Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’

July 9, 2018

Arrivals and departures in ‘New Malaysia’

by Dr. Bridget

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Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Today marks two months since the May elections, coming after a dramatic week of appointments, an arrest, and a nauseating court gag order.

These headlines mark the arrival of important changes taking place in Malaysia, in governance and in the adoption of new political positions. Key is whether actors in their new roles are genuinely willing to engage in departures from the past.

In looking at two important developments this week – the new cabinet and the first major response of UMNO as a political opposition – Malaysia’s past offers important insights to the development ahead.

Newbie cabinet

Malaysia’s new cabinet makes history not only for the fact that it is comprised of new faces from a new coalition, but it is made up of a record number of professionals and non-scandal tainted individuals.

This combination of talent and fresh eyes offers great promise, and over the past week since the new ministers and deputy ministers took up their appointments, there has been a variety of positive messages sent from open tender to much-needed reviews of contracts.

The appointees are taking their tasks seriously, and while there are steep learning curves ahead, the resolve shown reinforces the sense of confidence of voters last May.

Change, however, is not just a matter of priorities and press statements but will require a crucial remoulding within the system itself. There are persistent practices inside the government – paying for meetings with ministers, using position for personal wealth and prioritising loyalty over merit – that need to be changed as well.

Ministers can set examples in pushing for reform in everyday governance, as the bureaucracy should not be seen as a bastion for patronage and a centre of corruption.

One of the most important and welcome shifts of the early years of the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was the refocus of the civil service on serving the public. This same administration also offers another lesson, as it was during this period that corruption became more entrenched within the civil service itself. This was primarily a product of an inadequate oversight of bureaucrats and poor management.

Civil servants need strong reminders that they are there to serve the public, not themselves or their political bosses. Good governance practices need to be incentivised from the onset.

The ongoing necessary removal of senior leadership within the bureaucracy and restructuring/consolidation of departments is positive, but it is stronger if accompanied by more fundamental and decisive shifts in norms and practices.

Rethinking representation

One important reframing of governance is to stop seeing the ministers as representing one ethnic community, party or state.

Malaysia is one of the few countries in the world where the dominant counting is based on race. The cabinet selection process has been largely one of political accommodation, rather than focused on the leadership needed to resolve the problems that ordinary Malaysians face.


Political parties have been seen to narrowly focused on their numbers within the cabinet, with the usual petty grouses. This sends the message that the position is about themselves, their respective power, rather than serving the public. It is not a surprise that there has been public outrage with the position complainers.

The challenge ahead is to move beyond numbers, to move from nominal to substantive representation, a situation where a minister is seen to be representing people not for who she/he is, but for what he/she does; for an Indian Malaysian minister to be seen as equally representing all communities be they in Sabah, Johor or Kelantan, for an Islamic education minister to be seen as advocating and improving the education of all Malaysians irrespective of faith, and for racial and sectarian politics to be given the back seat to promoting the nation.

The Merdeka era of the early 1960s offers important lessons here. It was a time when talent was prioritised in appointees, both within and outside of government. The sincere goal of building Malaysia overshadowed narrow interests. There was a willingness to bring in appointees from the outside based on skills. Malaysia’s bureaucracy urgently needs to strengthen its implementation capacity.

In this time of transformation, there is an opportunity to harness the goodwill and strong underlying national commitment to public service by bringing in more technocratic expertise.

Repeat offender

That sense of public service was, however, not on show with the events around this week’s arrest of the former prime minister. The drama shows clearly that the de facto new leader of the opposition is none other than Najib himself. He overshadows Umno’s new President, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, as Najib’s leadership continues to haunt the party.

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Stop lamenting and worry not, when the time comes, you will have plenty to do.

Once again, Najib has rallied the party faithful to his defence. The thuggish elements in the party have returned as the dominant public face of UMNO, adopting a narrative of racial confrontation. Najib’s battle for himself reveals what has long been clear – that his own personal future is more important than that of his party or the future of the country.

There are important lessons from his years in office that also merit recalling. Najib’s administration excelled in using the system to his advantage, particularly using the rule by law to stay in power. His approach was one focused on division and polarising Malaysia, rather than bringing the country together. All tactics, no matter how ruthless, were fair game.

A common practice was to obfuscate, to warp realities using slick storytellers. Najib’s administration set new lows in standards of dirty politics, seen to be fueled by cash payments. These trends have the potential to continue to dominate Malaysia’s political opposition narratives ahead, in what will be a long-drawn-out drama and in an opposition politics that is not focused on making Malaysia stronger.

Najib mistakenly believed that Malaysians could be fooled. May 9 showed him how wrong he was. He should have opted for a graceful departure. Instead, we have seen the arrival of a new battle for Najib’s survival, one in which the Malaysian public will face a repeat of the hubris and guile of his recent past.

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 co-author Greg Lopez) is entitled ‘Regime Resilience in Malaysia and Singapore’. She can be reached at

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


Malaysia: Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

July 7, 2018

Malaysia:  Dr.Meredith Weiss on GE-14

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On May 9, 2018, Malaysians threw the bums out, voting decisively against the Barisan Nasional (National Front, BN), the coalition of broadly right-wing and center parties that had governed Malaysia since independence in 1957. The election poses the question: has Malaysia bucked a global anti-democratic trend?

The conventional wisdom is that a feisty, beleaguered opposition coalition made up of a somewhat motley mix of leftist catch-all, progressive Islamist, and communal parties bested the behemoth BN by force of ideals, pluck, and the charisma of a former “dictator,” as the new prime minister now delights in branding himself. The BN’s decrepitude, born of too many years of untrammeled authority and political inbreeding in a cronyistic, dynastic order, cleared the way for new leaders. All the while, rising costs of living, increasingly stark economic inequality, and spreading awareness that the state- and party-controlled mainstream media were not telling the whole story had left the mass of voters hungry for change.

The Malaysian narrative is one of voters reflecting critically on a well-lubricated patronage machine and rejecting it, at least in part, out of aspirations for democracy, justice, and good governance. But like any good story, this one has a more complex plot line than that, peppered with stratagems, reversals, and ironic turns. What too-pat narratives obscure is the wider context and what we might expect — and voters might seek — to change or maintain.

The Scene As It Stands

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At the helm now, thanks to a weird twist of fates and strategy, is one-time Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, one of the world’s longest-serving heads of government — and also now among the oldest, as he approaches his ninety-third birthday. Although he did voluntarily step down in 2003, after twenty-two years in office, Mahathir has continued to yank at the strings of state since then, and had become increasingly apoplectic at incumbent Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s running the party and government, per Mahathir’s reading, into the ground through rent-seeking verging on plunder.

To hear breathless popular accounts of the “Mahathir factor,” one might assume ethnic Malays — who, together with smaller indigenous groups, collectively termed Bumiputera, comprise slightly more than two-thirds of the population — to be blindly feudalistic, swiveling to heed the call of their once and future master. (Just under one-quarter of Malaysians are of Chinese ethnicity and about 7 percent, Indian.) Mahathir does have his devotees, but to some extent, this common narrative reflects media sensationalism more than reality. Frustration with rank corruption, inequality, and poor governance galvanized many or most opposition supporters, independently of the icon propounding those messages. Nevertheless, Mahathir’s savvy articulation of his coalition’s objectives and BN pathologies, as well as his charisma, helped to tip the scales.

Initially organized as the three-party Alliance, the BN structures itself largely along communal lines. Its core parties represent ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian Malaysians, respectively. First among nominal equals — and increasingly dominant over the years — is the United Malays National Organisation, UMNO, Mahathir’s home since its founding in 1946 until he left and launched Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Malaysian United Indigenous Party, PPBM) in 2016.

Essentially ideology-free otherwise by this point, the BN claims support for having delivered development, with something for (almost) everyone. Opposition parties tend to cluster largely in an Islamist camp dominated by the Parti Islam seMalaysia (Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS), or else along class lines, from a Socialist Front defunct by the early 1970s; to the social-democratic Democratic Action Party (DAP), rump successor to the People’s Action Party after Singapore’s short-lived merger with Malaysia in the mid-1960s; to the small but embedded Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM).

To take on the BN required merging these camps. First-past-the-post voting rules, coupled with heavy-handed gerrymandering and constituency malapportionment, often make three-cornered fights difficult for the opposition; pre-election coalitions are a must. That imperative is at the heart of any assessment of how far Malaysian political alternatives have come and where they may be going: Malaysia’s sociopolitical landscape makes for quirky pairings.

Coalitions require glorification of the least common denominator. Starting in the late 1990s, that galvanizing, offensive-to-few message came to be “justice,” centered initially around sacked, then imprisoned former UMNO deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim and his purpose-built Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR, People’s Justice Party). Now, in the wake of one of the world’s largest money-laundering and graft sagas, that of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) sovereign-wealth fund, the message centers around an obvious anti-corruption theme.

The coalition had maintained a non-communal premise since an initial foray as the Barisan Alternatif (Alternative Front) in 1999. Now it includes a Malay-communal party: Mahathir’s PPBM, made up mostly of his fellow exiles from UMNO. Having made incremental, inconsistent headway in cementing cooperation and securing seats since the late 1990s, the opposition coalition — reconstituted first as Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Pact), then as Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) — gained control of several states, and now the federal government.

In the last election, in 2013, Pakatan Rakyat won a slim majority of the popular vote but fell short of winning the federal government. This time, Pakatan Harapan won the government with just shy of a popular-vote majority, given divided support for the BN and the no-longer-in-Pakatan PAS, which remains independently potent in Malaysia’s northeast.

The BN is left in shambles, its remains eroding further by the week. Pakatan Harapan is up and running, but it is not entirely clear yet how far or how fast.

Pakatan Harapan will surely make positive, progressive changes to what has become an ossified, decreasingly legitimate, increasingly illiberal system. Already they have begun investigating ousted prime minister Najib Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor — whose penchant for exorbitantly priced handbags rivals Imelda Marcos’s yen for shoes — and the 1MDB saga, the convoluted, seedy story of how Najib and various others misappropriated an estimated several billion dollars from a state investment fund launched in 2009.

More than that, the new government has spoken plausibly of plans, once parliament convenes in July, to revise or revoke controls on media, association, and speech; to release the political reins on schools and universities; to implement open tender and stronger oversight on government contracts; and more. Heads of statutory boards are starting to roll, and bloated or needless government agencies are coming under scrutiny.

Most cabinet appointments, finalized only in mid June, reflect real expertise rather than political concessions, as under the BN model. The coalition itself is far more equally balanced among its component parties than the BN ever has been — and that those parties do differ in meaningful ways, in their goals or membership, ensures a wider range of alternatives may reach the policy table.

Already the results have reset the stage for states’ rights, too. Leaders of awkwardly incorporated, underdeveloped Sabah and Sarawak, states on the island of Borneo, hundreds of miles across the South China Sea from the peninsular mainland, have broken with the federal BN — not just eviscerating their former coalition, but staking a firm claim to fairer status and reward in the federation.

If Malaysia is to emerge from its increasingly authoritarian past, having this new government emplaced is a good thing. Yet of course, it will not change all things, and it may achieve far less than years of opposition manifestos have pledged in terms of ushering in a more equitable, consultative order.

Two lenses are especially germane in understanding the capacity and limits of reform, given this mix of old and new: economic policy, including the extent of communalism (as codified especially in far-reaching race-based preferential policies); and the tension between a highly personalized (however party-centered) and more issues-based or ideological politics.

Where Paths Lead

First, economics. Survey after survey suggests the key issue for Malaysians, election after election, is the economy, and particularly rising costs of living. However, a thick tangle of affirmative-action policies to favor Bumiputera, dating to British colonial times but strengthened under the 1970s New Economic Policy (NEP) and a series of successor plans, tempers what it means to prioritize household economics.

The UMNO-led BN has held pro-Malay policies to be sacrosanct. Revising the criteria for qualification to be need-based rather than race-based would not dramatically shift the beneficiaries; race and class substantially align, particularly since the benefits of preference have flowed disproportionately to already-wealthy “UMNOputera,” the well-connected ruling-party elite. A better lens on economic voting in Malaysia considers not just financial standing, confidence, and progress since the last election, but which party voters trust to manage the economy.

Here we see an ethnic divide, with Malay voters typically disproportionately trusting UMNO, whatever they think of the party otherwise. The most plausible explanation is that these voters believe the best way to ensure their economic wellbeing is by maintaining preferential policies, on which opposition parties, but never UMNO, have equivocated.

The Malaysian constitution grants Bumiputera special stature in the polity; accumulated norms (backed by potent sedition legislation) translate that standing to irrefutable political dominance and economic privilege. At no time has Pakatan seriously challenged Malay primacy, but they have promised a less communally structured economy.

Pakatan’s embrace of the communally focused PPBM shifts the key. Critical to the coalition’s gains this time, especially in winning over Malay voters, appears to have been the reassurance Mahathir — whose early writings inspired and informed the NEP — and his party offered, that Pakatan would uphold pro-Malay policies. Now in office, the coalition has limited room for maneuver, especially with their main opposition still Malay-based (in UMNO as well as PAS) and only a slim parliamentary majority.

Importantly, since taking office, Mahathir and his government have insisted on their determination to maintain an even keel: to push back against some mega-investment from China, perhaps, and to cancel at least one particularly costly boondoggle — a high-speed rail line between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore — but to keep investors confident.

Mahathir is Malaysia’s original mega project mastermind: the “national car” intended to galvanize industrialization in the 1980s (Proton, short for Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional, or National Automobile Company, 49.9 percent owned by China’s Geely Holdings as of last year), the Petronas twin towers, an extravagant new capital at Putrajaya: glamorous, expensive grand gestures intended to signal Malaysia’s developmental success. His newly appointed finance minister, the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng, previously the chief minister of prosperous, opposition-held Penang state, likewise caught flak there for his coziness with developers and embrace of ambitiously grand infrastructure and real-estate projects.

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Mahathir’s Council of Eminent Persons (L-R): Robert Kuok, Zeti Aziz, Hassan Marican, Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram and CEP Chair Person Tun Daim Zainuddin

An appointed Council of Eminent Persons, named after the elections to advise on economic policy, includes the renowned, respected, and progressive economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, but also billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok and Mahathir’s erstwhile UMNO bagman Daim Zainuddin — so their advice could pull in any of several directions. (Already, members have come under fire for meddling beyond their mandate.)

These economic impulses and incentives taken in sum, we should assume an at least somewhat more transparent, less cronyistic system, but still with a heavy emphasis on foreign investment–led, large-scale developments (with requirements intact to ensure Malay contractors’ protected share in the bounty), faith in the blessings of neoliberalism, and politically fruitful (commonly dubbed “populist”) wealth-sharing to amplify otherwise-tepid trickle-down effects.

More broadly, both coalitions are neoliberal at their core. Both offered a host of makeshift measures to reduce the pinch of rapid, top-heavy development, ranging from targeted cash-transfer and voucher schemes (for children, students, seniors, newlyweds, the bereaved, housewives, entrepreneurs, and the poor), to subsidized utilities, to reduced road tolls. But neither suggested any fundamental branching from that economic path beyond, for instance, expanded educational opportunities to prepare Malaysians better to embrace the modern economy.

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Indeed, Pakatan essentially shut out the anti-capitalist Parti Sosialis: in allocating seats, the coalition offered the socialist party a meager one constituency in which to contest (in which PSM was the incumbent). When PSM insisted on standing in others, Pakatan revoked even that paltry offer and competed against PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, defeating him. (In pushing on to prove their point, both sides took the very real chance of splitting the vote and delivering the seat to the BN.)

Second, like the government it replaces, Pakatan is highly leader-centered, to the point of obscuring an emphasis on issues or ideology. Its commitment to term limits is a definite improvement (while Mahathir’s old age offers reassurance of his own commitment not to outstay his welcome; the plan is to hand the reins to Anwar within about two years). Yet Malaysian politics has been and remains deeply clientelistic across parties, despite  significant overseas and internal rural–urban labor migration, economic diversification, and sufficient state capacity that party machines should be off the hook for welfare services. A “personal vote” matters even when parties are at their most pulled-together — and even those candidates able to coast on their party’s coattails prioritize “going to the ground” for grassroots constituency service and mingling among the masses.

However much media and pundits exaggerate the extent of his personal responsibility for Pakatan’s win, Mahathir did help to tip the scales, and it remains to be seen what Mahathir the man represents vis-à-vis a reform agenda. More to the point, that the best Pakatan could do in terms of a broadly palatable leader — realizing the imperative in Malaysia of a leader to lead the charge, no matter how deeply unpopular their rival — was the long-retired Mahathir, architect of the system now in place and whom so many within PH once reviled as a despot, could bode poorly for its sustainability and depth of support.

On the other hand, Pakatan has a clear advantage on this score — though less in Mahathir’s PPBM than in its partner parties. Spurred not least by predations during Mahathir’s previous longue durée, Malaysia has developed a vibrant civil society, encompassing not only largely urban, middle class–based advocacy NGOs, but also mass-based Islamist organizations, deeply embedded communal and cultural associations, and more. Many of these groups, from Chinese educationists to Muslim dakwah activists to human-rights campaigners, have a clear political, and often partisan, orientation. That rootedness in civil society gives Pakatan not only a loyal base of volunteers for get-out-the-vote and other efforts, but also reinforces its orientation around issues of better governance, social justice, and civil liberties.

That said, Pakatan’s record of governing at the state level revealed greater ambivalence than many activists had expected about their collaborating with advocacy NGOs in particular. Even many Pakatan legislators who cut their political teeth in those same NGOs came to consider their one-time colleagues too single-issue-oriented or impatient for improbably sweeping change and found the constant pressure irksome.

Promises of reserved seats for civil society activists in appointed local councils, for instance — as a stopgap remedy until Pakatan could restore local-government elections, halted since the 1960s — withered in Pakatan-held Penang and Selangor over the past decade. (Pakatan’s national manifesto does not promise restoration of local-government elections, but pressure is sufficiently high that progress toward that goal seems likely.)

Moreover, women’s organizations in particular have urged all parties to improve the gender balance in representation in public office. While these efforts have yielded aspirations and quotas, no party has come close to meeting them, even for appointed offices with a clearly sufficient female pool from which to draw. So while the close ties between civil society and Pakatan parties bode well for generating sufficient new leaders to sustain real competition, among candidates with skills and experience for leadership roles, recruitment could still fall short in terms of enhancing representativeness and idealism in practice.

And at the end of the day, there is always another election ahead. Pakatan developed under BN rule; it may hesitate to change the rules of a game it has only so newly mastered. Nor can it risk losing its lead. Some Pakatan support is proactive: champions of change, away from the too-long-entrenched BN and toward cleaner, more accountable and responsible governance. Some, though, is reactive: voting against Najib, but without necessarily seeking any dramatic overhaul beyond that purge — hence the appeal of not-too-different PPBM and Mahathir.

To win a second time, Pakatan needs to keep both camps in its corner. Unless electoral rules change (unlikely, although entirely reasonable to consider) or something else goes really awry in Malaysia (always possible), the wider frame of these recent elections suggests observers keep their expectations of systemic change in check.

Malaysia is unlikely to return to the old Mahathirian model, which Najib stretched to its extremes, of an excessively strong executive, rapacious ruling party, and snowflake-sensitive public authorities. On the other hand, quick, dramatic change toward a much more politically competitive or economically progressive order is equally unlikely, given the pull of the status quo. (Nearby Indonesia, having just marked twenty years since the Reformasi that ousted Suharto and his New Order regime, is a sobering Exhibit A.)

What the wider context suggests is something in between: an order that increases the political space for, and responsiveness to, alternative voices and ideas, within and outside parties; that does less to stifle efforts within civil society toward more coordinated, efficacious advocacy; and that encourages — even just by dint of a multipolar electorate and fissiparous coalitions — real competition around principles as well as personalities.

Malaysia has opened the door to fundamental reform, even if new leaders do little more than peek around the corner in these early stages, and even if its citizens opt ultimately to update the décor rather than shift the socioeconomic foundations of the state.

About the Author

Meredith L. Weiss is professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Rejoinder by  Dr.Rais Hussin: Bumiputeraism is not the root issue

American political scientist Dr. Meredith Weiss has done extensive field research in Malaysia. The country needs more academics like her to cast light on the dynamics of Malaysia. However, the accolades stop there. Her article in Jacobin recently has all the drama and flair of a New Yorker literary piece. Yet, it went off on a tangent. How?

First, Weiss warned that the new electoral landscape is not necessarily new. While she did not warn of the spectre of Mahathirism, which implies a return to authoritarianism, she hinted strongly at the complexity of unravelling the National Economic Policy, which in her view amounted to all the same anyway. Again, how?

Entrenched Malay interests in the political, corporate and other sectors would be too deeply embedded. A single electoral victory from Pakatan Harapan, even one led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad, now the seventh prime minister of Malaysia, would not be enough to alter the dramatic and complex landscape.

Second, Weiss averred that any reforms would not be smooth sailing, especially when the tensions between the top members of the coalition look all but impossible to overcome.

Therefore, the significance of May 9, 2018, would fade in due course. The internal solidarity of the elites forged before and on that date would crack. While she didn’t specifically mention the causal or ideological factor that could lead to its fissure or implosion, Weiss implied that their personal animus and histories are enough to warrant deep concern.

Third, Weiss argued that Pakatan Harapan is bound to make progress in light of the insidious practices of UMNO that had set the bar so low, the mere rejection of corruption alone would be Harapan’s defining moment. Just by saying ‘no’ and the latter would enjoy more confidence from the public. Wrong.

In fact, Weiss is wrong on all counts. To begin with, the optic she adopted is one devoid of variant analysis. Even before the events took place, she had already claimed that everything else would either fail or fail to move forward. But then how does Weiss explain the power of the May 9 election?

Voters were given a choice between more billion-dollar handouts and subsidies by the Najib-led BN, or liberation from becoming the object of international ridicule.

While 45 percent of the voters rooted for UMNO, this also marked the Malay behemoth’s dramatic fall from grace. From a high of 88 parliamentary seats in the 2013 election, Umno now only has 52 parliament seats, and the numbers are still dropping as elected UMNO members declare themselves independent.

Corporate and economic reforms are bound to be difficult. Not for the reason of race or race-based preferential policies alone i.e., bumiputeraism, which pervades Weiss’ article, but the massive size of the national debt due to liabilities from government-linked companies.

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Research by Edmund Terence Gomez and his associates show close to 900 such entities have accepted some form of government bailout and are swimming in a sea of red ink. The gravity of the situation begins from the Gordian knot of these companies, not the problems rooted in bumiputeraism.

Finally, why should the egos of the different Harapan personalities matter, when the coalition has merely won the general election once? Unlike how UMNO warlords, who had won in quick succession since 1955, had a sense of self-entitlement and invincibility, Harapan leaders know that if they screw up, the coalition will be booted out regardless of whether Mahathir or Anwar Ibrahim is at the helm. In other words, perform, or be put out to pasture.

Not surprisingly, some MPs had tried to remain in their comfort zones before the election but this backfired for some.

Tan Kee Kwong was not even nominated by his own party. He had to give up his Wangsa Maju seat to another PKR candidate.

Liew Chin Tong, marginally lost his seat in Ayer Hitam in Johor, thus depriving him of the chance to be the transport minister, as his successor Anthony Loke admitted.

Indeed, DAP fielded more Malay candidates under 40 across the board in GE-14, more than even what UMNO could attempt. These and other factors are more important to understand how the new Malaysia came to be rather than how old Malaysia will be resistant to change.

To begin with, sheer defiance of a kleptocratic regime is a given. Members of UMNO like Bung Mokhtar even claimed that the ill-gotten gains of Najib Razak are the assets of UMNO. Najib, meanwhile, insists many were gifts accumulated over his over 36 years in politics. Does he mean the business of being a politician is to be in business? Now that Najib has been arrested, more of the truth will be unveiled.

Anyway, Weiss is welcome to undertake more research on Malaysia. But she should understand that change, in fact, is happening at breakneck speed. There is the Council of Eminent Persons, the Harapan manifesto, and cabinet orders to reform the country within 100 days and over the next five years. Meanwhile, 17,000 political appointees have been terminated, and more are expected to face the same fate.

Even politically appointed Ambassadors of Najib Abdul Razak will not be spared. Heads of government-linked investment companies, such as Abdul Wahid Omar of PNB, have resigned.

Rome was not built in a day. The Harapan government is learning through adaptation to see which elements of the previous policies can be kept, and which policies cannot be phased out immediately, or, suspended, in order to allow a thorough review of various projects with Chinese private construction companies.

If Weiss were in Malaysia at Mahathir’s side, she would be shocked at how the doyen of Malaysian politics is slashing the excesses of the previous government, in order to set things right. It is far too easy to be an armchair critic, and Weiss seems to have made that faux pas to critique from the safe confines of her ivory towers in US.

RAIS HUSSIN is a supreme council member of Bersatu and heads its policy and strategy bureau.

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


A Message for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad: Stop Institutionalised Racism in New Malaysia

June 23, 2018

A Message for Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad: Stop Institutionalised Racism in New Malaysia

One women makes a plea that our new PM Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad helps eradicate institutionalised racism and create a Malaysia for all Malaysians.



By Lakshmi Appadorai Baker

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The heart of this party is race-based formed by UMNO Dissidents to defend Malay interests.  That is the sad truth, Ms. Lakshmi Appadorai Baker. Race based politics will remain in Malaysia for a long time.

She had just fallen asleep on her Appa’s hand for 20 minutes as she hadn’t slept properly the last 48 hours, arriving as early as 5am at the hospital to begin her “shift” to look after him. She had also grown extremely weary as she had experienced the most unspeakable pain the day before, witnessing her father suffer a stroke.

Her mom wasn’t there when he breathed his last as she was settling last minute shareholding issues with her dad’s business partner, made urgent in the wake of the doctor’s advice to prepare for the worst.

That girl holding on to her daddy was me. But I digress, Tun. This business matter that prevented my mother from saying goodbye to my father is a story that began 19 years ago for me, and 47 years ago for Malaysia.

It’s an incident that has contributed to shaping the lives of every single Malaysian, and in shaping Malaysian politics – and not in a good way.

I’ve always been deeply uncomfortable writing openly about this for fear of persecution, honestly. Because that’s what Malaysians have come to experience – fear of imprisonment for protecting their basic civil rights.


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Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad used the NEP to remain in power for 22+ years. Will he abandon it? And lose Malay support and the relevance of his Pribumi party. It is UMNO in another form. All we can hope for is that Mahathir 2.0 will be less racist in rhetorical and policy terms.

Is Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) winning going to change that? We moan about it, unable to take action, but when the matter hit too close to home, I knew it would be cowardice not to speak. And because everyone should contribute to upholding peace and justice. And because I had to do this for my Appa, my father. And as I write this, tears roll down my face…

I grew up revering you as our Prime Minister, Tun. I loved everything about you. For a primary school girl who knew nothing about politics, I could only look up to your fatherly demeanour and kind face that I admired. I believed in all the greatness you did for our country. You even talked and had the body language of my daddy!

And then school finished, and my daddy had a talk with me. Amongst many other things, he told me about the institutionalised racism in our country, the bumiputera status and the New Economic Policy (NEP), succeeded by the National Development Policy.

My young heart broke – I felt sick in the tummy. I felt betrayed by my country for the first time, and many more incidents would follow.

Today I wonder, how many more tender Malaysian hearts broke when they found out about this, that as citizens, they weren’t equal. So I disassociated myself from being Malaysian. The government was divided racially, and it did so unto its people.

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Most importantly I thought, “My Tun is condoning this?” You’ve done nothing about this till today. Why?

My dad was just one year too late to see a better Malaysia with the winning of PH. My heart ached that the man who taught me the importance of voting, didn’t live to see the day he had long hoped for. But will I see a truly egalitarian Malaysia?

I realised how possible this concept was after living in Britain. Racism exists everywhere in differing degrees, and there may be scepticism about immigration and the European Union in the UK. But when you ask a British born of any colour, “What are you?”, the answer is almost always,”British”. But how many of us Malaysians answer in “race”?

How could it be otherwise when until recently, we were ruled by a coalition that is made up of predominantly race-based parties? One becomes more aware of how racist we as a nation have become, when you live in countries that do not have institutionalised racism.

The next blow came when my brother wanted to study medicine in a local university. He scored high enough marks in his STPM, but we learnt that the bumi quota system meant that Indians had the smallest percentage of seat allocations in local universities.

They offered him a place in nutrition instead. So now Malaysia chooses which occupation each race should be in? Socio-economic restructuring at its worst.

My brother eventually qualified as a doctor, with financial struggle on our side, and he has since left the country to practise overseas, and thus the introduction of the Brain Drain Era – who wants to invest in a country that didn’t look after them?

How can any of us say all races live in harmony when you live through this? It’s a comfortable lie we’ve all gotten used to. The questionable intentions of the NEP extended to other areas – bumiputera quotas in the ownership of public company stocks; houses sold exclusively to bumiputeras, just to name a few, and then it visited our doorstep yet again.

Appa wanted to set up a security services company, but he could only do so with the majority shareholding owned by a bumiputera. And so in 1999 he involved his Malay friend who promised, “in name only”, to hold these majority shares.

His Malay friend did not contribute a penny, or any of his time, or a single asset into the company, but continued to demand a monthly director’s salary of up to RM2000, medical benefits, Raya pocket money, and even stooped so low as to ask for an annual Raya hamper.

He would harass dad out of the blue every now and then asking for large amounts of money to pay for something or other. It’s no surprise what happened to that “friendship”.

If my dad didn’t hand him free money, he would make administrative matters difficult, not sign license renewals, make the company’s relationship with the Ministry of Home Affairs difficult, just to name a few.

My father slid into ill health every time this happened. This is the point when I really lost all hope and respect for those in power. I saw how this inequality in Malaysia had caused many to abuse their positions, fostering a sense of false entitlement amongst many.

Inane phrases like “balik negara sendiri” and “ketuanan Melayu” were thrown about. Which country was I to go back to exactly, I wondered, and still wonder. I didn’t come from anywhere else. I was born here.

As a result, when I travelled the world, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I was a vagabond citizen, happy to live where I could make the most of my life. I became a citizen of the World. Certainly not of Malaysia.

Today Tun, my story applies to half of the Malaysian population, who don’t truly feel that they belong. Is this the legacy that you want to leave behind?I’m writing to you because today you are in a position to effect this change.

These socio-economic policies are causing severe racial polarisation. Will you help make that change? There are many reasons I admire you, but this is the one reason why I couldn’t sign the Nobel Peace Prize petition nominating you that was circulated on social media recently. Racial inequality is not synonymous with peace.

After you left UMNo in 2016, you led the setting up of The Malaysian United Indigenous Party (PPBM). Why indigenous? Why does the party’s ideology say nothing for Malaysians as a whole? Is this just another UMNO?

I see history repeating. Why do political parties need to be race based? Why can’t the interests of Malaysians be looked after as a whole and resources channelled where they’re needed most?

PPBM’s ideology states amongst others, “maintaining the special position of Malays & natives of Sabah & Sarawak…” Why aren’t all those who are born here “special” though? Another PPBM party objective states: “upholding the dignity and sovereignty of the institution of the Malay Rulers”.

And we wonder why a certain bunch feel entitled enough to oppose the current appointment of a new AG that abided by the due constitutional process of Article 145? Because this false entitlement has been openly and blatantly engendered for more than 40 years.

As a nation we may have seen how the previous government extended handouts when they wanted to increase their popularity, but the NEP has meant an institutionalised system of handouts for the largest ethnic community in Malaysia, it seems indefinitely.

Bringing you back to my story, after I woke up from laying my head on my dad’s hands, we realised my dad was dying. I called mom, desperately crying out for her to return from the meeting with the Malay partner immediately, as dad was leaving us.

The Malay partner had been forcing my dad to sell our company and give him his share for the last 10 years at least, oblivious to the fact that this was our “rice bowl”.

The alternative he gave us was to buy him out for a six-figure amount he quoted. Barely concluding the deal due to my call, my mother desperately rushed to the hospital in a cab.

But she was too late – dad had left us. She sprawled herself on him, wailing, “I did it Athan, I managed to buy him out! Why didn’t you wait for me to tell you this?”

My dad, an ex-superintendent of police, who served his country dutifully and honourably, did not live to peacefully enjoy the fruits of his hard-earned labour, or hear the news that his selfish friend had been paid off and that he would now leave us alone.

Days after dad passed away, Mom emptied out all her life savings and EPF savings to pay off the Malay partner. Just like that. Free money into his pocket for no contribution to the company whatsoever, not so much as a pen.

He manipulated his racial advantage to take huge amounts of money from our family. His friendship and his word to my dad took a side step. My dad passed away last year a cynical man, broken by mistrust from people around him who took advantage of the generosity he was so well known for.

This is how the NEP has been misused Tun, and it has twisted the moral compass of many. That’s perhaps why our Father of Independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman, opposed the target of 30% of all equity in bumiputera hands.

The NEP’s goal of having 30% of the national wealth held by Bumiputeras was not indicative of a median 60% of Bumiputeras holding 28% of the national wealth, but could theoretically translate into one Bumiputera holding 29% of the national wealth, with the remaining Bumiputeras sharing 1%.

Does this somehow explain the true story of billions of dollars and Hermes Handbags in the hands of one or two people?

And this is how my story ends, Tun. The word Bumiputera translates to Prince of the Land. We are all princes of the land we are born into, aren’t we?

Racist policies and politics are seeping into our lives and robbing our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters of a peaceful and fair existence every single day.

Social relationships are partly based on reciprocal altruism, or helping others in a mutually beneficial manner.

Please Tun, initiate a better Malaysia for all. I’m just one daughter speaking up for her deceased father. I’m sure there are a million more stories out there.

Help us eradicate institutionalised racism. Help us create a Malaysia for ALL Malaysians.

Lakshmi Appadorai Baker is an FMT Reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


New Malaysia needs a National Integrity Plan, says Lim Kit Siang

May 31,2018

From KIT to Fellow Malaysians

New Malaysia needs a National Integrity Plan

by Lim Kit Siang@

COMMENT by Din Merican: What Plan do we really need, Mr Lim Kit Siang?  I heard that before from UMNO-BN government which ruled Malaysia for 60+ years. It is like old wine in a new bottle.

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Over the years we have had masterplans galore, and all sorts of commission reports, reports from the Auditor-General  and other consultant studies. On Integrity, we even have a National Integrity Institute (NII) funded by taxpayers’ money and Mr. Paul Low as Integrity Minister  was supposed to oversea the Institute and MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency).

Nothing happened. I am sure like MACC, NII is still around, although I have not heard much about its activities. MACC, on the other hand, is spewing hot lava. It is pointless to have another plan if we do not have the political will and courage to implement them. Will the Pakatan Harapan government be different?

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The Harapan government should revisit the National Integrity Plan which is gathering dust, study it and prepare a detailed action plan for its implementation with specific timelines and targets so that the plan can be scrupulously monitored.

Funds should be allocated to schools where children can be taught ethics and civics so that they can grow up into upright, honest and responsible citizens. Invest in our young via values-centered education.

My advice is that you should avoid being like the regime which you unceremoniously just booted out of office on May 9, 2018. Please stop talking too much and raising expectations, and start doing more if you want to remain in power for the long haul.–Din Merican

Mr Lim Kit Siang says:

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New Malaysia needs a National Integrity Plan which will transform Malaysia from a global kleptocracy into a leading nation of integrity within 10 years.

This National Integrity Plan for a New Malaysia should be debated and adopted by Parliament.

We should see results in the National Integrity Plan for a New Malaysia hopefully in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 but steady and solid improvements in TI CPI 2019 without any turning back or the MACC Chief Commissioner and the members of the various anti-corruption monitoring bodies must assume personal responsibility to Parliament and the nation.

Under the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2017, Malaysia plunged to the lowest TI CPI ranking in 23 years – No. 62 out of 180 countries.

The history of the 23-year annual TI CPI from 1995-2017 shows that Malaysia had stagnated and even regressed in integrity and principles of accountability and good governance in the past two decades as compared to some countries, like China and Indonesia, which had made significant improvements with steady strides.

In the first year of TI CPI in 1995, which listed only 41 countries, Malaysia was ranked in the middling position of No. 23 with a score above the midpoint – i.e. 5.28 in a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean).

China and Indonesia came in at the bottom end, with China ranked as No. 40 with a score of 2.16 out of 10 while Indonesia came in last ranking No. 41 out of 41 with a score of 1.94.

If Malaysia had made a decimal improvement in the TI CPI score of 0.1 point each year the past 22 years, Malaysia’s present score would have been 7.58, or roughly translated into 75.8 out of a scale increased from 10 to 100, which would have placed Malaysia in the rank of No. 16 out of 180 countries.

Unfortunately, Malaysia’s 2017 TI CPI ranking and score had worsened, ranked No. 62 out of 180 countries with the TI CPI score plunging further down below the midpoint to 47/100 in the revised scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

In contrast, both China and Indonesia have continued to make significant improvements in the TI CPI in the past 23 years, with China improving its score from 2.16/10 in 1995 (under the original scale) to 41/100 (revised scale) with its TI CPI Ranking improving from No. 40/41 in 1995 to 77/180 in 2017 and while Indonesia upped its score from 1.94/10 (old scale) in 1995 to 37/100 (new scale), with TI CPI ranking from 41/41 in 1995 to 96/180.

If China continues to improve its TI CPI score at the annual average rate of 0.84 points (old scale) in the past 23 years, China would overtake Malaysia in both TI CPI ranking and score in eight years time (41 + 6.7 = 47.7) without Malaysia regressing further in TI score (which is a tall order under Najib’s global kleptocracy!).

In the past 23 years, Indonesia’s improvement on the TI CPI score is lower than China, making an average annual improvement of 0.76 (old scale). Without Malaysia further regressing, Indonesia will overtake Malaysia in both TI ranking and score in 14 years time, when it would have registered a score of 37 + 10.6 = 47.6.

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I do not want to see China and Indonesia slow down in their upward climb up the TI CPI ranking and score, but Malaysia must improve substantially so that we not only eradicate the “kleptocratic” label but become a leading nation of integrity by being among the first top countries of integrity in the annual TI CPI.

To do this, we must not only get to the bottom of the 1MDB scandal, “kleptocracy at its worst”, and other major corruption scandals involving MARA, FELDA, Tabung Haji, even more important, we must introduce structural and institutional reforms as well mind-set changes throughout our society so that we have a zero-tolerance for corruption.

(Media Statement in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday 31st May 2018)

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to VOA

May 30, 2018

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks to The Voice of America (VOA)


Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, back in power after a 15-year hiatus, says his first 20 years in office were “fairly easy” compared to what is confronting him now — massive debt in a country with an international reputation for corruption. Mahathir returned to power on May 9 in a spectacular election upset that saw him unite with his former opposition foes to overthrow a prime minister — Najib Razak — who is accused of helping to steal billions from his country in one of the biggest corporate frauds in history. Najib denies all the charges. “Well my first 20 years as prime minister was fairly easy. I inherited a system that is already there. All I had to do is to introduce new ideas so that we can expedite the growth and development of Malaysia,” the 92-year-old Mahathir told VOA in an exclusive interview. “But here I am dealing with a country that has been actually destroyed. Its finances have been destroyed. The system of government has been ignored and not used and a new system, or rather an authoritarian system has been introduced,” he said.…

Trump’s true talent is marketing failure as success

May 28, 2018

Trump’s true talent is marketing failure as success

by Dr.Fareed Zakaria
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 “As talks fail, deals collapse and negotiations founder, Trump continues to tweet triumphantly about his great success. It makes one realize the President’s true talent. He has the confidence, bravado and skill to market failure as success. He can take a mediocre building, slap some gold paint on it and then convince people it’s a super-luxury condominium. Call it the Art of the Spin.–Fareed Zakaria

NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s recurring criticism of his predecessor is that he just didn’t know how to make a deal. “Obama is not a natural deal maker,” he tweeted in 2016, complaining that there was no accord on Syria. “Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly,” he predicted incorrectly back in 2013. Trump was scathing about President Obama’s lack of legislative success, pronouncing him “unable to negotiate w/ Congress.” “We need leaders who can negotiate great deals for Americans,” Trump tweeted in 2015, and the implication was obvious — he was the ultimate deal-maker.

It is almost 500 days into the Trump administration. Where are the deals? Where is the renegotiated NAFTA, the bilateral trade agreements that were going to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the new and improved Iran nuclear pact, the China trade deal? Trump’s record in Congress is even less impressive. He has not been able to strike an accord with Democrats on anything, from immigration to infrastructure. The world is laughing at us, as he would say.

Well, what must the world be thinking now, as it watches the Trump administration careen wildly on everything from North Korea to China? What must it have thought as it watched the master negotiator in a televised session with congressional leaders on immigration, where he seemed to agree with the Democratic position, then agree with the (incompatible) Republican position, all the while asserting that they were going to make a deal? They didn’t.

By now it is obvious that Trump is actually a bad negotiator, an impulsive, emotional man who ignores briefings, rarely knows details, and shoots first and asks questions later.

Consider how the administration has handled the North Korea summit. First, the meeting was announced with great fanfare, with Trump soon lavishing praise on Kim Jong Un. Agreeing to the meeting was an enormous symbolic concession to the North Koreans, while getting almost nothing in return. This was to be a head-of-state summit, though there was little preparation and no determination that the two sides were close enough to have a serious negotiation at that level. Trump got excited enough to start hyping the prospects for a breakthrough agreement despite little evidence of any movement in the North Korean position. Next, Trump’s advisers embarked on a strange series of comments that seemed designed to threaten, scare and intimidate North Korea. Was this the plan? Did the administration regret its early overtures? Or was this all just incompetence? Is it any wonder that the whole thing has collapsed?

Trump has been even more ham-handed in his dealings with China. Just before entering the White House, he dangled the possibility of recognizing Taiwan. Beijing quickly shut down contact with the United States and, humiliatingly, Trump had to walk back his comments in a phone call with President Xi Jinping.

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The current trade talks with China are a case study in bad negotiations. It’s hard to know where to begin. The U.S. government does not seem to know what it wants. Some days it appears that Washington is fixated on the size of the trade deficit. Other days it focuses on technology transfer and the theft of intellectual property. The White House began its attacks by imposing tariffs on steel, which mostly affected American allies, ensuring that it had no partners in its attempt to pressure the Chinese. After insisting that no countries would be exempted, the administration once again reversed course and doled out exemptions to the top five steel exporters to the U.S, though it threatens to reverse itself again.

American negotiators leak furiously to the press to undermine each other’s positions and even squabbled among themselves in front of a Chinese delegation earlier this month. Trump himself seems to switch gears repeatedly. After his administration announced that it would punish ZTE, a huge Chinese tech company that committed serious trade violations, Trump suddenly changed his mind, citing concern for the impact on Chinese jobs. Imagine the outcry if Obama had backed away from pressure on the Chinese to help their economy!

On the legislative front, Trump chose to begin his presidency with the divisive issue of healthcare rather than a unifying one like infrastructure — and failed to get Obamacare repealed anyway. Oh, and don’t forget, he and son-in-law Jared Kushner were going to broker the ultimate deal, peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. How’s that going?

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As talks fail, deals collapse and negotiations founder, Trump continues to tweet triumphantly about his great success. It makes one realize the President’s true talent. He has the confidence, bravado and skill to market failure as success. He can take a mediocre building, slap some gold paint on it and then convince people it’s a super-luxury condominium. Call it the Art of the Spin.

Fareed Zakaria:

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group