Najib Razak-Anwar Ibrahim Meet– A Rorschach Test of Malay Politics


November 22, 2017

Thayaparan on The Najib Razak-Anwar Ibrahim Meet–A Rorschach Test of Malay Politics

“Maybe the Najib-Anwar hospital visit was just an innocent meeting, but the most important thing the land of endless possibilities has taught me is that all deals are possible, but sticking to them is another story.”–S. Thayaparan
 

And that’s that.”

– Ace Rothstein (Casino)

COMMENT | The visit by the current Umno grand poohbah Najib Razak and the grand poohbah-in-waiting Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to the bedside of political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim who is recovering from surgery has become a kind of Rorschach test of how people interpret Malay political and social culture.

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Indeed, in Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegaram’s piece, he makes it very clear that for people who “understand” Malay culture, this meeting is nothing more than a meeting between two former allies turned political opponents at a time when one is convalescing.

It does not take someone with an in-depth understanding of Malay culture to realise that these meetings between Malay potentates present good optics – in press speak – to their political bases.  Anwar, who has been imprisoned and vilified by the UMNO hegemon, appears composed and magnanimous while Prime Minister Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid present themselves as benign and mindful of Malay civility and compassion, even to rebels who would choose to usurp their power.

Despite establishment narratives that non-Malays – the Chinese specifically – seek to supplant Malay/Muslim power in Malaysia, the reality is that this could never happen. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but since Malay powerbrokers hold the keys to Putrajaya, the sight of Malay political opponents meeting always arouses speculation and yes, insecurity amongst the non-Malay demographic, especially those invested in regime change.

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Beyond that, the meeting has fuelled speculation that a possible deal could be brokered between the disparate Malay power structures that have caused so much trouble for the current Umno regime. Not only has Najib have to deal with the charismatic Anwar, guard his flanks against the religious machinations of PAS leader Abdul Hadi Awang, but he also has to deal with the master of realpolitik Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is probably playing the last and great political game of his life. The stakes are high.

Here is a conspiracy for you. Perhaps the “delay” in the Registrar of Societies (ROS) registration of Pakatan Harapan as a coalition is to pave the way for a smooth transition of power between disparate Malay power groups and stifle the rebellion of the Najib refuseniks. Without a registered and formalised opposition, it would be easier to use legalese to justify unexpected mergers and yes, acquisitions.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi meets Anwar Ibrahim

Remember, this is not the first “deal” between Anwar and the Najib regime. There was also that deal brokered by Indonesia’s Jusuf Kalla in 2013 that both camps reneged on for various reasons. Why such a deal was needed – to respect the outcome of the general elections – is beyond me, but apparently, it was. I wrote about it, of course, when it first surfaced, once again questioning the type of “friends” Anwar has a history of investing in.

“About the only credible aspect of Jusuf’s opinion was his perception that both Anwar and Najib were confident of winning the recently concluded general election. I will note however that I am surprised in the former’s belief simply because the grassroots from the various oppositional factions were unsure of just how great the vocal showing of support would translate into votes.”

“‘How can you talk reconciliation when you demonise your opponent in this manner?’ asked Anwar to the Wall Street Journal when he acknowledged the deal but claimed it was void because of the virulent bigoted campaign waged by the UMNO state against its political opponents.

“The reality is that both sides have been demonising their political opponents. It is precisely these kinds of political stratagems, which many argue is against ‘Malay’ culture but offer no evidence to support this contention, who also argue that Malay solidarity trumps, ideology or anything else that could cause a split in the Malay polity.”

Endless possibilities

The most interesting part is the one “both sides said that the other had rejected a clause in the pact that the winner was to offer the loser a role in a ‘reconciliation government’.” This, of course, is interesting for a whole host of reasons but this was made at a time when former Prime Minister Mahathir was not part of the opposition alliance.

The inclusion of Mahathir in the opposition alliance has changed everything. Forget about the fact that a certain section of the electorate is disillusioned with this new alliance and are contemplating sitting out this election but more importantly, Malay power structures are hedging their bets when it comes to the final showdown between Najib and the man the opposition once called a dictator.

All these issues of electoral malfeasance are business as usual for UMNO and anyone who has ever been associated with UMNO, but what the regime really fears is the internal sabotage and the loyalty Mahathir commands in the bureaucracies at the state and federal level.

We have to remember that the opposition is what it is today because even in the opposition, Malay/Muslim power structures war amongst themselves. Contemporary Malay opposition narratives are defined by the PAS ejection from the opposition, PKR and PAS doing a tango when PAS has already made it clear what it thinks of the opposition, the unthinkable inclusion of a “Malay” rights party (Bersatu) into a supposedly egalitarian alliance, and finally the various turf wars between Malay opposition politicians.

Considering the history of the participants, the backdrop of pragmatic politics and the state-sanctioned narratives of what it means to be “Malay”, it would be naive not to consider that deals could not be made between disparate Malay power structures.

We are not talking about genuine political movements but personality cults fuelled by racial and religious politics. If Anwar could reach a compromise with the former prime minister who was instrumental in his transformation from politician to political prisoner, why not some kind of deal with a potentate who if rumours are to believed wants a clean exit?

And if Najib can find common ground with Hadi Awang of PAS, even though this goes against traditional UMNO narratives about PAS, then why not find common ground as a means to reshape once and for all Malay power structures in this country much like the way how Mahathir did during his tenure?

Maybe the Najib-Anwar hospital visit was just an innocent meeting, but the most important thing the land of endless possibilities has taught me is that all deals are possible, but sticking to them is another story.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Opinion: Malaysia’s Broken System


November 4, 2017

Opinion: Malaysia’s Broken System

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

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Journalist John Berthelsen

 

It is ironic that a chorus of leaders from the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) have accused critics of scandal-scarred Prime Minister Najib Razak of “seeking to destroy parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.”

There is no parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.  Malaysia’s government is broken. Every institution that exists in a normal democracy to protect the people does not work. That includes the parliament, the courts, the police, the mainstream press and the religious establishment, which all act to perpetuate the ruling coalition – primarily UMNO – in power.

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“Constitutional democracy has taken a new meaning in Malaysia and that is the status quo of the incumbent power,” one of the country’s most prominent constitutional lawyers said privately. “There are threats even against me for having acted in my professional capacity as a constitutional lawyer for those who desire to seek change.”


‘Our parliament is a rubber stamp; our judiciary is compromised; our civil service is mediocre and incompetent’


The situation is not new. Najib, who is accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money by critics – but not by law enforcement agencies – is not the cause of the breakdown. He is only a symptom of it. While UMNO has dominated politics since independence in 1957 under the Barisan Nasional, the current system was largely built by Mahathir Mohamad during the 23 years he was in power.

It’s been a long time coming

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The breakdown began decades ago, even before the subversion of the courts by Mahathir in the 1980s, although that was a major contributing factor. The Barisan Nasional inherited a series of repressive laws from the colonial British, including the Internal Security Act, which allows for indeterminate detention without trial. Although the ISA was supposedly suspended as a reform by Najib in 2012, it was replaced by an almost equally pernicious statute, Section 124 of the Penal Code, which allows for the arrest of individuals “for activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy.”

Another is the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, which replaced similar colonial laws and requires all printing presses to secure an annual license from the Home Affairs Ministry.

The British also bequeathed the Sedition Act of 1948, which banned speech that would “bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the government or engender “feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races.”

The sedition act has been used repeatedly as the current scandal has grown in proportion, with its most notable potential victim Clare Rewcastle Brown, the UK-based journalist and blogger whose Sarawak Report has played an instrumental role in exposing corruption connected to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the state-backed investment fund that has amassed RM42 billion in debt. Scores of others including opposition politicians, activists, academics, journalists and cartoonists are being investigated or have been charged.

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Good Luck, Malaysia with these UMNO 3 Stooges in Command

“Our parliament is a rubber stamp; our judiciary is compromised; our civil service is mediocre and incompetent led, by a bunch of apple polishers; our police force, which is headed by an Inspector General of Police, treats us like enemies of the state, not as taxpayers and citizens who should be protected from criminals,” said Din Merican, a Malaysian Malay university professor now teaching Political Science and International Relations at the University of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. “Our fiscal management is in a total mess because we have a Finance Minister who regards our national coffers as if they were his own and mismanages our economy. We have rampant corruption and abuses of power.”

Rigging the game

Things really began to go downhill in 1986 when the country’s highest court ruled that the government’s cancellation of the work permits of two Asian Wall Street Journal correspondents was unlawful. That was followed by the High Court’s decision to issue a habeas corpus writ for the release of opposition leader Karpal Singh from detention.

Then Justice Harun Hashim declared UMNO illegal and dissolved the party. An outraged Prime Minister Mahathir fired the chief justice and subsequently moved parliament to amend the constitution to say that the courts would only have judicial powers “as may be conferred by or under Federal law,” making Malaysia the only Commonwealth country whose courts do not have judicial powers unless the legislative branch says so.

As a result, the courts are clearly in thrall to the governing party, as witnessed by the two farcical trials that put opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in prison against all evidence, and a long string of decisions that have cleared government leaders despite strong evidence of their guilt.

Democracy itself is broken, with gerrymandering keeping the opposition in its place. Witness the 2013 parliamentary election, which the Barisan actually lost, 51.39 percent to 47.79 percent, although it retained 133 seats to the opposition’s 89. It was an election won on vast infusions of apparently illegal money, if the latest revelations are true that Najib’s US$681 million “donation” diverted into his account was to help him fight the election. Top leaders of the ruling party are ignoring the deepening scandal because the prime minister has paid them continuing rounds of ill-disguised bribes to keep their loyalty. In addition, the election commission comes under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Office, rendering it toothless.

Broken presses

In addition to being muzzled by the printing act, the idea of a free press, which would keep a watchdog eye on the government, has been subverted by the fact that virtually all of the major media, both in English and Malay and including newspapers, television and radio, are owned by constituent parties of the Barisan. Najib used his powers recently to shut down the two most critical newspapers, both owned by The Edge Group, for three months after they reported on the 1MDB mess. Neutral or hostile online media, which is freer but subject to partisan pressure, are constantly threatened with lawsuits that can’t be won in the kept courts, or by sedition or other charges.

Bad religion

The ruling party also has become adept at using Islam as a cudgel to beat other races, particularly the Chinese, and to scare the kampungs, or rural villages, back in line while splintering the opposition.

Image result for Din Merican at University of Cambodia______________________________________________________

 

“We have become a racist and theocratic state led by men and women who no longer uphold the traditions of public duty,” said Din Merican. It is hard not to agree.–John Berthelsen

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Opposition leaders and others have accused Najib, with some justification, of being behind a “unity government” strategy to support the fundamentalist Parti Islam se-Malaysia in its effort to implement hudud, or harsh Islamic law, in the state of Kelantan, which it controls. The idea is to destroy a shaky opposition coalition cobbled together seven years ago out of disparate elements. That effort appears to have succeeded, with PAS splitting the opposition coalition earlier this year.

It is the use of religion for cynical political ends that may be the most dangerous part of the UMNO strategy. The so-called Group of 25, comprised of senior civil servants, former diplomats and others, issued an open letter in December calling for moderation; they have renewed their call, saying the imposition of hudud would tell the world that the country has abandoned its once-moderate path.

“We have become a racist and theocratic state led by men and women who no longer uphold the traditions of public duty,” said Din Merican. It is hard not to agree.

Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget


October 28, 2017

Ops Lalang: Dr. Mahathir’s Legacy, lest We Malaysians Forget

COMMENT | I remember vividly the day when Dr Mahathir Mohamad, then Prime Minister cum home minister, revoked the publication licenses of two dailies, The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh, and weekly newspaper Watan on October 27, 1987.

Just earlier on that day, opposition leaders Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang, as well as Chinese educationist Lim Fong Seng and Kua Kia Soong had been arrested under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA).

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At 18, I was old enough to appreciate Mahathir’s autocratic act.

Shell-shocked and in disbelief, I reached for the phone and called Sin Chew‘s head office in Petaling Jaya. The guy answering my call couldn’t tell me what was really going on other than that there would not be any Sin Chew newspapers in circulation the following day and suggested that I wait for further developments.

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Anwar and Mahathir’s Requiem for Malaysia– a little too late. But an apology is required from Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

It was a sleepless night for me. Never a fan of Mahathir and growing angrier at the hawkish rhetoric of Anwar Ibrahim, then Education Minister who was widely seen as equally responsible for the crackdown, I had vowed never to support Umno/BN for the rest of my life.

Things became worse the next day as the Mahathir regime spread its dragnet far and wide. Soon, I learned that another well respected Chinese educationist, Sim Mok Yu, was also detained. In total, 106 Malaysians of different ethnic backgrounds became the immediate victims of what came to be infamously known as Operasi Lalang.

Sim was already 74 years old at the time; which politician would subject an increasingly frail septuagenarian to arbitrary detention and constant fear, except for one who was heartless and power-hungry?

It was no doubt the nadir of Malaysian politics since May 13, 1969.

Outraged and feeling helpless, few classmates and I paid a visit to the staff at Sin Chew Jit Poh’s office in Jalan Maju Jaya, Johor Bahru and offered our moral support.

One Mr Foo received us and kindly advised us to focus on our studies and leave politics to others.

“The time will come for you to shoulder your responsibility as citizens of Malaysia.” Mr Foo said gently.

The rest is history.

Operasi Lalang indeed marked my political awakening. If more than 100 ordinary citizens who had done nothing more than exercise their civil rights could be detained without trial, what guarantee would there be for me to live in this country with dignity and pride?

Later on, I read from books and articles how the Operasi Lalang detainees and their family members suffered mentally and emotionally – parents, siblings, spouses, children all living in profound fear with no certainty over the future. What a heavy price to pay to speak up for injustices, I thought to myself.

After 30 years, Mahathir finally admitted that Operasi Lalang was meant to win elections, but at whose expense?

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When the remnants of Pakatan Rakyat decided to form an alliance with Mahathir more than a year ago, many saw it as a historic opportunity to defeat Umno in the next election, but I was among the very few who actually thought they were going to be beset with a host of challenges and internal feuds.

The reason is simple – Mahathir has too many skeletons in his closet and Harapan leaders just cannot attack Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak without some of the issues rebounding at them.

For instance, one risks being reminded of the lop-sided deals on Mahathir’s watch when one chastises Najib for toll hikes on highways.

And how can Harapan accuse the judges of being beholden to Najib yet expect the public to not remember how Mahathir sacked six supreme court judges in one go and subjected the judiciary to parliamentary rule?

Which is perhaps why Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, once critical of Mahathir’s obsession with our national car project, now chooses not so subtly to overlook Mahathir’s role in making Malaysia a car-dependent society with haphazard public transportation systems nationwide.

Lim Kit Siang used to call for Mahathir to own up to Operasi Lalang, and vociferously so, but has since fallen silent. Does he think Malaysians are malleable and stupid to not see it as being opportunistic?

How ironic, that an Operasi Lalang victim like Kua Kia Soong is derided as being ‘naïve’, ‘vengeful’ and ‘makan dedak whenever he writes of the need for Mahathir to face up to his political sins.

Don’t the detractors know Kua is also the one who untiringly pursued Najib for an answer for the dodgy Scorpene-class submarine deals and the tragic death of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu?

What is wrong if a former ISA detainee seeks justice from the perpetrator?

Harapan would say the timing is not right because we must all unite and work towards getting rid of Najib.

So when would be the right time for an apology from Mahathir over Operasi Lalang?

Truth be told, every Malaysian has the constitutional right to demand an apology from Mahathir, and when and how this should be done should not be dictated by any partisan considerations. Malaysia does not belong to any political party but to the people.

If a so-called government-in-waiting can procrastinate on the restoration of justice on dubious grounds, how can I not be concerned that there would be myriad of excuses to delay institutional reform upon regime change?

It is truly pathetic that many civil society leaders, mindful of the ‘big picture to save the country’, are now hesitant to endorse the statement that calls for Mahathir’s apology. If we only speak up when it is our material interests that are at stake, how different are we from the powers-that-be?

Perhaps this is why many maintained their elegant silence when Mahathir was clamping down on dissent in a merciless manner. After all, the economy was ‘booming’ and radical Islam had yet to rear its ugly head.

It does not mean that I hate Mahathir. Far from it.I merely hold Mahathir responsible for the moral decadence so prevalent in our country today – the haste to get rich and economic growth trumping human rights, to name but two.

Mahathir must, therefore, first repent before we can move on as a nation, following which we would need a real transformation of the country in which we no longer value material achievements more than human rights, for the two are not mutually exclusive to one another as either Mahathir or Najib would have us believe.

True reform cannot come about without the dark legacy of Mahathir being addressed, and a sincere and collective acknowledgement of the injustice of Operasi Lalang is the first step towards national reconciliation and restoration.

Didn’t we often cite the famous quote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?

Let’s not prove Mahathir right when he said Melayu, or Malaysians, mudah lupa.


JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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

 

Political Fatigue deepens as Azmin Ali turns Pakatan’s Brutus


October 27, 2017

Political Fatigue deepens as Azmin Ali turns Pakatan’s Brutus

Analysis

by Jocelyn Tan

    There is still a sense of uneasiness about Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad among many voters. They cannot decide whether they can trust someone who can change his political alliance and views the way people change their clothes. 

    POLITICIANS sometimes become the news even when they are not around and that was what happened with Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

    His “absence” at the Pakatan Harapan rally became a talking point at the event. The rally was in Selangor and everyone had expected Azmin to play a prominent role and use the gathering to strengthen Pakatan’s hold on the state.

    He did turn up as the sun was about to set and he was mobbed by those who saw him. It was what one would call a “cameo appearance”. He was in a red sports shirt but it was not the anti-kleptocracy T-shirt that everyone, including Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was wearing.

    He did not speak on the stage and left after about 30 minutes because he had to attend a dinner organised by some Islamic NGOs.

    By evening, word got back to him that people at the rally were asking, “where is Azmin?” So he tweeted pictures of the dinner held to raise funds for the Rohingya cause.

    Many have noticed that he seems to have scaled back on party politics to focus on his Mentri Besar duties. He is aware that Selangoreans are tired of the politicking and gimmicks.

    He wants the track record of his state government to take precedence over the politics of Pakatan.

     

    Azmin: He made a cameo appearance at the rally.

     

    Besides, his team has been burning the midnight oil to prepare the state budget which will be presented at the state assembly next month. To compound things, three of his most senior and experienced officers were suddenly transferred out to the Federal Government while his state financial officer reached retirement age.

    Of course, some thought that he did not wish to be too closely associated with the gathering because he could see that the turnout was embarrassing to say the least.

    The venue is in the heart of Petaling Jaya, it is next to the Federal Highway, there is a LRT station across the road and ample parking. The organisers had predicted a crowd of 100,000 and there have been all sorts of excuses for the poor turnout – it was the Deepavali week, young people prefer to rally on the streets and the weather was too hot.

    No matter how they explained it, the rally was a failure compared to the PAS show of force in Terengganu. The PAS rally was a sea of people in green outfits whereas at the Pakatan rally, one could see more green grass than people.

    “This is what it is like without PAS. If they cannot get PAS to come back, they are heading for defeat. But you know, it is like a football match – even though you know your team cannot beat the other team, you still got to go in and kick around,” said Andy Lim, a PKR supporter from Sungai Besar.

    PKR big names like Nurul Izzah Anwar were there but kept a low profile while others like Rafizi Ramli were noticeable by their absence.  Another PKR leader from Penang said he “clocked in” and left shortly after.

     

    Lim: They are heading for defeat without PAS.

    The sense is that PKR leaders were not 100% committed to the event. The PKR flags were not put up until late in the afternoon because someone forgot to bring the flag poles.

    “It laid bare what had till then been doubts about whether we have exhausted the 1MDB issue. We have misread the ground in our hurry to make gains, we have lost the young vote. But I want to read it positively, people have made up their minds, they don’t need more convincing,” said a DAP politician from Penang.

    This was Dr Mahathir’s first rally as Pakatan chairman and he looked rather tired by the time it was his turn to speak. His adrenalin would have been pumping had there been a big crowd but it was far from the Malay tsunami that Pakatan leaders had been boasting of.

    He stuck to the script and the crowd reserved their loudest cheers and claps for him even though everything he said had been said before.

    His repertoire of topics have been slowly shrinking. His claim that Malaysia is a failed state cannot be used anymore given the steady growth rates in the past few years.

    Neither is Malaysia going bankrupt given the inflow of investments. As such, it was basically a hate speech about his nemesis Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak whom he described as “musuh negara” or national enemy.

    And that is now one of Pakatan’s biggest problem. They are so focused on denigrating Najib and the ruling coalition that they come across as selling the politics of hate rather than the politics of hope.

    There is so little that is positive in their messaging and it explains why the youth cohort has lost interest in politics. No one in Pakatan wants to ask the question whether Dr Mahathir has become a liability rather than an asset.

    Petaling Jaya, where the rally was held, is a bedrock of DAP support. A survey by a Chinese vernacular paper a few days after the rally indicated that more than 80% of those who read the publication want a change of government.

    It reflected the Chinese sentiment yet they did not come out to show their support.

     

    Khaw: Dr Mahathir has too much baggage.

     

    “They support Pakatan but the urban Chinese middle class are not with Mahathir. His appeal is not in the city,” said political commentator Khaw Veon Szu.

    Pakatan leaders thought that he would be able to stir the Malay ground and unite people with his star power. But there has been this sense of uneasiness about Dr Mahathir. Can they trust someone who can change his political alliance and views the way people change their clothes?

    Many out there are still evaluating him. They see him as a bag of contradictions, someone who has brought great change to the country but who is also the cause of many lingering problems.

    For many voters, his message to topple Najib and change the government is like asking them to follow him across a fast-flowing river. He has been unable to assure them what it will be like on the side of the river, he is unable to tell them who will be the Prime Minister if Najib goes.

    Most of all, it is difficult for a 92-year-old man to inspire hope for the future because he belongs in the past. His leadership of Pakatan also failed to impress advocates of democracy abroad. The Economist wrote a strong editorial titled: “Mahathir’s return shows the sorry state of Malaysian politics”. It is quite sad that it has come to this.

    As he stood on stage that night, his diction was slurred, he stumbled several times over his words and in what some thought was a rather Freudian thing, he said: “Not sure how long more, I want to finish this work.”

    It has been a demoralising weekend but the old tiger is fighting on. A day after the rally, he was chairing a Pakatan council meeting to discuss their alternative budget.

    Azmin was present at the meeting. His flitting appearance at the rally had come on the heels of that strange exchange of tweets between him and the Prime Minister.

    Najib had tweeted a picture of him and a smiling Azmin on the sidelines of the Conference of Rulers, with the cryptic caption: “Senyuman ada makna tu” (a smile full of meaning).

    The pair was surrounded by the Mentris Besar of Perak, Terengganu, Kedah, Perlis and Melaka as well as the Chief Minister of Sarawak. It was quite a powerful photo but the most striking thing about it was the camaraderie of the group.

    From their big smiles and comfortable body language, it was as though the Barisan Nasional leaders regarded Azmin as their equal and someone they can work with.

    A few hours later, Azmin retweeted the picture with an equally cryptic reply: “Smile, what’s the use of crying? Take action, what’s the use of sighing?”

    What on earth was that about? His government is the most successful among the three opposition states. He has carried himself well and even a former Selangor Mentri Besar had praised his political style.

    Tan Sri Abu Hassan Omar told an online news portal that UMNO needs leaders like Azmin. He said Azmin is strong and well-liked in his constituency but is in the wrong party.

    Of course, Azmin was flattered. He thanked Abu Hassan but said that “I am not a frog”.

    In hindsight, it is apparent why Azmin was less than thrilled about the rally. Pakatan will struggle in the general election without PAS.

    Negotiation over seats between PKR and PAS has broken down and PKR seats are in danger in the event of three-corner fights.

    The uninspiring turnout at the rally showed that Pakatan has been unable to plug the big hole left behind by the exit of PAS. It was like announcing to the world: Look, look, this is all we are left with now that PAS is gone. Azmin certainly did not need that at this point in time.

    GE-14: Whither Pakatan Harapan


    October 25, 2017

    GE-14: Whither Pakatan Harapan–In Disarray

    by S. Thayaparan

    http://www.malaysiakini.com

    Image result for pakatan harapan leadership

    After GE-14, No Harapan–Masuk Angin, Keluar Asap

    Government was rarely more than a choice between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” ― Barbara W. Tuchman, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

     

    PKR Vice-President Nurul Izzah Anwar said that Pakatan Harapan needs a clear narrative but I would argue that the problems of Harapan go far beyond needing a clear narrative, which it does by the way. The months of internal squabbling within the party and the collateral damage of dealing and negotiating with PAS have diminished the credibility of the party. Meanwhile, DAP as the Harapan anchor has had to fend off numerous controversies of its own.

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    How can Pakatan Harapan win GE-14–Leadership in Disarray

    To claim that the opposition is in disarray is an understatement and to most people, it seems that this close to the election – whenever it is – the opposition looks to be a coalition of petty fiefdoms existing in an alternate universe where merely belonging in the opposition washes away the sins of the past.

    When Nurul says that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak does not talk about his scandals, what this really means is that the UMNO Grand Poobah is not playing defence. UMNO is on the offence when it comes to the corruption scandals that plague this administration. He does not need to talk about them because he understands that these scandals are complicated and that the opposition’s rhetoric that he is an international outcast does not jive with the photo ops that “world leaders” provide for future services rendered.

     

    With loads of money and lots of goodies from 2018 Budget UMNO Grand Poobah is expected to retain Putrajaya

    When this issue of holding this anti-kleptocracy was gaining momentum, I said it was a bad idea – “As it is, this rally will only benefit the UMNO regime because it affords them numerous opportunities to point to the dysfunction of the opposition, which means very little in echo chambers online, but is of great influence for people who are sitting on the fence or disillusioned with the opposition and finally, supporters who may not even turn up to vote, much less march on the streets.”

    Sure enough, what this rally demonstrated to fence-sitters was that the opposition, even with their “Big Guns”, was in disarray and UMNO had a field day, shooting fish in a barrel when it came to the rhetoric emanating from this rally.

    Furthermore, when you talk about the opposition being oppressed and the need for people to sympathise with the opposition, and the path to this “empathy” is a clear narrative, you are on the wrong path.  Here’s the thing. People want to believe that politicians empathise with them even if politicians clearly demonstrate that they do not. Therefore, when the people see all the infighting that goes on in the opposition, they translate that to the opposition only being concerned about themselves and political power.

    Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia central committee member Tariq Ismail Mustafa said that rural folks needed to be convinced that “change” can happen, but what exactly does change mean? What are they changing to? Whenever I talk to PSM people, I know exactly what message they are sending to people. A grassroots message that involves how the system oppresses the average citizen, which is linked to the local affairs of the community they are contesting in.

    This is why I have always said that Harapan is stupid not to involve a grassroots movements like PSM in their strategy, even if it means giving up seats to them and supporting them because imagine what could be achieved if PSM’s DNA was injected into the opposition body politics. Maybe some people do not want that, which again points to why convincing people that they need to change merely with rhetoric and not action is problematic.

    Take this talk of election rigging. Our system has some very serious issues. There is enough literature out there to support the proposition that our election system is compromised. However, when the average citizen sees that the opposition has denied UMNO its two third’s majority and won the popular vote, they believe the system works. If the flawed system works, then the opposition must be doing something wrong which is what most people would think when they hear opposition types talking about a rigged game.

    As someone who believes that the opposition winning the next general election – even this opposition – would be a turning point for Malaysian politics because average citizens would come to understand they have a choice, even if it means not exactly appealing choices at this time, in the people they want to lead this country. In other words, Umno does not have to rule in perpetuity.

    But how do we get there? DAP election strategist Ong Kian Ming says that people have to be given two clear choices, the status quo or change. The problem with this is thinking is what happens if people think that the status quo is acceptable?

    You know what one UMNO strategist is doing. When he talks to rural constituents, he says (and I am paraphrasing here);

    “Yes, there is corruption, and UMNO is working on it like they are doing with all the arrests the MACC is making. We are addressing the problem but more importantly, when former Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was in power, there was corruption too, and the country did not become a failed state like what the opposition claims now, and the opposition is trying to damage the economy and your livelihood.”

    When it comes to the Malay demographic, perhaps it is time to seriously consider what someone like Rafizi Ramli flirted with, in the beginning of the year – Indeed, when Rafizi says that “We (the opposition) must honestly accept failings and offer solutions that may be controversial”, it becomes clear that for some Malay politicians, mainstream Malay political dogma is failing the opposition but not UMNO. What does putting forth controversial solutions mean?”

    When opposition people talk to me, the discussion usually involves, in one form or another, the ways and means to propagate a clear message. I always refer to the opposition winning big when they won the popular vote as the perfect storm of political personalities, issues, and plain luck.

    People wanted to change and they voted opposition because they were fed up with the establishment. Therefore, I keep telling people that it is possible but sometimes people need to see radical departures from the “business as usual” politics. Anyway, it is much too late for that now.

    I tell people it is a numbers game. Get more people to vote and overwhelm the establishment with numbers. It would take a smarter man than me to come up with a clear narrative for the opposition.

    Continue reading

    Minister of Finance Inc–Are all GLICs and GLCs financially solid?


    October 24, 2017

    Malaysia’s Minister of Finance Inc.–Can Malaysians be assured that all GLCs and GLICs are financially intact?

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    By The Sarawak Report

    Can Malaysians reassure themselves that, although their over-powerful Prime Minister set up a giant slush-fund to finance vote buying and a hoard of diamonds for his wife (1MDB), the rest of their public institutions remain financially intact?

    This week opposition MP Rafizi Ramli exposed the latest in a string of troubling irregularities to beset a second government-managed fund, FELDA, set up to support the rural farming communities.

    The Kensington Grand Plaza Hotel in London is already part of a major investigation into FELDA given that it was bought way over market price in 2014 (RM330 million allegedly three times its actual value) and fits a pattern of other spectacularly over-priced foreign property purchases by FELDA – deals which always seemed to benefit Najib’s cronies.

    Now Rafizi has revealed that the fund was shockingly misleading in its financial reporting of these deals. Public financial statements are supposed to be audited ‘bibles’ of truth and rectitude and yet FELDA published untrue information.

    According to the MP, FELDA’s latest financial statement asserts that the hotel is managed by Grand Plaza Kensington Ltd, but owned by FIC London Hotel (Pte) Ltd. Crucially, says the MP, the statement goes on to say that both of these companies are based in the UK and are owned by the Felda subsidiary, Felda Investment Corporation Sdn Bhd.

    This is not true, the MP has discovered. FIC London Hotel (Pte) Ltd is not based in the UK, since there is no mention of it on the UK Company Register. In fact, the company was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, which is an opaque off-shore dominion that is regularly used by entities who do not want ownership details to be revealed.

    So, first the FELDA management lied and then they hid the ownership of the over-priced hotels. Worse, the accountants who presumably signed off these statements clearly failed to check even these most basic and public factual errors.

    The MP made this announcement at the start of the week and says he has so far received no response from FELDA. He has therefore come up with further information, this time from the BVI Company Register, which provides (at great expense and considerable inconvenience) three pieces of information about companies incorporated on the island: namely, when they were set up, who the agent is and if and when they cease to be active.

    Rafizi has found out that FIC London Hotel (Pte) Ltd ceased to be active in BVI in May last year. The reason being that it was struck off for failing to pay its company fees. So what, he rightly asks, has become of the ownership of this multi-million ringgit ‘public’ asset?

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    The former Chairman of FELDA, Isa Samad, was picked up, questioned and then let go by the MACC (Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission) over matters to do with this and a number of other similar ‘investments’ last month.  These were all related to the fund’s notable foreign property spree that began in 2012 (after billions had been made from a stock market floatation promoted by Finance Minister Najib). These include the Merdeka Palace Hotel in Kuching, which was previously owned by some of Chief Minister Johari’s closest associates and one of his sons and also the Grand Borneo Hotel in Sabah.

    Najib’s own personal involvement in such dealings has been most evident in the forcing through of a massive purchase by FELDA of a controversial oil palm plantation in Indonesia, Eagle High Planations, at way above market price from a known business crony of his, Peter Sondakh.

    After subsidiary Felda Global Ventures had pulled out of an original $700 million investment into the loss-making concern, following a wave of negative publicity, the new Chairman of FELDA, Najib’s political crony and cousin Shahrir Abdul Samad, went ahead with a half billion dollar purchase of 39% of the company earlier this year.

    The result of this astonishing profligacy and mis-management is spelt out through the plummeting value of FELDA’s shares, which have dived to one fifth since the stock market launch in 2012, which released the enormous sum of money that has thus been squandered and apparently lost. This was how Shahrir Abdul Samad himself summed up the situation when he first took over the fund in May:

    “Felda received RM6 billion from the listing of FGVH which is Felda’s business asset. From that amount, we have spent RM1.7 billion as windfall,” Shahrir was quoted saying…Shahrir said Felda awarded settlers and their families RM15,000 for each household, leaving behind a balance of RM4.3 billion.

    So where did this RM4.3 billion go? I think this has frustrated settlers who are very close to Felda … who admire the role of Felda … I think they have been disappointed,” Shahrir said.

    The point being that the value of the shares which FELDA settlers received in return for handing over their lands to the government controlled fund has adjusted from RM5.4  each at the time of the sale to a present RM1.5.  Meanwhile, the RM4.3 billion raised from the world’s second biggest ever share sale has, according to the Chairman, disappeared.

    Tip of The Iceberg?

    FELDA’s own Chairman has said it all. The settlers were lured by that original ‘windfall’ of RM15,000 ringgit, in the same way a poor villager sells his vote for RM50.  In return for shares, which are now relatively worthless, they handed over something far more valuable: control over their plantation land and the market capitalisation, now spent goodness knows where.

    All this corruption in high places has unravelled since the original scandal broke over 1MDB at the start of 2015. A further enormous scandal has been associated with another publicly managed fund, namely Tabung Haji.  The pilgramage fund was discovered to have bought out properties given to 1MDB for ludicrously over-valued amounts, apparently to help 1MDB’s managers cover up the loses caused by thefts from that fund.

    At the time, when the scam was exposed, the Prime Minister/Finance Minister Najib, assured the pilgrims, who had devoutly saved money with Tabung Haji to afford their trips to Mecca, that Tabung Haji would be able to sell on the properties within a month for a large profit – they were not to worry, as there were three major buyers vying for the opportunity.

    It is no surprise, surely, that the sale never took place and that now Tabung Haji has announced it will instead ‘develop’ the land it cannot sell.

    Likewise, when the Governor , Bank Negara Malaysia alerted this pilgrimage fund that it was investing in yet another dangerously loss-making crony project and advised that a financially aware person was needed on the Board (as opposed to the political cronies that Najib had so far appointed e.g. the bogus-degree holding Chairman Abdul Azeez of ‘Preston’ University) Najib instead placed none other than his pet Attorney General and former judge Apandi Ali – with no business brain at all.

    What it all this tells Malaysians is that, unsurprisingly, the Prime Minister who presided over 1MDB has also presided over the extraordinary looting of both FELDA and Tabung Haji.

    What Lies Beneath The Water?

    Image result for Terence Gomez-Minister of Finance Incorporated

    So, what else in the way of public money could likewise have been looted and raided?  The terrifying answer for Malaysians lies in a book published by a Malaysian academic just last month called ‘Minister of Finance Incorporated‘.

    This factual examination of the extent of the powers of the one man, who holds the two key offices of state, through the Ministry of Finance and Prime Ministership, shows just how much of the country’s economy has fallen under the control of a single decision-maker, who if so-minded, could therefore drive the welfare of all Malaysians and their descendants into disaster virtually unchecked.

    The problem (although it is carefully not described as such by author and researcher, Dr. Terence Gomez of the University of Malaya) is that Malaysia’s largely resource-based economy is predominantly under government ownership. Furthermore, the funds that manage the pensions and savings of the population, not just government workers, are also unusually managed by the government rather than independent businesses or trusts. Furthermore, these funds now control most of the private sector businesses on top.

    It gets worse. Thanks to the growing centralisation of political power that has taken place in Malaysia, as a result of 60 years of one party rule, the control over these government managed companies and funds and private businesses has accumulated into the hands of just two major office-holders. The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister.

    In Malaysia the final step towards total centralisation of economic and political power came with the astonishing merger of these two offices into the hands of a single politician, who is also the President of UMNO which is the party that has inserted its senior members into all the leading decision-making posts in government and coporate posts throughout Malaysia.

    So it is that Malaysia is a ‘democracy’ which is run like a old fashioned Soviet party-based economy.

    Since the checks and balances have been eroded, thanks to 60 years of uncontested single party rule (a world record), it leaves the economy open to a frightening situation.  If the man in charge is not to be trusted when it comes to money; if he has criminal tendencies, for example or feels he needs a lot of money to keep control through bribery of those party placemen, through whom he runs the country, or if he has a particularly greedy and wasteful family, then Malaysians have good reason to be very scared indeed.

    The Extraordinary Power of MO1

    Najib, through his inherited offices of state, controls the management of the key Government Investment Companies (GLICs) namely MoF Inc, Khazanah, PNB, EPF, KWAP, LTH, LTAT, FELDA, which in turn have invested in a substantial number of Malaysia’s most important private enterprises, giving him immense power over decision-making in the private sector as well.

    Thirty five of these so-called GLCs (Government Linked Companies) feature in Malaysia’s top 100 companies on the Malaysian stock exchange, according to Professor Gomez. They account for nearly half of Malaysia’s entire market capitalisation of listed companies.

    Huge and supposedly independent investment funds, such as the Employee Provident Fund, PNB and Khazanah are also ultimately subject to the Minister of Finance, owing to the legislation under which they have been structured – legislation brought in or altered by a self-interested political party, which has never given up its political power.  For example, the Minister of Finance controls MoF Inc, which wholly owns Kazanah and holds a ‘Golden Share’ over the vast investment fund PNB.

    The Employee Provident Fund (EPF) asserts its independence and yet the entire Board and its CEO are appointed by the Minister of Finance himself. So, little surprise that Najib felt able to promise Donald Trump last month that he would make sure the fund invested in the United States to ‘help make America great again’.

    Likewise the pension fund KWAP and likewise Tabung Haji and likewise FELDA.  Other major agencies also dominated by the Government, such as MARA, which reports to the Minister of Rural and Regional Development, are also ultimately controlled by Najib, in that he can hire or fire the minister concerned.

    Malaysians have become used over the years to seeing these institutions relatively well run by reasonably diligent professionals. However, the increasingly centralised structure of Malaysia’s ruling UMNO party has created a dangerous weakness that many are only just beginning to wake up to. What if the man in charge goes ‘rogue’?

    It happens, ask the world’s greatest democracy, America, which is now reining in their President, thanks to Congress, the Senate and independent Departments of State. You need institutional checks and balances to make sure that what the ‘man in charge’ says he will do is what he actually does.

    Najib, back in 2011, announced he was going to open up Malaysia’s economy and divest the Government’s excessive involvement and control over even the private sector.  At the same time he promised the liberalisation of civil society. It did not happen.

    According to Professor Gomez, in terms of the economy the reverse has happened: the Government’s share of the KL Composite Index has increased from 43.7% to 47.1% – an extraordinary figure.

    All Audited And In Safe Hands?

    Malaysians have learnt about what Najib was willing to sanction with 1MDB, where money ended up in his own accounts. They have learned how he has also sanctioned devastating losses at FELDA to mysterious destinations and plain cronies. They have also seen exposed a shocking raid on the pilgamage fund of Tabung Haji.

    In all these cases, top firms of accountants were supposedly monitoring events. ‘Independent’ boards, the Auditor General and Bank Negara Malaysia were also supposedly making sure that nothing was untoward (all are appointed by Najib).

    In 2015 and 2016 Najib declared that nothing could have possibly gone wrong at 1MDB because its accounts were passed by ‘top international auditors’. Yet in 2016 the fund’s then current auditor, Deloittes, resigned in the face of the finding of international investigators and declared its earlier accounts “unsafe”.

    So, how safe is the rest of that edifice of Government-managed funds and companies, controlled ultimately by Najib – a man on the hunt for money, with thousands of party hangers-on to pay in order to keep his dominant position?

    Do the public or even the hired accountants and placed board members know the truth about what Najib’s personally appointed administrators are up to? And how reliable are all those Financial Statements after all?  The evidence so far is troubling.

    Given this situation we think it is fair to ask, is 1MDB just the tip of the iceberg, with the FELDA and Tabung Haji scandals now also floating to the top – if so, what horrors lurk below?

    Maybe there are still some Malaysians, who think that Najib’s malign and greedy influence has not strayed beyond these existing scandals. If so, we shall soon find out if they are right, because if the money has indeed disappeared from other funds in the manner of 1MDB then the dire consequences will be shortly felt by each and every citizen (apart from the handful who made off with it all).