Najib’s Political Mess

November 26, 2015

Najib’s Political Mess

by  Arnold Puyok, UNIMAS

Sale of 1MDB Power Assets to China

Najib’s Albatross and Rm2.6 billion Mystery

These are tiring times for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib has so far managed to stay in power despite the flurry of attacks on his leadership. Political debacles have almost cost Najib his primeirship and the popularity of the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN). Facing the prospect of losing the people’s mandate in the 2018 general election, Najib is racing against time to regain public trust and confidence.

Earlier in 2015, an expose revealed a controversial 2.6 billion ringgit (US$700 million) ‘donation’ into Najib’s personal account. This was initially attributed to Najib siphoning funds from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), Malaysia’s state-owned development company. Najib appeared on television to answer questions from critics and gave point-by-point rebuttals to the 1MDB controversy. But these have failed to assuage public dissatisfaction.

Some critics still believe that Najib siphoned public funds from the 1MDB — even though that allegation has not been proven in court or by independent audit firms. Najib is now left with the CEO of the 1MDB Arul Kanda to address the misconception toward the 1MDB and to implement a rationalisation plan in order to reduce its debt.

Moga Rosmah

Najib’s Waterloo

Najib’s problems do not end there. The 2.6 billion ringgit in his personal account has dented his reputation further, even though the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission has evidence that the money was from a donor, not the 1MDB. Critics are still unhappy as questions such as what the money was for, and whether there were any strings attached, have not been answered.

Mahathir the Architect

Malaysia’s Former Prime Minister with a Tattered Legacy

The person who has launched a major ‘crusade’ to end Najib’s political career is none other than Najib’s predecessor-turned-nemesis Mahathir Mohamad. Mahathir — the ‘PM slayer’, as one author has put it — is the single most potent force behind the campaign to oust Najib. The 90-year-old former premier’s allegations against Najib are not without defect, but many think that Mahathir is telling the truth.

After 22 years of entrenched rule in Malaysia, Mahathir is seen by some as the ‘knight in shining armour’ that could save Malaysia from Najib. Even though the prospect of Mahathir making a comeback is next to impossible, he still has influence in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), Mahathir and Najib’s political party. Anti-Najib party members are supporting Mahathir either openly or secretly. While most UMNO divisional leaders are firmly behind Najib, this may change depending on the momentum of the anti-Najib movement in UMNO.

Although he is criticised and mocked on the home front, Najib has scored some brownie points on the international stage. In the aftermath of the MH17 crash in July 2014, Najib negotiated deftly with pro-Russian rebel leaders to allow rescuers to extract bodies and to secure crucial flight information from the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Najib has to also play a tough balancing act dealing with China and the United States — the two major superpowers arguing over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Najib has established good ties with both countries by allowing both American and Chinese naval ships to use Malaysian ports for transport or military training purposes.

So, can Najib and the BN survive the general election in 2018? The answer to this question depends on how Najib and the ruling party react to calls for reform. Before attempting to address Malaysia’s domestic impasse, it is important for Najib to exert a stronger and firmer hold on the government, especially the civil service. The civil servants are the key to the success of Najib’s ‘transformation agenda’. But some civil servants are bent on Najib’s downfall. Many sensitive government documents have been leaked on social media and opposition leaders have used them to attack the government.

The BN should learn from Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP), which won the 2015 Singapore general election. Its success taught a valuable lesson to incumbent governments around the world about securing electoral victory in the face of growing public disenchantment.

Lee Hsein Loong

Singapore’s Winning Captain–Integrity,Competency and Meritocracy

The key to winning is to boldly address public concerns by making tough policy decisions. In the 2011 election, the PAP won with a popular vote of only 60 per cent — the lowest it had ever recorded in its 60 years of history. It reacted proactively to public criticism, and changed many of its policy positions on issues such as affordable housing, immigration and economic stagnation. In September, the PAP won the election with 69.9 per cent of the popular vote.

The PAP’s major electoral victory in Singapore shows that a dominant party system is still alive in Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, the BN lost its two-thirds majority in 2008 and 2013. There is a real possibility that its popular support will dip further in the coming election. It is important for Najib and the BN to display some real leadership in addressing people-oriented issues.

Najib should push for good governance and take matters of public interest to heart. The goods and services tax has forced more people to dig deeper into their pockets despite rising prices of essential goods and housing. The most hit economically are young middle-income professionals and graduates. While the 2.6 billion ringgit donation, the 1MDB and Mahathir’s challenge are major headaches for Najib, they will not matter much in determining his and the BN’s future in Malaysian politics.

Arnold Puyok is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

UMNO Politics : So far so good for Najib

November 25, 2015

UMNO Politics : So far so good for Najib

by Jocelyn Tan

Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak is very strong in UMNO, he has the numbers in Parliament and he has survived the ‘Mahathir virus’.

INCREDIBLE as it may sound, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak has survived the epic clash with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It is no mean feat because very few have been able to endure an offensive by the awesome Dr Mahathir and emerge alive, politically speaking, that is. Some big-name casualties have included Tun Musa Hitam, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It has been one long year of attack after attack by Dr Mahathir – at home and abroad, in the foreign media, via his blog, at public forums and generally to anybody who would listen.

Dr Mahathir

Is he singing the Blues?

The Tun has thrown everything including the kitchen sink at Najib. And the amazing thing is that, through it all, Najib did not once make any critical or personal remarks about the elder man.

The relationship between Najib and the man whom he once looked upon as a mentor figure is beyond repair. Dr Mahathir is a gentleman in many ways but he is no gentleman when it comes to losing. He hates losing, he is not used to it and he has vowed to continue his campaign against Najib. That is his right, no one can make him shut up and, besides, he still has a sizeable audience out there.

But here’s the thing, whichever way one looks at it, Najib has won the fight although his supporters prefer to say he has survived. They know that although their boss has emerged the winner, he has not been left unscathed.

“He is very strong in the party, I don’t think anybody is going to argue about that,” said Temerloh UMNO Division Chief Dato’ Sharkar Shamsuddin.

Najib’s political clout was further reinforced last week when the 2016 Budget was passed with 128 votes by the Barisan Nasional side against 74 votes by the Pakatan Rakyat and Pakatan Harapan side.

It was the second time in a month that his ruling coalition had proven that they have the numbers in Parliament. The first time was when Barisan MPs approved a motion to suspend DAP’s Lim Kit Siang with 107 votes against 77 votes by the opposing bench.

It effectively buried the opposition’s claims that they had support from Barisan MPs. They could not even get the support of the MPs from PAS.

“Look at our side – Kuli (Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah) and Tan Sri Muhyiddin (Yassin) were there, they voted for the Budget,” said Deputy Finance Minister Dato’ Johari Ghani.


Najib and Rosmah2

Malaysia’s First Royalty

The opposition bench had portrayed the Budget vote as a vote of no confidence in Najib but it failed. Instead of embarrassing Najib, the opposition exposed the split on their own side. Not all the PAS MPs came along and the opposition bench was split between the two Pakatan groups.

It is clear that Najib has the support in UMNO, he has the numbers in Parliament and he has survived the “Mahathir virus”.

The year 2015 has been Najib’s annus horribilis but, said his old friend and former Malaysian Ambassador to The Philippines, Dato’ Seri Dr Ibrahim Saad, “he has come out of the woods” and is on firm ground again. But he still has a few more hurdles to clear, namely the PAC investigation on the 1MDB issue and the UMNO General Assembly in December.

This is not going to be an easy party General Assembly given the tensions between him and his Deputy President Muhyiddin. It will be awkward, too, for the new Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Everyone will be watching the delicate triangle on stage – a Deputy President who is not the Deputy Prime Minister, the vice-president who took over as Deputy Prime Minister and the president who made it all happen. Every facial expression and gesture will be scrutinised by the delegates and media.

The circle around Najib is concerned about what Muhyiddin may say or do during the assembly. The Deputy President traditionally addresses the joint-opening of the Wanita, Youth and Puteri wings and also does a winding-up speech at the end of the general proceedings.

Muhyiddin is still hurt over the way he was treated and there is no predicting whether he will use the stage to voice his unhappiness over the 1MDB issue.

Or will he be stopped from speaking given the speculation of disciplinary action against him and several others for statements deemed as damaging to the party?

Dr Mahathir will be a no-show. He snubbed a few of these assemblies during Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s presidency and it will be an outright boycott this time around.

UMNO General Assemblies have become quite predictable over the years because speakers are carefully selected so that they do not go too far out of line .

The more cynical say it will be the usual retinue of jokes, praises and bodek (apple-polishing). Actually, a large part of the debates often touch on issues close to the Malay, Muslim and nationalistic heart of UMNO members. Issues like threats to their religion, education and language, the economy, religious terrorism and, of course, the opposition will feature in the debate.

Some suggested that Dr Mahathir’s “de facto opposition leader” role the last one year may also crop up in the debate. Kok Lanas assemblyman Dato’ Alwi Che Ahmad said any criticism of the former Premier will be understated and indirect. Alwi’s dazzling oratory has seen him picked to debate the motion of thanks on the president’s speech the last two years.

“Tun Mahathir is like our father. We don’t like to argue even though we disagree. He reminds me of my late father who insisted on renovating the house every time one of my sisters got married. It was a waste of money but it was his house. When my son got married, we held it in a hotel,” said Alwi.

According to Dr Ibrahim, even though UMNO members are critical of Dr Mahathir, deep in their hearts, they still want him as part of the family.

Sabah rising star Dato’ Rahman Dahlan said there will be no gag order on issues like 1MDB or even the controversial RM2.6bil donation.

“I don’t think they (the delegates) should be stopped from talking on things they care about. But every year, we have a pre-council briefing for the delegates before the assembly starts for the leadership to set the tone and this always helps control the temperature,” said Rahman who is Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government Minister.

As for concern about whether Muhyiddin could be the wild card in the assembly, Rahman said the President has the last word at every assembly during the winding up.

“That is an important speech during which the president has the last say and is able to answer to anything that has been raised,”he said.

Najib will have to bring it on this time, both at his opening presidential address and also in his closing address. He may have to deliver the most crucial speeches of his political career.

This assembly, said Alwi, is also special in that it will be Dr Ahmad Zahid’s first as Deputy Prime Minister. But given the awkward circumstances, he will have to hold back the elation.

Zahid Hamidi--Malay Rights

The Man from Ponorogo–Javanese or Malay Tune Player?

Becoming the country’s No. 2 has been a dream come true for this popular Perak-born politician. He was also a victim of Dr Mahathir back in 1998 but he has come a long way since. His once fractured English is behind him, and he now has an easy-going command of the language.

Dr Ahmad Zahid marked his first 100 days, in a low-key fashion, with a tahlil for about 500 of his close friends and supporters at the Deputy Prime Minister’s official residence. He has yet to move in, and that evening was the first time he set foot in the residence.

He has never been busier. He has made three official trips overseas and he has been going round to meet party grassroots leaders in all the states.

Everyone wants a piece of him and he tries not to turn down any invitations. His days are so jam-packed that he tells his aides that he feels lucky when he has time to sleep and eat.

What is more important is that with his natural political skills, he has been able to lighten the political workload of his president.

Najib’s journey of survival is reminiscent of the Salami Principle, a Cold War analogy that refers to a political agenda that is subtly advanced. It is based on the idea that no sensible person would consume an entire salami in one sitting but if fed one slice at a time it can be consumed with little notice.

Step by step, he has inched his way out of quick sand onto more stable ground.He needs a smooth and trouble-free UMNO general assembly to further consolidate his position.


MALAYSIA–Parliamentary Approval for 2016 People’s Budget

November 17, 2015

COMMENT: The fight for change continues. The much anticipateddin-merican-and-dr-kamsiah1 move to reject Malaysia’s 2016 Budget did not materialise since the Opposition failed to garner biparisan support to defeat it. 128 votes in favour of it were convincing enough and our country is spared a fiscal crisis. It is  relief that our government can continue to function with money approved for its programmes in 2016.

While I have been critical of the Prime Minister’s misdemeanors, especially the USD 700 million that went into his personal bank, his lack of transparency and accountability on 1MDB, and his lavish spending ways, I am never comfortable at the prospect of our public administration and security services (defense and police) grinding to a halt at a time of global terrorism just because a disgruntled opposition is trying to use us Malaysians as pawns in their desire to cause the collapse of an elected government.

My message to our Prime Minister cum Finance Minister is that he must be be prudent and smart in spending our taxes. May I also remind him that every tax dollar spent must produce a satisfactory rate of return which is equal to the cost of our sovereign debt. Otherwise, we as citizens will be burdened with  more taxes. That is Fiscal 101 and pure common sense.

Confidence in our Prime Minister’s leadership may not return any time soon. However, if he comes clean on the 1MDB financial scandal, ceases using draconian laws against his critics and stops playing race and religion for his political ends by pandering to racist pressure  groups and religious extremists within and outside UMNO, there is a possibility for the ringgit to bounce back and for much-needed capital inflows to return. –Din Merican

MALAYSIA–Parliamentary Approval for 2016 People’s Budget

by Arfa Yunus

MOF Najib Razak

Prime Minister Najib Razak may still have the support of Barisan Nasional (BN) lawmakers, evident from the success of the vote on Budget 2016 last night, says UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.

He said he himself, voted for Budget 2016 to go through despite talks of him being part of a movement to bring Najib down.Tengku Razaleigh, speaking to reporters at the Parliament lobby here today, said that he had voted in favour of the Budget as he “believed in the government’s plan for the year.”

He, however, was coy when asked if his vote meant that he also supported Najib as the nation’s Prime Minister.“No, that means we support the government programme for the (next) year (as) it was presented by the Minister of Finance, who is also the Prime Minister,” said the Gua Musang Member of Parliament.

“Why these questions? You decide for yourself ok,” he added, refusing to comment further. The UMNO veteran has been linked to a group allegedly led by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who aims to have Najib removed from his top post.

Budget 2016 passed the policy stage last night after successfully garnering 128 votes. All BN legislators present, including former Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin voted in favour of it.

This came as a surprise to most as both Razaleigh and Muhyiddin were rumoured to be on the list of seven UMNO leaders currently under the party’s watch for openly criticising Najib.

Lessons from NEP Architect–James J. Puthucheary

November 16, 2015

Lessons from  NEP Architect–James Puthucheary

by Adam Reza


Writing in 1960, a key architect of the New Economic Policy (NEP),   the late James J. Puthucheary, author of Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy, made an astute observation about the troubles brewing within the seemingly idyllic setting of rural Malaya.

Ethnic Malay paddy farmers had found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of low productivity and mounting debt. Defaults were widespread and the ensuing transfer of land to the hands of mostly ethnic Chinese creditors prompted the government to intervene.

In a bid to prevent land from changing hands through debt to non-Malays, the government introduced the Malay Reservation Ordinance. Unfortunately, this did nothing to solve the key underlying problem of low productivity. The farmers continued to default and the only difference was that the beneficiaries of the land were a small group of Malay elites.

This chapter of our economic history illustrates the perils of viewing developmental problems from a racial lens. Affirmative action done right yields positive results as our Malaysian experience shows. Done wrong, it ends up benefiting an elite few without solving the root cause of the issue.

The lessons are clear, but as is so often the case, men and indeed politicians rarely draw the right lessons from the past.In the context of today, over 40 years since the inception of NEP, it is clear to see how little we have learned.

For a start, the rhetoric has not changed. The old narrative remains ubiquitous: Chinese interests continue to dominate the economy, justifying the continuation of far-reaching affirmative action policies. It is often highlighted that inter-ethnic income gaps still exist and that the Bumiputeras are ill-equipped to compete in today’s economy.

These are valid concerns that should be looked at, but the question remains, why after over 40 years since the NEP’s implementation are Bumiputeras still ill-equipped to compete?

Now, this is not to say that NEP has been a failure. A big part of NEP’s initial success was in creating a new middle class through accelerated involvement in the great leveler of society – education, thus creating a new middle class.

Indeed, access to quality education was critical in the realisation first prong of NEP, the eradication of poverty regardless of ethnicity.This is something that is lacking today. It is no secret that education standards have declined. Rankings in our institutions of higher education are slipping, academic freedom remains illusive, and 400,000 graduates find themselves without jobs.

Like Puthucheary’s rural Malaya, the problem today is low productivity and perhaps the issue here is not so much a lack of affirmative action but more a failure to provide quality education and hence a lack of upward mobility, a situation which affects all of us regardless of our ethnicities. More needs to be done in this respect and hopefully our education blueprints will be executed well.

Second, is there any justification for continuing affirmative policy measures in business particularly for SMEs? According to Development economist  Tan Sri Kamal Salih, although noble in its intentions, it is on the execution side that we have found lacking and more often than not, the beneficiaries have not been the entrepreneurs.

A study by Dr. Terence Gomez of University of Malaya finds that programmes to nurture Bumiputera entrepreneurs were hardly successful as they were based on selective patronage, in turn sealing off non-Bumiputera owned companies access to domestic and foreign markets.

Again, we are caught in a situation where the industrious and innovative are left behind and the elite few and politically well-connected are rewarded. We need to be more transparent in this respect, ensuring that those with political interests do not exploit the system.

Perhaps we could take a leaf from our successes in the start-up industry, where more of those who are innovative and industrious have been allowed to succeed regardless of ethnicity or political connections.


Now, this is not to say that positive discrimination is completely uselesss. Where it may remain relevant is in the case of recent evidence of discrimination in hiring by the private sector in a study done by  Dr. Lee Hwok Aun and Dr. Muhammad Khalid.

Alternatively, we might want to consider is what the Conservative government is doing in the United Kingdom today, with name-blind job applications.

Yet at the same time, if our priorities are truly about creating a more diversified workplace, we need to address issues such as under-representation of non-Malays in the public sector where for me the need for diversity is most acute.

I would like to think that increasingly we want policy to be shaped from a more inclusive multi-cultural perspective. Suggestions that non-Malays ostensibly shun the civil service due to low pay are a complete hogwash.

Take the significant number of non-Malays in the government-led Perdana Fellows programme recently or my fellow millenials who shun the more high paying jobs to participate in initiatives like Teach for Malaysia. Clearly there is more to Gen Y than dollars and cents.

Moving forward, our future developmental solutions must continue to have the Bumiputera agenda in mind but must also be more inclusive.For starters, we need to go back to the core of what Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak proposed in 2010: an urgent revision of the NEP, towards a national development strategy that is more transparent, merit driven, and market friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action.

That is the right way and we must not lose track of the end goal that affirmative action should be temporary in the first place.

As Tun Dr Ismail once said:

“The special privilege or position accorded to the Malays under the Constitution is mainly intended to enable them – to borrow an expression from the game of golf – ‘to have a handicap’, which would place them in a position for a fair competition with better players. Therefore like a golfer, it should not be the aim of the Malays to perpetuate this handicap but to strive to improve his game, and thereby reducing, and finally removing, their handicap completely.”

As an ethnic Malay myself who believes that we can be the community of aspiration and hope, I long for this day.


Malaysia 2050–In Orwellian Style–A Halal Prophecy

November 15, 2015

Malaysia 2050–In Orwellian Style–A Halal Prophecy

by Ooi Kok Hin*

*Ooi Kok Hin is a research analyst in Penang Institute. He graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy, and is also the author of the book, “Aku Kafir, Kau Siapa” , published by DuBook Press.

Malaysia 2050

The year is 2050. Exactly 30 years ago on this day, a grand council was held to discuss the next big goal for the nation after the expiration date of Vision 2020. It was proposed by one clever minister that the country must strive to be a “halal nation” by 2050. And here we are, Halal 2050.

It all began when an inconsiderate “kafir” customer brought her dog to a supermarket. Pictures of the dog allegedly peeing on the trolley went viral, some people were outraged, and caused the ministry to contemplate the idea of passing a law to make separate trolleys for halal and non-halal items. They have set forth the ship in that direction, and the wind will carry it much, much further.

The “separate trolley” idea was originally intended to separate the halal and non-halal items. For the first few years, it was acceptable for a non-Muslim customer to use the halal trolley, as long as he does not put pork or alcohol in there.

After years passed and the inevitable lapse of memory, certain righteous folks expressed their long-hidden suspicion, “How can we trust the infidels not to put anything ‘haram’ in those trolleys? Even if they do not, they must have touched pork and alcohol back in their home and maybe, they do not wash their hands. By touching what they touch, we are also guilty of their sins!”

Just then, at such an opportune time, pictures of two non-Muslim customers pushing the halal trolleys into non-halal section went viral on social media.The pictures did not show them putting non-halal items into the halal trolley, but the very fact that the halal trolley is pushed into the non-halal section sufficed for guilty judgment.

Several days later, the government announced that only Muslims can use the halal trolleys (coloured in white) and non-Muslims can only use non-halal trolleys (coloured in black).

Young Imams

What was originally a separation between halal and non-halal items has become a segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Five years down the road, worries were expressed that not only we should separate the trolleys, but also the payment counters. The opinion was further reinforced by the views of several high-ranking clerics (never mind the views of the other professions in the society).

A few decades ago, the popular rhetoric was “I should not be labelled a racist because I defended my race”. Now, ambitious politicians and ulama will win the crowd just by uttering the words, “I am not afraid to be labelled an extremist because I am defending our religion”.

Thunderous applause from their audience, who don’t seem to notice that under the ostensibly pious statement, those people are praising themselves, much like those who publicise on Facebook, “I just got all As for my exam, with 99% score in all subjects. Am going to graduate with 4.0 CGPA.  Thanks to God!” The government conceded again. Separate counters then! That is how it began.

By 2030, whenever one walks into a supermarket, one can see the stark segregation in the checkout counter. People are queuing according to ethnicity! There is one line for Muslims, one line for the non-Muslims.

Of course it was done in the name of religion, but the ethnic consequence is unavoidable given the high correlation between ethnicity and religion in the country.

I was told sometime ago that Gandhi once said, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for anyone’s greed.” Greed can never be satisfied. You keep wanting more and more. It was so, that the future everyone has predicted arrived in 2035.

The government announced that supermarkets will now be separated. Halal supermarkets for Muslims and non-halal supermarkets for non-Muslims. This must be done to avoid “confusion” and any possibility of the hands of non-Muslims tarnishing the “halal-ness” of the products in the supermarkets.

Wanita UMNO

Changes do not occur in a vacuum. From the supermarkets, the wave of segregation crashed into every neighbourhood, drowning all neutrality and innocence. Restaurants are segregated into Muslims and non-Muslims corners.

Once upon a time, a group of buddies could sit together in a mamak stall. It is no longer possible now due to the fears that a non-Muslim may have touched a dog or consumed alcohol before they come to the mamak, thus raising fears that they will contaminate the plates, utensils, tables, and even the chairs they are sitting on.

Wan Azizah4

The Ultimate Muslim Woman–Leader and Professional

“It cannot be helped. What is haram is haram,” said the government whose ears are reserved for the religious circles. “What is haram is haram. We cannot help it. Whatever is touched by the haram, it is no longer halal”.

There used to be a clear distinction between halal and non-halal. But the phrase “non-halal” is gradually replaced by a more sinister terminology, “haram”.Last time, whatever was given permit is halal, and that was it. Now, whatever is not given permit, is haram.

Not only certain items are haram, even peoples are objectified as haram, just like how the self-righteous look down on out-of-wedlock children.

If the 1960s is celebrated as the decade of the hippies, and 1980s as the wave of Islamisation, the years between 2020 and 2050 are the wave of Halal-nisation. Or to be more precise, the years between 2020 and 2035 is Halal-nisation and the years between 2035 and 2050 is Haram-nisation.

Segregated neighbourhoods. White toilets for believers, black toilets for non-believers.No handshake between persons of the Faith and the non-persons of the Faith. Two individuals of different faiths, especially if they are of separate genders, found together in a car can be sentenced to jail or 20 strokes of rotan.

Severe punishment is necessary to remind everyone to preserve “natural order” and “natural separation”. The social fabrics must not be challenged, otherwise there will be hell, they said. The Halal industry is a big business too, so any confusion or disturb to social order will ruin the economy, they said.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t know who started this. Who allowed our country to end up like this? If enough voices speak out against this much earlier, could we have avoided this? Why are simple things made complicated? How far do we want to take this “halal and haram” logic down the road?

I haven’t had time to answer these questions before my alarm clock wakes me up. I don’t have time to think about that nightmare. I need to rush to work and I need to hope that nightmares don’t come true.

Protect and Defend the Constitution and ourselves

November 13, 2015

Protect  and Defend the Constitution and ourselves from UMNO sponsored ultra groups

by Ron J.Backus

“In Malaysia, we have three major races which have practically nothing in common. Their physiognomy, language, culture and religion differ… nothing makes anyone forget the fact of race. So those who say ‘forget race’ are either naive or knaves.” (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, 1970: 175)

Mahathir the Political Construct

While carrying out research in the Senate House Library in London, I stumbled upon a book in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies Books section.

This statement (quoted above) by Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister in his infamous “Malay Dilemma” gave me the validation that his dictatorship of 22 years, proved that the level of “political ethnicisation” in this country is alarming.

Frederik Holst (2012), in his amazing book “Ethnicization and identity construction in Malaysia,” deconstructs Mahathir’s statement: “He mentions spatial separation, lack of interaction, an urban-rural divide, and social gaps.”.

For Mahathir, these configurations seem to be established. I tried to brush it off, but it is 2015, Malaysians have certainly grown out of those configurations, moreover, most if not all, have migrated in mind and spirit from this dichotomy.

Don’t get me wrong, but we were put on the world map during his reign as the Twin Towers shot up to overshoot the Dayabumi Building and Malaysia developed from being an exporter of rubber and tin, into a manufacturer of electronic equipment and cars.

His “look east” policy and “anti-Colonialist rhetoric” landed him in hot water among his Western counterparts, but it was different back home.

Often a ‘hero’ but among the non-UMNO, his authoritarian rule severed the racial tapestry of Malaysia, which was inherited and willfully crafted eons ago by the colonialists with their “divide and conquer” strategy to keep us apart.

Could I blame Mahathir entirely for this? I paused to think of our past leaders who have stood up for an inclusive Malaysia, but I failed to recognise but one.

As I traced the lineage of racial discordance in Malaysian politics and society, I realised that what Mahathir said could probably be true. Can we really “forget race”? I would like to think that this is a new challenge for Malaysians.

We are stepping into our sixth decade as a nation but cracks are still visible, conspicuous than ever before. In view of the current situation, I decided to look back at our Federal Constitution to find some answers.

If anyone wants to invalidate my findings, please bear in mind that this is solely based on my own close reading.

The much debated Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, because it is often plucked out by many to reaffirm that Malaysia practices ‘constitutional racism’, actually grants equality to all of her citizens.

Part II of the Constitution under “Fundamental Liberties” guarantees all Malaysians have rights regardless if you are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indigenous or from other ethnic minorities. There is a vast difference, however, between a right and a privilege. A right is an entitlement, while a privilege is not.

As some feminists have defined, a privilege is an “undeserved social granting of a route to accessing cultural resources”.The keyword is undeserved. I cannot think of anyone who would want privilege with such a blaring definition imprinted on it.

Why am I striking the “privilege” chord? Dr. Kua Kia Soong the Suaram Advisor, explains in his 2012 article online “Do Malays have special ‘rights’”, that privileges can be dismantled once the intended results have been met, because they are conditional. A right, however, cannot be revoked.

He also quotes “An Introduction to the Constitution of Malaysia”, by Tun Mohamed Suffian Hashim (1972:245) to give better reference on this sensitive matter. I have personally picked this up as well and I realised there isn’t any reference to ‘Malay rights’.

In Article 153, there is a mention of “the special position of the Malays”. However, what I gauge from that inclusion is that, the main reason for including Article 153 in the Constitution, after it was discussed by the Commissioners, “was to rectify the perceived weakness of the Malay community in the economic field, the public service and the problem of Malay poverty at the time of Independence”.

A microscopic look into the Report of the Federation Of Malaya Constitutional Commission 1957, Chapter 9 Fundamental Rights, “Special position of the Malays”, reveals that although this provision should be made for safeguarding, it is however difficult to reconcile the terms of reference in granting “the special position” permanently to one community, as it will be unfair.

The report continues to explain that the “special position” has always been recognised and after having considered the issues and concerns arising with the need to safeguard, it still eventually falls on the bed of equality and the enjoyment of fundamental rights.

“Our recommendations are made on the footing that the Malays should be assured the present position will continue for a substantial period, but that in due course, the present preferences should be reduced, and should ultimately cease so that there should then be no discrimination between races or communities”.

In “Empires at War: A Short History of Modern Asia Since World War II” by Francis Pike, he discusses the heat of the racial riots in 1969 with regards to Tunku Abdul Rahman and his failure to notice the dissatisfaction of UMNO’s performance.

Pike narrates that Tunku regretted not suspending the general elections as he wanted to declare a State of Emergency instead, and allow people to cool off.

“In this statement, Tunku revealed the peculiar essence of Malaysia’s democracy; it was stable only as long as UMNO and its communal political allies accepted the status quo of permanent Malay rule”.

From this pattern, it is sensed that there lies a key player, in Tunku’s own words, “a group of men usually referred to as the “Ultras… who have maneuvered themselves into position in UMNO” in all future racial relations.

Now if the Constitution provided equality and we formed a nation, what could have been a trigger to ignore the Commissioners recommendations and continue with a discriminatory clause?

“Bumiputera” or not, the conception of this racial privilege dichotomy is one that is cataclysmic and politically motivated used again to separate and subjugate the nation.

Constitutional amendments, initiated by UMNO “and the adumbration and implementation of the post-1969 suite of affirmative action policies, ensured that henceforth political accommodation would be on Malay, and more specifically, UMNO terms, and clearly signalled that Malay power brokers would not tolerate any challenge to their authority”, Carl Vadivella Belle profoundly writes in his book “Tragic Orphans-Indians in Malaysia”.

This idea of superiority and supremacy is like cancer, a constant multiplication of deadly cells. It is a complex and emotional take on the situation, nevertheless we have to come to terms with our history and make analysis for ourselves.

No politician should tell you what to believe in, instead politicians should start believing in the power of the people. If you believe inequality is here and you want it rid, then you must stand up and be counted. It takes both sides of the spectrum to fight this.

The price for playing racial politics is unfathomable, but I tried to understand the reasons people kept voting such politicians and subscribing to racial politics, however it seemed to me that Malaysia wanted and have always tried to portray a ‘moderate’, successful, high income nation to the world. In this process, we sold our souls to unscrupulous parties because we were afraid to challenge the leadership.

Many were comfortable with the success Malaysia had and ignored the underlying fractures. The horror of the 1969 riots will forever remain, but something fruitful has to be taken from that incident.

There must be intellectual discussions about these pressing issues, however under the present circumstances I doubt any discussion will remain civil because the game on fear and subjugation is amplified by threats from thugs, “Ultra” groups, which I suspect are paid, otherwise feeling charitable in these difficult times.

I voted for the first time in the last general elections, but my still heart bleeds for the nation. I am enraged and disappointed.

Novelist Arundhati Roy succinctly says, “If we were to lose the ability to be emotional, if we were to lose the ability to be angry, to be outraged, we would be robots. And I refuse that”.

Let it be clear that the space given to be emotional does not equate to reacting. Reacting ensues emotions that aren’t channelled in a decent manner.

Responding however, is the invitation for one to take these emotions,  which you have let yourself feel, and put it to an intelligible purpose.


Tariq Ismail, the grandson of former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Ismail, got acquainted with me recently on social media and we had many insightful discussions on current issues and the Constitution. He is now reaching out to all Malaysians to sign an online petition to protect our Constitution from being abused.

Now, this is one of the many appropriate ways to show your Malaysian spirit and love for the country by responding. Protect the document that binds you and me together. However, do not be bamboozled that this is all about race. Equality, a discordant term to privileged groups, also extends to gender, class, sexuality and disability.

We are so blessed to share this nation with people from diverse colours, different religious beliefs and sexual orientations, and not ignoring the innate nature of hybrid identities.

The hope and need for Malaysia to be inclusive is vital. One can never pick and choose equality. If you terribly want to be equal, you have to accept everyone.

It is unfortunate that opposition politics also fail to address some of these issues. Until someone or some political force decides to embrace the true meaning of equality and inclusivity, then change will come sweeping in.

Until then, I urge you to protect what we have now. That’s the Constitution and you.