Dr. M’s bark could still hurt Prime Minister Najib Razak

April 19, 2015

Dr. M’s bark could still hurt Prime Minister Najib Razak

By Syed Jaymal Zahiid

The last time Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the Prime Minister must go, heads in UMMO nodded in quiet agreement; this time, however, his call has been greeted by wagging fingers instead.

But to discount his sway despite the cold and, at times, hostile reception would be dangerous, according to political analysts who viewed him as still holding considerable clout outside of the party, courtesy to the visible monuments of his administration.

From the iconic Petronas Twin Towers to the administrative capital of Putrajaya, Dr Mahathir had palpably shaped the country in his vision, and along with it, a generation who considers him to be synonymous with the leadership of Malaysia.

His legacy as an “ultra Malay” leader who brought development to the country’s ethnic majority was also not forgotten, and these may prove to be a bane to Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration if Dr Mahathir chooses to go to war with it ahead of the next general election.

“The Malay community can relate to Mahathir,” independent political analyst Khoo Kay Peng told Malay Mail Online. “Whatever developments you see around us, all are associated with him. Najib and Abdullah (Ahmad Badawi) can’t live up to them,” he added.

While this is usually a benefit to the ruling UMNO, the same factors could become a threat now that Dr Mahathir has rescinded support for Najib and is demanding the latter’s resignation over issues such as 1 Malaysia Development Bhd’s (1MDB) debts and the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaaribuu.

Neither issue is new, with the Altantuya murder dating back nearly a decade, but Dr Mahathir’s sudden interest has breathed new life into topics that the opposition have carped upon to the point of exhaustion and lent the allegations a gravitas that could convince those not otherwise invested.

While UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders have rallied around Najib with far greater enthusiasm than was seen when Dr Mahathir went after Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Khoo warned that the same conviction may not extend to every level, especially at the grassroots.

“If Najib really has the backing he would not need to go around and ask them to parade their support. Do not underestimate the silence in UMNO,” he said, adding that the UMNO network was too huge for anyone to gauge what the majority’s sentiments were on the Najib-Dr Mahathir dispute.

Luminaries such  as Tun Daim Zainuddin, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, and Tan Sri Muhammad Muhd Taib have also voiced similar views — though the first two are known to be staunchly in Dr Mahathir’s camp — saying that UMNO members were known for quiet mutiny rather than open displays of discontent.

With no immediate threat from UMNO and the next general election not due before 2018, Najib still has the opportunity to head off problems with Dr Mahathir before they turned chronic. UMNO leaders such as Puteri Chief Datuk Mas Ermieyati Samsudin and Tan Sri Rais Yatim, a known Dr Mahathir loyalist, have already urged both men to reconcile, saying that the hostility was ultimately harmful to both UMNO and the country.

Ibrahim Suffian, Director of independent pollster Merdeka Centre, agreed that Najib may suffer a backlash from UMNO and the Malaysian public if he fails to address Dr Mahathir’s grievances properly. “Yes there is a possibility that UMNO grassroots may turn against him, but Najib will still have time to rectify,” he told Malay Mail Online.


Leadership: Sarawak’s Adenan Satem could fill the void in Peninsular

April 18, 2015

Leadership: Sarawak’s Adenan Satem could fill the void in Peninsular

by Terence Netto

Adenan Satem

It seems not nearly enough can be said in praise of Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who is into his second year as Chief Minister of Sarawak.Last Saturday, he inaugurated the opening of a new territorial division in the state, this one for the Bidayuh community, one of several ethnicities in Sarawak’s bewildering mélange.

He observed that the Ibans, the largest of the ethnicities in Sarawak, have Kapit as their bastion, the Chinese have Sibu for their domain, the Malays have Samarahan as their reserve, the Melanau have Mukah for their locus, and the Orang Ulu have Miri as their turf.

Only the Bidayuh, who number about 200,000 in Sarawak’s population of 2.6 million, did not have their own protectorate such that Adenan’s inauguration on April 11 of Serian, the district south-west of Kuching where the community has long been found in preponderant numbers, was historic.

Adenan pronounced the occasion hugely significant because it signaled the state government’s recognition that the Bidayuh deserved a domain of their own in Sarawak, like the other races.

He said now that Serian is identifiably theirs in the Sarawakian montage, the Bidayuh can go on to flourish like the other communities.With the recognition of a territorial space for the Bidayuh, all the main ethnic groups in the state have an area of cultural and linguistic identity.

At the inauguration ceremony, Adenan could not resist the temptation to make a comparison between the situation in Sarawak and that on the Peninsula – and this was at the expense of the latter.

He said the people on the Peninsula could learn from the Sarawakian example of peaceful coexistence among the diverse ethnic groups.Adenan reminded his audience that over at the Peninsula, individuals and groups were daily quarreling with each other on issues of race and religion.

That is why he, as Chief Minister, has chosen to bar extremist groups from the Peninsula coming to Sarawak presumably to spread their toxins.

True, Sarawak Immigration has also barred politicians from the federal opposition Pakatan Rakyat from entering the state and this is not something to be proud of.But in barring Peninsular Malay right wing groups like PERKASA and ISMA from entering the state, Sarawak Immigration is to be applauded in posting an exclusion zone against these elements.

Someone, at least, has to tell these firebrands where to get off; otherwise they will think they can ride roughshod as they please.

One would have noticed that spokespersons of these groups, usually shrill in remonstrance against the slightest hint of irreverence at what they hold to be Malay and Islamic pieties, are quiet when given the stiff arm by the bumiputras of Sarawak: they know better than to tangle with them.

Good that they know better, for from the way they comport themselves on the Peninsula it is like they are a law unto themselves.

Good thing the license they enjoy here does not extend beyond the 800 kilometers of sea that separates the Peninsula from Sarawak.

At the inauguration of Serian as the Bidayuh zone, Adenan reminded Sarawakians that they are “lucky” they do not undergo the tensions and travails over race and religion that beset the races living on the Peninsula.

At the risk of being facetious, since it is widely acknowledged that the Peninsula is undergoing a crisis in prime ministerial credibility, it would not be untoward to allow Adenan to be Prime Minister for the interim until the prevailing crisis is resolved. He is nominally Malay and professedly Muslim, two requisites for an occupant of the office.

He counsels religious moderation, supposedly a requisite for Islamic rectitude; sings the praises of racial and cultural diversity, a necessity for a leader in a racially diverse nation; is appreciative of the Chinese contribution to the country’s development, a candid recognition of the economic facts of life without which no real progress can be configured; has set his face against corruption, the besetting malady from whose grip the country must expeditiously free itself or else sink; and is, importantly, an intellectual in that he possesses a coherent worldview and knows how to apply it.

In June 2001, this reporter was fortunate to have been at the receiving end of a monologue by Adenan, then a minister in Tun Taib Mahmud’s government, during all 90 minutes of a drive in a 4-wheel vehicle from Sematan, on the south-west coast of Sarawak, to Kuching.

That Sunday morning a journalist friend and I were in Sematan to look at a plot of land by the sea owned by the friend. At the market we ran into Adenan, who was visiting his state constituency of Tanjung Datu, in which Sematan is located.

Adenan instructed an aide to drive my friend’s car back to Kuching while the two of us accompanied him in his 4-wheel vehicle to the Sarawak capital.

During the drive he treated my colleague and I to the full flow of his erudite mind, holding forth on a slew of subjects, occupying the range from religion to politics and philosophy.

I did not feel like asking a question, borne aloft by the sinuous flow of his conversation.It was as if Adenan was giving his well-stocked mind the back of his palm, my colleague and I the catch-basins for the seepage.

Referenced was a whole gallery of historical figures, ranging from founders of the major religions to thinkers like Gandhi and Churchill.

The quality of the monologue put me in mind of a conversational exchange in a story by GK Chesterton, a renowned British writer of the first part of the 20th century.

In that riff, a doctor, shrugging his shoulders, tells a friend in the course of an argument on a profound point that he is a doctor and a practical man and therefore “I don’t know much about religion and philosophy.” Tart came the reply: “You’ll never be practical man until you do.”

Suffice Adenan Satem is an intellectual and a practical man. The office of Malaysian PM presently could make beneficent use of that intellect and pragmatism. It won’t do too badly if it were to make the necessary requisitions.

New Rules for Entertainers

April 18, 2015

COMMENT: My comment is short and simple. Just don’t come to Malaysia. Your Malaysian fans can go to Singapore, Bangkok, and Hong Kong, where the government is liberal and open minded. They can take the plane,train or bus to see you.

Visit Malaysia 2015Forget about Visit Malaysia, the Land of Endless Celebrations, Mr Tourism Minister, Dato Seri Nazri Aziz, because JAKIM, a unit in the Prime Minister’s Department, is sabotaging your efforts. It is sad that the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, is not cooperating  with you by allowing this to happen. Maybe Najib is too preoccupied with his own political survival to deal with this ruling and other matters.–Din Merican

New Rules for Entertainers

by Zurairi AR@www.themalaymailonline.com

Entertainers coming to Malaysia will now have to adhere to new rules prepared by the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM), which impose limitations on stage performances, dress and behaviour codes and gender segregation for attendees.

The rules, which were released by the department this week, also stipulate that an artist should not have a criminal record, whether in a Shariah or civil court, and should maintain a “noble personality” and “good morals”, even outside the performance.

During a performance, the artist must “dress decently” in attire that covers their “aurat”, which refers to the “intimate body parts” that Muslims must cover with clothing. Performances, songs, events and music videos must not insult religious sensitivities, the nation and any race, while the use of any symbolism that go against Islamic teachings and faith is also forbidden.

For stage performances, JAKIM insists that jokes told should be “sparing”, must “toe the line”, and should not lead to “extreme laughter”. Entertainers are also forbidden from making light of “serious and mournful matters”.Meanwhile, song lyrics should contain “goodness and pure values”, in addition to “bringing awareness” and “leading to repentance”.

The music accompanying the lyrics, on the other hand, should “motivate positive atmosphere” and “bring peace”, instead of evoking “negative emotions that contradict Islamic teachings”.Finally, the rules also ban interaction between men and women attendees of any performance.

The new guidelines were drafted last year but were only approved in the 107th convention of the National Fatwa Committee on February 10 and 11 this year, and superseded the first version which was published in 2007.

The previous guidelines, which included none of the abovementioned rules, were focused on prohibiting elements of vice and idolatry in performances, in addition to ensuring that entertainment events “benefit the well-being of the public”.

According to JAKIM, the new list is meant to assist the authorities in ensuring that entertainment programmes are based on the Islamic faith and codes, and moral values.

Although the guidelines are not considered as binding law, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, had in January, advised approving authorities to remind event organisers to adhere to the list made by Jakim.

The new guidelines also specify that any entertainment events must be referred to the authorities for guidance.

Following a controversial mini-concert featuring South Korean band B1A4 which saw three-tudung clad Malay fans hugging on stage, Jakim had said that the Federal Territories Islamic Department (Jawi) was empowered to act on the organisers as it was under its jurisdiction.

“Did all the agencies and the organiser of the event take heed of this guideline? This concert was not referred to JAKIM, in fact JAKIM had no idea about the event,” said JAKIM Director-General Datuk Othman Mustapha.


Sedition in 140 Characters

April 17, 2015

Sedition in 140 Characters

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

EricThe next time I see Eric Paulsen of Lawyers for Liberty, I have to remind myself to congratulate him for being, if I am not mistaken, the first person in Malaysia to be charged for sedition based on a Twitter post back in January.

Worthy of an entry into the vaunted Malaysian Book of Records, don’t you think? He was also the first person to be charged for sedition this year. Pembuka tirai 2015. During the heat of the hudud debate last month, two other tweets from him attracted the IGP’s TLC resulting in his arrest, detention and investigation for, guess what? Sedition!

I once wondered, when Twitter was first launched, what on earth can a person say in 140 characters? Being someone who has been criticised as being overly verbose, who loves to beat the bushes and is totally incapable of saying something in five words when it can be said in 20, I found myself alien to the idea of such succinctness and brevity. You can say plenty, apparently, and piss people off.

Eric can not only express himself eloquently within those limits, his tweets can also cause noses to go out of joint, sphincters to spasm and contract violently, and hands to clutch hair (or empty air for some) under berets, kopiahs and songkoks.

Earlier this month, cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque better known as Zunar, was slapped with nine sedition charges for tweets critical of the conviction of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim for sodomy. Nine! I think he makes it to the Book of Records for most sedition charges faced by an individual under this draconian law first enacted by the British during the colonial era.

Opponents of the right to freedom of expression (unless it is their own), supporters of the idea that “there is too much freedom and not enough limits and restrictions”, and advocates of cracking down on “troublemakers” are currently having a field day with the successful passage of Bills related to the diminishing and restrictions of constitutional freedoms sold as necessary for national security and fighting extremism.

I don’t know about you but have you looked and heard this lot lately? Some seem to consist of people belonging to obscure NGOs which no one seems to have heard of, some wearing pseudo military uniforms, and who use threats and abusive language peppered with words of hate, violence, prejudice and racism. Others smile sinisterly in Parliament and celebrate while our rights are trampled under their jackboots.

Meanwhile the powers that be are apparently terrified of the written word, speech, thoughts and even cartoons which espouse and celebrate the freedom of expression and diversity of opinion, promote and defend moderation, demand accountability and transparency, and speak out against injustice and tyranny.

Cartoonists, writers, lecturers and lawyers are being arrested, detained, dressed up in stylish police lock-up purple and made to face charges of sedition. The loud defenders of Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the Sedition Act and other measures to curtail fundamental civil liberties seem to be made of Teflon, impervious and able to act with impunity as they misuse and abuse the issues of race, religion and royalty for their own purposes.

Irony? More like tragedy.

Outside observers could be forgiven for asking what and whose side is the government on and what are they defending against from their own people? Make no mistake. We are at a point where we are starting to bear more resemblance to the society of George Orwell’s 1984 than the vibrant parliamentary democracy envisioned by our nation’s founders.

When the government begins to turn against its people, expecting to hear only compliance, obedience and assent, therein lies the danger of tyranny.

Draconian laws which act as “catch-alls” cannot and must not replace the need for diligent andKhalid Abu Bakar2 thorough professional police work. Above all, the maxim of “innocent until proven guilty” must continue to be part of the bedrock of justice in this country and not be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

When laws are passed which prevent the possibility for any judicial review, presumes guilt over innocence, does not require to demonstrate intent, allows for the arrest and detention of a citizen without charge or trial and is deliberately vague in the description of the alleged crime, the question that needs to be asked is not if the laws are going to be used, but when they will be abused.

Is this the legacy that our politicians today aim to leave for the children of tomorrow’s Malaysia: the creation of a tyranny to maintain political relevance and dominancy and to defend us from the threat of extremism?

That to maintain power and be protected from terror and extremism, we must ourselves become a tyranny? Have we, by these actions, been defeated by doing precisely what those who live and thrive on terror and extremism expects us to do? Changing our way of life, viewing each other with suspicion and to live in fear?

All who voted for POTA and the amendments to the Sedition Act, remember this moment if the day comes that these laws are ever used on you. Those who use might to make right often fall victim to their own devices. For allegiances, alliances and loyalty are but fleeting concepts in Malaysian politics.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.


Is Malaysia Falling Apart?

April 16, 2015

Is Malaysia Falling Apart?

by David.Pilling@ft.com

najib-razak-Nik-AzizPolitics of Survival: Flirting with Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS)

Is Malaysia falling apart? The very idea seems absurd. After all, is it not one of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest and most stable countries, with regular elections and a solid middle class?

Unlike Thailand, presently under military rule, Malaysia is not prone to coups. Civilians have run the country since it won independence from Britain in 1957. Unlike Indonesia, which has only just graduated from low-income status, it has long been relatively prosperous. It is praised for being a moderate majority Muslim nation; 60 per cent of its 30m people are Muslim, predominantly Malay, with about 25 per cent ethnic Chinese and the rest Indians and other ethnic minorities. Yet non-Muslims are free to drink beer and eat pork. The race riots of 1969, in which many Chinese were killed, are a distant memory.

Scratch below the surface, however, and Malaysia is undergoing a slow-motion political crisis. True, you could plausibly have said much the same at any point since 1998 when Anwar Ibrahim, the mercurial leader-in-waiting, fell out with Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the country for two decades until 2003. Since then, although the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)  has extended its run to almost six decades, the political system has been inherently unstable. Last year a three-party coalition led by Mr Anwar won just over 50 per cent of the vote, which brought it close to power although the system is stacked in favour of the incumbents.

If something has been rotten in the state of Malaysia for some time, this year the sense of crisis has come to a head. First, in February, Mr Anwar was convicted on politically motivated — and in any case odious — charges of sodomy. He received five years in jail after his appeal was rejected in court. He has already served six years, ending in 2004, on a similar count. Now 67 and banned from office for five years after his release, his conviction appears to spell the end of his political career.

Anwar IbrahimAnwar Ibrahim: By no means a straightforward figure

Mr Anwar is by no means a straightforward figure. He has flirted with radical Islam and was a champion of the system of positive discrimination towards Malays that he now favours dismantling. Still, his removal neutralises the country’s most gifted politician, creating a dangerous vacuum.

Second, Malaysia is engulfed by a scandal involving a national development fund that has racked up $11.5bn in debts. The advisory board of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund (1MDB) is chaired by none other than Najib Razak, the Prime Minister. Worryingly, 1MDB has switched auditors twice since 2009. Mr Najib has attempted to kick the issue into touch by ordering the Auditor-General to look into 1MDB’s accounts. The fund is seeking to repair its balance sheet by spinning off some of its power assets. Yet the affair has cast a pall over the Najib government, which has presented itself as fiscally responsible and reform-minded.

4th PM of MalaysiaDr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad

Third, 89-year-old Mr Mahathir, who still wields considerable if waning influence, has come out explicitly against Mr Najib. He has said the Prime Minister, whom he helped install six years ago, does not have what it takes to defend the interests of Malays or to ensure another UMNO victory. Yet, in the absence of an obvious successor, his intervention has left UMNO scratching its head as to who could come next.

The confluence of events has had a deeply destabilising effect. The opposition is in even worse trouble than the government. With Mr Anwar gone, his coalition is in danger of splintering. The largely ethnic Chinese Democratic Action party has fallen out with the Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), which has sought to impose a strict form of sharia law in one northern state, a policy it would like to extend nationwide. The danger for Malaysia is that, in order to shore up the majority Malay vote, Umno will shift to more overtly Islamist ground.

Moderates already detect growing intolerance in everything from banning Christians from using the word Allah to a clampdown on traditional (un-Islamic) dancing. This month a prevention of terrorism act and amendments to the sedition act were passed, which many fear could be used to quash the opposition. Human Rights Watch said the laws would have “a chilling effect on freedom of expression”.

Mr Najib and his party must resist the temptation to polarise the country or to clamp down on its freedoms in the cause of narrow political interests. James Chin, of the University of Tasmania, fears Malaysia is drifting from its moderate roots towards radical Islam — an anti-secular cul-de-sac from which he says there will be no return. That may be too pessimistic. Yet Malaysia is certainly drifting. If that continues for too long, things will not end happily.


This article has been amended


PKR shouldn’t take Permatang Pauh voters for granted

April 8, 2015

PKR shouldn’t take Pmtg Pauh voters for granted

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

wan azizah 1COMMENT: It looks almost certain that PKR will field its President, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, as its candidate for the Permatang Pauh by-election. It would be a mistake because that would take the voters of Permatang Pauh for granted.

Many voters must have felt this way the last time they were asked their opinion – at the 13th general election on May 5, 2013. Anwar Ibrahim’s plurality was whittled down from the 15,000-plus he obtained in the by-election of August 2008, forced when incumbent Azizah resigned to pave the way for her husband to resume being the area’s MP, to a 11,000-plus majority in GE13.

It was a significant decrease in an election where popular sentiment ran in favour of a change of federal government. The reduced majority reflected voter disdain for Anwar’s airy presumption that he could, in emulation of DAP’s Lim Kit Siang, leave his bastion of Permatang Pauh to stand in other seats; constituencies in Perak and in the Federal Territory were bruited about.

In the immediate prelude to GE13, an already peripatetic Kit Siang caused a sensation by leaving his Ipoh Timor constituency to contest in Gelang Patah in Johor – to spearhead the DAP thrust into UMNO’s heartland. That decision was taken in the exuberant expectation that popular sentiment running in favour of Pakatan Rakyat would carry DAP to unprecedented electoral gains.

Anwar was infected by the exuberance which led him to hint that he, too, was considering a move to another seat.This was resented by the Malay voters, especially in  Penanti, the state seat in Permatang Pauh.

Both Anwar and the PKR candidate, Dr Norlela Ariffin lost in nearly all the Malay-majority precincts in Penanti, an extraordinary fact that went unremarked at that time.In the event, only sweeping Chinese-voter preference for PKR carried Norlela through.

Given the choice of Norlela as the PKR candidate, the Malay voters in Penanti must have been dismayed that Pakatan Rakyat’s Prime Minister-designate could not find someone less embarrassingly inept than the party’s Penanti nominee. But Norlela was not Anwar’s choice; it was Azizah’s.

After the election, Norlela was appointed as Penang PKR Wanita Chief. To the huge relief of the Penang wing of the party, she quit after a few months.

Chastening experience

The mistake of choosing Norlela ought to have been a chastening experience for Azizah. It provedPenang Deputy CM Low Choo Kiang not, judging from some of the choices made by Azizah in recent months. The Speaker of the Penang State Assembly, Low Choo Kiang, was made Deputy Chief of the Penang PKR Committee in the line-up announced three months ago.

Low, a party stalwart of proven fidelity, was assumed to be content with withdrawal to the fringes, following his failure to be reappointed as state executive councilor after the May 2013 general election.

His appointment to the Speaker’s position was consolation for the drop from the state exco and the assumption was that that would be the end of the road for a lightweight like him. But he felt differently and when the composition of the state PKR committee was  mulled, he lobbied Azizah for a position.

It is the democratic norm that when someone is appointed State Speaker, he cannot hold a position in a political party and must relinquish it if he does.Supposed champions of democracy like PKR ought to know and uphold the democratic norm.

Likely, Azizah did not know this – how could she when she has no talent for politics! – and Low did not bother to let on. Low’s appointment as Deputy Chief of Penang PKR was not Azizah’s only gaffe when it came to the composition of the state committee.

Cheah Kah Peng, a lawyer who is PKR state assemblyperson for Kebun Bungah, was appointed Penang PKR’s Director of Strategy, quite a leap for a person of his track record. In the 2004 general election, Cheah was selected by PKR to be its parliamentary candidate for Bayan Baru. He had lobbied the party to field candidates in DAP seats on the grounds that this strategy would destroy the DAP.

Surprising for one of his stridency, Cheah did not show up on nomination day in Bayan Baru for GE11. PKR had to hastily co-opt a PKR nobody to file papers in Cheah’s place.

Today, Cheah is not only PKR’s rep for Kebun Bungah, he is close to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who has let on that he considers Cheah a hardworking state assemblyperson.

Guan Eng is wary of any Chinese leader of PKR who is strong and hardworking; if there is one, he thinks the person should be in the DAP. The only PKR Chinese reps he likes are those he considers pliable. Thanks to Azizah, one is nice nicely positioned as PKR Director of strategy for Penang.

Narration of this litany of lamentable choices can go on but like her husband, Azizah enjoys teflon-like immunity within PKR from the mistakes she makes.By oppressing him, UMNO has helped confer a cult-like status on Anwar. Naturally, it rubs off on his suffering spouse – to the long-term detriment of PKR. Say what you like, these UMNO guys know how to play the game of beggaring your rival.