A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way


August 15, 2018

A Traumatized Malaysian Press Feels its Way

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Three months after the voters showed the door to the Barisan Nasional, the coalition composed of Malaysia’s ethnic political parties, the media the parties have owned for decades appear at sea, uncertain if they have been unshackled from the parties that own them, unsure of their new freedom, as is the new government.

Image result for Malaysian Press

 

The papers include, among others, the English-language New Straits Times and the Malay-language Utusan Malaysia, owned by companies affiliated with the United Malays National Organization; and the English-language Star and the Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association. The Malaysian Indian Congress also publishes local editions.

The attitudes of the mainstream editors and publishers are unknown and spokespersons ignored requests for interviews from Asia Sentinel.

“There have been no real changes except that the mainstream media have reverted to journalism 101, reporting and analyzing without prejudice,” said Jahabar Sadiq, the editor of the independent online Malaysian Insight. “There isn’t much pressure on any media by any side of the political divide.  It’s still early days for this government and the opposition is trying to find its feet.”

Reporters at press conferences seldom ask challenging or tough questions, as was true in the past. The mainstream press has largely turned to praising the policies and actions of the Pakatan Harapan government, as Sadiq noted, without a serious examination of the issues, of which there are plenty.

After decades of circumspection out of fear of dismissal and worse, journalists are reluctant to criticize issues which  dominate social media such as Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal for a new national car project, his dominance of Khazanah Nasional, the investment arm of the government, the repressive religious actions of the Department of Islamic Advancement of Malaysia (JAKIM).and government-linked companies (GLCs), most of which have been run by cronies of the previous government and which for years have lived off fat government contracts.

Image result for Zunar

Malaysia’s Cartoonist, Zunar

In the run up to the May 9 general election, the mainstream media, on instruction from the Barisan and its leading party the United Malays National Organization would attack Mahathir, its fiercest critic. Now, they have switched their attack to former Prime Minister Najib, who faces corruption charges over 1MDB and other issues. In fact, Sadiq said, there are moves to take over the establishment media and bend it to favor the new government, as if the new government hasn’t quite got the idea of a free press right.

“Obviously we were heartened by the new government’s move to lift the travel ban and drop the pending sedition charges against cartoonist Zunar,” said Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “And we were also encouraged by the government’s stated commitment to scrap Najib’s bogus ‘fake news’ law.”

Image result for The Fate of Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

Malaysiakini’s Duo, Premesh Chandran and Steven Gan

But, Crispin said, “until Mahathir’s administration follows through with that commitment and moves to scrap various other laws on the books used to intimidate and harass the press,  journalists will still be at risk. It should also drop the various charges pending against journalists, including those filed by the previous government against Malaysiakini.”

Mahathir’s government “promised a democratic revolution upon its election – there would be no more meaningful way to make good on that vow than by freeing the press,” he continued.

Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that restrict freedom of the press.  One of them is the infamous sedition statute, which was used against a long string of academics, journalists, opposition politicians and others.

 

And shockingly it was used again in July, two months after the long-suppressed opposition Pakatan Harapan coalition came to power, against Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a lawyer with the Center to Combat Corruption and Colonialism, who questioned the power of the country’s nine sultans in a democracy. Fadiah was questioned by  the Police on July 10 for an hour. She claimed the right to remain silent and the case is hanging fire.  But the incident raises serious questions over the commitment of the new coalition to the right to free expression.

The alternative media, including the major online news portals, Malaysiakini and Malaysian Insight, continue to play their role as the conscience of the nation and try to present a balanced view to the public.

The Pakatan Harapan administration may have promised more press freedom, but unless reporters have more integrity and rise to the challenge of scrutinizing the new coalition\ by asking tough questions of its ministers, and their policies, little will change. They are easily fobbed off with remarks like “It’s Mahathir’s prerogative” to do as he pleases.

The election promise by the new government of increased press freedom has ostensibly been welcomed. At July’s Malaysian Press Night 2018 for the 2017 Malaysian Press Institute (MPI)-Petronas Journalism Awards, Foreign Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, urged the press to play a critical role in the nation’s political transition towards a mature democratic country.

Claiming that his government was more open and willing to embrace press freedom, he said: “Journalists do not have to worry about receiving calls from the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) or other ministers. In fact, it is okay to hold more debates. Hopefully, no editor will be summoned anymore just because some pictures are ‘not interesting enough’.

Few would disagree, but some believe that there has been little change. Some 35 laws remain on Malaysia’s books that could potentially limit press freedom.

Prior to the election, political appointees enjoyed prominent positions on mainstream editorial boards and few politicians felt any fear, even during press conferences, of serious exposes. Editorial boards still control what the public reads.

To the casual observer, the mainstream media has always been full of praise for the ruling party, but fiercely critical of the opposition. With new editorial guidelines under the new government, many hoped that things would change.

The people who doubt the critical role of the free, self-regulating press to expose acts of corruption, deaths in custody and illegal practices need to remind themselves that many of these horrors would never have been in the public domain, but for the few people who were prepared to write about them, publish the reports in the papers and demand that action be taken to help society’s most marginalized people.

In the past, the institutions and the key people involved would close ranks, silence criticism and turn a blind eye to public concerns. Those who made the reports and who dared to give a voice to victims, were threatened and charged with various trumped-up offences, to silence them. In some cases, they were killed to stop action being taken.

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating


June 22, 2018

Summitry can be overdone and self defeating

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com

Image result for Trump and Putin in Helsinki

Trump-Putin Helsinki Summit: Football Diplomacy

TOP meetings of political leaders are supposed to mean something important and special. However, such meetings of leaders at their respective peaks, or summits, tend to be overdone by many countries for their perceived glamour value.

Even the supposed chutzpah and gravitas that summitry participants believe they would acquire seem to be wearing thin.Most summits appear to be no more than glorified photo-opportunities, a thriving cottage industry and something of a jet-setting racket.

Nonetheless, while routine summits between the leaders of Togo and Nauru may not seem likely, much less determine global events, a rare summit of major world powers is always significant.

Such an event can defuse tensions, build mutual confidence and goodwill, and improve bilateral relations generally. The benefits are also likely to be felt by smaller nations within strategic range.

Image result for Nixon- Kissinger and Mao-Zhou Enlai

President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Zedong

When US President Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1972, the occasion deservedly made world headlines. Not only did they meet as the Cold War raged, but a conservative US President and leader of the “free world” had deigned to travel to China to confer with communist leaders there.

Washington found it worthwhile even if the Nixon-Kissinger team was seen to have journeyed far to “pay tribute” to the Great Helmsman. To US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, it was clearly more than just a diplomatic trip or even a state visit. No less important than improving US-China relations, the event developed an implicit US-China pact against the Soviet Union.

Image result for Nixon- Kissinger

Nixon-Kissinger drove a wedge between Beijing and Moscow to deepen the Sino-Soviet split of the Khrushchev years. Kissinger had also negotiated separately with Khrushchev’s successor Leonid Brezhnev.

The instrumental nature of the Beijing summit could not escape Chinese and US realities. It served only to formalise bilateral ties, and it would take another seven years before their relations could be normalised.

One decade-plus after Beijing, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Geneva. The 1985 summit was the first of several.

Image result for reagan and gorbachev

President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev

Again, these had to do with more than improving bilateral relations. Formally they concerned arms limitation and common ties, but more broadly Reagan was also encouraging a reformist Gorbachev to open up his country.

Within three months of the initial summit, Gorbachev introduced restructuring (perestroika) in early 1986. The following year Reagan, in a visit to Berlin, rhetorically called on Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

In 1988 Gorbachev introduced a new openness and freedoms in the Soviet Union (glasnost). The Cold War was formally coming to an end – and on Boxing Day 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed.

A summit with the US President, particularly if it is one-on-one, is more than just a White House visit. It is a carefully staged, highly publicised event that is supposed to carry considerable weight and prestige.

Senior US officials therefore guard it jealously and grant it sparingly or not at all. Sometimes this means rejecting the prospect of a summit even when it can do some good.

When Senator Barack Obama was asked in mid-2007 if he would agree to unconditional talks with the leaders of Cuba, Iran or North Korea, he said he would.

An immediate backlash erupted, particularly from Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main rival as party nominee for the presidential campaign. She condemned his readiness to negotiate as “irresponsible” and “naïve”.

Ironically, just months before, Hillary voiced support for the US President talking with his global adversaries. She even claimed to have advised George W. Bush to proceed with such talks.

As usual, politics gets in the way of judicious perceptions of meaningful summits. The purpose and value of summits are diminished as a result.

The two inter-Korean summits in April and May this year signaled the opening of North Korea and its readiness to negotiate away its nuclear arms stockpile.

Both summits were preceded, and followed, by summits in China between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Image result for trump and kim on sentosa island

The Singapore Trump-Kim Sentosa Summit on June 12, 2018 reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

All these summits with Kim were merely the build-up to the grand prize – the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore of June 12.

This was a first, and a summit to be held without preconditions.

North Korean leaders had wanted a summit with a US President for decades. And, until Trump, US Presidents had snubbed all such previous prospects.

Most US officials have hitherto regarded such a summit as a “reward” for an autocratic North Korean leader, oblivious to the goodwill and confidence-building it can generate. Still, the Singapore summit was generally regarded positively. Both leaders smiled pleasantly to the cameras and to each other, projecting cordiality without mishap.

Whatever the US Establishment might have thought then, or since, the international community welcomed the summit as a timely occasion heralding better times on the Korean peninsula and in Asia.

Warming to summit mode, Trump’s presence at the NATO summit in Brussels this month saw him in his trademark brusque transactional style.

There was no diplomatic incident only because there was nothing diplomatic about it. Trump reportedly rattled alliance presumptions and insisted that NATO allies pay more for their own defence.

This came just weeks after Trump alienated trade partners in Europe and Asia with tariffs. The NATO summit in turn left the security alliance feeling less than secure.

From Brussels Trump moved on to Helsinki, where he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a four-eyes summit. The US media had no summit agenda and promptly speculated on what was discussed.

Inevitably a main item for the media was the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. Did Trump succeed or fail in accusing Putin of such meddling to his face?

Such distractions divert from the actual content of the summit. When news broke about the summit covering a referendum for eastern Ukraine, some news reports focused on that but the alleged “meddling” issues remained. A summit-friendly Trump remains persona non grata to the US military-industrial complex despite his show of force in Syria, so the US deep state still wants to see him go. Even as his Presidency moves towards the mid-term, hopes of impeachment still linger.

Multiple investigations into supposed collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign continue to pile on the pressure. But no sooner had Trump admitted that he “misspoke” to Putin at the summit, than he announces his invitation to Putin to visit the White House in the coming months.

This “return summit” is where Trump would now say the right things, or at least not say the wrong things. By now the US mainstream media, having thoroughly demonised Putin, relished a grand opportunity to take down Trump by association.

Trump may be getting the hang of summits, in stages, and possibly even enjoying summitry. However the knack of outpointing him by fair means or foul at such events remains with the US mainstream media.

The setup is not usually advantageous to a sitting President, especially when it is President Trump. He could reign supreme in his businesses, and his reality television shows. But the Presidency is a different kind of “business” altogether. Unlike other businesses where he may be the boss, a democracy rightly makes everyone else the boss of the leader.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Foreign Policy: Non-Western Eurasia rises


June 24, 2018

Foreign Policy: Non-Western Eurasia rises

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit 2018.

A significant non-Western event is often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit 2018.

China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talkfest.

Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

Image result for Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit 2018.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of NATO, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

Image result for Erdogan at Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit 2018.

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a Nato member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its NATO membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its Nato credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

Image result for Isolating Trump

Trump is acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world. It is a mistake for the US to take an isolationist foreign stance.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month NATO voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Blame Thyself, UMNO-You had it coming to you


June 6, 2018

Blame Thyself, UMNO-You had it coming to you

by Zainah Anwar

Inevitable change: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announcing his resignation when Barisan lost GE14 after the people rejected the corrupt practices of some of the Barisan politicians.
Tears won’t do

It may have been a shock win for Pakatan Harapan in the recent election, but the writing has been on the wall for Barisan Nasional for more than a decade. Finally, change has come! It was simply inevitable.

I have been writing for over a decade of the politically manufactured extremism and intolerance within Malay society and how the 2006 UMNO General Assembly was the turning point when a party that had prided itself as the bedrock of centrist politics, presented an extremist face to Malaysians on live television.

The histrionics of race and religion under threat, the keris waving, and the full display of Malay-Muslim machismo alienated and scared not just the non-Muslims, but the many moderate and progressive Muslims in the country. UMNO had crossed the line. The belligerent UMNO speakers thought they reflected the mood on the ground, only to fast discover that the ground had shifted from under their feet, as the President tried vainly to do some damage control with his closing speech.

 

Image result for Abdullah Badawi, 2008

 

By the 2008 General Elections, the resounding victory that then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi enjoyed in 2004 based on his change agenda was overturned. The rakyat inflicted the most crushing blow to Barisan Nasional. Kedah, Penang, Perak and Selangor fell to the Opposition, and the ruling party lost its much vaunted two-thirds majority.

It all went wrong within just four short years. Abdullah Badawi had led Barisan to its greatest electoral victory ever, winning 199 of 219 parliamentary seats in 2004. He promised to eliminate corruption, to introduce open tendering for government contracts. He regarded the NGOs as the eyes and ears of the government, he stood up for women’s rights and a progressive Islam (Islam Hadhari) that must be re-interpreted to deal with changing times and circumstances. He promised a kinder, gentler Malaysia and more open and democratic politics.

While many of us shared in the fifth Prime Minister’s vision of a democratising, transparent and accountable government and his promise of an inclusive rule for all Malaysians, his failure to deliver on much of this grand vision and his inability to take charge of his change agenda in the face of resistance from powerful centres of power within UMNO, within the civil service, the Police, and even within his own cabinet eventually led to a massive loss of confidence. It was not supposed to be business as usual. But on the ground, it was much too much of the same thing.

From the endless manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays to supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion, from the Lingam tapes to judicial integrity, from rising crime to rising prices, local development without public representation, political leaders behaving badly, and allegations of corruption and cronyism that did not abate…the electorate was in no mood to wait for the promised change to come or to even acknowledge that some change had indeed taken place.

Anything but UMNO

I had written after the 2008 general elections that the massive public repudiation of Barisan was not just a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s rule, but of all the corrupt, immoral, authoritarianism of Barisan politics and governance in its 50 years of domination. The public has had enough.

That Pakatan Rakyat won votes on a platform of change from “Ketuanan Melayu” to “KetuananRakyat” and a smorgasbord of promises to make democracy and good governance work for ALL citizens was beyond UMNO comprehension.

While the new alliance was fast capturing the shifting mood of Malaysian voters to a new political centre of equitable and fairer terms of engagement among the citizens, and between the citizen and the state, and generating excitement among young voters and community groups that their voices could indeed bring change, UMNO members were more preoccupied with power grabbing in the run-up to party elections in December 2009.

They might win party elections whooping their “Ketuanan Melayu” battle cry, but they would cause the party to lose the next general elections, I predicted. The ground had shifted, but they dug deeper into their bad old bag of tricks of race, religion, money politics, and self-enrichment. I never understood what was there for MCA, Gerakan and MIC to stay on with UMNO and its intemperate and relentless stomping and condoning of ethno-religious supremacy that was driving away Chinese and Indian voters into the waiting arms of PKR, DAP and even PAS. The mood indeed was anything but UMNO.

It was clear by 2008 that Malaysian politics was taking off into an epochal transformation from race-based to issue-based, I felt. Increasingly, Malaysians were building new solidarity based on issues, not race or religion. Be it human rights, women’s rights, free and fair elections, democracy, good governance, anti-corruption, freedom of the press, detention without trial, death in custody, local government, environment, land rights, quality education, arts and culture, … it would be issues that would bring Malaysians of all ethnic backgrounds together, I wrote then.

Image result for Najib Razak in 2009

 

So Abdullah was forced into early retirement and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the Sixth Prime Minister, warning UMNO to “change or perish”. He called on UMNO members to be the eyes and ears of the rakyat so that UMNO could read accurately the pulse of the nation and translate that into policy and action. He called on the people to restore the bridges that brought us together and tear the walls that separated us. He introduced 1Malaysia and he wanted repressive laws repealed and UMNO party rules to be more democratic.

Regime crisis

That was 2009. But I wrote early on that Najib might have the dubious honour of being the first UMNO President to become Leader of the Opposition, as I saw no mood for change among UMNO leaders and members. They felt they were the only rakyat that mattered. All they were preoccupied with was to use the race card to enrich themselves – to get more handouts and more contracts into their grubby hands.

Image result for pakatan rakyat 2008

2008 Elections–Malaysian Spring

Almost 11 months after the 2008 elections, UMNO lost a by-election in Kuala Terengganu as PAS, PKR and DAP displayed unprecedented cohesion and dazzled the voters with their unity, sharing the same platform everywhere.

It had made no difference to UMNO thinking and strategising that 74% of the Malays in the Kuala Terengganu constituency polled a week before polling day believed that “Malay political power was weakened by corrupt and self-serving leaders”, while only 17% said it was weakened by “demands made by the non-Malays”.

UMNO had become a gravy train for personal wealth accumulation for most of its leaders and members. The party had so lost touch with the ground that it no longer cared for public opinion. Their rhetoric of Malay dominance, and race and religion under threat was delusional when more and more Malays were rejecting them in favour of a multi-ethnic opposition promising good governance and equitable citizenship rights.

That a newly cobbled coalition of strange bedfellows could present a united front and work together as a team and sell their multi-ethnic agenda to a Malay electorate showed what a pathetic empty shell Barisan as a multi-ethnic coalition had become.

2009 under the new leadership brought no respite to the rakyat. Incident after incident piled up and we felt as if the country was going to implode. Issues on whether one was a Muslim or not, whether a father who converted to Islam had the right to unilaterally convert his underage children, the sentencing of Kartika to caning for drinking a glass of beer, the arrest and prosecution of then former Perlis Mufti for teaching Islam in a private home in Selangor without a letter of authorisation…the endless sledgehammer of persecution in the name of Islam went on.

By 2010, the likes of the belligerent Ibrahim Ali and Zulkifli Noordin had emerged as the poster boys of UMNO and the future the party believed in. It was their voice and those of their ilk that the government of the day seemed to listen to. Not the voice of Malaysians, who believe in our founding fathers’ vision of a modern, democratic, secular, culturally pluralistic and inclusive political community.

Unpopular tactic:: Umno continued to play on the race and religion sentiments to maintain power, like its Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, who brandished the “Keris Panca Warisan” at the begining of their assembly in PWTC in 2011.

 

Contrary voices were either cowed into silenced or demonised. More demagogues were organised to whip up Malay sentiment against any attempts to discuss concerns arising from the makeover of the Constitutional idea of “the special position of the Malays” into Malay supremacy.

The idea of Ketuanan Melayu sits uncomfortably among many Malaysians, be they Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Bajaus, Orang Asal, Eurasians…. It is a racial supremacist idea, a far cry from the simple reality that Malays as the majority population of this country will naturally be the politically dominant group. And a far cry from the constitutional notion of the “special position of the Malays” which legitimised affirmative action as a temporary special measure to enable a historically disadvantaged group to catch up.

Obviously, Malaysia had entered into another “regime crisis”. The NEP-era political phase and governing mechanism exhaled its last breath on March 8, 2008.The Opposition had still not coalesced into a viable trusted alternative with a common political vision of Malaysia. The Barisan Nasional government showed no resolve to deal with the concerns and contestations over matters of race and religion, and human rights and fundamental liberties. This pessimism about the future of Malaysia continued to corrode the body politic and the public sense of well-being.

By mid-2010, I pronounced in this column that UMNO was beyond redemption. It had regressed into a dinosaur, too huge, too old, too fossilised in its ways to be able to adapt to new conditions. The sense of privilege and entitlement was too entrenched for UMNO members to ever want to change.

Image result for pakatan rakyat 2008

 Pakatan Rakyat was born in 2008

While UMNO politicians and Perkasa pointed fingers at other races as a threat to Malay political survival, the Malays themselves saw something else. A Merdeka Centre survey revealed that 70% of Malays felt that the main threat to the Malay political position in the country was corruption among Malay leaders. Only 22% believed it was due to demands made by other races in the country. This national survey reinforced the Kuala Terengganu findings of January 2009.

The changing values and changing mood was clear. A significant 40% of the Malay respondents believed that citizens should be treated and accorded the same rights in Malaysia, regardless of race and religion. Forty-five per cent believed that government assistance programmes only benefited the rich and politically connected. The two top issues all respondents identified as being the most important in need of change were: “making the country more democratic” and “making our education system world class”. But 66% of the public felt a sense of powerlessness that they could influence government policy.

And yet UMNO continued to play its dangerous game for the future of Malaysia. And it did not care that continuing to abuse race and religion unabated spelt the death knell to its Barisan partners who could never hope to deliver the minority votes necessary for the ruling coalition to maintain power.

No political will

The then Prime Minister (Najib Razak) made attempts to bring UMNO back to the centre by calling for the voice of moderation to prevail in Malaysia, reminding UMNO members at the 2010 General Assembly that it was the Malay trait of moderation that had enabled the community to be accepted as leaders in a multicultural society.

But wasatiyyah required political courage. No one in UMNO had the political will to follow words with deeds. Its hypocrisy continued to stench. Sisters in Islam was called in twice by the Police for questioning under the Penal Code and the Sedition Act for standing up for Kartika. For the first time too, a state religious authority issued an official Friday sermon attacking Sisters in Islam and urged the congregation to take action against us. Global Movement of Moderates indeed.

Image result for sisters in islam

In frustration, I wrote a column in 2011 on whose voice should prevail in this country. Those who perpetually saw race and religion under threat and demanded that every person who believed, thought, behaved, dressed, acted, opined differently should be “fixed” through many state sanctioned operations – boot camps, rehabilitation camps, punished under the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Syariah Criminal Offences Act, or just denounced and demonised as enemies and traitors of race, religion and country?

Or those who envision a democratic and just future, where rights are recognised on the basis of citizenship rather than just race, religion, or sex.

The choice was obvious to most of us, the good citizens of Malaysia who loved this country, and who were determined to be resilient, resourceful, and open minded to face the challenges and realities of the 21st century.

The same old script

I was totally frustrated by the endless manufacturing of many more new threats. From the innocuous fun of poco-poco to the relativism of post-modernism, from calling Muslims opposed to UMNO and PAS unification as “pengkhianat Islam” (traitors of Islam) to accusing Christians of plotting to turn Malaysia into a Christian state! All these of course adding to the existing long list of threats that included pluralism, liberalism, feminism, secularism, kongsi raya, open house, tomboys, yoga…

Image result for racial extremism and radical islam in malaysia

UMNO’s Racist Stooge–Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos–now on the run from the Malaysian Police

It was hard to understand why these same actors were trotting out the same old script that cost the Barisan Nasional government so dearly in 2008. It’s like as if nobody had learnt any lessons from that political tsunami. Since attacking liberal Muslims and ungrateful Chinese did not work in 2008, they amended the script to add Christians and even the passé Communists. Why would an unpopular political party create more enemies, instead of making friends?

And to be sure they added the promise of the Hudud law and its grim serving of chopped off Muslim hands and feet, stoning to death, crucifixion! What kind of future is that? “It’s ok to implement the Hudud law because it doesn’t affect non-Muslims.” So it’s ok for Muslims to be brutalised? “Non-Muslims should shut up because it doesn’t affect them.” But they are Malaysian citizens who have every right to speak up on laws that allow for brutal and inhumane punishments against their fellow citizens, the majority population to boot. “Muslims who are not experts on Islam should shut up”. Then please take religion out of the public sphere and make it private between us and God.

By 2012, a desperate UMNO, which for two decades under Mahathir’s rule had been consistently opposed to the Hudud law, embraced it as its own. One state assemblyman in Johor proudly proclaimed that the UMNO Hudud would be superior to the PAS Hudud as it would apply to all citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims! And other UMNO leaders and entities in quick succession echoed the call, lest their piety be questioned. And they stoked the debate further by trying to portray the upcoming general elections as a choice between those who wanted the Hudud and the Islamic state and those against.

I wrote then that the choice before us was not between Islam and secularism, not between Hudud law and civil law, not between tradition and modernity. Those were false dichotomies created to divide us. The choice before us was between democracy and despotism, between good governance and corruption, between equality and discrimination, between social justice and inequity.

The UMNO-Perkasa-Utusan Malaysia nexus and its orchestrated battle cry of “Malays and Islam under threat” stoked Malay anxiety – enough to win UMNO support and make a nine seat gain in the 2013 general elections. Malays, who saw UMNO as its protector, bought into the emotive appeal that their special rights would be eroded by a Pakatan coalition that stood for affirmative action based on need, rather than race, and Ketuanan Rakyat rather than Ketuanan Melayu.

But the very political strategy that won UMNO support in the rural areas and among some segments of the Malay community, cost Barisan support among the Chinese, Indians and Malays in urban and semi-urban areas. For the first time, Barisan won the national elections with less than 50% of the popular vote.

The demands for reformasi that began in 1999 with the sacking and mistreatment of Anwar Ibrahim was steaming ahead. Barisan popular votes went down by 10% then and Umno and Barisan were saved by support from the Chinese, many of whom were spooked by reformasi in Indonesia. 2004 was just a blip in the downward slide with excitement over promises of change by a new Prime Minister. Performing from bad to worse in two successive general elections was unprecedented.

There were yet more calls for change. This time the then Deputy Prime Minister warned UMNO members to “change or be dead”. But no one was listening. Some UMNO leaders continued to blame others for their failures and shortcomings. And this time they told those who disagreed with them to leave the country. In the past, the retort used to be vote us out if you don’t agree, but by 2013 that was too painfully close to the truth to even utter.

At the UMNO General Assembly that year, the debate, in content and tone, did not provide voters with any indication or hope that UMNO was capable of change to win back the support it had lost in two successive elections.

The de rigueur threats were made yet again – from “liberalism, pluralism and secularism”, to threats from people who supposedly attacked “Islam, the Sultans, the national language, the NEP” all rolled in one breath, and threats from oh, those forever ungrateful Chinese. And then, of course, the same old demands for more handouts and economic assistance for the Malays. And nary a curious squeak as to why a Malay dominated government that has implemented affirmative action policies for over 40 years, with billions spent on bumiputra empowerment and economic advancement plus dozens of accompanying policy instruments, have still failed to address the needs of those left behind and build the resilient commercial and industrial community as envisaged.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the party Deputy President, gave a dire warning in his closing speech – that just a 2% swing in votes will cost Barisan to lose power.

Forty-four of the 133 Parliamentary seats Barisan held were regarded as “grey” seats where the party had won by a mere majority of between 0.1 and 5.9%. Without new initiatives to appeal to the electorate, Barisan would be in a “precarious position”, he warned.

I met a few UMNO leaders who were at that general assembly who said they cringed listening to the speeches and the non-debates. They felt they were in a sinking ship.

Then why didn’t you and people like you in UMNO speak out, I asked. One said, “Are you kidding me. I speak out, I turn my back, no one is behind me.”

Another said, “I speak out, they will send the income tax guys knocking on my door at 3am.”

The dinosaur was truly paralysed and rotten to the core. Malaysia has changed, more and more Malays were changing, but UMNO remained trapped in a dance hall, partying to its own music, oblivious that extinction was near.

In July 2015, I wrote a column, feeling choked and suffocated that this country and its rakyat were being crushed and pummelled by wrecking balls. The wrecking balls of race and religion, of insatiable greed, of desperation to stay in power, of never-ending sense of entitlements, of unpunished crimes and abuses, of ideology over rational thinking, justice, and fair play. These concerns were nothing new. What was new was the breathtaking scale, the endlessness of it all, and the shamelessness with which the perpetrators displayed their unscrupulous, destructive and criminal behaviour, in words and deeds.

The 1MDB scandal had broken. We began to live in an Orwellian world where bad was good and good was bad, where those who revealed abuses and scandals were detained, questioned, prevented from travelling, charged in court, sacked from their positions, while those accused proclaimed their innocence and carried on unimpeached, and buttressed to remain in power.

By this time, I felt UMNO was committing hara-kiri. It added yet more mind-boggling threats – “national security” and “parliamentary democracy” it seemed were now under threat as more and more damning evidence of kleptomaniac behaviour at the very top was revealed. To continue to talk about it posed a threat to the stability of the ruling party and therefore a threat to democracy and national security! What a mind leap we were supposed to exercise to believe in this Orwellian construction of truth.

I never understood why UMNO leaders or all the Barisan MPs still could not see that their rule was over. If the Prime Minister continued to lead the party, they would lose GE-14. Didn’t they consider working together to put pressure on him to step down in order to save the party and the country? Didn’t they consider working together with the Opposition MPs to mount a no-confidence motion in Parliament? It was staggering that a Prime Minister could ever accept RM2.6 billion dollars into his personal account – and still remain in office. It was as simple as that.

 

Image result for mahathir bin mohamad

“The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm.–Zainah Anwar

But too many on the UMNO bandwagon remained dazzled by the millions that had been dispensed to them and the many more millions that they could still make in power. So right up to May 9, they believed they would still obtain a handsome victory at the polls. The unthinkable, they thought, could not happen with the money spent, the gerrymandering and malapportionment, the mid-week polling day, the mainstream media on their side, the threat of arrests under the fake news law, the threat of an emergency under the new national security act.

But we Malaysians have had enough. The promise of change and the reality that it could happen was electrifying as a 92-year-old indefatigable former Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, stomped the country to convince enough of those who were scared of change that they would be in good hands with him at the helm.

My friends and I knew this was the best chance to overthrow a party that had been in power since independence day. For the first time ever, we collected money to donate to candidates of our choice. Many of us in the women’s movement volunteered for Maria Chin, raised funds, managed her Bilik Gerakan, helped with her communications, outreach, worked as PACAs, pounded the streets at markets and neighbourhoods, and trudged up and down low-cost flats, to reach out to the voters in Petaling Jaya. We headed to as many ceramahs as possible in the Klang Valley. The idealistic fresh faces standing on stage promising a new democratic, inclusive, and clean government gave us hope.

While so many friends were still too scared to predict the outcome for certain, I just felt it in my old bones that Pakatan Harapan would sweep into power.

UMNO has no one else to blame but itself that Malays no longer see it as the protector of the race and religion. In swinging to the far right and representing the interest of only one segment of the Malay community, it lost the faith of many others that it was able to steer a moderate path to maintain Malaysia’s political stability and prosperity in collaborative partnership with others.

Today, the sun is shining again and I am so, so proud to be Malaysian. We bucked the global trend of elections bringing into power conservative and right wing parties. My friends abroad were thrilled that we Malaysians did it! – Through peaceful elections and a relatively smooth democratic transition to a new ruling coalition that stands for reform. If in the recent past they had asked me in despair what went wrong with Malaysia as it became known for the biggest kleptocracy scandal ever, this time with envy, they asked, “How did you do it?”

The Malaysian electorate has for decades wanted to see change in the way this country is governed, how law is applied, how politics is conducted and how business is run. The long standing public demand for greater transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, a free and responsible press, free and fair elections, a more just and open political system, an end to police abuse and misuse of power, and an end to the intricate web of business and politics that bred cronyism and corruption, that for decades remained unmet, now seem possible.

For Pakatan Harapan, winning was the easy job. The hard work now begins. And I have no doubt that the rakyat will throw them out if they fail to deliver on their promises. For this election victory is as much ours as it is theirs. It was us who led the demand for change for decades, and we never gave up. We delivered the victory to Pakatan. We all feel very precious about what we have achieved and we will remain vigilant. And we will not be cowed into silence.

Today, we live in hope and optimism that all good things are possible in this new Malaysia. Salam Malaysia Baru, my beloved.

https://www.thestar.com.my

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system


June 4, 2018

DAIM: We need to cleanse the system

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/06/04/daim-we-need-to-cleanse-the-system-the-only-way-forward-is-to-get-rid-of-the-corruption-in-the-natio/

IN an hour-long interview, Tun Daim Zainuddin shared his views on politics, besides giving an insight into his relationship with some Malaysian leaders. Excerpts of the interview:

The Star: What are the biggest challenges for the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP)? Are you confident Malaysia can overcome the challenges, particularly corruption?

Daim: Malaysia has no choice. Corruption has permeated all levels in the government. We are now at a crossroad. Our only way forward is to cleanse the system and get rid of this malady that is afflicting this nation. In order to do that, political willpower will be the main criterion for success. And I am confident that this new Pakatan Harapan Government has the gumption to do just that.

People are watching. The biggest challenge for the council is the time frame. We are working hard to develop the best recommendations for the Government to chew upon, based on the 100-day promises laid out in the Pakatan manifesto during the election campaign. Can we overcome major challenges? We have faced two major economic crises before (in 1987 and 1998), and we overcame them.

Can Malaysia get back the stolen money and funds linked to 1MDB soon?

We know that there are monies frozen in a few locations around the world. We are talking in terms of billions. For a start, Singapore has agreed to repatriate whatever amount that is stuck there. I believe efforts are being made by the authorities to get back our money, which was originally stolen.

With the appointment of Lim Guan Eng as the Finance Minister, what can we conclude? Was it a political decision?

The fact that Pakatan won the popular vote and proceeded to appoint Lim of the DAP as Finance Minister says a lot about this new government. Obviously, the decision was also political, but it has a positive impact on the psyche of the nation. Now the people know that we mean business. There is no more room for tomfoolery or abuse.

That appointment has de-politicised the post, which is a good thing given that the Finance Ministry had often been used to reward UMNO loyalists in the past. Now the gravy train has stopped.

Lim is not the first Chinese to hold the post of Finance Minister. The appointment was made based on consultation with the various parties. Malaysians in general should accept his appointment based on his vast experience and knowledge, and not his race.

How can we ensure there is no more prized land sold by the Government to selected developers privately at very low prices?

The role of the mainstream media will become more important. For far too long the mainstream media in Malaysia had been timid and irrelevant. By exposing such scandals, it will certainly provide a check and balance in the administration.

During Najib’s time, mainstream media had failed miserably to protect the interest of the nation and the rakyat. The fourth estate is important. We must always keep an eye on any wrongdoing.

Will Barisan play an effective role as Opposition? Do you think UMNO has the capability to retake the Government?

For an Opposition to become effective, they need to have credibility. Right now what kind of credibility has Barisan got? If you don’t have it, people will find it hard to trust you. Up till today, there is no apology from any of the leaders in UMNO. They are still unrepentant. The stealers of 1MDB money are still in denial, claiming they had done nothing wrong.

Can UMNO rely on its youth wing to speed up the reformation process? It will be difficult, due to the fact that all of its youth wing, including its chief, defended 1MDB back then.

If they had read the US Department of Justice report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Auditor-General’s report and yet still have the audacity to support the crimes committed, then they should not be the role models for the youths in Malaysia. They have shown no remorse. I doubt they can retake the Government with the current crop of leaders.

In order to have a vibrant and lively democracy, we need a strong Opposition. If UMNO realises this and makes the necessary changes, that will be their role.

Do you think Dr Mahathir will stay beyond two years?

In his interview with Financial Times last Monday, he stated it would be difficult for him to stay on as Prime Minister beyond the age of 95. But for now, I think everyone knows that he is committed to fulfilling the promises in Pakatan’s manifesto.

After all, he is the chairman of Pakatan. Above all, his greatest achievement is that the rakyat put their trust in him and have given him their support to get rid of (Datuk Seri) Najib (Tun Razak) and his kleptocracy government.

We have the Finance Minister and Economic Affairs Minister. Will their roles overlap?

The Economic Affairs Minister takes the place of the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of the Economic Planning Unit (EPU). The Economic Minister does the planning and makes sure the project is implemented properly. He will monitor and supervise. The Finance Minister will look for money lah.

Meeting of minds: Daim (third from left) chairing a CEP meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Also present are Kuok (second from left) and (from right) economist Prof Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Petronas president Tan Sri Hassan Marican and former Bank Negara Governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz. — Bernama

How is your relationship with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Both of you were critical of each other in the past. Do you think he can be a good prime minister?

We have always been friends but politics is different. Anwar and I have known each other for a long time. I just want to mention I met him in prison numerous times. We discussed how to topple the previous government and with the support of the rakyat, we succeeded. We must stay united and deliver our promises to them.

Anwar had served in various ministries and his last post was Deputy Prime Minister. Nobody can run a government alone. A PM needs a Cabinet that supports him and honest civil servants with integrity. He also needs good, honest advisers and must never forget the rakyat. Anwar is aware of all these.

The reunion photos of you and billionaire Robert Kuok holding hands and hugging each other melted the hearts of many Malaysians. What can Mr Kuok contribute to the new Malaysia?

Robert Kuok is a dear family friend. I have known him since the early 1970s. My second son is working for him. Malaysians should be proud to have this distinguished man who answered the call of the nation to serve. He has many ideas and insight as to how Malaysia can move forward. I value his opinions given to the CEP.

You have said you will leave the council after 100 days of work. What have you set out to do and will you stay longer?

It is very tough to complete within the time given but we will try our best to achieve it. We are volunteers. We are not given a cent. There is no office given. We requested for some staff from EPU, Bank Negara, Attorney General’s Chambers, PNB, Sime Darby and Khazanah. We thank them for their support.

We know the rakyat’s expectations are very high. We are trying to meet the timeline so we work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays too. It is very important that all give their support to this Government. Don’t put obstacles in the way.

I plead to all to give their sincere support. But by all means, criticise if you feel the Government is not on the right track.

My role is just to help. I am not interested in anything else. After we deliver our report, I will play no more of a role. I want to write on the last general election but to do that I have to go away somewhere quiet.

When Pakatan won, it was the rakyats victory. We proved Malaysia boleh. If Malaysia can, the world too can get rid of corrupt, repressive and kleptocracy governments. We have shown the world how to do it.

The stock market seems to be volatile after Pakatan won. What is your advice to the investors in the stock market?

They did not expect Pakatan to win; the foreigners and the rating agencies.

Basically, in a capitalist society, they don’t mind corruption, as long as they make money. Of course, now they say they want a clean government, but before that they didn’t mind corruption because that’s the way to make money – easier and faster. The more money you have, the easier for you, because you have the money to bribe. As far as the capitalist society is concerned, that kind of government is good. They underestimated the will of the rakyat. The rakyat cannot accept this. They don’t want a corrupt government.

During your time in the Government, corruption was also quite rampant. You all didn’t take any action?

It happened, but not rampant. There was corruption, but now it is blatant.

Why are you close to the Prime Minister?

He is 12 years older than me. We went to the same school in the same village in Kedah. Our parents know each other. I always like to joke: from Kedah we have the same Yang di-Pertuan Agong serving twice, Prime Minister serving twice, Finance Minister serving twice. It must be the water we drink.

Will the report by the council be disclosed to the public?

Up to the Government. I have no right. I am only playing an advisory role. I will pass the report to the Government, the Prime Minister. The PM will brief the Cabinet. If the Cabinet decides to publish, then publish it.

I would prefer it to be published so that the rakyat know the actual situation when the Pakatan Harapan Government took over, the state of the country, in particular the economy and the financial position.

How much has been the nation’s total loss due to scandals and corruption?

I won’t mention figures. I don’t want to shock everybody, but it is depressing. Every (government) agency that we called, we will go through the account. We find shocking news. We are doing what we can to stop the bleeding immediately.

Do they listen to you?

You think they won’t listen to me? (laughs)

You are not the boss. How do you know that they will take your advice?

It doesn’t matter. As far as I am concerned, I will inform the minister in charge. I stop the bleeding first, if not they will bleed till death. You lose a lot of blood, you will die.

Are the economic fundamentals of the country still intact?

The Central Bank said fundamentals are still intact, everything is intact. If fundamentals are intact, what has gone wrong?

People don’t trust the Government. So there is trust deficit. The new Government has tried to restore confidence. You can do it very quickly but the depressing news is coming out.

Why is the Government not instituting charges against Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak?

I don’t want to disclose all these things. We are going to complete our investigation very soon. When the investigation is not completed yet, you cannot charge people. The people’s expectations on us are high, but cannot disclose. Let the authorities complete the investigation.

Western investors used to shun Malaysia because of the 1MDB scandal. Is there any indication they are coming back?

The US-Asean Business Council came to see me. They want us to go to America. I have not told Tun Mahathir.

They are very excited with the news that we are going to have a clean government and there will be reforms in the institutions. They said they are coming back. It is better for us to go and see them and explain to them.

Tun Mahathir is going to Japan. Japan is very excited too.

In China, in spite of everything, the Ambassador said since the new Government took over, their businessmen have invested RM1.2bil.

What we want is genuine investment bringing in new technologies, creating employment. It will help the country and the investors can make money.

Singapore has shown interest. That will instil confidence. Singapore companies have been talking about joint ventures with EPF. They came and met me. I said go ahead. I am busy. They should go and ask the Government. They came to see me because I know them.

PM of India dropped in. There is tremendous interest. But we are busy for the time being. When the Cabinet is fully formed, the trade minister can handle it.

You didn’t tell them you are retired?

I told them I am retired. But I can open doors, facilitate meetings between them and MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry).

The Art of the Korean Deal– US Foreign Policy Trump-Pence -Bolton Tag Team


May 27, 2018

The Art of the Korean Deal– US Foreign Policy Trump-Pence -Bolton Tag Team

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Trump-Pence-Bolton Tag Team

 

NO sooner had US and North Korean officials raced towards a first-ever summit than they competed to pull away from it. Is anyone in Washington and Pyongyang serious about a peace deal anymore?

After President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un exchanged insults throughout 2017 over the latter’s missile and nuclear arsenals, a thaw in inter-Korean relations began last February.

This led to real prospects of a first US-North Korean summit from March. Since they were the principals of the 1950-53 war that has yet to end formally, theirs would be the summit that matters most.

The talks would centre on the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula by ridding it of the North’s nuclear weapons. The terms and conditions for that are crucial.

Until early May, Pyongyang had agreed to the summit without preconditions. Even military exercises between US and South Korean forces, deemed a provocation by the North, did not hamper summit preparations.

Then as everyone looked forward to the historic summit in Singapore on June 12, something untoward happened.

Image result for mike pompeoAmerica’s Top Diplomat Mike Pompeo is in a quandary

 

US National Security Advisor John Bolton, and then Vice-President Mike Pence, said North Korea could go the Libya route. By 2003 Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya sought better relations with the US and offered to abandon its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Without the threat from these weapons, the US and its allies attacked Libya and Gaddafi was murdered. It was a sobering lesson to all other countries in a similar position.

Ultra-hawk Bolton, champion of the US invasion of Iraq, had advocated the bombing of North Korea. His comment on the Libyan experience for Pyongyang prompted a rebuke followed by a summit recalibration in mid-May.

North Korea then declared it would not surrender its nuclear weapons even for economic aid. US officials wondered what could have changed North Korea’s attitude.

As South Korea frantically tried to place the summit back on track, the US and North Korea became cool to the prospect. Amid the uncertainty, Trump accused Pyongyang of hostility and last Thursday cancelled the summit.

Enter the pundits speculating over how the summit was really improbable from the start.

First it was said that both sides could not agree on what should be “on the table” and “what should not.”

It was then said that the US and North Korea were not in agreement on the precise meaning of “complete denuclearisation.” It was also said that there was no agreement on the necessary terms and conditions required: the steps needed from each side or the sequence of their occurrence.

It was further said that verification was a difficult and even unresolvable issue. How could anyone be certain that North Korea would fully comply with any agreement?

Equally, North Korea cannot be sure that the US would fulfil its end of the bargain, especially after it had just dumped the nuclear deal with Iran.

The reality on the ground however is that these issues are supposed to be the content of the summit negotiations, not stumbling blocks to holding the summit.

The day after Trump “cancelled” the summit he said it could be back on – without any delay. North Korea remained open to it, having shown goodwill by destroying nuclear testing tunnels on Thursday.

Both Trump and Kim are keen on the summit but want to avoid seeming too anxious. The sense is that the one who appears too keen may be signalling weakness.

In the world of first-ever summits, notably this one, a key factor is ego – or “face”. Meanwhile both leaders have to overcome the contrarian tendencies of their hawkish advisers. The conventional view is that Kim is the irrational and unpredictable party. In practice he and Trump are fairly well matched in unpredictability.

North Korean leaders, autocratic as they are, have been quite rational if their interests are understood.

For Kim as it was for his father and grandfather before, the main priority is national security with a credible defence. Pyongyang cannot simply switch off its preparatory war mode in the absence of a peace treaty.

Its other major state interest is national sovereignty. With the perpetual war footing, albeit with a decades-long cessation of hostilities, North Korea still fears destabilisation by South Korea or the US.

Another key state interest is national integrity. In relation to its powerful neighbours this means not being used by China or Russia, while trying to get what it needs from them.

Much has been said about North Korea’s newer generation of missiles and nuclear warheads. However, little has been asked seriously about what it needs them for.

In practice they cannot be for initiating any war in which North Korea is certain to lose most devastatingly. It would be decimated in a nuclear exchange with the US, or in attacking a US ally like South Korea or Japan that would lead to the same thing.

Neither can they be a ticket to becoming a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. Nor can they be a worthwhile means for boosting North Korea’s international prestige or even its national self-esteem.

However, nuclear weapons are seen as a means for deterring foreign invasion even with conventional arms – the same rationale used by virtually all other countries from major Western states to developing nations in the Third World.

That explains why the US failed to convince Kim that his country would be safer if he would only abandon his nuclear weapons first. The fall of Iraq and Libya serves as a stark and powerful reminder.

North Korea’s real concerns focus on a possible US attack, with or without South Korean assistance. Since the war has not officially ended, a Trump-Bolton bombing campaign is still not inconceivable.

Pyongyang’s interest thus lies in a formal peace treaty with firm and assured security guarantees. That should also be an interest shared internationally.

To fulfil both these objectives, a summit with the US is seen as a meaningful first step. This explains the summit’s importance to North Korea and Pyongyang’s willingness to ignore provocations along the way.

The standard international narrative sees North Korea buckling under international sanctions and pressure from China, thereby producing an agreement to denuclearise.

It then sees the promise of economic assistance to a vanquished North Korea as a soothing balm in ending the solitude of the “Hermit Kingdom.”

This narrative concludes with a rebooted US-led North-East Asia, as US allies South Korea and Japan are reassured, all having done so from a position of strength and enduring righteousness.

A problem with this narrative is that it does not apply to North Korea. Pyongyang’s parallel narrative is that, after multiple missile and nuclear bomb tests in recent years, it has perfected robust defence capabilities to the extent that major powers now have to negotiate with it.

Consequently the international community now has to enact a formal peace treaty with Pyongyang, which has triumphed from a position of strength without succumbing to pressure.

All this is further proof of its righteous and resolute leadership, whose legitimate longing for peace with national development has finally been achieved.

Whichever narrative one prefers, understanding that there are alternative narratives – and letting them be – are important steps on the way to enduring peace.

  • Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

https://www.thestar.com.my/opinion/columnists/behind-the-headlines/2018/05/27/art-of-the-korean-deal-the-muchpublicised-trumpkim-summit-has-run-into-some-expected-roadblocks-on-a/#fsMT5BZAXUooprPG.99