Unity in Diversity


January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

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You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

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No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

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UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

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The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

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Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

Stand and Speak Up for Malaysia


January 3, 2017

Stand and Speak Up for Malaysia

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

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For some of you (in fact most of us, Mariam), 2016 was a horrible year. I agree.

In the space of one year, four of the publications I used to write for stopped publishing. The media is slowly being strangled by an overly sensitive government, and worse still, it knows how to apply the screws. To stop you from hearing the truth. To silence you. To make you behave. To make you conform to its vision of the ideal citizen.

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Reject Extremism

Police reports, followed by complaints to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), attacks by UMNO Baru thugs, are de rigueur. Guerrilla tactics like splashing red paint on office walls, or leaving dead chicken outside an office entrance, are warnings for a successful publication to back-off, or face more threats.

Editors and owners of the publications are arrested and grilled. Some are taken to court. Readers are at risk of having their Facebook posts scrutinised, and face possible arrest. But you know what?

There is great hope for all Malaysians. A decade ago, only a handful of Malaysians would dare complain. Over the years, the numbers of Malaysians who are brave enough to speak out have grown from a trickle to a raging torrent. We are emboldened. We feel empowered.

Image result for Stand and Speak Up for MalaysiaTo KSN Ali Hamsa and all Civil Servants of Malaysia–A Reminder from Tun Abdul Razak (1967)

The government may try to close down all the alternative papers, but their foolhardiness has only fueled our resolve.

Social media, at least in Malaysia, is the new alternative media. It is free and immediate. It has spread like wildfire. Naturally, there are disadvantages and the lack of verification of facts and the occasional grammatical errors  and sloppy language are outweighed by the speed of transmission.

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Reject them–Najib, Mahathir and Mullah Harussani

Today, as we start 2017, more Malaysians than ever are exercising their vocal chords. It is heartening to know that the once great silencer of dissent, former PM Mahathir Mohamad, has joined the long queue which wants its voice to be heard. Bittersweet irony!

There is much scope for optimism in Malaysia, but you must be truthful to yourself. It is time we stopped whining about Malaysia going down the slippery slope, and blaming UMNO Baru for the state of Malaysia today; time we stopped criticising the opposition for being hopeless, and time we stopped thinking that Malaysia will never recover.

When you look into the mirror, are you man enough to realise that you are part of the problem that has brought Malaysia to its present state?

You may realise that removing Najib Abdul Razak will not solve Malaysia’s problems, because UMNO Baru is also part of the problem; but do you understand that changing the party which heads the government is not sufficient? Before we can change others, we need first, to change ourselves

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Sorry, Mariam, I disagree. Removing Najib Razak is the essential first step to solving our problems. I believe that UMNO can reform itself with a change of leadership. It has little choice; if it wants to remain in power, UMNO must stop playing the race and religion card and serve all Malaysians. 

UMNO Baru is the creation of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. We forget that he destroyed our institutions of governance. It is ironic that most Malaysians now think that the former Premier is our champion for change. That is pathetic. –Din Merican

How many of you think as a Malaysian? Many of you are so ensconced in your community, your beliefs, your prejudices and your way of life, that you do not believe that any of Malaysia’s ills have anything to do with you.

Blaming the nameless ‘others’

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Stand Up for Malaysia–National Unity

You blame the nameless ‘others’ for Malaysia’s fall from grace.The Malays for their apathy and bigotry. The Chinese for forging ahead and for being kiasu. The Indians who demand equal rights, by ironically demanding that their rights be upheld before all others.The East Malaysians who blame their plight on ‘orang semenanjung’.

We hunger for land and the riches that come from the jungle, and from clearing the jungles to make plantations, and we think nothing of trampling over the rights of the Orang Asli.

The Muslims demand that everyone else is judged by their standards, and the non-Muslims shy away from getting involved in what they perceive as Muslim matters. Many non-Muslim mothers are denied justice if their spouse becomes a Muslim.

We are deaf and blind to the suffering of the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We consider ourselves the educated townies, and look down our noses at the rural folk.We are too absorbed in our affairs because we do not think of ourselves as Malaysian, and it is this flaw which the politicians take advantage of to further their interests.

Malaysia suffers because we perceive everyone else is a convenient scapegoat, when actually we are at fault.The politicians love the sound of their own speeches, and they have learned the art of filtering out our voices. So, if you want real change, learn to manage your politician, and not the other way round.

You must treat him or her as you would a lazy servant. You pay the politicians’ wages, so you have the right to demand performance. Politicians are out of touch with the rakyat and most important, they are not mind readers. You have a voice, learn how to use it in 2017.

NB: Happy New Year.

 

Malaysia’s Megaphone Diplomacy


December 28, 2016

ASEAN has to deal a Jonah Najib Razak in its midst–Malaysia’s Megaphone  Diplomacy

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ASEAN’s Jonah–Najib Razak

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Earlier this month, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak made what many saw as a serious breach of diplomatic protocol when he spoke out against Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya — treatment that, in his view, amounted to “genocide”.

Such an act of megaphone diplomacy is almost unheard of among the ASEAN member states, especially coming from an ASEAN leader, and poses serious ramifications for the ASEAN region.

READ: http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/367351

Speaking at a mass rally that was organized to show solidarity with the Rohingya, Najib directly questioned the inaction of Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, pointedly asking, “What’s the point of a Nobel Peace Prize?” and telling her, “Enough is enough!”

Najib raised more eyebrows when he called on Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to join him, even making reference to recent Muslim protests in the Indonesian capital against the incumbent Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. “Do not just protest against Ahok. The Rohingya should be defended in Indonesia,” he told Indonesian Muslims.

(Read also: Good reason to tread carefully on Rohingya crisis)

Jakarta has yet to respond to Najib’s move, but Naypyidaw has predictably condemned Malaysia’s interference in its domestic affairs. A day before the rally, an official in Myanmar’s President’s Office warned, “A member country [of ASEAN] does not interfere in other member countries’ internal affairs”, while a commentary by The Irrawaddy’s editor-in-chief was headlined, “Malaysia, Don’t Use Burma to Distract from Disquiet at Home”. The Myanmar government has since announced it was stopping its migrant workers from going to Malaysia and Suu Kyi has refused to meet Malaysia’s foreign minister.

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How, then, do we explain Najib’s move? What are the ramifications for the ASEAN region? What steps should Indonesia — as the region’s primus inter pares — take to not only restore ASEAN unity but also to help resolve the Rohingya issue?

Many have attributed Najib’s strong stance as a political move aimed at distracting the domestic public from the 1MDB scandal, as well as an attempt to burnish his credentials among the Malay Muslim voters ahead of upcoming general elections in 2018. Certainly, the recent Bersih 5 rally indicates that the 1MDB scandal continues to haunt Najib, who is also facing a sustained challenge by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to force him out of office. Indeed, the latter has formed his own political party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, which will compete for the same Malay Muslim voters who have traditionally supported Najib’s UMNO (United Malays National Organization) Party.

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No Credibility for Malaysia’s Racist Prime Minister

Yet, it is important to consider the following facts. First, the rally attended by Najib also saw political leaders from the opposition PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) take part, meaning it had some degree of cross-party support. Second, the Rohingya issue was also previously discussed by the Malaysian cabinet. On November 25, the cabinet met to consider a proposal for its national soccer team to withdraw from a regional competition co-hosted by Myanmar.

While the Cabinet decided against the proposal — fearing FIFA sanctions — Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin explained, “We will pursue other avenues in raising our concerns […] We will use diplomatic (means) that will be announced by the Foreign Ministry.” Here it should be noted that while the UMNO party dominates the cabinet, a number of positions are held by non-Muslim parties that would have no need to attract the Malay Muslim votes.

Third, on the day prior to the rally, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry issued its own strong statement saying, “The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing.” Interestingly, when the statement was shared on the ministry’s official Twitter page, the hashtag #R2P (responsibility to protect) was also used.

While the interests of politicians and bureaucrats are often blurred in a country where UMNO has held power since 1957, one would imagine that foreign ministry officials would not so easily allow political considerations to harm the country’s foreign policy.

As such, it is clear that there is some sense of consensus among Malaysia’s political leaders and bureaucrats on the Rohingya issue that goes beyond an attempt to distract from a particular scandal and/or vote-winning ahead of upcoming elections.

Given the above, it is possible that more consideration has gone into Najib’s megaphone diplomacy than was initially thought.

While that may be the case, it is also clear that Malaysia’s stance has serious ramifications for ASEAN. For one thing, Najib’s appeal to Indonesian Muslims threatens to export his brand of religious politics to the ASEAN level and divide the region along Muslim versus Buddhist lines. This is not only foolish but dangerous in such a diverse part of the world.

His stance also represents a major departure from the ASEAN norm of not openly speaking about each other’s domestic affairs. By doing so, Malaysia threatens to open a Pandora’s Box, which may lead to Myanmar responding with its own difficult questions about Malaysia’s domestic problems. Such a situation, whereby member states start criticizing each other’s domestic problems out in the open, will do no good for ASEAN unity.

As mentioned before, we have already seen one ASEAN minister refusing to meet another and an ASEAN member state imposing a ban on its citizens from working in another member state. This is far from what should be happening during the first year of the ASEAN Community’s regional integration and requires urgent regional leadership to not only restore ASEAN unity but also to help resolve the Rohingya issue.

In this sense, Indonesia’s more nuanced approach should be welcome. While Indonesia has gone for more quiet methods, that does not necessarily mean it is brushing the Rohingya issue under the carpet. Jakarta recognizes that the focus should be on taking steps that will actually help the Rohingya. This can be achieved neither via megaphone diplomacy nor by offending Naypyidaw.

Indeed, there are deep-rooted, complex and multiple underlying factors that have led to the situation in Rakhine state. Only with the cooperation of the Myanmar government will an effective, long-lasting and comprehensive solution be found that appeases all stakeholders, including the Rakhine Buddhists, the Rohingya Muslims and the mostly Burman military.

Indonesia should thus continue to position itself as an honest broker that understands the complexity of the situation and that realizes this is more than just a religious issue. Its offer to dispatch humanitarian aid is a good first step.

The offer builds on Indonesia’s previous efforts that have led to the building of schools and a hospital in Rakhine state and demonstrates two points: on the one hand that Jakarta is rightly focusing on the practical needs of food, blankets, education, health care, etc., and on the other hand that Jakarta has earned the trust of Naypyidaw to even conduct such activities inside the volatile Rakhine state. In this sense, President Jokowi would do well to politely ignore Najib’s call to join him. There are better ways to address the situation in Myanmar.

 The writer heads the ASEAN Studies Program at the Habibie Center in Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.

 

 

 

Mahathir –A Malay Leader of Paradoxes and Contradictions


December 25, 2016

Mahathir –A  Malay Leader of Paradoxes and Contradictions

S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“I’m a realist, I do what I can do, if I can’t do, I don’t.”

De facto opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad

What if I said that Malays have a lazy, rent-seeking culture, relying on political and social influence to gain wealth and unable to retain power despite all their special privileges? Would this be wrong? Would this be racist? Would this be seditious?

How about if former Prime Minister and now de facto opposition leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad said this? Would it still be “racist”? Would this be considered some sort of truth telling? Would it make a difference when he said this last week or when he was prime minister of this country?

More than a decade ago, in an UMNO General Assembly speech –Amanat Presiden (which also coincided with a celebration of sorts – 21 years in office), the former prime minister engaged in some “realist” assessment of the Malay community he had led for over two decades.

As reported by Malaysiakini, he claimed – “If today they (Malays) are colonised, there is no guarantee they will have the capacity to oppose the colonialists.”

The Ex-Premier said Malays had failed because they were lazy and sought the easy way out by reselling their shares, licences and contracts to non-Malays.

“They cannot be patient, cannot wait a little, they want to be rich this very moment… no work is done other than to be close to people with influence and authority in order to get something,After selling and getting the cash, they come back to ask for more,”” he said.

Therefore, there is a rather bizarre logic in his thinking when he said that he had no regrets about stifling dissent in young Malay people during his tenure. Bizarre because the former prime minister has never been afraid of using the stereotype of the Malay community as a means of galvanising support.

And this extends to the other communities as well. Well by “others”, I really mean the Chinese community because as we all know the Indian community is absent from the discourse. In the same speech at the 2002 UMNO General Assembly, he also referenced the Chinese community – the very community that UMNO has always demonised as a threat to Malay hegemony but in reality, meant they were perceived as a threat against UMNO hegemony.

He said, “If we take out the Chinese and all that they have built and own, there will be no small or big towns in Malaysia, there will be no business and industry, there will be no funds for the subsidies, support and facilities for the Malays. Learn from the Chinese.”

Only Mahathir could balance such contradictions, playing the racial card against communities, including the one UMNO claims to represent. Which is why in Mahathir’s thinking there is really no reason why he should not be standing shoulder to shoulder with his former opponents in an attempt to bring down the Najib Abdul Razak regime.

He really does not care what political pundits, who seek to remind people of what he did during his tenure, say because he knows that he then enjoyed the support of the majority of Malaysians and he did this using the kind of realpolitik that oppositional parties during his regime did not grasp or were uninterested in learning.

While some opposition supporters blather on about “truth and conscience” but offer no real evidence that these form the desideratum for oppositional forces in this country, the former Prime Minister has no problem twisting the facts on the ground or contorting social and economic realities to fit his narratives.

A clear example of this would be when in an interview, he acknowledged that discrimination was part of the system but that there were communities who thrived in spite of it – “The Chinese in Malaysia have no special rights, they experience discrimination. But they are more successful than us.”

This is exactly the system a Gerakan political operative was talking about when he mocked the opposition for subscribing to the same system as BN. And the same kind of thinking that for years sustained BN which led to the creation of the leviathan which in the Najib regime. We get the world we deserve.

Slaying sacred cows

And please keep in mind that during Mahathir’s tenure, UMNO defined oppositional racial preoccupations because the slaying of UMNO sacred cows were the very definition (and still is) of any kind of egalitarian agenda that would truly “save Malaysia”. All those other so-called racial preoccupations, religious, social and economic are a direct result of the UMNO agenda and the mendacious ‘social contract’.

However, since the short-term goal of saving Malaysia means removing Najib, the real powerbrokers, those invested in the system – and they are not only Malays – would like to keep the gravy train moving, only with a different railroad engineer.

Unlike some oppositional voices who pontificate about “principles” or at least attempt to control the discourse, demonising those who dredge up so-called ancient history and engaging in victimhood to facilitate political expediency, the former prime minister is clear about the purpose of his alliance with the oppositional forces in this country.

As he told me when I brought up the trust deficit when it comes to opposition supporters and his new role as oppositional leader – “If Najib is there, the opposition will suffer. If Najib is there, even UMNO will suffer, the whole country will suffer. I think the opposition is not supporting me, they are interested in removing Najib. I have the same interest. It is okay to work together – only on that issue, not on other issues.”

Furthermore, he has had no problems claiming that he would slay Malay sacred cows for the benefit of the community – “I cannot predict how much longer this (affirmative action) will go on but at the moment, we are trying out… some kind of experiment… by withdrawing some of the protection in education,” he said. “We want to see whether they will be able to withstand the competition or not. Obviously if they prove themselves able to, we can think of reducing further some of the protection.”

This was always the stick component of the carrot-and-stick approach, and the former prime minster knew very well that affirmative action programmes had a deleterious effect on the Malay community.

Moreover, when he hinted that he would slay sacred cows, he was greeted with rapturous applause as some sort of truth sayer by the very same UMNO who now endorse the Najib regime’s attempt to further consolidate power and engage with Mahathir’s sworn enemy, PAS.

But of course, now that the Malay community is fractured and the Malay opposition needs to reassure the Malay community, all those special privileges, all those affirmative action programmes, everything that the former Prime Minister said was holding back the Malay community, are off the table.

The only thing that discerning Malaysians have to take away from any of this is that Mahathir acknowledges that he failed to change the Malay community – “What else (can I do) … I have tried to be an example, tried to teach, scolded, cried and even prayed. (But) I have failed. I have failed to achieve the most important thing – how to change the Malays.”

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The Question we must ask ourselves–Does Mahathir what he says?

When asked if there was anything he would do differently, he claimed that he wanted to be a “normal” UMNO member because he could not do anything for the Malays. Well, he is not even a member now and he is the power behind a nascent Malay power structure.

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The big question is, will he fail again. More importantly, is changing the Malays really the agenda of the game for him or anyone else.

Najib Razak plays with Hudud and PAS for Political Survival


December 24, 2016

Najib Razak plays with Hudud and PAS for Political Survival

by Jayum Anak Jawan

Conflict has raged within and among Malaysia’s political parties this year over controversial legislation regarding Islamic law, but Jayum Anak Jawan argues it is all part of the Prime Minister’s political strategy to win the next election.

What do “fixed deposit” and “insurance” have in common? A highly-skilled investor who maximises profit and minimises possible losses. This might appropriately describe Malaysian Prime Minister Najib’s latest political move as the next general election draws nearer and which must be held by the middle of 2018.

Najib is the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) President and Chairman of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. His party is embroiled in a “possible” alliance with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) to push through amendments to a piece of legislation called Act 355 that seek to review fines and punishment as well as the enforcement power of the Islamic courts. Originally, the bill was to be introduced to parliament as a private member’s bill by PAS President Hadi but was subsequently submitted by the government, which will reportedly take over tabling it at a future sitting.

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This is not a smart move–playing the Islamic Fire with Zakir Zaik and Hadi Awang–Din Merican

Since the initial announcement of its introduction, the bill has sparked much debate, polarising Malaysians and political parties from all sides. What first appeared as a PAS initiative, has since been embraced by UMNO, putting many of the BN coalition parties that had previously made a strong stand against Act 355 in an awkward position.

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Under Adenan Satim, Sarawak will remain a  progressive multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-racial state. Pushing hudud  is a bad strategy for Mr. Najib–Din Merican

There are stark divisions among the BN coalition’s 13 component parties with some staunchly opposed to the bill, such as Chief Minister Adenan who reportedly ordered all Sarawak BN party members of parliament to vote against it, while others are yet to reveal their positions. The opposition parties, meanwhile, are not wholly united one way or the other on Act 355.

While Malaysia’s political parties are caught up in the controversy over the bill, the clear advantage goes to the master political strategist, Najib. He is letting all the various parties fight it out, confident of drawing them over to his side at the end of the political brawl.

And why not watch and wait? Najib is championing Islam, which is more than what UMNO has done in its lifetime and more than what PAS could possibly do alone. As far as Najib is concerned, he is already a winner in the political chess game he devised. He has created a situation in which support for him is all but guaranteed. If you are not supporting him, then your Malay-ness or Muslim-ness are brought into question. You support him; you are a good Muslim. You don’t support him; you are a bad Muslim because he is doing a good thing for Islam. Such is the conundrum facing his Malay friends in BN and his Malay foes in the opposition.

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Malay extremism combined with radical Islam ala Zakir Zaik is a double edged sword; only a political novice and desperado will fail to understand this. It is a dangerous game because it will drive Malaysia into very severe recession.–Din Merican

Najib has also created a dilemma for his coalition partners. When he adopted the Act 355 amendments as a government bill, Najib redefined the rules of engagement altogether. By making it a government bill, and with UMNO being the backbone of the BN ruling coalition, all members of the ruling party are obliged to support it. If any party is opposed to the bill, then that party’s position in the BN coalition becomes untenable. So, the position becomes simple: support the bill or leave the coalition.

But, there is also this issue to ponder: Can the Prime Minister introduce important legislation without first consulting his coalition partners? The cornerstone of the BN coalition has been consultation. In addition, can a private member’s bill simply be adopted by the government without first having a discussion about it in cabinet? These are questions that are easy to answer but not as easy to explain. Clearly, there is evidence to conclude that the cabinet was not aware of the decision to support the legislation prior to it being made, nor had it been party to its formulation.

Lastly, some have argued about the constitutionality of this bill. Is Islamic law an item enumerated in the State List? If so, for the bill to be moved at the federal legislative level, it must have the support of a state government, not just an individual lawmaker. And for that to happen, it must first have been moved in a state assembly to indicate the state’s support for the bill.

Prime Minister Najib–No Novice in Politics(?)

The Prime Minister is no novice in politics. So, why is he doing this? The answer has to be simple and clear. He is crafting his “insurance policy” against increasing uncertainty on the returns of his “fixed deposit”, namely the states of Sarawak and Sabah, which have on many occasions saved BN and UMNO, especially after the 2008 and 2013 general elections. The number of parliamentary seats won in both states on these two occasions gave BN the majority required to form the federal government. But the sense of ethnic and state nationalism that have recently reignited vigorously in both states could have caused the Prime Minister real concern over whether BN and UMNO can continue to rely on the “fixed deposit” to return to power in the forthcoming general election. Hence, courting PAS, which won about 20 parliamentary seats in 2013, is a politically strategic move. Najib’s support for Act 355 will endear him and UMNO to PAS and at the same time boost the latter’s popularity among its supporters in the Islamic heartland states such as Kelantan and Terengganu.

Furthermore, this strategy could sway Malay-Muslim voters in many of the PKR opposition party strongholds as well. In all likelihood, and based on the fact that not much change will come from Malay and Chinese voters and their voting patterns in 2018, having PAS retain the same number of the seats it won in 2013 and perhaps draws a few more elsewhere, would be enough to give UMNO the insurance it needs against the possibly volatile non-Malay, non-Muslim votes and seats in Sabah and Sarawak.

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BN and UMNO, if they win the next parliamentary general election, will not be expected to win handsomely as they have done previously. Neither should they be expected to make any major seat gains compared to what they won in 2013. But the PAS insurance policy, from supporting Act 355, should be enough to ensure that BN and UMNO can at least, in the event of the political atmosphere become more unfavourable and tense, scrape through with a razor-thin margin to form the next federal government.

Jayum Anak Jawan is the current Tun Abdul Razak Chair and Visiting Professor of Political Science at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, USA. He is concurrently a senior professor of politics and government at Universiti Putra Malaysia. The opinion and analysis expressed do not represent the institutions he is affiliated with.

http://www.newmandala.org/alliance-secure-electoral-victory/

Malaysia: Why Democratic Change Has Not Been Possible


December 16,2016

Malaysia: Why Democratic Change Has Not Been Possible