Complete Overhaul of Bank Negara is required

June 12, 2018

Complete Overhaul of Bank Negara is required

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Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. It should be independent and apolitical since it is the custodian of our reserves.


By Geoffrey

The recently announced Cabinet decision to accept Muhammad bin Ibrahim’s offer to step down as the Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia offers the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government an early opportunity to review and reform Malaysia’s monetary system and restore confidence which has been dented by recent events. Personnel turnover like this is often seen as an indicator that a central bank is not independent and that the Governor and senior managers are hired and fired at the whim of the government.

Reform is not just about the legal framework in which the Bank operates, it is a wider matter of how the Bank is managed. This requires a review of the structure, conduct and performance of the Bank to manage perceptions amongst stakeholders outside of the Bank and particularly outside of Malaysia in the international financial community.

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One of the first reforms necessary is to end the Bank’s involvement in non-core activities. The Financial Education Hub (FEH), for example, which involved the purchase of 56 acres of land from the Government is a prime example. The Bank’s involvement in this project is at the core of the controversy surrounding the Governor’s resignation.

Both the Governor and the Bank in its statement of 24 May 2018 have made clear that the transaction complied with all the governance requirements and relevant laws that govern the Bank but questions remain as to whether these regulations are sufficient to govern such transactions in the wider circumstances of the financial system and whether a central bank should be doing this sort of thing at all.

The specific functions of a central bank are to issue currency, manage the monetary system and national reserves, set monetary policy and act as the government’s banker and “lender of last resort,” anything else is non-essential. Bank Negara has enough on its hands with these core functions and to involve itself in property development, financial education and estate management has proved a step too far. Apart from distracting the Bank’s managers from core functions, activities of this type create the perception that the Bank’s decisions in financial regulation and supervision might be influenced by its own real estate investments and worse, that its independence might be compromised if these investments are related, directly or indirectly, to the financing of other government projects, such as 1MDB. There is an urgent need to end this perception by placing activities such as the FEH into a separate independent organisation and to change governance systems to avoid such issues in the future.

A second and related reform is to separate financial supervision and regulation from the Bank. In Malaysia, financial regulation is carried out by Bank Negara under the Financial Services Act 2013 (FSA) and the Islamic Financial Services Act 2013 (IFSA). These consolidate the supervision and regulation of the structure, conduct and performance of banks, insurance companies and other financial services providers into one authority. This is an onerous job and current international best practice suggests that it may be better to separate these functions into independent specialist authorities accountable to parliament not to the Cabinet or Prime Minister.

The FSA also gives the Bank wide powers which allow the Bank to assume control over the whole or part of the business, affairs or property of financial institutions under its supervision. This includes the power to manage such businesses or appoint any person to manage them on behalf of the Bank. These are wide powers which are arguably necessary in extreme circumstances but the exercise of such powers must be conducted with transparency, independence and accountability to parliament rather than to the government as is currently the case. This aspect must be reviewed in any reform of the FSA.

A third area of reform relates to the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) which is responsible for setting interest rates. Although in principle the MPC is independent, which is considered essential to avoid manipulation of interest rates for political purposes, the current MPC has six internal officers of the Bank appointed by the Bank itself and two external members appointed by the Finance Minister. The balance of internal and external members should be reviewed and greater transparency in the appointment of members, as well as the terms of their membership, should be introduced including scrutiny by parliament.

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There also needs to be greater clarity on how the MPC decides on monetary policy and particularly how the forecasts are made so that the process and underlying assumptions of these forecasts, on which many government and private sector decisions rely, can be assessed independently. We also need to see the publication of detailed MPC minutes, as is routine for the MPC at the Bank of England, to take us beyond the current monthly Bank Negara Monetary Statement which amounts to little more than a press release with little or no substantive analysis.

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Recent events at Bank Negara have caused concern in many quarters and raise issues of the independence of Malaysia’s central bank at an operational level. Confidence, independence and credibility are essential to underpin the integrity of any financial system and when questions arise, such as those currently affecting Bank Negara, they are not solved simply by replacing the leaders and putting the, “right people,” at the helm. A thorough review and reform of monetary policy institutions and how they operate is needed and it is timely for the new government to begin this process.

Professor Geoffrey Williams is a Professor at ELM Graduate School at HELP University. He was also a member of the Bank of England Commission of HM Opposition (1999-2000) in the United Kingdom.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Man of the Moment: Meet Attorney-General Tommy Thomas

June 5, 2018

Man of the Moment: Meet  Attorney-General Tommy Thomas

by Hafiz Yatim

Born in 1952 in Kuala Lumpur, the father of three received his early education at Victoria Institution. He then pursued his law degree at the University of Manchester in England and subsequently received an MSc from the London School of Economics. He then became a barrister at Middle Temple, London.–Hafiz Yatim

Malaysians woke up this morning to the news that Tommy Thomas has been appointed as the new attorney-general by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V, replacing Mohamed Apandi Ali.

Born in 1952 in Kuala Lumpur, the father of three received his early education at Victoria Institution. He then pursued his law degree at the University of Manchester in England and subsequently received an MSc from the London School of Economics. He then became a barrister at Middle Temple, London.

He is a founder and partner at Tommy Thomas, a litigation firm with an office in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. According to the firm’s website, Thomas specialises in administrative law and judicial review; intellectual property; arbitration; land; banking and finance; oil and gas; commercial property; company law; securities law; constitutional law; and insolvency and wills.

He was involved in numerous landmark cases and appeared before the Privy Council, which was Malaysia’s highest court in London, until 1985.

Thomas has published two books titled “Anything But the Law: Essays on Politics and Economics” and “Abuse of Power: Selected Works on the Law and Constitution”.

Besides being a well-known lawyer, he also participated in several Bersih rallies in the past.

An active member of the Malaysian Bar, he held the post of secretary of the Bar Council from 1995 to 1997.

Among his well-known cases were Metramac vs Fawziah Holdings, and as noted by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he appeared for BN in several cases concerning election petitions.

Thomas has also appeared for the PAS Kelantan and Terengganu oil royalty case against Petronas and the federal government, and also represented Selangor government lawyer Fahda Nur Ahmad Kamar against Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor (Syabas) in the latter’s bid to cite the former for contempt of court.

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Thomas also represented Malayan Communist Party Secretary-General Chin Peng in his application to return to Malaysia, and former Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in contempt proceedings filed against him by Apandi.

Meanwhile, Thomas’ law firm greeted his appointment with pride.

“He successfully led our team in two of the best-known bond recovery cases in the courts of Malaysia: Pesaka Astana and Aldwich Berhad. And as corporate asset recovery is topical, with the government focused on recovering the assets of 1MDB, there is no doubt in our mind that they have appointed Malaysia’s finest barrister in that field, with the knowledge, experience and industry to lead the 1MDB litigation, whether civil or criminal,” said the firm in a statement.

The firm noted that Thomas was an established corporate and commercial barrister, having acted successfully in some of the landmark cases on corporate debt and asset recoveries, such as Amos William Dawe and Mosbert; Lian Keow v Overseas Credit Finance; and Bank Bumiputra v Lorrain Osman.

More recently, he acted for the Securities Commission against Swisscash, the worldwide Ponzi scheme hatched in Malaysia – tracing the funds in the Ponzi scheme to banks in Hong Kong, and the Jersey and British Virgin Islands; obtaining worldwide Mareva injunctions, and what the firm claimed to be the largest reparation of funds for the victims of the Ponzi scheme.

According to the firm, Thomas had handled some of Malaysia’s largest and most complex cases, and in addition to his outstanding track record on commercial cases, he had a strong public law practice, having acted on major judicial reviews and constitutional cases.

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“A significant percentage of his practice has been pro bono work, for the less privileged and oppressed.While we shall obviously miss him, we are delighted for our country, as Thomas’ combined talent, integrity, legal knowledge and experience, gives Malaysia one of its best and brightest barristers as its next Attorney-General. We wish him every success as Attorney-General of Malaysia,” it said.

Thomas met Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the Prime Minister’s Department at 8.30am today.

The Attorney-General – The Promise and the Reality

June 5, 2018

The Attorney-General – The Promise and the Reality

The position of Attorney-General, should have gone to a Member of Parliament- cum- Cabinet Minister in the interest of public accountability and to avoid the dangers of a conflict of interest.


By Chandra Muzaffar

The appointment of Tommy Thomas as the new Attorney-General has generated renewed interest in the ruling coalition’s Election Manifesto. In the Manifesto, Pakatan Harapan has articulated lucidly in Janji (promise) 15 the importance of separating the office of Public Prosecutor from that of the Attorney-General. Because of the danger of a conflict of interest, it argues that the two roles should be separated. It pledges to take immediate action towards this end.

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The Attorney-General would be chosen from among qualified Members of Parliament and he would be appointed as a Minister serving as the legal adviser to the government. The Public Prosecutor on the other hand would have autonomy to conduct prosecution without fear or favour.

The Pakatan Harapan government has not lived up to this pledge. Thomas is not a member of parliament. He is not accountable in the legal sense to the people through an elected parliament. Of course, he is required, like all other public officials, to uphold the Malaysian Constitution. While his formal appointment is by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, his real nexus of power is with the Prime Minister. It is the Prime Minister who will exercise authority over him and direct his actions.

We have witnessed in recent times what this nexus between the Attorney-General and Prime Minister can lead to. The former Attorney-General protected Prime Minister Najib Razak though the latter’s misdeed was blatant. The A-G saw himself as serving Najib’s interests.

One of the reasons why such stark abuse of roles did not occur in the sixties and seventies was because the Attorney-General in those years was responsible to Parliament through the Cabinet. This practice was brought to an end in the early eighties with the ascendancy of Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia. Parliamentary accountability was replaced with a direct relationship between the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister.

Dr. Mahathir is of the view that Thomas has the skills to fight the 1MDB case in court. If specific skills are needed the government can always draw upon the services of legal brains at home and abroad. They can be appointed as consultants or public prosecutors as they were in the past in the Batu Putih case or in the second Anwar Ibrahim trial. Tommy Thomas himself can play that role instead of installing him as Attorney-General.

The position of Attorney-General, I reiterate, should have gone to a Member of Parliament- cum- Cabinet Minister in the interest of public accountability. I had hoped that since at least ten Cabinet positions have yet to be filled and there has been no appointee so far from Sabah or Sarawak an MP from one of those states would be made the Attorney-General. Since it is a senior position it would raise the status of law-givers from those states. It would also make the citizens of Sabah and Sarawak feel that they matter to the Malaysian Federation.

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MP for Selangau, Sarawak Baru Bian–Minister of Law in M-2.0 Cabinet?

There is an MP with a legal background from Sarawak who would have fitted the bill. Baru Bian, the Pakatan Harapan MP for Selangau is an experienced advocate and solicitor who for decades has fought for native land rights. There is no reason why legislators like him — a Christian Bumiputera — should not be conferred the exalted role of Attorney-General in the Federal Cabinet.

Tommy Thomas, whatever his strengths, will continue to be burdened by concerns that have been ventilated through the alternative media. What is his record in prosecuting high profile criminal cases? How fluent is he in the national language which is after all the principal language in the administration of justice in our country? Why did he abandon the nation in the wake of the 1987 ISA swoop and the 1988 judicial crisis when some of us went to jail and campaigned against great odds for justice for the sacked judges?

Chandra Muzaffar is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.


Political Change in Malaysia: A View from India

June 5, 2018

Political Change in Malaysia: A View from India

“The importance of real democracy to ensure the welfare of people at large cannot be overstated. Though economic growth can be achieved with `limited’ or `no’ democracy, such a situation can lead to severe corruption, political highhandedness and restrictions on individual and political freedoms. What is needed is not merely formal democracy but an intensely competitive democracy.”

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I have written a book narrating a possible story of long-term political transition in different countries in 2014[i], and I have used that framework recently to discuss the political situation in South Africa, Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela here.

The recent political developments in Malaysia fit well with the framework of the book. Let me narrate the story and the connection with Malaysian case briefly here.

Let us take the theoretical argument first. Desirable political change requires the mobilization of almost all sections of people (and not only the elites or middle-class). Moreover there should be adequate competition in politics. Each of the competing party/coalition should have a reasonable chance of coming to power. In the absence of such a competitive politics, there can be a number of issues even if the majority is mobilized politically, they participate in elections and governments are elected through formal democracy.

However there are barriers against the emergence of a competitive politics in certain situations. This may happen when the majority is mobilized on the basis of an ethnic/religious identity. Then there would be competition in politics only when the majority gets divided into two competing political formations.

The emergence of the competitive politics may be delayed or retarded when left-of-centre (for example, communist) parties have the support of the majority on the basis of their class-position. These parties may use different strategies to suppress the opposition in politics.

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We can use this framework to understand the political transition in Malaysia. The majority in Malaysia was mobilized politically by using the identity of ethnicity. Here ethnicity, religion and nationalism are mixed together. It is interesting to note that the main political party -United Malays National Organization (UMNO) uses three words (Bongsa- which is close Vamsha in Sanskrit- to denote ethnicity, Agama – religious ideals; Negara –nation) to project its ideological position.  This mobilization on the basis of Malay identity was also driven by the perceived need to control migrants (mainly from China and India) economically and politically.

Such a mobilization was successful in capturing the power, and changing the allocation of resources in favor of Malay people to some extent. Due to the support of the ethnic group which constitutes the majority, this political party/coalition could rule the country for a long time. The UMNO was in power under a coalition called `Barisan Nasional’ (BN) for 61 years.

Given this monopoly control of the government and the ideology and effectiveness of a leader (Mahathir bin Mohamad) who ruled the country for more than two decades until 2003, market-oriented and private-sector driven economic development could be facilitated in a top-down manner without much opposition. The majority benefited from this economic development too.

However, there were restrictions on democratic freedoms due to the monopoly of this party in government. In fact, the leader (Mahathir) was justifying openly the restrictions imposed on democracy. For him, such a control on democracy was in tune with Asian cultures and values. He used the majority and the lack of an effective opposition to make changes in laws which led ultimately to a certain concentration of decision-making power in the office of the Prime Minister.

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This is a general problem in democracy. The party in power wants to see a decline of the strength of the opposition. The current ruling party in India wants to create an India which is free from the major opposition party. However, people benefit from a democracy where there is an intense opposition. This is a case where there is a divergence between the interest of the ruling party and that of the people at large.

The lack of real competitive democracy and the monopoly of one party in the government (which may translate into the control of one leader) have also led to a kind of political highhandedness in Malaysia. The Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was fired and tried for what could be called `immoral actions’. It is not sure whether he got a fair deal in the trials against (and the punishments meted out to) him under different governments in the past. The trial might have been used to suppress dissenting voices within the party and government. There was a highhandedness on the part of the government in dealing with popular agitations too. The media was also controlled (over-regulated) by the government and ruling coalition. The government intervention has suppressed the views of opposition in different forms of media.

In summary, the monopoly of one party in the government has led to an arbitrary use of power and political highhandedness and finally severe restrictions on democratic freedoms.

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Such a situation can facilitate corruption by the top leadership of the government. There could be non-corrupt leaders during certain times, but that need not be the case always. When there is corruption at the top, it can trickle down easily to lower levels. Hence the corruption allegations against the previous Prime Minister in Malaysia (Najib Razak), if these are found to be correct, are hardly surprising. The political environment was facilitating such corruption. In fact, some of the changes made by Mahathir when he was in the government has strengthened the hands of the Prime Minister and his office, which in turn could give the person holding that position a relatively free-hand to indulge in corrupt deals. The allegations of corruption against the top leader of the government can affect the prospects for economic growth too, as experienced by the people of Malaysia in recent past.

Such a situation can be corrected only when the majority (which has been mobilized on the basis of the ethnic identity in this case) gets divided, or when there is another political mobilization representing sections of this ethnic majority. Though Anwar Ibrahim has started a political party, it could not get that much support until recently (even in the form of coalition with a few other parties).

However the serious corruption allegations against Najib Razak, and the decision of Mahathir to put his weight behind the opposition have given it certain credibility. This has led to an effective division of votes coming from the ethnic majority and that has enabled the voting out of the government.  Hence Mahathir is re-elected as the Prime Minister, representing a coalition which has campaigned against UMNO-BN that he has led more than two decades.

The recent experience in Malaysia should encourage Mahathir and other such leaders to change their views on democracy. [It looks that Mahathir has changed his views on democracy to some extent after his (first) retirement from politics.] Though some of them may see the virtues of a not-so-democratic republic for the economic development of the country, the same political situation may breed corruption and political highhandedness. Anwar Ibrahim should know the cost of such highhandedness and the majority of people in Malaysia know the cost of corruption on the part of top leadership. They should strive to sustain a fairly competitive democracy if these ills have to be mitigated in the long-run.

The UMNO or BN which has been ruling until recently needs to adopt strategies to enhance its credibility. Its internal mechanisms should be robust enough to control or remove the top leader who becomes corrupt. This is a struggle which African National Congress (ANC) of the South Africa has gone through recently (and somehow they could remove the leader and reinstate a new one). Internal accountability mechanisms of UMNO needs to be tightened and it may require a new and credible leader.

The reinvigoration of UMNO (and BN) is needed to strengthen the competitive democracy in Malaysia. Otherwise, there is no assurance that the current dispensation under its future leaders may not indulge in corruption or suppress political opposition.

The competitive democracy will also give a voice to the ethnic minorities in Malaysia. The intense competition between the two competing parties (or a narrowing of their margin of victory) may encourage each of these parties to listen and respond to the demands of these minorities. That would also be in the interests of Malaysia in the long-run.

The importance of real democracy to ensure the welfare of people at large cannot be overstated. Though economic growth can be achieved with `limited’ or `no’ democracy, such a situation can lead to severe corruption, political highhandedness and restrictions on individual and political freedoms. What is needed is not merely formal democracy but an intensely competitive democracy.

There is a similarity between UMNO in Malaysia and the BJP in India. Both attempt to represent the majority in these countries. However BJP may not get that kind of monopoly power in governance in India due to the active presence of other political formations and also the internal dissensions within the Hindu majority along caste and regional bases.

[i] Santhakumar, V. (2014) The Roots of Ill Governance and Corruption, Sage, New Delhi

Can Malaysia’s Mahathir 2.0 Government deliver?

June 3, 2018

Can Malaysia’s Mahathir 2.0 Government deliver?

Jayant Menon, ADB and ANU
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The world has seen a number of unexpected electoral outcomes lately, the most widely reported being Brexit in Europe and the election of President Donald Trump in the United States. But the ouster of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition government in Malaysia was not only unexpected; it was amazing. Even the winners could hardly believe that they had won, while the losers took an ungraciously long time to accept defeat. With probably the worst gerrymander in history, the incumbents technically required only 16.5 per cent of the vote to win, but still lost.

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“Financial corruption and the corruption of Malaysia’s institutions such as the Judiciary, the Police, the press and even the Anti-Corruption Agency must be addressed. Financial and institutional corruption feed off each other. Recognising the enormity of the task, the newly elected government has created the Committee on Institutional Reforms, while the Council of Eminent Persons will focus on economic issues. Malaysia’s new leaders understand that institutional reform must accompany economic reform to deliver systemic change, even if vested interest and inertia must first be overcome.”–Jayant Menon

The new Pakatan Harapan coalition government faces many challenges, but arguably the biggest is actually governing as a coalition. None of the constituent parties have ever been part of federal government, although various members have, not least the returned Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Some have formed state governments before but that’s not quite the same thing.

Holding a coalition together takes more than experience in government. This is especially true when the defining motivation for their coexistence as a coalition is convenience. Their main bond is that they opposed BN for various reasons, which brought them together to contest the 2018 elections.

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Although Pakatan Harapan has been through a few permutations, itself a reflection of the difficulties of staying intact, the current coalition (formed on 22 September 2015) consists of the Democratic Action PartyPeople’s Justice PartyNational Trust Party and Malaysian United Indigenous Party. The diversity across these parties is vast and multi-dimensional, and could pose problems going forward. Who will anchor the coalition, and how will the others react? How will differences across party platforms be resolved when it comes to policy making?

There are no clear cut answers to these questions but the difficulties that can arise are exemplified by the current problems faced by the National Unity government in Sri Lanka, which came into power in 2015 in an almost equally unexpected way. It is another coalition of convenience ‘introduced as an alternative to a corrupt, authoritarian and nationalist regime’, a description that could equally apply in Malaysia. But despite its promise, the coalition has faltered and a return of the previous government now looks likely.

The situation in Sri Lanka is not an isolated case. The Arab Spring toppled many dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, and the political void it left behind was in some cases filled by coalition governments, of which the constituent parties often made for strange bedfellows. The difficulties that these coalition governments have faced are well known and continue today.

The astonishing political change in these countries, as in Malaysia, occurred in the face of mounting  economic and social problems. Youth unemployment in Malaysia is three times the average at more than 10 per cent, while 25 per cent of university graduates remain unemployed 6 months after graduating despite employers complaining about difficulties sourcing talent. This points to a skills mismatch that has its roots in a deteriorating education system that is underfunded and wrought with distortions. Malaysia has long been a net exporter of skills despite being a net importer of labour.

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Malaysia has also been a net exporter of capital since 2005, with mixed results on investment on both the domestic and foreign fronts. It will need to stem capital flight and revive both domestic and foreign investment if it is to generate the kind of growth that creates good jobs for younger generations.

Although official statistics point to falling income inequality, the level overall and levels within Malaysia’s different communities remain high. Other indicators also point to rising wage and wealth inequality, as well as rising social marginalisation and exclusion. Unless these disparities are addressed, social and political stability will be at risk.

Financial corruption and the corruption of Malaysia’s institutions such as the Judiciary, the Police, the press and even the Anti-Corruption Agency must be addressed. Financial and institutional corruption feed off each other. Recognising the enormity of the task, the newly elected government has created the Committee on Institutional Reforms, while the Council of Eminent Persons will focus on economic issues. Malaysia’s new leaders understand that institutional reform must accompany economic reform to deliver systemic change, even if vested interest and inertia must first be overcome.

These challenges can be met if the coalition works together as an effective government. The magnitude of the challenges will require wide-ranging reforms, and this will test the integrity of a loosely bound coalition. Implementation of such policies will require support from the bureaucracy, which is not only politicised but has only known one master for 61 years.

But if strong and persuasive leadership will allow Pakatan Harapan to withstand this test and deliver, the prize will be great. The nexus between race, religion and politics may have finally be broken, and meritocracy could return in place of money politics and patronage.

Although the change in government in Malaysia was a truly remarkable event, it marks the start, not the end, of a journey towards a new beginning. Once the euphoria fades, the new government will be judged not by how much better it may be compared to its predecessor, but by how far it gets in meeting the heightened expectations of the people who put them in power. It is only when these expectations are met that a new future will truly be possible for Malaysia.

Jayant Menon is Lead Economist in the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department at the Asian Development Bank, and Adjunct Fellow at the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics at the Australian National University.

Inclusive Politics is Malaysia’s Future

June 3, 2018

Inclusive Politics is Malaysia’s Future

By K Haridas

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There are many opinions about the role that Dr Mahathir Mohamad played in winning the 14th general election. Yes, it is true that he played a part, but not an exclusive one. He came in towards the latter part of the struggle, and while we acknowledge his role, we must never miss out on the many others who for years (since 1998) have been challenging the establishment and creating an alternative to Barisan Nasional (BN). This struggle cannot be seen in the context of just one general election.

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Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and The Iconic Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, 4th and 7th Prime Minister of Malaysia

BN lost the popular vote in the 13th General Election but never reflected or learnt any lessons. The arrogance and blindness as well as political skulduggery of its members were astonishing. Cash was king, and with gerrymandering and constituency delineations to their benefit, they felt they could do as usual.

Perhaps more than anyone else, the one person who contributed the most to the opposition’s victory was none other than Najib Razak and his excesses.

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The entire opposition played a significant role. Leaders in PKR and DAP must be credited for their persistence, perseverance and vigour in taking on issues left by Najib. They fought in Parliament, had issues in court, and went to the people. Neither should we forget the relentless work of Rafizi Ramli and his Invoke team. I can appreciate their feelings when undue importance is placed on Mahathir’s contributions.

Invoke was on the ground for several months, doing the needed legwork, raising money, and educating the public. Rafizi put down a sizeable amount of his own cash, crowd funded, and led a team on the ground. If you have done this, then speak; otherwise let us be wise when we take issue with him. It is easy to comment without commitment.

While we respect Mahathir and his leadership, the fact is that PPBM only managed to secure 12 out of the 52 parliamentary seats and 22 out of the 102 state seats that it contested. If Mahathir was such an icon, PPBM should have done better. Further, the party is only open to Bumiputeras. There is no future for such exclusive parties, and it is amazing that Mahathir leads such a party and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman with all his intelligence succumbs to it. They are just UMNO 2.0. Mahathir himself needs a mindset change.

We must also thank unsung heroes like Zahid Hamidi, Ahmad Mazlan, Nazri Aziz, Rahman Dahlan and Salleh Keruak. Their remarks and the intelligence they exhibited over the years made many lose confidence in BN. They should each be awarded the erstwhile “broom award” that a former Selangor government used to hand out.

Destiny has its way of working into the issues of the day. The fact that PPBM was deregistered led to the idea of the opposition standing under one logo. The willingness of DAP to forgo its rocket emblem and PPBM to stand under the PKR logo for the larger good were strategic moves. The timing was also significant in that Najib waited and procrastinated until the very end to call the election. Mahathir came in and provided some leadership.

Najib’s leadership qualities were tested over the last nine years and many times, he failed badly in holding the nation to one direction. His divide-and-rule approach, playing the Islamic card when it benefited him, using money in shameful ways, all eventually caught up with him. It is amazing that he lost the UMNO bastions of Johor, Kedah, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Melaka. It would be unrealistic to deny that there was a tsunami.

With the many good examples of affirmative leadership within the opposition and a cause that was built over the years, culminating with the 1MDB scandal, one can conclude that this election was Najib’s to lose.

However, many also speculated that he would win. Journalists like Manjit Bhatia and even Bloomberg, as well other international media were seen as being on Najib’s side. Yet, the many who had worked relentlessly held on, and the momentum carried them through. East Malaysia responded by breaking BN’s fixed deposits and voting for the opposition. Its people can no longer be taken for granted.

In the end, it was a Malaysian victory and credit must eventually go to the Malaysian voters. Now that we have achieved what many felt was impossible, it is important to focus on what is ahead. Power has the uncanny ability to divide individuals when the focus is lost. It is therefore very important for those in power to ensure that in the first two years of their rule, key issues in their manifesto are met.

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Power corrupts, absolute power corrupt absolutely. Najib was consumed by power and greed. He was an exponent of “Politics without Principles (Mahatma Gandhi)”. He must now full account for his misdeeds.

Power also distorts character because suddenly a lot of adoration, new friends, and temptations invade the minds and lives of those in authority. All the trappings of power require a newfound sense of humility, grace and a capacity to manage oneself. Otherwise, arrogance and pride soon take over and the ego ensures that issues that were previously not of concern become sensitive matters.

All the trappings of power require a newfound sense of humility, grace and a capacity to manage oneself. Otherwise, arrogance and pride soon take over and the ego ensures that issues that were previously not of concern become sensitive matters.

Imagine what this does to Najib and his legacy. For a man who has been in power in one way or another for over four decades, the rot does set in. A sense of invincibility, a belief that you are God’s chosen person for the job, and that cash is king and everyone has a price. This has worked before; why not again? All his sidekicks and the people around him just sang the same song, and soon many were out of touch with reality. Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power, says Abraham Lincoln.

Money, power, women and the fast lane provide the track, and soon one becomes numb to the realities around. It is only when you have lost power that sobriety returns. That is why a term of not more than 10 years is a much-needed period before one becomes susceptible to the ways of power to corrupt and rust one’s character. The Putins and Xis of life can extend the period of their terms in office, but soon realise that more power and autocratic rule is needed to sustain themselves in their positions.

Those who have lost power will do their utmost to divide those in power. It is therefore important to ensure that those now in power will not fall victim to such attempts. Secondly, there will be those who also attempt to infiltrate and divide. Those in power will have to learn how to lead and deliver as a team, and this calls for much patience and understanding. Among themselves, they must hold power to truth in a respectful way.

One must be aware in the Malaysian context of the ethnic fissures as well as the religious card that can be used to exploit differences. The Malaysian agenda must be at the forefront of all who are now in power. We placed you there to make a difference in our lives and to give us a sense of belonging to this nation.

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The activities of  UMNO characters like Tajuddin Abdul Rahman and Jamal Ikan Bakar must be monitored. They are racists

Leadership requires action and stern warnings. The first should go to Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, who has indicated that race and religion are under threat. This is UMNO playing its old game. We should ensure that such expressions are not welcomed in the new Malaysia. As Malaysians, we are here to protect all interests including the race and religion of every community. He should be asked to explain in specific terms how his race and religion are now under threat, and he should be taken to task.

This is what being a Malaysian represents. It is time we sent the Tajuddins of life for re-education programmes. Perhaps we will need a new BTN for this purpose. I hope the government will take a stand, otherwise we will soon have all sorts of interest groups fanning issues of race and religion. I hope the present leadership will send a clear signal that such expressions are not welcome today. Is it not fair to expect this leadership from Pakatan Harapan?

Malaysians voted for an inclusive Malaysia. UMNO, MIC, MCA and other ethnic parties who have divided us over the last few decades have to move on to new turf if they are to remain relevant. I hope BN will become a party of consequence, with the earlier coalition members accepting their irrelevance and merging into one opposition reality that champions the Malaysian cause. It is only in this context that they will have a future.

New blood will have to come into BN, and herein is the opportunity for young and committed Malaysians who have politics in mind to go in and reshape the cause, idealism and direction that BN so desperately needs. It is only when we do our best by the whole that we are also fair to everyone. Such is the nature of inclusive politics.

K Haridas is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.