The President Who cried wolf


May 24, 2017

The President Who cried wolf

‘Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything”.–Fareed Zakaria

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For most of his life, Donald Trump has found words to be his friends. He has used them to build his business, dramatize his achievements and embellish his accomplishments. As important, he has used them to explain away his missteps and to paper over his problems. He built a 58-story building in glass and steel, but through his wordplay, it became 68 stories tall. He owns an 11,000-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, but in his telling, it’s 33,000 square feet. Trump has used words extravagantly and cleverly to serve his ambition. He has called his method “truthful hyperbole,” and oftentimes it is not even truthful. But it has worked — so far.

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James B. Comey

The White House understands the gravity of the allegation that President Trump asked then-FBI Director James B. Comey to end the Michael Flynn investigation. That’s why the administration has vigorously denied the charge. And perhaps it’s not true.

But the challenge for the administration is that in the court of public opinion, this is likely to turn into a case of “he said, he said” — unless there are, in fact, tapes. On the one side, you have Comey, a distinguished civil servant with a history of speaking truth to power. While his critics feel that he has made several bad judgments over the past year, most people believe he is honest and sincere. On the other side, you have Trump.

The Post’s reporters Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee describe Trump as “the most fact-challenged politician” they have “ever encountered.” They pointed out that, after having received a whopping 59 “Four Pinocchio” ratings during the campaign, Trump in his first 100 days made 492 “false or misleading claims,” at an average of 4.9 a day. These fact checkers clarified that “those numbers obscure the fact that the pace and volume of the president’s misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up.” By their count, there were only 10 days in the first 100 days in which Trump did not make a false or misleading claim.

And his fibs are not over small matters. Before being elected, Trump claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States; that he had met Vladimir Putin, who “could not have been nicer”; that he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq “from the beginning”; that he watched Arabs in Jersey City, N.J., cheer when the World Trade Center was attacked; that America’s unemployment rate (just last year) might be as high as 42 percent; and that its murder rate was the highest in 45 years. Since his election, he has claimed that his electoral vote margin was larger than anyone’s since Ronald Reagan, that China stopped manipulating its currency in response to his criticism and that Obama had his Trump Tower phones tapped. Every one of these claims is categorically false, and yet Trump has never retracted one of them.

Trump’s approach has never been to apologize because it wouldn’t make sense to him. In his view, he wasn’t fibbing. As his sometime rival and now friend Steve Wynn, a casino tycoon, put it, Trump’s statements on virtually everything “have no relation to truth or fact.” That’s not really how Trump thinks of words. For him, words are performance art. It’s what sounds right in the moment and gets him through the crisis. So when describing his economic policy to the Economist, he explained that he had just invented the term “prime the pump” a few days earlier. Never mind that the phrase was coined a century ago, has been used countless times since and was in fact used by Trump repeatedly in the past year. At that moment, it seemed the right thing to say.

But Trump is now more than just a real estate developer, a franchise marketer, or a celebrity TV star. He is President, and he is dealing with matters of war and peace, law and justice. Words matter, and in a wholly different way than he has ever understood. They build national credibility, deter enemies, reassure allies and execute the law. In high office, in public life, words are not so different from actions. They are everything.

It would be the ultimate irony if Trump now faces a crisis in which his lifelong strength turns into a fatal weakness. His rich and checkered history of salesmanship, his exaggerations, fudges and falsehoods, leave him in a situation now where, even if he is right on this one, people will have a hard time believing that this one time Donald Trump is finally telling the truth.

 

An Opposition Grand Coalition can defeat the BN?


May 24, 2017

Here’s why an opposition grand coalition can defeat the BN

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Although the gerrymandering will continue, the significant difference is that Dr Mahathir’s new party will be competing for Malay votes in the small towns and villages.

By Koon Yew Yin@www.freemalaysia-today.com

According to news reports on the celebration of UMNO’s 71st Anniversary, Prime Minister Najib Razak had teased his supporters by asking if he should dissolve Parliament as early as the following day.

Some observers see it as a sign that he is very confident of a victory and that he may call for an election soon.However, there are two sayings which he needs to be reminded of.

One is the old saying “Pride comes before a fall” The other is a quote attributed to Harold Washington, the first African-American elected as Mayor of Chicago: “Let’s not be overconfident, we still have to count the votes.”

Barisan Nasional sponsored analysts, who dominate the official media, have been saying that the BN has more than the required number of votes to win the next election by a comfortable margin. In fact, some are so confident that they are assuring BN of a more than two-thirds majority. Because these analysts are tied to the BN money machine, this message of a big BN victory will be drummed into our heads over the next few months.

But is this big BN victory a sure thing? Going by my knowledge of politics in Perak, I wish to differ.

Tide turning against BN

In Perak, most voters have not forgotten that power was “stolen” from the then Pakatan Rakyat by the BN. In the next election, many voters will want to correct the injustice and vote for the opposition.

Included in this group will be most of the civil servants as well as Felda settlers who have been regarded as UMNO’s and BN’s vote banks.To some extent these voters have also been PAS’ vote banks.

But will the Malay civil servants and Felda settlers continue to allow themselves to be swayed by racial and religious politics and vote with their hearts rather than with their heads in the next election?

Or will they realise that both UMNO and PAS have let them down badly and are not worth the support that the two parties have been provided with during the past 50 years and more?

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In addition to Sabah and Sarawak, this guy is Najib’s Secret Weapon (?). Perak is not reliable predictor of GE-14 outcome. Furthermore, the Opposition is in disarray. PKR wants Anwar as the next Prime Minister. Mahathir is ambivalent on this matter since he may have someone else. Will there be two Deputy Prime Ministers to accommodate DAP? Those in Amanah also want a piece of the action. Allocation of seats will be a challenge for the opposition. I witnessed what Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim had to undergo in 2008.

Finally, Najib has all the advantages of incumbency and the resources to wage an aggressive campaign. So brave is the man who  dares to predict the outcome of GE-14. –Din Merican

Today, everyone, except for the elite, are suffering from a socio-economic crisis arising from the mismanagement of the economy and pervasive corruption. Food is more expensive, transport prices have soared, education costs have escalated.

According to Cuepacs president Azih Muda, civil servants have ended up heavily in debt to manage rising living costs, to the point that more than 60,000 of them risk bankruptcy.

“This is a direct effect of the hike in cost of living. Civil servants end up taking up a lot of loans and this is unsustainable and they are unable to manage their finances,” Azih told the foreign news agency Reuters.

This report was, understandably, not carried in the mainstream Malay media. Neither have the numerous reports on the financial mess inflicted on Felda settlers through the launch of Felda Global Ventures Berhad.

This time, I am sure the revolt of the Malay masses will take place. And when this revolt led by the civil servants and Felda settlers happens at the polling booth, a new page in our nation’s history will be reached.

Battle for change led by Dr Mahathir

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Fittingly, the battle for change will be led by Dr Mahathir. Several weeks ago, I attended a Parti Pribumi Bersatu meeting at Padang Rengas, Kuala Kangsar, where I took the opportunity to renew my friendship with him and gave him a copy of my book,” Road Map for Achieving Vision 2020” which was partly inspired by Dr Mahathir’s vision for our nation’s future.

It is not only the Malay masses who will push for change. Today we have a new opposition coalition which will operate as a single entity against the BN.

Featuring PPBM, DAP, PKR and Parti Amanah Negara as its component members, the opposition coalition will also include East Malaysian parties. This is an unprecedented grand coalition of Malaysian anti-BN voters which, in my opinion, can bring about the biggest upset in our political history once it gets its act together.

In the last GE, the opposition secured more than 51% of the total votes, but in terms of state and parliamentary seats, the opposition had less than BN because of the gerrymandering.

Although the gerrymandering will continue during the next election, the significant difference is that Dr. Mahathir’s new party under Muhyiddin Yasin will be competing for Malay votes in the small towns and villages.

I believe, too, that PAS is deeply divided under President Hadi Awang, who is presently sick and unable to exert much influence. Once it becomes clear that the new grand opposition coalition will win, I expect many PAS leaders and voters to join the opposition and quit the friendship with the BN.

 

The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read


May 23, 2017

The Malay Dilemma Revisited (Updated and Revised Version)–A Strongly Recommended Read

Few countries today have culturally or ethnically homogenous populations, the consequence of colonization, globalization, and mass migrations. Thus, the Malaysian dilemma of socioeconomic and other inequities paralleling racial and cultural divisions has global relevance as it also burdens many nations.

Malaysia’s basic instrument in ameliorating these horizontal (between groups) inequities has been its New Economic Policy (NEP). Its core mechanism being preferential socio-economic and other initiatives favoring indigenous Malays and other non-immigrant minorities, as well as massive state interventions in the marketplace. In place since 1970 in the aftermath of the deadly 1969 race riots, NEP has been continuously “strengthened,” meaning, ever increasing resources expended and preferences being imposed with greater assertiveness.

Malaysia succeeded to some degree in reducing her earlier inequities and in the process created a sizeable Malay middle class. There was however, a steep price. Apart from the marketplace distortions and consequent drag on the economy, those earlier horizontal inequities are now replaced by the more destabilizing vertical variety. NEP also bred a rentier- economy mindset among Malays and other recipient communities. Those preferences now impair rather than enhance the recipents’ (in particular Malay) competitiveness, the universal law of unintended consequences being operative.

Initiated by Prime Minister Razak in 1970, his successor, Mahathir, raised NEP to a much more aggressive level, only to have that initiative today corrupted and degraded by, ironically, Tun Razak’s son, current Prime Minister Najib. By July 2016, the US Department of Justice alleges that “Malaysian Official 1” (aka Najib) illicitly siphoned over US$3.5 Billion from a government-linked corporation, 1MDB. Corruption on such a gargantuan scale was the predictable and inevitable consequence of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy and state interventions in the marketplace.

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The book chronicles Mahathir’s and Najib’s perversion of a once noble endeavor. Najib now adds another volatile mix. Desperate to hang on to power, he adds religious fanaticism to his already corrosive corruption and destructive incomptence. He now cavorts with extremist Islamists, threatening and undermining the nation’s still fragile race dynamics. Malaysia is today still burdened and blighted by Najib’s inept, corrupt, and chauvinistic leadership, with no end in sight. This would inevitably undermone the current fragile but still peaceful racial equilibrium in the country.

Instead of arbitrarily-picked numbers and targets, Malaysia should focus on strengthening Malay competitiveness through enhancing our human and social capitals. Modernizing the education system to emphasize the sciences, mathematics, English fluency, and technical training would address the first. Curtailing royal institutions and other vestiges of feudalism, as well as the regressive form of religion as propagated by the state, would develop the second. It is difficult to wean Malays off the special privilege narcotic when the sultans are frolicking at the top of the heap.

Beyond chronicling the failures of both the Najib and Mahathir Administrations, the author offers these alternative strategies for enhancing Malay competitiveness. Apart from improving the quality of our human and social capital through modern education and responsive institutions, the author advocates removing or at least toning down the stifling influence of official religion.–Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Afraid of May 13?


May 21, 2017

Afraid of May 13?

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that, in our democracy, government is us.”

– Barack Obama

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They say we are afraid of what we do not understand and if this is true, we should be afraid of May 13 because we do not really understand what happened that day. Each side has a narrative, the official narrative and narratives such as author Kua Kia Soong’s which I happen to subscribe to.

They also say that ignorance breeds fear, which again points to why we should be afraid of May 13 because many people are ignorant of what happened on that day and are fed a steady diet of fearing the other, of losing power but most importantly, of their religion in danger of becoming irrelevant.

I have often referenced May 13 not because I wanted to be provocative but because especially in the alternative media, the issue of May 13 is not provocative enough. In ‘Ghost of elections past’, I wrote – “So the reality is that all these ‘ghost’ from our past don’t really scare us any more, not because we have not learnt from them but because there are more than enough monsters in our present to give us pause.

“If we discount the bravado of those who would make light of these threats of violence and those who would propagate such threats, what we are left with is the certainty that the only option we have is to vote with our conscience and let the chips fall where they may.”

However, because threats of racial violence have been normalised in this country, because people in power have Janus-faced agendas towards Malaysians of different ethnic origins, what we have become is numb to threats of racial violence. We are also cavalier to the very real threats of Islamic violence that lurk around the corner, hatched in the hearts of zealots raised on a diet of religious and racial supremacy and stamped with the imprimatur of foreign devils.

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What really is terrifying of May 13 is the way how the state uses it to demonise Malaysians based on ethnicity. The people making the threats, the aggressors become the victims and heroes of their own narratives, and Malaysians who do not subscribe to orthodoxy become the villains and scapegoats for all that the system has wrought.

A really interesting complex example of this can be found in Lim Kit Siang’s blog post – “Ex-top cop Yuen Yuet Leng confirmed that the May 13, 1969 ‘urination’ incident at the Selangor MB’s residence was totally fictional as he never heard of it although he was based in KL during the riots.”

Readers are encouraged to read it because Lim references an email by former top cop, the late Yuen Yuet Leng (to The Sun daily) in a discussion about a very specific lie against the DAP leader. I’ll quote the opening because I think it summarises what most people forget about that day –

“While I appreciate your article in general summarised well what I wanted to be known to the nation on what were greater truths, I have to make clarifications. Information I imparted are in deliberate interest of objective nation and so that nation gets the right tutoring message and feel strongly why May 13 incidents should not ever be allowed to happen again either because of too much insensitivities or too much sensitivities on any side.

“The major redeeming factor in 1969 was the courage of non-racial Malaysians who were still there to put to shame the worse of their respective communities who rampaged, hurt or killed. This best of Malaysians dared to risk their lives in saving or sheltering fellow Malaysians of another ethnic community.”

Official narratives

Readers may not really be interested but one of the reasons I began writing about the state of our nation was because of a public disagreement I had with Yuen about the Bersih 2 rally. In a response to his piece, I wrote by first establishing my credentials – “… having worked with his predecessor, the late Tan Sri ‘Jimmy’ Khoo Chong Kong, who was assassinated by communists in Ipoh. I worked with Khoo in Kuching where I was the resident naval officer and a member of the State Executive Security Committee.”

Readers interested in such subjects should track down my piece, ‘Abandon immature rhetoric of our past’. Here is the ending which I think sums up the piece – “Lastly, I end with this rather telling quote from Tan Sri. ‘The timing is such that there appears to be a united front against the government, and this frightens them.’

“Firstly, there seems to be a united front against the Barisan Nasional. I think this difference is very important. For far too long, this refrain of being ‘anti-government’ has been labelled against the ‘opposition’. The opposition is not anti-government. It may be anti-BN, but this is par for the course in any mature democracy, and I think we are indeed a maturing democracy and that we should abandon the immature rhetoric of our past.”

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The consequences of May 13 have had far reaching implications. I have argued that it heralded the birth of the Malay middle class and the social engineering that came after it changed the racial landscape of this country.

It also meant that the opposition had to fight all its political battles with one hand (sometimes even two) tied behind its back. Actually, if you have seen the brilliant David Mamet film ‘Redbelt’, the idea of fighting with one hand tied behind your back has deeper intellectual and moral implications but again I digress.

The only reason why there has been a slow change in this lopsided way of fighting is because the hegemon is failing, mired in infighting and stumbling because of the corrosive effects of unchecked corruption. The alternative media and the anonymity of the internet mean that the market place of ideas has destabilised the official narratives of the state.

I think most young people today are not, and should not, be afraid of May 13. What they should be concerned about is the threat of religious extremism that is invading our public and private spaces. Combatting this is difficult because race and religion are not mutually exclusive in this country.

I would argue that the official narratives of the state about May 13 is the earliest example of “fake news” but no matter, apparently we are living in a “post-truth” world and ultimately people will be afraid of what they do not understand or because of their ignorance.


New Economic Policy–Malaysia’s Deformative Action Progamme


May 20, 2017

Malaysia’s Deformative Action–Doing the Malays a Disfavour

Income-based benefits would work much better.

Najib Razak –A Spoilt Aristocrat and the Embodiment of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy introduced by his Father, Tun Abdul Razak and exploited by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad to  retard and subjugate the Malays. Incentives Matter. Reward Performance and Discipline.–Din Merican

WHAT government would not like to reduce racial disparities and promote ethnic harmony? The tricky part is knowing how. One country that claims to have found a way is Malaysia. Since 1971 it has given preferential treatment in everything from education to investing to bumiputeras—people of indigenous descent, who are two-thirds of the population but poorer than their ethnic-Chinese and -Indian compatriots.

On the face of things, this system of affirmative action has been a success (see article). The gap in income between Malays (the biggest bumiputera group) and Chinese- and Indian-Malaysians has narrowed dramatically. Just as important, there has been no repeat of the bloody race riots of 1969, when Malay mobs burned Chinese shops in Kuala Lumpur, prompting the adoption of the policy. And the economy—typically an instant victim of heavy-handed government attempts at redistribution—has grown healthily.

Small wonder that some see Malaysia as a model. South African politicians cited it when adopting their plan for “Black Economic Empowerment” in the early 2000s. More recently Indonesian activists have been talking about instituting something similar there. Malaysia, meanwhile, keeps renewing the policy, which was originally supposed to end in 1991. Just last month Najib Razak, the prime minister (pictured), launched the latest iteration: the catchily named Bumiputera Economic Transformation Roadmap (BETR) 2.0, which, among other things, will steer a greater share of government contracts to bumiputera businesses.

Money for old rope

Yet the results of Malaysia’s affirmative-action schemes are not quite what they seem. Malays in neighbouring Singapore, which abjures racial preferences, have seen their incomes grow just as fast as those of Malays in Malaysia. That is largely because the Singaporean economy has grown faster than Malaysia’s, which may in turn be a product of its more efficient and less meddling bureaucracy. Singapore, too, has been free from race riots since 1969.

If the benefits of cosseting bumiputeras are not as clear as they first appear, the costs, alas, are all too obvious. As schools, universities and the bureaucracy have become less meritocratic, Chinese and Indians have abandoned them, studying in private institutions and working in the private sector instead. Many have left the country altogether, in a brain drain that saps economic growth.

Steering so many benefits to Malays—developers are even obliged to give them discounts on new houses—has created a culture of entitlement and dependency. Malays have stopped thinking of affirmative action as a temporary device to diminish inequality. As descendants of Malaysia’s first settlers, they now consider it a right.

The result is that a system intended to quell ethnic tensions has entrenched them. Many poorer Malays vote reflexively for UMNO, the Malay party that introduced affirmative action in the 1970s and has dominated government since then, for fear that another party might take away their privileges. With these votes in the bag, UMNO’s leaders can get away with jaw-dropping abuses, such as the continuing scandal at 1MDB, a development agency that mislaid several billion dollars, much of which ended up in officials’ pockets, according to American investigators. Minorities, in turn, overwhelmingly support parties that advocate less discrimination against them.

READ THIS:

http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21722208-government-reserves-even-mobile-phone-stalls-people-indigenous-descent-race-based

THERE is something odd about MARA Digital, a cluster of stalls selling laptops, mobiles and other gizmos on the second floor of a shopping centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s multicultural capital. No ethnic-Chinese or -Indian entrepreneurs are allowed to do business here. Spots in the market are reserved for Malays, the country’s majority race. The year-old venue was set up with subsidies from the government, which insists that its experiment in segregated shop-holding has been a big success. It has already launched an offshoot in Shah Alam, a nearby city, and talks of opening at least five more branches this year.

This project is just one recent outcome of racially discriminatory policies which have shaped Malaysian society for more than 50 years. Schemes favouring Malays were once deemed essential to improve the lot of Malaysia’s least wealthy racial group; these days they are widely thought to help mostly the well-off within that group, while failing the poor and aggravating ethnic tensions. Yet affirmative action persists because it is a reliable vote-winner for the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Malay party that has dominated government since independence. Malays are more than half of the population, so their views carry weight.

Last month UMNO launched a fresh batch of race-based giveaways. Harried by claims that it allowed billions to be looted from 1MDB, a state investment firm, and preparing for an election that may be called this year, the party looks disinclined to consider reform.

Affirmative action in Malaysia began shortly after the departure in the 1950s of British colonial administrators, who had opened the cities to immigrant merchants and labourers from India and China but largely preferred to keep Malays toiling in the fields. The practice accelerated after 1969, when a race riot in the capital killed scores. (Most of the victims were Chinese.) The New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1971 had two goals: to reduce absolute poverty across all races, and to boost in particular the prospects of Malays, whose average income at the time was roughly half that of their Chinese compatriots.

A temporary eternity

Although the NEP’s authors believed affirmative action would be needed for only 20 years, the practice has continued ever since, as such “temporary” policies typically have in other countries. Malaysia’s bumiputeras, which means “sons of the soil” and which refers both to Malays and to a number of indigenous groups deemed deserving of a leg-up, have accumulated a panoply of privileges. Some of these are enshrined in legislation; others are left unwritten. These include quotas for places at public universities; preferment for government jobs; discounts on property purchases and access to a reserved slice of public share offerings.

Since the NEP’s inception Malaysia’s economy has grown enormously. Its people are now the third-richest in South-East Asia, behind only Singapore and oil-soaked Brunei. Affirmative action has helped to narrow the difference between the incomes of Malays and other races. But pro-bumiputera schemes are almost never means-tested, so their benefits have accrued disproportionately to already wealthy urbanites, allowing poverty among the neediest Malays to persist.

Meanwhile the lure of the public sector—which was expanded to create more posts for bumiputeras, and in which Malays are now vastly over-represented—has sapped entrepreneurial vigour among Malays, as has a welter of grants and soft loans for bumiputera firms. Race-based entry criteria have lowered standards at Malaysia’s public universities; so has the flight of non-bumiputera academics who sense that promotions are no longer linked to merit. These days Chinese and Indians largely end up studying in private institutions or abroad, in effect segregating tertiary education. Many of those who leave the country do not return.

None of this is lost on the ruling party. For some years UMNO was split between hardline supporters of affirmative action (like the demonstrators pictured above) and moderates dismayed by the distortions it has brought. In an unusually candid paper published in 2010, the new government of Najib Razak, the prime minister, admitted that affirmative action had created an “entitlement culture and rentier behaviour”. It mooted swapping race-based policies for action intended to lift the incomes of Malaysia’s poorest 40%, regardless of ethnicity. Yet within months that suggestion was quietly abandoned.

Since then the party’s thinkers have grown more risk-averse. UMNO almost fell from power at a general election in 2013, when minority voters abandoned its coalition partners. Since early 2015 it has been trying to distract attention from the theft of billions of dollars from 1MDB (American investigators allege that $681m of the state firm’s money was paid to the prime minister, a charge Mr Najib denies). Neither of these near-death experiences appears to have prompted much soul-searching. Instead the party is trying to preserve support among Malay voters by reinforcing pro-Malay policies and by building bridges with PAS, an Islamist opposition party that is growing more extreme.

Optimists argue that the government has not completely abandoned reform. An efficiency drive has called attention to the public sector’s bloated state, even if the material gains from the effort are unclear. And whereas UMNO’s leaders once boasted of their desire to create Malay millionaires, recent schemes are more likely to aid small and medium-sized firms. But this is all rather modest—particularly when ugly racial rhetoric is on the rise.

Malaysia’s failing system of race-based preferences will probably not attract the criticism it deserves in the run-up to the next general election, which Mr Najib may call later this year and which he is likely to win. Opposition parties are keen to show poor rural Malays that UMNO’s policies have shortchanged them, but tend not to openly bash the notion of race-based affirmative action. Egged on by bigots, some Malays have come to see their economic privileges as a right earned by their ancestors when they first settled the territory, not as a temporary leg-up. Meritocracy and the distribution of benefits based on need remain distant prospects.

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Malays on the march”–The Economist
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The ambition to improve the lot of Malaysia’s neediest citizens is a worthy one. But defining them by race is a mistake. It allows a disproportionate amount of the benefits of affirmative action to accrue to well-off Malays, who can afford to buy the shares set aside for them at IPOs, for example, or to bid for the government contracts Mr Najib is reserving for them. It would be much more efficient, and less poisonous to race relations, to provide benefits based on income. Most recipients would still be Malays. And defusing the issue should pave the way for more nuanced and constructive politics. Perhaps that is why UMNO has resisted the idea for so long.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Deformative action”

Malaysia: Social Media Administrators under Pressure


May 19, 2017

Malaysia: Social Media Administrators under Pressure

by Asiasentinel Correspondent

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-social-media/

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When you cannot face up to the truth (message) you screw up, censor and threaten the messenger (s). Trump should learn from the Malaysian Prime Minister. Remember George Orwell’s 1984. People like Raja Petra and his lot can be consultants to The Trump White House.–Din Merican

With national elections looming, perhaps as early as August or September, the Malaysian government is warning its legions of myriad social media critics to knock off tweeting or posting content the government deems “inappropriate.”

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission has promulgated a new “advisory for group admins” that critics say is designed to coerce social media platforms such as Facebook and others in the country to censor postings by opponents of the government.

The Barisan Nasional, the national ruling coalition, has cause for concern. According to Steven Gan, editor of the independent news website Malaysiakini, the next election, which must be held before August of 2018 but is likely to be earlier, is likely to be fought out in social media, with as many as 70 percent of Malaysians online.

With the mainstream media – English, Malay and Chinese language newspapers, radio and television – in the hands of political parties aligned with the government, an increasing number of citizens are turning to the Internet to seek independent voices.

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As Asia Sentinel reported on April 22, opposition websites and independent news publications have been warned to mute their criticism or face being shut down. The Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau was warned over a cartoon satirizing the Speaker of Parliament as a monkey and told to suspend the staff involved.

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The government is running scared for a variety of reasons, the biggest being a massive scandal involving the misuse or theft of as much as US$11 billion from the state-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd., with at least US$1 billion and as much as US$2 billion having ended up in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s own pockets, according to an ongoing investigation by US authorities looking into the purchase by nominees of houses, apartments, art works and a wide variety of other US assets, and the funding of the 2013 movie Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Barisan Nasional actually lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election but prevailed because the parliament was so thoroughly gerrymandered that the coalition ended up with 133 seats to 89 for the opposition, then headed by Anwar Ibrahim, who was later jailed on sexual perversion charges that human rights critics have characterized as trumped up.

Subsequently rising antipathy on the part of minority races, particularly the Chinese, has cut deeply into the Barisan’s support, leaving it largely supported only by ethnic Malays, who make up at least 63 percent of the population of 30 million. Given rising antipathy on the part of urban Malays, strategists for the Barisan believe the United Malays National Organization, the leader of the government coalition, must win every ethnic Malay vote possible in the countryside – where the mainstream media rule along with UMNO.

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2017–The Way Backward

That means trying to keep out as much chaff from the social media as possible, including people who retweet or post Chedet, the blog of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Najib’s most implacable opponent, which gets thousands of readers every day, or the Sarawak Report, which despite being blocked by the communications ministry (along with Asia Sentinel) can draw more than 100,000 readers on a single story.

Mahathir is said to be making inroads among the rural Malays supported by the Federal Land Development Authority, or Felda, which was founded to handle the resettlement of the rural poor, most of them ethnic Malays. The government listed Felda on the Malaysian stock exchange in 2012 and induced the thousands of settlers – whose territory covers 54 of UMNO’s 86 seats in parliament – to invest in the shares. Because of a variety of missteps, the shares have fallen in value steeply, impoverishing the settlers who bought into them. Felda Global Ventures as the public vehicle is now known, may be forced to delist.

Mahathir and PPBM, which he calls Parti Bersatu against the wishes of the government, have capitalized on the discontent to the point where political analysts believe he will pull away a number of those UMNO seats, perhaps 10 or 11 – two of which are held by Najib’s lieutenants.

Thus the Communications Ministry targets “administrators” of group pages hosted on communication platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Wechat, Viber and Telegram, or on similar services, advising them to take a proactive role in monitoring and removing content posted by others to their pages.

“While not a legally enforceable regulation in itself, a warning on the ministry’s Facebook page accompanying the advisory stated that Internet users should ‘be wise in using social media for their own protection,’” according to Article 19, a global rights watchdog with representatives in Malaysia. “This implies that failure to comply with the advisory may make group admins liable for the posts of others, even though this type of liability for third-party content is not currently provided for in Malaysian law.”

As Article 19 points out, a growing number of individuals are being arrested, investigated and charged in Malaysia for online criticism or questioning of the government under the sedition law, a toughened communications and multimedia act and a security act passed last year.

“Article 19 therefore considers that the MCMC advisory is seeking to deliver an implicit threat to social media users, that even if they are not the author of offending content, they can still be prosecuted by association,” according to Kuala Lumpur-based spokeswoman Nalini Elumalai. “This is likely to have the effect of co-opting private internet users into the role of enforcing draconian content restrictions in the online sphere, with victims of this censorship not having any recourse to challenge or seek redress for such removals. This is a concerning direction of travel, in particular if attempts are made to give legal force to the vague ‘advice’ of the MCMC. “

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The advisory by the Communications Ministry appears to violate an agreement promulgated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information that individuals cannot be held liable for content they have not authored unless they disobey court orders to remove such content.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression also warned that private actors should not be pressured by legal or extra-legal means to take steps that unnecessarily or disproportionately interfere with freedom of expression, including by removing content.

“The MCMC advisory is clearly intended to pressure social media users, against international freedom of expression standards, and against the spirit of the freedom of expression guarantees in Article 10(a) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia,” Article 19 said. The rights organization urged the communications ministry to “retract the advisory without delay and make clear to social media users that they cannot be held responsible for content created by third parties. We also call on the Malaysian government to engage in comprehensive reforms to legislation that violates the right to freedom of expression, including online, in particular the CMA, the Sedition Act, and the Penal Code.”