Impeachment is designed for Donald Trump(?)


October24, 2017

Impeachment  is designed  for Donald Trump?

Impeachment is as much for people who shatter our norms as those who break our laws

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The Founding Fathers feared characters such as Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Their writings and debates surrounding the creation of the Constitution make clear that the framers feared a certain kind of character coming to power and usurping the republican ideal of their new nation. Having just defeated a tyrant — “Mad” King George III of England — they carefully crafted rules to remove such a character: impeachment. In the process, they revealed precisely the kind of corrupt, venal, inattentive and impulsive character they were worried about.

The very embodiment of what the Founding Fathers feared is now residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Again and again, they anticipated attributes and behaviors that President Trump exhibits on an all-too-regular basis. By describing “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the grounds for impeachment, as any act that poses a significant threat to society — either through incompetence or other misdeeds — the framers made it clear that an official does not have to commit a crime to be subject to impeachment. Instead, they made impeachment a political process, understanding that the true threat to the republic was not criminality but unfitness, that a president who violated the country’s norms and values was as much a threat as one who broke its laws.

 Gouverneur Morris, who wrote the Constitution’s preamble, and future president James Madison were worried about a leader who would “pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation” — theft of public funds — “or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers,” as Madison put it. Morris, who like many in the colonies believed King Charles had taken bribes from Louis XIV to support France’s war against the Dutch, declared that without impeachment we “expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate [the President] in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing him.”

Trump’s many ties to Russia spring immediately to mind, of course. What’s provable so far — denying electoral harm perpetrated by Russian actors, hiding his efforts to conduct business in Moscow during his 2016 campaign, leaking state secrets to the Russian ambassador at a White House meeting, numerous contacts between his top staff and family and Russian agents — resonates deeply with this core concern expressed by the Founding Fathers.

The possible involvement with a Russian scheme to corrupt the election process was something else the framers worried about, with George Mason, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, calling for impeachment for any president who “might engage in the corrupting of electors.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey, the man investigating his administration’s Russian connections, is clearly an impeachable act, according to Madison. He wrote that if “the President can displace from office a man whose merits require that he should be continued in it … he will be impeachable … for such an act of maladministration.”

Constitution-signer Abraham Baldwin of Georgia likewise seemed to be speaking about the Comey firing way back in the first Congress, when he noted that if a president “in a fit of passion” removed “all the good officers of government,” he should be susceptible to impeachment.

But Baldwin had in mind a more pressing fear: a president who didn’t live up to his constitutional duty to properly staff the executive branch, including the various departments such as the State Department — say, by removing appointments of a previous administration and not replacing them. Sound like anyone you know? According to Baldwin, the duty of Congress in such situations was to “turn him out of office, as he had others.”

Another attribute the Founding Fathers feared in a president was the abuse of the power to issue pardons. Mason, at the Virginia constitutional ratification convention, worried in fact that the president might use his pardoning power to “pardon crimes which were advised against himself,” or before indictment or conviction “to stop inquiry and prevent detection.”

Whether Trump is considering a self-pardon is unknown, but it is fairly widely speculated that, with the August pardon of former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, he was signaling to the likes of former campaign aides Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn that they too might be pardoned for disregarding valid orders and laws. To which the words of Madison would apply: “if the president be connected, in any suspicious manner, with any person, and there be grounds to believe he will shelter him,” he should be impeached.

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And on it goes. The Founding Fathers tried to prepare the country for the possibility of someone not only corrupt and venal — whereby impeachment was “an essential check … upon the encroachments of the executive,” as Alexander Hamilton put it in the “Federalist Papers” — but also from someone simply unable to perform the job, whether through incompetence, ignorance or incapacity. (The first successful impeachment conviction in our history, for example, was of an elderly federal judge who had slipped into dementia.)

As Supreme Court Justice James Wilson, signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, taught: The president “cannot act improperly, and hide either his negligence or inattention; he cannot roll upon any other person his criminality … and he is responsible for every nomination he makes … far from being above the laws, he is amenable to them … in his public character by impeachment.”

But prescient as they were, what the framers may not have anticipated was someone who epitomized so many of their fears at once — someone like Donald Trump — being elected to the presidency in the first place. They hoped that the electoral college system would prevent that from happening. But in the event that didn’t happen, they added an additional fail-safe: impeachment. It’s now up to Congress to fulfill the framers’ vision.

Bad news on Thailand’s Constitution


August 30, 2017

A year after referendum, only bad news about Thailand’s constitution

by Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang

http://www.newmandala.org

Image result for yingluck shinawatra

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra–A Victim of Brutal Military Regime in Thailand

In the referendum of 7 August 2016, Thais voted in favour of the junta-backed constitution draft that would later would become the 2017 Constitution. The referendum marked a victory for the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO, the official term for the junta), the generals having finally managed to convince the majority of Thais to overlook the democratic activists who opposed its “democratic” roadmap. Much has happened since then. The draft took a few unexpected detours before coming into effect on 6 April 2017. To commemorate the 2016 referendum, this post reflects on what this Constitution really means for Thailand over the next few years.

First and foremost, the lack of public participation during the drafting process and in the post-referendum amendments clearly show that this is not legitimately the supreme law of the land. It is not drafted according to the general will of the citizenry—whose supremacy the government does not respect. As a result, except for political parties and a handful of ardent observers, the public have distanced themselves from the current constitutional debates over election and political party laws, leaving it to the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) and National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to chart the country’s destiny.

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Look beyond the calm and beauty of the floating market in Bangkok for the reality of Thai democracy. The military junta makes a mockery of the new Constitution

This is not to say that the 2017 Constitution’s drafting was a farce. Far from it: the regime put its collective heart and mind into delivering the law, framing it as an operating manual to govern the country into the future. But this “manual” is not a constitution in the liberal democratic sense. This is not a document of a common goal of the people, nor is there public respect for it, unlike the 1997 (or even the post-coup 2007) Constitutions. If necessary, the military is ready to replace this manual with another one that suits its interests better—and the public is unlikely to protest against such an action.

We don’t see much of an afterlife for the 2007 Constitution in the 2017 Constitution—unlike the 2007 document, which inherited much from its 1997 predecessor. Rights and liberties, which were the selling point of the two most recent constitutions, are almost neglected. The general impression of the 2017 charter is that it is a potpourri of local innovations and adapted foreign transplants, all of which aim to cripple the next administration.

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The most notable feature is the drafters’ obsession with constraining the incoming civilian government’s powers. For the first five years, the law permits a non-MP outsider (e.g. General Prayuth Chan-ocha, junta leader and the current Prime Minister himself) to be nominated as prime minister. The first Senate would include ex officio military commanders and possibly some members of the junta’s handpicked NLA. The new mixed member proportional representation (MMP) electoral system is designed to create a fragmented parliament and a coalition government.

Moreover, the government would further be destabilised by a long policy to-do list as set out in the constitution, and a complex web of scrutiny by the judiciary and watchdog agencies. Administrative mistakes, corruption, and conflicts of interest can result in disproportionately harsh punishments. For example, one minor mistake in consideration of a financial bill can see the whole cabinet ousted on conflict of interest charges. While an effort to eradicate corruption is commendable in principle, the unrealistic goals set out in the constitution will hamper the government’s effectiveness—not to mention raise the chances of these anti-corruption safeguards’ being a pretext to harass political foes.

Here there is a paradox. In the 2017 Constitution, the CDC has designed a constitutional amendment procedure in which it is almost impossible to change the rule of the game. But the excessive constraining mechanisms outlined above deal mainly with the immediate government after the first election. This reflects the NCPO’s uncertainty about the prospects of post-coup Thailand. In their view, Thaksin Shinawatra and his men must not return to power. But in case they return, the NCPO wants to be sure that they are not free to run the country.

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Thailand’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, salutes members of the Royal Thai Army at the Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand on September 30, 2014.

© 2014 Reuters

The 2017 Constitution limits the next government’s ability to formulate its own policy, as it has already provided a list of preferred policy choices. Chapters on the Duty of the State and the Basic Policy Guidelines address a wide range of topics, from religion to national security, from education to environment, from Thai traditional medicine to satellite frequency. Formerly, these used to be policy guidelines with no legal authority. Now these government duties are enforceable in the courts.

In addition to a policy agenda enshrined in the Constitution, the NCPO appointed the technocrat-led Reform Committee and the bureaucrat-led National Strategy Committee, both of which will prepare the National Strategy Plan for the next 20 years. In 2014, the NCPO promised Thais a massive reform to overhaul the country. It has not delivered anything substantial, but these committees serve as easy way out. The NCPO has created a platform for the reforms that shall be carried out by its civilian successor. If the reforms fail, the incumbent government would be liable to be sanctioned according to the law. But if it works out, the backseat drivers—that is, the junta—can take all the credit. Ironically, most of these experts have been engaging, again and again, in reform projects throughout the past decade. These professional reformers are unlikely to bring about any innovative changes.

Disappointingly, the 2017 Constitution avoids addressing the real cause of Thailand’s political crisis: the accountability deficit among the constitutional watchmen. Since 1997, several independent agencies (for example, the Constitutional Court, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, and the National Human Rights Commission) have been created to enforce accountability on elected bodies. The charter is still based on a false premise that only civilian politicians are corrupt, so it imposes severe punishments on them for misconduct. The Constitutional Court and other watchdog agencies are assigned a greater role in keeping politicians’ legal and moral standards in check, but there is no attempt to effectively hold these unelected bodies to account. The drafters trust these watchmen’s personal integrity and moral standards, which have historically proved inadequate. Without better accountability, watchdog agencies will continue to suffer a legitimacy crisis, a result of their seemingly unfair exercises of power since 2007. Peace and prosperity under the new Constitution, as propagated by the NCPO, is nowhere in sight.

At present, the CDC is drafting other relevant laws, such as those on elections, political parties, and watchdog agencies. Some of the legislative proposals are even more radical than the 2017 Constitution itself. A person who fails to vote will be banned from voting for two years. Members of a political party must pay a membership fee in order to prove their genuine belief in the party’s ideology. A primary vote is also introduced, a mechanism which is impractical for most small to medium-sized parties.

Interestingly, there seems to be some inconsistency, or a lack of consensus, among the political elites regarding how to use their “operating manual”. The CDC is considering using different numbers for candidates from the same party in different districts. This proposal will surely generate voter confusion, and contradicts the CDC’s earlier statement that the constitution would direct voter’s focus from each individual candidate to one party. The numbering system is opposed by the Election Commission, but the CDC insists that the measure will force parties to work harder to win the people’s support.

Inconsistencies are also apparent in the case of the watchdog agencies. The NLA dismisses the current members of the Election Committee and the National Human Rights Commission, but spares the Ombudsman and the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The discrepancy in “set zero” of these agencies likely has more to do with each watchdog’s political leverage, and willingness to obey the NCPO, than real legal issues. The Election Commission is again upset, and has threatened the CDC with a court case.

The full effect of the 2017 Constitution will not be felt until the first post-coup general election, which is supposed to happen in late 2018. The unusually lengthy transitional period of 15 months, and the death of the beloved King Bhumibol, has allowed the NCPO to stay in power and arbitrarily exercise dictatorial powers under Section 44 of the 2014 Interim Charter for another year. Thailand is thus currently under two overlapping constitutional frameworks: that which was voted upon in 2017, and the 2014 Interim Charter. The two are completely different. The presence of the latter erodes any credibility of the former. The NCPO is blessed to not have to respect the rights and liberties of Thais as Section 44 supersedes any constitutional guarantees.

But an election has to come one day. A new government will navigate the roadblocks put in front it by the 2017 Constitution. After a year-long barrage of propaganda, the outcome is the possibility of a crippled and unstable civilian government dictated to by a band of unelected elites. Under the 2017 Constitution, Thailand’s political future does not look promising.

Khemthong Tonsakulrungruang is a constitutional law scholar. He graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chulalongkorn University before earning his LLM at Yale Law School. Currently he is a PhD candidate at University of Bristol’s School of Law.

 

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini


November 6, 2016

In Solidarity with Malaysiakini

A few years ago, I had the privilege  as a Fellow of Seacem Center of working with both Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the group of outstanding journalists at Malaysiakini. I found them to be a group of thorough, brave, loyal and hardworking Malaysians who were bringing news and views about issues affecting our country.

I learned first hand what they had to go through to bring to us timely and accurate information about what is happening in, and to our country and elsewhere.  Everyday, when I arrived at my work place at Malaysiakini office then in Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur I would pass the wall of their rented premises which was blemished by red paint marks sprayed by pro-UMNO lawbreakers. I would be reminded of the hazards these committed journalists face daily. Since that time, I came to admire and respect their courage for speaking the truth to power and their commitment to the highest standards of journalistic reporting.

Like them, I never shied away from speaking the politically inconvenient truth and like them I will through my blog, twitter and Facebook accounts and other peaceful means hold men and women in positions of power– be they in  politics, public administration,  and business–to account for their decisions and actions. Threats and intimidation would not work with us.

Today, Gan, Chandran and their team are facing existential threats from UMNO-sponsored and Najib-supported Red Shirts led by that despicable. irresponsible,  and racist Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos.

By threatening the news portal, the Red Shirts are breaking the law. But as things stand today, the hooligans are above the law because they are connected to UMNO, which controls the levers of power in Malaysia. Even our Inspector-General Police has no guts to stand up to the Red Shirts.

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Together my wife Dr. Kamsiah. G. Haider, I stand in solidarity with Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan and the Malaysiakini team. They deserve our support for doing their job splendidly.

I hope you, my loyal readers and friends around the world, will also stand up for Malaysiakini and freedom of the press. We all face existential threats from forces more powerful than us, but let us be reminded by William Shakespeare that “cowards die a thousand times”. –Din Merican

Malaysiakini controlled by its journalists, not outsiders

by Zikri Kamarulzaman

 Malaysiakini is under the full control of its journalists and editors, not its investors or outsiders, said the independent news portal editor-in-chief Steven Gan.

“When it comes to outsiders or even Malaysiakini shareholders influencing our editorial, that is completely impossible,” Gan said at a press conference following the red-shirts rally outside the news portal’s office in Petaling Jaya today.

Gan said even the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), which owns 29 percent of Malaysiakini, had no say in the website’s editorial policy.

He explained that the two had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) when the venture capital made the investment 10 years ago, agreeing that the latter would have “no editorial say” in Malaysiakini.

Gan was responding to red-shirts leader Jamal Md Yunos, who said Malaysiakini’s editorial was not independent and that it bowed to the will of American business magnate George Soros.

Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF) is one of 50 MDIF investors and funders, which include a number of European banks. Malaysiakini had also received funds from the OSF for two KiniTV news programmes in Sarawak.

Gan said the real influencers in Malaysiakini’s editorial policies are its journalists.

“We have daily meetings, and all Malaysiakini journalists and editors decide on what to report and follow up on,” he said.

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Elaborating on the company’s shareholders, Gan said that he and Malaysiakini CEO Premesh Chandran (above) were the majority shareholders, a total of 59 percent. Besides the 29 percent owned MDIF, 12 percent are owned by Malaysiakini staff.

Meanwhile, he said there was only one politician among the scores of shareholders in Malaysiakini.

Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah, who is from the opposition PKR, has a very small stake after investing RM5,000 in the company 17 years ago when he was a human rights lawyer. “That was 10 years before he decided to run for Parliament. His share is 0.001 percent. It’s really minor,” Gan said.

Up to 700 red-shirts had turned up for the rally against Malaysiakini this afternoon, which lasted about two and a half hours.

The protest was spurred by leaked documents which allege that Malaysiakini, Bersih and Merdeka Centre were being funded by the OSF.

Jamal had originally wanted to hold a rally in Dataran Merdeka, but moved the location to Malaysiakini’s office after Kuala Lumpur City Hall denied both the red-shirts and Bersih permission to gather at the historic square.

Singapore: Countdown to next PM picks up speed


September 5, 2016

Singapore: Countdown to next PM picks up speed

Young ministers tipped for the top job have shorter ‘runway’, with less time than previous PMs to earn their stripes

by Charissa Yong

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/countdown-to-next-pm-picks-up-speed

Image result for Who will lead Singapore next? THe Straits Times

Clockwise from top left: Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, Minister in the Prime Minister‘s Office Chan Chun Sing, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced his new Cabinet line-up soon after last September’s general election, he made it clear that planning for leadership succession was a key priority.

Younger ministers and new office-holders were given a range of responsibilities to expose them to new areas of work.

The key assignments given to Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat – such as chairing the Committee on the Future Economy – led some observers to conclude he was the clear frontrunner among the fourth-generation leadership.

So when Mr Heng suffered a stroke during a Cabinet meeting in May, undergoing emergency surgery the same day, many were worried that Singapore’s leadership succession plans might be disrupted.

Then, two Sundays ago, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong caused hearts to pound when three hours into his televised National Day Rally speech – moments before he was to announce a recovered Mr Heng’s return to Cabinet – he faltered on stage and had to take a break. PM Lee rested for about an hour before returning to complete his address.

For this reason, Singaporeans should realise how important it is to have “sufficient breadth and depth in the Cabinet”.

It was something PM Lee himself addressed after returning to the podium to complete his speech on the night of Aug 21. “We’ve now got the core team for the next generation in Cabinet. But ministers or not, all of us are mortal.

“Nothing that has happened has changed my timetable, or my resolve to press on with succession,” he said, citing Chinese proverb sui yue bu liu ren, which means “time waits for no man”.

With succession now more urgent than ever, Insight looks at the issues and options.

 The plane is not just on the runway, it is picking up speed and getting ready for lift-off. That is the stage Singapore’s fourth-generation political leaders are at now.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has repeatedly said that he plans to step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by January  15, 2021. This means that the next generation of leaders is already in its last full term in office, after which one among them will have to assume the position of Prime Minister.

It was barely a year ago at the general election that PM Lee’s smiling face was prominent on campaign posters for the People’s Action Party (PAP) across the island. He is the party’s Secretary-General.

But in the time since then, there have been two health scares this year – the Prime Minister taking ill during his National Day Rally speech, although he recovered and returned after an hour to complete it; and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat having a stroke in May, from which he has since recovered.

Both incidents have put the spotlight on succession. But to think that this is the chosen young guns’ last term under the long and steady leadership of PM Lee, and that one of them is likely to assume his mantle, heightens how quickly the countdown has begun.

Furthermore, when that person becomes Prime Minister after the next general election, he will have had barely 10 years in politics – about half that of PM Lee when he took on the role.

The country may have around four more years to find out who its next Prime Minister will be. But the front runners will have had far less time than their predecessors to get ready for the job.

Previous Prime Ministers had more experience in politics and running ministries before assuming the top job. Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had 14 years in politics under his belt before taking over as PM from Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1990. PM Lee spent 20 years in politics before he assumed the role in 2004.

In contrast, the fourth-generation leaders would have entered politics in 2011 or last year. This gives them, at most, about 10 years in politics before one of them becomes Prime Minister – before PM Lee’s planned “retirement” date of after 2021.

In the first transition from Mr Lee Kuan Yew to Mr Goh, the latter was appointed Deputy Prime Minister in 1985. He spearheaded the PAP’s efforts in the subsequent election in 1988, and became PM in 1990 in a carefully managed process.

Chances are, Singapore will see something similar this time round, with a new deputy prime minister potentially named at the mid-term round of promotions in the Cabinet, after which he will play a prominent role in the next election campaign.

But currently, as National University of Singapore political scientist Reuben Wong notes: “Some of the people viewed as a potential Prime Minister have been in the Cabinet for just a year.”

Some Leeway

Retired MP Inderjit Singh says the new team should settle in while PM Lee is in charge, so he can ensure they evolve as a united team. Otherwise, says Mr Singh, there may be a risk of “some leadership challenge among the new ministers”.

Experts also wonder about the lack of a clear heir apparent.Several believe it would be Mr Heng, given the heavyweight portfolios he has held. Before the finance portfolio, he was minister for education. Mr Singh says: “No obvious PM candidate other than Heng Swee Keat has emerged.”

But some wonder if his health scare means that he may not be up to the physically demanding job, which involves overseas diplomatic trips, on top of regular constituency events and other activities. (See story.)

“Mr Heng has been cutting his teeth on multiple issues. But the big thought is, is he up to it with his health?” says Dr Wong. However, Singapore still has some leeway in the form of its two Deputy Prime Ministers.

Says former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin, a businessman: “If anything happens, either of the two DPMs is perfectly able to run the country, to win an election and to be recognised globally.”

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In fact, both instantly swung into action at the National Day Rally on Aug 21. Even as Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, a trained surgical oncologist, rushed on stage to attend to PM Lee when he took ill during his speech, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was not far behind.

Later, Mr Teo announced that PM Lee was well and would return to resume his speech, while Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam fielded questions from the media and guests and reassured them that all was well. When PM Lee is on leave or overseas, Mr Teo is acting PM, and when both are away, Mr Tharman steps in.

Political watcher and Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan says: “If there is a need for either DPM Teo or DPM Tharman to step up as a transition al Prime Minister, it will not be regarded as a risky proposition.

“Singaporeans have come to know who they are and what they stand for. We will be in good hands.” But even if either DPM takes on the top job in the next five years or so, he is unlikely to stay on for a decade or more, say the experts.

They point out that Mr Lee Kuan Yew stepped down as Prime Minister at the age of 67, and Mr Goh did so at 63. As Dr Wong puts it: “Is that renewal when your DPMs are barely five years younger than your PM? Will the next PM take over, for example, at the age of 64?”

Mr Teo is 61 years old and Mr Tharman is 59. However, it is not unusual for politicians elsewhere to be in this age range. Both Britain’s newest PM Theresa May and China’s President Xi Jinping assumed the top job at 59. As for America’s two presidential hopefuls, Mrs Hillary Clinton is 68 while Mr Donald Trump is 70.

In contrast, former British PM David Cameron took on the job in 2010 when he was 43, the same age at which former PM Tony Blair entered 10 Downing Street. US President Barack Obama took on the top job in 2009 at age 47.

Some 50 years earlier, in 1959, Mr Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister of self-governing Singapore at the age of 35, and was 41 at independence in 1965. His successors took on the role at a later age: Mr Goh was 49 and PM Lee was 52.

While a “stop-gap” sort of prime minister who holds the post for under a decade is an option, Institute of Policy Studies Deputy Director of research Gillian Koh favours someone who can run the country with an eye on the long term.

“It probably should be someone younger than today’s two DPMs,” says Dr Koh. She adds: “The country cannot be in succession planning mode every day, wondering who the next Prime Minister is. Imagine us talking like this for the next 20 years!”

Choosing the Fourth PM

As for the potential successors themselves, like their predecessors, they are going through a regime of learning the business of government. Newly elected MPs are rarely catapulted straight to the post of full minister, unless they have held high-ranking positions in the civil service or private sector.

Those that have since Singapore became independent are Mr Heng, who became full education minister fresh from his entry into politics at the 2011 General Election; and former Finance Minister Dr Richard Hu in 1984. Both were managing directors of the Monetary Authority of Singapore – though Mr Heng was a career public servant and Dr Hu had been in the private sector, where he was chairman and chief executive of Shell Group in Singapore.

Most of the time, potential ministers are first appointed minister of state, senior minister of state or acting minister. They learn the ropes and are promoted during Cabinet reshuffles only upon showing proficiency and a grasp of their portfolio. Not all of them make full minister.

This ensures that by the time a candidate becomes prime minister, he has learnt the business of government thoroughly. Mr Zulkifli describes it as a long culture of succession planning that provides stability.

This infrastructure of leadership has worked for Singapore so far and is unlikely to be drastically overhauled in the future, even given the recent health episodes and looming post-2021 deadline.

Instead, to make up for the shorter runway, younger leaders are likely to hold multiple portfolios and rotate among ministries more quickly. Says Dr Gillian Koh: “The top tier of young guns have some experience of public service, so they are not starting from scratch.”

She points out that Singapore has it good as most countries do not have the luxury of spending years getting prime-ministers-to- be ready for the job.

To most Singaporeans, the burning question is: Who is the chosen one? But the challenges of the 21st century require a different mindset of governance, beyond the 19th century “great man” theory of leadership.

PM Lee himself, in a press conference after last year’s general election where he unveiled his new Cabinet, emphasised not individual successors, but the team. He said: “One important goal of my new Cabinet is to prepare the next team to take over from me and my colleagues.”

He added: “They have to prove themselves and gel together as a team. And soon after the end of this term, we must have a new team ready to take over from me.”

That emphasis on team hints that the decision lies less with the current prime minister, and more with the fourth Prime Minister’s peers – his fellow ministers who will make up his Cabinet.

This was how Mr Goh and PM Lee had been chosen, by consensus, and by their peers. Perhaps then, one measure of successful succession planning is not whether it throws up a capable individual, but a whole team of them who can work together to take Singapore forward.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline ‘Countdown to next PM picks up speed’. Print Edition | Subscribe

Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power


August 30, 2016

Book Review: Palace, Political Party and Power

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian,: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship.

Singapore: NUS Press, 2011. Pp. xxiv, 472; map, tables, figures, photographs, list of abbreviations and acronyms, glossary, notes, bibliography, index.

Reviewed by Greg Lopez.

Image result for Pian--Palace, Political Party and Power

On 6 February 2009, approximately 3,000 Malays protested in the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, demanding that the Perak ruler, Sultan Azlan Shah, dismiss the state’s legislative assembly to pave the way for new state elections. Earlier, Malaysia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak had extra-constitutionally toppled the popularly elected Pakatan Rakyat state government with the complicity of Perak’s royals. Never in Malaysian history had there been such a popular uprising against Malay royals as the ensuing protests. This video provides a hint of the likelihood that in a new Malaysia the most significant threat to the Malay rulers’ fetish for power will come not from the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) but from ordinary Malays.

Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian serves as professor of history and senior fellow in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities of the Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris. She ranks among the most renowned and respected historians of modern Thailand. The latest of her many books, Palace, Political Party and Power: A story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship, sees her turn her attention to the history of modern Malaysia to provide a cogent analysis of the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers in their common quest for power. The book’s timing is opportune, as it comes at a moment at which each of these institutions, UMNO and Malay kingship, confronts a decline in its legitimacy within a seriously divided Malay community. Palace, Political Party and Power represents a valuable addition to the literature not only on the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO, but also on that between the Malay rulers and UMNO on the one hand and their “subjects” – the Malays of Peninsular Malaysia – on the other. Even more significantly, it treats an important and neglected dimension of Malaysian politics – the impact of the Malay rulers on the country’s affairs.

Palace, Political Party and Power traces the socio-political development of the institution of Malay rulership, from the beginning of colonial times, when the Malay rulers lost power but not prestige; through the Japanese Occupation, when they lost both; to the restoration of the rulers’ prestige – thanks to the new Malay elites – at independence; and in the ebbs and flows since. In narrating this story, the book achieves three principal ends. First, it reaffirms conventional analysis holding that the British residential system in colonial Malaya had great significance in modernising the institution of Malay rulership towards the constitutional monarchy of today’s Malaysia. Second, it argues persuasively that it was the Japanese Occupation of Malaya that provided the platform for new Malay elites – whose members would become the leading lights of UMNO – to take the leadership of the Malay masses away from the Malay rulers but in the process also to restore the prestige of those rulers. Third, and most important, almost seventy percent of Palace, Political Party and Power focuses on the complex relationship – one of competition for and cooperation in power – between the country’s two leading Malay institutions, UMNO and the rulers.

Pian’s central argument is that the Japanese Occupation of Malaya and Japanese policies towards the Malay rulers, the new Malay elites, and the Malay community had, more than any other factor, the effect of stripping the Malay royal institution of its “aura”, “mystique”, “grandeur” and “authority.” In consequence, Malay rulership no longer commanded the fear or undisputed reverence of members of the post-1945 Malay elite. Malaya’s Japanese occupiers, through their treatment of the Malay rulers, revealed those rulers’ impotence, their inability to defend themselves, and also their lack of the capacity to defend the interests of their subjects – the rakyat. This reality made clear to the burgeoning new Malay elite, which the Japanese also developed, that the existence of Malay royal institutions depended very much on the good will of those in power. It provided that new elite with a valuable lesson for dealing with difficult members of the royalty during the post-1945 period.

Furthermore, the book argues, Japan’s policy of inculcating Malay society with a certain variant of Japanese values through education had the unintended effect of strengthening the Malays as one community, sharing one language and one religion. Many Malay youths were sent to schools – ordinary schools, teacher training schools, and leadership schools (kurenjo). In the leadership schools, Malay students were taught by means of an exhausting daily routine to appreciate and to live by Nippon seishin, or the Japanese spirit. This exposure to Japanese values had the profound effect of changing some Malays’ outlook on life, and above all of exorcising the narrow socio-political parochialism that had previously divided the Malays into subjects of different rulers owing allegiance to different sultanates. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya also toughened members of the new Malay elite, as both the British and the Malay rulers would learn so dramatically after Imperial Japan’s defeat.

 Pian develops her arguments over nine chapters, in essence covering two periods: that before the establishment of UMNO in 1946 and that after the party’s establishment. The first chapter provides a brief introduction to the concept of monarchy and locates the Malay rulers within the history and among the fortunes of monarchs in post-colonial developing nations. While many monarchs lost their titles, the monarchs of the newly minted Federated States of Malaya gained a new title in 1957. With the addition of the elected Supreme Head of State or Yang DiPertuan Agung to the nine existing rulers of Malay states, Malaya became the country with the greatest number of constitutional rulers in the world, ten in all. The second and the third chapters of the book discuss the abject state of the Malay rulers as of the middle of the last century. They narrate the story of the social-political decline that the rulers suffered first under British colonial rule and then under the Japanese Occupation. Chapters Four through Eight discuss the tug of war between the Malay rulers and UMNO to define the de facto and de jure roles of constitutional monarchs in independent Malaya/Malaysia, and Chapter Nine concludes the book.

In its research, Palace, Political Party and Power is all that one would expect from Pian. She has scoured archives and other holdings at the Public Record Office and the library of School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the Rhodes House library at Oxford, and the National Library of Singapore and the library of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS), as well as archival holdings in Malaysia itself. She demonstrates real courage in writing about Malay monarchy and UMNO in a true academic fashion; she proves herself objective in the context of a public university in Malaysia. Unlike the general brood of academicians that fill Malaysia’s public university system, Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian is no UMNO or royalist sycophant.

Palace, Political Party and Power suggests that, if the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers were a boxing match, then UMNO would be leading after four rounds but facing uncertainty in the remaining rounds and the serious possibility of losing the bout. For UMNO’s legitimacy as the protector of the Malays is declining faster than that of the Malay rulers. We may divide the contest between UMNO and the Malay rulers up to now into four clear chronological rounds. Round One, circa 1946, centred on the issue of Malayan Union. It was a draw, as the Malay rulers, UMNO and Malay subjects rallied together in the common cause of protecting the rights of the rulers. Round Two, roughly 1948 – 1951, was focused on the powers of the new Malay elite, represented by UMNO. Throttling the ascendancy of UMNO, the monarchs clearly won that round. Round Three was the 1951 – 1955 Merdeka negotiations, and it went to UMNO. And Round Four brought UMNO victory in 1983/84 and 1993/94. It left UMNO the supreme power in the land. This bout’s fifth round is currently being fought. There is no clear winner yet, but the Malay rulers have come back very strong.

In discussing the factors that explain the success of the constitutional relationship between the Malay rulers and the executive leadership of the country, Palace, Political Party and Power suggests three: the strong political power of the chief executive, the personal prestige of the chief executive vis-├а-vis the rulers, and personal attributes of the men who have occupied these positions. Adding to these three factors was of course the legitimacy of the Malay rulers and UMNO’s leaders, respectively, in the eyes of the rakyat.

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His Majesty The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia

At a theoretical level, this book frames the analyses of the relationship between the Malay rulers and UMNO as a contest between two ideas of constitutional monarchy. These two ideas are best captured in quotations from Tunku Abdul Rahman and Sultan Azlan Shah that appear in Palace, Political Party and Power:

The Constitution implies without room for contradiction that though the Sultans are sovereign heads of states, they have no power to rule. The power lies in the hands of the people who through their representatives run the government of the nation and the states…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 408

What the Agung can do and what he cannot do is clearly defined by the Constitution. One fact is certain, the royal prerogative is exercised by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, as representing the electorate, hence the people have a lot to say…It can be assumed that while the Rulers enjoy their rights and privileges, they must live within these rights…The Menteri Besar and the State Executive Councillors are supposed to be the ‘watchdogs’…Their duties are to see the Rulers do not commit excess…

Tunku Abdul Rahman, page 330

A King is a King, whether he is an absolute or constitutional monarch. The only difference between the two is that whereas one has unlimited powers, the other’s powers are defined by the Constitution. But it is a mistake to think that the role of the King, likethat of a President, is confined to what is laid down by the Constitution. His role far exceeds those constitutional provisions.

Sultan Azlan Shah, page 330

Another example of the way in which Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian frames her analysis is the comparison of Westminster-style constitutional monarchy, which emphasis the non-political nature of the monarchy, with the “Southeast Asian” model of constitutional monarchy, best represented by the current Thai king. The Southeast Asian model follows in form the Westminster-type model, whereby the monarch delegates all powers to the people’s representatives. However, in practise, the modern Southeast Asian monarch reserves the ultimate extra-constitutional power to interpret, intervene, reject or direct a course of action in affairs of state.

This line of analysis is, however, very narrow in its usefulness. It misses the central feature of Malaysia’s system of government. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy only in name. The wording of the country’s constitution has been amended more than 650 times; 42 amendment bills have been passed. In fact, Malaysia is a dysfunctional democracy, in which the ruling UMNO enjoys disproportionate power relative to all other institutions. In the political science literature, Malaysia is conceptualised not as a democracy but as a semi-democracy, neither democratic nor authoritarian, a syncretistic, repressive-responsive and electoral one-party state. In this context, the relationship between UMNO and the Malay rulers takes on a different meaning. It is not a contest over interpretation of the constitution so much as one over UMNO’s ability to hold hegemonic power. Furthermore, a Westminster model works best in a non-feudal society, whereas Malaysian society remains feudal. These realities notwithstanding, it would nevertheless be interesting to know if Malay rulers like Sultan Azlan Shah indeed see themselves operating according to Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian’s Southeast Asian model of kingship.

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To frame the relationship between UMNO and the rulers in terms of a quest for power turns the focus to legitimacy: first, the legitimacy of the actions of UMNO and the Malay rulers in the eyes of the rakyat and, second, UMNO’s legitimation of its actions through the use and abuse of the Malay rulers as the party made itself Malaysia’s most powerful institution. In this context, Palace, Political Party and Power overlooks an important event in Malaysian history, one that solidified UMNO’s position as the pinnacle organisation in Malaysian society. This event was the 1988 sacking of Malaysia’s Lord President, Tun Salleh Abbas; the subsequent emasculation of the country’s judiciary; and the complicity in these events of the then Agung, Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Shah of Johor. A more recent example of the power of UMNO, one not treated in detail in the book but described in the opening paragraph of this review, was its toppling of a popularly elected state government with the support of the Malay ruler. The book also neglects numerous cases of UMNO’s use of the Malay rulers to curtail the civil liberties of Malaysians.

An analytical framework centered on UMNO’s quest for ultimate power makes possible also a coherent explanation for the increasingly common appeal of various political organisations and civil society movements to the Malay rulers – namely the Yang Di-Pertuan Agung – in such causes as free and fair elections, protection of the rights of Malaysian Indians or of Malay language rights, and others. These appeals have come despite the Malaysian monarchy’s limited de jure and de facto powers and its blemished track record. The reason for them is that, when virtually all other institutions in Malaysia are either weak or UMNO proxies or both, only the Malay rulers, with their interest in protecting and furthering their own interests, offer a glimmer of hope against the excess of Malaysia’s true monarchs – the UMNOputras.

Palace, Political Party and Power notes that, by the end of 2008, the Malay rulers’ stature was definitely on the rise. That would seem to remain the case as long as UMNO’s political leadership continued to be ineffective. The events of 6 February 2009 showed, however, just how vulnerable the Malay rulers are. Sultan Azlan Shah and the Perak regent Raja Nazrin (now Sultan) heralded in this book as examples of a new breed of monarchs who are competent and have the interest of the rakyat at heart, are now treated as outcasts by a significant number of people in their own state of Perak and by Malaysians in general. The Malay rulers’ long-term challenge is not besting UMNO but rather winning the hearts of Malays, Malays who are increasingly shedding their feudalistic mindset.

Greg Lopez is New Mandala’s Malaysia editor, and a PhD scholar at the Crawford School of Economics and Government of the Australian National University.

References

Martin Jalleh, 2011. “Of Raja Nazrin, Real Stories & Regal Rhetoric,” Malaysia Today, 27 July (http://malaysia-today.net/mtcolumns/guest-columnists/42378-of-raja-nazrin-real-stories-a-regal-rhetoric , accessed 27 July 2011).

Zainon Ahmand and Liew-Ann Phang, “The all powerful executive”, The Sun, 8 April (http://www.perdana.org.my/emagazine/2011/04/the-sun-the-all-powerful-executive/, accessed 1 August 2011).

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?


August 23, 2016

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

by Dr. KJ John

http://www.malaysiakini.com

In the Seven (7) Habits series, Stephen Covey’s central thesis is that we must grow or develop habits for growth and development in meaningful and significant ways. He argues that all human or organic systems must first grow from total dependence (and appreciate all its full meanings) to independence or human freedoms, and then, finally and fully appreciate interdependence with others of like-heart and mind. This is also the Hearts and Mind agenda of our NGO.

Full understanding and appreciation of real and true meaning of interdependence must belong to every one of the stakeholders and partners in a shared and common enterprise. It must become a shared vision for posterity; and never to be compromised.

Whether it is the UN or the EU, or even federated states like the US or Malaysia, or our simple OHMSI Sdn Bhd; interdependence properly understood and stewarded defines real and true meanings of the so-called freedom we ‘pretend to enjoy’, it then becomes real ‘merdeka’.

Covey’s 7-Habits

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergise
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”

– Stephen R Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Malaysia-Land of Beauty

I will try to evaluate our Malaysia project, not simply from a historical perspective, but more importantly from a worldview perspective and see what Covey might be saying to us. Such a perspective puts a very high premium on human values for growth within the ethics and culture of lived life; in seeking to move organic systems from the full dependence towards voluntary and volitional inter-dependence.

The Malaysia project

Malaysia came into existence on September 16, 2016. But, that fact is not clearly taught in history. Not many of us today can change that false reality interpreted today. Before that date we had four independent states called Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo States of Sarawak and Sabah; each with their own unique story about the movement from dependence towards independence and now interdependence.

Rightly or wrongly, for reasons of their own, in August 1965 Singapore chose to leave Malaysia by mutual agreement and consent between the leaderships of Malaysia and the island state. I am not sure if and whether Sarawak and Sabah or the United Kingdom had any direct say in this matter.

Therefore, after a short marriage of two years, Singapore exercised their ‘move from total dependence from the United Kingdom towards independence from the new Malaysia’. They wanted to learn and grow the experience and freedom with true independence.

Sarawak and Sabah may have had views about such a move by Singapore, but I do not know those facts, but they too surely want to experience movement from full dependence towards true independence. And their growth experiences will be surely very different.

Sarawak and Sabah’s self-governance experience

Have the Sarawak and Sabah governments and their political leadership learned true independence and interdependence from their many years as a one-third partner of Malaysia; even as the Malaysia Agreement gave them some clear and separate jurisdictions?

Many of these legal rights and privileges were captured within the revised Federal Constitution of Malaysia and including recognition of their 18 and 20 point submissions. Was there ever consensus on those two documents by the political leadership of Malaysia?

But why therefore, after more than 50 years within Malaysia, do they now put their foot down about Petronas’ governance and staff recruitment strength and raise issues about employment permits? As a public policy person, I am simply wondering loudly.

What have they really learnt about independence, or interdependence, or is it still merely dependence, if anything at all? Or, do these jurisdictional governance regimes feel like, we the Malayans, have thoroughly abused them altogether?

Learning from Covey

In my Pet Theory R, relationships are an important and elemental R. Therefore, building and growing our knowledge about ‘nurturing and growing mature relationships’ using the Covey’s three-step process and applying them to his seven habits for Sarawak and Sabah relationships with Malayans may be instructional:

  • Malaya was proactive in nurturing a relationship with Sarawak and Sabah; Brunei however did not respond in the same way. Why? We still grew Malaysia. Did we ask Indonesia at all?
  • Our end in mind was always National Unity and regional stability; and more recently, we have added words like integration and integrity. I call that agenda: integration with integrity.
  • What is our First Things First? Is it Malaysia, ‘Melayusia’, or ketuanan bumiputra for now or centre versus periphery in governance of lived life and stewardship of resources; including all human beings especially citizens?
  • Do we think win-win every time we have bilateral issues in our relationships concerns? Or, can we really begin to think win-win-win to endure stewardship as the third win for the sake of all human beings?
  • Do we seek to understand before we seek to be understood? I did not understand Sarawakians until I met the Kelabits earlier and now, after I spent 10 days in Baram Valley. Maximus Ongkili, Beth Baikan and Bernard Dompok taught me to learn to understand Kadazans.
  • Have we really learnt to synergise? Why then is the Malaysian Public Service still more than 80 percent made up of peninsular Malays (non-Malays are less than 10 percent I believe)? This issue is reflective of the Petronas case story. Synergy would allow for creating new values; not simply depreciating existing values.
  • Finally, from my experience on the ground, and meeting so many smart and equally ambitious Orang Ulu Sarawak and Kadazans; these questions are my Covey test for all of Malayans to sharpen our saw or ‘tools of execution and evaluation’ so that we can see and learn the real meaning of Malaysian interdependence and not allow it to become a foolhardy project.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.