Zahid Hamidi: Malaysian Politics’ One -Trick Pony


August 29, 2015

Clean Malaysia.2015

Zahid Hamidi: Malaysian Politics’ One -Trick Pony

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT If there is a one-trick pony in Malaysian politics, it’s Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. He’s got only one trick up his sleeve and it’s a sledgehammer which he is pleased to deploy, especially when he’s got his back to the wall.

That a politician of his dearth of skills can rise to the No. 2 position in the country is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in an UMNO that has dominated Malaysia’s politics to its detriment since Independence.

That this dominance has brought the country to decay can be seen from the contagion of controversies that presently beset it.

The distresses have reached a point where the only way out is for the No. 1 man to exit office, but this is not to say that the No. 2 should then take over.

The sober-minded know that often in politics, the choice is not between good and better; more commonly, it is between the undesirable and the intolerable. But in the case of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his Deputy, the selection is between the intolerable and the execrable.

No, this isn’t saying that that’s the choice we are faced with. It’s that both leaders in combination have succeeded in dividing the country between those who want to be freed of stupidity and those in whose material interest it is to support a benighted tyranny.

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Zahid certified this division through the banning notice he issued yesterday against the wearing of the yellow Bersih T-shirts whose sales have been brisk the past week.

Yellow a color of resonant significance

The yellow of Bersih has been a color of resonant significance since Queen Elizabeth (photo) used a yellow dress with a yellow floral arrangement in the backdrop of a reception hall in Buckingham Palace when the English monarch received Najib and wife Rosmah Mansor who were on state visit when Bersih were planning a their second march a few years back.

Yellow, contrary to its nominal signficance as an emblem of cowardice, has become in the protest march parlance in Malaysia the color of defiance and even subtlety.

The rapid turnover in T-short sales and the reported RM2 million in collections by Bersih for this their fourth protest march planned for today and tomorrow must have caused panic in government ranks.

Panic is not something that is calculated to bring out the best in the government. Accustomed to bringing out the mailed fist when under duress, the government has relied on the home minister for its final thrust to foil today’s gathering by Bersih when all other devices for heading off the protest had failed.

The government had tried subterfuge, offers of alternative venues, and there was the threat of anti-Bersih action by vigilante groups which was quickly retracted, and, lastly, the resort to a warning by the Armed Forces chief that the military will intervene if an emergency is declared in the event of disturbances.

Liable to compensatory action by victims

Even an attack imputing disloyalty by Bersih in wanting to stage their protest on the eve of the annual Merdeka Day commemoration failed to make a dent on their determination to go ahead.

When all these variations on a general theme of dissuasion proved of no avail, in stepped the Home Minister with the only prohibitive weapon he has in his arsenal – a banning of the yellow Bersih T-shirts.

How efficacious this ban is going to be can be inferred somewhat from what retired judge Gopal Sri Ram (photo) has said about the extent of the ambit of the Printing and Publications Act under which the banning order was issued.

The former jurist who has returned to legal practice has been vocal in recent years in pointing out legal niceties which in the case of yesterday’s banning order, does not include T-shirts in its ambit.

In an opinion that may well stay the hand of the banning authority, the learned lawyer contends that arrests of yellow Bersih T-shirt wearers would be liable to compensatory action by the victims. If this is true, Zahid may have bitten off more than he can chew. He’s had plenty of practice for this overreach.

Two years ago, almost to the month, the Home Minister made headlines, when in the face of rising instances of gangland shootings, he said police would shoot first and leave the ask questions for later.

It was a stance of breathtaking insolence. For if he has stubbed his legal toe in the dark of trying to thwart the Bersih 4 march, he will have asked for it.

Bersih 4.0 Update from freemalaysiatoday


August 29, 2015

Obama and Michelle Bersih 4.0

Best wishes from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC to all Malaysians at Bersih 4.0. The US President is montoring the situation closely from the East Wing. Let us show him and Michelle that we are a disciplined and peace-loving people who stand up for the Rule of Law, Freedom, Justice, and Democracy.–Din Merican

LIVE at Bersih 4: All peaceful around Dataran Merdeka

Stay tuned for updates on the Bersih 4 rally progressing in downtown Kuala Lumpur now.

UPDATED

5.12pm: Opposition leader Wan Azizah and her daughter Nurul Nuha are seeing leaving Dataran Merdeka and will return after the Maghrib prayers.

solat at Bersih 4.05.00pm: Muslim rally goers do not forget their religious obligations and perform the Solat Asar in front of the City Hall building.

4.58pm: Ambiga is seen leaving Dataran Merdeka and informs reporters she will be returning at 10pm tonight.

4.54pm: Speaking to rally goers, Ambiga said she misses the presence of PAS whose members were a no-show at the rally. She also says the main thing the government must do is “get rid of GST”.

ambiga4.50pm: What is believed to be a home-made bomb has exploded at Jalan Kinabalu. FMT Reporter Adam Abu Bakar, who was 30 metres away from the blast, said it was thrown from the flyover to the road below. There were no injuries.

4.44pm: City Hall officers have arrived to monitor and assist rally goers.

DBKL

4.36pm: With the skies turning cloudy, some rally goers are spotted leaving the scene. When asked why he was leaving, one man, who did not wish to be named, said he was headed back to Gombak.

pulang3 media pulang

4.21pm: Bersih 4 rally goers are seen sitting peacefully on the roads along Jalan Tun Perak and Jalan Raja Laut. Earlier performers of the group BangsArt sang the song “Hidup Rakyat” (Long live the people) accompanied by drum beats.

Meanwhile Police presence at Dataran Merdeka is reported as being minimal. No FRU in sight.

4.20pm: Bersih 4.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah calls on MPs to table a motion of no confidence against the Prime Minister once Parliament reconvenes in October. She says this is the main message from Bersih 4 to the government apart from calling for institutional reforms.

4.05pm: The crowd from Menara Maybank is approaching Dataran Merdeka.

4.00pm: Crowds cheer as Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng approaches the Dataran Merdeka area. He addresses the crowd, criticising Prime Minister Najib Razak for the RM2.6 billion donation he received and the falling ringgit. He says with the GST, the poor have become even poorer. “Everything has gone up (in price). I believe when the country’s leaders see us gathering here today, they will not be able to sleep.”

He adds, “The ringgit has dropped so badly to the extent we can’t go anywhere, not even Thailand. That’s why we come to Dataran (Merdeka) because that’s the only place we can be.”Maria Chin Abdullah is also around the vicinity.

3.40pm: The crowd from Sogo arrives at Dataran Merdeka. There are reports that some people are leaving the rally grounds.

dataran ramai

3.32pm: GHB’s Mat Sabu arrives in Dataran Merdeka and tells Bersih 4 organisers to ensure rally goers do not enter Dataran Merdeka. He says the programme will start at 4.30pm when Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah arrives. He tells rally goers to sit down, be quiet and to get to know each other.

3.30pm: GHB’s Ahmad Awang addresses the crowd and says he hopes this will be the last time that there will be a Bersih 4 before the Opposition defeats UMNO-BN and takes over Putrajaya.

Meanwhile Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali says that will such a good turnout, he is confident that Prime Minister Najib Razak can be ousted from Putrajaya.

3.20pm: Some rally goers are sitting on the roads along Jalan Tun Perak, slowing down the march to Dataran Merdeka.

3.15pm: Crowds are swelling around Dataran Merdeka as they are joined by over 3,000 from Masjid Negara shouting “Bersih! Bersih! Hidup Rakyat!”.

Rally goers from Brickfields numbering 5,000 have arrived at Central Market.

3.01pm: The estimated crowd from Menara Maybank walking towards Dataran Merdeka is 20,000.

2.45pm: GHB’s chairman Mat Sabu, in a fiery speech outside Masjid Negara, says all Malaysians gathered today would do so peacefully for the next 34 hours. “We are here today to save the country, the people and to say no to corruption. Tomorrow at midnight we will all shout “Merdeka!”

mat-sabu2

2.35pm: The rally goers at Jalan Parlimen leading to Dataran Merdeka are told to sit down. Malaysiakini reports Bersih 2.0 secretariat member Shukri Razab as saying,”Ladies and gentlemen who gather in front of the barricades, please do not storm in as Bersih has made a promise (not to do so). And the police will also take care of our safety.” 

2.30pm: Rally goers start their march from Brickfields carrying a large banner that says “Tangkap Najib”.

tangkap-najib

2.25pm: The march from Menara Maybank to Dataran Merdeka has begun.

2.20pm: Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng addressing the crowd at Menara Maybank says, “We gather here today not for power, positions or money. We gather here not for ourselves, but for our children.”

2.19pm: GHB’s Mat Sabu tells rally goers at Masjid Negara that their presence at Bersih 4 today is a clear indication of their desire for Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign.

mat-sabu

2.17pm: Wan Azizah addresses the crowd gathered in front of the Sogo Shopping Complex.

wan-azizah

2.15pm: Maria Chin Abdullah in her speech at Menara Maybank, says the march today is to demand the Prime Minister step down so that Malaysians will get a clean government. This was followed by a two-minute long cheer by the almost 8,000 rally goers gathered there.

Meanwhile Khalid Samad who spoke at the same venue commended rally goers for being brave enough to have come out and demand for the prime minister to step down. He said Malaysians were people of great dignity. Khalid also said he would support a vote of no confidence on the prime minister because he has embarrassed Malaysians. His speech was followed by shouts of “Bersih! Bersih! Bersih!”

2.10pm: MP for Kota Raja Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud from GHB who is at Masjid Jamek calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak’s resignation and says the people are tired of his leadership.


dr-Mariah

Ambiga meanwhile tells rally goers at Brickfields that the people want clean elections and a clean government, “Hidup Bersih Hidup Rakyat!” and proceeds to lead the march to the Central Market.

ambiga

2.00pm: DAP Parliamentary leader and MP for Gelang Patah Lim Kit Siang arrives at Masjid Negara while Opposition leader Wan Azizah and daughter Nurul Hana have arrived at Sogo Shopping Complex.

Number of rally goers at Central Market are approximately 4,000 at this point.

Lim-kitsiang

1.59pm: Former Bersih co-chair Ambiga Sreenevasan arrives at Brickfields.

1.50pm: Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah arrives at Central Market.

maria-chin

Activist Hishamuddin Rais and former MB of Perak Nizar Jamaluddin have just arrived in Brickfields to a cheering crowd. They crowd is anxiously awaiting for the nod to start marching. MP for Lembah Pantai Nurul Izzah Anwar is expected to arrive at 2.30pm.

According to Malaysiakini, approximately 50 Malaysians have gathered at Suzhou in China to mark Bersih 4. They came wearing the yellow Bersih T-shirts and carrying the Jalur Gemilang.

1.30pm: Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad has been spotted at Menara Maybank.

A huge Bersih 4 bunting carried by three rally goers is spotted. A driver passing by has rolled down his window to shout “Bersih!” with others shouting in unison.

Crowd at Menara Maybank approximately 5,000 now after being joined by those from the Masjib Jamek area. Drivers of almost every vehicle passing by honks in support.Shouts of “Bersih!” dominate accompanied by sounds of the vuvuzela.

Apart from wearing the yellow Bersih T-shirts, some have painted their faces in yellow with the words Bersih 4 on it.

Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen and PKR’s Batu MP Tian Chua are spotted in front of the Sogo Shopping Mall.

1.16pm: Dr Dzulkifli Ahmad from GHB, who has been spotted, says supporters from Johor, Malacca and Negeri Sembilan are on the way to Kuala Lumpur.

The entrances to Dataran Merdeka are under tight police control by 200 personnel stationed there. Rally goers are steering clear of the area out of respect for Merdeka Day rehearsals taking place there. They have instead starting moving towards the Masjid Jamek area.

About 2,000 rally goers are now shouting “BERSIH!” non-stop.

bersih3

1.10pm: FMT reporters on the ground say the turnout today is peaceful overall with a mixed crowd of Malaysians showing up to participate in the Bersih 4 rally despite it being declared illegal by the authorities.

Every rally goer has also defied authorities by donning the yellow Bersih T-shirt that was declared illegal yesterday because it was an “undesirable item”.

Gerakan Harapan Baru (GHB) leaders however have not been spotted yet leading their supporters.

12.50pm: About 2,000 people have gathered in front of the Sogo Shopping Mall and about the same number at Menara Maybank.

The crowd at Masjib Jamek that has gathered near the LRT station meanwhile has swelled to approximately 1,500.

bersih4 bersih5.

12.45pm: The Malaysian Insider reports that a petition to collect one million signatures for the release of former Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim from prison, has started circulating among rally goers in front of the Sogo Shopping Mall.

Nandos adds to the spice of the rally by distributing free drinks to Bersih 4 rally goers.

According to Malaysiakini, some of those present at the rally were seen holding creative cardboard banners saying “I ‘hv NO MONEY TO PRINT A BANNER. PLEASE DONATE RM2.6 BILLION TO ME!!”

Another says, “People will eat grass if Najib does not resign” while another was spotted carrying a canvas bag with the words, “My Prime Minister embarrasses me”.

12.40pm: Some rally goers making the most of their time downtown to buy lottery tickets for the weekend at Jalan Masjid Jamek.

IMG-20150829-WA0097

12.35pm: FMT reporters say the mood is generally of a festive nature.

12.30pm: Bersih’s Mandeep Singh and student activist Adam Adli are seen leading a big crowd towards Central Market, obstructing traffic.

FMT reporter Arfa Yunus says some rally goers are carrying sunflowers to signify the colour of Bersih 4.  She herself received one. Another reporter Yusoff Mohamed received a bottle of mineral water from a good-hearted rally goer.

PKR Secretary-General Rafizi Ramli is seen looking jovial and posing with a crowd of rally goers as they gesture showing the number 4 to reflect the Bersih 4 rally.

rafizi

12.20pm: Over 300 Bersih rally goers at Menara Maybank have begun to march towards Dataran Merdeka although their group leader Selangor MB Azmin Ali has yet to make an appearance. The others are seen still standing along the roadside of Jalan Pudu.

Meanwhile Police trucks have begun to arrive at Central Market where crowds have reached almost 1,000 in number.

12.15pm: Police trucks and buses begin to arrive at Menara Maybank. Police officers start to control traffic. The crowd has now swelled to close to 1,500.

12.00pm: Crowds at Menara Maybank numbering in the region of 1,200 await the arrival of Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali. Rally goers are waving the Jalur Gemilang as traffic shows significant signs of slowing down.

Over at Central Market, crowds of between 600-700 people begin to gather.

IMG-20150829-WA0076

11.51am: Malaysian Insider reports from Kota Kinabalu that rally goers have been spotted erecting tents for their overnight camp out at the Teluk Likas public park 2.

11.45am: About 1,000 people have gathered in front of Central Market clamouring for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak and calling for the release of jailed former Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

FMT reporter Arfa Yunus says it’s like Hari Raya celebrations down at Dataran Merdeka. Individuals without any affiliation to political parties or organisations are handing out drinking water to rally goers free of charge.

bersih6

bebaskan anwar

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11.30am: Crowds building up at the location of Central Market, Petaling Street, Masjid Negara, Sogo and Brickfields. People have also gathered at Menara Maybank where Selangor Menteri Besar Azmin Ali will lead the rally.

Rally goers are seen waving the Malaysian flag and blaring the vuvuzela. Cars passing keep honking, showing their support for Bersih 4.

Malaysia political crisis poised for street showdown


August 29, 2015

BERSIH 4.0 :Malaysia Political Crisis poised for street showdown

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/78316de4-4d52-11e5-9b5d-89a026fda5c9.html#axzz3kBzkoQLS

FT Najib

Malaysia’s growing political crisis is on the brink of a showdown as tens of thousands of protesters prepare to pour on to the capital’s streets in an effort to topple Najib Razak, the scandal-hit prime minister.

The mass demonstration this weekend known as Bersih — or “clean” — is aimed at forcing the premier’s resignation, after it emerged that unexplained payments of almost $700m were made into bank accounts in his name.

The country’s anti-corruption commission has said the money was from unspecified Middle Eastern donors, rather than Malaysian state coffers. But critics claim the transactions are linked to huge debts run up by a state investment fund, whose troubles some see as emblematic of the misrule of the premier’s long-dominant United Malays National Organisation.

“There has to be some investigation and the result must be made public,” Maria Chin Abdullah, Bersih’s chairwoman, said of the payments. “[And] even if you got rid of Najib, this political system of corruption, draconian laws, using racial politics to divide us will continue.”

Lord of the Ringgit

Police have already sealed off areas of Kuala Lumpur ahead of a gathering the authorities have declared illegal. The organisers of Bersih 4.0 — three previous demonstrations have been held during political flashpoints of the past 10 years — are also organising protests in other cities across Southeast Asia’s third-largest economy.

Dr. Ooi Kee Beng, Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said: “This will probably be the biggest demonstration in Malaysian history. The sense of exasperation and helplessness is high in Malaysia right now, so the timing will encourage a huge turnout.”

The demonstration is the biggest popular challenge yet to Mr Najib’s rule of more than six years, which has extended the hegemony enjoyed by UMNO since Malaysia won independence from Britain 58 years ago on Monday. Security forces used tear gas and water cannon on protesters at a previous Bersih in 2012, the year before contentious elections in which the opposition won the popular vote but the UMNO-led coalition retained a parliamentary majority.

Mr Najib’s position has become more precarious as questions have arisen over how the 1Malaysia Development Berhad investment fund, whose advisory board he chairs, ran up debts of more than $11bn. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s still influential ex-premier, has called for Mr Najib to stand down.

Mr Najib insists he has done nothing wrong, but he has declined to offer a full explanation for the near-$700m money transfer. He was due to make a much-anticipated appearance at an international anti-corruption conference in Malaysia next week. The organisers’ website does not list him on the conference agenda, although a government spokesperson insisted the Premier still intended to speak as originally planned.

John Malott, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, attacked the Prime Minister in a strongly worded column published on the Malaysiakini website this week, declaring that it was “game over for Najib Razak internationally”.

Mr Najib has attracted western leaders by casting Muslim-majority Malaysia as a moderate country committed to the fight against terrorism. He played golf with US President Barack Obama late last year and hosted a visit last month from David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, after evidence of the bank account payments surfaced.

Mr Malott said Mr Najib’s darker side had become increasingly apparent, as he had stifled opposition and become embroiled in questionable transactions. “There was always a gap between the real Najib . . . and the image people had of him,” Mr Malott said.

 

Going Rogue: Malaysia and the 1MDB Scandal


August 29, 2015

Bersih4We are Malaysians, so we must be who we say we are.–Din Merican

The respected, admired and well-regarded London School of Economics don, Dr. Danny Quah provides the rationale for Bersih 4.0. And here I quote his eloquent statement:

One of Britain’s greatest friends – a former colony that admired and reflected the grand British ideals of democracy, Rule of Law, free speech, and egalitarianism – has gone rogue…It does not take authoritarian autocracy to run a country into the ground. Regardless of the system of government, it takes only political elites out of touch with their people, a co-opted judiciary, an electoral process that even while open fails to surface progressive leadership, and a system that keeps to the law but fails to protect those speaking truth to power. Malaysia now has all of these sorry attributes.–Dr. Danny Quah

So go forth my fellow Malaysians at Bersih 4.0 and show the world that we want positive change and have the will to make Malaysia great again. We  must, we can, and we will succeed. All that is needed is the collective will to make it happen. We are Malaysians and proud to be Malaysians always, no matter where in this wide world we may be.–Din Merican

Going Rogue: Malaysia and the 1MDB Scandal

http://thediplomat.com/2015/08/going-rogue-malaysia-and-the-1mdb-scandal/

In 1971, more than forty years before the world would turn its attention to the so-called one percent and the problem of income inequality, Malaysia embarked on one of history’s boldest and most noble experiments to reduce social disparity. Malaysia’s New Economic Policy, or NEP, would seek to “eradicate poverty for all” and “eliminate identification of race by economic function and geographic location.” This polity that had achieved national independence just over a decade before, this country that was still a low-income emerging economy, was setting out to solve the massive problem of injustice and inequality over which other societies much more mature continued to struggle.

Malaysia was a democracy that hewed to the Rule of Law. The New Economic Policy (NEP) -1970-1990– would be Malaysia’s key political driver. Over the decades that followed, the NEP’s mantra would serve as a backdrop to almost all political discourse in the country. NEP-themed policies would, among much else, flesh out the concept of Bumiputera – an ethnic-driven formulation of native peoples in Malaysia.

Najib The SapumanMalaysia’s  most tainted Prime Minister 

It is difficult to grow an economy – look at train wrecks strewn around the world. But seeking to do so and at the same reduce ethnic- and rural-urban inequality, and maintain social harmony among diverse ethnic and religious groups is an order of magnitude more arduous. Malaysia succeeded: From tropical jungle, Malaysia has grown to have an average income now well above the world emerging-economy average. Its urban infrastructure and worker skills approach those in the first world. Malaysia’s top bankers, business people, and entrepreneurs are admired everywhere. NEP reduced pockets of extreme poverty and created a significant, thriving, and successful Bumiputera middle class – a group of professionals and intellectuals whose contributions to Malaysian society would be the pride of any country.

And, although from time to time patchily diverging from the ideal, throughout this history Malaysia worked hard to maintain its young democracy and its adherence to Rule of Law, and to support a healthy vigorous open sphere of public debate. Sensitive racial questions were out of bounds, but open questioning of the government was lively. Top government officials routinely had the judiciary rule against them. And a national identity emerged, one that combined the best aspects of local culture and an easy-going, open-minded cosmopolitanism developed from, among other things, the many Malaysians who have seen significant international experience. More so than when at home, Malaysians outside Malaysia saw each other for the warm and lively friends they genuinely were for one another, people who felt driven by a mission to make their country better.

Since his 2009 swearing-in, Malaysia’s current Prime Minister has sought to articulate an international vision for a “coalition of moderates.” As leader of a successful moderate Muslim country, he carried an authority and credibility sorely needed in global discourse. He was widely accepted in international circles, and even famously golfed with Barack Obama.

All this is now at risk.

However noble the goal of reducing social disparity, and however laudable the democracy, transparency, and Rule of Law to which Malaysia has desperately clung, this NEP half-century has seen the emergence of an increasingly hateful race-based narrative to Malaysia’s political and economic strategies. The Bumiputera concept has become conflated with questions of religion, and threatens the open society that Malaysia has built. That concept is now considered by many – both Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera alike – to hold back continued social development for the country. Significant Bumiputera and rural poverty remain. Ever more frequent accounts have appeared of government agencies intended to reduce Bumiputera poverty yet only enriching the elites of that group. A recent article by one of Malaysia’s most thoughtful interlocutors has had to ask:

Why after decades of rigorous development planning, 40% of Malaysian households earn only about RM1,847 a month? Why after more than four decades of the NEP, 75.5% of those at the bottom are Bumiputeras? Why in spite of the billions poured into education and boarding schools, 64.3% of the Bumiputera workforce have only SPM qualifications? Why some 90% of the unemployable university graduates are Bumiputras? Why of the $54 billion worth of shares pumped to Bumiputera individuals and institutions between 1984 and 2005, only $2 billion remained in Bumiputera hands today?

In March 2010 at an international investors’ conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced an urgent need for a revision to the NEP, towards a national development strategy more transparent, merit-driven, and market-friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action. The Prime Minister had just won a resounding electoral victory; he had the backing of all Malaysians. (I am told by reliable sources that even Malaysia’s opposition MPs felt like standing up and cheering.)  But then elements within the Prime Minister’s political party mounted significant pushback, the moment passed, and he did not stay the course. Open democratic process has not kept in check the rise of extremists rallying together the Bumiputera grassroots, good people who have been told this time will be different, this time more of the same will help them, despite its having failed to do so these last 50 years.  Since 2010 no one has been able to recount significant action on that announcement.

A Malaysia of Cronies

All this is background. The practice continues to worsen in a Malaysia of cronies undermining good intentions and exploiting for self-interest the very instruments designed to help others. The latest most visible instance of this is 1Malaysia Development Berhad, or 1MDB, an investment fund set up to steward the nation’s resources. Elsewhere in the world, international scrutiny of sovereign wealth management vehicles has led to their applying the highest possible standards of financial probity; indeed, among the world’s most respected, successful, and scrupulously managed of those is Malaysia’s own Khazanah Nasional. By contrast, 1MDB has seen billions of dollars of public money moved around the world in suspicious circumstances, with allegations that hundreds of millions of dollars were funneled into the prime minister’s personal bank accounts. (Malaysia’s anti-corruption agency has ruled that the money came from legitimate “donations,” without specifying who the donor was.) All of this has dragged down in the world’s eyes Malaysia’s otherwise globally esteemed financial infrastructure.

And the egregious actions continue: shutting down the press has become the next step in that escalation. In July 2015 Malaysian authorities blocked a website that had become a significant and honest whistleblower on high-level developments in Malaysia. That same month Malaysian authorities suspended The Edge newspaper for its reports on 1MDB. Criminal defamation litigation threatened by the prime minister against the Wall Street Journal on its 1MDB reporting turned into a fiasco of the most basic legal ineptitude. Towards the end of July Najib removed from Cabinet his own deputy prime minister, the government’s most significant and prominent voice to raise questions on 1MDB. While four different official Malaysian government investigations are underway, there has now been a sudden replacement of the attorney-general and chief prosecutor. The deputy public prosecutor and others involved in the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission have been arrested. The Prime Minister moved four members of the 1MDB parliamentary committee into his cabinet, thereby shutting down all further proceedings even as the committee’s official report comes due. Opposition MPs have been prevented from leaving the country on their way to discussing 1MDB and the political crisis in Malaysia.

In all this turmoil, many of Malaysia’s most remarkable leaders and numerous ordinary people have spoken out on the need for the country to get back to its roots. The country again needs to have a government that runs for the well-being of its people. Malaysia’s current political leadership no longer articulates a vision that serves Malaysia’s people. Malaysia’s leadership is no longer one admired by and hopeful for others around the world.

One of Britain’s greatest friends – a former colony that admired and reflected the grand British ideals of democracy, Rule of Law, free speech, and egalitarianism – has gone rogue.

Gandhi quote

It does not take authoritarian autocracy to run a country into the ground. Regardless of the system of government, it takes only political elites out of touch with their people, a co-opted judiciary, an electoral process that even while open fails to surface progressive leadership, and a system that keeps to the law but fails to protect those speaking truth to power. Malaysia now has all of these sorry attributes.

Danny Quah is Professor of Economics and International Development at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre at LSE. He had previously served on Malaysia’s National Economic Advisory Council, 2009-2011.

Bersih 4.0 is a Call for Democratic Reform in Malaysia


August 28, 2015

Good Luck to All Malaysians at Bersih 4.0. Don’t be easily provoked byDM B.40 agent provocateurs who will be among you on August 29 and 30. It is important that we keep our cool so that our protest will be peaceful and orderly. All will be lost if we cannot maintain order and discipline. Never give the Prime Minister the opportunity to declare a state of emergency and rule by decree. Remember the rest of the world is watching us in our struggle for democracy and good governance.–Din Merican

Opinion: Bersih 4.0 is a Call for Democratic Reform in Malaysia

by Maria Chin Abdullah

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Bersih4

This weekend, Malaysia will have a mammoth 34-hour “Bersih 4” rally in the national capital Kuala Lumpur and regional capitals Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in East Malaysia. Hundreds of thousands are expected to color the cities yellow, echoed by the Malaysian diaspora in 56 cities worldwide.

“Bersih” means “clean” in Malaysia’s national language. It is the fourth rally organized by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih), a coalition now consisting of 88 civil society groups, which I chair.

The previous Bersih rallies held in 2007, 2011 and 2012, – all in yellow, our official color – had sought to advance Malaysia’s democratization process, by not only demanding for electoral reforms, but also catalyzing citizens to take ownership of their country.

This time, we are calling for clean elections, a clean government and the right to dissent, so that we may strengthen parliamentary democracy and save our ailing economy.

I have a Dream

We are also calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Razak. He chaired a state development company, 1MDB, which is now RM42 billion in debt with dubious dealings. Funds related to 1MDB totaling nearly US$700 million were found to have gone into his personal accounts in Malaysia, before nearly all of it was transferred back to another personal account in Singapore, which was closed after the funds were transferred out somewhere overseas.

Najib and his ministers have been quoted in news reports effectively saying that the money was used as a slush fund to win the 2013 general elections.  His coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) won the poll with only 47 percent of votes but 60 percent of the parliamentary seats due to extensive malapportionment and gerrymandering of the constituencies.

In any decent parliamentary democracy, a prime minister implicated in corruption of such scale would have been investigated for corruption and/or election misconduct by the Police and charged if there is sufficient evidence.

But before that, the Prime Minister might have resigned, been ousted by his parliamentary caucus or defeated in the parliament through a vote of confidence. In the best scenario, with the consent of head of state for parliamentary dissolution, he would be fighting a fresh election.

Unlike executive presidents who enjoy full-term tenure unless being impeached, prime ministers in a parliamentary democracy serve only as long as they enjoy the confidence of the Parliament.

Najib has instead responded by disarming and silencing his critics. He threatened to sue the Wall Street Journal, suspended two local business dailies and blocked an investigative news portal for exposing the 1MDB scandals.

He sacked his Deputy Muhyiddin Yassin and another senior minister for questioning him on the matter. The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was paralyzed with ministerial appointments which effectively removed its chair and three other members.

A multi-agency special task force on the 1MDB scandal was dismantled, with the Attorney-General abruptly removed, and officials from the Central Bank and Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested and investigated.   

Already hit by the 6 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) imposed in May to replenish the state coffers, Malaysia’s economy is on a free fall as the assault on public institutions hurts market confidence.

The Malaysian ringgit has depreciated below the levels of RM4 to US$1 and RM3 to S$1.  The Malaysian and Singaporean currencies were on par in value when the two countries split exactly 50 years ago.

The Bersih 4 rally will end just before the nation’s independence celebration on August 31. In Kuala Lumpur, the rally venue will be in the vicinity of Merdeka Square, where the first announcements of Merdeka –Independence – were made in 1957 by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the father of the country.

But this is neither another Arab Spring nor another color revolution. Malaysia’s struggle for democracy is completely different from those of the Arab countries for two reasons.

First, Malaysia started off as a democracy in 1963 when four former British colonies – Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore – merged. Second, we are multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual while having a Malay-Muslim majority.

The first fact made us a Westminster parliamentary democracy with constitutional monarchs at both federal and state levels. The second fact, many pundits believe, poses a challenge to democracy or even statehood.

Najib’s institutional might to defy all democratic checks and balances stems from the dominance of ethno-religious politics in Malaysia. His United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has ruled Malaya and later Malaysia in coalition since 1955, two years before Malaya’s independence.

When a Sino-Malay riot broke out in Kuala Lumpur after the ruling coalition suffered significant setbacks in the 1969 elections, his father and then Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak took the opportunity to turn the country into a de facto one-party state with elections.

The party-state has three pillars: electoral manipulation, suppression of dissent and the New Economic Policy (NEP) that privileges the Malay-Muslims to tie them to UMNO.

The one-party state morphed into personal rule under 23 years of Mahathir Mohamad’s premiership.

Dr.  Mahathir made the seat of Prime Minister more powerful than an executive president by sacking top judges, taming the Parliament, and creating a huge Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) that makes even the cabinet a rubber stamp.

Today, in Najib’s 37-member cabinet, 11 are placed in the Prime Minister’s Department and Razak also holds the powerful Finance portfolio, a convention set by Mahathir.

Mahathir, once Najib’s pivotal backer, has turned around to be his strongest critic. The former premier wants Najib to resign to save UMNO and revive his old-style authoritarianism. For Bersih, we don’t want to just change a corrupt Prime Minister. We want to change a political system that produces corrupt, authoritarian politicians in the name of ethno-religious nationalism. We don’t want a revolution. We want a smooth transition from a decaying one-party state to a vibrant multiparty democracy. That cannot happen in another Arab Spring.

We have dared Najib to do two things. First, promise safety for the Bersih 4 rally so that he could dismiss us if Malaysians do not support our call. Second, seek a vote of confidence in the Parliament after the rally – if he has the backing of the Parliament, then regardless of the rally’s size, we accept his right to stay in power.

Unsurprisingly, Najib has ignored our challenges. He instead falls back to communalism to defend corruption. His spin doctors are now saying the US$700 million is a donation from Arab royals to fight an opposition purportedly controlled by the Jews.

While the Inspector-General of Police threatens us with arrests, thuggish groups are making open threats to rough up Bersih protesters. We experienced both police violence and the threat of riots in the Bersih 2 rally in 2012.

Paradoxically, Police violence has united Malaysians asking for democracy and good governance. Under fire of water cannons and tear gas, we realized we are not each other’s enemy despite our differences in ethnicity, faith, language and social class.

We went to the streets to seek democracy, only to find the nation we have long been denied, crying as we sang our national anthem Negaraku [My Country] in the streets.  We felt we were truly independent, overcoming both our distrust of each other and our fear of government. Bersih has proved to be a vehicle of not only democracy, but also of patriotism.

This time we Malaysians will rise again to the occasion. We will prove that diversity is not an obstacle to democracy. As corruption destroys us, where communalism divides us, democracy will unite and heal us.

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

Maria Chin Abdullah is chairman of the Bersih political reform NGO.  This was written for Asia Sentinel

Najib: No more Mr Nice Guy


August 28, 2015

Politics in Malaysia

No more Mr Nice Guy

Beset by scandal, Malaysia’s Prime Minister cracks down on dissent

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