Whither Political History on US campuses


August 29, 2016

Whither Political History on US campuses

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case. Political history — a specialization in elections and elected officials, policy and policy making, parties and party politics — was once a dominant, if not the dominant, pursuit of American historians. Many of them, in turn, made vital contributions to the political process itself, whether it was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s role in the Kennedy White House or C. Vann Woodward’s “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “bible of the civil rights movement.”

But somewhere along the way, such work fell out of favor with history departments. According to the American Historical Association’s listing of academic departments, three-quarters of colleges and universities now lack full-time researchers and teachers in the subject.

There appears to be little effort to fill the void. A search of the leading website advertising academic jobs in history, H-Net, yielded just 15 advertisements in the last 10 years specifically seeking a tenure-track, junior historian specializing in American political history. That’s right: just 15 new jobs in the last decade.

As a result, the study of America’s political past is being marginalized. Many college catalogs list precious few specialized courses on the subject, and survey courses often give scant attention to political topics. The pipelines for new Ph.D.s in the subject, and therefore new faculty, are drying up, and in many graduate programs one can earn a doctorate in American history with little exposure to politics.

How did it come to this? The trend began in the 1960s. America’s misadventure in Vietnam led to broad questioning of elite decision making and conventional politics, and by extension those historical narratives that merely recounted the doings of powerful men. Likewise, the movements of the 1960s and 1970s by African-Americans, Latinos, women, homosexuals and environmental activists brought a new emphasis on history from the bottom up, spotlighting the role of social movements in shaping the nation’s past.

The long overdue diversification of the academy also fostered changing perspectives. As a field once dominated by middle-class white males opened its doors to women, minorities and people from working-class backgrounds, recovering the lost experiences of these groups understandably became priority No. 1.

These transformations enriched the national story. But they also carried costs. Perceived “traditional” types of history that examined the doings of governing elites fell into disfavor, and political history suffered the effects (as did its cousins, diplomatic and military history).

The ramifications extend well beyond higher education. The drying up of scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.

Change will not be easy, and will not come from history departments facing tight budgets and competing demands. What is needed, to begin with, is for university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its teaching — and without politicizing the enterprise.

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.

Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign season, the change can’t come soon enough.

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam


August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for M. Bakri Musa

“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

Image result for Adenan Satem

 

Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

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Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

Image result for The Sultan of Johor and Tunku Mahkota of Johor

Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

UMNO Dignity is Malay Dignity (Maruah)


August 28, 2016

UMNO Dignity is Malay Dignity (Maruah): So, it is Okay to be corrupt?

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”– Ralph Ellison, ‘Invisible Man’

Image result for UMNO's Malay Dignity Symbol-- The Keris

Image result for UMNO's Malay Dignity Symbol-- The Keris

COMMENT: I have never had much time for patriotism. It seems to me the people who advocate it vociferously are the ones who lack any kind of empathy for their fellow citizens. Around this time, the various media in this country transmit propaganda messages of how we are all Malaysians and that ‘Merdeka’ is the time to remember that.

Having said that, I do think that Astro’s ‘Unity Runs in Our Blood’ ad and the #kitasama blood donation drive are something that we should all get behind. They are clever bits of bridge-building that incorporate much needed corporate activism and address very serious issues that could help Malaysians.

I soon forgot all about Malay dignity because a Malay friend of mine, one of those true green PAS activists, decided that he was not going to participate in politics anymore because he finally caught on to the fact that everyone was using “Malay dignity” as a means to control the Malay polity and the only legitimate means of control, in his words – “should come from the Quran”. Go figure.

Of Malay dignity, this is what I wrote last month: “What this Bersih rally (Bersih 5) needs to be about is the dignity and integrity of the Malays. It needs to address the reality that Malay leadership has failed this country and the only way to restore any semblance of dignity to the Malay polity would be for the so-called ‘leaders’ of the Malay community, with the help of their non-Malay counterparts, to mobilise the Malay demographic into coming to the mother of all street parties.”

READ THIS by Geoff Wade:

 http://apjjf.org/-Geoff-Wade/3259/article.html

Some folks took exception to this. Close friends of mine argued that this should be a ‘Malaysian’ demonstration and some opposition supporters actually believe we have a post-racial opposition. These same folks also believe that we should be pragmatic and were pushing the ‘PAS for All’ agenda. Go figure.

However, when the chips are down there is only ‘ketuanan UMNO’ and the rest of us ‘pendatangs’. Malay dignity – what a juvenile and immature platform to base an ideology on – is how UMNO defines it and how the opposition panders to it.

When the Prime Minster said that UMNO is a “sacred party”, I read it as “UMNO is a scared party” and just for a moment, I assumed that there was bit of self-reflection on the part of the not Malaysian Official 1.

Only in Malaysian politics could an UMNO potentate talk about dignity and in the same breath remind his cronies that it is he and he alone who dispenses monies to “cool their heads”. UMNO Malay dignity is the continued existence of a system of patronage.

The Prime Minister just proved what I wrote earlier, that “useful idiots that the establishment and opposition rely on to disseminate propaganda are distinct from the power brokers who rely on a steady infusion of cash to maintain, in UMNO’s case, political hegemony”.

This is a feudalistic culture where rich Malay potentates sustained by non-Malay plutocrats use a post-colonial system of governance in furtherance of their race-based agenda. Moreover, for decades they legitimately ruled a multiracial polity that enjoyed the poisoned fruits from the seeds planted long ago.

“Where are your principles? In politics, you cannot let your moustache touch the ground. What does this mean? It means (to protect) your dignity and self-worth,”laments the kleptocrat-in-chief to his docile audience.

This from a Prime Minister who has been accused of being in the centre of the largest corruption scandal the world has witnessed. It just goes to show you what UMNO Malays consider sacred. What is sacred is ensuring that the gravy train continues to run.

Redeeming Malay dignity

Is redeeming Malay dignity an ongoing process? How far has the Malay community come post-independence? I have argued that post-1969 an artificial Malay middle-class was engineered. Others have argued that whatever economic goals that were the foundation of the racist policies disguised as affirmative action programmes have been met, but with statistical legerdemain and propaganda is verboten in public discussion.

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The Malay Dignity Champions–General Kulup Rani and Malaysian Official 1

To recap – “The reality is that all these policies have done – religiously, sociologically, economically or ideologically – is to instil a sense of independence in the non-Malay community and dependence in the Malay polity. I would argue (and have) that there is not really a sense of ‘ketuanan Melayu’ in the general Malay community but rather a ‘ketuanan UMNO’ that has been the dominant expression of ‘Malay’ nationalism.”

In other words, Malay dignity as defined by UMNO is dependence on UMNO. That is the covenant between the average Malay and UMNO. Of course, because the ‘Malays’ do not neatly fall into the stereotype that politicians would have us believe, UMNO’s so-called sacred duty to defend Malay dignity has always been open to attacks.

In the old days, UMNO had to contend with PAS. However, since these days PAS has decided to work with UMNO – the same folks who not long ago accused UMNO of betraying Islam and the Malay community – the real threats come from within UMNO.

So now, we get PKR defending Malay dignity. Amanah defending Malay dignity. PAS defending Malay dignity. The Najib refuseniks defending Malay dignity, and of course, UMNO defending Malay dignity.

The problem is that after all these years of defending Malay dignity, the Malay community is still in danger from every other community in the country. Malay dignity, or at the very least UMNO dignity, comes at the price of being bailed out by China or any other greater power that the propaganda goons from Putrajaya routinely demonise.

I wrote once that “nobody supports UMNO because of ideology or because they are legitimate caretakers or because of the belief that only they can lead the country. Patronage, cronyism, feudalism, all these things are connected to money. Cash is King, is the only way UMNO members know how to show and receive love or loyalty.”

And even though UMNO bleats that foreigners are attempting to take control of Malay destiny, the reality is that Malay destiny like the community’s dignity was pawned a long time ago to kleptocrats that these days are so inept and corrupt that the centre cannot hold.

In the end, those multi-racial urban enclaves will be overwhelmed by the hordes of rural dwellers wanting to know what all that Malay dignity has got them. UMNO would probably tell them, it is somewhere safe waiting to be redeemed.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Philippines: Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror


August 28, 2016

Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign of Terror

by

Rodrigo Duterte, the new President of the Philippines, is a liberal’s worst nightmare. In his campaign, Duterte, a former mayor and prosecutor, promised to cleanse the country of drug users and dealers by extrajudicial means. Since his inauguration, on June 30, he has been following through with a vengeance. In that time, more than eighteen hundred people have been killed—drug dealers, drug users, and in several cases people who happened to be nearby. The youngest was five years old.

Image result for Rodrigo Duterte

“My mouth has no due process,’’ Duterte said in a nationally televised speech on August 7th, in which he named judges, mayors, police, and military officials whom he claimed were involved in the drug trade. The Philippines has the highest abuse rate in East Asia for methamphetamines, known locally as shabu. Duterte has warned drug peddlers to surrender themselves or face summary execution. “My order is shoot to kill you,” he said on August 6th. “I don’t care about human rights, you’d better believe me.”

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the police chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Who wouldn’t believe him? During hearings before the Philippine senate on Monday, the national police chief, Donald Dela Rosa, said that, since Duterte’s inauguration, seven hundred and twelve people allegedly involved with drugs have been killed by police, and another thousand and sixty-seven by presumed vigilantes. Some six hundred thousand, the Police Chief said, had turned themselves in.

The particulars are harrowing. At hearings, relatives of the victims, wearing sunglasses and scarves to disguise their identities, testified about low-level drug users being dragged out of their homes and shot at close range. The two-year-old daughter of one suspected user was stripped and subjected to an anal exam to see if she was being used to conceal drugs.

Since Monday, the casualties have mounted. On Tuesday, a five-year-old named Danica Garcia was killed while eating lunch when gunmen fired into her family’s house. They were targeting her grandfather. On Wednesday, Rogelio Bato, a lawyer representing a suspected drug trafficker, was shot in his car, along with a teen-age girl who was in the passenger seat.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer has been publishing regular updates on what it calls “the kill list”:

July 31, 2016. 1:10 a.m. | Unidentified drug suspect #118 | Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila | Found dead, with his hands and legs were tied using a nylon cord, a plastic strap and packaging tape and his face wrapped with a towel and duct tape; on his body was a sign saying, “Holdaper ako, Pusher pa.”

July 6, 2016. Alma Santos, on the municipal list of suspected drug pushers | Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija | Found dead in a canal, blinded and hogtied.

July 5, 2016. Mirasol Lavapie-Ramos, wife of man in police custody for a drug charge | Talavera town, Nueva Ecija | Killed by an unknown hitman who chased her.

Many of the killings appear to have been carried out by hit squads. Similar teams were blamed for killings of suspected criminals in Davao, the southern city where Duterte was mayor for twenty-two years. Back in 2009, Human Rights Watch investigated how the death squads operated. According to its report, “The assailants usually arrive in twos or threes on a motorcycle without a license plate. They wear baseball caps and buttoned shirts or jackets, apparently to conceal their weapons underneath.’’

It is almost impossible to write about Duterte without making comparisons to a certain American Presidential candidate. Duterte, a trash-talking septuagenarian, cheerfully disparages women, international institutions, and even Pope Francis. He has a cavalier attitude toward due process, human rights, and the use of physical violence to achieve political ends. He is an unapologetic womanizer. During one campaign rally, he mimicked a stroke victim. When he is questioned about a grossly inappropriate statement, he sometimes claims he was “just joking.”

Duterte does not take criticism lightly. “I will have to destroy her in public,’’ he said of Leila de Lima, a senator and the former secretary of justice, who in the hearings this week accused him of disregard for human life. He has accused her of having an extramarital affair with her driver, whom he said was linked to drugs. After the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement, on August 18th, saying that Duterte’s war on drugs amounted to “incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law,’’ he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the U.N. and start a new global organization with China. “Maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. If you’re that rude, son of a bitch, we’ll just leave you,” he said. A week earlier, he refused to apologize for calling the U.S. Ambassador to Manila “gay” and “the son of a whore.’’

There are obvious parallels, too, between Duterte’s campaign earlier this year and the current U.S. Presidential race. On the stump, Duterte played to fear, claiming that drugs and crime were turning the country into a “narco state.’’ He belittled his strongest opponent, Mar Roxas, a former investment banker, educated at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, as part of an effete, corrupt establishment. Roxas was the designated successor of the popular outgoing President, Benigno Aquino III, who could boast of five years of strong economic growth that had helped the Philippines to shed its reputation as the “sick man of Asia.”

But Duterte was always a more serious candidate than Trump. “We do ourselves a disservice if we take his rhetorical excesses that are very similar to Trump and then underestimate him as being a buffoon,’’ John Gershman, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Administration and a founder of the New York Southeast Asia Network, told me. “This is a man who has extensive political experience. He was a former prosecutor, which gives him some credibility. He was reëlected multiple times in Davao and was respected by both the business community and the left.’’

During the campaign, Duterte was popular with educated voters, the middle class, and the many Philippine citizens working overseas. He also had the support of Muslims, who make up about five per cent of the population. Cristina Palabay, the secretary general of Karapatan, a human-rights organization in the Philippines, said that the middle classes felt that a corrupt justice system and police force had failed to combat the drug trade. “Democratic values and rule of law are all but words in this country,’’ she told me.

In the final days of the campaign, Aquino became more alarmed about Duterte, telling voters that “we should remember how Hitler came to power.’’ But Duterte’s fear tactics worked. He drew thirty-nine per cent of the vote, to Roxas’s twenty-three per cent, and popular support for him remains robust. In a poll released on July 20th by Pulse Asia Research, ninety-one per cent of Filipinos said that they trusted Duterte, while the more authoritative Social Weather Stations found that sixty-three per cent expected him to fulfill his campaign promises. “There seems to be a level of acceptance on how Duterte’s war on drugs is being conducted,’’ Palabay said.

Duterte’s election and his pitiless war against drugs are terrifying at a time when political scientists warn that democracy is in retreat. “Democracy itself seems to have lost its appeal,’’ Larry Diamond, a political sociologist at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. “Many emerging democracies have failed to meet their citizens’ hopes for freedom, security, and economic growth, just as the world’s established democracies, including the United States, have grown increasingly dysfunctional.” He cites Kenya, Russia, Thailand, and Turkey. In its annual survey, “Freedom in the World,” the U.S. advocacy group Freedom House reported that the number of countries that it considers democracies has been declining since 2005, and that civil liberties and political rights have contracted in seventy-two countries, and improved in only forty-three.

The report went to press before Duterte’s election, but next year it is likely that the Philippines will appear as Exhibit A.

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN


August 28, 2016

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for ASEAN and BREXIT

WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – BREXIT – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there? Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotions and shallow arguments reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in ASEAN. It won’t, but then again it may.

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Good Luck to Cameron’s Successor

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in ASEAN, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in BREXIT.

Such democracy as there is in ASEAN is a pale reflection of the European model. Perhaps five ASEAN states, at a pinch, could be called democracies. They are, at most, mixed democracies, with varying control-freak tendencies. In one of them, there is new leadership, with Trump-like populism, perhaps a precursor of what a President Donald Trump would be like in America – a loose cannon.

Perhaps in that member state – the Philippines – there could be a Phixit referendum in a state of pique although, as shown in the handling of the July 12 arbitral tribunal award on the South China Sea dispute against China, there can be underlying realism after hyperbolic madness, like riding a water scooter into the Chinese navy.

Image result for Rodrigo Duterte

Then again, President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent threat to leave the United Nations after heavy criticism of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, points to some uncertainty over what the Philippines under Duterte might do.

One ASEAN state is an absolute monarchy (founded on Sharia Law–DM). Two are communist states and another a dictatorial democracy, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Making an imperfect ten is a state – through a referendum no less – which is set to become a militarily managed democracy, as the referendum indeed was.

The upshot is that there will not be in ASEAN a “In or Out” referendum of the British kind – free, open and all too easy.

With none of the regimes in ASEAN is there likely be such a reckless gamble as to leave an existential decision with the people. Not that there is everywhere in ASEAN always a high degree of leadership responsibility.

It is just that the people are not invited to make too many decisions once Governments are in power. So, from very different starting points, ASEAN will not be so people-centric as to give its citizens such a choice.

Britain – specifically David Cameron – screwed up. There was a rather careless Oxford Union debate approach by him in the referendum campaign. This was quite irresponsible when BREXIT is a highly complicated matter. Even Brexiteers – like Boris Johnson (now Foreign Secretary) – looked numb on the morning after the night before, like theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.

Some experts are now saying divorcing the EU may take 10 years. Britain will have to negotiate at least six major deals to re-establish its place in the world after BREXIT. For instance, among the six deals, Britain has to regain full membership of the WTO, not necessarily a straightforward thing, where the EU is the representative body.

While ASEAN  is no way as close and intricate as the EU’s and, in the instance of the WTO, ASEAN countries are individual members of the trade organisation, the important point is the need to think through any decision to break away from any association or organisation.

It is not a simple in or out matter to be decided on the basis of emotions alone. There are a lot of knotty issues, especially relating to the economy, trade and free trade agreements (FTAs). There can be unintended consequences.

With respect to ASEAN, it will not be lost on member states that there is no need to make any grand gesture of walking out, or threatening to do so, especially as commitment to ASEAN’s so-called rules-based regime is not so onerous anyway. So why rock the boat when there is promise of great potential benefit and any present problems can be treated in a let sleeping dogs lie fashion?

We have noted also the wide divergence in the political models in the EU and ASEAN. Indeed ASEAN may think its democratic deficit is a blessing in disguise.

Such parsimony however should not be represented as wisdom among ASEAN leaders. Cynicism and realism are two different things that might yet come out of the ASEAN bag. If leadership and wisdom are required, for instance, to hold the association together against present and future challenges, ASEAN leaders could equally blunder.

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The most critical test of ASEAN unity today is over what position to take on Beijing’s South China Sea claims and assertive behaviour. Again and again ASEAN – including its four South China Sea claimant states – fails to take a collective stand as China, through land reclamation and militarisation, as well as naval support of its fishing fleets, achieves de facto control over almost all of the disputed atolls and waters.

The arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling on July 12, that there is no basis in international law for most of China’s assertions and actions, has only accentuated the division rather than help form a common front. The cracks have become clearer.

Yet China is able to entice ASEAN Member States with possibilities, over which it would be up to ASEAN to keep united or not. On August 17, China Daily reported there is agreement to negotiate the code of conduct in the South China Sea by mid-2017. There is also a deal in the making on a code of unplanned encounters at sea (CUES).

All this to go to the ASEAN-China summit just two weeks away. All very good news indeed.

On the other hand, Singapore – the ASEAN coordinator of relations with China until 2018 when the island republic takes the chair of ASEAN – has been receiving some stick on Chinese social media, with Global Times castigating it as the “little red dot.”

Like with all ASEAN countries, but more so with Singapore, the tricky test is how to navigate the Sino-US rivalry in South-East Asia. China can blow hot and cold, and keep ASEAN states responding every which way.

At the heart of this lack of unity is not just that not all ASEAN members are claimant states in the South Chine Sea, but rather more so their economic dependence on China. All ASEAN states have significant interest in the economic relationship with the rising giant that has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades which, to a greater or lesser extent, they do not wish to disturb. Indeed which they wish, with many Chinese blandishments, to see grow.

A couple of ASEAN member states depend on China for their economic life. They will never cross Beijing. There is a soft middle who are careful not to antagonise China even if they feel they are being dragged to the limit. Only one among them appears to have drawn a line in the sand and is clear on the equal sovereign rights of all states big or small. And then there is a sharp and hard outer edge comprising two Asean members although the hardest, now with new leadership, is softening its stand.

ASEAN, in other words, is totally disunited over the South China Sea and China’s absolute claim to it. It needs to show unity to negotiate effectively with China but different economic and national interests are pulling it apart.

On a more general plane, while the EU has been wedded to principles – like the free movement of people – ASEAN has always been flexible and diverse about these things.

With immigration and the deluge of refugees caused by principled commitment being identified as the prime reason leading to Brexit,

ASEAN may feel it has bragging rights with its flexible and realistic approach to integration and human rights issues. But there is no cause for celebration in ASEAN. Certainly, in respect of not taking a principled stand on China’s assertive sovereign – and suzerain – claims in the South China Sea, the future could come to haunt ASEAN in some unintended ways.

Even if the calculation is that China’s regional dominance is inevitable, the nature of ASEAN state relationship with Beijing is still something that can be fashioned short of total subservience. Full capitulation now will guarantee a future as vassal states.

There is value in principles. There are options that can be exercised. In the very first year of the so-called ASEAN community, the path to greater integration, including in the Asianholic economic field, could get even slower as divergence on the South China Sea issue sours political relationships among member states.

There are also dangers of total dependence on economic expansion without sufficient attention being given to the social issues of growth.

Social services, equitable distribution of income and wealth are critical if ASEAN countries are not to be confronted by the ferment and discord of economic denial – which could then so easily be attributed to ASEAN integration rather than to bad and unjust national governance.

More than immigration, which was the symptom, the underlying cause of the Brexit vote was the anger of the social underclass denied economic justice, who attributed their condition to foreigners. Narrow and nationalistic jingoism is something politically easy to whip up when there is such anger. It is not something ASEAN should not anticipate.

So beneath the tranquillity of the ASEAN way, the smiles and linking of arms are many issues that cannot always be kept there. They should be addressed. They could cause discord, disunity and tumult. If not exactly the break-up of Asean, they could make Asean meaningless and lead to the regional organisation not being taken seriously.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

 

The Right to Protest


August 28, 2016

The Right to Protest: that’s Merdeka

 by Amb (rtd) Dennis Ignatius
 Image result for Merdeka Malaysia

While Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Malaysia is wonderful but the Leadership is incompetent, dishonest. greedy, irresponsible and incorrigibly corrupt

When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty ~ John Basil Barnhill

Ever since Bersih (now more than just a movement for clean and fair elections) announced its intention to organize a rally to protest the embezzlement and laundering of billions of ringgit of public funds linked to the 1MDB scandal, the government appears to be going out of its way to hinder it. The TangkapMO1 rally is being similarly chastised.

For all the wrong reasons

A whole array of reasons have been conjured up to explain why these demonstrations should not be allowed – its against the national interest, it’s disruptive, it will harm the economy, it could lead to violence, it leaves a mess, etc.

This being Malaysia, it won’t be long before religious officials also get in on the act with edicts, injunctions and warnings against joining such demonstrations on pain of losing one’s soul.

In the meantime, one minister, in urging would-be demonstrators to respect DBKL (City Hall), argued that DBKL is the “owner” of Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and that it has “exclusive rights” to it.

This is part of the problem with politicians who remain in office for too long; they think that everything belongs to them, that only they have exclusive rights to public property.

The Minister should know that Dataran Merdeka belongs to the nation and all citizens have a right to access it. DBKL’s task is simply to manage it for and on behalf of the people. If the people wish to peacefully gather there, DBKL should facilitate it.

Our Prime Minister, for his part, insists that protest and demonstrations are “not the Malaysian way.” Obviously, he has forgotten that the party he now leads was itself born out of a protest movement ( against the Malayan Union). He also asked the electorate to bring their grievances to him, promising that he would listen and learn from them; if only he had, citizens would not need to demonstrate (this a big lie, promises, promises, empty promises–DM).

And then there are the phony democrats who pretend to uphold the rights of the people by suggesting alternative venues for demonstrations and even offering to pay for the them. People are not so foolish to see such moves as anything but an orchestrated ploy to marginalize the demonstrators by pushing them to more discreet locations.

Of course, whenever there is talk about demonstrations the bully boys in red – that rent-a-band of rowdies with nothing better to do than to hurl insults, act provocatively and play racist games – invariably spring into action. By insisting on the right to hold counter-demonstrations at the same time and at the same place, they provide the police with the perfect excuse to worry about public order.

Few doubt, though, that they are anything more that bullies allied to people in high places with a licence to disrupt, sow fear and scare off concerned citizens who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest.

Surprisingly, even Suhakam, once seen as a small ray of light in an otherwise dark human rights environment, now appears to be taking the government line that such demonstrations are counterproductive. Its new chief dismissed protestors as little more than unwashed and unprincipled agitators who accomplish little at great inconvenience to the rest of society.

He also went on to draw parallels with the Arab Spring, now a by-word for chaos and instability, implying that the same thing could happen here if we are not careful.

Those who use the Arab Spring to discredit all popular protests often tend to ignore the real lessons from those seminal events.

Rather than blaming autocratic governments that oppressed the people for decades, they blame the victims of oppression, corruption and tyranny for rising up to protest. The real lesson from the Arab Spring, which autocratic governments should take to heart, is the one that John F Kennedy warned about decades earlier – that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.

The run around

Given the government’s views, it comes as no surprise that the authorities are trying to give the organizers of upcoming demonstrations the run around. The Inspector-General of Police says the police have no objections provided City Hall agrees. City Hall, of course, will find every excuse not to agree.

It is clear that neither of these agencies are independent of political influence. Their actions suggest that their primary objective is to find administrative reasons to stymie demonstrations at Dataran Merdeka.

This kind of thinking was also evident in the government’s decision to institute a claim for damages against the organizers of the 2012 Bersih 3 rally. They were hoping to make it too prohibitive financially for demonstrators to use the square. Kudos to the courts for rejecting it.

The government must also not hide behind the controversial Peaceful Assembly Act. When it was introduced in 2012, the prime minister dismissed the concerns of human rights groups and insisted that it was a democratic measure designed “to give room for the people to express themselves.” Contrary to his assurances, it has been used to harass, intimidate and prosecute demonstrators. It might as well be renamed the ‘prohibition of assembly act.’

The government must do the right thing

Clearly, while Malaysians tend towards political apathy, many now feel that enough is enough, that it is not the Malaysian way to sit idly by while our beloved nation slips into the abyss of corruption, extremism and misgovernance.

Street demonstrations may or may not be the best way to press for change but it is the citizens who must make that call. In any case, it is one of the few options left to concerned citizens in our nation today to express their unhappiness over the direction the nation is taking.

The government needs to understand that the protestors are not the enemy. They are not looking for trouble, not looking to violently overthrow the government. They too love their country, value peace and stability. In insisting on the right to gather at Dataran Merdeka to make their views known, they are acting responsibly and in accordance with their rights under the constitution.

If there are security concerns, our police should be on hand – to protect the protestors rather than attack them. If City Hall is concerned about orderliness and cleanliness, it should work with the organizers to make this the cleanest, most orderly, most organized demonstration thus far.

The government can war against its own citizens or let them roar. They can try to silence the voices of dissent or hear the cries for justice, democracy and good governance.

Its not the people who are on trial here; it is the government!

Dennis Ignatius is a former Malaysian Ambassador.

 

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