Reform For New Malaysia

October 13, 2018

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Malaysia:  Reform for Transparent Governance

Improving parliamentary scrutiny helps the new government meet its election promises.

Strengthening the Parliament and making the budget process more transparent are two promises made by the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government in the run up to Malaysia’s 14th general election (GE-14) in May. The former is listed in the manifesto as Promise 16, while the latter is Promise 29. Both reforms are interrelated and complementary to each other in ensuring a robust check-and-balance against the executive branch, which had been very dominant under the former Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

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Recently, the new Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat (Lower House of Parliament) and former senior judge Mohamad Ariff Mohd Yusof (pic above) led a parliamentary delegation to Canberra to visit the Australian Parliament. By drawing from Australia’s experience in this area, the Malaysian Parliament can be strengthened through budget transparency reforms.

Parliaments play a key role in the budget process in many countries including Malaysia, with powers to approve or reject government budgets and oversee their implementation and outcomes. A robust parliament is essential in creating a robust budget process.

All government policies inevitably require some public resources for planning and implementation, and the budget process is an important medium for the Parliament to scrutinise policy decisions made by the Executive Branch and hold them accountable. It’s not unusual in Malaysia for opposition parliamentarians to use the budget debate to argue for a pay cut over ministers’ policy failures.

To make informed decisions, the Parliament also requires extensive information and it relies on government agencies with first-hand information. Without a transparent robust budget process supported by relevant budget information, parliaments cannot make informed decisions about budget allocations and uphold accountability effectively.

The Malaysian Parliament had been criticised as a rubber stamp for the executive branch in the previous government. While there are no global indicators on national legislative strength, indices on democracy can serve as a rough proxy, given that parliaments are central institutions in democracies. In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, Malaysia is a ‘flawed democracy’, which despite holding regular elections, has significant weaknesses in its democracy. BN (and its predecessor the Alliance) held a two-thirds majority in Malaysia’s Parliament for most of its rule since independence (except the last two terms), and it was rare for government bills to be amended never mind defeated.

In terms of budget transparency, Malaysia is also in a sorry state. According to the latest Open Budget Survey 2017, the Malaysian public has only limited access to budget information and the country ranked 54 out of 113 countries, with a score of 46 out of 100. Although the Survey did not ask specifically about the information accessible by parliamentarians, it was likely no better than the public they represent. In Southeast Asia, Malaysia is trailing behind the Philippines (67 points), Indonesia (64 points), and Thailand (56 points), and only ahead of Cambodia (20 points), Vietnam (15 points) and Myanmar (7 points). Singapore, Brunei and Laos did not participate in the Survey.

Malaysia’s performance in two other pillars of budget accountability is likewise bad: the country received a score of 22 out 100 in public participation, and a score of 35 in institutional oversight. In particular, the Survey finds parliament providing weak oversight throughout the budget process. There is no pre-budget debate in Parliament and there are also no parliamentary committees to examine budget proposals. Malaysia also does not have an independent fiscal institution like Australia’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), which is increasingly recognised as an important source of independent and nonpartisan information in the budget process.

With PH taking power in GE-14, many have seen this as an opportunity for remaking Malaysia, with reforming parliament frequently at the top of the agenda. While the issue of budget transparency isn’t prominently on the radar, we should appreciate its linkages with parliamentary reforms and promote it as an integral part of the movement to strengthen the Parliament.

Two particular reform directions stand out from the discussion above: more information should be made available, and the Parliament has to beef up its oversight capabilities. In this respect, there are things that Malaysia can learn from the Australian budget process. Both countries share the same institutional roots in the British Westminster system, but Australia is far ahead in terms of budget transparency. In the Open Budget Survey 2017, it ranked 12 and received a score of 72. Australia also has a vibrant budget oversight institutional setting, particularly the Senate Estimates, which examine the annual budget in detail.

Australia has been a pioneer in pursuing budget transparency reforms since the 1990s. There are two pillars of budget transparency in its modern budget process: the Charter of Budget Honesty and the PBO. Both level the information playing field between the Executive Branch and the Parliament.

Enacted in 1998 to improve fiscal policy outcomes, the Charter of Budget Honesty has been crucial in making more budget information is accessible by the public, and also parliamentarians who represent them. The Charter requires a number of documents to be published for ‘facilitating public scrutiny of fiscal policy and performance’. For example, the government js required to produce a Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) report, which provides an update to the annual budget halfway through the year, and reports any events or changes that may affect the budget’s trajectory. The government must also produce an Intergenerational Report every five years, which provides a long-term aspect to budget forecasting. Such documents are currently not available in Malaysia, thus limiting the information base its Parliament can use in scrutinizing the executive branch.

On the other hand, the PBO, established in 2012, plays an important role in breaking the government’s monopoly on having access to advice on the financial implications of proposed policies. The establishment of this institution allows parliamentarians to build their own policy proposals with proper costing, using the same rules and conventions as the government’s, thus allowing deliberations on a same footing. The PBO has proven to be a great resource for opposition parliamentarians. For example, in 2016-17, over 1,600 policy costings were prepared. This has contributed to improving the vibrancy of Australian parliamentary debate, with back benchers and opposition parliamentarians in a better position to carve out more solid policy alternatives to the government.

In Malaysia, this policy costing service is available only to the government. The lack of proper costings of policy proposals have been an excuse used by past governments to dismiss the opposition’s policy proposals without addressing their merits. Even the new Pakatan Harapan government has used this as a reason to justify their failure of delivering some of the election pledges. An independent fiscal institution like the PBO would rectify the problem.

The Senate Estimates process is another key feature of Australian budget scrutiny, which should be relevant to Malaysia. Established in 1970 to replace the ‘committee of the whole’ process, Senate Estimates have since become an annual ritual of the budget process, where ministers and officials are called to attend public hearings to assist Senate standing committees in considering departmental budgets. The Estimates inquiries are conducted twice a year, the first when the main supply bills are introduced into parliament, and the second when additional supply bills are tabled. They allow Senate standing committees to consider departments’ spending in a detailed manner, which would otherwise be cumbersome for the Senate to address as the committee of the whole.


The new government can and should take the opportunity to rehabilitate Malaysia’s battered While the purpose of the Estimates process is to help the Senate make informed decisions about the budget, its importance goes beyond that. Given that the Estimates are conducted in the form of public hearings, and officials, instead of just ministers, can be called to testify, they provide senators an unparalleled opportunity to seek information on the operations of government. They are also part of the parliamentary scrutiny of the performance of the executive branch, as ministers and officials are required to explain not only what had happened, but also why. This is where accountability is most directly manifested.

In its GE-14 manifesto, Pakatan Harapan pledged that parliamentary select committees will be established to monitor every ministry, with the power to call ministers and senior officials to testify. As illustrated by the Australian experience, the budget process serves as a good medium for these committees to hold the Executive Branch accountable for its policies, given that their funding is in play. And this is part of the recommendations by the Open Budget Survey 2017 Malaysia country report, in which it urges Malaysia to prioritize the establishment of parliamentary select committees that can examine the annual Budget.

The Malaysian Budget is where taxing and spending decisions are made, and Parliament plays a central role in the process. By improving the budget process, Parliament is also strengthened, and vice-versa.

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home

September 30, 2018

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly was poised, articulate and to the point.

He did not mince his words when he spoke about global political, economic, social and environmental conditions since his last address 15 years ago, in 2003.

The gist? That the world has not changed much in terms of reform; that the developing world is still being bullied by powerful nations; that the trade war between the US and China continues to impoverish poorer and smaller countries; that there is a growing ambiguity of social values, and that the notion of freedom has become skewed, at best.

Intellectually-sharp and laudable, Dr. Mahathir delivered his poignant message, that the “new Malaysia” is not naive. He told the UN General Assembly that Malaysia will continue to soldier on with other countries, through the United Nations, to make the world a better place, economically, politically, socially and environmentally.

In foreign policy jargon, Mahathir delivered a warning against the acts of dangerous, threatening Hitlers and the misconceptions of peaceful, law-abiding allies.

Overall, his Address championed the aspirations of the developing world and smaller non-aligned nations. However, there is more that we should take away from his Address, in order to render his thoughts more relevant in the domestic Malaysian context.

There are three key areas the new Malaysia should focus on. Mahathir spoke of global terrorism. Although he did not specify the actual definition of the term (or of the word “terrorist”), one can read between the lines. He lamented that there is “something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero”.

What he actually means is that the powerful have the capacity to define concepts in order to justify certain acts. Terrorism, as coined by the powerful, is a notion applied to non-state actors, jihadists and transnational communities of oppressed people who react violently to achieve justice.

Powerful states have the sole purpose of pushing their economic and political agendas and so a global understanding of the concept of terrorism was born after 9/11.

Yes, about 3,000 died mercilessly at the World Trade Center in 2001. But almost 130,000 (mostly civilians) perished in one day, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. This is more than 43 times the death toll at the hands of the so-called Islamic terrorists.

Yet, throughout the decades after World War Two, the acceptable narrative describing US geo-political advances (and those of her allies) was never termed “terrorist” or “terrorism”.

I am not condoning such acts as no mass killing of civilians can be considered civilised behaviour. However, we must consider here the socio-political manipulation of labels.

In the Malaysian context it is happening all around us to the detriment of the common people. For instance, the notion of “the rights of Malays” and “the welfare of the Malays”. What rights are we focusing on? The right to get a job based on race or the right that all qualified and capable Malays should be appropriately awarded?

For me, it is the latter. Yet, certain politicians still choose to speak about the unfair treatment of the Malays and that the new Pakatan Harapan government should be tasked to help bring them up to greatness and to be protected.

The label of “rights” is bandied around but its meaning is deliberately couched in ambiguity for an ulterior political motive.

Using Mahathir’s example of the plight of the Rohingyas, his message was an appeal for “caring”; that just because a nation is independent it does not mean the world should close an eye to domestic suffering and injustice.

He reiterated that nations need to solve the problems of global conflict, racism and bigotry by going back to the root causes.

Similarly, the state of Malaysia’s education system needs care and we need to identify the root causes of the inequality that exists in our schools and universities.

Agreed, our teachers and professors are not being massacred, and neither are our students. But mentally, the massacre began 61 years ago.

The public university leadership has failed to produce thinking professional graduates and to my mind, this is humanity’s greatest form of oppression.

We are all aware that our public university leadership is more concerned with national and international rankings, administrative positions of the academic staff, titles and research funding.

But are the research funds, for instance, channeled into meaningful projects to help society overcome real problems of poverty and discrimination?

Are the researchers and academics “caring” enough to plan such research even though they may not be awarded a future government contract or a datukship?

This brings me to my next point: values. Mahathir commented that there is something wrong with our way of thinking.  To my mind, the sole purpose of an education is to instil good values. These include moderation, dignity, integrity, hard work, perseverance and honour. No matter what religion or creed one belongs to, these are universal values.

In post-election Malaysia, this topic has surfaced many times. But I fear it is just a narrative with no substance.

There are many issues that have surfaced since PH took over. From the appointment of key ministerial positions, to presidents of universities, to the PD move, to child marriage, the list goes on.

Nepotism, cronyism and corruption still loom over us but it is not too late for values reform. What better way to start than to realise that, while it is important for us to preach values to the international community, we should apply this to our own society.

There is a need for all Malaysians to delve deeper into Mahathir’s UNGA Address because he was not only sending a message to the superpowers and their allies.We should also see his message as a warning to tackle our own domestic crises; problems that have arisen as a result of past mistakes, on-going stubbornness to address those mistakes and a lack of foresight.

Dr.Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an FMT reader.

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


Cry no more, my beloved country, Malaysia

September 26, 2018

Cry no more, my beloved country, Malaysia


by Bob

COMMENT | Saddened by the state of our country, I wrote a piece titled “Cry, my beloved country” six years ago.

But the unexplainable happened on 9 May. The old regime was swept out of power through an unprecedented electoral revolt. Hope has finally arrived on our shores.

However, the frantic rush by party warlords to install the next Prime Minister after the current one steps down mid-term is worrying. Still my hope is anchored on nothing less than a New Malaysia. Cry no more, my beloved country.

Two former Star colleagues of mine, both retired, one in Penang and the other in New York were trying to catch up with the distance that separates them just the other day in Petaling Jaya. Very soon they came to the same conclusion. They don’t trust Anwar Ibrahim, the Prime minister-in-waiting.

“And it is too much of a coincidence that every time Anwar’s name crops up in conversation, others say they don’t trust him too,” one of them said.

Indeed so, I agree with both of them but for different reasons, as I wrote earlier in my piece, “The Prime minister-in-waiting must not jump the queue”.

Losing the plot

I was a life member of PKR since 2008, but not anymore.  Anwar seems to have lost his Reformasi plot. He sticks to old regime politics not much different from what UMNO used to do. In the New Malaysia, we need statespeople, not apparatchiks.

His party, PKR, which is now the biggest component in the new ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition in terms of parliamentary seats, is hopelessly split with Vice-President Rafizi Ramli running against current Deputy President Azmin Ali to be deputy to Anwar, the President-designate.

This is not only Azmin’s second term in this party position, but he is also the new Economic Affairs Minister and former  Menteri Besar of Selangor. He was one of the better performing chief ministers the state ever had.

Azmin (photo) has his critics, who have accused him of putting his own people in the state government when he was Menteri Besar, as well as in the current federal cabinet. He is also accused of insisting on keeping PAS in his cabinet against party wishes.

Rafizi’s reason for running against Azmin is to make sure Anwar becomes the Prime Minister. The incumbent Vice-President accuses Azmin of coveting the premiership for himself and that the latter is in league with former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin and colluding with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Azmin is also accused of disloyalty to Anwar simply because he has not offered to give up his Gombak parliamentary seat for Anwar to be elected into the lower house in order to assume the premiership.

By this token, there now seems to be two prime ministers-in-waiting, not just one. Either way, the pretender to the throne is in a hurry to seize the moment now. But Azmin has been quick to punch back by saying Rafizi was still a “toddler” when the Reformasi movement started in 1998. Azmin said he had stood by Anwar and has stayed loyal to his struggle from the day the latter was sacked from the government.

Reformasi veterans like Tian Chua are aligned to Azmin. Among those  in Rafizi’s camp is Anwar’s daughter and Permatang Puah MP Nurul Izzah who was the “Puteri Reformasi” (Reformasi princess) and still in school when Anwar went to jail back then.

Nurul has come a long way since. She commanded the most votes in the Vice-presidency contest in Penang over the weekend, garnering 4,039 votes, far outnumbering her opponents.

Meanwhile, Anwar himself has confirmed things are not going well. He said unnamed leaders in PKR are allegedly offering projects for support in the party’s internal election. Is UMNO-style money politics making in-roads into PKR?

Anwar also acknowledged weaknesses in the party’s ongoing election processes, after voting was variously suspended in several states owing to alleged irregularities as well as violent disagreements.

A betrayal

This is plain betrayal to those who elected Danyal four months ago. By accepting this, Anwar is similarly tainted. This scandalises the whole notion of a democratic election, where the sanctity of democracy is now sacrificed on the altar of political ambition.

An ethical question mark hangs over Anwar’s Port Dickson Move. The incumbent MP there is PKR’s Danyal Balagopal Abdullah (centre in photo). He vacated his seat on Sept 12 to make way for a by-election for Anwar to contest to enable him to become prime minister.

In the 14th general election, Danyal won the Port Dickson seat in athree-corner fight, garnering 36,225 votes, with a large majority of 17,710 votes. He has now handed over the seat on a platter to Anwar.

The Prime Minister-in-waiting should have been more circumspect. There are other options for him.

Anwar’s electoral base has always been Permatang Pauh. When he was in prison, his wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, now Deputy Prime Minister, stood in for him in this parliamentary seat until the last general election where she switched to Pandan, the parliamentary seat previously held by Rafizi Ramli, and won. He did not contest due to a court
conviction for exposing a page of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report. He was later bound over.

In a parallel move, Anwar’s daughter, Nurul, moved from her Lembah Pantai constituency to contest in Permatang Pauh and won.

We are not told of the reason behind this family musical chairs. No one would complain if either of them vacated her seat to make way for Anwar to return to Parliament via a by-election. This would have been better than the Port Dickson Move, which was very much outsourced to Rafizi.

It was Rafizi (photo) who had conjured the Kajang Move that morphed into a full-blown political crisis in Selangor in 2014.

The idea was to topple Khalid Ibrahim as PKR’s Menteri Besar of Selangor, and install Anwar Ibrahim as his replacement. The attempt resulted in a nine-month political crisis within the state of Selangor and the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, that also involved the Palace of Selangor. The irony is that the crisis concluded with the appointment of PKR’s Deputy President, Azmin, as the next Menteri Besar of Selangor.

The Kajang Move backfired. It can backfire again. As pundits would have it, Anwar would have succeeded in his Kajang Move. What if nobody turns out on polling day on Oct 13? Already the BN opposition has said it would not contest, and PAS may also not field a candidate. Anwar may suffer the embarrassment of facing an unknown independent. It may be a hollow victory after all. This does not augur well for a Prime Minister-in-waiting.

After May 9, we now have a two-party electoral system, the first in six decades. In the recent general election, the opposition did not expect to win and the ruling coalition did not expect to lose.

In the words of former UMNO leader and minister Rafidah Aziz, God heard our collective prayer. The people won. The eyes of the Almighty is on our nation. Man may propose this move or that move, but it is God who may dispose. I am at ease. Cry no more, my beloved country.

BOB TEOH is a faith-based writer.

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

CEP’s Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram–A Life of Public Service

September 24, 2018

CEP’s Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram–A Life of Public Service

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The Council of Eminent Persons (CEP), sometimes described as the Council of Elders, was set up to advice the Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s new Pakatan Harapan government.

However, the CEP has also attracted a fair amount of controversy, including criticisms from within Harapan about the council’s role and powers.

One of the council’s members, economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram, addresses those criticisms in a question-and-answer format.

Question: You have been quite quiet since you were appointed to the CEP.

Jomo: Yes. Given all the speculation and tendentious publicity, I did not feel it was helpful to provide more fuel to the fire. As you know, myths about the CEP thrived, and all manner of things were attributed to the CEP, often wrongly.

There were also things we did in our individual capacities, which were being attributed to the CEP. As a result, the initial goodwill, credibility and legitimacy the CEP enjoyed were undermined, and instead of being an asset to the government, especially the PM, we became the butt of many criticisms, including from within the Harapan coalition, largely due to misunderstandings and misperceptions.

I think I speak for all CEP members that if the PM needs our services, we will gladly serve in our individual capacities, and hopefully, become less of a liability to him.

Why are you reported to be against publication of the CEP report?

The issue is complex and nuanced. First, producing a single report for publication was not in the PM’s appointment letter or announcement.

Undoubtedly, some other bodies in the past, viewed by many as precedents, did produce reports after working for much longer periods, but some did not. For example, Tun Razak’s National Consultative Council after May 1969 did not do so.

Our brief was to help the PM, and the new government, with some immediate tasks at hand, especially the PH manifesto pledges for the first 100 days. To do that well, we tried to offer advice as soon as possible for him to consider and act upon, which is different from producing a report after 100 days.

But a report has been submitted to the PM?

While CEP members were agreed on most matters, there were also some disagreements, for example, on government-linked companies. As is known, some of us disagreed on privatisation policy decades ago, which has a bearing on contemporary debates.

It may be impossible to resolve some such differences, even after further discussion. In such situations, what does one do? Remain silent, or publish the chair’s view, as long as that is made clear.

The CEP chairperson has come under particular criticism from certain quarters.

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Former CEP Chairman Tun Daim Zainuddin–The Silent Man of Action

I am not sure what you are referring to, but his longstanding relationship to the PM was undoubtedly crucial to the CEP’s establishment and functioning, and the object of criticism by his or the PM’s detractors.

There were also many criticisms of his trip to China, but again, such criticisms were undeserved, in my view. Governments dispatch special envoys all the time to deal with sensitive matters discreetly.

But you were a critic of the earlier Mahathir administration.

Indeed, I was critical of some aspects, but if you read what I wrote, my criticisms were always intended to improve government policy, and I also shared his aspirations for the country, especially development, industrialisation, Wawasan 2020, economic nationalism, nation-building, the so-called Asian financial crisis.

The CEP has not been meeting after the 100 days, but yet a report has just been submitted to the PM.

While we have not met or reviewed draft reports since, our chair has been helping the MACC on certain urban land abuses, as he should. Remember he has vast experience in such matters for half a century, even before he was involved with UDA, the Urban Development Authority.

Some CEP meetings were like master classes where I personally learnt more than I could ever hope to learn from reading.

So, are you for or against publication of the report?

It is really up to the PM. There are many options, including partial publication. Remember there are some highly sensitive matters, in terms of official secrecy as well as other matters which may be sensitive in terms of market behaviour, international diplomacy or even legal procedure.

As someone who has been critical of the abuse of secrecy in the past, I must also acknowledge that there are legitimately sensitive matters, and full transparency may not always be in the public interest.

If the CEP had a different proposal on some issue from the one eventually adopted by the Harapan government, what is the point of publicizing such differences with the government of the day after the fact? It is likely to be used by detractors for their own purposes rather than for better purposes.

Also, as you know, two committees were set up. The Institutional Reform Committee prepared a long report with a view to publication, and the PM may wish to publish it. The other one on 1MDB has contributed to expediting investigation and action, but I doubt their recommendations were intended for publication.

So, you will have nothing to show for your 100 CEP days?

Serving the national and public interest was our priority, not publicity or publications.

What are you doing a month after the CEP’s 100 days ended?

No longer an elder, I already feel younger.Many people expect me to write about the CEP, its work and its recommendations. I have no such plans, but am very busy with earlier unfinished and postponed work as well as new work to help the new administration, preferably under the radar.

When Ambitious Young Pols get it Wrong on Reformasi 1998, 2007 and beyond–Know History First

September 1, 2018

When Ambitious Young Pols get it Wrong on Reformasi 1998, 2007 and beyond–Know History First

Opinion  |  Phar Kim Beng

Read this:

Today (2018) Anwar Ibrahim may have changed since I wrote since I wrote the above piece in 2007. He is a Prime Minister in Waiting. He  can  no longer be an idealistic public intellectual as I knew him. Political realism will influence him. After all, like his hero, Jose Rizal, he is nationalist who gave lot of himself for Malaysia. I will not judge him by his book, The Asian Renaissance. From here on. His policies and actions will matter. But I can only hope his Galbraithian vision of a Humane Society can be pursued with renewed passion. Good luck, Sdr Anwar.–Din Merican

Also Read This :

COMMENT | As things are, no one knows the demographic profile of the 800,000 PKR members. But it would not be farfetched to believe that many started following the party’s President-Elect Anwar Ibrahim’s ideals and ideas from 1978 or 1988.

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Anwar Ibrahim: From Jose Rizal (Philippines), Khomeini (Iran), Habibie (Indonesia), Erdogan (Turkey) to Anwar (2018)–Is VS Naipaul right?

If the former date is valid, followers such as Azmin Ali, Khalid Jaafar, Kamaruddin Jaafar or Muhammad Nur Manuty could not have missed the important revelation of the book ‘Among The Believers’ by VS Naipaul.

Naipaul was a famous British writer born in Trinidad and Tobago. Although of Indian ancestry and parentage, he was a top writer in 1980s, spurred not least by his vintage prose that was both elegant and lucid.

But Naipaul didn’t do Anwar any favour. Despite granting Naipaul an interview in 1979, the prickly British writer had Anwar classified as an “Islamic” fundamentalist, ostensibly one who would do all the biddings of then Iran leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

This was a serious, if not a pernicious, mischaracterisation of Anwar and many Muslim activists interviewed by Naipaul in his famous book, which oddly enough, was later rewarded with the Nobel Prize in English Literature.

Knowingly or unknowingly, most likely the former, Naipaul started this wave of prejudice against Anwar and Muslim thinkers and intellectuals who wanted to use “Islam” as a template to redeem their countries and civilisations.

Their inability to separate what was secular and spiritual, according to Naipaul, would be the first sign of their impending failure in the years and decades to come.

Yet, Naipaul (photo) was using a condescending outlook to tar almost every Muslim activist – even if they were trained in top universities like Leiden University in Netherlands or McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

Whatever the credentials of the activists, if they don’t keep the state and religion apart, they were deemed as atavistic thinkers. That was Naipaul’s yardstick.

Anwar was particularly vulnerable to the caricature of Naipaul precisely because he, apart from being deputy prime minister, was the president of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in 1990, a decision approved by his boss, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, himself.

Mahathir, to be sure, knew that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was not sufficiently savvy and well-read to handle the “Islamic file”. Tens of thousands of Muslims had been trained in the West, some in the Middle East too.

When they came home to Malaysia, they were either brimming with practical scientific knowledge or austere religious rigours. Some of them could combine the two into a unique blend to be a “New Malay,” while others retreated into their silos, such as Abdul Awang Hadi, to start the process of “kafir mengkafir” in 1981.

The thrust of Hadi was to make Muslims reject the West totally so that they were not tainted by anything amounting to modernisation, industrialisation, or an inner psychological reawakening.

Indeed, to this day, Hadi, now the President of PAS, refused to acknowledge the importance of science; not even forensic accounting that has exposed the money trail of 1MDB, to say the least.

Thus between 1981 and 1997, Mahathir was heavily guiding Anwar on how to handle the West and East – with Islam as the prime. The net outcome of that process was the crystalisation of the idea of “Islam Madani” by Anwar in 1995. “Madani” meant the importance of empowering the emergence of civil society, something that Anwar himself truly believed in, since the state could not have been made into a Hobbesian Leviathan.

In the view of Anwar, then and now, especially the latter, the state must be a Lilliputian tied down by various checks and balances, without which the flagrant abuse of the executive arm of the government alone would wrack havoc on the lives of millions in Malaysia. His own fate as a student leader and then opposition leader was a case in point.

Regardless of the Malaysian/Islamic concepts coined by Anwar, or friendly entities like the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), with its headquarters in Virginia, which believed in the “Islamisation of Knowledge,” the central thrust of Anwar, indeed, Mahathir and Mohamad Sabu, was all about self-strengthening.

Rich gamut

Between 1968 and 2018, they knew the power of Malaysia came from the self-discipline of each and every Malaysian to demand something larger than themselves.

In this sense, their ideals and ideas were not that far off from DAP leaders Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng, indeed, even the scholarship of Professor KS Jomo (photo) and Professor Terence Gomez in Universiti Malaya between 1981 and 1997.

During this period alone, Jomo and Gomez produced a rich gamut of impressive work on the corrosive power of unmanaged capital, indeed, untraceable monies. DAP supported their theoretical and empirical works, even seeking the advice of the duo.

Of course, what the duo in the academia did not foresee was the gangrenous transformation of government-linked investment companies (GLICs) into future scandals like 1MDB or what former Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin called “mini 1MDBs”.

Without a shadow of a doubt, PKR leader Rafizi Ramli is smart. But it goes without saying, too, that with or without Invoke, his polling firm, May 9 would have culminated into a victory against the kleptocracy of UMNO and BN anyway.

The insidious and incestuous relationships with unknown business entities in Dubai, Hong Kong, Cayman Islands and elsewhere just made the story all the more sordid, and spectacularly “foolish”, as P Gunasegaram correctly wrote in his latest book.

But to win the deputy presidency in PKR, Rafizi has overlooked the intellectual genealogy of the reforms of Anwar, indeed, the anti-colonial reforms of Mahathir and others too.

If anything, it would seem that Rafizi has forced the political clock to start from 1998 – overlooking any structures of oppression that has had a long pedigree and history.

The scholarship of ‘The Myth of the Lazy Malay’ by the late Professor Syed Hussein Alatas (photo), for example, earned a powerful mention in the work of Edward Said in his book ‘Orientalism’, published in 1979, which were two of Anwar’s favourite books.

Although Edward Said, a top Palestinian intellectual (who was once at the prestigious Columbia University) is no longer alive, he had warned of the danger of “othering” a subject without any historical context.

Thus, it was wrong for the West, for example, to assume that the Arab world and Islamic civilisation had always been backward, when in fact, they were one of the most powerful civilisations from the 11th to 16th century.

When “all the lights in European capitals were switched off,” wrote Janet Abu Lughod in her famous book on European “hegemony,” which was another top favourite of Anwar, the “lights in the capitals of the East were glittering luminously”.

Lughod was referring to the thriving cities from Marrakesh in Morocco to Davao in Mindanao at one stage, when Islamic empires and states were at the pinnacle of their powers, including the Ottoman Empire in modern Turkey.

Written works

Anwar, due to his love for written works, also enlisted the likes of Dr Ahmet Davutoglu to be a professor at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Davutoglu went on to become the chief advisor to the prime minister of Turkey, then become Turkey’s foreign minister, and finally the prime minister of Turkey from 2014 to 2016.

Not to be outdone, Mahathir also consumed the works of Kenichi Ohmae, a top strategist at McKinsey, who inspired him to create the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), which in turn gave us Putrajaya, Cyberjaya and Kuala Lumpur that are now interconnected to one another.

Mohamad Sabu, too, did not let up. He read the works of Ali Shariati to understand the tone and texture of the Iranian Revolution without being flushed away by the hurried pace of the events in the Middle East and Persia.


By locating his electoral campaign in PKR within the context of 1998, Rafizi has inadvertently lobbed off a huge chunk of reformist Malaysian history.

Win, lose or draw, since it is not Rafizi alone who is competing, but a huge team of candidates, all should know that their redemption lies not in privileging 1998 alone but 1968 and earlier.

By taking everyone back to 1998, Rafizi appears to be saying there was no Anwar worth reflecting from or other leaders and scholars. But this cannot be. Prior to 1998, or 1968, Tan Chee Koon was known as the Mr Opposition.

Thinkers like the late Rustam Sani, with a PhD in Sociology from Yale University, was one of the visionaries who came up with the concept of Vision 2020 (?), which was endorsed and accepted by Mahathir, even though Rustam, son of Ahmad Boestaman, came predominantly from Islamic left, while Mahathir was from the Islamic right.

Left or right, Anwar has always believed that the solution lies in the “middle,” especially given the context and background of Malaysia as a multicultural country.

No doubt, 1998 was a period of angry revulsion. But it was also a footnote among many historical epochs that make Malaysia complete – just as May 9, 2018, was a defining event that led to the return of Mahathir to lead the country back to some degree of sobriety after close to nine years of drunken indulgence in materialistic excesses and irrational exuberance.

Allowing Anwar back into the fold, and permitting him to be a prime minister-in-waiting is a gesture of goodwill that should be reciprocated step by step, by all sides, not by digging up a singular point of the past alone.

Yesterday, Part 1: Reformasi in 1998: Perhaps Rafizi got it wrong?

PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

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

Malaysia’s tough reforms ahead

August 31, 2018

Malaysia’s tough reforms  ahead

Donald L Horowitz / Khmer Times
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Malaysia’s new government faces challenges. The most urgent parts of a democracy agenda, non-discrimination and freedom of thought, may be hard to secure rapidly or fully due to the constellation of forces now sitting in Malaysia’s Parliament, writes Donald L Horowitz.

For the first time in the history of Malaysia, the opposition has defeated a sitting government at the polls. During the long rule of the Barisan Nasional (BN), Malaysia suffered serious degradation of its legal and political institutions, and the new coalition government of the Pakatan Harapan knows that it must deal with daunting challenges of reform.

The challenges are many. The judiciary needs new and firm guarantees of its independence and competence. Official bodies that regulate elections, fight corruption and cope with crime require fool proof insulation from political meddling. The federal system must be revitalised to ward off discontent and separatism in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, whose powers have been eroded and resources exploited by the former BN central government and its local allies.

Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities are strong supporters of the new government and need to find their way into the country’s mainstream after a long period of marginalisation. Religious minorities have to be freed from harassment, even persecution, by an overblown religious bureaucracy that also victimises moderate Muslims and members of dissenting Islamic sects. A country that lost large portions of political freedom confronts a heavy agenda of revitalisation.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad might be thought an unlikely reformer, given his prior record in the office from 1981 to 2003. But his capacity to get things done – including a major progressive reform of Islamic law that he commissioned in the 1980s – should serve him well.

As head of the smallest party in a four-party coalition, he will be obliged to heed the voices of his partners in Anwar Ibrahim’s multi-ethnic but Malay-majority People’s Justice Party (PKR), the mainly Chinese and Indian Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the moderate Muslim National Trust Party (Amanah). All four are represented in a cabinet that consists of a mix of fresh faces and leaders who are experienced in running what were previously opposition states. It is far more heterogeneous than the BN’s last cabinet.

Many problems are urgent, and short-term remedies have already been initiated. Personnel of doubtful probity have been removed from important commissions, which have also been taken out of the prime minister’s office. A clean-up of the police is underway, and two senior judges whose appointments were seen by the bar as unlawful have resigned. The new government has been quick to act when it comes to tarnished officials, and it has promised to repeal oppressive laws.

Systemic reforms will be harder. Perhaps least difficult will be revision of relations with the two Borneo states, because a blueprint already exists. Malaysia’s central government violated commitments to Sabah and Sarawak by respecting neither their autonomy nor their claim on their own resources. A negotiated outcome on both states should be facilitated by the original agreement, made in 1963, and by the disproportionate number of seats the states occupy on government benches in Parliament.

Creating real independence for institutional bodies that need to be free of partisan meddling is more challenging. That will require borrowing of techniques developed elsewhere. At the very least, durable institutions depend on deliberate decisions that are made ceremoniously, are well recorded, and are widely agreed, so that any violation will be immediately obvious.

Knottier still are problems of inter-ethnic relations. Chinese and Indian voters overwhelmingly cast ballots for the new government, regardless of the ethnic identity of the specific candidate. Disaffected by discrimination, they are expecting a new deal. This expectation may well be fulfilled by a new generation of Malay politicians who consider these voters fellow citizens.

A major obstacle is the split among Malay voters. Only about 30 per cent of Malays voted for Pakatan candidates, and the now opposition Barisan Nasional received almost no votes from non-Malays. Malay voters have become used to claims that the Pakatan is really controlled by its Chinese component, the DAP. Malay parties in the governing coalition will be wary of providing anything that can be interpreted as confirmation of this claim. There have already been complaints about appointments of non-Malays to important positions.

There has also been resistance to reforming the religious bureaucracies that led the religious oppression of the last half-decade. The Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia and its subsidiaries in every state have been responsible for suppressing minority religions and independent religious thought and for instigating police raids and prosecutions of Christians and Islamic dissenters. Its director-general has been replaced, but its ranks need a shakeup that can only proceed gradually.

Formerly moderate and tolerant, Malaysian Islamic opinion and practice have become notably narrower in recent years. Opposition parties will be looking for signs of such forbidden dogmas as ‘liberalism’ and ‘secularism’. The revitalisation of judicial independence should aid in preventing the worst abuses, countenanced as they were by judges who were tolerant of the machinations of the previous regime.

Image result for dr. mahathir mohamad and freedom of expression

The Malaysian Constitution is decidedly democratic and contains clear guarantees of religious freedom that were badly misinterpreted in recent years. Still, the most urgent parts of a democracy agenda – non-discrimination and freedom of thought – may be hard to secure rapidly or fully given the constellation of forces now sitting in Malaysia’s Parliament.

Donald L Horowitz is the James B Duke Professor of Law and Political Science Emeritus at Duke University. This comment first appeared in East Asia Forum.