The Twitting IGP, UMNO State and Public Order


September 25, 2016

The Twitting IGP, UMNO State and Public Order

by Cmdr(rtd) S Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“Police business is a hell of a problem. It’s a good deal like politics. It asks for the highest type of men, and there’s nothing in it to attract the highest type of men. So we have to work with what we get…”

– Raymond Chandler, ‘The Lady in the Lake’

I have a “guilt by association” complex when it comes to journalists or former journalists. While what I write has nothing to do with journalism, whenever a journalist is harassed – someone once told me, once a journalist always a journalist – I have an overwhelming feeling of simpatico for journalists who are threatened by the UMNO state.

Image result for Khalid Abu Bakar, UMNO and Politics

Agents of UMNO State–127,000 of them

It is ironic that in a fascist state or one trending to fascism, the written word sometimes becomes powerful in ways that could never be in lands of the free. It is also notable that in such states the Police Force always reminds citizens that it is the fair and just instrument of the state.

Reading the Facebook posting of Norlin Wan Musa (above) on the treatment meted out to her husband, former journalist Sidek Kamiso, is like reading the testimonials of people who live in countries where even the pantomime of democracy has been discarded in favour of whatever kind of tyranny that the state chooses to indulge in.

When Norlin asks, “What have we become”, the answer to that question is reflected in the actions of those who invaded her home, menaced her family and dragged her husband across state lines to face charges brought on by cowardly men who file Police reports as a means to stifle free speech. This is 1Malaysia in all its glory.

As I wrote when HRH Crown Prince of Johor discovered that the practitioners of the dark arts were monitoring him, “There is always that line a Malaysian crosses. That line that nobody used to talk about but these days the state assures us is there and there will be consequences if we cross it.”

What exactly are these “consequences”? If you are going to the United Nations with the intention of “addressing issues such as the refugee crisis and securing global peace”, then the least you can have is a security apparatus that does not issue threats to opposition politicians and harasses former journalists for tweeting about a deceased divisive religious operative.

Furthermore, it  behoves those who pontificate on such matters, especially on securing global peace and waxing lyrical about having “standard operating procedures (SOPs) and relevant laws in Malaysia to be adhered to by everyone”, to actually have a security apparatus that actually enforces such laws, without fear or favour, instead of patrolling the Twitterverse warning Malaysians against exercising their democratic right in calling for the removal of a sitting Prime Minister.

Apropos everything, this is the IGP, Khalid Abu Bakar who said “I don’t have a problem if they want to ban me from Twitter. If I’m banned, there are 126,000 others who will monitor it” – which just goes to show the priorities of our Police Force.

This of course brings us back to the threat the IGP issued to the Member of Parliament from Kulai, DAP’s Teo Nie Ching (photo), “not to make statements that could create public unrest”. Add to this the horse manure about dealing with a segment of society who have lost respect for the Force due to “incitement by certain parties” for their personal agenda.

The IGP also “reminded Police Personnel to be fearless when faced with challenges in the course of carrying out their duties”.

Politicising Police investigations

For insight into the “challenges” facing the institution the current IGP leads, please refer to my article ‘Behold our guardians of order’, the relevant section, reproduced here:

“All one has to do is refer to the Royal Commission to Enhance the Operation and Management of the Royal Malaysia Police published in 2005 to address “widespread concerns regarding the high incidence of crime, perception of corruption in the Royal Malaysia Police (Polis Diraja Malaysia, PDRM), and what did this commission discover?

“Under the appropriate euphemism of ‘challenges’ as reported in the press, three areas were highlighted that needed serious reforms. Those were:

1) widespread corruption in PDRM;

2) widespread non-compliance with prescribed laws and human rights obligations among police personnel; and

3) inadequate awareness and respect for the rights of women and children.”

I would argue that the only person “politicising” the issue of police investigations is the IGP himself.

First off, the IGP’s comment of a “segment of society” is either a reference to opposition supporters or the Chinese community. Furthermore, his comments about “certain parties” are a clear reference to opposition political parties or personalities, which is a loaded political statement. So much for non-partisanship of the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM).

Remember, this is the country’s top cop who gloatingly warned Malaysians, “@PDRMsia is warning anyone, men and women, conspiring with him to be saner and not try to threaten Malaysia’s peace and harmony” after the arrest of Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen, and pompously proclaimed “Eric Paulsen is arrogant and thought he succeeded in inciting Malaysians to destroy the spirit of our 1Malaysia community.”

Then, there is the whole Jeff Ooi issue. More than a few readers have asked me what I thought about Ooi’s tweet and whether he should apologise, face sanctions or both. The short answer is:

1) I do not have an issue with what he tweeted.

2) I do not think he should be sanctioned by the state.

3) I have no issue with his party sanctioning him, for needlessly polluting the racial and religious waters.

As usual, I do take exception to the IGP “politicising” the issue by advising “politicians like Jeff Ooi” to be careful with what they post, again implying opposition politicians, when his establishment brethren have gone to town issuing threats and warnings without sanction from the PDRM.

Just one example of how the IGP distorts the discourse. When he writes of certain quarters inciting the public against the police, the assumption is that dissent only comes from the opposition and thus it is the opposition that has agendas against the institutions of the state. This is mendacity at its finest.

When the issue of the IGP refusing to carry out court orders and fulfilling his obligations to the people of Malaysia in the last unilateral conversion case was raised, the MCA put out a press statement stating:

“The IGP must not shirk responsibility by claiming that he is conflicted between the custody order of the Syariah Court and the apex court. The mother Indira Gandhi (photo) has been separated from her daughter (Prasana) Diksa for close to seven years already, whilst (Mohd) Ridhuan (Abdullah @ K Pathmanathan) is repeatedly in contempt of High Court orders awarding custody to the mother.”

And reminding the IGP that failure to discharge his duties will result in “people in contravention of the judicial decisions like Ridhuan will be emboldened to continue to break the law, knowing that their actions will be condoned by the IGP.”

Of course, there are many examples where the perpetrator and victim are sanctioned as evidence of how the UMNO state is fair and just – but this is beyond the scope of this article and fodder for another piece.

The day Ali Tinju’s wife makes a Facebook posting of warrantless sleep deprived by agents of the state invading her home and dragging her husband across state lines to answer charges filed against him, even though he was just exercising his right of free speech, is the day “that segment of Malaysian society” who have apparently lost respect for the PDRM may begin to rethink the idea that the PDRM is just another instrument of UMNO.

August 31–Malayan or Malaysian Independence Day


September 24, 2016

James Chin: Looking Back on August 31–Malayan or Malaysian Independence Day

31 August marks Malaysia’s independence. But not everyone is celebrating the federation, writes James Chin.  Najib Razak can no longer take Sabah and Sarawak for granted with provincial nationalism on the rise in East Malaysia

Today Malaysia celebrates Hari Merdeka or Independence Day. But, the 31 August anniversary again raises the old debate about the actual date of independence and what the Federation means to the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. It’s a discussion that has happened this time every year for much of the past decade.

Most banners in Malaysia have ‘59’, marking when Malaya became independent in 1957. The ‘53’ comes from 1963 — the year when the Federation was formed.

For many years, the federal government in KL/Putrajaya did not take the difference in years seriously. The situation changed in 2010 with the creation of another public holiday — Malaysia Day — to be celebrated annually on 16 September and commemorating the formation of the Federation.

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The sudden acknowledgment by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was no doubt in part to the increasing assertiveness of leaders in Sabah and Sarawak. Before 2008 Sabah and Sarawak were seen as a reliable ‘fixed deposit’ for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). The number of BN MPs elected from the Bornean states gave the BN a two-thirds majority in Parliament.

The situation is markedly different now. The current Najib administration is holding on to power with a wafer-thin majority of 18 seats (as at July 2016). There are 47 BN MPs from Sabah (22) and Sarawak (25).  Najib would be out of a job without the BN MPs from East Malaysia.

To show his appreciation and to reflect the rise of East Malaysia, he appointed more than 15 Federal Ministers and Deputy Ministers from the two states. In fact, the second largest party in the federal BN is Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) from Sarawak, not the uni-racial Malaysian Chinese Association as is widely believed.

Najib’s perilous political position is made worse by the fact that UMNO does not have single MP from Sarawak. In fact, under a deal made during former Prime Minister Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO is not allowed into Sarawak.

Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), the local Muslim party, is the de facto UMNO of Sarawak. It has ruled Sarawak since 1970 with a coalition that is beholden to it. PBB could easily rule Sarawak on its own, but the state’s diverse population requires it to keep a coalition government, the Sarawak BN, for political stability.

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Image result for Nationalism in Sabah

Unlike Sarawak, UMNO is in firm control of Sabah and UMNO Sabah’s boss, Musa Aman, is the state’s Chief Minister. His brother is Malaysia’s Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman.

The noisy debate in East Malaysia over ‘53-vs-59’ reflects the wider issue of Sabah and Sarawak’s status in the Malaysian Federation. Many Sabahans and Sarawakians are of the opinion that Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak (and Singapore before its expulsion from Malaysia in 1963) were the original founders of the Federation. Hence the argument that Sabah and Sarawak should not be merely treated as one of the 13 states in the Federation but as one of the three founding states.

This distinction is important for Sabah and Sarawak nationalists as they like to argue that both states should enjoy more rights compared to others. These rights, as the argument goes, are part of the original promises made by Tunku Abdul Rahman and other Malayan leaders when they approached Sabah and Sarawak back in 1961 to establish the Malaysian Federation. They further argue that many of these rights, collectively called the ’20 Points’, have been watered down over the last half century.

With UMNO relying on East Malaysia to stay in power, Adenan Satem, the chief minister of Sarawak, has been especially vocal in demanding more autonomy for the state. Just in the past week, he met Najib to pressure Petronas, the national oil corporation, to implement a Sarawak-First policy in hiring its workers in Sarawak. Najib also promised to appoint a representative of the Sabah and Sarawak governments to the Petronas board.

Adenan’s move was widely applauded in Sarawak, so much so that Netizens are asking why Musa Aman, Sabah’s Chief Minister, has been keeping quiet when it comes to state rights. It is not lost on Sabahans that Musa belongs to UMNO Sabah and Najib is his party chief.

The firm push for more autonomy for the two East Malaysian states comes at a time when various movements are actively seeking a referendum on the future position of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysian Federation. Many of these groups, active on the social media, and especially Facebook, harbour dreams that one day Sabah and Sarawak will be independent states.

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The Unfulfilled Promise to Sabahans and Sarawakians

In Sarawak, some of these groups are covertly supported by the Sarawak BN. The Sarawak BN sees these groups as useful in helping to split the opposition vote and, more importantly, help Sarawak BN contain the threat represented by the opposition DAP and PKR. These two parties have some support among the local population and labeling them as ‘Malayan’ parties out to ‘colonise’ Sarawak is attractive rhetoric if you claim to be a Sarawak nationalist.

All four parties that make up the Sarawak BN — PBB, Sarawak United Peoples Party (SUPP), Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS), Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP) — are local. They all claim to be Sarawak nationalists, despite the fact that on the very day they were established all of them joined the federal BN. But as they say, facts are irrelevant in politics; it’s perception that counts.

Image result for The Assertive Sarawakian

Until the next general election, we can expect Adenan (pic above) to take the lead in negotiating with Najib to ‘take back’ some of the bureaucratic powers lost to Putrajaya during Mahathir’s tenure. Sabah will take a back seat for the simple reason that any deals for Sarawak will have to apply to Sabah as well. Both Adenan and Najib are hoping that Adenan’s ‘victories’ in securing more powers will lead to a massive win for Sabah and Sarawak BN in the coming general election.

At the grassroots level, the nationalists will be given a lot of leeway in promoting ‘Sabah for Sabahans’ and ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’ as long as they are useful in painting the federal opposition as ‘outsiders’. In any other states in the peninsula, they would be arrested immediately for sedition.

The debate over state rights in Sabah and Sarawak could have long-term consequences for the Malaysian Federation. It is instructive to note that in the 1980s, Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) used the state rights appeal to win several state elections in Sabah. This tactic directly led to the establishment of UMNO in Sabah, and the state’s politics were forever changed.

While the likelihood of UMNO entering Sarawak is remote now, this situation can change with the results of a single election. UMNO is playing ‘nice’ now because it needs Sarawak to stay in power. When UMNO is strong, it will behave in an entirely different manner. Any powers given back to Sarawak can easily be taken away as long as the centre (Putrajaya) in the Malaysian federation is all powerful under the federal constitution.

For lasting state rights, the leaders of Sabah and Sarawak must come together and insert autonomy into the Malaysian Constitution. Otherwise what we have is merely a bureaucratic maneuver that is only good until the next state or federal elections. 

Professor James Chin is Director, Asia Institute, University of Tasmania. Readers who are interested in exploring this issue further can read the author’s recent book (co-edited with Andrew Harding), 50 Years of Malaysia: Federation Revisited (2014).

 http://www.newmandala.org/53-59-malaysias-independence/

From Karpal Singh to Haron Din


September 24, 2016

A Generous Tribute to the Late PAS Spiritual Leader Dr. Haron Din

COMMENT: I thank Tay Tian Yan for this tribute to Dato’ Dr. Haron Din. It appeared in Sin Chew Jit Poh. In my ranking, the Spiritual Leader joins the ranks of respected and admired PAS leaders like Burhanuddin Helmy, Zulkifli Muhammad, Ustaz Fadzil Noor and Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat.

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In contrast, we now have a political Jonah like Hadi Awang leading the party to extinction with the formation of Amanah, a splinter party of moderate Islamists.

I find Tay’s statement  helpful and constructive and I quote:

Venting your frustration on the deceased in an attempt to gain some additional political support is never the noblest thing to do. It will only trigger deeper confrontation among the people and cause further splits in our vulnerable society.

It is time our leaders in UMNO and PAS and other ultras stop playing the Islam and Malay nationalism (in extremis) card. Moderation and mutual understanding should be the way forward. That takes enlightened and self-confident leadership that Malaysia desperately needs.–Din Merican

From Karpal Singh to Haron Din

by Tay Tian Yan

haron-din-karpal

The death of PAS spiritual leader Haron Din has sparked some controversy for days now. The tweet by DAP’s Jeff Ooi and some of the negative comments that followed, have seen even the Police stepping in to probe for religious insensitivity while triggering very polarised reactions from the general public.

I’m not here to discuss whether Ooi’s tweet has been ironical, belittling or disrespectful, and he has himself explained he had no evil intention when posting the tweet.The language a person uses is actually something abstract and very subjective.

“Adios Haron Din, let there be peace” could be both a positive and negative message, depending on which side you are on and which way you look at it.

Since the Police have stepped in to probe, I guess we can only wait for the outcome. Going further, the incident is not just a matter that involves Jeff Ooi and a handful of web users. It reflects the vast disparity how different sectors of Malaysian society look at seemingly innocent and non-suggestive things, as well as one’s outlook on life.

Non-Muslims concerned about Malaysian politics might have some sparse impression of Haron Din. He is PAS’ spiritual leader, a very powerful man indeed, second probably only to the late Nik Aziz and incumbent party President Hadi Awang. Where religious influences are concerned, he is in no way inferior to the other two.

We can safely say that Haron Din was one of the most dominant figures in shaping the party’s religious and ideological roadmap. And he was extremely devout in his religious belief with his conservative and fundamentalist stand. For such a personality, Haron Din was never as ambiguous and wavering as some other politicians we know today.

Where this is concerned, Nik Aziz was actually a whole lot more versatile than him.

Image result for Nik Aziz Nik Mat and Anwar Ibrahim

Due to his unbending commitment to religion, Haron Din won the utmost respect of many Muslims in the country. That said, he simply lacked the necessary versatility that gave the non-Muslim community a general impression of him being hardline conservative or even extreme.

The collapse of Pakatan Rakyat has been largely blamed – in particular by DAP supporters – on the conservatives within PAS, resulting in the widening rift between the two parties while crushing the prospect of a change in the Federal administration.

Perhaps this is also how many non-Muslims perceive Haron Din and subsequently the very polarised reactions to his death.

The same thing also happened soon after the death of DAP’s Karpal Singh who famously said, “Islamic state over my dead body,” a quote which won him thumbs-up from supporters of a secular Malaysia, and at the same time infuriating the Muslims who saw him as being anti-Islam.

Similarly, there were tweets and FB posts that celebrated his death. But please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that since Karpal could be vilified, Haron Din should not be spared from the same disparaging treatment too.

Just the opposite. I firmly believe that any form of attack or belittling should not have happened to both Karpal Singh and Haron Din.

A humble expression of respect for the deceased constitutes a universal understanding in our civilized world. While differing political and religious views are inevitable, any form of disrespect for the deceased should never be manifested at such an untimely moment.

Venting your frustration on the deceased in an attempt to gain some additional political support is never the noblest thing to do. It will only trigger deeper confrontation among the people and cause further splits in our vulnerable society.

Even if I don’t buy Haron Din’s political ideas, for the simple reason of humanity and esteem, I will still pay my respects.

Tay Tian Yan writes for Sin Chew Daily.

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

A Trump Presidency possible: Preparing for Donald J. Trump


September 24, 2016

A Trump Presidency possible: Preparing for Donald J. Trump

Embassies that once assumed Clinton would win struggle to know what to expect from her rival

Image result for donald trump the next president of the united states

The End of Obama’s Neo-Liberalism–It was good while it lasted

Donald Trump’s September surge in the polls has set off alarm bells in capitals across Europe and Asia that are ill-prepared for a Republican victory in November.

Although he was barely present in New York this week as world leaders descended on the UN, the Republican candidate was a constant theme of conversation on the sidelines of this year’s General Assembly.

“Everyone is freaking out that he might actually win,” said one senior European official in New York this week. “It would make Brexit seem easy to deal with.”

Many governments in Europe, Asia and Latin America have been openly critical of some of Mr Trump’s foreign policy positions, with French president François Hollande going so far as to say last month that the Republican nominee “makes you want to retch”.

However, until recently they were working under the assumption that Hillary Clinton would win comfortably in the autumn. Now, with Mrs Clinton holding a lead of little over two points in the polls, they suddenly find themselves having to adjust to a very different election, where a Trump victory is at least a possibility.

“Until recently, the main question we were asking was what sort of impact the election rhetoric would have on a Clinton administration, in terms of trade deals, military intervention and so on. But the polls are telling us we have to at least seriously entertain the idea that he has a chance to win,” said one Australian official.

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My Answer: Why not? She is no different from Mr Trump. It’s Politics–Din Merican

If Mr Trump’s views on Russia have been the most controversial aspect of his foreign policy approach in the US, in Europe and Asia it is his scathing criticism of traditional alliances that has garnered the most attention. At various stages in the campaign, the Republican candidate has suggested the US might not defend NATO allies and has said Washington should spend much less on defending Japan and South Korea.

Diplomats in Washington say that in the run-up to the Republican convention in July, representatives from the Trump campaign, including co-chairman Sam Clovis and then campaign manager Paul Manafort, told them that Mr Trump’s statements about America’s allies were less policy proposals and more opening statements in a negotiation.

In recent weeks, however, embassies in Washington have been receiving instructions to get a more precise understanding of the priorities of a Trump White House and who would be the senior officials in the administration.

“We have been told we need much more detailed planning about what a Trump administration would mean, the specific policies we should expect and who the key players would be,” said one Asian official. “But even at this stage, this is almost impossible to say.”

One of the complications in this election for foreign governments has been the rift between Mr Trump and large parts of the Republican foreign policy establishment, a section of which is openly supporting Hillary Clinton. Most of the small group of foreign policy advisers currently working with Mr Trump are much less well-known, giving diplomats in Washington little insight into the campaign’s thinking.

Mr Trump did receive some praise from the one leader who he met this week in New York, Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who said the Republican candidate would “no doubt” make a strong leader. Asked about Mr Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, Mr al-Sisi said that “during election campaigns many statements are made and many things are said; however, afterwards, governing the country would be something different.”

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned on Tuesday about the consequences of the US pulling back from its global role in ways that Mr Trump has often proposed.

“Can you imagine the soccer game where the referee decides to go back in the changing room? The first few moments, everyone says that’s great, and they’re away. After a time, it’s chaos,” Mr Blair told a Reuters event in New York. He added that Mrs Clinton was someone of “enormous wisdom, common sense and integrity.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang took the diplomatic route. “No matter who gets elected, I believe China-US ties will grow steadily and in a positive direction,” he told the Economic Club of New York.

Time for Sabah and Sarawak to say No–Joseph Kurup shows the Way


September 22, 2016

Time for Sabah and Sarawak to say No–Joseph Kurup shows the Way

by Zakiah Koya

Tan Sri Joseph Kurup (pic above) is not just anybody, he is a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and he has always been a between of yes-man and a silent man when he disagrees.

He has never said ‘No’ to the government policies, and he has always been diplomatic with his words when he disagrees, but there was never a ‘No’. He did say out once about removing race from all official forms, but that was said and never mentioned again.

However, he seems to be turning the table over now, when he has decided that enough is enough and that when his faith as a Christian is challenged by the very government he represents, he has to stand up and say ‘No!’. He has also decided that as he represents Sabahans who are of all religions living in harmony without any form of religious law dominating, he has to speak up for all of them.

And now, he is not only saying ‘No’, he is also threatening and this means business, for he is threatening that Sabah and Sarawak may just be tempted to go their separate ways from that of Peninsula Malaysia.

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It has all to do with the amendment to the Syariah Courts Act proposed by PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang and supported by mainly UMNO MPs, including the Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Razak himself.

The Star reported that Kurup as the Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) had stated that Sabah and Sarawak may be tempted to go their separate ways if the amendment to the Syariah Courts Act are passed in Parliament. The law, he said, would have a divisive effect on the unity and understanding that was cultivated since the formation of Malaysia in 1963.

“If it (the Bill) is forced into Parliament and passed, I’m afraid it will trigger more feelings among the people of Sabah and Sarawak to go their separate ways. They (Federal Go­­vern­­ment) shouldn’t have the slightest thought of introducing this law,” he said yesterday.

This is no simple threat, for although PBRS is seen as a minority party in Sabah, its influence is strong as it comes from a bigger party Parti Bersatu Sabah. And Kurup would not have mentioned Sabah and Sarawak, had he not consulted his Sarawak counterparts in the cabinet. Perhaps he is the only one daring enough to say it and not afraid to lose his position.

The Syariah Courts Act amendment will ultimately permit the state legislatures to empower the Syariah Court to impose any form of hudud (islamic crime law) punishment other than the death penalty (for example, 100 lashes of whipping for an unmarried person guilty of adultery; or the amputation of hands for theft).

This is very much in line with the Kelantan state government wanting to implement hudud in the state, a main reason the opposition alliance Pakatan Rakyat broke up, after Hadi insisted and then cuddled up to UMNO to propose the Syariah Courts Act amendment Bill in parliament in the last session.

UMNO had openly come out in support, despite much opposition from MCA, and some grunts from the other non Muslim BN counterparts, but Kurup is the first one to say it out openly and talk about cessation, a much feared issue by BN.

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A Partnership of Political Convenience

Many Muslims too have openly spoken up against the Bill, for fear it is all a mere misuse of religion by overzealous PAS, in the name of exerting their political power.

Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak, who has been waning in popularity depend very much on Sabah and Sarawak support and in recent years, he has increased East Malaysian cabinet members as well as poured in millions into Sabah and Sarawak development.

If Kurup does turn the table over on Najib, it would be a major dent in Najib’s support and then it may just start the domino effect in Sabah and Sarawak.

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It is a fact that Sabahans and Sarawakians greatly cherish and value their religious freedom and will not stand for any imposing by any one religion alone, never mind it is the official religion. Even Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem had said that many times and hinted it openly.

Kurup may have issued this threat politely, but it is something which must not be taken lightly by the government of the day, for Kurup speaks for many – Muslims and non-Muslims – and not for himself alone when it comes to the Syariah Courts Act Amendment Bill.

Malaysia: UMNO chipping away at the opposition


September 22, 2016

Malaysia: UMNO chipping away at the opposition 

by Peter Douglas

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Najib vs Lim Guan Eng

On  June 29 this year, Lim Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of Penang state and Secretary General of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), was arrested and charged with two counts of corruption and abuse of public office. The case at hand was Lim’s 2015 purchase of a house from businesswoman Phang Li Koon for below the estimated market value of the property. Members from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party first made public allegations about impropriety in the deal in March and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) quickly opened an investigation.

The minute details of the transaction and Lim and Phang’s links have played out extensively across government-aligned newspapers, websites, and television stations, as well as in alternative media. But the strength of the publicly available evidence remains murky at best. The government’s case will rest on the ability of the prosecutor to prove allegations that the house’s low price was tied to a separate sale of state government land in Penang to a company called KLIDC. For their part,the DAP, Lim, and Phang have denied the allegations, stating there was no connection between the house purchase and the land sale and no business relationship between Lim and Phang.

The government’s handling of the case suggests it will be played out for maximum effect. It was quickly announced that the lead prosecutor for Lim’s case will be the Attorney General (AG) of Malaysia, Apandi Ali. Critics have raised questions about Apandi’s independence from government pressure, pointing to his close links with the ruling government. Apandi was picked by Prime Minister Najib Razak to replace the former AG Abdul Gani Patali, who was investigating the 1MDB corruption scandal. Upon taking office, Apandi closed the investigation on 1MDB and cleared Najib of all wrongdoing. Apandi even ran as an UMNO candidate in the 1990 elections.

Image result for Najib vs Lim Guan Eng

With Judiciary, Executive Branch and Legislature and Media under his total control, Prime Minister Najib Razak is able to act with impunity

There are several implications for the DAP and Malaysia’s other opposition parties in the near future.

First, the Lim case provides an opportunity to portray Penang’s DAP-led government in a negative light. The opposition has sought to use state-level power, particularly in Penang and Selangor states, to showcase an image of clean and efficient administration. Opposition politicians have complained that the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition has put their activities under particular scrutiny. It is unlikely that Lim’s case (or other recent cases spotlighted in the media) will do much to dislodge the DAP’s power in Penang state in the coming election. But these cases serve to tarnish the opposition’s image.

The DAP also faces a delicate balancing act: fighting against what it sees as politically motivated charges, while still being seen to take seriously its own campaign messages of anti-corruption and transparency. Lim and his supporters have pointed out the irony that the MACC has vigorously pursued the house purchase case while the 1MDB corruption scandal has been largely untouched by domestic investigators.

Yet this defence does not exonerate Lim from contesting the charges and the government’s case in court. The DAP also faced criticism for its call for snap elections in the wake of the charges. Snap elections in Penang, Lim argued, would consolidate the opposition’s position and obtain a ’fresh mandate’ for the state’s coalition government. But DAP’s opposition allies in the Pakatan Harapan coalition strongly objected, since opposition unity to guarantee straight fights against Barisan Nasional is currently lacking. The idea was eventually abandoned.

Perhaps the biggest implication is that Lim, facing conviction and possible prison time, may be unable to contest in the next general elections, coming as soon as the first quarter of next year. For his part, Lim says he ‘cannot be saved politically’. Jailing opposition politicians to neutralise threats has been a predictable choice in the government’s ‘menu of manipulation’. Lim himself spent a year in jail after being sentenced under the Sedition Act; his father Lim Kit Siang was previously detained for 17 months. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was handed a five-year jail sentence in time to circumvent his party’s attempt to put him in office, and remains imprisoned today. Rafizi Ramli, Secretary General of Anwar’s party, PKR, was recently charged under the Official Secrets Act; like Lim, he may be unable to contest in the next general election.

Malaysia’s UMNO-dominated government is facing one of the most challenging elections of its long political hegemony. But its handling of Lim Guan Eng’s case suggests it still has a formidable set of tools to obstruct and defuse threats from its main opposition.

Peter Douglas is the pseudonym of a Kuala Lumpur-based researcher studying opposition politics in Malaysia.