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.

Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider at Bersih

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.

Image result for Premesh Chandran

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.”

Image result for The smiling Lee Hsien Loong

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.

Image result for The King of Malaysia

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.

Image result for UMNO

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.

Malaysia: Light and Political Change will come but Quando’


May 24, 2016

Malaysia: Light and Political Change  will come but Quando’

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Once upon a time, not long ago, many Malaysians – the majority,  in fact- believed that change was possible through politics. That was our age of innocence and naivete.

No longer now it seems, given the current plague of scandals and chicanery, and the burgeoning tools of repression and authoritarianism exercised by a government desperate to prevent the fallout from the twin crisis of IMDB and donation to the Prime Minister’s account from spiralling out of control and toppling Najib from his position.

The fish rots from the head

The fish rots from the head. The rot has also set well into the rest of the body politic. No political figure or body either from or associated with the Barisan Nasional coalition has been immune from the sense of disillusionment, betrayal and alienation that is pervasive among members of the public as a result of what is taking place in the country. This can be discerned from the feedback; some expressed angrily, others sorrowfully, seen on a daily basis in the readers’ columns of the social media.

Today even this last outlet where Malaysia’s rakyat can find voice to express their innermost feelings and concerns on matters of the state and the political shenanigans of the day is at risk.This is because the Government through its minions in the civil service can punish by preventing us from traveling outside the country for “disrespecting or insulting the country’s leaders” according to the Immigration Department  Director-General, Dato’ Sakib Kusmi.

“The Malaysian international passport is a travel document issued by the Government under the aegis of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. So, the government has the discretion to either issue, defer or revoke the travel document,” he was quoted in an email to a local daily.

His superior, the Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, clarified. “Only for people who commit offence (sic) against the Constitution, for example sedition, religion, race, and threat to national peace and harmony and national security.”

In less convoluted terms, what Nur Jazlan Mohamed, son of Dato Mohamed Rahmat, the notorious Minister and former Malaysian Ambassador to Indonesia during the Mahathir Administration, who not so long ago seen as a relatively sensible leader with liberal pretensions until his promotion to higher office, is stating is that should the government deem you or what you say/write as a threat to the government – no matter how unfounded or incorrect the view of the authority – it has the right to take away your passport and prompto you cannot travel.

But according to the government – you should not complain. After all you still have your other freedoms and rights intact.

Hence, you can always fight this decision by challenging the government in our – above board and above reproach – independent court at your own time and expense. And while it is fought in the court of law, the ban remains. Meanwhile the Immigration Department and Home Affairs will conveniently pass on the defence of its position to the salivating posse of lawyers, eagerly waiting their call to national service for a suitable fee paid out from the taxpayers’ pocket.

Genesis of ‘Political Apathy’

Some analysts, after surveys on political attitudes and behavior, have noted how most young Malaysians appear to be apathetic about the country’s politics. In explaining this finding, they have blamed it on the history of ‘political apathy’ as well as on the country’s relative prosperity, Asian respect for authority, and the campus politics ban imposed in the 1970s to squelch radicalism.

In fact, the main culprit for what appears a tidak apa attitude towards politics and political change is the Barisan Government itself which has held the reins of power since 1957.

Clearly measures such as the travel ban imposed on Maria Chin Abdullah, Bersih chief, who was prevented from travel to Seoul to receive a human rights award, are not only to deter her and other NGO leaders.

They are part of the arsenal of anti-dissent weaponry used by the authorities to send a message to the larger population who may not be apathetic to what is taking place and who may be thinking of opposing the government. They are intended precisely to breed the apathy which is part of the mental conditioning required to ensure the sustained silencing of voices and shackling of minds that want a vibrant democracy.

The ‘apathy’ has little or nothing to do with cultural values and respect for our leaders and even less to do with the level of affluence of our society. But it has everything to do with making sure that the Barisan stays in power indefinitely and kills off dissent aimed at toppling a rogue or unjust government.

And increasingly this is being done by bludgeoning, hijacking or co-opting all the other levers and instruments of authority that are entrusted to facilitate access to our basic freedoms of expression, information, thought, assembly and movement supposedly enshrined in the Constitution.

Gone a long time ago is the separation of power of the executive, legislative and judiciary in Malaysia. Gone too are the checks and balances preventing the monopoly and abuse of power by the executive branch.

But as seen from the example of authoritarian regimes elsewhere around the world, ‘apathy’ can turn to outrage and action when it is least expected.The Indian teacher Yogananda said: “It doesn’t matter if a cave has been in darkness for 10,000 years or half an hour, once you light a match it is illuminated.”

Light and political change will come to Malaysia. The question is quando (when).

Here is a short clip from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about a country whose Late King purportedly donated USD681 million to Prime Minister Najib Razak. I am trying to obtain the entire presentation. –Din Merican

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/04/08/opinions/why-they-hate-us-zakaria/#

 

Toward a Dystopian Malaysia:All Politics


May 17, 2016

Toward a Dystopian  Malaysia:All Politics

by Steven Sim

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

My  friend treated me to a stand-up comedy performance last Friday which was my birthday. The show featured four highly acclaimed comedians and everyone in the audience had a good laugh. What were we laughing at? Mostly jokes about sex, and very oddly, ourselves, about our silliness and stupidity.

One of the acts even had a female member of the audience come up the stage to spell “Laughs” with her derriere. She was a big woman, quite clumsy I must say but very sporting. The comedian kept making fun of the poor lady. And as can be expected, her antics elicited laughter from the audience.

The liberal, tolerant society

We cannot talk about race. The N-word must never be uttered. Here in Malaysia, the M-word cannot be spoken. It is sensitive. And then we are told we also cannot talk about religion. We may offend followers of a particular religion and they may turn violent towards us. It is sensitive.

Calling on Inspector Singh to help–Jaga Najib Depan Belakang, Kiri dan Kanan

So, instead of having laws to stop criminals like we used to, now we have laws to stop us from provoking would-be criminals. We’ve got laws that prevent us from commenting about race and religion. It is almost the same as legislating how women should dress so as not to “invite” rape.

Then it came to a point where we were not allowed to call one another “stupid”. We cannot ridicule or question someone else’s politics, for example. Look at all the “righteous” social media posts telling, even scolding us, not to call anyone stupid after the Sarawak election.

Because it is sensitive. As if our brain now is a big phallus ever-reacting to the slightest of stimulations. Perhaps one day not too far away, we will all not be allowed to call each other ugly or fat. These are sensitive remarks too.

We are not allowed to make each other angry anymore. Come to think of it, we actually have an Act of Parliament against making people angry. Section 3(1)(e) of the Sedition Act defines “seditious tendency” as promoting “feelings of ill will, hostility and hatred between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia”, and with the 2015 amendment, Section 3(1)(e) was created to include the promotion of “feelings of ill will, hostility and hatred between persons or groups of persons on the grounds of religion…”

What have we become? A nation legislated against making each other angry? Whatever happened to equanimity, forbearance, moderation, restraint, reticence, self-control, and sobriety?

It is easy to imagine the logical conclusion to this; I cannot comment on who you are, what you do, how you think, and vice versa, finally I, we, cannot say anything at all.

Because we are told, we need to respect the other person. The liberals’ idea of “multicultural tolerance”, my favourite living philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, used to say. As if respect now means, “shut up.”

There are two kinds of “respect” by the way:

The first kind is like when the white men came (sorry, did I make anyone angry with that label?) and they said to each other: “Let us respect the natives…even though they are stupid. Even though they bury their daughters alive. Even though they burn their widows along with the deceased husbands. Even though they bind-up a woman’s feet so small she can barely walk.” And then there is the other kind of respect, one where I assume you are more or less the same level as me and are expected to possess a certain degree of similarity in strength and wit. When you fall short, I call you stupid. Maybe I’m rude – but which one is respect, which one is patronising?

Comedians come to politics

Now, let’s go back to that stand-up comedy performance. Oddly enough, someone told me, now the only way you can make jokes about people and their stupidity and not get yourself into trouble is: quit politics and be a comedian.

I find the thought quite enlightening to be honest. We watch stand-up comedians quite a bit, and boy, how they “hentam” our stupidity as individuals and as a society. And we all laugh and laugh, gladly paying good money for being denigrated by them.

But what’s scarier.One day, just one fine day. Imagine if one of these comedians decided to run for office. He will tell us bluntly, “the truth”. He will say it to our faces, “this or that fellow is stupid, we should block them”. He will tell us he is here to protect us from stupidity. He will tell us he has a great plan to build a huge wall, to segregate between us and the stupids. (For the uninitiated, google: “Trump AND wall”.)

We are going bongkers-from Football to Doa

We, who are used to being “rational” – or are we? – we will then be shocked that many people are impressed by that comedian and want to hand over power to him.

The bar to be a hero suddenly becomes so low: one just needs to be brave to call another person stupid in his face. Because earlier no one was allowed to call anyone stupid or to say anything at all due to everything being “sensitive”. Everyone had to shut up on the pretext of being tolerant. The guy who finally said, “hey, stupid” is now the courageous leader who dared say the truth. Alas, the pent-up emotions of a society, who was stopped from making one another angry, finally rebels, resulting in the rise of fascism.

We need intolerance, not tolerance

The unfortunate thing is, we have substituted being political with being politically correct. The political problem of inequality now becomes the cultural problem of intolerance.

Because of the general disregard of politics, the problem of economic and political inequality inevitably becomes the problem of race and culture. One is rich or poor or powerful or weak not because of some systemic injustice but because of one’s race, or religion. The solution then, we are told, is to understand and tolerate one another: the other race is lazier, smarter, more scheming, less materialistic or more savvy, but let’s try to live with one another peacefully. The classic example here is once again national slogans encouraging us to see ourselves as one country, one nation, one people – 1Malaysia.

These are  UMNO Political Jokers

We are then misled to think that solving the world’s problems is not through political action, not through the institutionalisation of good governance and justice, but rather through respect and tolerance for those who are different from us. Hence, the oft quoted reminder to “jaga sensitiviti.”

How then should we move forward?

The first step is to realise that our problem is not mainly intolerance but rather injustice. Do not fall for this tolerance nonsense. It is about politics not political correctness. We need to move from subjective multicultural tolerance to the objective universal intolerance against human sufferings and oppression.

Recall the big woman who had to spell “Laughs” with her derriere. It was so painful, and yet hilarious watching her. The audience was enthusiastically cheering at her clumsy act and she eventually won the prize for her comedy: a large screen TV. And then she did the unexpected, grabbing the emcee’s microphone, she said: “I’m gonna give this to an orphanage in Kulim.” The hall erupted into huge applause, this time without laughter but with no less happiness. There was no mistake there, no one was confused or did not understand what was happening: we were united by our antagonism against human sufferings. It was a universal thing.

And we have seen this at work many times, even at a larger scale. Žižek provided an anecdotal example of this sort of solidarity; speaking of the 2011 protest at Tahrir Square, Egypt, he observed: “Here we have direct proof that freedom is universal and proof against that cynical idea that somehow Muslim crowds prefer some kind of religious fundamentalist dictatorship….The moment we fight tyranny, we are solidary. No clash of civilisations. We all know what we mean. No miscommunication here.”

We share the same antagonism towards human sufferings and oppression and the same anger against the stupidity which supports them. There is no mistake about it, there is no two ways about it – there’s nothing subjective about it. There is nothing to respect when people continue to support corruption and tyranny whether under duress or not.

Think about it. Here is Malaysia, think about the Bersih demonstrations. Malaysians of all races and religions, male and female, of all ages, went to the streets. And for those who could not attend in the national capital, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, they organised their own local Bersih gatherings. Once again, there was no miscommunication. There was solidarity among Malaysians, and even across the South China Sea, to demand for a free and fair election. We shared the same antagonism, we were united not by subjective tolerance of each other but by our objective intolerance against corruption and injustice.This is what we really need again.

Please do not make our society into one where no one is allowed by law to make another person angry because of some tolerance nonsense we mistake for real respect. The consequences of such a move is scary to say the least – it is the kind of material for novels about some dystopian society somewhere. There is no such human rights as the right not be angered. You reserve the right to call me stupid, and I, too, the same right. Because at times, being humans, we do stupid things and must be chastised.

Steven Sim is the Member of Parliament for Bukit Mertajam.