The Kuala Lumpur Logo–Reality vs Myth


The Kuala Lumpur Logo Controversy–Reality vs Myth

by  Tan-Zi-Hao

Does a tacky logo point to the return of authoritarianism in Malaysia?

When institutional failures are commonplace, institutions are expected to fail. This cynical expectation may be passed off as sarcasm, but it is intrinsic to a growing sense of political detachment between the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Najib Razak and the people. Worse, the authorities have a vested interest in maintaining, rather than closing, this gap, to deter more direct political participation.

Kuala Lumpur’s new logo, recently released by the city council Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), was never destined to be  popular. Rather, it is the public’s reactions that give it currency.

When it was first unveiled online, the logo prompted ridicule. Within the span of a week, a free template was created, in addition to several step-by-step tutorials , allowing netizens to make their own version of the logo with just a few clicks. Social media was immediately awash with parodies and caricatures, with netizens customising the logo with personal or corporate names, repurposing it for reasons other than its own initial intent.

This  is the Reality since 2009

While one could however laud the creative aftermath of this controversy, the reactions in fact display more cynicism than optimism. The parodies are suggestive of a growing detachment between  the Malaysian government and the people, one that amounts to a credibility gap. But this gap should not be understood solely as a problem. Rather, it is an ideological façade perpetuated by the authorities to consolidate their power.

https://i0.wp.com/asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/2.png

https://i2.wp.com/asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/3.jpg

https://i1.wp.com/asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/4.jpg

After the negative reception of the logo, DBKL responded that the design cost RM15,000, inevitably creating a greater stir. The logo received its second wave of media coverage when Visit KL, the Tourism Unit of DBKL, released a video on YouTube (removed from the official Visit KL channel, but re-uploaded by a private organisation) showcasing a row of tin ingots gradually crackling and breaking apart to reveal the logo. The tin ingots are supposed to symbolise Kuala Lumpur’s history “as a major tin mining and trading centre”, whereas the serif font selection is supposed to display “an Islamic scripture character with a modern twist”.

https://i0.wp.com/asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/6.png

Nonetheless, any clarification provided by DBKL will never suffice. Be it RM15 or RM15,000, the reactions will be the same. In Malaysia, cynicism has been thriving during most of Prime Minister Najib administration, escalating with the 1MDB fiasco. It is a symptom that has developed over an extended period of time and out of repeated institutional failures. That these failures have become a norm means that not only are failures commonplace, they are expected to be so.

The expectation of failures feeds into cynicism and the credibility gap. This phenomenon should not be underestimated. Within the broader contemporary state of affairs, cynicism becomes integral   to the political economy of the nation-state. To the Malaysian authorities, failures are ideologically productive: failures, again and again, produce cynical expectation, deepen political detachment and expand the tolerance for more scandalous failures.

If the banality of repeated failures cultivates cynicism, cynicism furthers the banalisation of failures and completes the crisis of political detachment.

Far from being a standalone problem, this crisis should be read against the context of the privileging of the personal over the public domain. It is a moment where political actions become more about the individual rather than the collective. . Parodies of the controversial Kuala Lumpur logo point to this direction. Amid the breakdown of the public political realm, accruing personal cynicism can only be satiated through further individualisation of political expression. That is, in this case, through the personalisation or customisation of the logo.

The credibility gap has effectively disempowered the public and has deterred the possibility of more direct political action. The Kuala Lumpur logo controversy and the subsequent reactions are but a sign. Resistance is now impelled to operate in a separate discourse of politics, which can resist and react accordingly without the gap ever closing, because it has been decoupled from the hegemonic operation of power.

The response towards the Kuala Lumpur logo has taken up a form that fuels political detachment. Increasingly, resistance has to capitalise on this detachment for more radical advocacy. Yet, it is on the very same detachment that the hegemony of power thrives. It is in this fashion that authoritarianism in Malaysia is returning.

Through the maintenance of credibility gap and political detachment, institutional failures are constantly rehearsed to accustom the public to expecting failures with amusement rather than anger. The crisis of institutional credibility has become so  ordinary that recurrent failures sit within one’s comfort zone. And as the cronies do what they do best, resistant politics can only react more radically by deepening the sense of political detachment, and implicitly, by making failures ever more tolerable.

 Tan Zi Hao is a postgraduate student in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is also a conceptual artist whose artworks can be viewed at www.tanzihao.net. As both artist and writer, he is interested in the arts, language, cultural politics and mobilities.

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2016/06/13/the-kuala-lumpur-logo-controversy/

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism


September 26, 2015

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/china-ambassador-tells-malaysia-stop-racism/

china_ambassador_huang_mugshot_tmiAmbassador Huang

Huang Huikang, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, is expected to be summoned to the country’s Foreign Ministry on September 28 for a remarkable visit last Friday to the center of a Chinese area threatened by Malay-supremacy thugs to say the Chinese government is opposed to terrorism, extremism and any forms of discrimination based on race.

Such an action by an Ambassador, not just in Malaysia but anywhere, is virtually unheard of. By any measure, it constitutes unprecedented interference in domestic politics and is viewed by critics as a raw assertion of Chinese power. China is now Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to US$28.2 billion in 2014 and may well be the largest, since Malaysia’s trade with Singapore is US$33.3 billion and Singapore acts largely as an entrepôt, shipping goods on to other countries including China.

Huang’s stroll through Chinatown was a clear indication that China would not tolerate any form of criminal intimidation. But it has also raised serious concerns in the ethnic Chinese community that what is regarded as mainland ham-handedness could make it worse for them rather than better.

Nonetheless, despite the allegations of affront, Huang’s visit to the Petaling Street area appears to have played a role in bringing to a halt, however temporary, growing threats and intimidation by so-called Red Shirts led by a United Malays National Organization Division Chief named Jamal Md Yunos against Chinese hawkers and merchants in the area, the epicenter of the urban Chinese community, home of the historic 127-year-old central market and to hundreds of Chinese street hawkers and traders. Police arrested Jamal Yunos and warned Red Shirt protesters against marching through the area. The Red Shirts had been scheduled to march through Petaling Street today, Sept. 26 amid outright threats of violence.

The Red Shirt protest is closely tied to Malaysia’s deteriorating political situation, in which critics say the Prime Minister is attempting to use a perceived threat by the Chinese, who dominate the economic landscape, to attempt to dominate the political one as well via the Democratic Action Party, the predominant ethnic Chinese party. Najib’s position is threatened by not just the domestic political equation, but by investigations into allegations of money laundering and corruption by the US, Swiss, UK, French and Singaporean governments. 

He and UMNO officials have responded by blaming an international conspiracy to bring down parliamentary democratic rule in Malaysia. Add that international conspiracy the Chinese community. On Aug. 29, the good government NGO Bersih brought hundreds of thousands of protesters against to the streets in a two-day rally dominated by the Chinese, giving UMNO the opportunity to characterize the rally as a DAP stratagem to wreck the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition.

As tensions have grown, the Red Shirts have flung insults including Cina babi, meaning “Chinese are pigs,” seemingly with the support of officials linked to UMNO. Last week, police had to use water canon to drive back Red Shirt protesters attempting to force their way into the Petaling Street area, allegedly to demand that authorities raid traders allegedly selling fake goods or running other illegal activities.

Mahathir Mohamad, the 90-year-old former prime minister attempting to bring down Najib, charged last week that Najib is paying the protesters to distract from charges that US$861 million had mysteriously appeared in his personal bank account in 2013. Some of the protesters have acknowledged that they have been paid although Najib, in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, denied he had done so.

Huang, wearing a batik shirt, presented mooncakes to the traders in recognition of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which begins on Jan. 29. Reading from a prepared statement, he said that: “Nobody has the right to undermine the authority of the law or trample on the rule of law. The Chinese government has always pursued peaceful co-existence in international relationship and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. But with regard to the infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country, we will not sit by idly.”

“I think Najib has brought (the Ambassador’s action) upon himself,” said Din Merican, a longtime academic and blogger now teaching at a university in Cambodia. “His racist rhetoric is raising international concerns since in a globalized world, there are many stakeholders. Najib must show that he can protect the interest of foreign investors who have stakes in Malaysia. Fanning the flames of racial hatred and Islamic bigotry is not an option for him. China is sending a message to Najib to stop going overboard with his racism.  The non-interference argument can no longer be used when human rights are being abused with impunity. The Red shirts are Najib’s paid proxies. The besieged Prime Minister is looking for a pretext to declare emergency rule to extend his political life. He knows that UMNO and Barisan Nasional will lose the general election in 2018 if he remains Prime Minister.”

Ambassadors “don’t do that,” said Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist and fellow at the Penang Institute in Penang. “I find it extraordinary because Ambassadors don’t do things in public.You go make a call, you don’t leave a trace”. Wong pointed out that the Ambassador didn’t make a clear distinction whether he was speaking for Chinese nationals or Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese as well.

“That is a no-no in Malaysia,” Wong said. “Some ethnic Malays feel uncomfortable with the idea that a Chinese Ambassador is acting in a way that he appears to be representing the Chinese here. I would be offended myself if he is saying that. If he wants to express concern, he should be doing it privately.

Najib catches much of the blame from observers over Huang’s move, although Gerakan and the Malaysian Chinese Association, two ethnic Chinese component parties in the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition led by UMNO, come in for their own share of criticism.

“Najib is fomenting this to save his political skin,” said a Malay businessman who declined to be quoted by name. “But Gerakan and the MCA haven’t got the balls to stand up to him.”

“Malaysia views his remarks seriously,” a foreign ministry official told local media. “It is tantamount to interfering in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.”

Armand Azha Abu Hanifah,  a member of UMNO’s youth wing executive committee, demanded an apology from Huang for both the government and the Malaysian people.

Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamid–Jocelyn Tan’s Positive Spin for Najib Razak


August 2, 2015

Malaysia:  Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Zahid Hamid- The Positive Spin for  Najib Razak

by Jocelyn Tan@www.thestar.com.my

ahmad_zahid

IT was late afternoon by the time the Prime Minister showed up at Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil’s Hari Raya open house in Damansara Heights. It was still crowded because many of the guests had lingered on when they heard that Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was coming.

Najib often wears red for Wanita UMNO dos and he stood out in his crimson batik shirt. His face seemed rather flushed although the day had cooled down and someone joked that it must be the political temperature out there.

It had been a super stressful day – he had just sacked Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and also brought the axe down on long-time loyalist Dato’ Seri Shafie Apdal, who had turned against him.

The last time something like this happened in UMNO was when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sacked Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the Cabinet and party.It was big time politics and the first thought that crossed the minds of many was that Najib had “done a Mahathir” or as a former UMNO Youth leader put it, Najib had taken a leaf from Mahathir’s playbook.

The ripples from the Cabinet reshuffle have yet to subside. After all, Muhyiddin is UMNO Deputy President and Shafie is one of three Vice-Presidents.

About half an hour after Najib and his wife arrived at Shahrizat’s house, the new Deputy Prime Minister and his wife arrived. It was one of those moments – everyone wanted a piece of Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

The presence of the top two was not purely social. The pair were sending an important signal that Shahrizat, the leader of the backbone of the party, is with them. The timing could not have been better.The new No.2 had also had a stressful day, but it was a happy type of stress and some said he was smiling non-stop.

Actually, Dr Ahmad Zahid is one of those natural smilers whose face crinkles up whenever he smiles. The Prime Minister had indicated to him a day earlier but still, he felt rather overwhelmed when it finally happened.

He is the new flavour of the month and everywhere he goes, there are cameras clicking away.

Dr Ahmad Zahid has had a tough guy reputation ever since he took on the Home Ministry job. He has managed to clamp down on organised crime and is popular among the police force. But behind that likeable smile is a rather jantan (masculine) personality and you really do not want to get on his wrong side.

But his image within UMNO is quite different. The UMNO crowd sees him as a people’s politician, someone who is completely without airs and whom the common folk relate to.

His handshakes are firm, he looks people in the eye and he does not hesitate to give friends and long-time associates man hugs. Once, when he met PAS President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang in Mecca, political rivalry was pushed aside and Muslim brotherhood kicked in. He wrapped his arms around the elder man and they held hands and chatted like old friends.

His parents were religious teachers in Bagan Datoh, where he grew up, and that part of his upbringing comes through in the way he carries himself. He was the first Umno leader to have a surau in his house, long before it became the fashion among the Muslim elite.

He is one of the few UMNO leaders who appears at certain public functions in jubah and kopiah, and many had noted that his acceptance speech for the top post was flavoured with Quranic verses.

Dr Ahmad Zahid’s appointment is seen as one of those timely moves in assisting Najib to consolidate the party. The new No.2 is charismatic and can be entrusted to champion the Malay cause and quench Muslim sentiment.

But back to Najib. His party is seeing a new side to him now that the velvet gloves have come off. Very few in his party thought he had the nerve to drop his deputy but he not only chopped his deputy, he also showed his former loyalist the door.

Muhyiddin had gone against the instruction to all Cabinet members that only Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanazlah was authorised to speak on the 1MDB issue while investigations were ongoing. He crossed the line not once but twice.

Shortly after a video of Muhyiddin slamming the 1MDB issue at an UMNO event in Janda Baik went viral, Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kader had told aides that was not the way to do things.

“If anyone wants to go against the President, he should resign first. As long as I am in the party, I will defend the president and PM,” he had told his aides.

Najib had said it was a difficult decision to make. Muhyiddin is his senior by a few years and Shafie goes back a long way with him.Moreover, said UMNO supreme council member Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Najib had lent his clout to help the two men win in the last UMNO election and he had not expected them to turn against him.

“Loyalty and teamwork are very important to him. The PM does not scold people. He doesn’t raise his voice or lose his temper even when (he is) angry. He has been too nice and accommodating. I think some people crossed the line,” said Ahmad Shabery.

The reshuffle, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it, is the Prime Minister’s prerogative. Even Muhyiddin acknowledges that.It is quite apparent that Najib’s desire to stay on was greater than Muhyiddin’s desire to become Prime Minister. Moreover, the reshuffle came on the same day as his appointment of a new Attorney-General. Beneath Najib’s polished Malay gentleman demeanour lies some very shrewd survival instincts. Those who continue to cross him will probably regret it because having tasted blood, it will be easier the next time around. In fact, he may even come to enjoy the taste of it.To put it in Manglish, his Cabinet members would not dare to “play-play” with him anymore and, as they say, it is better to be feared than to be loved in politics.

His tough line with opponents in his party and Cabinet has, quite surprisingly, drawn him grudging regard from some quarters. For too long, he was known as Mr Nice. But he has shown that he is willing to use the sword.

“I have a feeling that some people like this kind of toughness. It is, in some strange way, equated with leadership and taking charge, especially where the Chinese are concerned. Chinese history and literature are full of such stories of strategic survival,” said Fui Soong, CEO of the CENSE think tank.

All of this should not be taken to mean that the 1MDB issue will go away any time soon. Najib’s team will need to manage the issue and provide answers, closure and more importantly, rebut some of the absurd things popping up every other day.

The latest was another claim by UK-based Sarawak Report claiming that Najib would be charged in court soon. It turned out to be another fake document and was immediately shot down by the Attorney-General’s Department. Najib will continue to come under smear campaigns by groups like Sarawak Report.

But he is now quite unassailable within UMNO because there is no one big enough to challenge him.

His Deputy President is out in the cold and of the three UMNO Vice-Presidents, one has been promoted, another has been chopped and the third is his first cousin.

It is all kao-tim (settled), as the Chinese would say. Politically speaking, it looks like a pretty smooth Machiavellian stroke. He and his new Deputy will now have to go down to assuage the ground over what has happened.But the media interest is about to move on to something new, namely a possible conclusion to what has been described as the greatest mystery in aviation history.

A piece of wreckage or flaperon believed to be part of MH370 has been found washed up on the French Reunion Island off the coast of Madagascar.It was one of those goosebump-inducing type of news – after all these months, the sea currents have carried a part of the aircraft to an island with the uncanny name of Reunion. It is as if the lost souls are reaching out to be reunited with their loved ones.

Airline disasters and political issues have seemed intertwined in dominating the news in the last year or so. And it is about to happen again.