Melayu Baru: How to keep Bersatu from turning into UMNO 2.0

December 28, 2018

Melayu Baru: How to keep Bersatu from turning into UMNO 2.0

By Nathaniel Tan

A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned. Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.–Nat Tan’s BIG IF And Harapan ( Hope)

COMMENT | Today, Bersatu kicks off its first AGM as a ruling party. All eyes are on the party, as it looks to define its heart and soul.

The question many ask is as simple as it is pressing: Will Bersatu turn into UMNO 2.0?

Today’s article will look at some of the main indicators that will help us answer this question – corruption, feudal patronage, and the role of race.

It is easy to accuse Bersatu of having UMNO DNA, since the vast majority of them do have past UMNO associations.

The fact of the matter is, a great number of Harapan politicians have UMNO origins, all the way up to Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad themselves.

If that alone was a disqualifying clause or cause for cynicism, then we might as well give up before we begin.

As time has shown however, one ex -UMNO individual is not necessarily the same as another.The question of mega-corruption might be the easiest to answer.

We are too close to the 1MDB disaster, and under a Prime Mnister whose allergy towards such massive fraud runs too deep, for us to see a quick return to corruption on that massive scale.

No doubt there will be elements drawn to Bersatu who want a return to those UMNO-style ‘good old days’, but one assumes that the majority of the original membership of Bersatu joined at least in part because they could not stomach the levels of corruption that UMNO saw under its former President Najib Abdul Razak.

The question of grassroots-level corruption, however, may be a little harder to face.

Feudal patronage and warlordism

I have written at length about the politics of feudal patronage, which was the predominant UMNO grassroots model.

Here, the idea was that if you buttered up ( ampu) your local UMNO warlord, he would be responsible for funneling all sorts of government money your way.

If you did your part for the UMNO machine, then you were given a seat on the gravy train; if not, then you were excluded, forced to sit out on the sidelines.

This simple arrangement kept local UMNO warlords secure in power for decades.

It is those same warlords today who are probably most eager to jump ship and join a party that is in power, so that they can get back to their shenanigans.

If Bersatu is genuinely interested in reforms, and seeks a true departure from UMNO’s business as usual, it is probably here that they must make the biggest departure from the old culture of politics.

Under UMNO, the idea of party membership was just another facet of feudal patronage. You joined the party to demonstrate your loyalty, and to ensure the party’s victory in elections, so that the gravy train can chug along.

Bersatu has a chance now to redefine what supporting a political cause means. Instead of focusing solely on membership drives, the time has come to make the idea of membership more meaningful – quality over quantity.

Here, we might even learn from parties like PAS and PSM, whose members have a true sense of shared identity and shared purpose. Their ideological anchor gives them a type of strength that is not as apparent as in parties like PKR or DAP.

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Will Super-Det Seize The Moment?

This is Bersatu’s opportunity to catapult Malay hood into the 21st century – first by ejecting the feudal Malay mindset, and then by launching the Malays of into a future where they are genuinely globally competitive.

Seize the opportunity to banish the culture of handouts, and replace it with a culture of genuine empowerment (pemberdayaan) and independence.

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If Bersatu can make the ideological foundation and drive of their party this idea of fostering genuine Malay competitiveness – the elusive goal Mahathir has always obsessed about – rather than UMNOo’s pork barrel approach to politics, then they will have successfully carved themselves a true ideological niche that differentiates them from UMNO.

Race and exclusivity

Last is the thorny question of race.

As argued in my last article, we will not face the UMNO of GE-14 in GE-15, and we no longer need to dance to their racist, divisive tune.

Some may even feel that the one-race-one-party approach of BN actually worked, and want to maintain the formula. I think this will result in electoral disaster.

As a non-Malay myself, I think the balanced approach here is to not feel a need to rush Bersatu into opening up to other races.

That said, what may be important at this point is for a party like Bersatu not to paint itself into a corner.

Whatever its short-term needs are, perhaps Bersatu can achieve some sort of balance by making sure that nothing it does closes the door or burns any bridges regarding what the racial composition of the party might be in the future.

Ultimately, I think global trends suggest that a less racial approach to politics has the best long-term potential.

Also, staying mon-ethnic means that those who want to drive a wedge between PKR and Bersatu will always have a convenient ideological reason to do so.

So, Bersatu can focus on what it needs to for now, but hopefully, we will see them being as open minded about the future as possible.

Melayu Baru for a Malaysia Baru

A truly new Malaysia is only possible with a new Malay – one where the old feudal sycophants are left behind, in favour of towering Malays who the rest of the world respect not because it is demanded, but because it is earned.

Where the feudal Malay relied on handouts, quotas, chauvinism and other crutches, the new Malay will rely on diligence, education and mutual respect.

With some luck, Bersatu will emerge from their AGM with a clearer vision of how to make this happen.

As the party of the Prime Minister, it would also be good if they can map out a strategy in which some sort of sustainable political ecosystem can be encouraged.

This includes finding the right ideological and conceptual formula for what will keep Pakatan Harapan together, and creating the right conditions for an effective opposition to play its role.

The bogeyman of UMNO is nothing like it once was, and we shouldn’t let the fears of the past tie us down. Let us instead take up the courage of the youth, and be mindful that fortune favours the bold – because there is now an entire new Malaysia to define and make our own.

NATHANIEL TAN is winding down for the year, and looking forward to 2019. He has been thinking a lot about a blueprint for a New Malaysia.

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


Anwar Ibrahim’s Presidency will give Parti KeADILan Rakyat a much needed boost

July 19, 2018

Anwar Ibrahim’s Presidency will give Parti KeADILan Rakyat a much needed booster

by Phar Kim Beng

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No Malaysian leader has endured so much humiliation, pain and anguish in the cause of justice and freedom and no politician is better to be next Prime Minister of Malaysia  than Anwar Ibrahim. PKR will get a huge boost under his presidency. –Din Merican

COMMENT | May 9 was not so much about the fate of Malaysian democracy per se but the extent to which Malaysians were willing to go along with PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was then still in prison, though that seems so distant now, to collectively undergo the spiritual politics of rejuvenation.

Since 1998, Malaysians who dislike the polarisation of the country, invariably into one versus the other, has had to keep their mouths shut. Instead of wanting both Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Anwar to rekindle their dynamic economic partnership which saw the fastest GDP growth in the mid-1990s, at least prior to the dawn of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, Malaysians have had to go along with weaker successors of Mahathir.

The disastrous selection of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Najib Razak only goes to prove this point. Between 2004 and 2017, Malaysia has lost 13 precious years.

Indeed, Anwar’s comeback into the presidential politics of PKR has nothing to do with partisanship. Rather, this an opening to the return to a golden era, where the best of the Malaysian leaders can stand shoulder to shoulder with one another, preaching and practising progressive and inclusive politics.

If Amanah has Mohamad Sabu, Salahuddin Ayub, Khalid Samad, Hanipa Maidin, Mujahid Yusof Rawa and Mahfuz Omar, all superb parliamentarians, then it is about time Anwar step up to the podium to claim his rightful place – at the top – in PKR too.

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Two Intellectual Giants of ASEAN–President B.J.Habibie and Former Malaysian Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim–enjoy strong bonds of friendship based on personal admiration, loyalty, and mutual respect.

One might recall that Anwar was among the first of the ministers of education to speak at the conference on “Islam and Confucianism” at the Crystal Crown Hotel in Petaling Jaya in 1996. One would vividly remember him taking down the notes when other speakers were speaking.

Professor Tu Wei Ming at Harvard University was there, as was the likes of Professor Osman Bakar, a top historian in Islamic science. The latter even claimed that it was impossible for the vast majority of Chinese not to have received at least some messengers from God. Thus, one should look carefully at the message of Taoism and even Confucianism. Perhaps, just perhaps, these two creeds contain some monotheistic codes that mirror that of Islam and other Abrahamic faiths. Osman’s edited book ‘Islam and Confucianism: A Civilizational Dialogue’ published by Universiti Malaya contained some of these reflections.

Interestingly, the experience in Malaysia must have had a deep and lasting impression on Tu from Harvard too. In 1998, when I was in his seminar on ‘Confucianism and the Chinese Classics’, Tu affirmed that “having travelled the world over, he has now come to the conclusion that there are people who saw themselves as Confucian Catholics, Confucian Jews, even Confucian Muslims.” Tu, then added his own criteria, on what made them Confucian.

One, such Confucians would have to have a love for humanistic ethics, invariably, the effort to refine the heart and mind without fail. Each and every word and action would be carefully measured and performed, in order not to offend anyone; as is demanded by the Confucian rites of “li” (polite decorum).

Two, concurrent to these efforts, the believer must also try to use the heightened spiritual and ethical awareness to help the reforms of their countries/communities, ultimately the world writ large. These are not easy duties to perform. But to be a Confucian, Tu argued, one has to be at the forefront of constant action, especially if the mind and spirit have been reconciled as one.

After 10 and a half years in prison, all of which have been pardoned on the ground of miscarriage of justice, it goes without saying that Anwar is ready to serve Malaysia and the world.

Deeper questions

Lastly, all Confucians, must at all points ask themselves what make their similarities common across all religious and spiritual realms. In other words, a Confucian is one who seeks peace and truth, but is constantly pulled to the fore to ask ever deeper questions that can transcend all humanities. It is this spirit of perpetual curiosity, invariably, humility, that makes a Confucian Confucian. Not power over others. But power over oneself, what Islam may call “jihad al-akbar,” the greater conquest of the inner soul.

Since Tu was speaking in a combination of refined English and Chinese during the Harvard seminar, there was no way that he was taking this line of thought lightly. In fact, having attended the Confucian seminar in Malaysia, then in Harvard, both by Tu, I knew that his own intellectual crystallisation on Islam had been touched by his encounter with Anwar. During seminars, Tu would often ask if Anwar was well.

If Tu were to meet Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya, Tu would have found equally good things to say about Mahathir as well. Rare is a man of 93 returning to politics to correct what had been done before. This, too, would fall under the Confucian concept of “self-rectification.”

As things are, Tu has become the director of Yenching Institute in Beijing University. There has been no recorded encounter between Tu, Mahathir and Anwar as yet. And, if Tu and Anwar were to meet again, one can certainly be sure that they will immediately send intellectual sparks flying.

In seeking to be PKR president, Anwar has positioned himself in a good Confucian and Islamic light – he is ready to serve. Besides, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and Nurul Izzah have given Anwar much to be proud of. The focus is on getting to the policy and intellectual battlefront in Malaysia.

Thus, it makes perfect sense to see the return of the Confucian gentleman that is Anwar Ibrahim, whose famous words, “Wor men shi ii jia ren” (We are all one family) will always ring true, and never hollow.

PHAR KIM BENG is a Harvard/Cambridge Commonwealth Fellow, a former Monbusho scholar at the University of Tokyo and visiting scholar at Waseda University.

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

Congratulations to Malaysiakini–The No.1 News Portal in Malaysia

June 28, 2018

Malaysiakini is No.1 News Portal in Malaysia: A Profile in Courage


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Note: Malaysiakini was born in 1999, in the crucible of the Reformasi movement that sprung up in the wake of the arrest and imprisonment of then-deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran started the online news portal to give Malaysians an unvarnished view of what was happening in the country — the kind people were unable to get from the government-controlled mass media newspapers and TV stations at the time.

The little outlet is now one of Asia’s most influential news sites. But the journey has been perilous. In its two decades of operations, Malaysiakini has been raided by police numerous times, dragged to court and most recently faced the threat of seeing its founders incarcerated for their work.

Yet, it has also won numerous awards for its journalism and has a special place in the hearts of Malaysians the world over. More than 17 million people used the site to track the Malaysian election results on May 9 and a multitude more followed along on social media. Anwar Ibrahim, on his release from prison on May 16, after obtaining a royal pardon, specifically thanked Malaysiakini for its work and its journalism.


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Steven Gan and Premesh Chandran of Malaysiakini

Malaysiakini is the most popular media portal in Malaysia, according to the 2018 Reuters Digital News Report presented today at the East-West Center International Media Conference in Singapore.

The annual study of news consumption in various markets showed Malaysiakini ranking first in Malaysia with 44 percent of weekly usage by local users, followed by The Star Online (32 percent) and Berita Harian Online (24 percent).

Media Prima’s TV3 topped the TV, Radio and Print category with a 49 percent weekly usage, followed by The Star (at 31 percent) and Astro Awani (at 29 percent).

International provider Yahoo! News was voted the most trusted brand with a 6.12 overall score.

Media analyst Zaharom Nain, from the University of Nottingham Malaysia, said, “Malaysiakini with 44 percent reach has maintained its reputation for providing independent news and continues to retain the trust of many Malaysians, especially those tired of propaganda.”

Zaharom added that news portals such as Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insight, however, still faced a problem in getting consumers to pay for online news.

He noted that the circulation figures for two Media Prima newspapers – the New Straits Times and Berita Harian – continued to decline due to two reasons they being political alignment and the transition from print to digital consumption.

“They were openly aligned and strongly supportive of the former Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak, at a time when he was embroiled in one major financial scandal after another. This made Media Prima-owned properties become increasingly unpopular with Malaysians.”

The 2018 Reuters Digital News Report also showed that 72 percent of those polled used social media as their source of news while the total percentage of users reading online, including social media, hit 89 percent.

Mr Holland’s Opus–Starring Richard Dreyfuss –An Inspirational Movie

June 7, 2018

Mr Holland’s Opus–Starring Richard Dreyfuss



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My Friend, Ambassador John Malott (pic above) is passionate about Cambodia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia after retiring from a distinguished career as a diplomat with the State Department.

In my long distance conversation over to the Internet with my dear friend Ambassador John Malott in Alexandria, Virginia  today, we got into a discussion about what we would do with the remainder of  our years before we fade, hopefully gracefully, into the sunset. John is 71 and I am 79. I told him that I wanted to realise  my childhood dream of being a teacher. After a career in Malaysia’s Foreign Service, Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank) and the private sector since 1963, here I am in 2018 not as an ordinary school teacher, but as an academic and researcher at The University of Cambodia (UC).

It is without a doubt one of the best decisions I ever made, and that is to be in the company of some of the young and brightest students in Cambodia. Over the last 5 years in Phnom Penh, I am a student again,thanks to Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, UC President, because education is a two way process. I am able to share my life experiences with my students and also learn new skills, share books, exchange ideas with them, and reinvigorate myself. I am lucky, I guess.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to lead an enriching life of service at  UC, and learn from my students about their rich culture, music, history and moral philosophy.  Mr.  Holland’s Opus is a touching movie  about the trials and tribulations of a music teacher who was concerned  about his legacy.

I too am concerned about my legacy. My American buddy John told me that I should not worry as I have found my calling and passion; and my legacy will be that of a teacher who cares about educating and developing  the mind. So here I am a happy and simple man.

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My liberal  business education at The George Washington University was demanding, challenging and morally transformational.  Terima kasih (Thanks) GWU for  Your Care.

Thanks, John, for your friendship. Thank you America and Americans for the quality education at The George Washington University. May God Bless you, my late Professor, academic advisor and intellectual mentor, Dr. Philip Donald Grub, for showing me the way.–Din Merican