Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang


February 19, 2017

Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred!”

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Pebble in the Sky’

COMMENT: Readers interested in what I write should consider this a companion piece to my article describing how non-Malay Malaysians (specifically) are a tolerant lot.

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Mahathir’s First Carma (Cari Makan) Journalist–A Kadir Jasin

De facto opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad casually mentioned last week that he was partly to blame for the demonisation of DAP. I suppose this went together with veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin’s admission that he was part of the brainwashing that went, and goes on, in UMNO. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, but I doubt that the indoctrination of Malay youths will cease any time soon when the opposition is made up of Islamic groups determined to use Islam as a political tool.

I wrote the last part of the above paragraph after the opposition had suffered a setback in the by-election where the current UMNO grand poobah was supposed to receive a black eye but apparently, the opposition punched itself in the face. A reader had emailed and asked if the schadenfreude tasted good, especially since I had predicted the results.

I take no pleasure in any opposition defeat and neither do I take pleasure in a UMNO win. This is the bitter taste of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, when I say “evil”, do not get your panties in a twist because it is an expression and not a description of either political fronts. These days I cannot tell the difference between winning and losing when it comes to “saving Malaysia”.

As I have argued before, a country can recover from corruption scandals, but it rarely recovers from that type of Islam that neutralises the democratic imperative. In Malaysia, where race and religion are not mutually exclusive, the threat from Islamists is coupled with ethno-nationalism.

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The  First Malay Nationalist (or is it Racist?)

The de facto Opposition Leader is right when he says that he demonised DAP as DAP and other opposition parties had demonised him. However, the reality is that these political parties were not only demonising their political rivals, they were demonising entire communities.

So, when you want to win, and you demonise your political opponents, and by extension whole communities, the political terrain becomes a battleground for competing racial interests instead of ideological or policy ideas.

This is why I have always been sceptical of the opposition propaganda about voting across racial lines. In one of my numerous articles about race relations in this country, I wrote: “In addition, this idea that voting across racial lines as some sort of evidence of burgeoning multiracial solidarity is complete bunkum. The real test is when people vote across ethnic and religious lines in support of ideologies that run counter to the interests of their communities and by this, I mean egalitarian ideas that run afoul of constitutional sacred cows and social and religious dogma.”

While the former Prime Minister (and now de facto Opposition Leader) and the system contributed to Malay fear of DAP, the whole political system and voting patterns of Malaysians is also culpable for this sad state of affairs. UMNO succeeded because the majority of Malaysians voted for race-based parties. Racial preoccupations were the currency that sustained BN politics and still does.

The problem is that because we do not have an alternative, BN politics is the only game in town. Non-Malay oppositional voices and voters do not demand an alternative but rather that the system continues but in a more “fairer” manner.

DAP and MCA furiously battle for the Chinese vote. Meanwhile Malay-dominated so-called multicultural parties battle with UMNO and now PAS for the Malay vote. Until the former Prime Minister showed up, there was no central theme that united the Opposition.

While the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim and the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat discovered that populism does not necessarily mean racial or religious preoccupations when it comes to cobbling together a formidable coalition, the emergence of the former Prime Minister as the de facto opposition leader has given the current UMNO regime an opportunity to:

1) Revisit history.

2) Dredge up the financial scandals of the former Prime Minister.

3) Point out that their strategies for securing the Malay vote is based on his strategies that kept him in power for decades.

If anyone is wondering why questions of race always revolves around the Malay and Chinese dialectic, it is because… well, if you are going to ask this question, you have obviously not being paying attention.

All are participants in race game

When I argued that Malaysians were a tolerant lot, the thrust of the piece revolved around how systemic inequalities were a detriment to the non-Muslim population but I failed to emphasise how the non-Malay communities were active participants in the race game in this country.

Voting for race-based parties meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with egalitarian concepts that would have been the basis for a more democratic system. It was not that we were “immature” or “uneducated”, it was just easier to vote for a political hegemon that provided security and stability for decades but not the rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of a functional democracy.

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UMNO’s Money Stealing Grand Poobah

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Tolerance may have been a one-way street, it was also the street where we stopped by the sidewalk and spat at the “Malays”. There is the other narrative of non-Malays engaging in subtle and overt racism, all the while supporting racial political parties that claimed inclusiveness.

The majority of us did this to ensure that our racial preoccupations were satisfied by a plutocrat class instead of demanding for an accountable and transparent government, but more importantly demanding for a principled opposition who fearlessly made their positions clear instead of championing communal causes under the guise of “multiracial/culturalism”.

The private sector was (is) dominated by Chinese polity who were perpetuating their own form of systemic inequalities and contextualising this reality as a response to the systemic inequality perpetrated by the UMNO Malay state.

While I think, there is generally “a live and let live” vibe between Malaysians, it would be a mistake to assume that this is some sort of national identity or some form of stable unity. I realise that this is political incorrect to say, but the hard truth is that while race relations have been manipulated by establishment (both UMNO and the Opposition), the reality is that there was always tensions between the various races of this country.

This is why talking about “race” in this country is such a demoralising endeavour. Appeals to emotion replace rational discourse. The fact that our constitution is compromised, the system itself is predicated on maintaining racial and religious superiority, makes any discussion about how the non-Malays react to such a system, their complicity in sustaining the system difficult to articulate.

The fault of UMNO and the Opposition is that nobody offered an alternative and Malaysians never expected anything better.

You know what the big difference is between the corruption scandals of UMNO back in the day and the one now is? The difference is that a vast majority of Malaysians kept voting UMNO-BN back then than they do now. This is a testament to not only the political strategies of Mahathir but also the apathy of the Malaysians. This of course is a boon for the Opposition because Mahathir seems to be the only person who can galvanise the opposition. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah: Understand Malaysia better through its History


February 14, 2017

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah:  Understand Malaysia better through its History

COMMENT: HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Oxford and Harvard-educated political economist, is to be congratulated for publishing a monumental book on Malaysia’s economic history.

One cannot dispute His Royal Highness’ view that understanding the country’s economic, political and socio-cultural history is important since it enables us to appreciate the progress we have achieved since Independence in 1957 due to the contributions of our diverse communities, and learn from our policy failures, and follies and frailties of our past leaders and administrators.

Our achievements have been spectacular by any measure  to earn the respect of the world. The developing world used to look up to us for our economic success. But in recent years, while we enjoy continued economic growth (in GDP terms), albeit modest by comparison with our past attainments, the management of our economy has been increasingly disappointing and depressing. The level of corruption is now the worst I have ever witnessed in my nearly 45 years of public, corporate, academic and civil society life.

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It is obvious to me at least that our present generation of UMNO-BN leaders have not learned the lessons of history especially why nations can and have failed because of corruption, abuse of power and sheer incompetence. HRH Sultan of Perak would, therefore, be well advised to remind Prime Minister Najib Razak of the consequences of poor governance. Preaching to the converted like me and others is inconsequential since we are not in power.

Finally, I must add my disappointment with this piece by Hanis Zainal. While publicizing HRH Sultan Nazrin’s book, she chose not acknowledge that scholars and academics like James Puthucheary, Agoes Salim, Lin See Yan, Rais Saniman, Junid Saham, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Edmund Terrence Gomez, Mohamed Ariff (formally with MIER),Kamal Salih (USM), Lim Teck Ghee, Johan  Saravanamuttu et.al have contributed immensely to our understanding of Malaysia’s political economy and history. They have, in fact, preceded HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah.–Din Merican

by Hanis Zainal@www.thestar.com.my

The key to understanding a country better is through its history, so it is logical to assume the key to studying a country’s economy is through studying its econo­mic history.

This was what Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah set out to achieve in Charting the Economy: Early 20th Century Malaya and Contemporary Malaysian Contrasts which was launched yesterday.

The book charts the country’s economic activities under colonial rule and contrasts it with the economic growth and development in contemporary Malaysia.

During the launch at a hotel here, Sultan Nazrin said that lessons learned from history carry “great relevance” for overcoming the economic challenges of modern-era Malaysia.

 “To better understand contemporary economic performance, it is necessary for us to go back into history to understand long-term trends,” he said.

In his book, Sultan Nazrin charts the changes – from an economy based largely on agriculture and mining in the past to one that is more diversified and broad today.

One of the most important lessons he learned in his study was of people’s contributions to the economy, said Sultan Nazrin.

“The truly remarkable economic and social transformation that Malaysia has experienced is due to the outstanding contributions made by all of our diverse communities working together.”

Quoting novelist Henri Fauconnier, who wrote the Soul of Malaya, Sultan Nazrin said the soul of Malaysia “is found in the country’s diverse people”.

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In his address, Harvard University’s Professor of Political Economy Prof Dwight Perkins noted the book’s importance to the economic literature of Malaysia.

Charting the Economy is published by Oxford University Press and retails at RM99 at all major bookshops in Malaysia.

 

Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation


February 10, 2017

 Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘They present solutions, but I don’t like them.”

– Noam Chomsky, ‘Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy’.

Image result for Malaysia --Failed Nation by Rustam SaniThe Late Rastam A. Sani arguably was the first Malaysian public intellectual to talk about Malaysia as a Failed Nation

In another article, I admitted that I was one of those people who were pushing the failed state narrative after another Malaysiakini columnist Josh Hong pointed out in his own piece of the intellectual bankruptcy of promoting such an agenda.

Of course, I felt justified in promoting such an agenda – “I have lost track of how many times I have pushed the ‘failed state’ narrative. Moreover, let me tell you it is very easy to push that narrative when we see the failing system around us. It is very easy to push that narrative when we have something as calamitous as the National Security Council Act.”

Running around claiming failing state status is easy in Malaysia. We are a Muslim-majority country that has managed to pull through over the decades when the world was going through radical political and social changes. The Arabisation process crept up on us because we were too busy engaging in other affairs instead of keeping a close eye on the corrupt and incompetent UMNO hegemon.

Three recent contradictory statements by politicians in this country brings into focus why the opposition has been unable to gain traction with the idea that a vote for them would save Malaysia from an apocalyptical fate and why UMNO still has a grip on power in Malaysia.

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Muhyiddin Yassin paid  a heavy price for loyalty. He was sacked from UMNO by UMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Razak

The first is by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) point man Muhyiddin Yassin – “Through decades of government policies being initiated by UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN), the country has become progressive, renowned and in the Islamic context, a model country.”

And right here is the problem for the opposition because this is really is what most voters who vote Barisan National think. Through the decades, despite of all the corruption scandals, the sustained attacks against independent institutions, the slow process of dismantling our individual rights, Malaysia, in the words of Josh Hong, “for all its flaws, Malaysia remains a prosperous, relatively efficient and economically vibrant country.”

Meanwhile, Muhyiddin admits that it would difficult to dislodge BN if the opposition remains in disarray and straight one-on-one fights was the most viable stratagem of replacing UMNO-BN.

Nowhere does he consider that if people think that the country is functional and prosperous (and that this is something even he as a powerbroker in the opposition acknowledges), why should there be any regime change when things are running if not smoothly but better than in many other Muslim countries?

Which brings me to what the honourable DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang asked, “Is Najib aware that Malaysia has taken a first step to become a ‘failed state’ when we ascended to the ‘global kleptocracy’ club without any sense of contrition or compunction, whether by the cabinet or Parliament?”

The problem here is that over the decades there have been numerous corruption scandals and yet the country remains standing. Furthermore, coupled with these corruption scandals, the UMNO hegemon has carried out a deliberate process of racial engineering that changed the political, legal and social institutions of this country, and yet the country did not become one of those Islamic paradises that most Muslims would prefer not to go to but instead head West.

Keep in mind the “failed state” narrative was used in the run-up to the 2004 election and former UMNO President (Badawi) – who campaigned with a reform agenda – won by a landslide for BN. This was the same coalition that had ruled for decades and engineered the problems that are affecting Malaysia today.

Image result for grand poobah of umnoUMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak and Poohbah Jr.
Image result for grand poobahBarney and Fred of The Flintstones

Meanwhile, UMNO Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak thinks that if there is no religious and racial harmony, Malaysia will turn into a failed state. The problem with this is that over the decades, the supremacy of Islam and Malay privilege has supplanted whatever grand ideas, the founding fathers – I still have no idea who these men and women were – had in mind.

Indeed, the only reason why the UMNO big cheese was raising the spectre of a failed state was because everyone else is doing it. But this idea that Malaysia is becoming a failed state ultimately is nonsensical when employed by either UMNO the opposition.

10 reasons

All this talk of Malaysia becoming a failed state, made me dig up an old article by the Foreign Policy magazine that in my opinion is one of the more accessible articles on why states fall apart. Actually, the title of the article says it all – ‘10 reasons why countries fall apart’.

While I have reproduced the first two paragraphs of the article, readers are encouraged to seek out the article and pay close attention the countries mentioned. The reason why I like this article because it accurately describes the various processes that go into making a failed state.

From the article – “Most countries that fall apart, however, do so not with a bang but with a whimper. They fail not in an explosion of war and violence but by being utterly unable to take advantage of their society’s huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty. This type of slow, grinding failure leaves many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America with living standards far, far below those in the West.

“What’s tragic is that this failure is by design. These states collapse because they are ruled by what we call ‘extractive’ economic institutions, which destroy incentives, discourage innovation, and sap the talent of their citizens by creating a tilted playing field and robbing them of opportunities. These institutions are not in place by mistake but on purpose. They’re there for the benefit of elites who gain much from the extraction – whether in the form of valuable minerals, forced labour, or protected monopolies – at the expense of society. Of course, such elites benefit from rigged political institutions too, wielding their power to tilt the system for their benefit.”

The following are the 10 reasons:

1) Lack of property rights

2) Forced labour

3) A tilted playing field

4) The big men get greedy

5) Elites block new technologies

6) No law and order

7) A weak central government

8) Bad public services

9) Political exploitation

10) Fighting over the spoils

Becoming a failed state is a gradual process and in the Malaysian context, nobody comes out clean. Not UMNO. Not the opposition, and certainly not the citizens of Malaysia because we voted for BN and we never demanded the kind of opposition that is the exact opposite in terms of ideology of what the ruling coalition is.

I have said many times, the coming general election is a make or break election for the opposition. If the opposition is determined to play the same game as UMNO and loses, then the opposition is also to blame when we eventually get to our failed state destination.

However the world over, there is a shift in political sentiment. In the West, the shift is to the right. I honestly believe that although we may not have a “left”, what the citizens of this country want is something new.

I believe that if the opposition rolls the dice, discards conventional Malaysian political wisdom, they may actually accomplish a hail Mary and with policies that are radically different from UMNO, halt the decline of Malaysia into a failed state.

If not, do not panic. There is still some ways to go, before we are inducted into the failed state hall of fame. It is going to be a slow but painful process.


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

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

DJ Trump in a Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua Dilemma


February 9, 2017

DJ Trump in a Gua Tolong Lu, Lu Tolong Gua Dilemma

Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” for Muslims: Najib Exempt?

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

http://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/malaysia-politics/trumps-extreme-vetting-for-muslims-najib-exempt/

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Tan Sri Syed Azman, Malaysia’s AP King

At 2:30 a.m. one day in mid-November, after the election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, the telephone rang in the official residence of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia.

Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor answered the telephone. On the other end was businessman Syed Azman of Weststar Group, a sprawling Malaysia-based conglomerate with interests in cars, aviation, construction, defense and engineering. Azman’s 40 helicopters shuttle people and goods to offshore oil platforms.

Known as the “AP king” for his ability to acquire scarce government-issued Approved Permits to import luxury cars into Malaysia, Azman, a Tan Sri – one of the highest of Malaysia’s arcane honorifics – had good news. The President-elect wanted to talk to her husband and told him to call two hours later, at 4:30 a.m. Azman arranged the call between Najib and Trump.

Azman is not just a rich Malaysian businessman. He knows Donald Trump relatively well and, according to a public statement by Rosmah, plays golf with the President, a real estate tycoon before his election. Some years ago Azman bought two of Trump’s ornate branded jets for use by his own businesses. During the presidential campaign, he re-loaned one of the jets back for use by Trump’s aides. It was repainted in the Trump livery and used during the campaign, a source in Kuala Lumpur told Asia Sentinel.

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A Fleet of Helicopters owned by Weststar Group

An email to White House press representative Michael C. Short, asking for details of the conversation, went unanswered. But a thrilled Rosmah, in a video recording released on Nov. 28 from a public function she had attended, described the call, saying Najib called Trump at the fixed time, and Trump answered himself. Rosmah said Trump and her husband discussed various things, and that the US President-Elect commended Malaysia’s economic growth rate. Trump, she added, also asked Najib when the latter planned to visit the US, to which the prime minister replied, “Wait until you settle in and I will come. I would like to discuss a few things with you.”

Apparently Trump’s famed “extreme vetting” of Muslims didn’t extend to Najib. The Malaysian Premier is the subject of an investigation by the US Justice Department’s kleptocracy unit (part of its Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section) for the theft of up to US$1 billion from the Malaysian government-backed 1Malaysia Development Bhd. investment fund.

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Barack Obama’s beleaguered Golf Buddy –Malaysia’s Najib Razak

Earlier, during the administration of Barack Obama, Najib was a presidential favorite under the perception that he was a moderate Muslim leader and a regional powerhouse. The Malaysian Prime Minister was invited to play golf in Hawaii with Obama before word filtered up about the fact that he was involved in what appears to be the biggest scandal in Malaysian history. That ended Najib’s cozy relationship with the then President.

Trump’s “Extreme Vetting” for Muslims: Najib Exempt?In addition to the theft, at least two people have died violently in acts tied to Najib’s administration.

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In October 2006, a Mongolian translator and international party girl, Altantuya Shaaribuu, was shot in the head twice and her body was blown up with military explosives in a patch of jungle outside of Kuala Lumpur by two of Najib’s bodyguards. She had played a minor role in the purchase of French submarines by the Malaysian government when Najib was defense minister. French officials have charged that €114 million (now US$123 million) in bribes was channeled through Najib to the United Malays National Organization and another €36 million went into a mysterious company in Hong Kong that was established by Najib’s best friend, Abdul Razak Baginda, who was instrumental in the submarine transaction.

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 The Late Anthony K. Morais

In the other incident, Anthony Kevin Morais, a prosecutor for Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission who was investigating the 1MDB scandal disappeared in November of 2015. His body was later found encased in cement in an oil drum that had been rolled into a river outside Kuala Lumpur. His brother, Charles Morais, an Atlanta businessman, later charged that Kevin Morais had been investigating Najib and his wife when he disappeared. Kevin Morais was believed to be channeling vital information about the scandal to the Sarawak Report, which has been instrumental in uncovering the details.

A half-dozen global jurisdictions including Switzerland, Singapore, the United Kingdom and others are awaiting the continuing US investigation, which involves allegations of the theft of at least US$2.5 billion and perhaps as much as US$4 billion from 1MDB, which was so disastrously overseen that it is believed to have lost as much as US$11.3 billion through theft and mismanagement.

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Like President Trump, flamboyant Jho Taek Low was educated at The Wharton School of Finance, The University of Pennsylvania

Steered by a flamboyant young friend of the Najib family named Jho Taek Low, an unknown amount of that money allegedly went to finance Red Granite Pictures, the Hollywood entity that produced the blockbuster movie “Wolf of Wall Street.” Riza Aziz, Rosmah’s son by a previous marriage, was a co-producer of the picture. Considerably more has ended up in California and New York, in real estate owned by nominees, particularly Jho Low, as he is known, who are believed to represent the Najib family.

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Najib’s Next Golfing Buddy?–Trump, however, cannot intercede on his behalf on 1MDB

In July 2016 US Federal prosecutors issued a 136-page document alleging that “over the course of an approximately four year period, between approximately 2009 and at least 2013, multiple individuals, including public officials and their associates, conspired to fraudulently divert billions of dollars from 1MDB through various means, including by defrauding foreign banks and by sending foreign wire communications in furtherance of the scheme, and thereafter, to launder the proceeds of that criminal conduct, including and through US financial institutions.

“The funds diverted from 1MDB were used for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States, pay gambling expenses in Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than US$100 million in artwork, invest in a major New York development project, and fund the production of major Hollywood films. 1MDB maintained no interest in these assets and saw no returns on these investments.”

As is customary, the US Justice Department had no comment on the progress of its continuing investigation into assets believed to have been stolen by the family or their associates.

Despite that, Najib and his cronies in the United Malays National Organization (UMNO0, the country’s biggest political party, have insulated themselves from the loss of leadership of the country primarily by bribing the 190-odd cadres who determine the leadership of UMNO to keep him in power. UMNO leadership confers automatic status as Prime Minister.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and other publications have provided voluminous proof that Najib allegedly diverted at least US$681 million – he has acknowledged the deposit in his personal accounts in Kuala Lumpur but given no reason for the deposit. Other sources have put the amount as high as US$1 billion.

“Come over with your family, we can have lunch or dinner,” Trump told Najib in the phone call, according to Rosmah. It remains to be seen if the invitation will continue to be extended.

The NEP:”A Magical Touch” or Systemic State-Sponsored Discrimination?


February 9, 2017

COMMENT: The objectives of the Tun Abdul Razak’s  New Economic Policy (1970)  were (1) to eradicate poverty regardless of race and (2) to create a Malay Commercial and Industrial Community to eliminate the identification of race with economic function. It was intended to deal the root causes of  the May 13 1969 riots that shook Malaysia and promote national unity.

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It was Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak’s Deputy, who likened it to a golf handicap system to enable the Malays to compete against the more economically successful Malaysian other. It was  to  “serve as a temporary affirmative action policy with a 20 year lifespan but which now appears to have been extended ad infinitum.”(Lim Teck Ghee).

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad used it to create a UMNO crony capitalism and make the Malays beholden to the UMNO state for handouts. In the name of “democratization of education” our fourth Prime Minister also lowered university entrance requirements to enable Malays to attend our public universities, the consequences of which are quite well-known to all of us.

If the Malays are to compete in a globalized world, they must learn to be self-reliant and resilient in the face of adversity. Like my friend Teck Ghee, I feel that empowerment of the Malays, not dependence on UMNO handouts, is the way forward  in the pursuit of national unity.–Din Merican

The  NEP –“A Magical Touch” or  Systemic State-Sponsored Discrimination against The Malaysian Other?

by Lim Teck Ghee

Surely our well informed Royalty must also be aware of the collateral damage that pro-Malay bumiputra policies have had on governance, economy, social cohesion and race and religious relations. Surely Sultan Nazrin, with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, must be aware of the vast literature available, in English and the national language, of the downside of maintaining the NEP past its original shelf-life of 1990.–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Recently the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Dr.Nazrin Shah, officiating at a religious discourse described the NEP (New Economic Policy) as a “magical touch”. The word “magic” is associated with the the power of influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. It is a word whose synonyms include “sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, necromancy, enchantment,the supernatural, occultism, the occult, black magic,the black arts, shamanism” and the like.

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Malaysia’s Oxford and Harvard Educated Sultan

The “magical touch” of the NEP which gave more opportunities for the Malays to participate in mainstream development and encouraged the growth of youths especially from the rural areas to have a strong foundation of race and religion. of course, did not come from the waving of any supernatural or magical wand, although some of the superstitious in the audience may believe it.

It was a human and politically-crafted public policy in the aftermath of the racial violence in May 1969 and it was intended to serve as a temporary affirmative action policy with a 20 year lifespan but which now appears to have been extended ad infinitum.

The assertion that the the NEP benefited Malay individuals and families and also injected a new confidence and pride into the Malays is also well-known and is incontestable. No one can deny that the younger generation Malays, especially women, “filled Malay secondary classes in bigger numbers, held high positions in their careers, especially in the public sector, enjoyed influence and underwent a cultural transformation, including in the workplace and home” as a direct outcome of the NEP.

But there were other ripple effects from the application of the “magic” touch which the Sultan did not bring to the attention of his audience. These effects – principally relating to the non-Malay community but also now impacting on the Malays – are also important and necessary to bring to the attention of those who continue to advocate it as the panacea for the ills and shortcomings of the Malay community.

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Such a critical, empirically-grounded ]and non-romantic analysis is especially necessary to emphasise in religious and Malay-centric fora that are held ostensibly to instill “Islamic values” of justice, moderation, equality, and the other ethics deemed as central to the practice of the religion; or during events intended to uplift Malay pride and self-esteem.

Who Lost Out With The NEP

That magic wand waved to secure the employment of Malays in the public sector and their accelerated promotion and advancement in it, as well as in other sectors, has required the suppression and holding back of other citizens in their employment, career and even life prospects, however deserving or qualified they may have been, simply on account of their minority ethnic identity. Enough has been written about this for so long that even the most out-of-touch or uneducated in the country is fully aware of it.

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UMNO-BN Election Gimmick?

The loss has not only been to the many hundreds of thousands of non-Malays who have had to make personal sacrifice or have been denied fair treatment as a result of a policy pushed down their throats to ensure ‘national unity’ and so that Malay politicians (and Royalty) can have what these dominant groups consider to be a fair share of the nation’s wealth.

The loss is also that of the nation as a whole.

Surely our well informed Royalty must also be aware of the collateral damage that pro-Malay bumiputra policies have had on governance, economy, social cohesion and race and religious relations. Surely Dr, Sultan Nazrin, with degrees from Oxford and Harvard, must be aware of the vast literature available, in English and the national language, of the downside of maintaining the NEP past its original shelf-life of 1990.

Sultan Dr.Nazrin who is also the Financial Ambassador of the Malaysian International Islamic Financial Centre (MIFC) also said that Malaysia is always described as a modern Islamic nation which is developed, progressive, peaceful and moderate. According to him, “Islamic leadership in Malaysia is highly respected. The wisdom of the Malay leaders in implementing programmes for the development of the people and the country has been acknowledged throughout the world.”

OECD’s Damning Analysis

As Financial Ambassador, he would do well to read the recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Review of Innovation Policy report which categorially states that the NEP is among the causes of Putrajaya’s limited success in upgrading the economy through science, technology and innovation policies since the mid-1980s. The recently released Malaysia report noted that “[s]ocial equity rules associated with the New Economic Policy, affecting a wide range of domains including education and businesses, did not allow sufficient mobility of resources which, in the end, hindered innovation activities”.

The report also noted that the domination of government-linked companies (GLCs) and major family-owned conglomerates – all factors the Sultan should be very familiar with – have tended to block competition, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Finally the reported noted that “[e]ven the best initiatives have suffered from a lack of sustainable efforts, political interference or, in some cases, clientelism and corruption”.

The NEP and its successor policies need an open, rigorous and transparent stocktaking to ensure that the Malay community and other Malaysians do not continue to be led astray or become victims of an anachronistic, increasingly elite-favouring, corrupt and indefensible policy.

The magic has been long gone and will never return. Perhaps the Sultan’s next speech may see him provide some ideas on the replacement policy to the NEP.  Empowerment of the Malays, not dependence of UMNO handouts is the way forward  in the pursuit of national unity.

A Malaysian Trilogy


February 3, 2017

A Malaysian Trilogy

by Dr Chin Huat-Wong

PENANG, Malaysia — How does he do it? How does Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia stay in power despite allegations that he embezzled $1 billion from a sovereign wealth fund?

Corruption is nothing new here, but the scale and implications of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) affair are staggering. It may be the world’s largest money-laundering scandal involving a sitting head of government. The case is being investigated by authorities in at least six foreign states, including the U.S. Justice Department.

Yet there’s been no mutiny within Mr. Najib’s party, no vote of censure in Parliament, no mass protests. In both 2015 and 2016, tens of thousands of supporters of BERSIH, an electoral-reform movement, took to the streets calling for Mr. Najib’s resignation. But the demonstrations don’t seem to have loosened his grip on his party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), nor UMNO’s grip on Malaysia: UMNO has been governing the country in coalition governments for six decades.

Mahathir Mohamad, a former Prime Minister and former mentor of Mr. Najib who recently left UMNO, blames the political stagnation on personal patronage — or what he calls “animal feed.” Others blame it on disarray within the opposition, an uneasy assemblage of parties representing different ethnic and religious interests.

But both explanations place too much emphasis on agency among the elites and too little on structural causes. Mr. Najib remains in power because Malaysia has become an electoral one-party state and because UMNO has captured the Muslim-Malay majority by peddling communalism under the guise of promoting equality. The opposition has yet to find an alternative model on which to build a sustainable coalition for change.

In 1969, after UMNO suffered an unprecedented electoral setback, Muslim Malays’ longstanding grievances about their economic marginalization, a byproduct of British colonialism, devolved into widespread riots between the Malay majority and the Chinese minority. Two years of emergency rule followed.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia after delivering remarks at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Kuala Lumpur last month. Credit Fazry Ismail/European Pressphoto Agency

Abdul Razak Hussein, the first Prime Minister after the May 13, 1969 riots (and Mr. Najib’s father), approached multiparty democracy with great cynicism. He co-opted opposition groups into the governing coalition. He permanently abolished local elections, which had previously put opposition parties in charge of municipalities and given them standing to challenge the federal government’s authority. And his government tightened the sedition law to ban discussion of sensitive communal issues.

Most important, Mr. Razak introduced the New Economic Policy, a nativist plan to restructure the economy, then dominated by local ethnic Chinese and foreign capital. Muslim Malays and indigenous peoples of Borneo, together known as bumiputera, were given preferential access to education, employment, equity and homeownership. These groups soon came to dominate the fast-expanding bureaucracy and state enterprises.

The policy was a masterful move by UMNO to lock in support from Muslim-Malay voters, as well as fend off competition from the Islamist party PAS.

The system was reinforced under Mr. Mahathir’s rule, from 1981 to 2003. His government substantially privatized the economy, producing a new bumiputera capitalist class and more patronage networks. Mr. Mahathir tried to enhance UMNO’s legitimacy among Malays while further sidelining Pas with so-called Islamization policies — starting halal food certification, promoting Islamic courts and offering Islamic banking. He also sent political opponents to jail, shut down newspapers that challenged him and concentrated power in the prime minister’s office, weakening the cabinet, Parliament and the courts.

The combination of communalism and authoritarianism that both Mr. Razak and Mr. Mahathir embedded into the system over the years helps explain Mr. Najib’s resilience today.

In fact, Mr. Najib only survived the last general election in 2013 thanks to years of gerrymandering and the skewed allocation of seats in the national legislature. That year the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat secured only 40 percent of seats in Parliament despite winning 51 percent of the popular vote.

Dissenting voices have been increasingly harassed. In addition to the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is in jail on what many people believe are trumped-up sodomy charges, at least 18 opposition lawmakers have been investigated for or charged with sedition and other offenses since 2013.

Meanwhile, the affirmative action programs have stalled. Although they greatly reduced absolute poverty among Malays, they have done too little to raise their competitiveness. For example, Malays are overrepresented among unemployed youth with university degrees. Yet UMNO has deftly managed to exploit the policy’s waning effectiveness and even the prospect of its demise.

Malaysia’s first-past-the-post election system and the great concentration of power in the prime minister’s office mean that a change of the guard could happen suddenly and have sweeping effects. Playing on Muslim Malays’ growing fear that their dominance would be threatened if UMNO lost power and the bumiputera preferences were terminated, the party has doubled down on communal politics over the past decade.

Since the strong showing of opposition parties in the 2008 general election, ethno-religious controversies — over how women should dress, over who can say “Allah”, drink alcohol or touch dogs — have multiplied and intensified. UMNO routinely accuses opposition parties of serving Chinese or Christian interests to the detriment of Malays. When Mr. Mahathir left UMNO last year, a party leader accused him of being a “puppet” of the secularist and predominantly ethnic-Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The once-formidable opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat — consisting of Mr. Anwar’s centrist party, Pas and DAP — fell apart in 2015, largely because of disagreement over Pas’s proposal to harden Shariah punishments in some states. UMNO is now backing a bill Pas submitted to Parliament that would pave the way for such penalties. This rapprochement is a shrewd political move — a signal by UMNO that it is trying to preserve Malay-Muslim unity by strengthening the place of Islam in Malaysian politics.

What glues many Malays to UMNO isn’t just personal patronage, as Mr. Mahathir claims, but also, and much more so, communal patronage, reinforced by the system’s authoritarian features. UMNO’s affirmative action policies may have reached a dead-end, but even if the opposition hopes to transcend Malaysia’s ethnic politics, it simply cannot do so right now. It has few options ahead of the next general election, which is expected to take place by August 2018.

To win over communalist Malay voters, some people in the opposition want to woo PAS back. But that would mean agreeing to PAS’s Shariah project, which is what ripped the opposition apart in 2015 and remains anathema to many non-Muslims (and some Muslims, too).

Image result for Chin Huat--WongOthers, like Mr. Mahathir and his supporters, seem to be on a personal crusade against Mr. Najib and tend to downplay the system’s structural flaws. Not admitting his part in creating those problems may be a way for Mr. Mahathir to reassure Malay communalists — he isn’t kowtowing to the Chinese; the bumiputera preferences will remain — but it is already alienating some minorities and reformists. In any event, only bold institutional reforms could correct the system’s authoritarian and sectarian features.

Malaysia needs a wholesale political transformation, but it isn’t ready for one. Six decades after independence, true multiparty democracy is still a long way away.