Trump, Xi and the siren song of nationalism


November 28, 2017

Trump, Xi and the siren song of nationalism

A new generation of world leaders is embracing nationalist themes

by Gideon Rachman@www.ft.com

Image result for Trump, Xi and Macron

I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers. . . or our national anthem.” So said Mike Pence, the US Vice-*resident, after walking out of a football match  — when some players had “taken a knee” during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner”. The Trump administration’s row with high-profile athletes might seem like an “only in America” moment. But similar arguments about national anthems are taking place in China, India and Europe.

These anthem rows are a symptom of a global ideological struggle between nationalist and internationalists. In the US, China and India, the militant defence of national hymns is justified by the new nationalists as simple, healthy patriotism. But a shrill focus on national anthems also has a disturbing side — since it often goes hand in hand with illiberalism at home, and aggression overseas.

Earlier this month, China’s National People’s Congress passed a law, making “insulting” the country’s national anthem an offence, punishable by up to three years in prison. The move is part of a growing vogue for displays of patriotism in China, as part of what President Xi Jinping calls the “great rejuvenation” of his people. It also reflects rising tensions between the government of mainland China and semi-autonomous Hong Kong. At recent football matches in Hong Kong, the Chinese anthem has been booed by anti-Beijing protesters.

Image result for Modi the incredible Indian

 

The Indian version of this dispute was triggered by a supreme court ruling last year, directing that the national anthem be played before any film shown in a public theater. Supporters of the ruling argue that the anthem is an important glue in a multi-religious country that speaks hundreds of languages. Indian liberals worry that it reflects a rise in intolerant nationalism under Prime Minister, Narendra Modi — which is making life tougher for religious minorities and critics of the government. They also point to incidents of vigilantism in which cinema-goers, who failed to rise for the anthem, have been attacked.

A different kind of anthem controversy took place in France, when Emmanuel Macron celebrated his election victory, last May. The background music when the new president strode on stage was not the Marseillaise but Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — the EU’s anthem. This was a deliberate rebuke to his defeated opponents in the nationalist and anti-EU, National Front.

The fact that Mr Macron and Mr Trump have taken very different positions in the anthem rows is significant. For the US and French presidents are currently the two most important spokesmen for rival visions of international politics.

Image result for Macron and the New France

In his speech at the UN in September, Mr Trump made the case for an international order based around “strong sovereign nations” — a phrase that he used repeatedly. The US president has also often attacked “globalism”, defined by his campaign as — “An economic and political ideology which puts allegiance to international institutions ahead of the nation state.”Ten days after Mr Trump’s speech, Mr Macron offered a very different worldview. In a lecture in Paris, he said that — “We can no longer turn inwards within national borders; this would be a collective disaster.” The French president saw his enemies as “nationalism, identitarianism, protectionism, isolationism.”

It would be easy to assume that Mr Macron’s internationalist message has more global support. But the Trumpian vision also has international adherents — from a network of politicians and intellectuals that can be termed the “nationalist international”.

Mr Trump’s nationalism is fired by a sense that America is in decline and can only recover, by getting tough with the outside world. Mr Xi’s nationalism is fuelled by a sense that China is on the rise, and can finally avenge historic humiliations. Those two rival visions could easily lead to US-China clashes in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea or at the World Trade Organisation.--Gideon Rachman@www.ft.com

In a recent article , Eric Li, a Shanghai-based commentator, argued that Xi’s China and Trump’s America, “have more in common than it appears”. Both leaders emphasise national sovereignty and are intent on pushing back against an “overly aggressive, one-size fits all universal order”. Mr Li argues that Mr Xi and Mr Trump have many potential soulmates in the anti-globalist camp — including leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Mr Modi and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, as well as Britain’s Brexiters. It is quite a list — underlining the extent to which nationalism is resurgent. The new nationalists argue that “strong sovereign nations” should be the basis of a stable, international order that rolls backs the excesses of a utopian and elitist “globalism”.

But there is something a little naive about the idea of peaceful coexistence between nationalists. Strongmen leaders may have a shared contempt for international bureaucrats and human-rights lawyers. But nationalism is often associated with disdain for the views and interests of foreigners. So, sooner or later, rival nationalisms are liable to come into conflict — and that is particularly the case with the US and China.

Image result for The New China

The New China 7 Leadership

Mr Trump’s nationalism is fired by a sense that America is in decline and can only recover, by getting tough with the outside world. Mr Xi’s nationalism is fuelled by a sense that China is on the rise, and can finally avenge historic humiliations. Those two rival visions could easily lead to US-China clashes in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea or at the World Trade Organisation.

In his Sorbonne speech, Mr Macron warned that rising nationalism could “destroy the peace we so blissfully enjoy”. Sadly, it seems unlikely that anybody in Washington or Beijing was paying much attention.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018


November 21, 2017

Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen consolidates Political Power ahead of National Elections in 2018

by Astrid Norén-Nilsson, Lund University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

The looming dissolution of the CNRP follows the September arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the flight from the country of leading CNRP parliament members and a clampdown on the press.

Promising the de facto return to one-party rule, the recent political crackdown is indisputably the most serious assault on Cambodian democracy since the 1993 reintroduction of multi-party elections.

Image result for Hun Sen and The Cambodian Peoples' Party

The CPP has delivered Peace, Stability and Development for Cambodians since 1998.

The sheer nerve of the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in invalidating nearly 3 million votes came as a surprise. Until now, the move was considered so unlikely that each successive CPP step to weaken the opposition has been interpreted as an attempt to gain a bargaining chip rather than an overture to foreclose electoral competition outright.

But it is now hard to believe anything but that the CPP is delivering its final blow to the opposition according to a long-term strategy that spans its entire mandate.

Image result for Cambodia the Land of Wonder

Cambodia–The Kingdom of Wonder

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambodia

Following the post-election protests of 2013–14, which were violently broken up, the CPP neutralised the CNRP through a one year ‘culture of dialogue’ that reined in CNRP’s tough rhetoric. After that, consensual politics were replaced by attacks on a weakened opposition. While recent local elections offered a period of relative calm — presumably because the CPP aimed to test its electoral strength — the CPP is now putting in motion the machinery of legal measures that they have carefully introduced through legislative changes over the past few months.

Political change of some sort in Cambodia has an aura of inevitability since the 2013 elections. This is an aura that the CNRP has fought hard to project, and which the CPP has now unravelled. The CPP is gambling on the presumption that the 44 per cent of voters whose votes were invalidated will not take political action. This is important given that the CNRP has a strong support base among the almost two-thirds of the population who are below the age of 30. Lacking memories of the Khmer Rouge regime, which the precursor to the CPP toppled, Cambodian youth are both less grateful to the CPP and less fearful than their elders. The CPP is putting this emerging fearlessness to the test, and the outcome is unpredictable. The lack of a strong domestic reaction to the undemocratic measures put in place so far opens up a new range of until now unimaginable political possibilities for the emboldened CPP.

 

Image result for Cambodia Today

For the last two decades Cambodia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Asia with an average annual real GDP growth rate in excess of 7.0  per cent.

 

With eight months to go until national elections, the previously unthinkable scenario that the CPP will be the only main party to contest the 2018 elections now looms. The crackdown does leave a window open for a resolution allowing the weakened opposition to contest the 2018 elections, perhaps under a different name and with a partly different leadership. The CPP could court elements of the CNRP leadership to head a salvaged party, similar to how Ung Huot replaced Ranariddh as first Cambodian Prime Minister in 1997. If deemed unthreatening, a defanged opposition could be allowed to contest the elections to give an outlet for oppositional energies and a boost to the CPP’s electoral legitimacy.

Its imminent outlawing marks the logical endpoint of the CNRP’s position to obey the rule-of-law designed by the CPP. To continue to exist, the CNRP would have to renege on its twin constraints: bending to the legal framework defined by the CPP and avoiding the possibility of violent confrontation at all costs.

To have a real shot at regime change through elections rather than merely nominal inclusion in some form on electoral rolls, the CNRP would have to find its way back to connect with the electorate in the streets. Capitalising on the party’s dissolution to create popular momentum may be a hard but not impossible feat. The opposition managed to quietly build support in a repressive climate ahead of the 2013 election, and then in that year’s electoral campaign galvanised oppositional energies through mass gatherings. Last year, two and a half years after mass demonstrations came to an end, an estimated 2 million people turned up for the funeral procession of the assassinated government critic Kem Ley.

The CNRP has so far placed its hopes in growing international pressure. But this hope may be in vain, with Hun Sen trying to kill two birds with one stone: the CNRP are accused of conspiring with Western governments and media outlets, which makes Western criticism of the 2018 election wholly irrelevant. From the Cambodian government’s perspective, the transition to a stance backed by China to turn away from the West may now be complete. Whether severe economic and diplomatic consequences could reverse the CPP’s course of action will now be put to the test.

The logic of the situation will compel the CPP to maintain its strong-arm tactics up until the election despite increasing popular alienation. There is no authoritarian nostalgia in Cambodia like that in the Philippines or Thailand. This makes the ongoing crackdown more out of tune with public sentiment and potentially more volatile.

Astrid Norén-Nilsson is an Associate Senior Lecturer at the Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University and author of Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination, and Democracy.

 

American Foreign Policy Endangered


November 13, 2017

The Economist

American Foreign Policy Endangered

America’s global influence has dwindled under Donald Trump

https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21731132-presidential-tour-asia-cannot-hide-fact-america-has-turned-inward-hurting-itself

A presidential tour of Asia cannot hide the fact that America has turned inward, hurting itself and the world

A YEAR ago this week Donald Trump was elected president. Many people predicted that American foreign policy would take a disastrous turn. Mr Trump had suggested that he would scrap trade deals, ditch allies, put a figurative bomb under the rules-based global order and drop literal ones willy-nilly. NATO was “obsolete”, he said; NAFTA was “the worst trade deal maybe ever”; and America was far too nice to foreigners. “In the old days when you won a war, you won a war. You kept the country,” he opined, adding later that he would “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State (IS) and “take the oil”.

So far, Mr Trump’s foreign policy has been less awful than he promised. Granted, he has pulled America out of the Paris accord, making it harder to curb climate change, and abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a big trade deal. However, he has not retreated pell-mell into isolationism. He has not quit NATO; indeed, some of America’s eastern European allies prefer his tough-talk to the cool detachment of Barack Obama. He has not started any wars. He has stepped up America’s defence of Afghanistan’s beleaguered government, and helped Iraq recapture cities from IS. In the parts of the world to which he pays little attention, such as Africa, an understaffed version of the previous administration’s policy continues on autopilot. As Mr Trump makes a 12-day visit to Asia, it is hard to dismiss him as a man wholly disengaged from the world.

Many people find reassurance in the sober, capable military men who surround him (see article). His chief of staff, his defence secretary and his national security adviser all understand the horrors of war and will stop him from doing anything rash, the argument goes. Optimists even speculate that he might emulate Ronald Reagan, by shaking up the diplomatic establishment, restoring America’s military muscle and projecting such strength abroad that a frightened, overstretched North Korea will crumble like the Soviet Union. Others confidently predict that even if he causes short-term damage to America’s standing in the world, Mr Trump will be voted out in 2020 and things will return to normal.

Reagan, he ain’t

For all its flaws, America has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works. All that is imperilled by a president who believes that strong nations look out only for themselves. By putting “America First”, he makes it weaker, and the world worse off.–The Economist

All this is wishful thinking. On security, Mr Trump has avoided some terrible mistakes. He has not started a needless row with China over Taiwan’s ambiguous status, as he once threatened to do. Congress and the election-hacking scandal prevented him from pursuing a grand bargain with Vladimir Putin that might have left Russia’s neighbours at the Kremlin’s mercy. And he has apparently coaxed China to exert a little more pressure on North Korea to stop expanding its nuclear arsenal.

However, he has made some serious errors, too, such as undermining the deal with Iran that curbs its ability to make nuclear bombs. And his instincts are atrocious. He imagines he has nothing to learn from history. He warms to strongmen, such as Mr Putin and Xi Jinping. His love of generals is matched by a disdain for diplomats—he has gutted the State Department, losing busloads of experienced ambassadors. His tweeting is no joke: he undermines and contradicts his officials without warning, and makes reckless threats against Kim Jong Un, whose paranoia needs no stoking. Furthermore, Mr Trump has yet to be tested by a crisis. Level-headed generals may advise him, but he is the commander-in-chief, with a temperament that alarms friend and foe alike.

On trade, he remains wedded to a zero-sum view of the world, in which exporters “win” and importers “lose”. (Are the buyers of Ivanka Trump-branded clothes and handbags, which are made in Asia, losers?) Mr Trump has made clear that he favours bilateral deals over multilateral ones, because that way a big country like America can bully small ones into making concessions. The trouble with this approach is twofold. First, it is deeply unappealing to small countries, which by the way also have protectionist lobbies to overcome. Second, it would reproduce the insanely complicated mishmash of rules that the multilateral trade system was created to simplify and trim. The Trump team probably will not make a big push to disrupt global trade until tax reform has passed through Congress. But when and if that happens, all bets are off—NAFTA is still in grave peril.

Ideas matter

Image result for donald trump commander in chief picture

America’s Flawed Commander-in-Chief, Donald J Trump

Perhaps the greatest damage that Mr Trump has done is to American soft power. He openly scorns the notion that America should stand up for universal values such as democracy and human rights. Not only does he admire dictators; he explicitly praises thuggishness, such as the mass murder of criminal suspects in the Philippines. He does so not out of diplomatic tact, but apparently out of conviction. This is new. Previous American presidents supported despots for reasons of cold-war realpolitik. (“He’s a bastard, but he’s our bastard,” as Harry Truman is reputed to have said of an anti-communist tyrant in Nicaragua.) Mr Trump’s attitude seems more like: “He’s a bastard. Great!”

This repels America’s liberal allies, in Europe, East Asia and beyond. It emboldens autocrats to behave worse, as in Saudi Arabia this week, where the crown prince’s dramatic political purges met with Mr Trump’s blessing (see article). It makes it easier for China to declare American-style democracy passé, and more tempting for other countries to copy China’s autocratic model (see article).

The idea that things will return to normal after a single Trump term is too sanguine. The world is moving on. Asians are building new trade ties, often centred on China. Europeans are working out how to defend themselves if they cannot rely on Uncle Sam. And American politics are turning inward: both Republicans and Democrats are more protectionist now than they were before Mr Trump’s electoral triumph.

For all its flaws, America has long been the greatest force for good in the world, upholding the liberal order and offering an example of how democracy works. All that is imperilled by a president who believes that strong nations look out only for themselves. By putting “America First”, he makes it weaker, and the world worse off.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Endangered”

Cambodia: Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen adopts strong people-centeric leadership instead of liberal democracy


November 3, 2015

Cambodia: Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen adopts strong people-centeric leadership  stead of liberal democracy

by Carlyle A Thayer

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for hun sen at wef, may, 2017 in phnom penh

Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia seen with Philippine President President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. 

Since 2016, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has set about deliberately dismantling his country’s democratic system. Month by month, the country’s political opposition has been eviscerated through a combination of coercion and judicial means, known as ‘lawfare’.

 

Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander, is one of the world’s longest serving leaders and has now been in charge in Cambodia for 32 years.

Degradation of the democratic process dramatically accelerated during 2017. If this continues, the national elections scheduled for July 2018 will effectively be a one-party affair. Cambodia today is an illiberal democracy rapidly descending into autocratic rule.

In 1991, after Cambodia had spent three years under the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge and ten years under Vietnamese military occupation, the United Nations was mandated to carry out peace-building. It was the largest such mission of its time. Liberal multi-party democracy was enshrined in the constitution. In May 1993, Cambodia held national elections for a Constituent Assembly. Four months later it promulgated a constitution that restored the monarch, Norodom Sihanouk, and re-established the Kingdom of Cambodia. His successor, Norodom Sihamoni, had for many years spent much of his time abroad.

Cambodia’s current constitution was amended in 2004. Five references to liberal multi-party democracy are enshrined within it, including the assertion in the preamble that Cambodia will ‘become once again an “Oasis of Peace” based on the system of a liberal multi-party democracy’.

Article 1 states that ‘the King shall fulfil His functions according to the Constitution and the principles of liberal multi-party democracy’, while Article 50 declares ‘Khmer citizens of both sexes shall respect the principles of national sovereignty and liberal multi-party democracy’.

Article 51 specifies that ‘the Kingdom of Cambodia adopts a policy of liberal multi-party democracy’ and Article 153 affirms that ‘the revision or the amendment of the Constitution cannot be done, if affecting the liberal multi-party democracy system and the constitutional monarchy regime’.

Image result for hun sen at wef, may, 2017 in phnom penh

Cambodian Minister of Public Works, Sun Chanthol and Transport, Sun Chanthol and Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Minister in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Office.

National elections have been held at regular five-yearly intervals in Cambodia since 1993. In 1998, Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) gained majority control and it has won every election since then. In 2012, two opposition parties, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party, merged to form the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). In the national elections the following year, the CPP suffered a major setback when it lost 22 parliamentary seats, although it still retained control. The opposition charged that the election was rigged and Cambodia experienced a period of domestic turmoil as mass protests erupted.

Since the setback to his control in 2013, Hun Sen has set about systematically destabilising the opposition. His efforts intensified as commune elections scheduled for 4 June 2017 approached. These elections were widely viewed as a bellwether for national elections scheduled for July 2018.

The leader of the CNRP at the time, Sam Rainsy, was forced to flee abroad and in December 2016 he was convicted of ‘falsifying public documents, using fake public documents [and] incitement causing unrest to national security’ in absentia. His successor, Kem Sokha, was forced to step down as party leader while other CNRP members were jailed for ‘inciting social instability’.

Image result for hun sen at wef, may, 2017 in phnom penh

A Member of ASEAN since 1999, Cambodia has been making friends around the world on the basis of mutual respect and win-win partnerships.

In January 2017, Hun Sen cancelled military exercises with the United States for a period of two years, on the grounds that the Cambodian military needed to provide security for the elections and to assist in an anti-drug campaign. Later he abruptly ordered a US Navy unit engaged in humanitarian construction of school toilets and maternity wards to leave the country.

International organisations have also been expelled. In February 2017, Hun Sen countered the opposition by amending the Law on Political Parties so that the CNRP could be dissolved for ‘jeopardising the security of the state’ and ‘provoking incitement’. A Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations was also passed in July 2015. It required the 5000 domestic and foreign NGOs working in Cambodia to register with the government and provide detailed reports on their activities and finances. If they failed to comply, they risked fines, criminal prosecutions or deregistration.

On 11 April 2017, the Cambodian government released an eleven-page report, ‘To Tell the Truth’. It accused Western governments, UN agencies and NGOs of conducting a deliberate campaign of disinformation to denigrate the CPP. The report also accused the United States and the opposition CNRP of colluding to overthrow the Cambodian government.

Yet the Cambodian people continue to support the opposition at the ballot box. Despite efforts by Hun Sen and his CPP to hound and destabilise the opposition, the opposition performed well in the June 2017 commune elections. Even though the CPP received 51 per cent of the vote to the CNRP’s 44 per cent, the CPP lost 436 commune chief seats while the CNRP gained 449 out of a total of 1646 commune chief seats. And the CPP lost 1779 commune councillor seats while the CNRP gained 2052 out of a total of 11,572 councillor seats.

After the commune elections, Hun Sen and the CPP blamed their poor showing on outside interference by the US National Democratic Institution (NDI) and Khmer language broadcasts by Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA). The NDI was ordered to leave Cambodia and the 53 local radio stations that rebroadcast news from VOA and RFA were shut down. The Cambodian Daily was closed on allegations of tax fraud. In September, former leader of the opposition Kem Sokha, the founder and former leader of the Human Rights Party, was charged with treason.

Hun Sen is an autocrat who is clinging to power. To ensure that he remains at the helm he has resorted to subversion of the national constitution. In the process, he is transforming Cambodia’s liberal multi-party democracy into a dictatorship, a democracy in name only.

Carlyle A Thayer is an Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra.

This article was originally posted here on Asian Currents.

 

Ops Lalang: Time to set things right


November 1, 2017

Ops Lalang: Time to set things right

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang

by Dato’  Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Ops Lalang

The 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang has rightly generated much discussion about a dark chapter in our history when 106 of our fellow citizens were unjustly arrested and detained under the ISA. As a nation, we need to hear again the personal accounts of the detainees and their families, we need to confront the injustices of the past, if only to remind ourselves of the unfinished task of building a more just and democratic nation.

Taking responsibility

At the time, the government offered various reasons for the arrests including the need to forestall imminent racial riots. We know now that it was nothing but a sideshow to forestall a challenge to Dr. Mahathir’s rule from within his own party and to subdue opposition from without. And if racial tension had reached alarming levels, it was because the government then, as it still does today, sought to manipulate racial and religious issues to serve its own ends.

As Prime Minister and Home Minister at the time, Dr. Mahathir must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang. The then IGP was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more. To argue otherwise is both dishonest and disingenuous.

Dr. Mahathir may now concede that many of those who were detained were good people that he had simply demonised for political purposes but it is not enough. He should take personal responsibility and apologise to each and every detainee for the injustice he visited upon them.

Dr. Mahathir today is, of course, not the same man he was thirty years ago. He is now part of the political struggle for change and, though he is loathe to admit it, he is working to undo much of the damage that he himself inflicted upon our nation. I hope he will rise to the occasion by doing what is right.

Some have argued that insisting on an apology from Dr Mahathir would simply detract from the on-going efforts against UMNO-BN. On the contrary, an apology would immensely strengthen those efforts. It would also reaffirm that the struggle we are embarked upon is not simply about ousting an unpopular government at the next elections but about building a more just and democratic nation.

A national apology

UMNO-BN’s current leaders are no doubt relishing the fact that Dr. Mahathir is being taken to task over Ops Lalang but they should not be too smug. Some of those presently in government collaborated, acquiesced or defended Dr. Mahathir’s actions 30 years ago.

Image result for Najib Razak and Ops Lalang 1987The then IGP, (Tun) Hanif Omar was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more.

 

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, for example, was UMNO Youth Chief at the time and did his share of sabre-rattling in support of Dr. Mahathir. Other BN parties, for their part, never challenged Dr. Mahathir’s narrative or protested the mass arrests.

Image result for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

And besides, if those in authority today disagree with Dr. Mahathir’s action, they have it in their power to set things right by issuing, on behalf of the government, a public apology to all those who were detained during Ops Lalang and awarding them appropriate compensation for the wrong that was done them.

After all, it was done for the judges whose removal from office Dr. Mahathir contemptuously engineered during the 1988 judicial crisis; there’s no reason why it cannot be done for the victims of Ops Lalang as well. It’s the honourable thing to do if there is still any honour left to be found in this government.

Other countries – South Africa, Chile, Argentina, to name a few – have taken courageous steps to confront their dark past through an open accounting of the wrongs that were done. It’s time for us to do the same with Ops Lalang. It is the only way to bring closure to this dark episode in our history and a measure of comfort to those who were so badly wronged in 1987.

Tyranny triumphs when people do nothing

The other point that is worth remembering, as we mark the 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang, is that undemocratic rulers only succeed when there are people who go along with what’s morally wrong in order to get along, who bend their knees to what their heart denies, who turn away from the truth because it is inconvenient or who simply “menurut perintah” regardless of conscience or consequence.

I was Political Counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington DC when Ops Lalang took place. We were deluged by protests from concerned US politicians and civil society groups and it fell to me and my colleagues to defend the government’s actions, unwittingly repeating the falsehoods about racial tension, Marxist agitators and threats to our democracy and stability.

Now, whenever I hear the stories about how even women were tortured and mentally abused while in detention, how those in power manipulated events and people for political expediency, I am filled with dismay and remorse that I was part of the machinery that caused the detainees and their families so much anguish.

The truth is its not just Dr. Mahathir who is culpable but the entire machinery of government, the judiciary, the police, and the politicians; they may not have given the orders but they stood by and watched it happen, or worse still, allowed themselves to be used in one way or another.

To paraphrase a well-worn quote, evil triumphs when ordinary people do nothing in the face of injustice.

The unfinished struggle

The Ops Lalang detainees have modelled for us courage and determination in the face of injustice and tyranny. Years later, many remain committed and active, undeterred by their ordeal. It is now up to us to be inspired by their example and continue the unfinished struggle for justice and democracy in Malaysia.

Dato’ Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

Cambodia– Responding to Rising Voter Expectations


October 16, 2017

Cambodia– Responding to Rising  Voter Expectations 

by Kongkea Chhoeun, Australian National University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Hun Sen at WEF

As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.– Kongkea Chhoeun

 

It might be easy to forget given the events of August–September 2017, but Cambodian democracy had until a few years ago been making progress. Many key indicators of democratic quality had continued to improve since the 1998 national elections, which followed the near collapse of the system in the aftermath of the July 1997 internal fighting between armed forces loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rannariddh.

 

Competition among political parties increased, thanks to the unification of the opposition parties in 2012 ahead of the 2013 national election. The economy also continued to grow extraordinarily well. Growth has averaged 7 per cent per year since 1993, and poverty has fallen more than 1 per cent per year on average since 2003. Inequality has also declined. Vertical political accountability has been strengthened markedly, thanks to decentralisation and deconcentration. Cambodians are increasingly able to hold local leaders to account through local democratic processes.

Image result for Peaceful Phnom Penh

Sanderson Park, at Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh  has a sculpture of a dove with an olive branch in its beak. It is made up entirely from parts of AK-47 rifles.

But the 2013 polls were a turning point. Although they won the election, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost the popular vote for the first time since 1998, seeing its popular vote plummet by more than 20 per cent. To its credit, the CPP-led government subsequently implemented various reforms aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Cambodian voters. The CPP has permitted moderate reforms, restructured the National Electoral Committee and increased public servants pay. And in August 2017, Hun Sen also promised a slew of new benefits for garment workers, including a big increase in their monthly minimum wage.

But with the carrots have come sticks.Indicators of horizontal accountability have either stalled or are in decline. Local and international NGOs and media operated with comparatively little constraint from the state before the 2013 national election period. Since then, the government has made disturbing moves that wipe out progress made in terms of political openness. Among a range of actions is the passage of legislation governing NGOs.

Image result for Peaceful Phnom Penh

Despite a boycott by the opposition, the Parliament passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which requires the nearly 5000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and being shut down. In August 2017, the government used this law to order the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to shut down its operations and repatriate its foreign staff, accusing the NDI of illegally operating in the country.

The Cambodian government has also targeted foreign and foreign-linked media. In August 2017, the government accused the Cambodia Daily of failing to pay more than US$6 million in taxes, giving the paper one month to resolve the issue or risk being shut down. The Daily is a US-owned outlet credited for its reports critical of the government. In addition, the government instructed more than a dozen radio stations across the country to cease operations, accusing them of failing to report how much and to whom they sell their airtime.

Two major factors — one internal and one external — may explain the government’s recent measures against international NGOs and media. Internally, these measures were escalated as a result of the June 2017 local government elections, the result of which represented a big boost for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and a serious blow to the CPP. After the June 2017 local government elections, the CPP still controlled the majority of local governments — 1156 or 70 per cent of communes. But the opposition party’s share of local governments increased about 12 fold in comparison with the last local elections held in 2012.

The external factor is the declining role of the United States as a champion of democracy. The drastic moves targeting US-based NGOs and media occurred in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. His election and subsequent attacks on mainstream media have disconcerted democrats at home and abroad and certainly delegitimised US efforts to promote liberal democratic principles internationally.

Furthermore, the failure of the United States to pre-empt and manage democratic breakdown in Thailand, and to promote democracy in Laos and Vietnam, only serves to diminish the US role in promoting democracy in Cambodia, and potentially gives the Cambodian government an excuse to maintain the status quo.

Likewise, Australia and European countries have been silent on these issues so far, showing a similar unwillingness to influence internal political decisions in Cambodia. The 2014 Australia–Cambodia refugee deal tainted Australia’s reputation as an altruistic donor to Cambodia, and has certainly undermined Australian leverage in promoting reforms in Cambodian domestic affairs. And European countries have been busy cleaning up the mess in their own backyard after the Brexit vote in 2016 and the rise of populist movements across the continent.

Meanwhile, Cambodia is increasingly dependent on China, and less and less so on Western countries. China is feeding the Cambodian economy, investing US$857 million (roughly 61 per cent of total FDI) and channelling US$320 million in aid (roughly 30 per cent of total aid) to the country in 2015. By contrast, investment and aid from Western countries is either modest or on the decline.

Whatever the mix of domestic and global political influences, the consequences of the CPP’s crackdown on Cambodia’s democracy are being felt. As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.

Kongkea Chhoeun is a PhD Candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

This article was first published here on New Mandala.