Four Ideas for a Stronger United Nations (UN)

February 8, 2015

Four Ideas for a Stronger U.N.

by Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland

Kofi A. Annan and Gro Harlem Brundtland Gro Harlem Brundtland and Kofi A. Annan

Seventy years ago, the United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Looking around the world today, the least one can say is that it is not fully succeeding in this mission. From Nigeria through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Ukraine, millions are suffering and dying from that scourge, or are imminently threatened by it, and the United Nations seems powerless to save them.

We have four ideas for making the organization stronger and more effective. A big part of the problem is that the Security Council, which is supposed to maintain world peace and security on behalf of all member states, no longer commands respect — certainly not from armed insurgents operating across borders, and often not from the United Nations’ own members.

Throughout the world, and especially in the Global South, people struggle to understand why, in 2015, the Council is still dominated by the five powers that won World War II. They are more and more inclined to question its authority, and the legitimacy of its decisions.

We ignore this threat at our peril. Times have changed since 1945, and the Security Council must adapt.

Almost everyone claims to favor expanding the Council to include new permanent members, but for decades now states have been unable to agree who these should be, or whether, like the existing ones, they should have the power to veto agreements reached by their fellow members.

Our first idea aims to break this stalemate. Instead of new permanent members, let us have a new category of members, serving a much longer term than the non-permanent ones and eligible for immediate re-election. In other words they would be permanent, provided they retained the confidence of other member states. Surely that is more democratic?

Secondly, we call on the five existing permanent members to give a solemn pledge. They must no longer allow their disagreements to mean that the Council fails to act, even when — for instance, as currently in Syria — people are threatened with atrocious crimes.

Let the five permanent members promise never to use the veto just to defend their national interests, but only when they genuinely fear that the proposed action will do more harm than good to world peace and to the people concerned. In that case, let them give a full and clear explanation of the alternative they propose, as a more credible and efficient way to protect the victims. And when one or more of them do use the veto in that way, let the others promise not to abandon the search for common ground, but to work even harder to find an effective solution on which all can agree.

Thirdly, let the Council listen more carefully to those affected by its decisions. When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to those whom their decisions most directly affect. From now on, let them — and the whole Council — give groups representing people in zones of conflict a real chance to inform and influence their decisions.

And finally, let the Council, and especially its permanent members, make sure the United Nations gets the kind of leader it needs. Let them respect the spirit as well as the letter of what the United Nations Charter says about choosing a new Secretary-General, and no longer settle it by negotiating among themselves behind closed doors. Under current procedures, governments nominate their own citizens as candidates for the position. Members of the Security Council then conduct rounds of secret voting known as “straw polls” to ascertain who has broadest and deepest support; crucially, the five permanent members use different colored voting slips so that their preferences — and those they do not favor — are made clear to the other 10 temporary members.

Let us have a thorough and open search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or region; let the Council then recommend more than one candidate for the General Assembly to choose from; and let the successful candidate be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years. He or she (and after eight “he’s” it’s surely time for a “she”) must not be under pressure to give jobs or concessions to any member state in return for its support. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that it can be used to find the best person to take over in January 2017.

These four proposals are spelled out in greater detail in a statement issued this Saturday by The Elders, an independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. We believe they form an essential starting point for the United Nations to recover its authority. And we call on the peoples of the world to insist that their governments accept them, in this, the 70th anniversary year of the United Nations.

Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of The Elders, served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1996 to 2007. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chairwoman of The Elders, is a former Prime Minister of Norway and served as Director General of the World Health Organization from 1998 to 2003.

Mr. Salleh, this is not the way to settle an Issue

January 26, 2015

Mr. Salleh, this is not the way to settle an Issue

by  Syed Jaymal Zahiid

Fearing their Malay-majority city neighbourhood may soon be overrun by Chinese, a group of residents in Taman Keramat marched to the construction site of upscale condominium project Datum Jelatek here and violently tore down its cladding today.

The group had warned of “bloodshed” last November if the luxury condo project, which sits on the former site of four blocks of Selangor State Development Corporation (PKNS) flats owned mostly by Malays, goes ahead.

“This is a 100 per cent Malay area,” Salleh Majid, spokesman for the group, told Malay Mail Online when contacted over the phone.

News portal The Malaysian Insider had reported a violent protest breaking out at the condo project site earlier today, but Salleh said the residents reacted aggressively to defend their homes from “Chinese occupation”.

“I did my own study and I found out that they are trying to attract Chinese from China, Singapore, Taiwan and so on,” he said referring to the condominium project.He also disapproved of local ethnic Chinese staying in the proposed project, when asked.

MALAY_DATUM JELATEK_PROTESTNo one should be allowed to behave like this

“No. We already have this understanding… Keramat was created by Datuk Harun after May 13 to balance the Chinese population in the city with the Malays,” he said.

“We have been through May 13 before, so why set fire to the oil? Why the need to provoke?” he asked, referring to the bloody racial clashes of 1969 that pitted the Malays against ethnic Chinese.

The Keramat area was set up by the then Selangor Mentri Besar Harun Idris in a delicate attempt to achieve racial balance.Salleh said residents were afraid that the influx of Chinese to the area might force Malays to vacate, similar to other Malay settlements in the city in the past.

The self-professed professional claimed this was a conspiracy by the predominantly Chinese DAP opposition party to open up Keramat to the Chinese, but he did not provide proof to support his allegation.

“This is all a DAP agenda,” Salleh alleged, before adding, “This project came amid insults to the Malays like the ‘Allah’ issue and others.”

Salleh had previously said the planned luxury studio apartment, measuring 538 square feet each, was priced at RM700,000 and was not affordable to the Taman Keramat Malay community.

He claimed the prices were intentionally set high so that only other races could afford to purchase the units.

The Datum Jelatek Project that will be built on a 5.5-acre (2.2 hectares) piece of land had previously been said to be a redevelopment project of the low-cost housing area in Jalan Jelatek after all the residents, who were mostly Malays, had been moved out and given a small compensation.

However, the project was said to have “changed” into a proposal to develop four exclusive buildings comprising offices, a hotel and a shopping centre targeted at the high-income group and corporate sector.

Despite the protest, then Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim had given PKNS the nod to proceed with the project. Salleh said residents of the demolished flats felt cheated when they found out that the land was used to develop a luxury condominium.

“And what is more painful for most of the third generation of Keramat residents is that luxury condominiums are being built instead of affordable houses for the Malay residents here,” he said.


Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi

January 22, 2015


 Sinking the Ships: Indonesia’s Foreign Policy under Jokowi (CO15016)

by BA Hamzah*


BA HamzahDespite some adverse comments, President Joko Widodo is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s “free and active foreign policy”. What may change during his tenure is the emphasis, orientation and strategy.

His challenge is how to execute his foreign policy without losing friends. Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts to continue the traditional regional diplomacy.


OUTWARDLY PRESIDENT Joko Widodo’s policy of burning and sinking fishing vessels from friendly states for illegal fishing gives the impression that he cares less for regional diplomacy. His policy is a stark contrast to his predecessor President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s policy of “a million friends and zero enemies”. Yudhoyono has assiduously courted many friends over the last decade. In less than one hundred days, his successor, however, seems bent on leaving behind a different legacy.

indonesia-ship-kri-todak-Indonesian Navy Ship deployed to protect territorial waters

Although the action of burning fishing vessels is essentially a domestic matter, it has foreign policy implications. For states which have signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with Indonesia on how to treat wayward fishermen, especially in disputed maritime space (such as with Malaysia), the action has ruffled diplomatic feathers as it breaches international norms and possibly the ethics of modern-day diplomacy.

What next?

Coupled with Jokowi’s observations on what appears to be Indonesia’s conditional support for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), for example, it is daunting to speculate what he will do in the next five years. Many critics (including Indonesians) have asked whether the new President is changing course, pursuing a new foreign policy orientation, or simply grabbing headlines for domestic consumption.

Notwithstanding all the nuances, I believe President Jokowi will keep Indonesia on an even keel. He is not about to drastically change Indonesia’s foreign policy. Jokowi is going to retain Indonesia’s independent posture known as the “free and active foreign policy”, which has guided Indonesia for so long. What may change during his tenure, though, is the emphasis, orientation and strategy to achieve the objective while strengthening his political grip domestically. In a way, he may give the impression that he cares less about diplomacy – but is he?

As Head of State, he is answerable to the Parliament on many issues. As such, he has to operate within certain institutional bounds. Under President Jokowi, Indonesia is not likely to dump membership in ASEAN, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), United Nations, World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On the contrary, Jakarta is likely to strengthen its role in all the multilateral institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the East Asia Summit and the Group of Twenty (G20), the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and others. Rubbing shoulders with the world’s leading politicians is an essential part of diplomacy. More importantly, the national interests of Indonesia are better served by supporting their objectives.

Domestic support and diplomatic bridges

Just like his predecessors, Jokowi would not downplay the relevance of geography and geopolitics in the making of foreign policy. In a nation that is fast emerging as a middle power, Jokowi has to take into account demography and domestic politics, including managing rising nationalist sentiments in foreign policy making.

Jokowi-2Decisive Leadership

To be one among equals in the region, President Jokowi needs to formulate a pragmatic foreign policy. As he goes about strengthening his credentials at home, he should not burn the proverbial diplomatic bridges.

The seizure of the fishing vessels is Jokowi’s way of telling Indonesians that he is no pushover when it comes to defending the sovereignty and national resources of the state. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, in the long-run, the Indonesian Parliament is not likely to allow President Jokowi a free hand to undermine further Indonesia’s diplomatic credentials. Appealing to nationalist sentiments may have short-term advantages. However, it will not augur well with multilateralism in the global era.

One perennial complaint about Yudhoyono when he was in power was his indecisiveness. President Jokowi wants to be perceived as a decisive person, who does not always dance to the tune of big power politics. He will soon find out whether in an interdependent world, a reclusive nationalist is able to navigate through the rough seas all alone.

In the region, Jokowi will have to tread carefully in ASEAN waters. If he adopts a very aloof policy towards ASEAN, at a time when the organisation needs robust support from all, regional cooperation will take a back seat. Despite recent statements, there is no reason to expect Indonesia to abandon ASEAN, which has contributed positively to the political development of Indonesia since the New Order replaced Sukarno in 1966. To clear the air of uncertainty in the region, Jokowi should start calling on his ASEAN counterparts as traditional diplomacy dictates.

Jokowi’s three-pronged maritime strategy

Since the time of President Suharto, Indonesia has had a moderating influence on ASEAN. For example, when the 45th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Phnom Penh in July 2012 failed to adopt the traditional Joint Communiqué, the Indonesian foreign minister stepped in to save the day. Together with his counterpart from Singapore, they drafted ASEAN’s Six-Point Principles on the South China Sea disputes.

To its credit, Indonesia has been instrumental in promoting the ASEAN Political and Security Community (APSC). Jakarta was also instrumental in establishing the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1976) and Bali Concord II, which provided the foundation for the emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). Due to be formalised by the end of this year, the AEC will not be realised without Indonesia.

Over China, President Jokowi walks a tight rope. No one expects Jokowi to shy away from criticising China for its expansive maritime claims that overlaps with Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Natuna islands. Nevertheless, demography, geopolitics, geography, economics and realpolitik dictate that Indonesia and China remain the best of friends. Moreover, Indonesia is considered the most acceptable party to engage with an assertive China in the South China Sea. For example, Jakarta can push for the conclusion of the Code of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea. It can also help moderate the Sino-US naval rivalry in the region.

President Jokowi’s policy of transforming the Indonesian maritime space is three-pronged. The first prong deals with strengthening internal resilience. The crackdown on illegal fishing is just one aspect of it. Upgrading the capabilities of the navy and air force is the second. The third prong involves the construction of some 24 deep-seaports across the entire archipelago as well as improving other support facilities in the maritime sector.

President Jokowi’s decision to upgrade the navy may exacerbate the ongoing regional naval arms race and make it more complex to manage regional security problems at sea, including the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea. Besides Indonesia, Australia, China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are also expanding their respective submarine fleets.

The challenge for President Jokowi is how to execute a robust maritime policy without losing friends in the region.

*B. A. Hamzah is a Senior Lecturer with the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. The views are personal. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentary.

On Leadership in times of National Crisis

January 16, 2015

On Leadership in times of National  Crisis

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

Najib and his gang

The relentless rains and subsequent floods devastated countless communities living along the East Coast, severely affecting those in Kelantan, Pahang and Terengganu. Thousands of lives were jeopardised by rising flood waters. At its highest point, the flood resulted in the displacement and evacuation of over 230,000 people in nine states.

Leadership, or the lack of it, exhibited by government officials before, during and after the floods became a bitter theme for the past month. The leadership of the Prime Minister, members of his Cabinet, the various agencies under the National Security Council, the Menteri Besars, political representatives and even the Ketua Kampungs at the community level were tested and found sorely wanting.

By and large, many of our elected leaders failed Malaysia and her people miserably when they were most in need.

If it weren’t for the fact that our uniformed services (military, police, bomba, civil defence & Rela, etc), numerous non-government organisations and citizen disaster relief initiatives were able to mobilise and respond as quickly as they did based on reports from the field (many sourced from social media, of all places), I have no doubt that instead of replaceable property and infrastructure assets being destroyed and lost, more lives would have been claimed by this disaster.

The learning curve during a humanitarian crisis is a steep one where the grading isn’t measured in As, Bs and Cs but often the number of lives lost and livelihoods destroyed. Screw ups and the ones who have to pay the price are often not the decision makers and politicians but, as we have seen, the ordinary folk in the kampungs, towns and cities.

Najib and Obama in HawaiiThe PM’s absence at the very onset of the crisis can be forgiven to a certain extent. Engrossed as he was in golf diplomacy with the leader of the free world, he might have been guilty of what we all initially thought this crisis was: Predictable flooding which is expected each year due to the monsoon season.

A nuisance and an inconvenience for many but really nothing to urgently fly home for and kasi burn some vacay time. However, I would like to think that the PM would have better access to quality and reliable information as opposed to the regular Malaysian whose main source of news these days comes from Facebook.

His supporters say that it isn’t fair to place the full responsibility on DPM Malaysiathe shoulders of the PM. That in his absence there is the Deputy PM. However, it isn’t the latter’s face plastered on everything from billboards to boxes of Maggi and bags of rice (which apparently made a recent comeback). The 2013 Barisan Nasional campaign was essentially based on a presidential model. With that approach comes all the blame and glory that comes with it.

The PM is there for you to solve all your problems and he is responsible. You can cry about how unfair it is but nasib lah. You can’t play president and then when the crap hits the fan, fall back to the parliamentary democracy model.

By the way, my contribution to the talk of why YAB PM was in Hawaii for some tee time: Obama met Najib to talk about concluding TPPA negotiations and the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. The former is well known but what is developing is Obama’s wish to expedite the latter. The US just sent five detainees from Guantanamo to Kazakhstan for resettlement.

The US President might have been trying to talk Najib into Malaysia taking in a busload of detainees or two, especially with Malaysia’s sterling record of dealing with terrorism and radical elements. But that’s just me speculating.

Menteri Besar KelantanThe Menteri Besar of Kelantan wins the Mr Misplaced Priorities Award. Despite the fact that people were being increasingly cut off and crying out for essential services and supplies of food and water, and even as the flood waters surrounded his own home and that of his Spiritual Leader, all he could think about was introducing hudud law.

Even as it was pointed out to him that it would be a bit hard to debate the motion while the Dewan Undangan Negeri was slowly being submerged and representatives most likely would need to be equipped with face masks, snorkels and fins, and learn to communicate via sign language and whiteboards, Yang Amat Berhormat Menteri Besar was steadfast till the bitter end in wanting to carry it through. Until he couldn’t. And no, he gets no points for trying because for the longest time, he was conspicuously absent from the frontlines of the disaster relief.

The Prime Minister’s instruction to members of the Cabinet to BALIK! has got to be one of the most embarrassing moments of his presidency/ administration. With the exception of a few ministers who didn’t go abroad for their holidays and were in fact at the frontlines of relief efforts with minimum fanfare (I am looking at you, Datuk Sri Ahmad Shabery Cheek aka “Action Man.” I don’t like your politics but you really showed everyone what it means to be serving the rakyat. Tabik spring!), everyone else in the Cabinet were MIA.

Many of us didn’t even know who was in charge of the National Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, pictured in 2010Security Council. Even the Home Minister whose ministry is most involved in the emergency response was nowhere to be seen. Fail. Why was it necessary to have these characters? Much as we abhor the centralised (sometimes Soviet-like) mindset of our government and the extent our politicians take in partisan politics, the fact of the matter is that a lot of decisions in a crisis require leaders to take charge. The lateness in the national response to the East Coast humanitarian emergency can be traced back to the absence of a leader.

In times like these, leaders must demonstrate numerous abilities linked such as being decisive, flexible, able to solve problems rapidly, creative, strategic, motivating and ability to understand complex scenarios.

It isn’t about being fair or unfair, reasonable or unreasonable, kasi peluang or not. You cannot talk to or pay off a flood, landslide or any kind of humanitarian disaster. Unlike how we treat many problems in our country, we cannot pretend a crisis doesn’t exist.

Shabery 2So on the report card thus far, where did our leaders get an F? In disaster prevention and planning. Best demonstrated by the continued denials by the Kelantan MB that uncontrolled and illegal logging contributed to the floods. The miniscule amount budgeted for disaster relief under state and federal budgets. And the lack of prepositioned equipment and stockpiled supplies for emergency disaster response. Ahmad Shabery Cheek’s constituency scores an A here as probably the most prepared for this crisis. They even had pre-determined helicopter landing zones.

In adapting and expanding capacity where necessary. The government emergency response became defensive and took a more reactive than proactive approach towards requesting assistance. To this day, some communities remain cutoff from aid as many government relief centres are depending on people to go to them.

In restoring communications. If you had Celcom as your mobile phone service provider, chances are you were able to stay connected if you had access to power. Restoring limited cellular communications would allow for communities to call for help or at least let people know where they are and their condition. Too many locations were cut off from the rest of world, and to some extent, this remains so till this day.

In co-ordination. The failure for there to be a structure to co-ordinate emergency response efforts effectively continues to plague ongoing humanitarian assistance particularly in remote areas and locations. Those who receive good media coverage, are close to major roads (or roads), linked to political parties and are easier to access logistically, are getting plenty of aid and supplies. There are many places which are getting too much aid and some places, almost nothing at all. We are starting to hear of stories where entire villages have been left out and are desperate after more than a week without food and potable water. Don’t believe me? Check the Orang Asli settlements.

Where leadership was apparent was in the middle management of our uniformed services who responded rapidly to save lives. The rakyat took one look at their absent and vacationing political leaders and decided to take matters into their own hands to help fellow citizens in their hour of need. We salute them all. Amazingly, even the Myanmar refugee community responded with their own initiative to help collect aid to send to help Malaysians in the affected areas. Talk about being united in humanity.

The true measure of a leader’s strength is how they rise to master that moment when it arrives.

Our prayers are with the thousands of families made homeless and destitute due to these floods. But prayers are not enough to help them make it through this hardship. We need to continue to help channel assistance in the months ahead. We need to continue to step up.


What’s the Deal, Zahid Hamidi?

January 6, 2015

What’s the Deal, Zahid Hamidi?

by John R.

COMMENT: Whenever there is an American angle to the news inambassador-john-malott Malaysia, I become very interested.

So when I read last Saturday that Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asserting that Paul Phua, a Malaysian citizen who is under US Federal indictment in Las Vegas for allegedly running an illegal gambling ring, is someone who has been performing services “on behalf of Malaysia’s national security,” I could not help but be curious.

The Malaysian press and websites have been focusing almost exclusively on whether Phua is a member of the 14K triad. Personally, I don’t care whether he is or not, because it is irrelevant to the real issue. The real issue is that a Malaysian citizen is allegedly involved in major – let’s put that in capital letters, MAJOR – illegal sports gambling operations in Macau and Las Vegas, activities that led to his arrest this year in both cities.

The South China Morning Post says that the raid on the gambling operations in Macau involving Phua was the largest in its history. As for the US, the FBI has carefully documented the scope of Phua’s sports betting operation in Las Vegas, which reached into tens of millions of US dollars.

Wall Street PiecePhua, Who?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a major article on Phua and his involvement in the growing global problem of illegal online sports betting. Yet despite all the news on what Phua has been up to in Macau and the US, Zahid says that Malaysia would welcome Phua back with open arms.

In 2013, Zahid told Malaysians who were unhappy with the country’s policies to “leave the country.” Senior Malaysian leaders such as Khairy Jamaluddin have told dissidents “good riddance.”

Malaysian Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, pictured in 2010What’s the Link to Phua?

Yet Zahid says that gambling kingpins who have violated the laws of my country, the US, are to be eagerly welcomed back home to Malaysia.

Phua’s Malaysian lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, who is often called “UMNO’s lawyer,” said that what Phua did was merely a revenue offence, as he was undertaking gambling activities without a licence.

“His offence is not a big deal,” Shafee said, adding offenders normally received a slap on the wrist with a fine. Shafee should know better. What Phua allegedly has done is a major criminal offence in both Macau and America, not a tax dodge, and Phua could spend many years in jail for it.

Why the letter, Zahid?

Like everyone in Malaysia, I wondered why in the world Zahid wrote that letter. In his letter to the FBI, Zahid never explained the contradiction between his assertions and the information that the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) gave the FBI eight years ago.

To make matters worse, Zahid dug himself in even deeper by claiming to the FBI that the gambling kingpin had provided services to “projects” involving Malaysia’s national security.

This caused many people from Malaysia to Hong Kong to the US to ask the question, what national security projects has Phua been involved with?

In his letter to the FBI, Zahid wrote, “Based on our information, Mr Phua is neither a member nor is he associated with the 14K Triad.” Yet six years earlier, the Malaysian Police informed the FBI that Phua in fact was a member of the infamous triad.

Shafee AbdullahTo explain the contradiction, Phua’s lawyer Muhammad Shafee Abdullah said that the RMP had made a “very big” mistake. He said the Police were “wrong.”

But Zahid never said in his letter that the police were “wrong.” He never told the FBI why the Malaysian government had declared Phua a triad member in 2008 but now had changed its mind.

Asked to explain the discrepancy between the 2008 report and Zahid’s 2014 letter, the Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar took a pass. He declined to comment. By refusing to back up his boss and agree that the RMP were wrong in their 2008 assessment, Khalid left his boss Zahid hanging out to dry.

Why does it matter whether the FBI’s 2008 memo was right or wrong? Now we get into the Hollywood movie or the ‘MI-5′ part of the story – and also a description of the American judicial process.

According to many Las Vegas and gambling news websites, Phua’s American attorneys are trying to get the case thrown out on civil liberties grounds.

The other five people arrested in Las Vegas with Phua have all confessed and cooperated with law enforcement. They admitted what was going on. There is no doubt; by all accounts, Phua is guilty.

His activities were witnessed and videoed by the FBI and confirmed by these five other people, his associates. The FBI also found evidence on the laptops and cell phones that were seized.

So the only way to win is procedural. You have to prove, not that Phua is innocent, but that the FBI acted wrongly and violated Phua’s civil rights. Think about that – a Malaysian citizen who violated American law now wants to be protected by the American constitution.

So Phua’s attorneys are pushing the argument that the search of the hotel villas and also the arrest warrant for Phua were not valid. They want the judge to throw the case out of court on procedural grounds.

The Hollywood movie version

Based on all the reporting from Las Vegas, here is what happened, in a Hollywood-style movie script.

After Phua and his associates were arrested in Macau, they hopped on a plane – his private US$48 million plane – to Las Vegas. They wanted to continue their illegal online sports gambling operations on the World Cup.

They checked into Caesar’s Palace into five high roller “villas,” and were given US$90 million in credit. They then demanded that the hotel staff install all kinds of Internet connections in their villas.

The hotel staff became suspicious and went to hotel security, which in turn concluded that an illegal online gambling operation was going on. Hotel security then contacted the FBI.

The FBI checked the names of the high-rollers in those suites, and “Bingo!” They found the name of Paul Phua, who only one week before had been arrested in Macau in the biggest illegal gambling raid in Macau history. And they also found that in a 2008 FBI memo, the RMP officially had fingered Phua as a member of a Chinese triad.

What happened next was even more Hollywood. The FBI disabled the Internet connection to Phua’s suites, where the illegal sports gambling operation was being conducted. With the Internet down, and Phua losing money and desperate to restore connectivity, the FBI agents then posed as Internet repairmen.

They entered the villas (allegedly without a search warrant), and then secretly witnessed and videoed what was going on. They confiscated laptops and cell phones, and it was all over. Phua’s attorneys say that because there was no search warrant, the search was illegal.

The US government no doubt will argue in response that there was “reasonable cause” to believe that illegal activity was taking place, given the fact that Phua had just been arrested in Macau for illegal sports gambling before he came to Las Vegas and because he had requested an inordinate amount of Internet connection equipment for the hotel suites.

Back to RMP report on Phua

According to various Las Vegas news websites, Phua’s attorneys say that the judge issued the arrest warrant for Phua only because the FBI:

1. hid the fact that there was no search warrant, and

2. told the judge that according to the FBI’s information from the RMP, Phua was a known member of the 14K triad.

They say that in submitting that Police report from Malaysia that Phua was a member of a triad, the FBI poisoned the judge’s mind and led him to issue the arrest warrant.

That is why it seems the US lawyers went to Shafee to get something from Zahid – to challenge the old Malaysian Police report and argue that the judge had been led astray by the FBI.

But it doesn’t matter. Zahid’s letter was all for nothing. What matters is what the FBI knew at the time they went to the judge. At that point they had official Malaysian Police information from 2008 about Phua, which they shared with the judge. That is what they knew to be the truth at that time.

The fact that months later, Zahid would – for whatever reason – write something else does not matter. What matters is what the FBI believed to be true when they went to the judge for the arrest warrant. And what they had was the RMP’s 2008 memo.

So Zahid’s memo, written five months after Phua was “caught in the act,” is worthless and not worth the paper it is printed on.

And all that leads back to the basic questions – why did Zahid write his letter to the FBI? And how has Phua contributed to Malaysia’s national security?

Addendum: After this was written, Malaysiakini reported that Zahid’s letter to the FBI “has been withdrawn from the Nevada District Court after Putrajaya objected to it being used for the defence” of the alleged gambling kingpin.

So now it is not just the Police Chief who has left Zahid hanging, it is the government as well. It is good to see that the powers-that-be in Putrajaya have better judgment than Zahid.

JOHN R MALOTT is former United States ambassador to Malaysia.

Dr. Bridget Welsh looks back on 2014

January 1, 2015

Dr. Bridget Welsh looks back on 2014: Time for Healing

Sadly, Malaysian political leaders are increasingly not meeting public expectations. The opposition has failed miserably to work together as a viable political alternative last year, and remains on the brink of division.

The Premier has faced a growing rebellion in his own party. If UMNO’s party elections were held today, it is unlikely that he would win the presidency.–Dr. Bridget Welsh

Hope for Malaysia2No longer silent majority

COMMENT: Difficult is an understatement for the year Malaysia had in 2014. Today marks a new beginning, an opportunity for assessment and moving forward.

With so many Malaysians suffering from bouts of despair with the national leadership on both sides of the political divide, I wanted to take an opportunity to share some positive observations on the present situation and the country’s future.

Despite all the challenges the country faces, it is vital not to be blinded by negativity. Doing so will let the dark forces that have been fanned since 2013 win. Malaysians deserve better – a hope for change and the promise of better governance.

While acknowledging the devastating tragedies of last year as well as the deterioration in race relations and the woefully inadequate performance of political leaders, I highlight here developments and lessons that are strengthening, and can further strengthen, Malaysia.

Caring Malaysia
There were important bright spots in 2014 that should be recognised. On multiple occasions Malaysians came together across faiths in their shared humanity.

Malaysians are a generous people in giving and empathetic with others. Malaysians regularly stop when a person is in trouble, and this is often in spite of real concerns over crime. They also open their purse strings when there is need, as we are seeing with the bounty of contributions to those suffering from the flooding.

There is a deep sense of community that even in the face of adversity binds Malaysians together. Outreach across faiths and genuine caring for others’ well-being was more evident in practice than the politicised racial vitriol. This was most obvious during the airline disasters and flooding emergency, but illustrated elsewhere as well.

Recall the outrage over the attempted closing of the homeless shelters in Kuala Lumpur, or the multiple incidents where the country’s Twitter network reached out to help find a missing loved one. When it matters, Malaysians come together for one another.

No longer silent majority

2014 was also the year the silent majority found its voice. It is speaking in a noisy room, but there nevertheless. After almost two years of dangerous extremist language, growing irrational anger, and often sheer stupidity, more are coming out to advocate the views of those of the largely silent majority.

Group of 25 The Eminent Group of 25
Much has been made of the Eminent 25, an important group of the Malay elite. They are not alone. Pharmacist Syed Azmi Alhabshi, whose well-meaning ‘Touch a Dog’ programme to promote understanding across faiths, was appreciated (as testimony of the crowd) and the abuse and threats he faced for doing so were not well-received.

There is also strong public support for much-needed checks on the abuses of the unaccountable religious authorities who continue to think they are the ‘chosen’ ones to persecute innocent people like the Borders bookseller. There is similarly broad disdain for confiscation of other faiths’ holy texts, their desecration and endorsement of the urging to ‘burn’ religious texts – a shameful disgrace for any human being, least of all supposed leaders.

This is just not right, and ordinary Malaysians acknowledge it, even if the political environment is such that it is hard to say so in public without facing a battery of attacks. From the excessive cancerous corruption to everyday criminality, Malaysians are concerned and speaking out against these problems.

This is not new. Voting patterns since 1999 show that citizens want a fairer and better government, one that respects and listens to them. This is not going away, even if the Election Commission is acting in a non-transparent manner to further manipulate the electoral system by offering greedy political parties new seats.

Lessons from disasters

The list of problems the country – any country for that matter – faces is always long. What matters is how the leadership responds to it – the solutions.

Sadly, Malaysian political leaders are increasingly not meeting public expectations. The opposition has failed miserably to work together as a viable political alternative last year, and remains on the brink of division.

The Premier has faced a growing rebellion in his own party. If UMNO’s party elections were held today, it is unlikely that he would win the presidency.

Golf Diplomacy
Najib Razak has often been the ‘absentee PM’, prioritising a photo-op for a meeting on a trade deal that is effectively dead over the suffering of his people in one most serious national emergencies the country has faced since independence – an event that has not even yet been declared an emergency.

The ineffective actions of state governments, particularly Kelantan, whose Menteri Besar was briefly trapped in his own house instead of helping and leading rescue efforts, were equally disheartening. Now however is the time to look ahead.

The key is to learn the lessons from these disasters. Whether it is with regard to missing airplanes or flooding, these problems can be better addressed through pro-active, early measures.

This year offers Malaysia opportunities to lead in these areas – to use ASEAN as a forum to enhance regional airline security, to form a domestic and international task force for flood prevention and relief.

Lessons can be taken from steps adopted in Jakarta and elsewhere. These measures can range from simple more environmentally aware waste management and better effective storm warning systems, to harder but as essential toughening on corruption and illegal logging.

With crisis there is opportunity, and 2015 is a year for finding the silver lining and assuring that more lives are saved in pro-active action rather than reaction.

A time for healing

Part of the solution lies with bringing in more independent expertise. It is said knowledge is power, and we learned over the last year that learning can lead to better responses to crises. An example is the response to airline tragedies.

One reason for this is that more technocratic knowledge was brought into the assessments. It is essential to have people who understand not only the problems Malaysia faces, but to include those who can offer solutions.

Technocrats can offer more insights. The Najib mode has been to throw money at problems, but this is not enough. More needs to be done to look at the underlying causes and options ahead. This extends from flooding to development challenges. Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) is clearly not enough to address the needs of poorer Malaysians.

Part of the change towards knowledge involves changing mindsets. Good government is not about a photo-opportunity on a golf course or standing on the back of a garbage truck. It involves cooperation and compromise, which have been largely absent in much of last year’s political life.

This new year is a time for healing. These are not easy to do, especially in Malaysia’s diverse and politically fragmented society. They take courage.

Obsession with Hudud
The year ahead will indeed show whether Kelantan’s ulama leaders recognise that they do not have the skills to be in charge of this devastated state and make way to more capable leadership. The year ahead will also reveal whether those not engaged in dialogue will start talking to one another and moving past differences.

The year ahead will see whether politicians put aside politicking for the people. Many do not have faith in any of these developments, and frankly I too am not optimistic on the political front.

Where my hope lies is with the reality of greater pressure on leaders to buck up, to live up to expectations and importantly in the inherent caring character and spirit of the majority of Malaysians who have a clear sense of priorities – the needs and well-being of their fellow human beings.

With my faith in the wisdom of ordinary people, I remain hopeful in the prospects and possibilities of the new year.

BRIDGET WELSH is a Senior Research Associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of National Taiwan University and can be reached at