At the Opening of the 14th Parliament– A Hopeful End to a Boorish UMNO dominated House
It was a surreal experience sitting in the visitors gallery of the Dewan Rakyat the other day watching members of the 14th Parliament take their oath of office. It was like sitting in on history as it unfolded.
A moment to remember
There was the redoubtable Dr Mahathir once again in his old seat with the wife of his one-time nemesis sitting beside him in the capacity of Deputy Prime Minister. And all the familiar faces that were long associated with the term “opposition” now ensconced comfortably in the government benches.
What an awesome feeling it must have been for all these former opposition stalwarts to be sitting on the right side of the House and of history.
Malaysia’s No 1 Servant-Leader, MP Lim Kit Siang
The indomitable Lim Kit Siang was there as well clearly savoring the moment. Perhaps no other politician in our history fought so long and sacrificed so much for the changes now unfolding in our nation. They say it’s hard to keep a good man down; he’s the living proof of it.
And how in keeping with the times to see Judge Mohamad Ariff Yusof, a man of sterling character and integrity, take the speaker’s chair. His presence in the chair is itself proof enough of the new government’s respect for the role of parliament in our democracy.
His appointment may not have met the letter of Pakatan’s pledge to appoint an MP as speaker but it far surpasses it in spirit.
A parliament worthy of our nation
I have been a civil servant and ambassador for a long time. Over the years I have had to watch in silent dismay the antics of so many of our parliamentarians – their lavish junkets abroad, their boorish behaviour, their own sense of entitlement. Their disdain for the people who elected them was always evident.
The new Opposition Leader Dr. Zahid Hamidi
They shamefully trampled on the fine parliamentary traditions that underpinned our democracy, stifling debate and rubber-stamping the ill-conceived and malicious actions of an overbearing executive. They looked the other way in the face of some of the worst excesses our nation has seen, dishonouring in the process the very institution that was meant to give expression to our democracy.
Some were such poor representatives of our nation that I confess there were times when I felt ashamed to claim them as my own. But those days are behind us now. Looking around the chamber on that first day of Parliament, I couldn’t help thinking that we finally have a parliament we can be proud of, a parliament worthy of our nation.
Passionate & committed
To be sure, many of the newbie MPs are inexperienced in parliamentary procedure but there’s no doubting, however, their passion and commitment to building a better Malaysia. Many of them know what it is like to be tear-gassed, arrested, imprisoned, and harassed for their convictions. It’s hard not to believe that they will not be more tolerant of dissent, more respectful of human rights or more sensitive to the hopes and aspirations of our people.
Together – seasoned hands and newcomers, idealists and pragmatists, dreamers and realists, religious and secularists, young and old, graduates from renowned institutions and certificate holders from the school of hard knocks – they constitute, arguably, the most formidable team ever assembled on the government benches.
To survive as a government, they will have to learn to give and take, negotiate and accommodate as our diversity demands. There’ll be challenges, of course, but if anyone can do it, it is this team of parliamentarians.
Heads in the sand
And it is just as well given that so many of those who sit in the opposition benches appear to still have their heads in the sand, unable to rise to the demands of a nation reborn. Perhaps they’ve fed on their own bile for so long that they are no longer capable of providing the kind of credible opposition we had hoped for.
Even as Parliament got down to work, UMNO minions were outside Parliament doing their utmost to stoke fears of impending doom and spewing their usual racism and bigotry. They had earlier announced that they would march with hands bound and mouths taped to symbolize the loss of Malay power but apparently thought better of it. It would have been more appropriate for them to have taped their eyes instead to symbolize their own lack of vision.
People are watching
Whatever it is, members of the 14th Parliament should know that the citizens who elected them will be watching them closely. While the people understand the challenges ahead, and will certainly give them some leeway, the honeymoon will not last forever.
Promises were made; promises must be kept. We’ve come too far and fought too hard to accept anything less than genuine transformation and real change. There is an expectation too that they’ll put principle ahead of party in the interests of the people. The people have rediscovered the power of their vote and will use it to hold them accountable.
As well, they’d better be prepared to leave the ivory tower that parliament can sometimes be and walk among the lesser mortals in whose name they govern. All too many of the MPs whose seats they now occupy were just too full of themselves, their honorifics, their entitlements; and they paid the price for it.
Repository of our hopes
Five years is a short time in politics but it’s all the time they will get to fulfil their promises to reform our nation, banish corruption, rebuild our economy and forge a new national consensus on the issues that have long divided us.
It’s a tall order for sure but they have the support of the people and the parliamentary majority to get things done. All that is needed now is the political will, courage and wisdom to do right by our nation.
In a very real sense, these members of parliament have become the repository of all our hopes and dreams for a better, more inclusive nation. Our future is now in their hands. May Almighty God give them the grace to rise to the occasion.
Reboot, not Tinker, says T K Chua to Dr. Mahathir Mohamad & Co
Drawing fairly from all PH component parties, Dr Mahathir Mohamad must appoint young MPs as ministers and allow them, instead of retired insiders, to chair the reform panels.
I think all component parties of Pakatan Harapan (PH) must face reality. They mustn’t curry favour with each other and pretend nothing has happened. It is better for each component party to state exactly its anxiety and unhappiness so that everyone is clear with each other. If we allow unhappiness to fester, the coalition may suffer fissures earlier rather than later.
As a citizen wanting real reforms and good governance for this country, this is my take on PH now.
Whether we like it or not, there is a perception of uneven power distribution among the component parties within PH.
We accept that Dr Mahathir Mohamad played a vital role in the 14th general election, but we cannot ignore the fact that the bulk of the work was actually done by the young turks of DAP and PKR who suffered persecution in the past and civil society. PH’s victory was actually more than 10 years in the making, not just the last two years.
With that in mind, I think PPBM and Amanah have been more than adequately compensated. With Mahathir as Prime Minister and so many state MBs under PPBM, I think it is time to appoint the young and the dynamic from DAP and PKR to their rightful places in the Cabinet and other positions, including the Speaker of the House (Dewan Rakyat).
I believe fairness is the best way to keep all the parties united. Fairness is good to keep the different parties on an even keel and to provide built-in checks and balances. When one party dominates, others may feel resentful.
I see a general reluctance to give room for the young to effect genuine reforms that the country badly needs. I see that important and pertinent ministries and positions are still being controlled by “insiders” rather than reformers. In this regard, may I know why the reinvestigation of Teoh Beng Hock’s death was announced by DAP ministers and not the Home Minister? What is the reason for this?
We must recognise that Mahathir can only do so much. Beyond that, he must seek consultation and advice from others. Mahathir needs capable and dynamic MPs appointed as ministers and deputy ministers to assist and advise him. I think it is not difficult for any ordinary Malaysian to spot these capable MPs and assemblymen.
In a similar vein, all the reform panels and committees should be led by capable MPs and assemblymen instead of retired insiders and former government officials. If they are so reform-minded, Malaysia would not have gotten into such a big hole in the first place.
Elders with substantive experience can play advisory roles but certainly not calling the shots. We must give the newly elected MPs and assemblymen the opportunity to decide how they want to move this country forward. Why elect new MPs and assemblymen when we are going to use the same old people to reform our country?
There will be pent-up frustration if the energy of these young MPs and assemblymen is not harnessed. I believe they are in a better position to suggest and provide recommendations to the government.
This country needs a reboot, not tinkering.
TK Chua is a FMT reader
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his Team of Talented Professionals for New Malaysia
by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California, USA
At 92, Prime Minister of Malaysia again with the rare opportunity to right past wrongs like appointing Abdullah Badawi and Najib Razak as his successors.
Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is that rare leader who recognizes his mistakes, admits to them publicly, and then goes about rectifying them with the tenacity of a hungry rooster chasing a worm. However lest we gloss over it, he is not that wise in that he had made the same mistake not once but twice. The first was with Abdullah Badawi; second, Najib.
Nor did Mahathir recognize his mistakes early enough when they would have been easier to remedy and before they could wreak havoc. Look at the wreckage inflicted by Najib. If Mahathir were to repeat those same mistakes now that he is Prime Minister again, the consequences this time would be far more catastrophic.
Mahathir corrected his blunder with Abdullah Badawi with ease; with Najib, less so. Between Abdullah and Najib, Malaysia wasted a precious decade and a half. Najib also squandered billions. That part of the wreckage is at least quantifiable, not so the damage he wreaked upon Malaysian institutions or the nation’s reputation.
Najib and Abdullah were not the only duds. Mahathir’s previous cabinet was filled with the Nazri Azizes, Zahid Hamidis, and Rahman Dahlans. Countless others of comparable appalling caliber helmed the nation’s institutions. It is this lethal combination of weak institutions in the hands of the corrupt and incompetent that cripples Malaysia and produces the 1MDB and other boondoggles.
Mahathir has his work cut out. At 93, he has precious little time. His saving grace is that today, unlike when he was leading UMNO and Barisan, Mahathir is now inundated with talent. Many are young.
Minister of Education Dr. Maszlee Malik
His Minister of Education has a British doctorate, a vast improvement over his many predecessors. As a junior academic he was already an outspoken critic of the government through his role as moderator in the many wacanas (public debates). That is a rare trait among local lecturers where the culture is to suck up to your superiors; hence the derisive appellation Professor Kangkung. In debates, Maszlee Malik dazzled his audiences with his wit, eloquence, and receptiveness to diverse views.
Maszlee is also fluent in Malay, English, Arabic, and Mandarin, a worthy example for our teachers and students. He could “out-quote” the Koran and hadith with the most bearded ulamas; he could thus expose their stupidities in front of simple kampung folks.
Minister of Health, an Imperial College PhD in Toxicology, Dzulkefly Ahmad.
Less young is Mahathir’s new Minister of Health, an Imperial College PhD in Toxicology, Dzulkefly Ahmad. He has much to do cleaning up the toxic residue of the Najib Administration.
The transfer of power executed by Mazlee and Dzulkefly with their respective predecessors was a picture of class and decorum. What a glaring contrast to the absence of Najib Razak at Mahathir’s swearing-in ceremony at the Palace. Najib has no class. Earlier he had skipped the traditional concession speech. On election night he abandoned his followers at a time when they needed support the most.
The new Minister of Transport, Anthony Loke, impressed me with his command of the National Language. When his ministry staff greeted him on his first day with their usual pomp and ceremony, he told them to dispense with that. How refreshing! They would serve the nation best by attending to the public first rather than to their minister, he reminded them.
Minister of Transport Anthony Loke
Those elaborate ceremonies cost the rakyat a bundle. Think of the many public counters left unmanned because the staff had to greet and listen to their new minister.
With such superior talents, Mahathir should dispense with his old one-man-show habit. Give them space; nurture them. Najib’s mistake, apart from not being too bright, was that he was like a kid, craving praises and going so far as to buy them!
In a praiseworthy departure, Mahathir has ventured far beyond to tap Tommy Thomas to be the new Attorney-General. This infusion of top talent at the highest levels should be the new norm. Mahathir should have more such individuals “helicoptered” in to bring a fresh perspective and different expertise, beyond the typical thinking and time frame of a politician or civil servant.
Attorney-General Tommy Thomas
I would argue that politicians are least suited to be ministers as they would be busy taking care of their constituents, attending to party matters, and campaigning for the next election. I do not suggest adopting in toto the American system where all cabinet members are non-politicians. Thomas as Attorney-General is a good start; he would also “de-politicize” that important office. A practicing engineer to be Works Minister and a professional economist or accountant for Finance Minister should be next.
One individual Mahathir should pay particular attention to is his Deputy, Dr. Wan Azizah. Like Mahathir, she is also a physician, and a specialist to boot. Unlike Mahathir who was once described by his admirers as the first Malay to graduate from medical school without having to sit for a supplemental,
New Malaysia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Ismail
Wan Azizah was a gold medalist, tops in her class in Ireland. The brilliance is there. She is no Najib, Abdullah, or Muhyddin. Help make her be not only the first female Prime Minister of Malaysia, but also the best.
That would be a legacy worthy of Mahathir. Achieve that and the soiled memories of his appointing Abdullah and Najib would recede from history.
Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. It should be independent and apolitical since it is the custodian of our reserves.
The recently announced Cabinet decision to accept Muhammad bin Ibrahim’s offer to step down as the Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia offers the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government an early opportunity to review and reform Malaysia’s monetary system and restore confidence which has been dented by recent events. Personnel turnover like this is often seen as an indicator that a central bank is not independent and that the Governor and senior managers are hired and fired at the whim of the government.
Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. This requires a review of the structure, conduct and performance of the Bank to manage perceptions amongst stakeholders outside of the Bank and particularly outside of Malaysia in the international financial community.
One of the first reforms necessary is to end the Bank’s involvement in non-core activities. The Financial Education Hub (FEH), for example, which involved the purchase of 56 acres of land from the Government is a prime example. The Bank’s involvement in this project is at the core of the controversy surrounding the Governor’s resignation.
Both the Governor and the Bank in its statement of 24 May 2018 have made clear that the transaction complied with all the governance requirements and relevant laws that govern the Bank but questions remain as to whether these regulations are sufficient to govern such transactions in the wider circumstances of the financial system and whether a central bank should be doing this sort of thing at all.
The specific functions of a central bank are to issue currency, manage the monetary system and national reserves, set monetary policy and act as the government’s banker and “lender of last resort,” anything else is non-essential. Bank Negara has enough on its hands with these core functions and to involve itself in property development, financial education and estate management has proved a step too far. Apart from distracting the Bank’s managers from core functions, activities of this type create the perception that the Bank’s decisions in financial regulation and supervision might be influenced by its own real estate investments and worse, that its independence might be compromised if these investments are related, directly or indirectly, to the financing of other government projects, such as 1MDB. There is an urgent need to end this perception by placing activities such as the FEH into a separate independent organisation and to change governance systems to avoid such issues in the future.
A second and related reform is to separate financial supervision and regulation from the Bank. In Malaysia, financial regulation is carried out by Bank Negara under the Financial Services Act 2013 (FSA) and the Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 (IFSA). These consolidate the supervision and regulation of the structure, conduct and performance of banks, insurance companies and other financial services providers into one authority. This is an onerous job and current international best practice suggests that it may be better to separate these functions into independent specialist authorities accountable to parliament not to the Cabinet or Prime Minister.
The FSA also gives the Bank wide powers which allow the Bank to assume control over the whole or part of the business, affairs or property of financial institutions under its supervision. This includes the power to manage such businesses or appoint any person to manage them on behalf of the Bank. These are wide powers which are arguably necessary in extreme circumstances but the exercise of such powers must be conducted with transparency, independence and accountability to parliament rather than to the government as is currently the case. This aspect must be reviewed in any reform of the FSA.
A third area of reform relates to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) which is responsible for setting interest rates. Although in principle the MPC is independent, which is considered essential to avoid manipulation of interest rates for political purposes, the current MPC has six internal officers of the Bank appointed by the Bank itself and two external members appointed by the Finance Minister. The balance of internal and external members should be reviewed and greater transparency in the appointment of members, as well as the terms of their membership, should be introduced including scrutiny by parliament.
There also needs to be greater clarity on how the MPC decides on monetary policy and particularly how the forecasts are made so that the process and underlying assumptions of these forecasts, on which many government and private sector decisions rely, can be assessed independently. We also need to see the publication of detailed MPC minutes, as is routine for the MPC at the Bank of England, to take us beyond the current monthly Bank Negara Monetary Statement which amounts to little more than a press release with little or no substantive analysis.
Recent events at Bank Negara have caused concern in many quarters and raise issues of the independence of Malaysia’s central bank at an operational level. Confidence, independence and credibility are essential to underpin the integrity of any financial system and when questions arise, such as those currently affecting Bank Negara, they are not solved simply by replacing the leaders and putting the, “right people,” at the helm. A thorough review and reform of monetary policy institutions and how they operate is needed and it is timely for the new government to begin this process.
Professor Geoffrey Williams is a Professor at ELM Graduate School at HELP University. He was also a member of the Bank of England Commission of HM Opposition (1999-2000) in the United Kingdom.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.
Foreign Policy:Trump’s America First is America Against the Rest of the World
by Susan B. Glasser @www.newyorker.com
President Donald Trump and The G-7 leaders–Creating an Island called America
The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was less than forty-eight hours away from hosting the biggest diplomatic gathering of his career when I spoke with one of his top advisers on Wednesday afternoon. Trudeau’s team was searching for strategies to salvage the annual G-7 summit with the American President, Donald Trump, and leaders of five of the world’s other large democratic economies—all of them close allies of the United States, and all of them furious with Trump. “Look, he personally decided he wanted to be fighting with everybody,” the Trudeau aide told me, referring to Trump. “Maybe he thinks it’s in his best interests to be combative and fighting.”
For close to a year and a half, Trudeau and his counterparts have employed various strategies to try to head off conflict with the volatile American President, from flattery to stonewalling to hours of schmoozing on the golf course. But in recent weeks Trump has confounded their efforts, unleashing a tit-for-tat trade war with allies, blowing up the Iran nuclear deal over European objections, and walking away from a deal with Canada and Mexico to overhaul NAFTA, all while lavishing praise on the North Korean dictator with whom he hopes to reach an accord next week. Adding insult to injury, Trump even cited an obscure national-security provision to justify the tariffs, as if America’s closest friends had suddenly become its biggest enemies. As a result, the G-7 meeting that Trudeau will host on Friday and Saturday was shaping up to be the most contentious, and possibly the most consequential, since the summits began, in 1975.
Trump’s Chief Economic Adviser, Larry Kudlow, told the White House press corps on Wednesday that this was all just a “family quarrel,” but, if so, it’s one ugly fight. As Kudlow acknowledged the rift, Trudeau and France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, were meeting to plot strategy, and everyone was wondering why Trump, who is often described as averse to face-to-face conflict, had chosen the weeks preceding the annual G-7 summit to punch his allies in the face. In the days leading up to the meeting, Trump had tense phone calls with Trudeau, Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Macron, who has been especially humiliated by the series of adverse decisions after flying to Washington to lobby Trump personally. All of them appear to fix blame on Trump himself. “We’ve gotten used to unorthodox behavior from your President,” the Trudeau adviser said.
For his part, Trump seems to relish the confrontation he has unleashed and is spoiling for more. On Thursday morning, the President tweeted that he was “getting ready to go to the G-7 in Canada to fight for our country on Trade,” insisting, as he often does, that “we have the worst trade deals ever made.” But others involved in the summit were preparing for an America more alone than ever before, and now Trump faces the very real risk of allies teaming up against him. “The American president may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be,” Macron tweeted pointedly to Trump, in English, later on Thursday. Trump quickly fired back. “Please tell Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron that they are charging the U.S. massive tariffs and create non-monetary barriers,” the President tweeted. “Look forward to seeing them tomorrow.”
Soon after that, the White House said in a statement that Trump would skip the second day of the summit entirely, and it seemed increasingly certain that the traditional joint communique signed off on by all seven leaders will be discarded because of Trump. (As of Wednesday, when it would normally be in the final stages of elaborate negotiations, the communique was not even being circulated.) Instead, the Trudeau adviser told me, the Canadian Prime Minister, as the summit’s host, was likely simply to release a “statement from the chair,” summarizing the discussions without requiring Trump to approve it. The American President has blundered his way into “opening a four-front-at-least war simultaneously,” the Trudeau adviser said, and now the goal of the summit has become unlike any other that preceded it: “to get allies together to try to contain the amount of damage he’s doing.”
Ever since Trump took office, America’s allies have desperately sought to avoid this moment. Over the last year and a half, though, many of them have come to realize, with growing dread, that it was inevitable. The rift between the world’s great democracies that Trump’s election portended is coming to pass, and it is about far more than Iran policy, obscure trade provisions, or whether Germany spends two per cent of its G.D.P. on NATO. Many senior European officials speak of it, as one Ambassador to Washington did to me recently, as nothing less than a “crisis of the West.”
As Trump’s dramatic moves have played out this spring and hardened into a Presidential narrative of American victimization at the hands of free-riding allies, senior government officials in London, Berlin, and other European capitals, and in Washington, have told me they now worry that Trump may be a greater immediate threat to the alliance than even authoritarian great-power rivals, such as Russia and China. Equally striking is the extent to which America’s long-term allies have no real strategy for coping with the challenges posed by such an American President. Trump may be reorienting U.S. foreign policy away from its closest friends, such as Great Britain and Germany, and toward those with whom Trump is more politically aligned in Israel, the Gulf, and along Europe’s restive fringes, but his traditional partners have no real strategy for how to respond.
Last year, the German Foreign Office embarked on what two sources described to me as its first-ever effort to produce an America strategy aimed at answering that question, with the goal of producing a strategy document similar to those it has for adversaries. “Essentially, it’s an overhaul of German foreign policy,” a senior German official told me, “since the key assumption being called into question is the total reliance we have on the friendship with the U.S.” Work on the new strategy began after Trump’s Inauguration but accelerated last spring, after the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, returned from Trump’s initial foray into international summitry rattled by him and announced that “Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” The painful realization, the senior German official said, was that “we might get to a situation where we see Americans not only as friends and partners but also as competitors and adversaries. We don’t want to do that. That is how we treat other great powers around the globe, like Russia and China.”
Until now, allies have been notably divided on how to handle Trump, largely settling on an approach that Charles Kupchan (pic above), who served as President Barack Obama’s senior director for Europe at the National Security Council, characterized as “limit the damage and run out the clock.” Trump’s recent confrontational moves, however, have made it all but impossible for allies to continue with their policy of “don’t give in but don’t give up,” as Kupchan described it. In interviews in Europe and Washington over the last week, I heard a new tone of anguish and concern as the extent and consequences of the rift have become more clear. “They cruised through 2017 and they thought everything was fine,” Julianne Smith, a former Pentagon official and deputy national-security adviser for Vice-President Joe Biden who now heads the transatlantic program at the Center for a New American Security, told me. “Now he is doing in 2018 what he threatened to do, and it’s ‘Oh, no, I feel the shock and awe’ and ‘What can we do?’ ”
Daniel Vajdich, who served as a foreign-policy adviser to the Republican Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Scott Walker in the 2016 election, agreed. “There’s no denying that the transatlantic relationship is at a low point in the post-Cold War period,” Vajdich, who is one of two Republicans who defended Trump’s approach in a debate against two Europeans at a security conference in the Estonian capital of Tallinn last week, said. Initially, the session had been titled “Eighteen Months of Trump Foreign Policy: Right Direction or Wrong Track?” Organizers decided they had to change the title because no one could make the case that relations were on the right track after last week’s tariffs decision. Instead, Vajdich’s team was asked to argue that perhaps things were “better than they seemed” under Trump’s foreign policy.
When the reframed debate terms were announced at the event, they drew a laugh from the audience, which was composed largely of European security officials and experts. Constanze Stelzenmüller, the German debater on the panel, compared Trump’s foreign policy to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” and said the Europeans were the handmaids. As for Trump, she said, the American President seemed to be treating his allies like a girlfriend he could abuse, slapping her around as if that would make her more likely to accept his marriage proposal.
When I went to Berlin after the Tallinn conference, I talked with several German officials who made similar references to personal and familial dysfunction. In their view, Trump’s decision to take on his allies on so many issues all at once is quite different from the standard-issue European policy disputes with the United States, such as the 2003 rift over George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, or Ronald Reagan’s early nineteen-eighties military buildup against the Soviet Union. Those were differing views over how to protect the alliance; now Trump is questioning the alliance itself. “It’s like your parents questioning their love for you,” Norbert Röttgen, the chairman of the Bundestag’s foreign-affairs committee, told me on Monday. “It’s already penetrated the subconscious.”
Nowhere in Europe has that subconscious been more rocked than in Germany, where its close relationship with the United States has defined the country’s remarkable resurrection after the Second World War. “It took Germany the longest of all partners to come to terms with someone like Trump becoming President,” the senior German official told me. “We were very emotional, because our relationship with America is so emotional—it’s more of a son-father relationship—and we didn’t recognize our father anymore and realized he might beat us.” Only in recent weeks, he said, after Trump reorganized his foreign-policy team, replacing his Secretary of State and national-security adviser with the more like-minded Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and launching his trade war, did they finally get that “this is real. And still many people haven’t come to grips with the idea that Trump is not considering us an ally and as a son but maybe even as adversary.”
As we spoke, the latest controversy was reinforcing the idea that Germany was no longer America’s favored ally. Trump had named Richard Grenell (pic above), a Republican activist well known for his aggressive Twitter spats and dismissive views, to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and he, even before meeting his German hosts, had just given an interview to the right-wing Web site Breitbart praising the European far right; the headline suggested he saw it as his job to “empower” such leaders. Grenell later insisted on Twitter that his remarks had been misconstrued, but not before some German politicians called for him to be kicked out and the German Foreign Office asked for a formal clarification of his comments. The fracas had a certain Trumpian irrelevance, but a more consequential rebuke came in a speech this week at the conservative Heritage Foundation, in Washington, where the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, A. Wess Mitchell, outlined a new strategy toward the Continent that suggested a shift away from longtime allies, such as France and Germany, and toward newcomers in Central and Eastern Europe, where Trump-style populism flourishes and democratic norms are being challenged.
Still, Röttgen, like Merkel herself, remains wary of outright confrontation with the Trump Administration over these policies, even as the German public becomes increasingly disillusioned. “We should choose the option of damage limitation instead of escalation,” Röttgen told me. “Trump might force us to become more confrontational, but we should try to resist.” How bad has it already gotten? A recent poll found that only fourteen per cent of Germans now believe the United States is a reliable partner, compared with thirty-six per cent in Russia and forty-three per cent in China.
A year ago, after Trump returned from his first Presidential trip overseas with deeply unsettled allies in Europe, his national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, and his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, teamed up to write a reassuring op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. “America First is not America alone,” they promised. Neither of the two men still works for Trump. A few months after that, Trump himself made an appearance before the rattled global financial élites at the World Economic Forum, in Davos. “America First is not America alone,” he insisted. Now, increasingly, it is.
A frequent critic of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has voiced his opposition to a plan to evaluate the agency’s role, saying it should be dissolved straight away.
“Jakim is redundant as a religious body,” said Tawfik Ismail, who served as MP for Sungai Benut from 1986 to 1990.
He spoke to FMT in reaction to Putrajaya’s announcement that a committee would be appointed to decide whether Jakim should continue with its current role or “revert to its original purpose”.
Explaining his assertion that the department is redundant, he said: “In the case of halal certificates, the state religious departments are empowered to issue them. If ingredients need to be checked, we have the health and agriculture ministries, which have all the necessary equipment and expertise.
“Moreover, if an item is halal in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan, why would it need the Malaysian halal certification? This adds to the cost, putting consumers at a disadvantage.
“And there are complaints that the manufacturer has to pay all charges for a Jakim team to verify the halal quality of a product, even if the product is manufactured in Malaysia.”
Tawfik questioned whether the attempt to save Jakim was really an attempt to save Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s face.
“Mahathir doesn’t want to admit that setting up Jakim was wrong and that it was done only in an attempt to paint himself as more Islamic than PAS.”
He also said he suspected that Jakim had gone beyond what Mahathir initially had in mind for it, adding that this might be the reason for the controversial actions taken in recent years by itself and other religious bodies that likely followed its example.
“There were the ridiculous issues over hot dogs and root beer, the court action against Borders Bookstore, and the shaming of Mustafa Akyol.”
In May 2012, Borders manager Nik Raina Abdul Aziz was charged by the Federal Territories Religious Department (Jawi) for allegedly selling a book that defiled Islam. The civil Court of Appeal eventually found that the book, Irshad Manji’s “Allah, Liberty and Love”, had not been prohibited by any religious authority or the home ministry at the time the charge was made in a shariah court.
The appellate court concluded that Nik Raina was charged simply because she was a Muslim and because Jawi could not exercise its jurisdiction over her employer or her non-Muslim supervisor. It ruled that the proceedings against her were “unreasonable” and “irrational” and offended “the principle of fairness and justice”.
Last September, Akyol, a Turkish journalist, ran into trouble with the religious authorities during a visit to Malaysia for allegedly teaching Islam without credentials.
FMT’s attempts to reach Jakim for its comment on Putrajaya’s plan have failed.