‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

March 17, 2018

‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

by Manjit Bahtia
Published on
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    Prime Minister Najib Razak met Mel at Taxpayers’  Expense

COMMENT | “When you know someone is a thief, you stay away from him,” Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Beverley O’Connor, host of “The World” programme by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.

Mahathir, of course, was referring to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is spending a long-weekend junket in Sydney at the ASEAN Heads of Government hot-air talk-shop – again at the expense of Malaysian taxpayers.

Thief isn’t the only label Mahathir used to describe Najib. He also called him a “monster”. There are far better labels for Najib and for UMNO-BN members. “Monster” is an appropriate enough metaphor. But beyond labels, Malaysia has a serious international image problem.

There was a time when Malaysia was known to the world for Mahathir’s neo-nationalist Malay brand of loud-mouthness. That’s whenever he railed against, say, Singapore, his racist rants against Jews and Malaysia’s British colonial masters – the very lot who taught him how to “divide-and-rule” his own multiracial citizens. Mahathir single-handedly made the term ‘citizen’ a profoundly dirty word.

Malaysia became even more famous after Mahathir cooked up “facts” to jail his then protégé Anwar Ibrahim and chucked him in prison. When top cop Abdul Rahim Noor black-eyed Anwar in jail, Mahathir merely shrugged in the “saya tidak peduli” manner.

Now Anwar and Mahathir have become bosom buddies in a double-act to exorcise from Malaysia’s ripped-asunder soul Najib.


The Mahathir hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed, as O’Connor reminded Mahathir.  Mahathir responded sheepishly, with the tiniest regret. He said it is more important to look forward to the future to overthrow the great big thief in their midst and an Umno that has moved so far to the right of its 1946 “objectives” that both the party and its president are rotten to its core.

Mahathir said UMNO has been destroying itself from within, that Najib “has destroyed” the original UMNO and that the party exists solely to support its President and an authoritarian regime.

Note that Mahathir never mentioned any of UMNO’s coalition partners-in-crime. Nonetheless, the mission now, as everybody knows, is for the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan cavalry to lead the charge and rout UMNO before Najib and his band of crooks rob the country blind.

Nothing new in all this. The lineage and the so-called discourse (whatever discourse means) and the battle-cries go right back to 1969 – the year democracy in Malaysia died after a long-simmering brain snap.

My friend S Thayaparan, a Malaysiakini columnist – whom I’ve never met – has been at great pains recently to make the case that “Malaysian voters” must stand up and save the country. If there’s a certain urgency in Mahathir’s determination, there’s equal stridency in Thayaparan.

But there’s also a problem. In fact more than one problem. First, the electoral system, run by the Election Commission, is not chartered to ensure full and fair elections; it remains chartered to ensure fully foul elections.


It’s also chartered not to uphold democracy, even democracy with Malaysian characteristics, but to maintain a Malay-led kleptocratic authoritarian regime that thinks it is above the constitution, therefore above the law. The regime is the law since rule of law has ceased to exist for nearly half a century.

Second, Mahathir had for 22+ years presided over just such a regime when he led it. He – more than Abdul Razak, Hussein Onn and Mahathir’s successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – had every time turned a blind eye to every skin-flake of known or rumoured corruption within his UMNO, his regime, his Malay-dominated bureaucracy and Police, and among the coterie of Malay, Chinese and Indian cronies or oligarchs he’d nurtured.

Those accused or nabbed, like Perwaja Steel’s Eric Chia, “somehow” managed to get off scot-free. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how.

Not when the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary, as a democracy would like to have it, disappeared virtually overnight under Mahathir. Yet here he is crying that Najib has violated everything decent and, worse, he’s getting away with it.

‘Muhibbah’ only in name 

Something else is worth remembering. What Najib is doing – centralising structural and institutional power in his hands through what I’ve called the UMNO-Leninist state – is very much the same thing Mahathir was doing when he ran the place like a dictator. Or close enough to one. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Third, the desperation among “Malaysians” opposed to the regime is perfectly understandable. The desperation for the coalition of opposition parties, Pakatan Harapan, is also perfectly understandable.

To go as far as enlisting Mahathir is one thing; to make him the leader of the pack and, more, Prime Minister if Harapan should win, is unthinkable.


The man who created the 21st century monster of Malaysia, among the many other monsters who clutter the regime from across the ruling coalition, was Mahathir. He gave each one of them long enough rope to enrich themselves, heeding Deng Xiaoping’s dictum. Najib too embraced the licence. Najib’s “living the good life,” Mahathir put it on television. So are Mahathir’s cronies and nepotists.

Mahathir can’t have it both ways. He needs to own up to the past wrongs when the rot started to really set in. Mahathir now says Malaysia needs to reset good governance by ridding the country of Najib et al. Fine.

But (a) what good governance did Mahathir bring to Malaysia when he was Prime Minister? And (b) he must not become Prime Minister a second time, not even as a seat-warmer for Anwar.

The King of Malaysia has a duty to the country. All the Sultans do. The King knows Najib has been ripping off Malaysia; he cannot continue to sit on his hands and wait for ridiculously pointless protocols before pardoning Anwar – if he dares to pardon Anwar at all. But he must if he does not want his country monster-ised further.

Anwar at the helm gives Harapan the legitimacy it needs to fight the elections. This is not to suggest Anwar (photo) is unproblematic. Even with Anwar at the tiller isn’t a sufficient condition to rule.

Thayaparan says “all Malaysians” must vote, that they must do their bit. I would agree if I knew just who “all Malaysians” were – another point Thayaparan missed in my letter. Show me one “all Malaysian”.

Here’s what I see. Here’s what I’ve always seen. And on my last visit to Malaysia very recently I saw this much more clearly.

There’s no “all Malaysian”. There are no “all Malaysians”. There are Malays, Chinese, Indians and so on – discrete ethno-tribal, sociological, economic and political units separated by competition between race, religion and ideology.

The old story. I don’t need to tell you this. The ruling coalition is also dominated by similar units separated by race and religion. So, too, Pakatan Harapan.As we do in primary math addition, this will be carried over into the future.

Therein lies Malaysia’s core problem. The country might be able to solve some of the economic divisions that rift the people, but it can’t and it won’t solve every one of them or every other accompanying problem until competition between race, religion and ideology is resolved.

“Muhibbah” exists but only in name. Always has since 1969. Najib, UMNO and their BN clan know this and they’ll play this up to the hilt, no matter what the fallout.

There are many other problems that will inevitably be brought into general election No 14 from GE13. Many are beholden to UMNO-BN. Some are also evident, again, in the opposition.

Like it or not, Harapan is divisive because it is itself divided. In fact – and I agree with Thayaparan – Harapan looks woefully inadequate. It hasn’t learnt from its mistakes from GE-13. Those mistakes were fundamental, starting with its rather lame manifesto.

Harapan may have done better than expected in that election but it can’t hope for the same lucky streak in GE-14 to break the proverbial UMNO-BN camel’s back once and for all.

It would be wonderful if it does but UMNO has some things on its side, and a certain important – no, critical – momentum that Harapan would wish it has too. It won’t if it keeps carrying on like it has. But Mahathir isn’t the answer.

MANJIT BHATIA, an Australian, is a US-based academic, researcher and analyst specialising in Asian and international economics, political economy and international relations. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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


Extolling China, demonising Chinese

March 15, 2018

Extolling China, demonising Chinese

by  Ambassador (rtd) Dennis Ignatius

Extolling China, demonising Chinese

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Last week, the Interdisciplinary Research and International Strategy Institute launched its latest publication, Pen’China’an Malaysia: Tergadaikah Tanah Kedaulatan Bangsa? [The Sinicisation of Malaysia: Is Malay sovereignty being mortgaged?, according to one translation].

It turned out to be yet another Malay supremacist gathering masquerading as an academic event.

Bogeymen and brothers

Interestingly, the book itself opens with a chapter on the influence of the Jewish diaspora, a hint perhaps that there is a parallel between the Jewish diaspora and the Chinese diaspora. Linking two of the Malay world’s favourite bogeymen – Jews and Chinese – strengthens, I suppose, the siege mentality necessary for bigotry to thrive.

Going by press reports, the panelists who were assembled to discuss the book used the opportunity to censure Malaysian Chinese, with speaker after speaker questioning their loyalty and commitment.

PERKASA’s Deputy President, for example, warned that the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia posed a threat to the Malays. Noting that “we have seven million Chinese here, four million in Singapore, six to seven million in Thailand,” he went on to argue, rather absurdly, that “the thinking of the Chinese is stereotyped…the Chinese in China and those here all think the same.”

The implications were clear enough: the Chinese diaspora are potential fifth columnists for a resurgent China.

Other speakers seemed to readily agree. “All the Chinese in the world are brothers…so they will fall along with Beijing,” a lecturer from the Islamic Science University was quoted as saying.

ISMA’s Deputy President also questioned the allegiance of Malaysian Chinese while suggesting that their contributions during the Emergency were exaggerated.

Bigotry and Ignorance 

The fabricated and racist narrative that Malaysian Chinese cannot be trusted, that they are ungrateful, that they remain an existential threat to the nation, that their contributions to national development are overblown, is now so ingrained among certain segments of our society that it has become an article of faith.

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It does not help, of course, that UMNO itself regularly reinforces this narrative as it did recently with its outrageous attacks against Robert Kuok.

I suppose there is some truth to the dictum of Joseph Goebbels (Hitler’s propaganda minister) that, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it and you will even come to believe it yourself.”

As might be expected, the panelists offered no real evidence to back up their arguments, including the contention that “all Chinese think the same;” they, however, offered plenty of evidence that all bigots are cut from the same cloth.

In the end, one is left with the unmistakable conclusion that all this palaver is simply about Malay supremacy; the Chinese are mere convenient scapegoats.

China and Chinese

To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about the growing influence of China in the wake of burgeoning bilateral political, economic and military ties.

Clearly, there is a pressing need for a rational debate about our relations with China to ensure that it serves our national interests above all else and that it is driven by national priorities rather than political expediency or the interests of a few well-connected Malay cronies.

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Now we know why: UMNO is a Malay supremacist political party

Like it or not, China is a neighbour, a global power and a major trading partner. Good relations are not an option but a necessity. Building a national consensus on the issue is, therefore, essential if we are to develop stable and mutually-beneficial relations with China.

And integral to this effort is the need for a clear distinction between China and Malaysian Chinese. China is a foreign country, we may agree or disagree with its policies; Malaysian Chinese are fellow “sons and daughters of Malaysia” (to quote from  Prime Minister Najib’s Lunar New Year message) and should never be treated with suspicion or contempt simply by virtue of their ethnicity.

Hounds and hares


In any case, it is ironic that a Malay supremacist political party (UMNO) spearheads the push for closer strategic ties with China and the loyalty of Malaysian Chinese are questioned. Well-connected cronies get the contracts and local Chinese get the blame.

UMNO and its fellow travelers are clearly running with the hares and hunting with the hounds, extolling the benefits of good relations with China (and profiting from it) while exploiting the insecurity it generates among unthinking followers.

Our nation might be better served if all those who are zealous for its honour look a little closer to home – at the theft of public funds, the abuse of power, the betrayal of trust, the violation of our constitution – instead of focusing on superficial and self-serving definitions of loyalty that divide and diminish our nation and unjustifiably alienate so much of our citizenry.

Dennis Ignatius | Kuala Lumpur | 14th March 2018

Malaysia: PH or BN, what is the difference?

March 8, 2018

PH or BN, what is the difference?–Malay-centric New Economic Policy will continue

By Kua Kia Soong


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I believe young Malaysians like Wan Saiful Wan Jan should have a go at the political game, which is like a merry-go-round at a fun fair, and that the ageing politicians who have been hogging the horses for nearly half a century should get off and let other youngsters have a go.

Having said that, I expected young intellectuals like Wan Saiful would at least have some intellectual honesty to avoid the discredited road of race-based parties which have been the bane of Malaysian society since independence. He has joined the “Pribumi” party which is not only closed to “non-Pribumis” like myself, but is led by Malaysia’s most well-known autocrat and father of crony capitalism.

Now why does an erstwhile “liberal” like Wan Saiful want to exclude a fellow Malaysian and human being from his party? After all, isn’t liberalism a political philosophy founded on ideas of liberty and equality? So, what has happened to his liberal thinking?

Image result for Malaysia's New economic policyHe is not Malay, but a Bumiputera who is being sidelined


Furthermore, he now states that the Malay agenda remains relevant and any change will come slowly. That is great for the Malay crony capitalists who have been milking the country all these years since May 13, 1969. It is also a very effective populist ideology to get “Pribumi” votes in elections.

Looks like PH still wants Malay agenda

This is all bad news for those who have been dreaming the Malaysian dream of equality, justice and democracy.

Image result for Mahathir the Malay UltraThe Malay–eccentric Liberal Democrat leads Pakatan Harapan (Hope Coalition)


I have been monitoring Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) statements and I have observed a loud silence on the extension of the New Economic Policy.

Now with PH having embraced the leader of PPBM as the prospective Prime Minister, I can bet anybody that there will be no mention of an end to the NEP in PH’s 14th general election (GE14) manifesto when it is announced.

This is indeed bad news for those who had hopes of a more liberal economic policy and for all who have criticised the government for its racially discriminatory economic and educational policies.

Wan Saiful, who is supposed to be their policy maker, has already said as much: “But now, having entered party politics, I am more or less resigned to the fact that the (Malaysian Agenda) you are talking about is not going to happen in my lifetime as this is in the constitutional provision.”

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Wan Saiful said while PH must maintain its idealism, it also needs to prioritise the reforms that it can push through.

First, as a policy maker, Wan Saiful should be reminded that the so-called “Malay Agenda” was twisted from its 1957 form to a different “Bumiputera” form in 1971 with amendment 8A to Article 153 which allowed the quota system and all the other excesses of racial discrimination.

Apart from anything else, the term “Bumiputera” is not even in our independence constitution. Does Wan Saiful not remember that the 1971 NEP had an expiry date of 1990? Can the Malay elite keep changing the rules as they go along?

So how does the ‘Malay Agenda’ operate?

The Bumiputera/immigrant differentiation to justify racial discrimination against non-Bumiputeras continues to be peddled by the ruling Malay elite right up to the present day.

By some conceptual trick, these favoured people are defined as strictly “Malays” no matter where they come from (even Kerala or the Middle East) and therefore qualify as “Bumiputeras” who are entitled to special “rights”. PPBM may have another conceptual trick up its sleeve; we don’t know yet.

It is astounding that the bugbear that was thrown into the independence struggle to put the anti-colonial forces on the defensive – viz who are the “pribumi” (indigenous people) and who are the “pendatang” (immigrants)? – continues to be thrown at Malaysians in order to divide our nation to the present day.

The keepers of the pribumi estate overlooked an elementary point of logic – namely, how could a “non-pribumi” become a “pribumi” simply by assimilating when the latter is strictly a historical category?

Isn’t it amazing that with all the current hype about the “1Malaysia” slogan, this reference to non-Malay Malaysians as immigrants continues unabated?

These Malay elites are obsessed with race which is not surprising when there is so much at stake for them in terms of economic gain. Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “Malay Dilemma” is rooted in that paradigm.

This obsession with race has little currency in the anthropology or sociology disciplines, not to speak of human rights in the international community.

Roland Braddel, former President of the Council of the Malayan Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society and once legal adviser to Umno has pointed out: “There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as the Malay race; there are Malay people, the Malay culture and the Malay language, etc.”

A liberal intellectual should know that.

Needs-based, not race-based policies

It still amazes me that intellectuals in the government cannot conceive of ways to help the poor and marginalised without raising the issue of race.

With all those years of training in the UK, is Wan Saiful really incapable of proposing policies that are not race-based? Admit that the so-called “Malay Agenda” is really a populist agenda to secure votes in the elections and not because there is no other choice.

Sixty years of racially-based policies have divided us while enriching the well-connected crony capitalists linked to the political elite.

It is time to replace race-based policies with needs-based measures that target the lower-income and marginalised sectors.

The NEP was scheduled to end in 1990 but has become a populist, never-ending policy to win over the Bumiputeras while benefiting mainly the political elite.

It is common sense that poor rural Malaysians should be assisted based on their needs according to the particular economic sectors in which they live and work.

Today, with the lack of ethnic diversity in the civil and armed forces, it is high time that recruitment and promotion in these services are based on merit.

As a policy maker, Wan Saiful will no doubt be familiar with international reports that point to a compelling need for Malaysia to shift from a race-based to a needs-based policy in order to address imbalances in society and improve the democratic process to ensure good governance and rule of law.

With the “Malay Agenda”, Malaysia’s economic progress continues to be plagued by a lack of innovation and skills, a low level of investments in technology, declining standards in education, relatively high labour costs and sluggish growth in productivity.

The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

According to the World Bank: “The diaspora likely reached about one million people in 2010, compared to about 750,000 in 2000… the brain drain is estimated at a third of the total diaspora. This translates into a number of 335,000 in 2010, which is up from 217,000 in 2000.”

While the Chinese middle class in Malaysia has largely adapted to this public-sector discrimination by finding ways to make a living in the private sector, this has not been so easy for working-class Indians, Chinese and other marginalised communities including the Orang Asli.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through an affirmative action policy based on need, sector or class, never on race.

Kua Kia Soong is the adviser for Suaram.

Pro-UMNO Ummah: Get Your Facts Right

January 16, 2018

Pro-UMNO Ummah: Get Your Facts Right


by  Anith Adilah

Macva president Major Tan Pau Son during Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association press conference at  The Boulevard Mid Valley City January 15, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus LatifMacva President Major Tan Pau Son during Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association press conference at The Boulevard Mid Valley City January 15, 2018.

Ethnic Chinese army veterans have railed against Malay-Muslim coalition Ummah today over the latter’s erroneous claim that only Malays had resisted British colonists, Japanese occupiers and Communist insurgents.

At a press conference today, Malaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association (Macva) President Major (Rtd) Tan Pau Son said cleric Ismail Mina Ahmad’s remarks were not only historically and factually wrong, but had belittled the contributions of the non-Malay veterans including the Ibans, Indians, Sikhs.

“We participated in defending our country and some of us still have scars to show that we were there — risking our lives,” Tan told a press conference at Mavca headquarters at Midvalley Boulevard here.

Tan said Mavca, with a membership close to 1,000 veterans since inception on August 31, 2016, and thousands who have passed on before them is a true testimony of a large group of Chinese veterans who had served loyally in military campaigns.

“Needless to say there were also Chinese veterans who sadly lost their lives and limbs in the defence of the nation. All Malaysians should rebutt all these inaccurate and irresponsible assertions made by Ismail,” he said.

iMalaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association pose for group photo after press conference at The Boulevard Mid Valley City January 15, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus LatifMalaysian Armed Forces Chinese Veterans Association pose for group photo after press conference at The Boulevard Mid Valley City January 15, 2018. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Tan also pointed out that there were six Chinese members of the armed forces who were bestowed with the Panglima Gagah Berani medals for their extreme bravery: Colonel Maurice Lam Shye Choon, Major (Rtd) Lee Ah Pow, Second Lieutenant (Rtd) David Fu Chee Ming, Sergeant (Rtd) Choo Woh Soon, Sergeant Cheng Eng Chin, and Ranger Mat Isa Hassan.

Meanwhile, three others, Lieutenant Colonel Chong Kheng Ley, Lieutenant Colonel Leong Fook Cheong, and Captain Tien Sen An, were awarded Pingat Tentera Udara for their valour.

“We have Chinese veterans who receive gallantry awards and this alone is a testament that the Malays were not the only ones who protected the nation,” he said.

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On Saturday, Ismail who is the chairman of the Ummah umbrella group for Muslim organisations, also asserted that only the Malays had battled the Communists, which he claimed made the community a target of the predominantly-Chinese Insurgency that lasted for forty years.

One particular war veteran who narrowly escaped death while fighting a battle in Southern Thailand in 1978, said he was hurt and angered by Ismail’s remarks in the convention outlining the demands of the Muslim lobby.


Warrant Officer Patrick Lee Kai Tong said Ismail’s statement was not only ignorant but hurtful to armed forces who had witnessed countless deaths and suffered various injuries in the name of the country.

Lee, now 71, walks around with a hole in his left arm after being shot by the communists who had zeroed in on the Nuri helicopter he was in while landing to provide ammunition supply to his own troop.

“Does he even know what it is like to be in a warzone? He can say what he want but do not hurt people’s feelings,” Lee said.

“Maybe this scar from an M-16 is not enough for me to prove that I was there fighting for the country but know that every memory, every death — even the smell of it stays with me.”

Tan also chided Ismail for conveniently forgetting that there were many Malay members among the Communist insurgents.

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“In Ismail’s speech, he failed to mention that the 10th Regiment Malayan Communist Party was predominantly a Malay regiment unit operating in the jungles of Northern Malaysia and Southern Thailand. The leader was Abdullah CD and his followers Suriani Abdullah, Shamsiah Fakeh, Abu Samah Mohamad Kassim and Rashid Maidin,” Tan said.

Stay Engaged Politically to survive another year of Troll-in-Chief DJ Trump by John Cassidy

January 4, 2018

Stay Engaged Politically to survive another year of Troll-in-Chief DJ Trump

by John Cassidy


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The Trumpf
By 10:30 in the morning on the first workday of 2018, the Troll-in-Chief had already used his Twitter account to lash out at Iran, Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin, Kim Jong Un, the New York Times, Democrats, and his own Justice Department. He had also claimed credit for the fact that there had been no fatalities anywhere in the world on commercial jets in 2017. (“Since taking office I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation.”) On Tuesday night, he posted what may have been his nuttiest tweet yet, boasting that his “Nuclear Button” was bigger and more effective than the one Kim claimed to have on his desk.
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Malaysia’s Troll and D’Trumpf–2 of a kind

Is Trump ever going to zip it in 2018? Of course not. He lives in his own febrile and self-centered world, where the traditional rules of political discourse don’t apply. Since any thought of him changing is fanciful, we are in for another year of enervating acrimony at home and unnerving jitters on the international front. As the Russia investigation continues, Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill and in the conservative media will step up their efforts to discredit Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and his team. As the controversy about professional football players kneeling during the national anthem fades, Trump will also be on the lookout for new racial issues that he can use to rile up his base. And, as long as he follows the G.O.P. line on policy issues, the Party’s leaders on Capitol Hill will continue to support him and make excuses for his behavior.

That isn’t a complete tour of the 2018 horizon, however. In addition to lamenting Trump, the more important (and more rewarding) thing will be to respond to him politically. Last year, large numbers of Americans did just that—marching in protests, lobbying their elected representatives, making whatever financial contributions they could, and campaigning in local political elections. Come January 20th, many of these Trump antagonists will be back on the streets, taking part in this year’s Women’s March. (More than two hundred and fifty marches and events are planned.)

Although some commentators have lamented the opposition to Trump as evidence of growing political polarization, it actually indicates healthy democratic resistance to a rogue President, who, in the words of Martin Wolf, of the Financial Times, “violates the behaviour and attitudes the world expects of a US president” on a daily basis. And this year, unlike 2017, will provide an opportunity to deliver a rebuke of Trump where it counts most: at the ballot box, in nationwide elections. If Republicans lose control of Congress in November’s midterms, Trump will become a lame duck, and the chances of his being impeached may rise sharply. For Trump’s foes, the prospect of such an outcome should provide sufficient motivation to overcome @realDonaldTrump fatigue.

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The possibility of Democrats surging politically in 2018 is real. In the Senate, the Democrats need to pick up two seats—their most hopeful target states seem to be Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee. In the House, some political experts think that the Democrats will have to win the popular vote by about eight percentage points to gain the twenty-four seats they need, because of Republican gerrymandering. But that also seems possible. According to a CNN poll that was released just before Christmas, the minority party has an eighteen-point lead among registered voters on the generic congressional ballot. The FiveThirtyEight poll average which combines the results of numerous surveys, shows the Democrats with a lead of twelve percentage points. Based on the recent polls, the G.O.P. is “in worse shape right now than any other majority party at this point in the midterm cycle since at least the 1938 election,” Harry Enten, FiveThirtyEight’s senior political writer, pointed out.

Republicans will be hoping that tax cuts give a further boost to the economy, which is already doing well, and that this translates into more votes for them. In a normal electoral cycle, that might be a reasonable supposition. But this is the Trump cycle. So far, healthy job growth and a rising stock market haven’t prevented Trump from dragging his Party down with him. According to the Real Clear Politics poll average, the President’s approval rating is now 39.8 per cent. That figure shows a slight improvement since the middle of last month, but Trump’s popularity numbers continue to languish at record lows compared to those of his modern predecessors. And even if the tax bill does stoke the economy generally, it could create problems for Republicans in places like California, New Jersey, and New York, where some high earners and property owners will end up facing higher tax bills. In California, the Republicans hold fourteen congressional seats, and the Sabato Crystal Ball Web site now ranks seven of them as competitive. It’s hardly surprising that of the twelve Republican members of Congress who voted against the tax bill, two are from California, four are from New Jersey, and five are from New York.

At some point in the ten months between now and the midterms, Trump may be tempted to try to break out of the political box he is in by firing Mueller. The fact that he hasn’t done this already is another reflection of how, so far, the American political system has largely managed to contain him. Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, recused himself from the Russia investigation, and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, recently told Congress that he believes Mueller is abiding by the terms of his appointment. To get rid of Mueller, Trump would have to get rid of Rosenstein, too, and then find somebody else at the Justice Department to carry out the firing order. If he did that, there would be a huge outcry, and members of Congress facing reëlection in November would face a great deal of pressure to appoint another special prosecutor. For now, Trump has held his fire, and the Republican leadership, or most of it, has supported Mueller. However, as Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, recently pointed out at the Lawfare blog, “The ultimate check here, as always, is the American people. … At the end of the day, the voice of the people is what ensures that Congress does the right thing and that the president does not defy the law.”

Image result for The Ultra-Right and the Neo-Nazis in the US

This is yet another argument for engaging in the political process in 2018. But staying engaged isn’t the same thing as being permanently addled, obsessing over every offensive Trump tweet, or lumping everyone who voted for him in with alt-right activists and neo-Nazis. It means exercising patience, ignoring some of his verbal provocations (many of which are attempts at distraction), pointing out that his policies are hurting the very people he is claiming to represent, and, above all, committing to beating him and his allies politically. As the recent elections in Alabama and Virginia demonstrated, Trump and the Republicans can be defeated at the ballot box. Surely, the best way to survive the second year of the Trump era is to work calmly and deliberately toward that objective.

The Moment of Truth for Malaysia’s Race-Based Politics

December 7, 2017

The Moment of Truth for Malaysia’s Race-Based Politics


Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

As the UMNO General Assembly gets underway, the time has come to deal with the long-term negative consequences of the party’s Malay-centrism.

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

After all the analysing done by pundits on Malaysia’s political dynamics in the post-Mahathir period, the country has now come to the strange point of being in a potential pre-Mahathir period.

There is now the more-than-theoretical possibility that 92-year-old former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will return to lead the country, should the opposition coalition win the coming general election. Though unlikely, the chances of that happening are not exactly slim.

In many ways, Malaysia has been locked in a period of transition for two decades. One could say this was triggered by the Reformasi movement in 1998 when the country’s two top leaders fell out with each other, and behind that, by the socio-economic travails ignited by the Asian Financial Crisis; or one could claim that it began with Mahathir’s retirement in October 2003, or that it started with the surprising results of the 2008 elections when the ragtag opposition managed on election night to win five of the 13 states.

Behind these unending trends lies the fact that a new generation of young leaders – some inspired by the 1998 protests but most thrust into the limelight in 2008 – have been waiting impatiently to take over but are still playing merely a supporting role, not only because the old leaders are still active but also because of the solidity of the discursive and economic domination of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition over the rural population in particular.

Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

Supporters of the United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO.

Then there was the advent of the internet news media, a prominent milestone of which was the founding of the Malaysiakini news website in 1999. This was followed a decade later by The Malaysia Insider (brought to its knees by political pressure in 2016 and since resurrected as The Malaysian Insight) and by other websites. Social media also appeared after the turn of the century to act as an effective new tool for political activism.

Where the opposition parties are concerned, we have seen its major coalitions evolve from the Barisan Alternatif in 1999 to Pakatan Rakyat in April 2008 to Pakatan Harapan in 2015, which since then has evolved to include two newly formed Malay-based parties: Parti Amanah Negara (splintered from the Islamist Parti Agama SeMalaysia (PAS) and Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (consisting of Umno dissidents).

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The dominant United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has in the meantime gone through its own transformation, taking more and more conservative racial and religious stances the more its defences crumble, which they did in 2008 and 2013. Abdullah Badawi’s huge popularity in 2004 dissipated surprisingly quickly, and his replacement, Najib Razak, the present prime minister, went from being much more popular than his party at the time of his rise to power to being a big burden to its reputation today.

Image result for najib razak and mahathir

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Transitions that go on and on are of course not really transitions any more. Instead, they define the new normal, if for no other reason, then surely by virtue of the fact that the status quo has over time managed to dig itself in. Malaysian politics in the 21st century is now best described as a state of trench warfare. How, or if, this will end any time soon is the big question.

The return of Mahathir in politics should thus be of the greatest interest to Malaysianists. What are the dangers that Mahathir, a man who has been at the heart of Malaysian politics since the 1960s, sees in the Najib administration which brought this nonagenarian out of retirement so fully that he would form a new party, bring it into the fold of the opposition coalition, and manoeuvre himself into the chair of this body?

Why does he eat humble pie the way he has done, and approach Anwar Ibrahim, the man he so mercilessly sacked in 1998 and put in jail, for rapprochement? Why has he been traversing and criss-crossing the country, with his faithful and aged wife in tow, whipping up dissent against Najib, the son of the man who brought him in from the cold in 1972.

Image result for najib razak at 2017 UMNO General Assembly

Najib depends on Malay support

Few know more than him how UMNO politics and Malaysian governance have relied on dubious processes covering corruption, political patronage, vote manipulation, mass media control, and draconian laws. What is different now?

The fact that he calls his new party a “Pribumi” party, highlighting the fact that it is a Malay-based party, is key to understanding what the situation in Malaysia is today, at least to his mind. Bersatu is also a race-based party that immediately and paradoxically wishes to go into coalition with Pakatan Harapan, whose expressed concerns are about good governance and not racial one-upmanship, and in which the Democratic Action Party (DAP), long dubbed by Umno as an anti-Malay Chinese-chauvinist party, is a founding partner.

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Within that nascent coalition are three de facto Malay-based parties, the other two being Amanah, and Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat. For the coming elections, these are arrayed alongside the DAP against Umno, the major Malay-based party, surrounded by its weaker or neutered Barisan Nasional allies, and tentatively supported by the Islamist PAS.

No wonder there is talk about a pending Malay voter tsunami against the federal government in the coming elections. The time seems to have come when the Malay community has to deal with the long-term negative consequences of Umno’s Malay-centrism on Malaysian nation building. The economic burdens on the lower classes are heavy, while national economic figures remain positive, and Umno governs in the face of four Malay parties in opposition to it. (No doubt, PAS seems more willing to put in its lot with Umno than with the others).

A vendor at the Siti Khadijah market in Kota Bharu, Kelantan state. The Malaysian economy is buoyant. Photo: AFP

One big definite change over the last few decades has been the emergence of a large enough educated urban Malay middle class whose members appreciate the social stability and cultural pride that only good governance can bring instead of acting out of highly augmented fear of economic and political irrelevance as a community.

The Bumiputra policy was never supposed to be a goal in itself. In fact, the success of Malay-centric nation building requires Malaysian nation building to remain successful. It is here, I believe, that Mahathir’s dilemma lies. Malay-centrism alone will get the Malays nowhere. As a slogan, Malay-centrism rings hollow if the country becomes ever more divided, the poorer classes become ever poorer, and nothing in its present trajectory promises stronger reasons for national pride in the immediate future.

Reforming Malay politics into a shape that accepts the multiculturalism that so clearly marks Malaysian society and that recognises the challenges the digital age poses seems to be the goal, for Mahathir and many others. There is real fear that Malay-centrism a la Umno has lost the plot, and acting in denial of this fact, is dragging the Malay community – and the country as well – into a political black hole.

Dr. Ooi Kee Beng is the Executive Director of Penang Institute. The think tank is funded by the state government of Penang, one of three states in Malaysia administered by the opposition, including one under PAS