Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian


February 8, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai reminds us about being Malaysian

COMMENT by FA Abdul
http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

cina,sayur

I like going to morning wet markets. There is a lot to see and observe about the people there – the way they carry themselves, their purchase choices and how they interact with one another. I find it fascinating, especially in a multiracial, multicultural nation like ours.

The morning wet market I frequently visit is at Sea Park, Petaling Jaya. Now there’s nothing extraordinary about this market compared to others in the country – it is crowded, noisy and smelly. However, when I visited it yesterday, it resembled a fun fair – the sea of people flooding the area was unbelievable, made the merrier with tanglungs hanging overhead and the heart-thumping beat of ‘doom-doom-cha doom-doom-cha’ playing in the background.

It is Chinese New Year tomorrow! A-ha, patutlah the suasana meriah sekali! Capitalising on the festivities were many new traders who popped-up from nowhere, some even without the prerequisite stalls but employing other amusing means to display their goods.

I saw this one uncle selling inner garments from a van. He had bras and panties of every colour and size on display inside. The women milling around were understandably ecstatic with the choices before them and were eagerly examining the merchandise, haggling with the trader for the best price.

While watching them, I couldn’t resist imagining the dialogue that would ensue later that night in their homes: “Lao Po, you look sexy in that lingerie. Is that from Victoria Secret?”

“No-lah Lao Gong, it’s from a van.” And then there was an uncle who was busy emptying boxes of shoes from his old Proton Saga. Take a guess where he displayed his items – yup, on the car itself! It was a sight to behold! The entire vehicle from bonnet to boot was covered in stilettos, pumps, platforms and flip-flops. He had something for everyone. This reminded me of my childhood when mom used to wash all our school shoes and sport shoes and arrange these atop dad’s car so they dried quick. Simply classic!

Next I saw an apam balik seller operating from a minivan. His stall was the only one without any customers. Since I was in the mood for a sweet treat, I approached the abang and made my order.

“Abang, apam balik satu, extra kacang dan extra, extra jagung,” I said. As he was busy making my order, I asked curiously, “Business macamana hari ni?”

He smiled, “I baru kat sini. Kawan cakap business bagus. Tapi tak banyak customer-lah. Ini kan kawasan Cina, jadi I rasa customer Cina lebih suka beli daripada orang dia sendiri.”

As I paid for my snack, a few Chinese customers began queuing-up next to me awaiting their turn to place their orders. I looked at the abang and smiled. He returned my smile, presumably embarrassed of his racially tinged remark earlier. Perhaps if he knew the area well enough, he wouldn’t have said it.

I mean, among the many places I have lived before (including Penang), this neighbourhood is the perfect model of what I personally aspire for Malaysia. I have witnessed for myself, a kopiah-wearing old pakcik selling orchids opposite stalls selling pork. I have seen a tudung-clad makcik selling karipap and nasi lemak next to a Chinese aunty selling non-halal noodles. It’s the same with Muslim customers too, who do not hesitate strolling past stalls selling bakwa, frogs and pork. Everyone is genuinely accepting of each other and extremely friendly despite our differences.

I’ve had some pretty memorable times at this market too. Take yesterday for instance. At one point, I found myself gridlocked in a sea of sweaty bodies when two groups of market goers from opposite sides of the market merged in the centre. With elbows poking into each other’s ribs, and shopping bags bulging at our sides, one petite aunty who was among us said something exceptionally delightful.

“Don’t worry, just squeeze. You squeeze, I squeeze, everybody also squeeze. Being Malaysian is all about squeezing.” What an amazing analogy – “Being Malaysian is all about squeezing each other”. And it is so true, for Malaysians “squeeze” not only in the market, but also at the mall, on the streets, at pasar malams, in the lifts, trains, buses, LRT stations, – my gosh, most of our time is spent squeezing each other since the practice of queuing has never really caught on here.

However squeezing has its benefits too. Very often, when caught in situations like these, we find ourselves making eye contact with those nearest us, offering a smile, extending a greeting or apologising for stepping on their foot.

In such close proximity, we notice little things about others too – their hairdos, their complexions, the perfume they’re wearing, their mannerism. We wonder about their ages, their lifestyles, and we peek at their shopping trollies, surveying their purchases and thinking about the meals they will cook for their families later at home.

These bits and pieces of information give us some insight, no matter how vague of the people we share our space with in this community, and somehow make us more tolerant and respectful of them.

Personally, I have found inspiration for some of my most meaningful stories in the most common places ever – hospitals, lifts, schools, streets and yesterday, in a market.

I guess this is where the spirit of Malaysia lives – among ordinary folk.To all ordinary Malaysians, I wish you a wonderful celebration. May this year of the monkey bless you with good health and prosperity.

Gong Xi! Gong Xi!

 

My country MALAYSIA: Its PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS


February 3, 2016

My country MALAYSIA: Its PROBLEMS and SOLUTIONS

By: Kassim Ahmad

I am a patriot, a plain Kassim Ahmad, who a long time ago politely refused an UMNO offer for a datoship.Being from a poor oppressed classed, I began early as a rebel (with causes, of course!) and soon became the leader of the Malayan People’s Socialist Party (1968-1984). In 1984, seeing the collapse of international socialism in the world I left the party and made a strong patriotic statement by joining UMNO in 1986. My aim of reform could not take off. I am still an UMNO member, albeit very critical of UMNO.

On the same day when my UMNO memberhip application was approved, my widely discussed book Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula was released. After two months of extensive discussions, including an ABIM-organized public dialogue, it was banned by the religious establishment in the country.

Several state muftis penned books to rebut my book, repeating their old and tired arguments, which I have already refuted in the first place. However, I wrote another book entitled, Hadis – Jawapan kepada Pengkritik (1992), briefly dismissing the muftis’ several books, but at the same time giving more details about the Quran.

This started the movement for the review of Hadith as well as for going back to the Quran, not only in Malaysia, but internationally. Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula has since been translated into English and Arabic. I am glad to say that today the Turkish Government is undertaking a major project of Hadith re-evaluation.

I admit that I was a rebel, and still is. At the core of Malaysia’s problems is  corrupt UMNO, the backbone of its ruling BN Government. In 1946 when UMNO was first formed it was a poor idealistic Malay party embraced en mass by the Malays in their enthusiasm and quest for Merdeka.

To cut the story short, via the bloody May 13, via great Razak’s Mageran (the Council for the  Regeneration of the Country) and his extraordinary vision, Malaysia is what it is today, one of the most progressive countries among the developing world.

At the same time, as it is wont in human affairs, deterioration sets in, as complacancy grows among the ruling elite. UMNO became corrupt, and has perhaps reached the point of no return today. In this atmosphere of gloom when financial scandles abound, pessimism is in the air. Oh Lord! Do we need a second Mageran, ask the thinking part of Malaysia?

The people ask, “What are we to do? Can anything be done? Such voices rise from the depth of the soul of the people, voiced by their intellectuals, the likes of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Dr. M Bakri Musa, HRH Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan of Perak Dr. Nazrin Shah and HRH the Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail.

Yes, indeed. What is to be done? Can corrupt UMNO be reformed? Can weak Pakatan Rakyat take over? Where is our Saviour? Where is our Imam Mahdi? When is the Second-Coming (of Jesus Christ)?

Unfortunately, all these wailings are of no avail. Man has been created as God’s vicegerent on earth, to rule the earth and change it to His liking. Oh Man! Rise up to your calling! “I created you free,” God said. So wait no more! Act!

Enumerate the things you must do in order of importance. First, you must reform UMNO. Once the difficult task of reforming of UMNO is over, all other problems will be resolved: wastage in manpower in Government, increasing productivity by optimum use of assets, trimming the Government, the need for good governance, increasing salaries of lower-rung Government servants, overcoming periodic floods in some states, eliminating traffic jams by decreasing private cars and increasing and improving public transport, and doing away with tolls, and such like actions to make life more comfortable for all Malaysians.

KASSIM AHMAD is a Malaysian author. His website is www.kassimahmad.blogspot.com

Time for Malay Rulers act to stop Racism and Islamic Extremism


February 2, 2016

Time for Malay Rulers act to stop Racism and Islamic Extremism

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

“Kepada pihak berkuasa, berkas mereka yang menghasut Bangsa Johor untuk membenci dan mempromosikan perkauman. Jangan pilih kasih, cari jalan penyelesaianya ke akar umbi,” – HRH Sultan Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar

In the last few months, HRH The Sultan of Johor and HRH The Sultan of Perak  have spoken out publicly to share their concerns about the dangers of racial and religious extremism taking root in the country.

The first was HRH Sultan of Johor who in a Facebook posting in both English and Malay languages on September 15, 2015 warned:

“Let me reiterate, there is no place for hatred and racism here in Johor Darul Ta’zim.  It was never welcomed, nor will I ever welcome haters and racists here in Johor. If anyone who wants to practice hatred and racism in Johor Darul Ta’zim, the home of the Malays, Chinese and Indians- Bangsa Johor, please leave Johor immediately. That is an order!”

At last view, the posting had received 81,000 Likes; 6.900 Comments and 36,000 Shares.

Last week, the Sultan of Perak, opening a religious meeting, spoke in a similar but more urgent tone. Speaking, perhaps with his mind on the recent Islamic State-inspired Jakarta attacks which has raised fears of an expanded presence and activity by the terrorist movement in Malaysia, he warned that religion is like a time bomb which can explode, triggering chaos and catastrophe if it is sensationalized for political purposes.

He also noted that “[j]ustice must be implemented, human dignity must be respected, while the king is responsible for fulfilling the role of an arbitrator in a fair and equitable manner and willing to give space to listen and scrutinise.” Finally, in recognition of our multi-racial and multi-religious society, he emphasized that impartiality required rulers to offer the ‘shade of their umbrellas’ equally to all, irrespective of their religious affiliations.

Authorities Abetting or Discouraging Extremism

sultan-ibrahim-tmj-hajj

At the end of his post HRH Johor Sultan ordered: “To the authorities, do not take [the] soft approach against haters and racists, do not be bias[ed], get to the root of the problem, and apprehend those who create racial disharmony problems here in Johor Darul Ta’zim,”

Who are the haters and racists, and those planting the time bombs and laying the minefields of racial and religious discord? And what are the authorities doing about it?

This question, posed by numerous quarters many times in the past ten years especially after the 2008 elections, has not received the serious attention it requires.

Now that two of the country’s Rulers have come out openly, it is time for the rest of the country to have a frank and open public discourse on it.

For a start we can ask some pertinent questions. We know that politics and politicians provide much of the breeding ground for religious and racial xenophobia and hate. We also have irresponsible media outlets and rabid columnists stoking racial and religious fury and shutting the scope for moderate voices. Let’s flush them out into the open and have them explain their positions to a non-partisan independent monitoring body that is not tied to the ruling government which has a vested interest in playing politics on it. And start taking firm action against repeat offenders as demanded by HRH Sultan of Johor.

But what of our religious leaders and agencies? Are they helping to douse or fan the flames of religious fires? HRH Sultan of Perak has argued that Islamic scholars and leaders entrusted with managing the affairs of Islam must carry out their responsibilities with wisdom and justice. He has also called on them to respect the feelings of others and understand the realities of our time and place.

Is this what is taking place and are our Islamic leaders and agencies up to this challenge of being role models for our society and our time? Because Najib Razak-led UMNO-Barisan Nasional government and authorities are remiss in pursuing these questions and countering extremist racial and religious sentiment, it has been left to civil society groups and concerned individuals to take on this onerous task.

Why Shoot the Messenger

Among the most prominent of the groups expressing concern on the worsening racial and religious discord in the country is the G-25 Group of prominent Malay civil servants set up in late 2014. Since its formation, G-25 has repeatedly pushed for a rational and informed public discussion on how Islamic laws should apply in a constitutional and multi-religious democracy.

Despite receiving little encouragement from the authorities, the Group has persisted in its efforts to examine the way in which Islam is used or misused as a source of public law and policy and how this is impacting on race relations and political stability.

As part of its public scrutiny, G25 has criticized JAKIM, the federal Islamic development agency, for exercising authority beyond their appropriate jurisdiction in possible violation of the Federal Constitution and thwarting the democratic process.

For its pains, the G-25 group has been accused of being anti-Islam, anti-monarchy and anti-Malay. Most recently, threats of physical violence have been directed at the group’s spokesperson, Noor Farida Ariffin, by supporters of the status quo.

It is a concern that there has been little or no effort made by the authorities, including religious, to explain that the accusations made against the G-25 are baseless. There also appears to be no attempt made to defend G-25 members from threats of harm or in reminding the public that extremist positions against those holding contrarian views are unacceptable and punishable when they break the law. Instead various key members of G-25 are being investigated by the Police for allegedly violating the sedition law.

Royalty to the rescue?

The response to G-25 indicates that our Rulers – as heads of Islam in their respective states – may have to be the last defense against racial and religious extremism, besides being the last bastion of our moderate and liberal democracy. But even they must not leave it too late to contain the religious and racial extremism. It is time for their Royal Highness to call Prime Minister Najib Razak to account for his divisive policies

Urdu novelist, Saadar Hasan Manto, writing of the defining event in the modern history of the Indian sub-continent – the tragedy and horror of Partition in 1947 which resulted in one of the greatest forced movements of people and which continues to shape the present and future of the peoples of South Asia – has described the unleashing of religious fires in this way:

“[H]uman beings were … slaves, slaves of bigotry … slaves of religious passions…slaves of animal instincts and barbarity.”

We will be descending into our own version of partition should we fail to check religious and racial intolerance and extremism, and the horrors that come with it when communities turn against each other and Malaysia hurtles down the precipice of self destruction.

Smooth Talking and Tainted Malaysian Prime Minister


January 29, 2016

Eric Loo on Smooth Talking and Tainted Malaysian Prime Minister

http://www.malaysiakini.com

I remember an articulate, amicable but somewhat ‘flirtatious’ junior minister in the late 70s. I was then a reporter covering the energy and telco beat. Having covered a few of his press conferences, some of my peers and I wondered if the smooth talker would one day walk in his father’s shoes.

At age 23, and having graduated (?) two years earlier in industrial economics from Nottingham University in England, Najib Abdul Razak became the youngest MP in the country when he won unopposed his father’s seat in Pekan, Pahang in 1976. Two years later he was appointed deputy energy, telecommunications and post minister.

In an emotional tribute at Abdul Razak Hussein’s 40th death anniversary recently, Najib said his father “was not concerned with the trappings of office… the country and his work were all that mattered… and his deep commitment to the development of all Malaysians.” Like many Malaysians, though, watching the video clip, I was not moved.

The Prime Minister had said likewise in a 2012 documentary ‘A Leader’s Legacy: Tun Abdul Razak’: “I have a sense of pride knowing my father passed away in the service of the nation. There can be no other service greater than that.” Indeed.

Fast forward to 2016, these keywords have come to mark Najib’s leadership – Altantuya (Shaariibuu), Scorpene submarines, government executive jets, Rosmah Mansor’s alleged lavish lifestyle, 1MDB debt, RM2.6 billion, falling ringgit, and various scandals listed in the Corruption Tracker.

Malaysia is ranked third in the crony capitalism index in 2014 after Hong Kong and Russia. Global perception of public sector corruption remains bleak, according to Transparency International.

Najib’s tenure, as portrayed in the alternative news portals, has been stained by more scandals, worsening racial politics and uncontrolled religious fanaticism reflected in the hundreds of IS-supporters arrested, than achieved any of his reformist goals he proudly declared in 2009.

“To achieve our country’s long-term ambitions we need not only policy renewal, but political and institutional renewal,” he told journalists at the start of his prime ministership (Malam Wartawan, Policy, Politics and the Media – A New Way Forward, April 6, 2009).

A Parrot Speaking–Renew Our Democracy

“As I said in my first hours as Prime Minister, we need to renew our democracy, ensuring that our institutions, our parties and our public servants are responsive to the needs of all the people; working for the public interest, not narrow opportunism or political interests. Together, we must establish a new national discourse: on the principles of transparency and accountability; service to all, not just the few; and respect and fairness in the public dialogue.”

Vital to have a Machiavellian streak

A man is only as good as his words. In politics, though, besides the gift for lofty speech, which our prime minister clearly has, and perceived integrity and honour, which the prime minister sadly lacks in the public eye, Najib has proven that it’s as vital to have a Machiavellian streak. Here’s what he said at the last UMNO general assembly:

“We in this assembly must continue to lift the position and place importance to people of Malay descent and other bumiputeras, in their own homeland… UMNO’s efforts over the years have changed the landscape of the Malays and bumiputeras for the better… we have achieved vertical social mobility within just one generation.

“The children of labourers have become ministers; the children of rubber tappers have become deputy ministers and chief ministers; the children of fishermen have become menteris besar; the children of farmers and gardeners became secretaries-general, leading scholars, corporate members and community leaders.”–Janus-Faced Najib Razak

What about the children from non-bumiputera families, Prime Minister? Najib presents a moderate persona on the international stage and assumes an inclusive agenda at regional summits. But unashamedly he projects a messianic disposition at various Umno general assemblies. Portraying himself as the strongman and saviour of the Malays, he said this at the last assembly in December:

“If UMNO is rejected, this country will be ruled by those who are against the Islamic struggle and who reject the Malay and bumiputera agenda… Disaster will befall us. Do we want the future of our children and grandchildren and the Islamic religion to be left to other than the existing Malay and Islamic leadership?”–Najib Razak

Entering office on a cultural transformation reformist agenda, Najib will exit steering the country down the low road of racist politics as exemplified by the likes of Syed Ali Alhabshee who ranted that the Malays are “selling themselves and the pride of their race” to the Chinese if they were to run for election under the DAP ticket.

How do the Syed Ali Alhabshees in UMNO get the audacity to spit such nonsense, if not for being emboldened by the double-speak and chameleon-like leadership of the Prime Minister?

Najib Abdul Razak cannot by any moral standards talk about national unity, and living up to his father’s legacy and lineage (perhaps alluding to his uncle, Hussein Onn, the country’s third Prime Minister) when his conduct, and that of his UMNO minions, continues to manipulate the heartlanders into believing that only under UMNO will the Malays prosper.

A chronic political disease

It’s common for politicians to go back on their words for personal gains, especially come election time. But when cover-ups, spin and lies predominate among the incumbents, it becomes a chronic political disease, terminal in Najib’s case.

The trust deficit in the government, largely caused by Najib’s consistent refusal to condemn the Islamist ideologues, and his manipulative racial politics at UMNO general assemblies will see him go down as a prime minister who gave a new twisted meaning to Abraham Lincoln’s famous phrase ‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.’ Perish we may if things continue to slide.

While Abdul Razak’s attempt at national reconciliation in the aftermath of the 1969 race riots was noble and right, the poor implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) since 1971 has created a situation where the politically connected, the Umnoputras, are getting richer, while the heartlanders in the kampung are left scratching for the crumbs.

Like all politicians, Najib would have started his political life as a 23-year-old lawmaker with high ideals to serve the people, to govern for the people, to continue his father’s work, and to make him proud. But like many politicians, the addiction to power and the temptation of wealth can change one’s perspectives, priorities and position in life.

Now, respectfully, I wonder about the Prime Minister’s emotional tribute to his father. Would Najib be thinking then: “Why am I not like my father? Would he be proud of me? Would my leadership over the last six years be any different if my father was around to mentor me? Where did I go wrong? What can I do to get out of this rut? What can I do, bapa?” We should be moved.


ERIC LOO worked as a journalist and taught journalism in Malaysia from the late 1970s to 1986. He is now Honorary Senior Fellow in Journalism at University of Wollongong in Australia. Email: eloo@uow.edu.au

 

Thaipusam–An Occasion to celebrate Our Diversity


January 28, 2018

Thaipusam–An Occasion to celebrate Our Diversity

by Emmanuel Joseph

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

For as long as Thaipusam has been celebrated in Malaysia on a large scale, it has been as much a community celebration as a religious observation.

The million devotees thronging Batu Caves, paying their homage to Lord Muruga, along with tourists and visitors who visit the many enterprising trade booths and stalls that pop up on cue – selling food and drinks, clothes, prayer items, household goods, video tapes, and for good measure, TV channels and radio.

Thaipusam and Batu Caves is no stranger to politics either. With the eyes of 1.8 million Hindu population on it, politicians from both sides would be eager to be seen being a significant part of it.

During the height of the Hindraf movement, a call to boycott Batu Caves by the Hindraf leaders saw the number of visitors dip to well below half the usual crowd. Even till today, the temple committee chairman is said to be in a legal argument with one of the five Hindraf leaders.

As with any religious celebration or any large gathering for that matter, the people converging on Batu Caves would of course cause some traffic issues with the road closures, diversions, increase in volume of vehicles and naturally, parking of those vehicles.

This has hardly been an issue in the last hundred years or so, but in a present day Malaysia where everything is racialised, politicised and radicalised, in either or both directions, it was a matter of time before Thaipusam joined the bandwagon of non-issues-overnight-turned-into-important-national-issues.

After all, some quarters had already questioned the large statue of Lord Murugan that was built. Even the good God’s image, now synonymous with Batu Caves, on mineral water bottle packaging was not spared the wrath of mortals, too.

And now similar quarters’ beef with the Hindus celebrating Thaipusam is the traffic jams it causes. But such arguments aren’t really a fair reasoning. Every religion in Malaysia have feasts, religious celebrations and observations from time to time.

We all have our famous pastors, preachers, healers, gurus and saints who visit us and cause similar road closures and inconveniences. Even some atheists with no such gods, do contribute to traffic jams in the form of IKEA launches, free Furby giveaways at McDonald’s, Michael Buble performances or whenever Shell decides to do a Lego promotion or Big Bad Wolf decides to do a book fair.

If traffic jams are that much of a bother to some, perhaps we should reconsider celebrating National Day or New Year or any one of the dozen or so events that occasionally leave clueless motorists circling KL looking for an alternative road to get to the office on a random Monday morning, wondering why there are barricades closing off Dataran Merdeka.

Traffic jams like those are actually productive in a way. They indicate some economic activity is happening at that locality and that money is changing hands. Ornsome buzz is being created, which is quite welcome when job markets are shrinking, salary scales narrowing and donations and handouts are scarce to come by, at least for the ordinary public.

But like everything else in Malaysia, not all traffic jams are created equal.Some traffic jams appear to create nothing but delayed arrivals, elevated blood pressure and lowered petrol meter readings.

While some appear to be unable to tolerate once-a-year events, Malaysians in general are highly tolerant of this urban ritual that tests our faith and patience every morning at Damansara, Jalan Duta, Bangsar, Subang, and almost every step of the way to KL after the Batu Tiga toll on the Federal Highway.

While some traffic jams should be tolerated out of respect for religious beliefs and in the spirit of living together as Malaysians, in that same spirit, perhaps it’s time to put a stop to tolerating traffic jams we do not have to. Malaysians should stop having to pay for the sins of those who do poor city and road planning.

Malaysia: All Hype and Shadows in Sarawak Politics


January 21, 2016

Malaysia: All Hype and Shadows in Sarawak Politics

by James Chin

http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2016/01/18/sarawaks-wayang-kulit/

In the lead up to state elections, old masters still rule from the shadows and stand to gain the most from the vote.

adenan-satem

Last week, Adenan Satem, the Chief Minister of Sarawak, announced that his right-wing Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (United Traditional Bumiputera Party, or PBB) will contest 40 of the 82 constituencies in upcoming state elections. The casual remark to the press was no accident and was highly significant for several reasons.

Adenan is signalling that the state elections will most probably be held in March or April this year. More importantly, by telling the world the number of PBB candidates, the incumbent Chief Minister is signalling that politics in Sarawak has not changed since he took over in February 2014. PBB has dominated Sarawak politics since 1970, and nothing has changed since Adenan’s much-hyped takeover in early 2014.

In every state elections since the 1990s, PBB has contested just below 50 per cent of seats. In both the 2006 and 2011 state elections, PBB contested (and won) 35 of 71 seats in the Sarawak Dewan Undangan Negri (DUN or State Assembly).  The implications are clear – PBB can rule on its own at any time, but does not grab more than 50 per cent of the seats to show its commitment to the multiracial, four-party Sarawak Barisan Nasional. In fact, it is widely known that some of the winning candidates in the other Sarawak BN parties are “on loan” from PBB or closet PBB members. Thus covertly, PBB controls more than half the seats in the DUN Dewan Undangan Negeri –State Assembly)

Some context is necessary here. When Adenan took over two years ago, there were expectations that he would reverse some of the excesses involving Taib Mahmud, his predecessor (now Governor). Taib’s widely-reported kleptocracy was reaching a point where even Putrajaya was embarrassed by the constant news reports of his wealth overseas. In Malaysia alone, Taib and his family allegedly owned more than 400 companies, while his holding overseas was conservatively estimated to be around US $15 billion. One website, Sarawak Report, and an NGO, the Bruno Manser Fund, were largely responsible for exposing the extent of his hidden wealth overseas.

Despite all the evidence, Taib was untouchable for a very simple reason. Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, needed him to stay in power after the 2013 General Elections. Razak’s UMNO party won 88 seats while Taib’s Sarawak BN delivered 25 seats. Without Sarawak BN, Najib would have been out of power. Taib’s PBB is currently the second largest party in the federal Barisan Nasional coalition.

One year later, in February 2014, Taib was sworn in as Sarawak’s Governor and Adenan, his hand-picked successor, became Chief Minister. Make no mistake; Adenan was a pair of ‘safe hands’. He was married previously to Taib’s sister and he went to school at St Joseph’s in the state capital Kuching with Taib. Adenan even went to the same university (University of Adelaide) and graduated in the same degree (law). Adenan later served for more than two decades in Taib’s cabinet.

Like Taib, Adenan is a master tactician when it comes to Sarawak politics. He understands that Sarawakians (and Malaysians) have short memories. Rather than addressing the issue of Taib’s misdeeds, Adenan went for something that all Sarawakians strongly agree on — Sarawak has gotten a rotten deal in the Malaysian Federation.

For the past decade, resentment grew among Sarawakians that their state got very little after helping to establish the Malaysian Federation in 1963. The consensus is that Sarawak does not fit into the UMNO’s model of ‘Malay First, Islam First’  governance and that Sarawak would be much better off had it opted for independence.

This wave of Sarawak nationalism could not come at a more opportune time for Adenan, Taib and Sarawak BN. Using Sarawak nationalism gives Adenan two key political advantages. First it gives him the right to shout “Get non-Sarawak parties out of Sarawak. Sarawak for Sarawakians” (better known as S4S), knowing full well that the biggest threat to Sarawak BN are the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR).

Although these two parties are part of their national party, in truth they have a lot of autonomy when it comes to Sarawak issues. However, many people are excited about the need to keep Sarawak-based parties in power and to “kick-out Malayan” parties. At present Adenan’s Sarawak BN component parties are all Sarawak-based.

Second, playing the Sarawak nationalism card allows Adenan to deflect all the unresolved corruption issues related to Taib. Adenan claims that he is in charge, and that things are changing. But in reality, all Taib-related companies continue to get government contracts, and all the projects and dams supported by the Taib administration remain in place.

Adenan will not, as the locals say, ‘lawan towkay’ (challenge the boss) who in Sarawak remains Taib.Taib’s master political move was to simply shift upstairs to the Governorship and control the state from the shadows.  Sarawakians, especially those in the rural areas, seem to think that Adenan is really in charge now that his picture appears daily on the front page of local Sarawak papers.

There is little doubt that Adenan and Sarawak BN will win big in this year’s vote.  In the last state election, Sarawak BN won 55 of 71 seats. Thirteen of the 16 seats won by the opposition were in urban, largely Chinese-majority constituencies. A repeat is expected in the 2016 race.

Sarawak DAP is still the undisputed champion of the urban Chinese, but Adenan’s personal popularity coupled with the Sarawak nationalism card will mean it will be tough for Sarawak DAP’s dream of moving into native and semi-urban constituencies. There is even the possibility that Adenan’s popularity will lead to reduced majorities for DAP in Chinese seats.

But, the two big winners for the upcoming polls will be Najib Razak and Taib Mahmud.Najib can claim some credit for Sarawak BN’s victory given that he has given leeway for Adenan to condemn UMNO publicly in Sarawak. Adenan often openly speaks negatively about UMNO’s race politics in Sarawak and vows not to allow UMNO into Sarawak. This is wildly popular among the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” crowd.

In fact, it is so popular that the main NGO behind the S4S campaign was forced to support Adenan’s call for complete autonomy from Putrajaya, effectively supporting the Sarawak BN and Taib.  A strong showing by Adenan will reinforce Najib’s claim that he can rely on the “fixed deposit” from East Malaysia in the next general elections.

The ultimate winner is Taib Mahmud. Despite all the negative news reports, police reports, documentaries, and worldwide campaigns, he is still untouchable and sitting pretty in the Astana Palace. He is probably more “successful” than either Suharto or Marcos. The only contemporary leader who comes close to what Taib has “achieved” is Hun Sen of Cambodia.

Najib’s 1MDB shenanigans are peanuts compared to Taib and his family’s wealth but attracts all the attention. Is it any wonder that Taib’s nickname is White Rajah of Sarawak?

James Chin is Director, Asia Institute, University of Tasmania