvanized the opposition, which made dramatic gains against the ruling Barisan Nasional in 2008 elections and won a majority of votes in 2013, although gerrymandering and the first-past-the-post electoral system kept them in opposition.

Hun Sen and Mahathir

The ruling is thus a blow to Anwar’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat and a nascent coalition that includes his old boss Mahathir Mohamad. The coalition is showing unexpected strength, particularly in Johor, the home base of ousted former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, analysts say. Mahathir’s new Parti Pribumi Bersatu was formed after the former prime minister was also driven from the United Malays National Organization.

Bersatu, as the party is known, is also showing strength in Kedah, where Mahathir’s son Mukhriz was chief minister until engineered his ouster earlier this year, and in the East Malaysia state of Sabah, the home of Shafie Apdal, who was fired from the cabinet after he questioned where Najib got US$681 million that was deposited in his personal account in 2013.

Rafizi-Ramli

With Anwar in prison and the party’s secretary general, Rafizi Ramli, threatened with prison over violation of the Official Secrets Act, the opposition is mostly in disarray. The rural-based Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, last year split into two camps.  Nonetheless, a political analyst said, if an election is called soon, the scandal could cost an additional 10 or two seats – not enough to dislodge the Barisan, but enough to cost considerable pain.

“You can never underestimate the power of the kampong people,” a source said. “People are suffering. Things are expensive. People live on one meal a day. They are losing jobs. Mamak restaurants – the lowest denominator in the food chain – are closing down. Forget about the glut in high end property. Forget about the glut in commercial space. If interest rates keep rising – as they will with Trump’s proposed spending spree and rising yields of US dollar debt – interest rates here will go up and the property market will collapse. Finally – and I don’t say it with glee – Malaysians are having a real issue filling their stomachs. All the ingredients point towards a Malaysian spring.”

The Barisan has survived a long string of similar predictions of disaster, however, and it is likely to do so again, given its electoral organization and the money to buy votes. With the opposition also in disarray, it is neither a healthy or pretty picture.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized the ruling against Anwar, calling it politically motivated and involving trumped up charges in trials that were plagued by fundamental problems in procedure and evidence.

“The Federal Court’s decision which maintains the conviction of Anwar Ibrahim is a real tragedy for justice in Malaysia,” said Phil Robertson, the Southeast Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch. “More than anything, this outcome shows that the Malaysian courts were no match for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s political vendetta against Anwar.

“With this final decision running roughshod over Anwar’s rights and sending him back to prison, Najib and the ruling UMNO party have just fired the starting gun on the expected 2018 election by permanently sidelining the political opposition’s most capable leader,” he said.

Some 400 of Anwar’s supporters gathered outside the cordoned-off Palace of Justice to get news of the ruling but were unsurprised and unfazed when they heard the apex court had rejected the opposition leader’s appeal.

“It is our time we make it matter. We’ll make sure the kleptocrat can never sleep at night,” Anwar’s eldest daughter, the lawmaker Nurul Izzah Anwar, said after she came out of the court building in the country’s administrative capital Putrajaya.

Her kleptocrat comment referred to the United States Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which referred to a figure called Malaysian Official 1 who allegedly facilitated the 1MDB scandal that saw the state fund go in some US$11 billion in debt.  The US Department of Justice complaint said some of the money was found in the accounts of Malaysian Official 1, whom a minister had confirmed was Najib.

Unanimous ruling

Amnesty International issued a statement naming Anwar a “prisoner of conscience” and said the ruling “raises concerns about the Malaysian judiciary’s independence from political insurance.” The human rights organization said Anwar was “jailed solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression, and he must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Nonetheless, the five-man bench ruled unanimously. In its 62-page decision, the Chief Judge of Malaya Justice Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin said it was a review of Federal Court’s decision and the appellant had raised the issue of miscarriage of justice.

Zulkefli raised the point that Article 128 of the Federal Constitution does not provide the Federal Court to review its decision, thus dismissing Anwar’s application to set aside his sodomy conviction and five-year sentence for sodomizing his former aide Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan.

The other three judges present in court were Justice Hasan Lah, Justice Abu Samah Nordin and Justice Zaharah Ibrahim, while the Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak, Justice Richard Malanjum, was absent as he had to attend a funeral.

On January 9, 2012, the High Court acquitted and discharged Anwar of the sodomy charge on the grounds that the court could not be 100 percent certain on the integrity of samples taken for DNA testing from the alleged victim. The court had ruled that the samples could have been compromised before they reached the Chemistry Department for analysis.

On January 9, 2012, the High Court acquitted and discharged Anwar of the sodomy charge on the grounds that the court could not be 100 percent certain on the integrity of samples taken for DNA testing from the alleged victim. The court had ruled that the samples could have been compromised before they reached the Chemistry Department for analysis.

However, the Court of Appeal overturned the High Court judgment and found Anwar guilty of sodomizing Saiful and held that the trial judge had erred in his findings about the samples which were based on the evidence of two expert witnesses called by the defense.

The Federal Court said it upheld the conviction and the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal after taking into consideration the seriousness of the offence and Anwar having allegedly taken advantage of his position as the employer of a young victim.

Electoral Reform in Cambodia


November 21, 2016

Electoral Reform in Cambodia

by Chheang Vannarith

http://www.khmertimes.com

Image result for Cambodia --KIngdom of Wonder

Cambodia–Kingdom of Wonder and Emerging Democracy

Japan’s foreign policy, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has been more robust and assertive, through deep linkages between economic diplomacy and strategic and political interests.

Japan has also started implementing a values-based diplomacy by focusing on democracy and human rights.

Stating that “expanding support for countries that share strategic interests and the universal values of freedom and democracy with Japan is crucial in attaining a free, prosperous and stable international community with the goal of securing peace and stability in developing countries,” Japan’s White Paper on Official Development Assistance in 2012, released in 2013, enshrined democracy support as a crucial principle of the country’s foreign development support and engagement.

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Of Pristine Beauty and Peace

Cambodia is the first country Japan actively involves in democratization, particularly through electoral reform and institutional capacity building. The Cambodian government seems to trust Japan more than other countries in democratic reforms given shared understanding of Asian values.
Image result for prime minister hun sen with Japan's Abe

Image result for prime minister hun sen with Japan's Abe

Upon the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2013, Japan positively and quickly responded with support to reform the electoral system by providing technical and financial assistance to the National Election Committee (NEC).

After the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, Cambodians from different political and ideological orientations came together to reconstruct the war-torn country with the introduction of a liberal democratic political system.

Democracy is believed to be the foundation of peace, stability and development. However, democratization is a long, complex process. Democracy will fail if the people fail to understand and practice the core values of democracy. Social cohesion, political consensus, institution building, responsible leadership, citizenship, people empowerment and public participation are indispensable elements in democratic consolidation.

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Obama Gone–Trump Next

Cambodian democracy remains fragile due to the lack of a strong and resilient democratic institution. Over-personalized politics, zero-sum political game, political polarization and irresponsible public manipulation have been threatening the very foundation of democracy.

Although five general elections had been organized since the UN-supervised 1993 election, Cambodia has grappled with post-election political crisis or deadlock.

Election irregularities were the main issues used by the losing parties to protest against the winning parties. Normally, power bargaining and sharing between political parties led to post-election political reconciliation and settlement.

In the aftermath of the 2013 election, the power-sharing arrangement between the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party was short-lived.

Deep political distrust between the two leaders of the two parties prevents the two parties from reaching any meaningful and fruitful political negotiation. Uncertainty and risks are high ahead of the upcoming elections, which are predicted to be the most competitive race between the two main political rivals. There have been questions raised in relation to whether the upcoming elections will be fair and inclusive. The most puzzling question is whether a power transition, should there be any, would be peaceful.

The international community is pinning its hopes that through free, fair and inclusive elections, Cambodia will be able to maintain political stability and continue to prosper.

Japan and the European Union are the two main donors in electoral reforms. Japan supports the NEC in three areas: voter registration, the improvement of electoral procedures and the enforcement of voter awareness and education activities.

So far, the voter registration system has been smoothly carried out with a computerized system, with more than 74 percent of the electorate registered.

With the improvement of the organizational structure and technical system, the NEC will be able to perform much better than before. There will be no legitimate reason for any political party to protest against the election results, so the post-election political crisis or deadlock will be avoided.

Should electoral reform in Cambodia prove to be a success story, Japan will continue expanding its values-based diplomacy to other parts of the world, similar to what Japan has done with regards to peacekeeping operations.

Personal interest and dedication to human rights and democracy by the former Japanese ambassador to Cambodia, Yuji Kumamaru, also contributes to promoting Japan’s image and role in strengthening democracy in the Kingdom.

“Reforming the election system, along with the NEC demonstrating independence and neutrality, is a perquisite for increasing trust and confidence of people and for all the political parties and candidates competing in the election freely and fairly,” Mr. Kumamaru said on August 18.

“It is hardly necessary to point out that every step of the election processes needs to be as open and inclusive as possible,” he added.

Malaysia in the dumps


October 22, 2016

Malaysia in the dumps on account of Najib’s racist politics and bad economics

by Greg Lopez

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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Malaysia has been governed by the same ruling coalition (Barisan Nasional) since independence in 1957. This coalition provided capable leadership to address the four cross-cutting issues that enabled high and sustainable growth. But the Najib Razak administration appears not only to be faltering in managing these challenges but is actively undermining these achievements to remain in power.–Greg Lopez

Malaysia’s leadership troubles could provide a valuable lesson for other middle-income countries on the importance of effective leadership to sustain long term growth. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has denied allegations of corruption made by The Wall Street Journal. But can a leader and his administration that has been rejected by the electorate drive long term growth?

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In May 2008, the United Nations Commission on Growth and Development issued a report that attempted to distil the strategies and policies that produced sustained high growth in developing countries. It is clear from the report that politics and leadership are key to successful development. In particular, there are four cross-cutting issues that good leadership delivered: promoting national unity; building high quality institutions; choosing innovative and localised policies; and creating political consensus for long-run policy implementation.

Malaysia is among 13 nations (Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand) that the report identified as having sustained growth rates of above 7 per cent for 25 years or more. These 13 countries had five strikingly similar characteristics: they fully exploited global economic opportunities; they maintained macroeconomic stability; they mustered high rates of savings and investment; they let markets allocate resources; and they had committed, credible, capable governments.

Malaysia has been governed by the same ruling coalition since independence in 1957. This coalition provided capable leadership to address the four cross-cutting issues that enabled high and sustainable growth. But the Najib Razak administration appears not only to be faltering in managing these challenges but is actively undermining these achievements to remain in power.

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The Wharton educated Playboy

At the 13th Malaysian general elections, the Barisan Nasional coalition only managed to secure 47.4 per cent of the popular vote while the opposition coalition secured 50.9 per cent. This is the first time that the ruling coalition has lost the support of the majority of Malaysians. Najib took a presidential approach to the election and committed to spending an estimated US$17.6 billion of targeted development pledges and 1 Malaysia Programs. So it was a shock when the majority of Malaysians opted for a ragtag coalition that included an Islamist party and a socialist party led by a discredited leader.

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Malaysia’s Rosie Mansor, not Rosie O’donnell

Malaysia’s Najib’s popularity had been on a downward trend, from a high of 72 per cent in May 2010 to below 50 per cent in January 2015. But the series of damaging allegations has not only damaged his reputation irrevocably, it has also cemented a negative perception of the government. The majority of Malaysians no longer look favourably upon their government and its institutions. The most recent survey — polled in October 2015 after Najib admitted receiving a US$700 million ‘donation’ into his private bank account — found that 4 out 5 Malaysians were unhappy with the current government.

More damaging perhaps is the fact that only 31 per cent of Malays — the bedrock of support for the United Malays’ National Organisation (UMNO), the dominant party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition — were happy with the government’s current performance. The fall among Malays is drastic. It stood at 52 per cent in January 2015 and had never gone below 50 per cent since the independent pollster Merdeka Centre began tracking this data in February 2012. More Malaysians are also of the opinion that the country is heading in the wrong direction. Significantly, this change in sentiment began in the beginning of 2014, several months after the 13th general elections.

In response, Najib has taken several measures to protect his leadership position. These measures have further undermined Malaysia’s national unity, institutions and policy process.

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Najib and Hadi–Malaysia’s Political Laurel and Hardy

Despite the rhetoric of being the leader of all Malaysians, Najib has actively pursued a ‘Malay and Islamic’ supremacy strategy. And he has cosied up with UMNO’s mortal enemy, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party. The rise of fundamentalist Islam — as in the rest of the world — is a threat in Malaysia. But Najib has sought to bolster his credentials by appealing to conservative Muslims. This has empowered and emboldened the conservative Islamic elements within Malaysia.

Policy making and implementation have been insulated from public scrutiny since the government of long-serving former prime minister Mahathir Mohamed. But under Najib it has even been insulated from scrutiny by the cabinet, let alone the parliament. All major decisions are made by the prime minister and implemented through a hybrid organisation within the Prime Minister’s Department.

Despite Najib’s active pursuit of policies that are detrimental to Malaysian foundations, his economic track record appears to be sound. Malaysia could become a high income country by 2020. Yet Malaysians remain unimpressed by Najib Razak.

Institutions are not built in a day and the impact of Najib’s measures on Malaysia’s longer term growth prospects remain to be seen. For now, other countries caught in the middle-income trap should closely observe the developments in Malaysia.

Greg Lopez is a lecturer with Murdoch University Executive Education Centre, Western Australia. His research interests are in the interaction between states, societies and markets in the ASEAN region.

 

Zaid Ibrahim on the State of Malaysian (or Malay) Politics


August 30, 2016

“As President of UMNO, Najib should tell the ultras in the party to shut up. If he does so and proceeds with genuine reforms, maybe the country can still be saved. He must, of course, apologise to the nation for 1MDB and be sincere about it, and proceed with much-needed reforms, which would include telling us honestly how we can recover the monies parked in Hong Kong, the United States, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere”, says Zaid Ibrahim.

Really? Expect him to tell the ultras in his party to shut up. He is using them to show up his position. Najib is not indispensable. He is a national disgrace and must be removed from public office. Right now, he is using all available statutes to cling to his high office at the expense of our national being.

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What political game are you playing? As an experienced lawyer and a former de facto Minister of Law in the Badawi administration,  you ought to know that money laundering, corruption and abuse of power are serious breaches of the law.

Prime Minister Najib must made to face the full brunt of the law. Apologies are not enough, In stead, we should ensure that he is made to pay for his indiscretions and misdemeanors. No body should be above the law. Furthermore, you are naive to believe that Najib is (or can be) a  reformer. A reformer is a man of action, not one big talker. –Din Merican

Zaid Ibrahim on the State of Malaysian (or Malay) Politics–Not Healthy

by Zaid Ibrahim

A Reformer or Deformer?

COMMENT The state of our politics today is not healthy – it’s divisive, sordid and unbefitting a country with fast MRTs and skyscrapers.

We spend a lot of time hurling abuses at one another, and on a daily basis we hear of propaganda, personal attacks, allegations of wrongdoing and the endless lodging of Police reports.

In fact, in our so-called democracy, there is no place for civilised discourse or for constructive ideas that can be useful for the country. All we hear from this bungling and incompetent dictatorship is talk about enemies coming from everywhere to attack us, thus justifying our new emergency laws. Our Prime Minister has entrenched a framework, through which he and his successor will be able to do as they please.

The National Security Council Act 2016 ensures that if the Prime Minister decides to rule by fiat, he will prevail under any circumstances.

Institutional checks and balances exist only on paper – literally in the printed copies of our Federal Constitution – but are not practised. The Police, civil service, Election Commission and Parliament have all become the rubber stamps of governing politicians. It was only last week that the Inspector-General of Police himself admitted that the Police could only investigate matters relating to 1MDB as directed by the Cabinet.

Elections will be held to show the world that we are a democracy, but these elections will be neither free nor fair. Constituencies will be “managed” to ensure victory for the ruling party, either by the use of large amounts of cash, gerrymandering or some other improper means of transferring voters from one voting station to another.

Some look to the Ruling Houses for a solution, but, in Malaysia today, the Council of Rulers seems unwilling to intervene in the affairs of the state, no matter how sordid or flagrant the violations of the Prime Minister and the cabinet are.

The oft-repeated statement that the Rulers should not interfere in politics now seem pointless because things have gone so far beyond the pale that the normal rules of political engagement no longer apply.

‘Islamic’ forces have gained stronger foothold

So-called ‘Islamic’ forces have also gained a stronger foothold in all parts of the administration, and the separation of religion from affairs of state is a thing of the past. When Parliament approves Act 355, as mooted by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, which will effectively do away with the limitation of the Syariah Court’s sentencing powers, the conversion of Malaysia to a religious state will be complete.

Civil liberties, especially for Muslims, will be non-existent. This is why parliamentarians, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, must reject this bill.

The sooner that Sabah and Sarawak understand the perils facing Malaysia, the better chance they will have to guard against the present malaise. Both states can still preserve democracy, the rule of law and the multicultural foundations of Malaysian life if they do not allow UMNO too much leeway in determining their future.

On the economic front, we have a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. Equal opportunities and access to economic benefits are difficult for the underclass. Those supporting the government will in turn be supported economically, but those who oppose the government will be punished.

In such an environment, the economic well-being of the poor will continue to be neglected. The underclass will mushroom from the present group of Indians to include Malays, Chinese and others. A political party that can successfully champion the cause of workers and the underclass may be the force of the future.

Our young might not have the competitive edge, knowledge or capital to compete in the global environment, much less against foreign workers and global companies in Malaysia. If this happens, they will be marginalised quickly. Government hand-outs will not be enough to quell the resulting ill-feeling and, as in many other places, this can easily explode into violence.

How have we come to this? The main reason is that the Malay leadership has failed us. This is in contrast to the success of the dominant Chinese leadership in Singapore. As a proud Malay, I am saddened by this. We could have brought this country forward and made it a symbol of real Malay power, to the envy of our neighbours.

Instead, we have allowed corruption to get out of control. We have abandoned meritocracy to such an extent that we have allowed feeble leaders at all levels to rise while the capable ones retire or leave the services. We have reduced noble religious principles to instruments of control.

Religious bureaucrats have too much power and authority, and we have allowed this to happen without ensuring that they are men (and they are all men) of conscience and ability. If they were truly righteous in their conduct and unafraid to defend what is right from the excesses of those in power, we would not be where we are now.

New type of government

We do not encourage transparency in government affairs because we want to protect the corrupt and the interests of the few. Singapore may not be tolerant of dissent or appear very democratic, but at least they have a no-nonsense attitude to corruption and good governance. Their leaders have built an economy far superior than ours by being efficient and by employing those with ability and the right kind of knowledge.

It is therefore necessary for Malaysia to have a new type of government, as well as a new set of political leaders who will not allow race-based policies to degenerate into racist ones. We need leaders who will allow for the complete reform of our politics; the administration of our government, commerce, industry and religious affairs; as well as the thinking of Malaysians about the world.

We do not need groups with coloured shirts or those whose skills are apparently limited to the lodging of police reports. We need more people who can contribute to the development of the country.

How can such a change be possible? I wish I knew the answer. But I have a dream I would like to share. One scenario is for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to suddenly wake up and become a new person altogether. Gone would be his Jekyll and Hyde personality and in its place we would have a true and dedicated reformer. He would be willing to abandon the stupid idea of making DAP the enemy of Malays and Islam, and fight the real enemy, which is ignorance.

When Najib did not get support from the Chinese and urban voters in the 13th general election (GE13) in 2013, his not-so-clever advisers probably told him to end his earlier commitment to reforms. They must have told him there was “no need for reforms” because the Chinese would not vote for him anyway.

He should have engaged DAP in national development and political reforms; instead, he chose PAS, the party for which the main concern is, and always will, be the tightness of women’s dresses and longer prison sentences for khalwat offenders.

I think Najib allowed the disappointment of GE-13 (especially since he had spent a lot of money) to cloud his judgment. He is too deferential to his party’s right wing. He must expect that his own party would need time to understand the value of reforms. He must expect the electorate who are opposed to UMNO to need time to digest the effects of such new policies.

Apologise to the nation for 1MDB

As President of UMNO, Najib should tell the ultras in the party to shut up. If he does so and proceeds with genuine reforms, maybe the country can still be saved. He must, of course, apologise to the nation for 1MDB and be sincere about it, and proceed with much-needed reforms, which would include telling us honestly how we can recover the monies parked in Hong Kong, the United States, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.

I am saying this not because I condone what he did with 1MDB. I just think that, despite 1MDB, Najib will continue to stay in power for many years to come because the Opposition will not be strong enough to unseat him in the short term.

So, why not try to make the best of his term in office? If he is willing to undertake fundamental reforms, maybe the people will accept him – albeit reluctantly, at least in the beginning. If these changes are good for the country the people might one day judge him differently. So, will Najib ever wake up and be a different person altogether? Miracles do happen.

The second scenario is preferred but equally implausible. The political grouping initiated by Anwar Ibrahim under Pakatan Rakyat, now known as Pakatan Harapan, suddenly becomes a single, cohesive force. For this to happen PAS needs to rejoin the Opposition pact and become a reformist party. If PAS decides to be part of a reformist and united Opposition, it must ditch Hadi and pick Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man as its leader.

But will PAS members change their leader? This has as much chance of happening as Najib turning over a new leaf. Then PKR will need to wake up and decide on Anwar’s successor, whether it’s one of his family members or Azmin Ali. For now, it looks like there will be no end to the party’s internal bickering, and therefore, no coherence and unity in its policies.

The new party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), also has to decide if it wants to be a Johor and Kedah-based party to save the fates of Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir. They must also decide if they are willing to be part of the national Opposition, in which case they need to tie up with other groups.

It’s possible for Bersatu to want to team up with PAS, although I doubt if the PAS prefers Muhyiddin to Najib, for obvious reasons. Pakatan Harapan has already made it clear that it’s not Muhyiddin they want as opposition leader. DAP, of course, remains a strong political party, and Parti Amanah has tremendous potential, but they will not have enough to form the government in the next election.

Students the light end of tunnel

The light at the end of the tunnel is the courage shown by our students, who dare to take to the streets and demand the arrest of the infamous Malaysian Official Number 1. These young Malaysians can make all the difference if they have the numbers. But I don’t think the majority of our young are like Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof (photo above).

Many are scared and some don’t even care what’s happening to the country. Apathy and indifference to political developments are common traits among the young, although that might change in the future.

To sum things up: I am not convinced that our country will be put on the right path anytime soon. There are too many unresolved issues among the Opposition grouping and the ruling Barisan Nasional. This maelstrom of confusion is engulfing us and we have to sort it out.

The people want a solution. I don’t have the answers. All I know is that we need to be a developed country, a peaceful and united country, with an economy that is vibrant and sustainable. For that we need change. We need to be one Bangsa Malaysia, and not Bangsa Johor, Sarawak or Sabah. We can, of course, continue to enjoy Laksa Johor, Laksa Kelantan or Laksa Sarawak.

I do not see anyone in Umno today who even believes in democracy and good governance as the best and most legitimate system of government and political engagement. Najib can change that thinking if he wants to. He can be a “benevolent” dictator if he wants to. But I doubt he will. Some Umno politicians complain about the “lack of democracy” or “abuse of power” only after they have been kicked out of the party and have joined the Opposition.

We desperately need a new leadership that wants the right path for the country. Reformists outside the BN must be willing to take the long road to success. They must not worry too much about the election outcome in the short term. They first must do what’s right.

Reformists within the BN, if there are any, must be willing to persuade Najib to change his ways. They must be genuine reformists and believe in the ideas of a modern state where institution and laws are supreme. They must want to share the wealth fairly.

But enough about my dream. I am pessimistic about the country’s future. Being pessimistic does not mean that I don’t want to do anything to reverse the process. It’s a reminder that while we must fight corruption, religious orthodoxy and the undemocratic forces ruling our country today, we must also be realistic about the difficulties and the dangers that are inherent in that task.

Malaysians who want change must be prepared to make sacrifices. Nowhere in the world have freedom, peace and the rule of law come easily. Maybe when we have more poor people and the size of the underclass gets bigger, there will be impetus for change.

People living in relative comfort dare not make the sacrifices needed for real change to happen. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. Street protests here and there are not enough. Malaysians must not be afraid to defend what they believe in. That is the price we must pay to make things better.

Read more: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/353970#ixzz4IkzzL9x6