‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

March 17, 2018

‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

‘Muhibbah’ only in name 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women, Politics and Online Abuse

March 13, 2018

Women, Politics and Online Abuse

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“What needs to be addressed is how government-sanctioned platforms that could have been used to preach tolerance, love and respect are instead being used to spread evil gospels that preach hatred and overzealous bigotry.”
– Syerleena Abdul Rashid

COMMENT | The online abuse against DAP’s Syerleena Abdul Rashid is typical of the mob mentality of those who attack someone like Maryam Lee or anyone else that goes against the groupthink that certain quarters feel the need of defending.

When Gerakan’s Raja Sara Petra got into a skirmish with DAP’s Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud of DAP a couple of years back, the online abuse she faced was horrific, considering the issue in contention was claims made by Dyana of how Umno had “cheated the Malays.”

While the mob mentality of the opposition revolves around specific narratives, that of establishment partisans usually centres on the role of race and religion and how opposition operatives, either political or social, are eschewing their traditional roles.

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If you read some of the comments whenever someone like UMNO’s Azalina Othman Said, for instance, says anything, and contrast this with the comments received by opposition operatives like Syerleena, both display a level of misogyny that ironically opposition supporters do not see or seem to understand.

Women who participate in politics from both sides of the political divide tell me that the level of abuse they receive online is far worse than the men, who more or less say the same thing. We are talking about a specific type of hate here.

When opposition women receive abuse from certain quarters of the online community, there are outpourings of sympathy, but when it comes to pro-establishment women, they are reminded that not to expect any sympathy when they put themselves in the position of being “criticised.”

Rational discourse impossible

And if you are a Muslim woman, it is very much worse. Last year the BBC ran an article titled “The online abuse hurled at Malaysia’s Muslim women,” which included quotes from not only Dyana (photo), but also Maryam.

It begins with this, and just gets more depressing: “‘We are seeing a trend where Muslim women (particularly Malay-Muslims) are targeted in a different way, especially when it comes to how they present themselves,’ says Juana Jaafar, a women’s rights advocate who followed the case of the 15-year-old girl. Juana says the attacks became so brutal for the girl, she was forced to delete her account and seek help offline.”

The problem with all this online abuse, either from establishment or opposition partisans, is that it makes rational discourse impossible. Especially when it comes to reforming a religion or challenging the status quo, women, more often than not – especially those who are Muslim – are at the forefront.

Either conservative or liberal, Muslim women are targets for what they say by anonymous cretins, who have no problem spewing racial or religious filth and smugly thinking that are on the “right” side.

When someone like Syerleena criticises the religious institutions which have a profound impact on the lives of Muslims in this country, it is a broader criticism on religious institutions who are do not have the ability to sanction adherents, but which operate on a different level.

For example, I know of many women who self-identify as Hindu or Christian who have been on the receiving end of online and real-life abuse from their communities, because their activism challenges the status quo when it comes to the respective religion and cultures.

As more women participate in the political and religious process of this country, the more opportunities for online and real life abuse they face. Many political operatives in the opposition, for instance, have found themselves on the receiving end of state-sponsored online abuse.

I say state-sponsored because inevitably the fight against the patriarchy here in Malaysia revolves around the state-sponsored religion, which is used as a tool to enforce compliance and obedience in the Malay polity, with the state security apparatus having very little interest in carrying out their obligations towards women they deem are bringing shame to their culture and religion.

Lure of power

It is a good thing that Hindu, Christian and Buddhist religious institutions do not have the same power of the state when it comes to enforcing dogma, or it would be even worse. Can you imagine if the other religions enjoyed the privileges of the state as Islam does?

Seriously, can you imagine being under the watchful gaze of religious departments or religious police and having to be wary of your fellow countrymen who watch your every move and see nothing wrong in telling you that you are going against religion and culture. Can you imagine living like that every single day of your life?

If you have this power, especially of men over women, would you want to give it up? The state and its religious bureaucrats, certainly do not want to. The simmering tensions of what I refer to as the deep Islamic state certainly despises women and men who choose to go against the patriarchy.

I am encouraged that the opposition at least makes an attempt to tackle these issues. The opposition should have a clear strategy when it comes to women’s issues in this country. After all, if I am not mistaken, Muslim women are a big demographic when it comes to the education in this country, meaning there are more women in educational establishments, and thus are fertile ground to mine for votes and change mindsets, while the men in their community don their red shirts and fight the yellow peril.

Indeed, the women’s vote could be a major voting block for opposition operatives already operating under the restrictions and electoral legerdemain of the state.

To be honest, I am sick and tired of hearing how Muslim political operatives either defend the status quo or waffle on about how we need to respect religious differences.

I end this piece with an excerpt from an article by DAP’s Yeo Bee Yin last year about the patriarchy and the rape culture in Malaysia – “Deep down, at the core of UMNO’s Shabudin Yahaya’s ‘marrying the rapist’ and ‘nine-year-old can wed’ notions, are not only his personal perversion but also the manifestation of the deep-rooted patriarchy in Malaysian society.”


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

IMF Article IV Consultations with Malaysia

March 11, 2018

IMF Article IV Consultations with Malaysia

The Economic News is not bad for Malaysia.  But the politics is something we as Malaysians must worry about. The regime in power is playing with race and religion to keep Malay votes and retain power. As a result, Malaysia is today a divided nation. Corruption is also at an all time high. Understandably the IMF scrupulously avoids commenting on  the state of politics –Din Merican

A New Landmark  under construction in Kuala Lumpur

The IMF Executive Board has recently concluded the Annual Article IV consultations with Malaysia. The Fund has issued a number of documents relating to the consultations. These highly nuanced documents are in a sense a report card on the performance of the Malaysian economy. They also highlight areas in which policy reforms are recommended. In the current round, there were a few issues on which there was no convergence of views.


International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept

Publication Date: March 7, 2018

Electronic Access:

Free Full Text. Use the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this PDF file

The full report and related documents can be downloaded from the above site.  Additional documents are listed below:


MF Executive Board Concludes 2018 Article IV Consultation with Malaysia

March 7, 2018

On February 9, 2018, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation[1] with Malaysia.

 The Malaysian economy has shown resilience in recent years despite external shocks and has continued to perform well. Progress was made toward achieving high income status and improving inclusion. Median household income has risen further and the already-low national poverty ratio declined. Real GDP growth has surprised on the upside in 2017, and is estimated at 5.8 percent for the year, driven by domestic demand and robust exports. While headline consumer price inflation went up to 3.8 percent in 2017 due to higher oil prices, core inflation and credit growth are contained. On the external side, the current account surplus is estimated to increase to 2.8 percent of GDP, helped by strong exports.

Growth is projected to start to decelerate from its 2017 peak, remaining above potential at 5.3 percent in 2018, and converging to its potential rate of close to 5 percent in the medium term. In 2018, headline inflation is expected to moderate to 3.2 percent, as the response of core inflation to a positive output gap is partly offset by lower contribution from oil prices. The current account surplus is expected to soften to 2.4 percent of GDP in 2018, as export growth normalizes.

Risks to the growth outlook are balanced. On the external side, downside risks include a global retreat from cross-border integration, structurally weak growth in advanced economies, and a significant China slowdown, while a speedy approval and implementation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and possibly lingering strong global demand for electronics are upside risks. Domestically, the confidence effects related to the cyclical upturn could be stronger than anticipated, while exposures in the real estate sector pose a downside risk.

Executive Board Assessment[2]

Executive Directors commended the authorities for the strong and resilient performance of the Malaysian economy, underpinned by accommodative monetary policy and gradual fiscal consolidation. While growth will likely remain above potential in 2018, inflationary pressures appear contained, and risks to the outlook are balanced. Going forward, Directors emphasized the importance of supporting economic growth while maintaining stability, as well as raising productivity through structural reform.

Directors agreed with the planned pace of fiscal consolidation in 2018, noting that it will help build buffers while maintaining financial market confidence. Going forward, they supported a gradual consolidation path consistent with the authorities’ fiscal anchor, which would help build additional fiscal space. Directors advised that fiscal consolidation should prioritize higher revenue, to facilitate the adoption of fiscal measures to support external rebalancing. They encouraged further progress on the fiscal structural agenda, including efforts to strengthen fiscal transparency and risk management.

Directors supported the January increase in the monetary policy rate, and agreed that the current policy stance is appropriately biased toward less accommodation while remaining supportive of demand. Noting that Bank Negara Malaysia’s monetary policy framework has served the country well, Directors recommended that monetary policy and exchange rate flexibility remain the first line of defense against shocks.

Directors welcomed improvements in the depth and liquidity of onshore financial markets during 2017 following the Financial Markets Committee (FMC) measures that liberalized and increased the flexibility of onshore hedging instruments, as well as a general rebound of capital inflows to emerging markets. They supported the consultative and inclusive approach adopted by the FMC in developing these measures, and encouraged the authorities to build on these successes to address any further gaps in financial market development. Some Directors urged the authorities to phase out—in a manner that preserves financial stability—the measures assessed by staff as capital flow management measures. A few other Directors, however, were of the view that there should be a greater openness to other approaches to promoting the authorities’ development objectives. Directors urged the authorities to continue a constructive dialogue with staff on these issues.

Directors agreed that financial sector risks appear contained, with sound bank profitability and liquidity, and low nonperforming loans. Nonetheless, they noted that vulnerabilities in household mortgages and the property development sector require vigilance, and recommended taking any necessary steps to mitigate risks. They encouraged the development of a rental real estate market. Directors welcomed the authorities’ commitment to take further actions to address deficiencies in Malaysia’s AML/CFT framework.

Directors commended the authorities’ emphasis on raising productivity and investment and encouraged further labor market reforms. Priority should be given to measures that encourage female labor force participation, improve the quality of education, reduce skills mismatches, and bolster public infrastructure and the regulatory framework to further encourage private investment.

How is the economy doing?

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Malaysia’s economy is showing resilience and is performing strongly. Growth is running above potential, driven by strong global demand for electronics and improved terms of trade for commodities, such as oil and gas. On the domestic front, Malaysia’s strong employment is boosting private consumption, and investment is also helping to drive growth.


Indonesia’s Rising Fundamentalism Gets Uglier in Election Year

January 18, 2018

Indonesia’s Rising Fundamentalism Gets Uglier in Election Year

by Dewi Kurniawati


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Indonesia’s Islamic Owls

On December 12, hundreds of Islamists protested outside Facebook’s headquarters in Jakarta, accusing the social media giant of discrimination for blocking pages operated by hardline groups that allegedly inflame religious tensions.

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Habib Rizieq, spiritual leader of the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)

The protesters, many dressed in white and including members of the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), marched to Facebook’s offices demanding that they remove the blockage, accusing Facebook of Islamophobia in posters they carried and waved.

In December last year, a photo showing a piece of an agreement paper signed by several heads of local neighborhood Muslim units in Tangerang district purportedly listing several “Do’s and Don’ts for Non-Muslims” went viral through Facebook this week, steering yet another brouhaha through Indonesia’s netizens.

Among other things, according to the signed agreement paper, non-Muslim religious groups should be barred from having congregations at home, not allowed to invite preachers, and must bury their deceased within 24 hours, a teaching that is close to Islamic traditions.

Within hours however, the outrage over social media was “answered” by higher authorities who amended the agreement, saying it had not been “discussed, or approved” by them in its original form.

These scenes of various provocations and propaganda based on religion seem to be pouring straight through Indonesia’s political atmosphere after a tough presidential election in 2014 that delivered Joko Widodo, a Muslim moderate, to the presidency. Throughout the campaign, religious and ideological sentiments were used against him by supporters of his opponent, millionaire businessman Prabowo Subianto, a former Special Forces general and onetime son-in-law of the late strongman Suharto.

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Prabowo Subianto with Aburizal Bakrie

These same religious and ideological sentiments intensified against Basuki Tahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian universally known as “Ahok” during the gubernatorial election in February, which political experts describe as “the rise of Islamization in Indonesia.”

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Basuki Tahaja Purnama aka  Ahok

Ahok’s election campaign galvanized the country’s conservative base, with some religious groups preaching that Muslims shouldn’t vote for “non-believers.”  He was mischaracterized during a speech as having blasphemed the Quran, a charge that was widely disseminated prior to the election and played a major role in his defeat by Anais Baswedan, an ethnic Indonesian and Muslim even though he was considered arguably Jakarta’s most effective governor by far.

Months after the election, the Police arrested three leaders of an organized fake news syndicate known as Saracen that poured hundreds of thousands of bogus hacks onto the Internet, inflaming public opinion against Ahok, who was jailed after the election on the blasphemy charges. Worldwide human rights organizations have objected to Ahok’s imprisonment, calling it a political travesty.

According to research by the Wahid Institute, a moderate research center on Islam, in mid- 2017, as many as 11 million people are willing to take radical action. The data is based on survey results on radicalism and intolerance by the agency. The survey was conducted with 1,520 respondents using multi stage random sampling. As many as 0.4 percent of Indonesia’s population had committed what they called “radical” acts, while 7.7 percent said they would act radically if possible.

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 Jenny Zannuba Wahid, Director of the Wahid Institute


“That means 600,000 people have acted radically and 11 million people want to, including residents of Jakarta and Bali,” said Jenny Zannuba Wahid, Director of the Wahid Institute, who explained that economic disparities and hate-filled lectures are responsible for the development of radicalism in Indonesia.

Unfortunately, many political observers believe that the use of religion-based identities will continue during simultaneous regional elections this year as well as the 2019 presidential election, where Jokowi, as the President is known, will seek re-election.

This perception is fueled by the fact that Jokowi’s administration seems to be “waging war” against radicals, religious critics say. That perception has grown after he decided to disband the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) last year. HTI has been open about wanting to establish a “Khilafah” – a caliphate or Islamic state under former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. That has gained ground with the state originally turning a blind eye to their open movement.

However, in mid-2017, the government decided to disband them for conducting activities that contradict the state ideology Pancasila, which counsels five principles of moderation, as well as the principle of a unitary state of the republic of Indonesia.

The Law and Human Rights Ministry officially revoked HTI’s status as a legal entity on following the issuance of a regulation in lieu of law (Preppy) on mass organizations. It was the first group to be disbanded under the controversial regulation, which grants the government the power to disband any groups it deems to be anti-Pancasila.

The Perppy has sparked concerns over potential violations of the right to assemble as it grants the government the power to disband mass groups without due process.

The Head of the State Intelligence Agency, General Budi Gunawan, described Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia as a transnational organization that aims to replace the state of Indonesia in a written statement, an apparent reference to its similarity to the Islamic State, which sought to establish a caliphate in the Levant and was defeated by Russian, American, Syrian and Iraqi forces. It has since been disbanded and its brutal adherents have fled back toward their home countries.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a radiogram after the dissolution of HTI by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, warning Indonesians to be aware of the possibility of violent activities carried out by former HTI members and their supporters. Local officials are also required to ban all activities that HTI may undertake.

The Sins of Najib Razak

January 4, 2018

The Sins of Najib Razak

Image result for Trum[p and Najib razakMalaysia’s Kleptocrat shakes hand with America’s Super Mario at The White House last year

In a year that had its fair share of symbolic moments, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak took home a fistful of trophies.

One prize was his cameo meeting in September with US President Donald Trump at the White House, which counts as a juicy political point for the coming general election.

 Najib brought “strong value propositions” for Trump in the form of a multi-billion dollar commitment to buy Boeing jets, an offer to push AirAsia to buy General Electric engines and a pledge to increase investments in American infrastructure.

With this gesture “to strengthen the US economy”, the premier secured numerous pay-offs, including blunting the barbs of his critics on the US Justice Department’s investigation into the troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

Though there was some collateral damage from the trip, the net gain from an electoral viewpoint would be in the PM’s favour, although Najib did remark that his comments on helping the US were misconstrued.

The tacit endorsement which Najib has earned from his meeting with the US leader would play well in rural electioneering, especially since his Washington trip was followed immediately by another photo op with British premier Theresa May.

On the home turf, Najib raised his score as the commander-in-chief of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition through a number of moves that served to blindside the opposition parties or at least, put them on the back foot.

In early April, the government made the unprecedented move of clearing the parliamentary order paper of its business to make way for a Private Member’s Bill.

Image result for Hadi Awang and Najib Razak

The next day, PAS President Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang tabled a motion to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, seeking to grant the Syariah Court powers to impose stiffer penalties on all crimes except those with the death sentence.

The enhancement of the Syariah Courts’ powers, a prize long sought by PAS but hitherto beyond its parliamentary reach, is the clearest indication to date of the coming together of the Islamist party with Umno in an electoral alliance, despite their long history of political enmity.

The shifting alignment only reflects the growing importance of religion as a cement to hold together the fractured Malay voter base.

Another aspect of this theme is the hosting of the King Salman Centre for International Peace at the Islamic Science University of Malaysia, following Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit to Malaysia in March.

Not only does this move strengthen Najib’s legitimacy as a leader among Muslims, but it also burnishes his credentials as a key ally in the global fight against terrorism.

All this would go some way towards mitigating the damage that his one-time mentor turned nemesis, the tenacious former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has been inflicting on his image since the elder leader joined forces with the opposition parties.


Among the list of sins that is being laid at Najib’s feet is the view that he has sold out the country’s strategic interests to obtain a funding lifeline from China. The East Coast Rail Link, among a laundry list of infrastructure projects, has been singled out for particular criticism. The PM’s team has worked hard at fending off these claims, and Najib has retorted that he would never sell Malaysia’s sovereignty.

Helping to contain Mahathir’s virulent campaign to unseat Najib, the quick-acting Royal Commission of Inquiry into Bank Negara’s foreign exchange losses in the 1990s has shifted some attention away from his litany against the PM to the debacle that took place under Mahathir’s watch.

While the inquiry report is being challenged by Mahathir, it continues to have life enough to give Najib and his team ammunition for their battle with detractors.

Even if the electorate were unimpressed by their leaders’ quarrels over past and present scandals, they would likely be motivated by the long list of benefits that Najib announced in his budget for next year.

From a reduction in income tax rates to easier hiring of domestic help and discounts on study loan repayments, to name a few, the message that Najib has sought to convey to voters is that his government is listening to their needs.

In keeping with this softer touch, Najib paid a courtesy call on de facto Pakatan Harapan leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when the jailed opposition leader was in hospital for an operation on his shoulder joint in November.

If nothing else, the gesture would sit well with voters who see it as a sympathetic or even magnanimous act by the nation’s leader.

That’s a good feeling to ride, going into perhaps the toughest election challenge that the BN has faced in decades.

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But still, for Najib, the coast is not as clear as he would wish it to be. He has to face the increasing number of voters unhappy with the rising cost of living, the never-ending problems with FELDA and its companies (whose settlements in the Malay heartland form the core support of UMNO and the issue of 1MDB that will not easily fade from the scrutiny of international media. Also, the emergence of new politics in Sabah and Sarawak, for which the political mantra — Sabah for Sabahans and Sarawak for Sarawakians — could sway both sides of the political divide.

– http://www.theedgemarkets.com


NY Times Book Review: What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters by Garry Wills

December 22, 2017

by Lesley Hazleton

What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters–Garry Wills

I know many well-intentioned people who’ve begun reading the Quran and given up within a few pages. The historian Thomas Carlyle considered Muhammad one of history’s heroic greats, yet called the Quran “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome confused jumble.”

It’s hard not to sympathize. Over the years, I’d picked up various translations, started reading, and rapidly found myself very much an agnostic Jew lost in a Muslim landscape. Good intentions, it seemed, were not enough. The Quran may look like a short book, but it’s not one you can curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read cover to cover.

I finally read it properly — as properly as I could, that is, using several different translations alongside the original Arabic — as part of my research for a biography of Muhammad. And that’s when I realized that the fact that so few people actually read the Quran is precisely why it’s so easy to quote. Or rather, misquote. In what I call the highlighter version, phrases and snippets are taken entirely out of context and even invented out of thin air, like the 72 virgins in paradise (I kept waiting for them, but they never appeared). This is the version favored by both Islamophobes and their partners in distortion, Muslim extremists — partners in bigotry and its correlate, ignorance.

Image result for Catholic Writer Garry Wills

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills has spent his career taking a close look at the Roman Catholic Church. But for all that thinking about religion, he had never read the Qur’an until recently. What he learned about Islam is the subject of his new book, “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters.  Wills says it’s important not to mistake Islamic terrorism for Islam itself. ISIS and other jihadist groups, he explains, are not indicative of the true nature of Islam. He debunks a number of misconceptions by discussing what the Qur’an actually has to say about holy wars and Sharia Law.

So what happens when a leading Catholic intellectual reads the Quran, especially one as attuned to language as Garry Wills? The answer, as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, is a delight. Which makes it a shame that his book is ill-served by its title.

Wills is hardly so presumptuous as to try to explain what the Quran means — or “meant,” that past tense evidently the heavy hand of the marketing department trying to link to previous Wills books on what Jesus, the Gospels and Paul all meant. Even the cover design is similar. And the subtitle (again I suspect a marketing decision, going for the obvious) refers to what prompted Wills to read the Quran. In his case, it was politics. He blasts away at the multiple varieties of religious and secular ignorance that led to the invasion of Iraq and thus to one of America’s longest foreign wars. He also includes a third kind of ignorance — the “fearful ignorance” displayed in “anti-Muslim animus,” too often reminiscent of the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.


And Why It Matters
By Garry Wills
226 pp. Viking. $25.

Once he gets to the Quran itself, however, Wills shines. With the same sensitive eye deployed in his Pulitzer-winning “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” he approaches the text in the spirit of exploration, bringing fresh perspective even for those who imagine they already know it well.

The Quran is “haunted” by the desert, he writes. “Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of rain — or of water in any form.” Where heaven is “an urban ideal” in the Bible (the heavenly Jerusalem), in the Quran it’s “the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters, with rivers running on it and under it, and with springs opening unbidden.” And in a lovely coda to that observation, he adds: “When I was growing up in the 1940s, a song was everywhere on the radio, ‘Cool Water’ sung by Vaughn Monroe. As I read the Quran, it keeps coming back to me, unbidden.”

Wills calls this book “a conversation — or the opening of one,” so there’s a particular joy when he discovers that “all things talk in the Quran. It is abuzz with conversation. For Allah, the real meaning of creating is communicating. The Quran is an exercise in semiotics. God speaks a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the syllables. Everything is a sign.”

Where Wills’s Catholicism might have limited how he reads the Quran, on the contrary, he brings it to bear in interesting ways. I can’t think of anyone else who could place quotes from St. Augustine and the Quran side by side, enjoying both the unlikeliness and the aptness of the juxtaposition. Or revel in both the similarities and the disparities between the biblical and the Quranic versions of the stories of Moses, Abraham and Jesus (all three of whom, along with many other figures from the Bible, are revered prophets in the Quran).

As you might expect, Wills is deeply alive to context. In his discussion of jihad, for instance, he compares the word to “crusade,” which has long been a “time-bomb word” in the Middle East. Where the idea of a crusade may have “a rosy glow in Western minds … it is stained a dirty blood-red in the Arabic world.”

In fact, he points out, jihad does not mean “holy war.” It means “striving” — as in striving to lead a moral life. The main point of the Quran’s discussion of violence is to establish limitations on its use, and to “abstain from violence to the degree that that is possible.” While a few endlessly cited verses have to do with violence, “the overall tenor is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.” This is what is striven for in the Quran, not war.

As for Shariah, Wills notes that the word appears only once in the Quran, and it does not mean “law,” but “path,” as in Allah’s reassurance to Muhammad that he is “on the right path.” Moreover, there is no single body of Shariah law. The “vague and sketchy elements of law in the Quran” were fleshed out “over a long and contentious history,” and in multiple branches, in much the same way as the many bodies of Christian law. So while “some seem to think that the fanatical punishments dealt out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State … are the essence of Shariah law … the vast majority of Muslims, and their most learned teachers, do not recognize these as bearing any relation to the Quran.”

Wills falters only in three brief chapters on women in the Quran, which come right at the end of his book. (Back of the bus, anyone?) A sense of discomfort and hesitation creeps in here, and both are justified. True, it might come as a surprise that while the Quran advocates modesty for both women and men, it never even mentions veils, let alone mandates them. And its take on polygamy is basically an accommodation to pre-Islamic practice — a stance of (in my words) “O.K. if you insist, but better if you don’t.” The “you,” of course, being male. As Wills notes, “Torah, Gospel, and Quran are all patriarchal and therefore misogynist — as were the societies in which they took shape. But misogynism is not all that all of them are. In all three of them there are traces of dignity and worth intended by the Creator when he made women.” The problem being that “traces” by definition don’t leave much of an impression.

Over all, however, Wills has written perhaps the best introduction to the Quran that I know of: elegant, insightful, even at times joyful. He may not be able to make reading the Quran an easy pleasure, but his encounter with it is a pleasure to read for anyone as open to discovery as he is.