A Hundred Days of Prevarication


August 15, 2018

A Hundred Days of Prevarication

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser

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The GE-14 election defeat of the BN which had ruled the country since 1957 was testimony to the determination of the Malaysian people and civil society who had opposed BN rule for decades. Sixty-one years of BN domination had included 22 years with Prime Minister Mahathir at the helm. The Malaysian people chose to cast their votes for the PH coalition because PH had promised in their GE14 manifesto to implement wide ranging reforms that made them seem radically different from the governance experienced under the BN.

In the first 100 days of the new PH government, we find that their report card scores around 20% based on their own promises alone. The flip flopping over the abolition of BTN and National Service shows the importance of civil society to voice our opposition to such bitterly toxic and noxious institutions in the country. Nor do their promises consider the more urgent comprehensive list of reforms that civil society has long argued is of higher priority. On top of all that, we have witnessed a disturbing trend of autocratic decision making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era.

Sacrifices at the altar of the trillion-ringgit debt mountain

The convenient opt out clause for the new government is to pile much of the blame on the previous administration including the accusation of them of having run up a debt of RM1 trillion, or 80% of our GDP and apparently stealing RM19 billion of GST refunds. That blame frame then provides the new government with an emotional basis for gaining sympathy by starting a ‘Tabung Harapan’ and appealing for donations. While the way in which this fund will be used remains unclear, it is probably the only fund in the world set up with the apparent aim of trying to plug a country’s debt hole. It is telling that while a little boy has contributed his piggy bank to the fund, the two richest men in the country who happen to sit in the “Council of Eminent Advisors” have not made a comparable sacrifice to the fund.

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As for the actual size of the national debt, there is dispute between economists depending on whether we include government guarantees and lease payments under public-private partnerships. The size of Malaysia’s government debt in international statistics for 2017 is actually 64% of GDP, compared to China’s 65%, Singapore’s 110%, US’ 108% and Japan’s 236%. Clearly, what is at stake is the country’s economic fundamentals, which the new Finance Minister assures us are still strong. It also depends on how the debt is financed since relying on overseas borrowing can carry higher risks. It also depends on the country’s prospects for economic growth. Japan has one of the largest public sector debts in the world but it also has a large pool of domestic savings on which to draw.

Nonetheless, this mythical “trillion-ringgit debt mountain” has become an altar on which promises made by PH in the GE14 manifesto are sacrificed – local government elections, new approved Chinese schools, minimum wage, abolishing highway tolls and postponing PTPTN loans. This is definitely not acceptable as an excuse for putting off these urgent election promises since PH had assured us that they could manage the economy once they had ousted BN.

But then the much-trumpeted review of all mega projects so as to reprioritise and reduce the debt mountain is not consistent with the approval of the Penang Transport Master Plan nor with the recently announced Proton 2.0 project by the PM. The Infrastructure Development Minister Peter Anthony has also announced that a dam costing RM2 billion will be built at Kampung Bisuang in Papar when Parti Warisan Sabah had promised to scrap the Kaiduan Dam project.

Back to privatising national assets and Proton 2.0

So far, the new PH government has not spelled out their fundamental difference in economic policy from the old BN regime. What we have heard so far is the alarming news of the return of the old discredited Mahathirist policies, namely, privatisation of our national assets in the name of Bumiputeraism and the revival of the national car, Proton 2.0.

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The PM has said that the sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah will be privatised for the benefit of Bumiputeras. Malaysians need to be reminded that during the financial crisis of 1997/98, it was Khazanah that had stepped in to take over the assets of the failed companies owned by the Bumiputra crony capitalists in Renong, MAS and TRI. After taking over the assets, Khazanah revamped these GLCs with professional managers and better rules of governance. Khazanah currently owns 51% of PLUS Expressways, with the EPF owning the other 49%. By end 2017, the net worth of companies under Khazanah was RM125.6bil. Thus, Khazanah is successfully achieving its purpose of creating a sovereign wealth fund for the benefit of ALL Malaysians. Its expressed purpose never has been to be privatised to Bumiputera crony capitalists.

Mahathir’s privatization drive during his first term (1981-2003) was a boon for private crony capital, especially those linked to UMNO. Malaysian tax payers were the losers since these erstwhile profitable public utilities were sold for a song to the private capitalists and we became captive to UMNO-linked monopolies, such as the North-South Highway operator. Furthermore, these failed crony capitalists had to be bailed out with our money during the financial crisis of 1997/98.

During these 100 days, the Prime Minister has also announced the revival of yet another national car, or Proton 2.0. After the fiasco of Proton 1.0 and the huge cost to Malaysian taxpayers, our public transport system and Malaysian consumers, it is unbelievable that such a failed enterprise could be supported by a PH leadership full of former critics of the first Proton project. Another national car project will surely fail with further losses to the national coffers and we will have to underwrite the losses. The PH government won’t have 1MDB to blame for that anymore. We should further note that one of Mahathir’s former crony capitalists, Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary, owns a majority 50.1% in Proton Holdings through DRB-Hicom. This hare-brained idea to start another national car project reminds me of what somebody said about politicians: “Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnels…”

Back to Mahathirist autocracy

It is truly alarming that no Cabinet member nor “eminent person” in the CEF has voiced any objections to Mahathir’s proposed plans to privatise Khazanah and to start another national car. They will have to bear collective responsibility for the consequences in the event of its failure. We are witnessing the same “silence of the lambs” culture for which the DAP used to criticise the BN leaders under Mahathir 1.0 with the new ministers saying “We’ll leave it to the prime minister” and “I’ll discuss this with the prime minister to let him decide”, ad nauseum.

The PH manifesto prohibits the PM from also taking over the Finance portfolio but Dr Mahathir has in the 100 days taken over the choicest companies, namely Khazanah, PNB & Petronas under his PMO. It is the return to the old Mahathirist autocracy. Was the Cabinet consulted in the decision to start Proton 2, privatise Khazanah, Malaysia Incorporated and the revival of the failed F1 circuit?

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The appointment of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad also goes against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly-funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. Only by insisting on boards being comprised of professionals and on rigorous parliamentary checks and balances for bodies such as Khazanah can we ensure a high level of transparency and accountability. Mahathir’s response to this criticism was the old feudal justification: “I started Khazanah so why can’t I be in it?” In other words, “Stuff your high ideals and democratic principles!”

We will have to wait for Lim Guan Eng’s memoirs in the future to see how he responded to Mahathir leaving him out of Khazanah. Did the PM even discuss this with him? After all, Khazanah is still under MoF Inc. If the finance minister is left out of the Khazanah board, how will he be privy to what the Khazanah board is doing? No doubt Mahathir knew that having given the DAP Secretary-General the Finance Minister post, he could get away with anything…

Consistency in the war on kleptocracy

The new PH government had pledged to wipe out kleptocracy and this promise was key to the victory at GE14. They have disappointed the people of Malaysia and especially Sarawakians who have seen the wealth of their state sucked dry by the rapacious greed of the kleptocrats there. The PH government has not yet acted to make the former Chief Minister Taib Mahmud declare all his assets and those of his spouse and family’s. The PH Government has shown us that where there is a political will in getting to the root of the 1MDB scandal, there is a way to get rid Malaysia of corruption and crony capitalism. However, by letting off his long-time ally in Sarawak, Taib Mahmud, arguably the richest man in Malaysia, the Prime Minister makes his campaign against the former PM Najib look like a personal vendetta. The Prime Minister has also failed to lead by example and declare his assets and those of his spouse and children’s.

Conflict of interest having corporate heads in Councils

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The Constitutional status of the appointed ‘Council of Eminent Persons’ has already been called into question especially when the Chairman of the Council, Daim Zainuddin is in a position in which he is able to call up judges and even represent the Government in negotiating with the Chinese Government over their investments in Malaysia. Now it has been reported that the Perak government has established the State Economic Advisory Council (SEAC) with corporate heads of MK Land Bhd, KL Kepong Bhd and Gamuda Bhd as “eminent advisors”.

There is gross conflict of interest with such arrangements when these corporate leaders still have interests in the local and international corporate scene. It is well known that Daim Zainuddin has corporate and banking interests all over the world. His business interests extend beyond banking to other key sectors of the country’s economy such as plantations, manufacturing, retailing, property development and construction.

Delaying urgent reforms is unacceptable

Using the excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable. It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act in order to introduce local government elections. If the PH government is prepared to see billions going down the drain with the revived Proton 2.0 project, don’t tell us there is no money for running local council elections please.

It is equally absurd to tell Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School graduates that their UEC certificate can only be recognised in five years’ time. The UEC certificate went unrecognised by the BN for 61 years even though it has internationally proven its efficacy with thousands of graduates since 1975. This is a serious breach of promise in the PH GE14 manifesto since more than 80 per cent of Chinese voters voted for PH because of this promised reform. The only steadfast decision made by the Education Minister so far is the decision that students will have to wear black shoes instead of white ones.

Many lawyers have pointed out that the repeal or review of our laws that violate basic human rights can be expeditiously accomplished within the first 100 days of the new PH government. These include abolishing laws that allow detention without trial, namely, the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) 2015.

It is alarming to hear the Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong say recently that the PH government is now reconsidering its initial pledge to abolish several contentious laws including, the Sedition Act 1948, Prevention of Crime Act (Poca) 1959, Universities and University Colleges Act 1971, Printing Presses and Publications (PPPA) Act 1984 and the National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016. This is totally unethical backtracking on the PH GE14 manifesto.

The death penalty is a violation of human rights and must be abolished. Meanwhile, there ought to have been an immediate moratorium on all executions pending abolition and commuting the sentences of all persons currently on death row. The implementation of the Independent Police Complaints & Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) and other recommendations of the Royal Police Commission in 2005 is long overdue to ensure transparency and accountability by the police and other enforcement agencies such as the MACC.

During the 100 days under the PH government, we have witnessed the Sedition Act and the CMA still being used against activists and prevarication on the issue of child marriages. We have also seen the rule of law being flouted when a Minister in the PM’s Department can order the removal of portraits of LGBTQ Malaysians from an exhibition in Penang. Just as alarming is the statement by another Minister that cyanide used by gold miners in Bukit Koman is perfectly safe and non-hazardous to people or the environment.

Reneging on manifesto promises

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From the failure by the PH government to fulfil their election promises in the 100 days, it is clear that the GE14 manifesto was drafted in a slipshod manner in order to secure populist votes. These include the promises to abolish toll from the highways within the stipulated time promised; no firm position regarding the PTPTN loan repayments; wavering on the promise to pay a 20 per cent instead of 5 per cent royalty to oil producing states based on revenue from gross production; the deduction of a percentage from a husband’s EPF contributions to go into the accounts of his wife, etc. PH has so far implemented less than half of their election promises. Will the PM apologise for reneging on these election promises?

Real reforms we expect in “new” Malaysia

Within the first year of the PH administration, Malaysians expect serious transformational reforms that will reconstitute truly democratic institutions and improve the lives of the 99 per cent and especially the B40 Malaysians. Of the highest priority, we expect urgent initiatives to implement the 8 key reforms including:

1. An end to race-based parties and policies especially replacing race-based policies with needs-based measures that truly benefit the lower-income and marginalized sectors and basing recruitment and promotion in the civil and armed services strictly on merit;

2. Re-instatement of our democratic institutions including bringing back elected local councils and enacting a Freedom of Information (FoI) Act at federal and state levels;

3. Zero tolerance for corruption and political leaders who have been charged with corruption must step down while their case is pending in the courts;

4. A progressive economic policy that will renationalize privatised assets, especially land, water, energy, which belong to the Malaysian people instead of local and foreign capitalists, opening up GLCs to democratic control of the people and directing them to implement good labour and environmental policies;

5. Redistribute wealth fairly through progressive taxation on the high-income earners, their wealth and property and effective tax laws to ensure there are no tax loopholes for the super-rich;

6. A far-sighted and fair education policy with equal opportunities for all without any racial discrimination with regard to enrolment into all schools including tertiary educational institutions;

7. Defend workers’ rights and interests especially their right to unionise and a progressive guaranteed living wage for all workers, including foreign workers;

8. People-centred and caring social policies including an effective low-cost public housing programme for rental or ownership throughout the country for the poor and marginalized communities;

9. Prioritise Orang Asal rights and livelihood by recognizing their rights over the land they have been occupying for centuries, prohibiting logging in Orang Asal land and ensuring all Orang Asal villages have adequate social facilities and services;

10. Sustainable development & environmental protection by allowing all local people to be consulted before any development projects and all permanent forest and wildlife reserves are gazetted.

The lesson of the first 100 days of the PH administration teaches us that, as always, civil society must be ever vigilant to push for these reforms because the government of the day will drag its feet and renege on these election promises when they have the opportunity.

 

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The AF-A word


August 12, 2018

What is Affirmative Action?The AF-A word

http://discovery.economist.com/openfuture/what-is-affirmative-action?kw=all&csid=socialoffb&ref=openfuture

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Affirmative Action–Constructive Discrimination? In Malaysia, it is Bumiputraism by UMNO for political control of the Malays
 

As Harvard gets sued for discrimination, an idea popular in many countries comes under fire

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HARVARD UNIVERSITY is being sued for allegedly discriminating unlawfully against Asian applicants. America’s best-known university takes race into account when deciding whom to admit. It says this is one of many factors, and justified by the need to ensure a diverse student body. Plaintiffs contend that it has an unwritten quota to stop Asians from taking as many places as their stellar test scores would predict.

 

Racial discrimination is illegal in America, except when it isn’t. “Affirmative action” policies, which discriminate in favour of members of disadvantaged groups, are widespread in America and many other countries. Critics, including many supporters of the Harvard suit, argue that they should be illegal. Confusion abounds–America’s Supreme Court has offered contradictory guidance as to when affirmative action is and is not allowed.

The very phrase is vague. One of its early uses was in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson of the United States signed an executive order requiring government employers to take “affirmative action” to “hire without regard to race, religion and national origin”. Since then, the phrase has come to mean more or less the opposite: giving preference to people because they belong to a particular race, religion, caste or sex.

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In many countries, the state gives a leg-up to members of certain groups because they have suffered discrimination in the past or continue to endure it today. America offers preferences to black people, whose ancestors were enslaved. India has quotas for dalits, formerly known as “untouchables”, who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. Some countries have affirmative action for members of groups that are on average poorer than their neighbours, even if those neighbours have not historically done them wrong. For example, Malaysia has positive discrimination for native Malays, who are poorer and do worse in school than their Chinese and Indian compatriots.

The details vary from place to place. In some countries, affirmative action applies only to areas under direct state control, such as public-works contracts or admission to public universities. In others, private firms are also required to take account of the race of their staff, contractors and even owners.

Advocates of positive discrimination often argue that such policies are necessary to correct historical injustice. Some quote another line of President Johnson: “You do not take a man who for years has been hobbled by chains, liberate him, bring him to the starting line of a race, saying you are free to compete with all the others, and still justly believe you have been completely fair.” Another argument is that discrimination against some groups is so pervasive that it can only be corrected with reverse discrimination.

Critics of affirmative action argue that two wrongs do not make a right; that treating different racial groups differently will entrench racial antagonism and that societies should aim to be colour-blind.

 

Many of the groups favoured by affirmative action have grown more prosperous or done better educationally since these policies were introduced. But establishing how much credit affirmative action can take is hard. The world has grown dramatically richer in recent decades and far more of its people have gone to university. Ethnic Malays are three times richer in Singapore, where they do not get preferences, than in next-door Malaysia, where they do.

 

Thomas Sowell, the author of “Affirmative Action around the World”, observes that although affirmative action policies are typically introduced as temporary measures aimed at narrow groups, they often expand in scope as new groups demand privileges, and become permanent. In 1949 India’s constitution said quotas should be phased out in ten years. Today over 60% of the population is eligible. More than 95% of South Africans are covered by preferences of some kind.

Although the groups covered by affirmative action tend to be poorer than their neighbours, the individuals who benefit are often not. One American federal-contracting programme favours businesses owned by “socially and economically disadvantaged” people. Such people can be many times richer than the average American family and still be deemed “disadvantaged” if their skin is the right colour. One beneficiary of South Africa’s programme of “Black Economic Empowerment” is worth an estimated $500m; he is also now the president of South Africa.

In several countries, the most heated debates around positive discrimination concern education. Some American states, such as California, Michigan and Florida, ban the consideration of race in public university admissions. But others are doubling down. Universities that take race into account are typically reluctant to disclose how much weight they ascribe to it. Critics speculate that this is because they give it far more weight than most Americans would consider fair. One study found that at some colleges, black applicants who scored 450 points (out of 1,600) worse than Asians on entrance tests were equally likely to win a place. The plaintiffs in the Harvard suit hope that it will force the university to reveal exactly how it evaluates applications.

Some say it is reasonable to award university places to African American students with lower test scores, given that as recently as 1954 it was legal in America for states to run separate schools for blacks and whites. But critics argue that it is counter-productive. A study by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor found that lowering the bar for black students lets them enter law schools for which they are ill-prepared, causing many to drop out. Strikingly, they estimate that positive discrimination results in fewer blacks successfully qualifying as lawyers than would have been the case under colour-blind policies.

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Some people argue that policies designed to uplift the disadvantaged should cater only for those who are actually poor, rather than using race as a proxy for disadvantage. Barack Obama, though he has generally supported affirmative action, said it would be wrong for his daughters to get “more favourable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more”. Some universities have adopted race-neutral policies such as trying harder to recruit poor students or admitting anyone who comes in the top 10% of his or her high-school class. Many could free up more spaces for deserving poor students by removing preferences for the children of alumni—but few do.

 

New Malaysia’s Underclass: What to do?


June 11, 2018

New Malaysia’s Underclass: What to do?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

“What’s important is that we will need to think out of the box and have the courage to challenge long held orthodoxy; or we will end up with more of the same old Malaysia”.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Underclass by Definition

  1. the lowest social stratum in a country or community, consisting of the poor and unemployed.

  2. a group of people with a lower social and economic position than any of the other classes of society; “they are an underclass who lack any stake in popular capitalism and who are caught in the dependency culture”

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Poverty right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur

In the euphoria and after glow of the recent election and current preoccupation with correcting the excesses and abuses of the Barisan Nasional (BN) government, it is all too easy to forget about or ignore the plight of the Malaysian poor and underclass class.

Whatever is the actual poverty situation – we can expect the dispute over definition and numbers to continue endlessly – and whether we can believe the previous government’s boast that only 1% of the country’s households can be considered to be poor – the reality confronting our politicians and policy makers is that the country’s underclass (and this includes many more households than just those adjudged to be living below the poverty line) is sizable, growing and has remained relatively intractable and unyielding to the billions of ringgit poured into the group in the last few Malaysia Plans.

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A young Penan Maiden–A victim of Neglect

Why have so many socio-economic development and poverty alleviation projects failed to make a significant dent in the plight of the underclass should be an important part of the discourse among politicians. It also needs to be a concern for all stake players engaged in forging a new Malaysia that does not replicate the missteps, mistakes and wrongly focused projects and programmes deployed by the previous government in dealing with the underclass.

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Barisan Nasional Leaders in Sarawak–where are they today?

Here are some suggestions on the fresh start needed in Pakatan’s development planning which can make a greater impact in tackling the multitude of obstacles and problems that stand in the way of improving the lives of the underclass:

  1. Ditch or minimize approaches which reinforce rather than reduce dependency. Malaysia is not at the same development stage that it can afford the extensive social safety nets found in developed nations. Expensive subsidy programmes of any kind – and this includes the replacement for BR1M, and petrol subsidies – should be pruned back and targeted at a small number of the most vulnerable such as the elderly or female headed households. Able working age adults below a certain age – say 60 years – should not be eligible for any form of subsidy programme.

  2. Review all costly agricultural and rural development projects to assess their impact and real benefits. In view of continuing rural to urban migration, it is in urban and semi-rural areas where the underclass is mainly clustered and where public expenditure will have greater impact on the poor and vulnerable.

  3. Fragile families are a significant contributor to the intergenerational reproduction of poverty and should be a key concern for the authorities. They are also likely to be a major factor accounting for the racial and class disparities which have caused so much angst within the nation since the tendency towards fragility seems to be more pronounced in the Malay and Bumiputra community.

  4. Together with a focus on fragile families, there is a need to jumpstart the national family planning programme which has been put in cold storage for several decades. It is clear that given the relationship between very large and large families and underclass status – evidence for this can be found in many countries around the world – early family planning interventions will be able to help many large-sized poor and middle class families avoid later life marginalization by improving their socio-economic position through better planning and early intervention in their childbearing practices.

  5. A community’s socio-cultural and religious practices may either stand in the way or assist in the upward mobility of its most needy members. There needs to be an openness and readiness for politicians and policy-makers to discuss these issues and take corrective action even if it may involve touching on sensitive or taboo concerns.

  6. We have had a top down approach to development which has resulted in a stream – even, torrent – of opportunities and rewards especially for the elite and their support group in the civil service and professional class.  This top down approach, compounded by leakages and corrupt practices, needs to be replaced with, or at least complemented by one where resources and opportunities are directly channeled to and managed by groups at the community and grassroots levels. Although the decision has been made to abolish JKKKP’s, a revival of JKKK’s with membership of these committees extended to include youth and women members can provide an impetus to local level development. When led by motivated community leaders, JKKK’s can become a catalyst in local level development and slow down the burgeoning of the underclass.

  7. Experience in other countries has shown that the great wealth of technical expertise and human resources brought to bear on anti-poverty work – especially in terms of the administrative apparatus engaged in planning and implementation – has turned out to be a liability by diverting resources away from the target group to pay for staff salaries and operating costs. Some of the most reputable NGOs in other parts of the world engaged in anti-poverty work have ended up with three quarters or more of donor funds being used to meet administrative expenses. Information on public expenditure intended for poverty and underclass target groups should be widely disclosed and disseminated, especially to the target groups to ensure transparency and accountability.

  8. Lastly, in view of the fact that the larger proportion of the underclass comprises members of the Malay community, it is imperative that successful members of the community step up to the plate to help the less fortunate members move out of their depressed situation. This has to begin with a critical and honest appraisal of the causative factors found within the community which accounts for why the Malay underclass continues to grow despite the government’s best efforts in the last fifty years.

       Image result for the orang asliThe Orang Asli of Malaysia

What’s proposed here is an example of the changes – and paradigm shifts – needed to conventional strategies and current wisdom if we are to make greater progress in arriving at a fairer and more equal society.

They may or may not work. What’s important is that we will need to think out of the box and have the courage to challenge long held orthodoxy; or we will end up with more of the same old Malaysia.

Timor Leste is no Failing State but 11th ASEAN Member-in-Waiting


June 8, 2018

Timor Leste is no Failing State but 11th ASEAN Member-in-Waiting

by Bobby Anderson

http://www.newmandala.org/timor-leste-no-failing-state/

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Dili Waterfront Monument to East Timor’s Independence

After nearly a year of political deadlock following the 2017 parliamentary elections, on 12th May Timor-Leste’s citizens elected a new government, with Xanana Gusmao the likely new Prime Minister. The parliamentary power his Change for Progress Alliance coalition might wield is little different from the power it was prohibited from wielding under the previous government.

After the 2017 polls, the Fretilin party—having bested Xanana’s CNRT by a few fractions of a percentage point—ultimately refused to convene parliament to face a majority Xanana cobbled together from smaller parties, claiming that because Fretilin received the largest number of votes for any single party, it possessed the “majority”. By this logic parliamentarians exercising their authority would be undertaking a coup d’état. It remains to be seen whether this same illogic will emerge again. Xanana, for his part, surely has promises to keep, and we can anticipate new ministries so that coalition partners might be rewarded. In the near term we can anticipate so many overseas “study tour” junkets that they may necessitate a brand new ministry to organise them.

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Kayrala Xanana Gusmao.

This is all grist to the mill for many a Timor-watcher who has consigned the country to an “arc of instability” alongside Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. The picture painted is one of a failed state, according to Foreign Affairs, or a still-failing one, according to a La Trobe University lecturer, with the long-exasperated neighbour Australia at any moment exposed to the fallout of potential collapse in the form of civil conflict or irregular migration.

Except, of course, that it’s not true.

The view from Dili

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Cristo Rei of Dili, Timor Leste/East Timor

After Timor-Leste’s independence in 2002, the United Nations Temporary Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) built Timor-Leste’s institutions of government, but political violence resulted in another peacekeeping mission in 2006. Since 2013, the country has achieved stability through petroleum revenue-funded “reconciliation” between political elites.

Certainly, viewing Timor-Leste through a political economy lens and then extrapolating that view across the multiplicity of sectors and layers that constitute local government and public service delivery makes for dark viewing. In recent years, while conducting field research on service delivery in the country, I heard the dire pronouncements of many a Dili-based NGO or donor representative, or a Timorese health, education, or other line ministry official, and these coalesced around a key assumption: a lack of civil servant capacity in remote and inaccessible hinterlands results in low health, education, and other human development indicator measurements which set the stage for another generation of development assistance. This is usually followed by a melancholy “we are a new country” caveat. Hearing enough of this in Dili, one can be forgiven for assuming that everyone in the countryside is uneducated, hungry and dying. This perception surely underlies Singapore’s objection to Timor-Leste’s membership of ASEAN.

Mount Ramelau (Photo: Bobby Anderson)

But this dark view evaporates as soon as one leaves Dili. Let’s begin with bromides concerning low human resource capacity outside of a few towns. Across Timor-Leste’s rural areas where the majority of Timorese reside, civil servants can be found at their posts and doing their jobs in a challenging environment—one in which little attention is received from the centre.

Decentralisation has in some imperfect manner occurred, with schools functioning autonomously and health services improvising to provide services. These civil servants may often be under-qualified—the teachers may only have high school diplomas—but they are there. Anecdotally, service standards are higher in rural Timor-Leste than in much of remote eastern Indonesia.

“Remote” is also relative in Timor-Leste. Iliomar, often mentioned as one of the most remote areas of the country, can be reached in nine hours from Dili by car, with a nearly uninterrupted 3G phone signal across the entire journey; by no standard of measurement is this remote, especially compared to areas of nearby Indonesian Papua that are up to a week’s walk from a road, with complete network absence. No area of Timor-Leste that I am aware of suffers a lack of services and corresponding ill health, high mortality, low school attendance and student performance due to remoteness. Claiming that geography inhibits service delivery is disingenuous.

State failures, but not a failed state

Timor-Leste’s problems are bureaucratic, not geographic. The biggest obstacle rural civil servants identify is not “remoteness” or “human resource capacity”: it is “Dili”, an often insular centre that lacks understanding of, and experience in, the rural areas where most Timorese live.

The new state’s problems are many, but they are surmountable, and they are concentrated in Dili. They involve ineffective logistics, haphazard supply chains, a lack of facilities standardisation and maintenance, top-down budgeting that takes no account of local conditions, lengthy delays in payments and financial acquittals, and so on. This in turn stems from less-than-competent senior management and politically-driven appointments. While the centre does host committed and effective senior technocrats, they are exceptions.

Centralisation of fiscal policy and procurement is justified by an alleged lack of capacity in the countryside. But the way such matters are handled in the capital would be laughable if it wasn’t so harmful. For example: Government tenders for vehicle maintenance are awarded where all repairs are done in Dili only. Repairs can take over a year, and work can be shoddy: in Lospalos, an ambulance repaired a year after delivery broke down on the drive back. Fuel provision contracts are awarded in such a way that vehicles must drive to Dili to fill up their tanks. To cope with this absurdity, sub-national administrators utilise other budgets to purchase fuel locally. Some ministries have such a bad reputation among potential private service providers with regard to delayed payments that only the worst contractors bid for their tenders. Most damagingly, civil servant salaries can be collected only in municipal capitals. This takes administrative post health, education, and other officials out of their posts for two days to a week every month.

Graffiti targeting an ex-finance minister in Dili (Photo: Bobby Anderson)

Individual civil servants, including those in Dili, strive to distinguish themselves from the Indonesian state structure they replaced. However, they are disempowered from acting independently, and are hobbled by the focus of the bureaucracy on paperwork and “accountability”—such as the requirement of undue amounts of signatures for the release of funds, one of the worst aspects of New Public Management superimposed by UNTAET.

 

Middle managers defer decisions upwards; they receive few rewards for good performance and face fewer consequences for poor performance. A lack of managerial accountability is found throughout: for example, a preventable death from an obstetric emergency will result in no investigation or administrative sanction to the civil servants responsible for a particular shortage or lack of maintenance that led to the death. A junior civil servant may be dismissed for absenteeism, but their manager will not be dismissed for failing to provide the supporting structure that made it impossible for that civil servant to do their job in the first place.

These problems are hardly unique to Timor-Leste. They are found across the developing and developed world. And yet Timor-Leste is described as at risk of collapse, even though it lacks the violence, insurgency, and debilitating corruption of other failed and failing areas: as though it possesses the political equivalent of a genetic predisposition. But contemporary observable conditions in the countryside fly in the face of the dire pronouncements of the centre, mostly backed by old data. Most current human development indicators available from donor and agency sources demonstrate improvements in the last 10 years but even these might be unduly pessimistic.

Invented problems

So why does this image of failure persist? The root cause is that national-level civil servants and development workers speak for a grassroots that they don’t understand. Also to blame is the repetition of biases and application of expired heuristics across decades. In the 1970s, Timorese diaspora opponents of Indonesia’s invasion, and their threadbare foreign supporters, spoke of the tragedy of an invasion of a nation already left behind by hundreds of years of Portuguese neglect, then subjected to horrendous levels of violence and social engineering schemes, dying from neglect or from intention.

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Much of this message was encapsulated in the imagery of emaciated children in relocation camps, and that image has never left us. It is implanted in the minds of government and NGO staff who easily absorb those images and aid in their recycling. The unthinking continuity of this image supports the unthinking elements of the development industry; it is the reason why many a salary is drawn (including the salaries of underpaid local enumerators who are expected to feed doom up the line to their superiors) and many a study tour and per diem is taken. Local government and NGO workers I’ve spoken to across Timor-Leste offer numerous examples of enumerators filling in household surveys with exactly the results they expect to find.

Another cause is that many government and NGO workers in Timor-Leste have never worked elsewhere. It’s easy to believe conditions in Timor-Leste are the same as Afghanistan or the Congo if one knows absolutely nothing about those failed states.

Some of Timor-Leste’s problems seem to be invented. For example: the small stature of many Timorese is often classified by donors and NGOs as “stunting”, childhood malnutrition which can result in diminutive size, cognitive deficiency, and ill health. Undoubtedly the diminutive stature of many Timorese is caused by childhood malnutrition; some foreign-funded nutrition projects are needed, and welcomed, but all too many of them assumed that the problem is a lack of food, which they then attempted to address through food distribution.

But malnutrition in Timor-Leste is not caused by a lack of food so much as it is caused by a lack of knowledge—of nutrition, of breastfeeding and supplemental feeding, of sanitation and food storage. And also, some people are just shorter than others. The articulation of stunting comes with a laundry list of negative physical and mental outcomes offered as though they are inevitable to all Timorese below a certain height. This is insulting and racist: diminutive stature does not mean that one is stupid, but the small stature of many a Timorese is re-cast as a dire epidemic of mental imbecility and physical frailty —a problem from the worst excesses of the Indonesian occupation, reinvented in order to open a funding line and respond to something that cannot be defeated because it mostly doesn’t exist.

 

Timor-Leste has enough palpable problems; one need not resort to the past or one’s imagination. Youth unemployment is high, economic opportunity is lacking, education is sub-par, maternal and child mortality are high, and malnutrition is prevalent. Violence against women and children is unacceptable at any level, much less the level found in Timor-Leste. The government’s political decisions impede policies to improve the lot of the majority of Timorese in favour of expenditures such as the Oecussi Special Economic Zone, the Tasi Mane petroleum corridor, exorbitant pensions to insurgent veterans and their offspring, and so on. These short-sighted expenditures are often funded by Petroleum Fund draw-downs which impact that fund’s Estimated Sustainable Income levels.

Government employment is an erroneous form of social protection. Even the official status of Portuguese is wasteful, with local civil servants dependent on the translations of Portuguese “advisors”. Most importantly, Timor-Leste has the highest birth rate in Asia: this will degrade all human development progress made in the near term. Family planning underpins nearly all positive outcomes in maternal and child health and family health in general—physical, economic, and so on. It is foundational to gender equality.

Building on what’s there

Despite myriad problems, it is worth repeating: things aren’t so bad. In rural Timor-Leste civil servants are struggling to provide services with little support; children are in school, being taught by teachers who are mostly present; health posts are open and relatively clean, and pharmacies have stocks of some medicines. Civil servants know what their duties are, feel obligated to undertake them, and understand the support they need to execute those duties optimally. They freely offer prescient criticisms and suggest solutions.

The countryside is direly under-developed in terms of infrastructure, but the government has responded through the National Program for Village Development; communities select and action their own infrastructure needs, and the results and impact are impressive. That program—one of the most successful implemented by the state—reveals the capacity that exists in ordinary Timorese. And the bonds of reciprocity found across the multiplicity of Timorese cultures which constitute society become apparent in discussions with everyone from volunteer teachers to ambulance crew members. Yes, conflict and violence exist, but this is still a society made cohesive by shared experience of occupation and resistance: a transcendent sense of membership, even amongst those in conflict with one another, exists.

Timor-Leste’s most pressing issues are as tedious as they are solvable. The imagery of boatloads of stunted Timorese washing ashore in Australia’s Northern Territory as the country burns like a Yule Log so big it can be seen from space is a delusion. Timorese won’t kill one another in large enough numbers to touch off such a crisis. They don’t even have enough boats. Approaching a country from the perspective of its impending demise likely doesn’t lead to good assistance. A new paradigm by which to approach development in Timor-Leste is needed: one that builds upon the solid foundations one can find if only one manages to look and listen beyond the capital. Timor-Leste has a new government, and with it arrives new opportunities.


The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own. Readers may also be interested in the Australian National University’s 2018 Timor-Leste Update, which will be held in Canberra on 21/22 June.

 

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch


May 15, 2018

GE-14: Malaysians Voted for Big Change. Now work hard for its success. There is no such a thing as a free lunch

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By Janice Fredah Ti

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Pakatan Harapan–Stop Bickering and Got on with the Business of Government

Let’s examine the word “revolution”. It’s usually used to describe the forceful or even violent overthrow of a government by a huge part of the population. It brings to mind chaos, fighting, tear gas and chemical-laced water unleashed against citizens; citizens fighting the authorities; police, ambulances, sirens, injuries and even death.

However, my understanding of the word “revolution” is not limited to just that. Revolution, to me, means a big change. It means any movement or activity brought about by concerned citizens to bring about a paradigm shift in the mindset of fellow citizens, that will hopefully eventually effect a major shift in any given political or socioeconomic situation through entrepreneurship, education, the ballot box and others.

Let us hope there will be more to come and lot of changes in personnel in the civil and foreign service and GLCs.

Given that, a revolution is hard to define. It’s hard to determine when it starts or comes full circle. But a half-revolution – that is what I’d like to explore today.

Given our unique political conundrum, made worse by economic uncertainty, Malaysians cannot be faulted for toying with the word “revolution”. One minute, we’re plagued by political fatigue and on the verge of giving up; the next, someone mentions “revolution” and we’re instantly energised!

But what exactly is a revolution in the Malaysian context? Are we managing our expectations, are we leaving things to chance, are some people blindly following so-called leaders, and are others being misled?

Many of us do not like the fact that we are dependent on opposition political parties for any possible change in government. However, many believe that we are. Efforts to create a meaningful and sizeable third force by informed and concerned citizens over the years have met with very little success. Smaller parties like PSM are doing great work but unfortunately, they have not been accepted into the main opposition coalition, perhaps due to ideological differences.

The main opposition pact, Pakatan Harapan (PH), consists of PKR, DAP, PPBM and Amanah. We also have the runaway faction of the standalone PAS, PSM and other smaller parties. Putting aside PAS for now, what is PH doing in terms of effecting a paradigm shift in the minds of the general population to bring about the much needed change in government?

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Governing Malaysia is no circus with clowns. It is hard work and sacrifice. There is no such a thing as a free lunch.

PH parties have been fighting among themselves. They were involved in multi-cornered fights in the Sarawak state elections, giving the enemy an easy victory much to the bewilderment and disappointment of those who placed their hope in them. Are we to trust them with federal power if they can’t sort themselves out in state elections?

Some remain silent while others flip-flop on important matters like RUU 355. Shouldn’t PH, as the main opposition coalition, have a collective stand on major issues concerning the people?

PKR’s Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail even went on record in an interview with Al Jazeera to say, albeit vaguely, things most would not like to hear on the hudud issue. She closed the interview by saying she was only a seat-warmer for Anwar Ibrahim.

DAP’s arrogance meanwhile has shot through the roof, what with the production of tacky video clips which supposedly serve to amuse a particular set of audience. And more than one DAP representative has used racial slurs in a public speech.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as Malaysia’s main opposition coalition is concerned, but it should not be taken lightly.

As if the ruling government’s circus of incompetent and corrupt members was not bad enough, the main opposition has started its own circus as well.

It all began with a major upset that occurred in the already-polarised nation torn apart by a government gone mad. A movement started by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad emerged out of no where in 2016, and to date, all it has succeeded in doing has been to further divide the people, much to the amusement of the ruling government.

Why has this happened? Why is the nation divided by a new movement that didn’t quite accomplish its mission?Because it was started by none other than Mahathir himself, and supported by a string of stars in a line-up consisting of the ever-important who’s who of opposition political parties and civil movements.

For several months there was major confusion, debates, quarrels, and coffee shop talk that resulted even in the loss of friendships as people could not understand why others supported or refused to support such an initiative.

Some are adamant that the engineer of Malaysia’s current situation cannot be supported at any cost; that it would be an insult to former ISA detainees and their families (who, by the way, are very much alive and among us still); that he has never been sorry for what happened or for what resulted in Malaysia today; and so on and so forth.

This group of people think if Mahathir wants to start something, by all means he should but it is way too early to throw any support behind him. Others meanwhile are inclined to think that since Mahathir is taking this step, he should be supported regardless of his past deeds or association with current UMNO leaders, or for that matter, even his personal agendas if any.

The second group just want Barisan Nasional’s (BN) current top guy out, it seems. Some are fine with a reformed UMNO in the event that Mahathir does return to his former party, while some hope he will continue leading the opposition. Some don’t care about anything as long as the current top guy (Najib) is out. Who is right and who is wrong?

The leaders of some civil movements became involved, resulting in many Malaysians jumping into the fray to sign the Citizens’ Declaration without too much consideration. If you believe this is the right thing to do, well, they have rightly influenced people to the right path, otherwise they have misled them.

I am sure many would not disagree that a huge number of Malaysians would support and sign anything without question or analysis for the simple reason that their idols are there.

I personally think they have misled the people – not all, but many. We could argue until the cows come home, but don’t we all know of someone who has regretted signing the Citizens’ Declaration for one reason or another? This is the first step towards the grand disunity about to besiege the nation.

Based on the premise that a revolution is the result of unity and a paradigm shift in the minds of citizens, is this a revolution… or half a revolution?

Then came the formation of Mahathir’s new party PPBM, which initially accepted only Bumiputera membership. This was later revised to allow non-Bumiputeras to become associate members with no voting rights. I’m not sure how many, but I’ve been made to understand that quite a few non-Bumiputeras accepted this arrangement, including my own friends.

Have we not fought against racism for so long? Have we not complained about the current administration’s racially biased policies? Have we not completely despised groups like Perkasa (coincidentally, Mahathir is the VIP patron) and the infamous Ikan Bakar Tak Laku? And we are now told to accept a new racist party into the main opposition fold, because apparently, “we have no other choice”.

It’s mind-boggling, but again – is this leading us to the revolution we seek, or only half a revolution?

After an agonising wait, GE14 has finally been called. Most of us have been there, done that, seen and heard it all. Social media, which is a big part of many voters’ lives, is threatening to explode with the insults and quarrels from both sides of the political divide.

Understandable, many want change. But what change? Change is a process and a journey, not an event called GE-14. And a change to something worse is also called change.

PH, which has been entrusted to make this change, is now led by the very same person whom many acknowledge laid the foundation for the kleptocratic and autocratic government that we have today. To make things worse, he recently sought to exonerate himself from two of the nation’s saddest and darkest events: Ops Lalang and the prosecution of Anwar Ibrahim. How convenient!

For those who must believe that it takes a thief to catch a thief, please carry on. For the rest of us, this is not palatable. It was never an issue of forgive and forget, but more of what possible reforms PH can bring forward with Mahathir in the coalition. What reforms could possibly take place with someone who apologises and makes a U-turn in six hours? PH is taking us for a ride, lock, stock and barrel.

Someone once said, “Change can never take place from the level of consciousness it was created.”PH – are you leading us to a revolution, or half a revolution?

If PH is serious about change and good governance, why are its parties, particularly PKR, fielding last-minute parachute candidates, worse still those who are not local, for state seats? Last-minute decisions for something as important as what they call “the mother of all elections”?

The power struggle is so blatant, and they are trying to tell us that they are for the people? How are they different from the very people they wish to bring down – BN? Try harder next time, PH.

PH, we want a revolution, not half a revolution. Many are angry at my disapproval and constant bashing of PH, as well as what they call my idealism. They say I am seeking perfection when the reality is that it doesn’t exist. I don’t think idealism is exactly the opposite of realism, but let’s save that for another day. If idealism involves not voting for a half-baked opposition coalition which could have presented itself as a sincere catalyst of change through real hard work and good planning, I am fine with idealism for now.

Happy voting, abstaining, or spoiling of votes!

Janice Fredah Ti is an FMT reader.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect that of FMT.

 

 

GE14– Malaysia’s highly Competitive Polls


April 23, 2018

GE14– Malaysia’s highly Competitive Polls

by Dr. Bridget Welsh@www,malaysiakini.com

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COMMENT | Most analysts will tell you that BN will emphatically win the coming May 9 election. I am not most analysts. While I agree with the dominant argument that BN goes into GE-14 with significant structural advantages and the ruling coalition is a strong favourite to win, the campaign is fluid and riddled with uncertainties.

Compared to 2013, this election has more competitive seats and more unknowns. No one can predict the outcome with certainty. Below I outline five issue areas that make GE-14 arguably one of Malaysia’s most competitive, suggesting that much of what is happening in the election to date is evolving in the last few weeks of the campaign, and as such GE-14’s outcome and that of Malaysia’s political future is very much in the balance.

1. Tighter contests

In 2013, nearly 50% of the seats (111 of 222) were competitive, with 32% of the seats won by less than 10%. Most of these close seats were fierce battles, some of which came down to blackouts, postal votes and multi-cornered splitting of the opposition vote. Polling agents were often unsung heroes. Recall that in four parliamentary seats in Sabah, opposition differences resulted in BN winning them – Keningau, Kota Marudu, Pensiangan and Tenom.

In 2018, around 65% of the seats (144) are estimated to be competitive, meaning that these seats can be won by less than a 10% margin. This increase is the product of three issues: 1) three-cornered fights, 2) the entrance of Bersatu, and 3) greater convergence of local opposition in Sabah. Three-cornered fights (a topic that will be developed in more detail in a later piece), disproportionately advantage the BN, but in the process, they make the margins of victory lower.

PAS is reportedly slating candidates in 126 seats, which will make multi-cornered contests a nationwide phenomenon. Slimmer margins make for more competitiveness and surprises. At the same time, traditional seats like Pagoh and Langkawi – while also favour BN despite the fielding of Bersatu heavyweights– now join the competitive seat list. We also see more competitive seats in Kedah and Johor.

Finally, while Sabah politics continues to be multi-party, the localisation of the opposition increases the political salience of ethnic and personal loyalties and, combined with the wave toward Borneo empowerment, makes for closer contests.

2. Leadership legacies

In 2013, the election was about caretaker Prime Minister Najib Razak. This time around it is the same, except rather than serving as a strength for BN, he is a liability with record levels of antipathy against him and his wife, Rosmah Mansor. If Najib really wanted his coalition to win positively, he would have stepped down. As such, the election appears to be about his survival, not the interests of his party or the country.

Opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad is also a divisive figure, similarly evoking strong emotions from critics. The sense of relief when Mahathir stepped down from office in 2003 was palpable. While corruption levels were not as high as in Najib’s tenure, Mahathir did similarly undermine the democratic fabric of Malaysia.

His return at 92, evoking a sense of statesmanship for the country, appears less about personal interest than that of Najib. It is deeply ironic that one of the leaders who did the most damage to political institutions is now the defender of democracy in Malaysia.

The stark Najib-Mahathir face-off focuses heavily on different perceptions of the legacies of their past tenures, forcing voters to opt for the least-opposed candidate. This inevitably has led to resistance among some voters to either choice. The challenge for both leaders is to convince voters that they offer something meaningful for the country’s future. This is playing out in the campaign.

3. Undecided voters, reduced turnout

Less than one month away from GE14, credible polls suggest that over a third of registered voters are estimated to be still undecided. In 2013, only 15% went into the election campaign without a clear choice. The 2018 campaign will matter, as it will determine which party will tip the balance in voting.

A crucial part of the decision will be whether to vote at all. Voter turnout reached a record high of 85% in 2013. All indications are that turnout will drop this time around, as shown in the Sarawak 2016 polls which saw a turnout of 66%. The decision to put the election on a Wednesday aims to reduce turnout further, and this is enhanced by indecision among the electorate itself.

Whichever party brings voters to the polls will have the advantage. The BN’s machinery is stronger, fuelled by its resource advantage. It traditionally has the stronger record on bringing its base out to vote. Given the antipathy towards Najib among many in the BN base itself, the higher turnout for the BN is not guaranteed.

At the same time, the opposition has greater obstacles getting its voters out compared to 2013, given the loss of PAS which served as the machinery backbone for Pakatan Rakyat. All of Pakatan Harapan parties by contrast have comparatively weak machinery. With less money in the 2018 campaign compared to 2013 to date for the opposition, this potentially weakens turnout for the opposition further – adding to the competitiveness.

4. Prominent identity politics

The sensitive issues of race and religion lurk closely below the surface in this campaign. In the past five years, the Najib government has pitted Chinese against Malays openly with its zero-sum characterisation of the 2013 vote as a “Chinese tsunami”.

The labeling of the opposition of 2018 as a “Malay tsunami” follows the same ethnic framing, putting the question of Malay unity and the role of non-Malays centre stage in the current political contest. While interpersonal race relations remain largely cordial, the politicisation of race and power creates undercurrents that cannot be fully controlled or predicted.

To further complicate this dynamic, PAS is articulating its own “pure” Islamic agenda, having nothing meaningful to offer in other areas of governance. While Umno tacitly supports this agenda –  contributing to the narrative of ratcheting up religious differences as a reason to vote in GE14 – religion has moved from a question of religious freedoms to religious dominance and displacement.

Rather than building bridges across the faiths, the campaigns by PAS and to some extent Umno, are more about exclusion and the primacy of one community’s rights over others. This also taps into highly emotive and unpredictable dimensions.

5. Post-election questions

Najib is also no Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose gentlemanly sense of fairness accepted the results of the 2008 campaign.

With charges of kleptocracy shadowing Najib, legitimate questions are being asked whether he would accept the results. The same can be said for the opposition as well, which has witnessed the Najib government introduce even more structural unfairness in the electoral process in areas such as the delineation. This excessive unfairness has sadly delegitimised the elections among many and fueled anger, creating greater risks for acceptance of electoral outcomes.

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Nevertheless, both BN and the opposition are living in their own political echo chambers, both sides are confident of winning. They have drunk their own rose syrup, not fully appreciating that many Malaysians stand on the sidelines, watching and deciding which electoral party to attend. The mood is not yet one dominated by celebration and hope, rather one permeating with uncertainty and indecision.

The campaign will matter more than is realised, and as such, every vote will matter.


BRIDGET WELSH is an Associate Professor of Political Science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a Senior Associate Research Fellow at National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a University Fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book (with Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She is following the 2018 campaign on the ground and providing her analyses exclusively to Malaysiakini readers. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.