Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?


April 10, 2019

Long live the Rome Statute! Long live idiocy?

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

COMMENT | Long live the Rome Statute! Long live Idiocy! What kind of government and society shall we be? From a cashless society we want to be a moral-less society, in a world plagued with genocide and the disease of violent ideologies.

The Pakatan Harapan government’s U-turns on the International Convention on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination (ICERD) and now the Rome Statute signify our entry in our own Age of Mass Ignorance. If opposing war, genocide, crimes against humanity is opposed, we have a government that needs to be deposed.

Rome Statute as peace document

In Malaysia, will all the rallies against Israeli atrocities, Rohingya massacres, & bombing of churches & mosques be banned? Seems that the more we want to have flying cars and a cashless society, the more we show ignorance on issues of war, aggression, and global morality.

The Rome Statute is about stopping the rise of global fascism. What part of it does this PH government not understand? So shallow is our education system’s curriculum on race relations and global issues this idiocy on Rome Statute needs to be exposed?

From a self-proclaimed Asian tiger roaring in the UN condemning aggression, we have become a country mouse dying of ignorance of crimes against humanity. Most ridiculous arguments on “threatening Malay rights” are used to justify the defence of our ignorance on global issues!

They say ignorance is bliss. In Malaysia, on the Rome Statute issue, ignorance is blessed. Will our diplomats now abstain from voting on global aggressions, in order to respect the rights of kampong warriors? Insane!

In matters of universal human rights and global peace, no race or nation should be stupefied by its own leaders and rulers. What are we teaching our children? That it’s OK to discriminate and to condone war crimes? I thought the “lawmakers” in the PH government are more globally conscious? Are they falling now into a deep state of unconsciousness?

Resist mass idiocy

Committing to the principles of justice vis-a-viz international human rights in regards to the ICERD, the violation of human rights in Malaysia as in the recent missing person cases, and to the Rome Statute, is a no brainer.

The most ridiculous logic we hear is that if you oppose war crimes, enforced disappearances, aggression, and genocide, your power as a national government will be challenged, and that the bangsa, agama, and negara will be in danger.

There are principles crafted by the UN that are universal. There are those that are culturally-relative. But not the ICERD nor the Rome Statute. These are human principles that are meant to have us evolve into peaceful global citizens, by condemning mass murder and genocide.

Bebalism or incurable idiocy is what’s governing the new consciousness when it comes to speaking up against human rights injustices. Why is Pakatan Harapan losing the very principles that attracted people to vote for them? Insincerity? Hypocrisy? Idiocy?

As one who has been teaching global issues for years, it will be embarrassing to tell my students how idiotic Malaysia is. O’ Malays, revolt against any attempt by your leaders who attempt to spread ignorance and fear through issues of race and religion.

Hitler mounted ridiculous arguments on race, crafting falsehood to turn it into truth, creating fascism, committing war crimes. Kingdoms that survive on the power of ignorance cannot last long, in an age wherein power and wealth are challenged and eventually get destroyed.

The PH government seems to be surrendering to those wishing to see chaos take root. Did the people vote for cowardice? It has been my argument that education must address issues of polarization, class-based poverty, ecological destruction, and religious extremism.

Utterly shameful and gutless it is for a country claiming to be progressive and a promoter of regional peace, and advocating the global principle of “prosper thy neighbor”. What does opposing genocide, enforced disappearances, aggression, and war got to do with challenging “agama, bangsa, negara?” Are we going mad now?

A few leaders of the Pakatan said that those who criticized the prime minster and the PH government for pulling out of the Rome Statute are cowards who cannot be trusted. How is that logical?

Is the withdrawal due to confusion? Or cowardice? Why allow the tantrum of one man to deny the expression of the people of a nation? It is a basic expression of opposing violence as a global community, aspiring to be cosmopolitan citizens rather than trapped in the prison-nation-state of communalism, post-industrialism, ghetto-ism, and kampong-ism, is it not?

What must we do for the next generation to get out of this intellectual quagmire and the structuring of mass bebalisma?

We must turn to education as the only means for a sustainable personal, social, and cultural progress. Governments, monarchy, and those in power via whatever ideology come and go. But education should set us free.

Not the illusion of knowledge and wisdom. Not the installing of fear. These will not. They will turn the masses into people who continue to support leaders who are now on trial for corruption.

Educate for peace

Students need to be taught how to develop critical thinking and apply those skills in evaluating international systems, environmental issues, and human rights. We need to help them demonstrate the global dimensions of crucial contemporary issues, so that they could develop relational and rational thinking on how to study and think about global problems and relationships of war and conflict and how to address them and find peaceful solutions.

The urgent educational agenda is also to focus on global issues and how human rights, political-economy, ecological destruction, issues of power, wealth, powerlessness are all inter-related contributors to war and peace.

Students need to be taught to recognize the interdependence of the individual and the community in creating the challenges and opportunities in a global society through the examination of sustainability, human rights and peace and conflict. This is necessary so that when they become leaders and rulers, they will not be ridiculous, and not become people with money and power, but with no soul and morals.

Right now, this government is beginning to be a huge mess, unable to stand for the very basic principles of human rights, bowing down to some ridiculous tantrum not worth entertaining. What in the name of global sanity did Malaysians vote for?


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

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

 

 

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye


March 26, 2019

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye

 

I first noticed the name Kee Thuan Chye in the pages of the National Echo in the 1980s. He wrote about stuff that we categorise under “arts”.

I would skim the first few paragraphs to see if it would be worth reading. Often, his pieces would be spread over two pages. And although I was working in Penang at that time, I don’t remember meeting him then.

I really took notice of him, I must admit, not because of his writing but because of the names he had given his two children. I heard from a friend that they were named Soraya Sunitra Kee Xiang Yin and Jebat Arjuna Kee Jia Liang.

I immediately told myself: “I like this guy.”

Image result for The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye

Let’s be honest, how many people put their money where their mouth is? We know of so many Malaysians who call themselves nationalists, we know of Malaysians who shout “Bangsa Malaysia”, we know of Malaysians who come up with slogans such as “Satu Malaysia”.

But do you know of anyone named, for instance, Raju Kee Najib bin Razif? Have you heard of anyone named Meena Mei Maznah bte Mahadzir? Do you know of anyone named Hadi Wee Subramaniam?

This guy wanted his children to identify themselves as Malaysians and, like the dramatist that he is, he did it – with flourish. Kee, I am certain, wanted to show he was a Malaysian not just by citizenship but also by his action.

And you can feel that Malaysianness in his latest book “The Peoples Victory: How Malaysians Saved Their Country.” The book is about one of the most momentous events in the life of the country – how voters rose up to kick out the long-ruling Barisan Nasional government against all odds on May 9, 2018.

I just finished reading the book recently, and it is chock-full of facts, opinions and emotions. Some of his sentences are very daring, too.

However, if you are interested in an unbiased, intellectual, political analysis of the 14th general election and events leading up to it, or an academic analysis of the BN’s loss and Pakatan Harapan’s win, this book may not be for you.

It is a simple story told in a simple, conversational style by an excited playwright who just realises that he and a host of like-minded people have just accomplished the impossible.

And you won’t just find the likes of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, Najib Razak, Zahid Hamidi, Hadi Awang and the Election Commission in the story.

You will also find many ordinary Malaysians – some known to us, such as Zunar, and others who may not have made it into the book if not for their tweets or for galvanising people to come and vote. It includes such people as Sim Yen Peng who gave his Sabah and Sarawakian workers three days paid leave and air tickets to go back to vote, student Arveent Kathirtchelvan who started a petition addressed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for May 9 to be declared a holiday, Nizam Bakeri who started #CarpoolGE14 and Izzah Azura who started a Facebook crowdfunding platform to help those who needed money to travel home to vote.

This is also not a book by a man looking from the mountain with a wide, unattached perspective. No. Kee is not only telling the story, he is also in it – expressing his frustration and jubilation, recounting his earlier writings, and narrating his participation in Bersih rallies.

Kee is also unabashedly on the side of those wanting to replace the BN government. He is against the BN not because it is the BN but because its policies and actions over the years have divided Malaysians and eroded freedoms. And being a Malaysian – remember the names he gave his children? – Kee is angry and wants to set things right.

In fact, he told FMT, on April 4, 2018, just before the general election, that if the BN were to win with a huge majority, the rights of citizens would be further repressed.

“If BN gets its two thirds, that’s the end of Malaysia. It will bulldoze through anything it wants and the only reforms we’re going to see are reforms that will make the system work to BN’s benefit.”

In this, Kee was merely echoing the feelings of educated, urban Malaysians for whom freedoms are important.

Kee is also not a political writer, and, as far as I am aware, he has not worked in the news section of any newspaper, only the arts-related sections.

However, he still retains enough of his journalistic sense to provide balance when commenting on the words or actions of BN and PH leaders and when unfurling events in the book which he divides into three parts or acts, as he prefers to call them.

The curtain rises with Act 1 titled “Despair”.

“On May 5, 2013, hopes ran high that by the end of the day Malaysia would have a change of government.” He goes on to describe how the BN managed to win the 13th general election even though it lost the popular vote, and the rallies and events that followed.

It ends with the words: “If there was one word to describe the mood of the people at this point, it would have to be: Despair.”

Act 2, titled “Hope” opens with: “Despair turned to hope for the people on July 2, 2015.” Why July 2? Go read the book to find out. It’s worth reading and it only costs RM49.90. But here’s a hint: The first chapter of this Act is titled: “The Big Steal”.

Act 2 ends with: “They didn’t succeed in 2013. Would they succeed this time?”

Even though I knew Malaysians had succeeded in removing a repressive government, I read Act 3 titled “Euphoria” to find out. It starts with the words, “May 9 for a lot of people is a do-or-die day”, and goes on to talk about election night and a little of what transpired after that.

The curtain closes with these words: “So this was not just Mahathir’s victory, or Anwar’s or Kit Siang’s, or Mat Sabu’s or Guan Eng’s. This was a victory of the people. A victory of the Malaysian people.”

It reflects my sentiments too. In fact, two days after the general election, I had written that the real winners were the voters and that Malaysians had found their guts.

And guts is something Kee has plenty of. I have seen him speak up at the New Straits Times office, when we both worked at the Kuala Lumpur headquarters. If you read his books, especially this book, you will know that he is not afraid to speak his mind, and that he feels strongly about playing his role as a responsible Malaysian for the good of the nation.

And yes, I had named the Malaysian voter the Person of the Year for 2018 for finding his/her guts and ushering in a new era.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Mujahid’s reformist facade


March 20, 2019

Mujahid’s reformist facade

 

Image result for Mahathir an Zakir Naik

 

Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister in charge of religious affairs, has carefully cultivated an image of himself as an open-minded political moderate and reformer, someone who stands apart from the rest of the extremist crowd.

Of late, however, his pronouncements and actions have led many to wonder just how deep his commitment to reform and moderation is.

His reaction to the recent International Women’s Day rally is a case in point. While he had nothing much to say about many of the legitimate issues concerning women’s rights that were raised, he expressed shock over the presence of members of the LGBT community who were also there to press for their rights.

Image result for Mujahid

Admittedly, the LGBT issue is controversial in Malaysia but to suggest that they were “abusing the democratic space” was simply outrageous. Clearly, he does not understand that in a democracy, everyone, including the LGBT community, has a right to be heard.

Image result for Mahathir an Zakir Naik

Harassing women fighting for their rights is common enough in a  Wahhabi state like Saudi Arabia. That it should happen in a secular democracy like Malaysia is cause for concern.

In the short span of a few months, Mujahid’s journey as a minister in Malaysia Baru has taken him from standing alongside a transgender activist and pleading with the public not to discriminate against the LGBT community, to open hostility against them.

Image result for Mujahid

 

He has gone from championing human rights to calling for greater restrictions on our democratic space. And he has shifted from insisting that Jakim and other Islamic agencies should be reformed to empowering them yet further.

Indeed, he is now defending Jakim’s excessive RM810 million budget as reasonable and justified.

Instead of moderating the worst excesses of agencies like Jakim, which he said was one of his priorities, he is allowing them to slowly radicalise his political views.

No surprise then that Mujahid met recently with the infamous Salafist preacher Zakir Naik, a fugitive wanted abroad for terrorism-related and money laundering offences and who remains blacklisted by several countries.

After the meeting, Mujahid shocked many Malaysians by declaring Naik, who he once criticised for demeaning other faiths, as “an inspiration”.

How Mujahid can bestow his admiration on the same man who, convinced that UMNO would win re-election, argued that it is better for Muslims to support a corrupt Muslim regime than an honest one that includes non-Muslims is also inexplicable.

Of course, as soon as UMNO lost power, Naik rushed over to kiss Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s hand and ingratiate himself with the new government.

His confidence in the absolute gullibility of Malaysia’s ruling elites was clearly not misplaced. Heroes, it seems, come quite cheaply in Malaysia.

Mujahid has since tried to justify his meeting as an attempt to educate Naik about the country’s Islamic administration. Few will be fooled by such a facile explanation.

Now that Mujahid has anointed Naik as a worthy role model, in effect Malaysia Baru’s new inspirer-in-chief, every ceramah door in the country will be open to him and his extremist teachings.

Don’t be surprised if Naik soon emerges as the most influential Islamic voice in the nation; quite a coup for a fugitive but what a setback for national unity!

But let’s face it: when it comes to Muslim radicals, the ruling elites seem to have tunnel vision. Even the police seem to go out of their way to avoid confronting the ugly reality that Malaysia is far too tolerant of extremism.

In explaining the increasing number of terrorists who use Malaysia as a base, for example, the police chief suggested that it was due to the fact that Malaysia has good air links with the rest of the world, as if somehow Malaysia is the only well-connected country in the region.

Image result for zakir naik quotes

A Life devoted to spreading a Message of Hate of the Other

The fact is terrorists choose Malaysia as their base of operations because they know that the religious culture here is more accommodating and supportive. Extremists only have to don the right religious garb and speak the same Ketuanan Melayu language and they are in.

Naik should have been kicked out of the country the moment Pakatan Harapan came to power. That he remains here – despite his fugitive status, his unsavoury background, his alleged links to terrorists, his taunting of religious minorities and his disgraceful support for the former regime – is just another indication of the misplaced priorities of Malaysia’s political elites.

Whatever it is, it’s a sad day for Malaysia when Mujahid, someone we were all hoping would help moderate the trend towards religious extremism in our nation, draws inspiration from the likes of Naik.

It really makes you wonder what lurks behind the reformist façade of some of these PH leaders.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

The ticking time bomb of Hatred


March 17,2019

The ticking time bomb of Hatred

Image result for terror in new zealand

In just twenty-four hours, the world is aghast, again.

Human brutality instigated by religious and ethnic hatred has resurfaced. A cynic would say this has been going on for centuries, so what else is new?

The difference is, that in the last 30 years, the internet has played a key role. The ease and speed in the dissemination of racist and bigoted ideology have allowed hateful ideology to spread anonymously.

Both the Christchurch mosque massacres are a human catastrophe, but it is not unexpected. It reveals that we humans continue in our ignorance, sinister manipulation and arrogance.

The despicable actions of modern terrorists are responses to the rhetoric and hate speeches of our leaders. They too use the internet to spread their hate speech, both covertly and openly.

Lately, Malaysia’s leadership has been slipping into the same cauldron. The race and religious rhetoric continues to divide Malaysian society.

We may read umpteen times, that “deep down in every Malaysian, we are really a peaceful, harmonious people”. This may be true.

However, in the months after May 9, 2018, perceptions have changed again. Malaysians are bombarded by racial and religious rhetoric from the leadership.

“Rhetoric and insincerity have no place in post-GE14 Malaysia. The main takeaway from the Christchurch terrorist act is that the ticking time bomb was wired by political rhetoric and self-serving leaders in the first place. The result is a growing global polarisation between nations, religions and ethnicities.”–Sharifah Munirah Alatas

Mantras like “upholding the special rights of the Malays”, “threats to Islam”, “DAP is in control”, etc. are platforms onto which both PH and the opposition have latched. The real issues of governance and reforms, have once again been sidelined.

Using the ethereal notion of “threat” as a smokescreen, Malaysian politics has been reduced to a dangerous and manipulative divide-and-rule game.

The Christchurch gunman acted on these very cliches. It is a global phenomenon. Malaysians should decide once and for all, if we want to continue down this path. Our leaders have to wake up and smell the teh tarik.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia are bracing themselves for a verbal retaliation to the Christchurch massacre.

Already, a few “educated” academics claim that Malaysian politicians and muftis will start the narrative that “Muslims must ready themselves for the glorious jihad”; that mosque sermons will be slanted for “the ongoing war with the kafirs”.

Recently, a piece of this nature was circulated on social media. The article appealed for Muslims to be introspective and to ask if the shooting is the result of the Muslims’ own arrogance and extremist tendencies.

The question was contextualised within the argument that Muslims globally are rather silent on the IS and other Muslim terrorist killings.

The logic is that, we (Muslims) have no moral right in our indignation of white supremacist terrorism because our “own backyard is strewn with garbage”. This is not only objectionable but grossly ineffective.

In 2010, leading Pakistani clerics published fatwas, endorsed by Al-Azhar University, that condemn terrorism, indiscriminate violence and the unlawfulness of imposing Islam on others.

In 2008, about 6,000 Indian Muslim clerics approved a fatwa against terrorism at a conference in Hyderabad. This fatwa was termed “The Hyderabad Declaration”.

In 2010 the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada issued a fatwa against terrorism, signed by 20 North American imams. That same year, a major international conference convened in Mardin, Turkey. It issued a declaration to dismiss a 14th century fatwa by Ibn Taymiyyah which was used to justify terrorism.

In 2005, Malaysia’s own Sheikh Muhammad Afifi Al-Akiti published a fatwa condemning the targeting of innocents by terrorists. This was in response to the London bombings.

In 2004, the “Amman Message” was declared. It affirmed the validity of all eight schools of thought, including Sunni, Shia, Ibadi, Ash’arism and Sufism. The Amman Message also declared the impermissibility of takfir (declaring another Muslim to be an apostate).

In 2003, the Saudi Arabian Council of Senior Scholars issued a fatwa concerning suicide bombings and terrorism. It reiterated that those who commit these acts are contravening Islamic law.

There is an irresponsible attitude by some, as if to suggest that the actions of the Christchurch terrorist can be justified.

Public intellectuals and academics should be responsible in their tasks. They should be above sensationalism for cheap publicity. Politicians must not get involved in rhetorical racial and religious discourse, aimed at voter manipulation.

All of us should wake up from our slumber and realise that we are all to blame for the current dire straits we find ourselves in. Stop the finger-pointing. Admit to mistakes, and work together in overcoming society’s challenges.

Ego has no place. Race and religion should never be used as a political tool. Mass political behaviour, being what it is, finds comfort in collective grievances. Use these grievances to unite, not to divide.

Politicians and religious leaders should stop their puppet performances. Academics and public intellectuals should get over their egos and write the truth.

Image result for the Christchurch terrorist act

Rhetoric and insincerity have no place in post-GE14 Malaysia. The main takeaway from the Christchurch terrorist act is that the ticking time bomb was wired by political rhetoric and self-serving leaders in the first place. The result is a growing global polarisation between nations, religions and ethnicities.

Let us start to work together, amidst our diversity. This is not a rhetorical appeal.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Business as usual: regime change and GLCs in Malaysia


March 14, 2019

Business as usual: regime change and GLCs in Malaysia

By Dr. Edmund Terence Gomez

https://www.newmandala.org/business-as-usual-regime-change-and-glcs-in-malaysia/

 

  • Edmund Terence Gomez is Professor of Political Economy at the Faculty of Economics & Administration, University of Malaya. His publications include Malaysia’s Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits (Cambridge University Press, 1997), Political Business in East Asia (Routledge, 2002), The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Horizontal Inequalities and Social Justice (National University of Singapore Press, 2013) and Minister of Finance Incorporated: Ownership and Control of Corporate Malaysia (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2017).

    When Pakatan Harapan unexpectedly secured power after Malaysia’s 14th General Elections (GE14) in May 2018, voters expected the coalition and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad to dismantle an extremely well-entrenched government–business institutional framework that had contributed to extensive clientelism, collusion, nepotism and embezzlement. After all, the institutionalisation of more transparent and accountable governance was a Pakatan campaign pledge.

    However, barely nine months after taking control of government, Pakatan appears to be re-instituting the practice of selective patronage in the conduct of politics and through the implementation of public policies. In this inter-connected domain of public policies and selective patronage, government-linked companies (GLCs) will play a key role.

    The core institutions employed by the Barisan Nasional coalition and the hegemonic party at its helm, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that allowed for extensive profligacy are what are collectively known as GLCs. These GLCs are, in fact, a complex ensemble of statutory bodies, foundations, trust agencies, investment enterprises, a sovereign wealth fund, as well as companies, with representation in a wide array of industries. These institutions, controlled by the central and 13 state governments in the Malaysian federation, officially function primarily as “enablers” of domestic firms, to nurture a dynamic privately-owned enterprise base. But GLCs also constitute an estimated 42% of total market capitalisation of all publicly-listed firms. 67 quoted firms can be classified as GLCs, as the government, through various institutions, has a majority equity interest in them.

    Federal ministries, under the ambit of cabinet ministers, also control a vast number of quoted and unlisted GLCs that do a variety of things, including promoting development of strategic economic sectors, redressing spatial inequities by developing rural areas and industries, and financing research and development to drive industrialisation. However, of the 25 ministries in the federal cabinet in 2017, before the fall of Barisan, three in particular, the Prime Minister’s Department, Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Ministry of Rural and Regional Development (MRRD), had control of a huge assortment of companies that were deployed to channel government-generated rents to UMNO members and well-connected businesspeople.

    At the state level, different public institutions own GLCs through the states’ chief ministers, through holding firms known as Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). CMIs establish companies to undertake activities in specific constituencies to mobilise electoral support. Party members are liberally appointed as directors of these GLCs, a major source of political financing as their stipends are used for political activities. Through the CMIs, what had emerged was the fusing of bureaucratic and party apparatuses, allowing politicians to selectively channel government resources in a manner that would help them consolidate or enhance their political base.

    Another factor shaped modes of GLC development: a communal perspective to policy implementation, in keeping with the government’s longstanding affirmative action-based redistributive agenda to transfer corporate equity to the Bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous groups). However, rents meant for poor Bumiputera were hijacked by UMNO members. Eventually, these GLCs became sites of political struggles among elites attempting to consolidate power through patronage, a reason why critics have persistently excoriated them as inefficient and loss-making concerns.

    Interestingly enough, this GLC framework became entrenched in the economy as well as the political system during Mahathir’s long 22-year reign as prime minister, from 1981 until 2003. Other key figures who shaped how this political–business nexus evolved while they served with Mahathir previously include then-Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin (1984–1990), now his economic advisor, and Anwar Ibrahim (1990–1997), then and now the designated prime minister-in-waiting. By the time of GE14, this GLC structure had become so huge—and so abused by Barisan—that Mahathir himself described it as a “monster”.

    Despite Pakatan’s promise of a new approach to shaping Malaysia’s political economy, experience thus far suggests a surprising degree of continuity. Rather than give up an appealingly effective lever for consolidating power, Pakatan leaders seem inclined to borrow the same tools on which Barisan had so detrimentally relied.

    Power struggles, persistent patronage

    Soon after Pakatan formed the government, a disturbing series of events occurred. Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Mahathir inaugurated the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA), led by Azmin Ali, deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Anwar’s party. Even before GE14, PKR was mired in a serious factional row, reportedly due to problems between Anwar and Azmin. Meanwhile, Mahathir is widely thought to be uncomfortable with transferring power to Anwar, who he had removed from public office in 1998.

    Image result for Anwar. mahathir and Azmin

    A PKR insider insists that the party is split into two factions, one loyal to party supremo Anwar Ibrahim and the other to deputy president Mohamed Azmin Ali.

    The newly-minted MEA took control of numerous GLCs from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). In this discreet shuffling of GLCs between ministries, Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from MoF to the Prime Minister’s Department, under Mahathir’s control. The government did not explain why these GLCs were shifted between ministries, but MoF’s enormous influence over the corporate sector has been significantly diminished. Under Barisan, the Prime Minister had also functioned as the Finance Minister, a practice Mahathir had started in 2001, but Pakatan, while in opposition, had pledged to ensure the same politician would not hold both portfolios.

    Even though Khazanah was under the Prime Minister’s Department, Mahathir appointed himself as its chairman, which is, by convention, the practice. The convention also is that the Finance Minister serve on Khazanah’s board of directors. Instead, Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin was given this appointment. The appointment of Mahathir and Azmin as Khazanah board members was contentious as Pakatan had pledged in its election manifesto that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

    Next, in September 2018, Azmin’s ministry convened a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras & the Nation. Mahathir stressed at this congress the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting Bumiputera, a plan his economic advisor, Daim, endorsed. The following month, when Pakatan, through the MEA, released its first public policy document, the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, it emphasised the Bumiputera policy as being imperative. In the past, GLCs have been central to government efforts to advance Bumiputera interests.

    Meanwhile, numerous ministers began actively calling for the divestment of GLCs, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Subsequently, when Khazanah began reducing its equity holdings, including in CIMB, Malaysia’s second largest bank, rather than seeming simply a step toward the larger goal of scaling back government ownership, this divestment raised the question whether it marked the commencement of a transfer of control of key enterprises to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s. In fact, in ensuing debates about such divestments, the question was raised whether such divestments were an attempt to create a new influential economic elite, even oligarchs, who could check politicians in power in the event of a leadership change.

    Then, another contentious issue occurred. Minister of Rural & Regional Development Rina Harun, of Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), appointed politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control. Under UMNO, this ministry had persistently been embroiled in allegations of corruption, undermining the activities of its GLCs that had been created to redress spatial inequalities and reduce poverty. The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as its enterprises have an enormous presence in states with a Bumiputera-majority population. So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. Hence, the minister’s directorial appointments suggested a worrying trend of continuity of irresponsible practices of the old regime.

    In December 2018, Bersatu leaders openly declared their intent to persist with the practice of selectively-targeted patronage. At its first convention after securing power, when its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, declared that “Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the Bumiputera Agenda”, his statement was enthusiastically supported by members, suggesting an element of opportunism, even self-interested rent-seeking, in the party. UMNO leaders had made similar arguments in the past to justify state intervention, including through GLCs, a process that they abused to transfer government-generated rents to party members, to the detriment of poor Bumiputera. These trends suggested that Bersatu’s primary concern was its immediate need to consolidate power, not instituting appropriate long-term socioeconomic reforms, which might do less to muster support.

    The problem of instituting real change

    All told, then, these specific, sometimes discreet, steps since GE14 have called into question the extent of political economic reforms expected of Pakatan, based on its own manifesto. Moreover, under Pakatan, by its own admission, the volume of state intervention in the economy will still be substantial. Industrial development will be fostered through GLCs, as will attempts to nurture dynamic domestic Bumiputera-owned enterprises. Worryingly, what is absent is a coherently-structured industrial plan to cultivate entrepreneurial private firms. There is similarly no roadmap to reform these GLCs, or even to get them to target specific core industries requiring heavy capital investments and extensive research and development funding to rapidly industrialise the economy. Since politicians will control most of these GLCs as directors, they will determine the recipients of rents distributed to nurture domestic enterprises.

    The current state of play raises an important question about an interesting phenomenon: what happens, in terms of dismantling rent-seeking and patronage and instituting reforms to curb corruption, when a new regime comprises politicians who see this framework as a mechanism to consolidate power? A link between two core issues remains in place after regime change: elite domination and the continued practice of selective patronage, legitimised by advocating race-based policies that are to be implemented through GLCs. Under UMNO, elite domination was obvious, with Barisan component members subservient to then-Prime Minister Najib. In Pakatan, a multi-party coalition, Prime Minister Mahathir and Daim appear to have disproportionate influence when it comes to decision-making on core issues, though the parameters of their power remain unclear.

    Meanwhile, elite domination of the economy at the state level varies as several different parties are in power. State governments are controlled by UMNO, Bersatu, PKR, DAP, Parti Warisan Sabah, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). The latter two parties have long governed Kelantan and Sarawak respectively, while Bersatu and Warisan are new parties run by UMNO factions, though ostensibly with a reformist agenda. The governance dynamics of these parties in these state governments will differ, specifically in terms of how they employ GLCs, further indicating the ubiquity of these enterprises in the economy. These GLCs have persistently been used to distribute different types of rents such as financial aid, contracts, permits, licences, etc., to party members as well as others in the electorate in key constituencies. Even with regime change, the presence of covert networks of power created through GLCs in these states is unlikely to be reformed, thus contributing to continued serious wastage of scarce resources.

    There is plainly no clear method to the madness of how the new federal or state governments employ GLCs. Different sets of political and business elites operate at the national and state levels. In fact, before GE14, business elites were known to be creating ties with politicians in both UMNO and Pakatan parties, specifically PKR and DAP. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, wealthy businessmen had long since begun entering politics, even getting elected as parliamentarians, thus giving them access to federal government leaders. This diversity in political–business ties, where government institutions figure, is an indication of how complex the GLC problem has become. However, GLCs remain an opaque form of state intervention in the economy. And, since there is little public knowledge of GLCs, the opacity of these enterprises has allowed for their abuse by politicians.

    Fragile state and political economic outcomes

    Since Pakatan is a coalition of parties led by politicians who coalesced only because they had a common agenda—the removal of Najib from power—what prevails in the post-GE14 period can be described as a “fragile state”. This fragility is also because of the uneasy relationship between Mahathir, who leads the second-smallest party in Pakatan, and his long-time-nemesis-now-political-ally Anwar, who leads the party with the highest number of parliamentary seats. PKR, however, is ridden with serious factionalism, including an uneasy truce between Anwar and Azmin, who apparently is closely associated with Mahathir.

    What is emerging is new forms of power relations through the unhealthy circulation of political elites from the old regime into Pakatan, as well as alliances between leaders from different parties in this coalition. UMNO parliamentarians are lining up to join Bersatu, a quick route back to power for them after their unexpected ouster. By co-opting them, Mahathir’s new party can swiftly fortify its extremely weak base in Bumiputera-dominant states. Bersatu’s co-optation of discredited UMNO members is, however, seriously undermining support for Pakatan among the urban middle class, as well as Mahathir’s credibility. In fact, there has been recent talk in the public domain that a no-confidence motion against Mahathir as Prime Minister may be tabled in the March sitting of parliament, led apparently by leaders within Pakatan. Because of this complex situation of political in-fighting, there is much fear that politicians in power may move to create, through the divestment of GLCs, powerful

    Since a structural framework that allowed politicians to exploit institutions in various ways to serve vested political and economic interests remains in place, a key question has emerged. What are the possible political outcomes to this situation, in which contending elites in the new regime struggle to consolidate their respective power bases? Political outcomes can involve protecting the property rights—through ongoing and much-needed institutional reforms—of business elites who acquire privatised GLCs, thereby preventing expropriation of these companies by the government in the event of a change of premiership. Political outcomes can also entail endorsing entitlements that give one large segment of society privileged access to government-generated rents, as is already actively occurring. Inevitably, a related issue is the necessity of targeted race-based policies. These policies serve as a mechanism to retain patronage-based networks and consolidate power bases. This approach can, however, stymie domestic investments by non-Bumiputera, a serious and persistent problem during Barisan’s rule.

    Ironically, it was these forms of unproductive government–business networks that Pakatan had promised to dismantle when in opposition, in order to forge a “New Malaysia”. This New Malaysia was supposed to be devoid of race-based political discourses and policies, with the GLCs deployed to promote equitable development and redress social inequities. The GLCs were not to be led by politicians who have no clue how to utilise them productively in the economy. These pledges have been broken. Evidently, consolidating power is more important for Malaysia’s new political elites than restructuring an economy in dire need of reform.
    itutions, has a majority equity interest in them.
    The core institutions employed by the Barisan Nasional coalition and the hegemonic party at its helm, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), that allowed for extensive profligacy are what are collectively known as GLCs. These GLCs are, in fact, a complex ensemble of statutory bodies, foundations, trust agencies, investment enterprises, a sovereign wealth fund, as well as companies, with representation in a wide array of industries. These institutions, controlled by the central and 13 state governments in the Malaysian federation, officially function primarily as “enablers” of domestic firms, to nurture a dynamic privately-owned enterprise base. But GLCs also constitute an estimated 42% of total market capitalisation of all publicly-listed firms. 67 quoted firms can be classified as GLCs, as the government, through various institutions, has a majority equity interest in them.

    At the state level, different public institutions own GLCs through the states’ chief ministers, through holding firms known as Chief Minister Incorporated (CMI). CMIs establish companies to undertake activities in specific constituencies to mobilise electoral support. Party members are liberally appointed as directors of these GLCs, a major source of political financing as their stipends are used for political activities. Through the CMIs, what had emerged was the fusing of bureaucratic and party apparatuses, allowing politicians to selectively channel government resources in a manner that would help them consolidate or enhance their political base.
    Another factor shaped modes of GLC development: a communal perspective to policy implementation, in keeping with the government’s longstanding affirmative action-based redistributive agenda to transfer corporate equity to the Bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous groups). However, rents meant for poor Bumiputera were hijacked by UMNO members. Eventually, these GLCs became sites of political struggles among elites attempting to consolidate power through patronage, a reason why critics have persistently excoriated them as inefficient and loss-making concerns.
    Interestingly enough, this GLC framework became entrenched in the economy as well as the political system during Mahathir’s long 22-year reign as prime minister, from 1981 until 2003. Other key figures who shaped how this political–business nexus evolved while they served with Mahathir previously include then-Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin (1984–1990), now his economic advisor, and Anwar Ibrahim (1990–1997), then and now the designated prime minister-in-waiting. By the time of GE14, this GLC structure had become so huge—and so abused by Barisan—that Mahathir himself described it as a “monster”.
    Despite Pakatan’s promise of a new approach to shaping Malaysia’s political economy, experience thus far suggests a surprising degree of continuity. Rather than give up an appealingly effective lever for consolidating power, Pakatan leaders seem inclined to borrow the same tools on which Barisan had so detrimentally relied.

    Power struggles, persistent patronage
    Soon after Pakatan formed the government, a disturbing series of events occurred. Shortly after the election, Prime Minister Mahathir inaugurated the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA), led by Azmin Ali, deputy president of Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), Anwar’s party. Even before GE14, PKR was mired in a serious factional row, reportedly due to problems between Anwar and Azmin. Meanwhile, Mahathir is widely thought to be uncomfortable with transferring power to Anwar, who he had removed from public office in 1998.
    The newly-minted MEA took control of numerous GLCs from the Ministry of Finance (MoF), under the jurisdiction of Lim Guan Eng, leader of the Democratic Action Party (DAP). In this discreet shuffling of GLCs between ministries, Malaysia’s only sovereign wealth fund, Khazanah Nasional, was channelled from MoF to the Prime Minister’s Department, under Mahathir’s control. The government did not explain why these GLCs were shifted between ministries, but MoF’s enormous influence over the corporate sector has been significantly diminished. Under Barisan, the Prime Minister had also functioned as the Finance Minister, a practice Mahathir had started in 2001, but Pakatan, while in opposition, had pledged to ensure the same politician would not hold both portfolios.
    Even though Khazanah was under the Prime Minister’s Department, Mahathir appointed himself as its chairman, which is, by convention, the practice. The convention also is that the Finance Minister serve on Khazanah’s board of directors. Instead, Minister of Economic Affairs Azmin was given this appointment. The appointment of Mahathir and Azmin as Khazanah board members was contentious as Pakatan had pledged in its election manifesto that politicians would not be appointed as directors of government enterprises.

    Next, in September 2018, Azmin’s ministry convened a Congress on the Future of Bumiputeras & the Nation. Mahathir stressed at this congress the need to reinstitute the practice of selective patronage, targeting Bumiputera, a plan his economic advisor, Daim, endorsed. The following month, when Pakatan, through the MEA, released its first public policy document, the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan, it emphasised the Bumiputera policy as being imperative. In the past, GLCs have been central to government efforts to advance Bumiputera interests.
    Meanwhile, numerous ministers began actively calling for the divestment of GLCs, an issue also in the 2019 budget. Subsequently, when Khazanah began reducing its equity holdings, including in CIMB, Malaysia’s second largest bank, rather than seeming simply a step toward the larger goal of scaling back government ownership, this divestment raised the question whether it marked the commencement of a transfer of control of key enterprises to well-connected business people, even proxies of politicians, a common practice by UMNO in the 1990s. In fact, in ensuing debates about such divestments, the question was raised whether such divestments were an attempt to create a new influential economic elite, even oligarchs, who could check politicians in power in the event of a leadership change.
    Then, another contentious issue occurred. Minister of Rural & Regional Development Rina Harun, of Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), appointed politicians from her party to the boards of directors of GLCs under her control. Under UMNO, this ministry had persistently been embroiled in allegations of corruption, undermining the activities of its GLCs that had been created to redress spatial inequalities and reduce poverty. The practice of patronage through GLCs to draw electoral support was rampant under this ministry as its enterprises have an enormous presence in states with a Bumiputera-majority population. So important is this ministry, in terms of mobilising electoral support, that it was always placed under the control of a senior UMNO leader. Hence, the minister’s directorial appointments suggested a worrying trend of continuity of irresponsible practices of the old regime.
    In December 2018, Bersatu leaders openly declared their intent to persist with the practice of selectively-targeted patronage. At its first convention after securing power, when its president, Muhyiddin Yassin, declared that “Bersatu should not be apologetic to champion the Bumiputera Agenda”, his statement was enthusiastically supported by members, suggesting an element of opportunism, even self-interested rent-seeking, in the party. UMNO leaders had made similar arguments in the past to justify state intervention, including through GLCs, a process that they abused to transfer government-generated rents to party members, to the detriment of poor Bumiputera. These trends suggested that Bersatu’s primary concern was its immediate need to consolidate power, not instituting appropriate long-term socioeconomic reforms, which might do less to muster support.

    The problem of instituting real change
    All told, then, these specific, sometimes discreet, steps since GE14 have called into question the extent of political economic reforms expected of Pakatan, based on its own manifesto. Moreover, under Pakatan, by its own admission, the volume of state intervention in the economy will still be substantial. Industrial development will be fostered through GLCs, as will attempts to nurture dynamic domestic Bumiputera-owned enterprises. Worryingly, what is absent is a coherently-structured industrial plan to cultivate entrepreneurial private firms. There is similarly no roadmap to reform these GLCs, or even to get them to target specific core industries requiring heavy capital investments and extensive research and development funding to rapidly industrialise the economy. Since politicians will control most of these GLCs as directors, they will determine the recipients of rents distributed to nurture domestic enterprises.
    The current state of play raises an important question about an interesting phenomenon: what happens, in terms of dismantling rent-seeking and patronage and instituting reforms to curb corruption, when a new regime comprises politicians who see this framework as a mechanism to consolidate power? A link between two core issues remains in place after regime change: elite domination and the continued practice of selective patronage, legitimised by advocating race-based policies that are to be implemented through GLCs. Under UMNO, elite domination was obvious, with Barisan component members subservient to then-Prime Minister Najib. In Pakatan, a multi-party coalition, Prime Minister Mahathir and Daim appear to have disproportionate influence when it comes to decision-making on core issues, though the parameters of their power remain unclear.
    Meanwhile, elite domination of the economy at the state level varies as several different parties are in power. State governments are controlled by UMNO, Bersatu, PKR, DAP, Parti Warisan Sabah, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB). The latter two parties have long governed Kelantan and Sarawak respectively, while Bersatu and Warisan are new parties run by UMNO factions, though ostensibly with a reformist agenda. The governance dynamics of these parties in these state governments will differ, specifically in terms of how they employ GLCs, further indicating the ubiquity of these enterprises in the economy. These GLCs have persistently been used to distribute different types of rents such as financial aid, contracts, permits, licences, etc., to party members as well as others in the electorate in key constituencies. Even with regime change, the presence of covert networks of power created through GLCs in these states is unlikely to be reformed, thus contributing to continued serious wastage of scarce resources.
    There is plainly no clear method to the madness of how the new federal or state governments employ GLCs. Different sets of political and business elites operate at the national and state levels. In fact, before GE14, business elites were known to be creating ties with politicians in both UMNO and Pakatan parties, specifically PKR and DAP. Meanwhile, in Sarawak, wealthy businessmen had long since begun entering politics, even getting elected as parliamentarians, thus giving them access to federal government leaders. This diversity in political–business ties, where government institutions figure, is an indication of how complex the GLC problem has become. However, GLCs remain an opaque form of state intervention in the economy. And, since there is little public knowledge of GLCs, the opacity of these enterprises has allowed for their abuse by politicians.

    Fragile state and political economic outcomes
    Since Pakatan is a coalition of parties led by politicians who coalesced only because they had a common agenda—the removal of Najib from power—what prevails in the post-GE14 period can be described as a “fragile state”. This fragility is also because of the uneasy relationship between Mahathir, who leads the second-smallest party in Pakatan, and his long-time-nemesis-now-political-ally Anwar, who leads the party with the highest number of parliamentary seats. PKR, however, is ridden with serious factionalism, including an uneasy truce between Anwar and Azmin, who apparently is closely associated with Mahathir.
    What is emerging is new forms of power relations through the unhealthy circulation of political elites from the old regime into Pakatan, as well as alliances between leaders from different parties in this coalition. UMNO parliamentarians are lining up to join Bersatu, a quick route back to power for them after their unexpected ouster. By co-opting them, Mahathir’s new party can swiftly fortify its extremely weak base in Bumiputera-dominant states. Bersatu’s co-optation of discredited UMNO members is, however, seriously undermining support for Pakatan among the urban middle class, as well as Mahathir’s credibility. In fact, there has been recent talk in the public domain that a no-confidence motion against Mahathir as Prime Minister may be tabled in the March sitting of parliament, led apparently by leaders within Pakatan. Because of this complex situation of political in-fighting, there is much fear that politicians in power may move to create, through the divestment of GLCs, powerful business elites or even oligarchs to check other political elites.
    Since a structural framework that allowed politicians to exploit institutions in various ways to serve vested political and economic interests remains in place, a key question has emerged. What are the possible political outcomes to this situation, in which contending elites in the new regime struggle to consolidate their respective power bases? Political outcomes can involve protecting the property rights—through ongoing and much-needed institutional reforms—of business elites who acquire privatised GLCs, thereby preventing expropriation of these companies by the government in the event of a change of premiership. Political outcomes can also entail endorsing entitlements that give one large segment of society privileged access to government-generated rents, as is already actively occurring. Inevitably, a related issue is the necessity of targeted race-based policies. These policies serve as a mechanism to retain patronage-based networks and consolidate power bases. This approach can, however, stymie domestic investments by non-Bumiputera, a serious and persistent problem during Barisan’s rule.

    Ironically, it was these forms of unproductive government–business networks that Pakatan had promised to dismantle when in opposition, in order to forge a “New Malaysia”. This New Malaysia was supposed to be devoid of race-based political discourses and policies, with the GLCs deployed to promote equitable development and redress social inequities. The GLCs were not to be led by politicians who have no clue how to utilise them productively in the economy. These pledges have been broken. Evidently, consolidating power is more important for Malaysia’s new political elites than restructuring an economy in dire need of reform.