The Future of Pakatan Harapan Post GE-14–Dr. M and Politics of Betrayal


August 20, 2017

The Future of Pakatan Harapan Post GE-14–Dr. M and Politics of Betrayal

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“A crazy country, choking air, polluted hearts, treachery. Treachery and treason.”

– Naguib Mahfouz

COMMENT | Amanah Communications Director Khalid Samad is mistaken. If Dr Mahathir Mohamad returns to the UMNO-BN fold for whatever reason after the next general election, it would not be a betrayal to Pakatan Harapan.

Image result for Mahathir and Anwar in Pakatan Rakyat
A Coalition of Political Convenience is not likely to survive after GE-14, if UMNO-BN wins the contest. Whether Tun Dr. Mahathir returns to the party he created (UNMO Baru) or not depends whether Najib Razak and his associates are prepared to bury the hatchet and welcome him. It is hard to see how this can happen at this point of time. PKR and DAP should, therefore, concentrate on retaining Penang and Selangor. Jangan jadi Mat Jenen.–Din Merican

 

The only betrayal would be that which Harapan commits to the opposition voting public. However, there would be neither any sting nor moral condemnation to that betrayal because most Harapan supporters welcome the alliance with the former UMNO President and Prime Minister. While I have argued that this is a Hobson’s choice of the opposition’s making, any attempt to minimise such betrayal is unwarranted and honestly self-aggrandising.

 

Mind you, this is not a jab at Khalid whom I think is an honourable politician – a trait lacking in the current political leadership – but rather a rejoinder that “betrayal” of any kind in the current political climate is meaningless.

So what if Bersatu, Mahathir or any other politician betrays Harapan? This is a single-issue election – the wrong issue in my opinion – which means the current UMNO grand poohbah is vanquished or he is not. The best-case scenario if the opposition fails in that endeavour is that it retains Selangor and Penang.

Image result for Mahathir and Anwar in Pakatan Rakyat

While I have no doubt that opposition political strategists are working that angle (retaining Selangor and Penang at all cost), the real issue is whether Mahathir and Bersatu can deliver. If he cannot, and if the opposition loses support from their base, then the real question is, will Harapan cling on to the former Prime Minister?

But you ask, why are the stakes so low? Well, the stakes are low because even if Najib wins and this kleptocrat prevails, it would not be as if the sky will come tumbling down. We have endured a corrupt kleptocracy for decades and many would argue that we as a people, despite the overt systemic discrimination, have thrived.

I have argued numerous times of the futility of this strategy – “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 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.’”

Besides, the history of Harapan is littered with betrayals that most opposition supporters have accepted. Harapan has always managed to find allies – maybe except PSM – that they managed to do business with, who eventually betrayed the opposition alliance.

I would argue that the opposition is extremely comfortable with betrayals. How many political operatives, political entities and the rest of the flotsam and jetsam of establishment politics have betrayed the opposition? Honestly, I have lost count.

And let us be honest. The opposition was not fooled because they were naive. The reality is that the opposition has never met a political outfit or personality that was anti-Najib that they did not have use for, until ultimately, they were betrayed because they were outplayed.

No cohesive platform

I am not making the argument that disparate interests should not attempt to come together but rather, the opposition has never really made an attempt to work together in an honest way. There was never any attempt to form a cohesive ideology or a platform that honestly addressed the agendas that opposing interests brought to the table. There were always these piecemeal efforts to bury the political and/or ideological differences and shoe horn everything into the “save Malaysia” narrative.

Moreover, many opposition supporters were comfortable with this. I would argue that these “betrayal” narratives sustained the opposition when things fell apart because of their own ineptness. “We were betrayed” when it should be “we should never have been in this position in the first place”.

Meanwhile, the UMNO regime has its own cries of betrayal. The urban demographic has betrayed them. Former members have betrayed them. With UMNO, it goes further. Betrayals are not just against the political party. Betrayals are against race and religion. This is why I suppose Bersatu is attempting the same strategy.

I mean take a look at what Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman says while describing the current UMNO grand poohbah as the “Malay race’s number one enemy” – “Pawning the interests of the Malays by giving mega contracts to communist China while we have to shoulder the debts amounting to billions of ringgit.”

I made my stand on this issue of the PRC deals clear here – that pro-opposition rhetoric consists of furthering the narrative that China is taking advantage of the natives and the country is being sold piece by piece to a foreign power to settle Najib’s debts. While my disdain for Najib administration is well-documented (by me, mostly), making the argument that these China deals have no credibility merely because they come from the Najib regime is disingenuous.”

So, sit back and enjoy the show. Nobody is going to betray the opposition because nobody was loyal to the opposition in the first place. PAS will eventually engage in three-concerned fights with its former allies because they have a new sugar daddy. I am sure there will be defections on both sides in the upcoming general elections.

Betrayals will be rife and teeth gnashed, but ultimately the losers will not be the urban demographic but the “lower classes” that many politicians and analysts are banking on to save the opposition.

The only gun pointed at anyone is the one pointed at the marginalised communities here in Malaysia, and they know that that gun will be passed to anyone who claims the throne of Putrajaya.


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

Chameleon-like nature of Malaysian political culture makes Malaysia a Malusia


August 17, 2017

Chameleon-like nature of Malaysian political culture makes Malaysia a Malusia

by Ronald Benjamin@www.malaysiakini.co

We need a breed of leaders who will bring about a new brand of politics that respects moral integrity, says Ronald Benjamin.

Image result for mahathir badawi najib

The Malusian Transformers–Vision 2020 to  TN50

It is unfortunate that the political culture in Malaysia has lost its moral compass over the years. It seems that any means at one’s disposal is justified as long as the enemy is defeated.

This is evident in the new political landscape of change we currently see in the country.

For example, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, whose authoritarian rule was responsible for the weakening of institutions of justice over years, now speaks about the importance of independent institutions when he is no longer in power. He currently supports term limits for Prime Minister. Why were such proposals not presented when he was helming the government?

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his cabinet ministers have repeatedly condemned Mahathir for past mismanagement such as the foreign exchange losses in the 1980s and 1990s, crony capitalism and the jailing of political opponents.

Image result for mahathir badawi najibMaking Donald Trump and David Duke Proud

Why were such acts of mismanagement and authoritarian rule condoned at that particular time, when an immediate motion of no confidence against Dr Mahathir would have forced him to step down earlier?

Why was there no ministerial dissent in the cabinet? Does this not show that Barisan Nasional ministers have lost their moral integrity and betrayed the rakyat by condoning wrongdoings? Is this not an act of political survival at all costs?

If Najib is sincere about fighting crony capitalism, why are certain deals involving government contracts still done without open tender?

The opposition parties, who had nothing good to say about Mahathir in his 22 years of reign, have now opportunistically accepted him as a political asset for rural votes.

Have Pakatan Harapan leaders forgotten that Mahathir’s style of politics cultivated ethno-religious dominance in the minds of rural voters over the years, which has made it difficult to fight elite corruption?

What can clearly be seen is that the attitudes of politicians change based on political expediency rather than integrity. A chameleon-like behaviour is projected to the rakyat.

It is obvious that the ends justifies the means. This behaviour of politicians seems to be exciting, especially for those who desire change over the years, but the truth is this excitement would only be for a while.

Image result for Corrupt Malaysia

When moral integrity that sustains good governance is sacrificed in order to win at all costs, it will ultimately crush a party. Therefore, it is vital for Malaysians to discern the behaviour of politicians who have lost their sense of moral integrity. Integrity is required in the DNA of politicians. They must be accountable for their actions.

A political culture of integrity will go a long way in rebuilding trust in our institutions. For this to happen, we need a breed of leaders who will bring about a new brand of politics that respects moral integrity. This would replace the chameleon-like nature of our current political culture.

‘Nothing to Hide’ Violence 2.0 – the Harbinger of Anarchy in Malusia


August 17, 2017

‘Nothing to Hide’ Violence 2.0 – the Harbinger of Anarchy in Malusia

by S Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for See, people with power understand exactly one thing: violence.”  - Noam Chomsky

COMMENT | Would it surprise anyone that when the dust of this recent scuffle at the Nothing to Hide 2.0 forum settles, the perpetrators – always young Malay youths – would be portrayed as the aggrieved party, much like the thieves of the Low Yat fiasco? UMNO has always been protective of its voting base with Malay opposition voices harassed and intimidated when it comes to courting this specific demographic.

While I have been skeptical of the efficacy of this particular tactic of the opposition when it comes to using the 1MDB issue as a vote getter, the response from the regime and the attempts to derail any form of dialogue points to how much this regime fears the architect of modern Malaysia – Dr Mahathir Mohamad -and his designs on the throne of Putrajaya.

While the current UMNO grand poohbah holds solidarity prayers with Muslims begging God for peace and stability, the Najib refuseniks busy themselves with the task of destabilising UMNO hegemony. There is no point talking about a Malaysian tsunami because the violence in this event, the harassment that Malay opposition figures face, the use of the state apparatus to investigate Najib refuseniks’ sympathisers points to the reality that the next general elections will be the ultimate Malay scuffle.

While some would argue that the questions asked by these so-called provocateurs were meant to derail the forum, the reality is that those questions form the basis of right-wing Malay politics and are the means to which UMNO has maintained hegemony.

Those question about the Memali incident, Bersatu’s simpatico with the DAP and the supposed sins of jailed political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim – rights, race and religion – were meant to demonstrate that the former UMNO Prime Minister had abandoned the Malay community and conspires with the ‘Chinese DAP’ to supplant the rightful place of Malays and Islam in this country.

So, while urban opposition propaganda promulgates the narrative that we are all in this together, the reality is that this “scuffle” between the Malays in the existential threat facing UMNO today. This fight will eventually determine not who controls the destiny of the Malay polity – mainstream Malay politics is based on “Ketuanism” – but rather who controls the gravy train.

Image result for UMNO Ketuanism

The Target of N2H 2.0 Violence–Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

Nothing will come of any investigation into this matter as nothing has ever come of any investigation where the UMNO ‘titushkas’ have used political violence to disrupt the numerous oppositional and other activists’ forums meant to highlight or discuss the malfeasances of the state.

Ironically, a friend of mine from PAS told me just recently that he remembers the time when the UMNO ‘titushkas’ disrupted ceramahs and various other political gatherings to demonstrate that the opposition could not maintain stability in their own house, then how could they with the country.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and Tiga Line Gang

N2H Violence –The Harbinger of Things to Come

In case anyone assumes that it is prejudicial to jump to conclusion as to UMNO’s role and my description of the UMNO provocateurs, read the comments of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi with regard to the intersection between organised thuggery and UMNO;

“He said, ‘The 6,171 Malays, they are not real thugs (samseng), they were Pekida members and were part of the Tiga Line group, Gang 30, Gang 7 – these are festivities (kendurikendara) gangsters.” Furthermore, he added, ‘I tell our Tiga Line friends, do what should be done.’”

And what exactly should these groups be doing? I would argue that if three years ago you made the claim that Tiga Line was disrupting Bersih activities, you would get UMNO members saying that these thugs are only doing what needs to be done.”

Instilling fear

In other words, it should surprise no one that what needed to be done was to disrupt Nothing to Hide 2.0 to instil a sense of fear in any Malay participant that there would be violence in Bersatu’s political gathering. This is why the state security apparatus is shifting the blame to the organisers of the forum instead of the disruptors of the event.

Always keep in mind UMNO veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s rejoinder – “(Bagaimanapun) jangan memandang rendah kepada kerajaan kerana mereka ada kuasa, ada televisyen, radio, duit dan media. Mereka juga ada alat-alat risikan dan sebagainya. Media dia lebih tahu pada kita. Dia tahu kita belum tahu lagi. Sama ada dengan kekuasaan itu, parti yang berkuasa akan kalah saya tidak tahu.”

What makes this a little more dangerous is the fact that UMNO is not only turning on the Malay community, it is also turning on its own. It should surprise nobody that the former Prime Minister has many sympathisers within UMNO who do not make up the elite of UMNO but who are the “ordinary people” of the party and the beneficiaries of his patronage of his long UMNO watch.

These true believers are pining for the days when the corruption was managed and UMNO kept the Islamists – PAS – at bay while the Islamists within worked their dark sorcery on the Malay community. These are the sleepers that the current UMNO elite fear. What damage have they done in terms of leaks (propaganda) or could they do during the election (sabotage)?

One of the complaints I get from Malay opposition operatives is that I always seem to highlight the political violence against non-Malay opposition parties and personalities and imply – I disagree with this description – that Malays have an easy ride when it comes to spreading their message to the Malay demographic.

Malay academics and social activists always remind me that when it comes to violence carried out by the state, the Malay demographic feels the boot the most. However, what should be of concern is that this time because of the political actors involved, the level of support of the Najib refuseniks and the hidden hands of the Malay opposition political elite, the violence could escalate.

It would be easy to dismiss Nothing to Hide 2.0 violence as just another episode where the state disrupts a gathering – or as some have argued, a black bag operation from the master manipulator – because this is, in reality, the shape of things to come.

When you have a sitting Prime Minister who refuses to acknowledge if he would abide by the results of the democratic process, when there are laws in place which override the traditional mechanism for declaring emergency and a security apparatus which is not independent (and has more or less made such a claim), what you have is a Molotov cocktail of racial and religious disorder.

The most important question is who is going to throw that cocktail, and if you think that UMNO is the only one capable of doing that, you have not been paying attention.

 

Malaysia: The Ambitious Home Affairs Minister


August 9, 2017

Malaysia: The Ambitious Home Affairs Minister

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Zahid Hamidi the racist

Prime Minister Najib Razak–There is a knife behind your back, watch it!

Is Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi a liability, a loose cannon or Najib Abdul Razak’s loyal henchman? It is never a proud moment when one scores an own goal, so what was Zahid thinking, when he attacked the lineage of the former PM, Dr Mahathir Mohamad?

In one fell swoop, Zahid undermined his boss Najib’s “1Malaysia” pledge of a diverse nation. On the other hand, many Malaysians feel that Zahid may have done them a favour by inadvertently airing the sensitive issue of “ethnicity”.

In the past, Malay nationalists have taken pot shots at the non-Malays, and told the Chinese to “balik Tongsan” and the Indians, to “balik India”. Now, the Malaysians of Indonesian stock can be told to “balik Indon”.

More importantly, when Zahid commented upon Mahathir’s Indian heritage, he attracted jibes of “The pot calling the kettle black” because of Zahid’s Indonesian origins.

With that attack backfiring, Zahid then criticised Mahathir for his role in the Memali massacre of 1985. This may damage Zahid more than it will Mahathir.

Zahid has grabbed the wrong end of the stick. Eye-witness accounts allege that Umno Kedah had warned Mahathir that the charismatic and influential PAS ustaz, Ibrahim “Libya” Mahmood, was their greatest threat in the (then) upcoming general election of 1986. They predicted that UMNO Kedah would lose to PAS.

Musa Hitam (photo) has already said that Mahathir was in KL and not in Beijing on the day of the incident. The critical question is, why 32 years later, PAS and its leader, Abdul Hadi Awang, are aligning themselves with UMNO-Baru? Mahathir once said, “Melayu mudah lupa”. Zahid should question PAS’ allegiance with UMNO-Baru after the betrayal.

Does Zahid’s personal staff enjoy the schadenfreude of seeing him make public gaffes? His speech, in English, at the United Nations, made Malaysians squirm with embarrassment. Even my grandparents’ generation, living in the kampung, speak better English. Zahid’s speech writer probably over-estimated Zahid’s proficiency in English.

When Zahid was the Defence Minister, in 2012, the English version of Mindef’s official website became a Twitter and Facebook sensation. His humiliation was made complete when he closed down the site and admitted that his staff had relied on the free online services of Google Translate. A similar Manglish caption was also used to welcome former President Barack Obama to Malaysia.

Zahid’s lack of commitment to the rakyat

Malaysians are furious about Najib’s assertion that an Arab Prince made a RM2.6 billion donation and yet Zahid took only three minutes to address Parliament about this serious issue. Three minutes is the time it takes to cook a perfect soft-boiled egg. Zahid’s casual attitude towards this matter shows his lack of commitment to the rakyat.

During the September 2015 Red Shirt rally, the red-shirts went on the rampage, damaging property, cussing and insulting others. Their leaders had little control over them.

Zahid publicly supported the red-shirts’ mission to “defend” Malay dignity, and said, “Do we keep quiet when our dignity is challenged, and when we are pushed against the wall? …we will rise to defend our dignity.”

What is so dignified about trashing public property during a rally? How had Malay dignity been challenged? Why defend MO1 and the missing billions of ringgit?

We want compassionate leaders, but two examples demonstrate their lack of empathy with the public. When seven Orang Asli (OA) school children disappeared from their rural boarding school, in August 2015, the security forces only conducted their search and rescue mission on the fifth day of their disappearance.

Valuable time was lost because the authorities dismissed the parents’ concerns. Seven weeks later, two children were found a stone’s throw away from the school. Five had perished.

In 1998, Zahid, who was a close ally of the former DPM, Anwar Ibrahim, criticised corrupt government officials during Mahathir’s tenure. Now, Zahid is the Home Minister and DPM. He has restricted Anwar’s family’s access to him and curtailed prison visits during Raya.

Anwar’s daughter, Hana explained her father’s treatment, when she said, “Power can change people. My family and I have seen this phenomenon, since 1998.”

When Zahid became the Home Minister in 2013, he claimed that 250,000 Shi’ite Muslims were hiding in Malaysia, and started a systematic witch-hunt to track them. Former PAS Deputy President, Mat Sabu, was also accused of involvement in Shi’ite activities.

This targeting of religious minorities is worrying. With a DPM who previously expressed support for the Malay gang, Tiga Line, one wonders if the abductions of Pastor Raymond Koh and social activist, Amri Che Mat, are linked to the criminal underworld.

As DPM, Zahid may have the heads of departments and the Armed Forces at his beck and call, but now, he must be feeling isolated. His increasingly incoherent and personal attacks have isolated the non-Malays, virtuous Malays, the mamaks and the Shi’ites; in other words, decent, law-abiding Malaysians.

Incredibly, Zahid has managed to make both Mahathir and Najib look good.

Much ado over Nothing–The Zahid –Mahathir Spat. Isn’t that Village Politics?


August 9,2017

Much ado over Nothing–The Zahid -Mahathir Spat. Isn’t that Village Politics?

by Joceline Tan

http://www.thestar.com.my

IT has been a very public spat that has not spared both men of damage. Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s attempt to remind the UMNO grassroots of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s mixed ancestry backfired, and is still bubbling like a hotpot.

Image result for zahid\ hamidi from java

Malaysia’s charismatic Deputy Prime Minister–Datuk Seri Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

The charismatic(?) Deputy Prime Minister had been on a roll at a string of UMNO division meetings, needling his former party boss, referring to him as a leader who is “gila talak tiga” (someone who goes through repeated divorces).

But when he claimed that Dr Mahathir’s real name was Mahathir a/l Iskandar Kutty, that was when everything sort of went boom! in his face.

Image result for zahid\ hamidi from java

Zahid’s loyalty to his corrupt and scandal riven boss, Najib Razak, is suspect. Dr. Mahathir knows that loyalty is not UMNO’s trait. He has been successful in planting a seed of doubt in Najib’s mind that his second in command cannot be trusted. So the UMNO President should watch his back. There is a wolf in his backyard.–Din Merican

Dr Mahathir’s Indian side was one of those no-go zones for the mainstream media throughout his 22-year premiership. It was deemed politically incorrect and no one dared to broach the subject because he was a very powerful Prime Minister. Besides, the perception then was that the man himself did not wish that part of his family tree to be made public.

It is still politically incorrect in the sense that such remarks are inappropriate in polite society and the DPM has suffered for it. But Dr Mahathir’s subsequent response also cast him in a poor light. He is supposed to be a statesman but his action was that of someone who hits below the belt when under attack.

He dredged out a private discussion he had with Dr Ahmad Zahid to imply that the latter was not loyal to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and rehashed an allegation about the younger man’s wealth.

Image result for Abdullah BadawiTun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi–He is smelling roses, given the state of our politics

 

It was not the first time he had broken confidentiality to use against an opponent – he had put Dewan Rakyat Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia in a spot by exposing a private conversation they had about Najib.

Politics is a dirty game and the moral of the story is to remember that Dr Mahathir remembers everything despite his “selective amnesia”, as long-time Mahathir critic Tawfik Ismail put it.

Dr Mahathir has come full circle in his career, and many are still coming to terms with his new role as the leader of the Opposition.

The day Dr Mahathir was made chairman of Pakatan Harapan must have been what Tawfik termed as a “through the looking glass” phenomenon – finding oneself in a strange parallel world.

“I’ve always felt that this fight against Najib, the wrong people are fighting it. People like Mahathir and Muhyiddin (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin), they were part of the background to the country’s problems.

“You can’t get the guy who created the rubbish to clear rubbish. The young generation are looking to newer faces like Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Liew Chin Tong and Khairy Jamaluddin,” said Tawfik, a former Barisan Nasional MP who now sits on the board of governors of a leading international school.

Dr Mahathir has turned out to be as polemic as ever on the Opposition side. The “angry young people” cohort was Pakatan’s fixed deposit in the last two general elections. But disenchantment, even disillusionment, has crept in and this was apparent at a recent political forum to discuss whether Dr Mahathir is an agent for change or destruction.

According to lawyer activist Syahredzan Johan, the audience comprised largely millennials, middle-class folk and the converted, in the sense that they are Pakatan-leaning.

“There were already misgivings when Mahathir joined the Opposition but it deepened with his appointment as Pakatan chairman. They are divided on whether he is the best person to lead the Opposition. They are quite set on not supporting BN. The question now is whether they can be persuaded to come out for Pakatan,” said Syahredzan.

The divide was apparent among the panellists as well as those firing questions from the floor.

Amanah President Mohamad Sabu and the radical activist Hishamuddin Rais went all out to defend working with Dr Mahathir. Another panellist Dr Michael Jeyakumar was critical of Dr Mahathir while lawyer Harris Ibrahim rejected the idea. It is intriguing to watch these leading players who used to condemn Dr Mahathir now praising him. But with just a few more months to the general election, Pakatan is still struggling to defend their alliance with Dr Mahathir and that is not a good place to be.

Those who asked questions were mostly young people who had grown up on a propagandist diet of how cruel and corrupt Dr Mahathir was and it was not easy to change all of that overnight.

Some could not accept him while some directed their disappointment at the Pakatan leaders for the U-turns made on Dr Mahathir.

These millennials can see through the twists and turns of politics. There is also a sense that they feel politicians are insulting their intelligence with their newfound friendship with Dr Mahathir.

This cohort grew up in a time of relative affluence. They have had education – some more than others – and their expectations are higher than that of any other generation before them.

They also do not like to be patronised. Hishamuddin’s opinion that there was no need for Pakatan to name their Prime Minister candidate because “you haven’t even bought the cow but you want to argue where to put it” did not go down well.

One of the audience rebutted that even when shopping online, one is able to check out the item in 3D, turn it around, magnify the view. The storyline that Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail will be the Prime Minister while Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s pardon is being secured, also does not sell.

They found it ironic that Pakatan leaders had taught them to hate Dr Mahathir but now to bring down Najib, they have to embrace Dr Mahathir. One of the questions posed was whether they would also have to accept Najib one of these days.

Millennials are those who are now in their 20s and 30s. The upper half of this cohort grew up in the Mahathir era, while the lower half reached adulthood in the post-Mahathir years.

“I am 31, I had just finished my SPM when Mahathir left office. By the time we reached political maturity, we could look back at his era without the tinted lenses. By then Pak Lah (Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) was opening up our society, he was my PM even though he did not leave office as the most popular PM,” said UMNO Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan.

Democracy and openness are important to this generation and that explains why many of them were drawn to the Opposition after the sacking of Anwar.

“There is no hate or disrespect on our part, just fatigue. It’s hard to reconcile all these U-turns. Personally, I feel amused and also annoyed. I don’t understand the way he has changed his stand on what he had fought for,” said Shahril who is also the CEO of a gas and oil company.

The millennials are a complex crop but it seems like they are not as admiring of the Mahathir era as has been made out to be. They appreciate the development he brought but the thinking ones also see the faults and contradictions of that era.

“Of course, there are contradictions. There are no angels in politics. We’re not looking for the perfect politician, we are looking for a better Malaysia,” said Syahredzan.

According to a young political risk consultant, many millennials follow the careers of young politicians of their generation, watching what they do and what they say.

UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin ranks high among them and they think Parti Pribumi Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman is smart and has potential but tends to talk too much about things he does not know much of.

PKR Vice-Ppresident Rafizi Ramli was admired until the disastrous Kajang Move happened. They also admire PKR Vice-President Nurul Izzah Anwar but found her claim about Pakatan building a cheaper MRT laughable. This cohort could see that the newly completed MRT was costly but it was completed on time and without cost overruns and that impressed the professionals among them.

Neither Pakatan nor Barisan will have an easy ride with the millennials. They are a discerning generation, and they can tell when politicians are talking sense or dishing out nonsense.

For a start, Dr Mahathir should stop talking about reforming the Judiciary. He is not the best person to talk about that and his image will sink the more he tries to blame others for what happened to the judges during his time.

Pakatan put Dr Mahathir up there to make inroads into the Malay heartland and he is said to be making some progress in that respect. They will make some new ground and lose some old ground. But will having a 92-year-old man as the “top dog” inspire continued support among the millennials who make up more than 30% of Malaysian voters?

 

Malaysia through its Constitution


August 8, 2017

Malaysia through its Constitution

Much can be told about a country’s character through its laws. Correspondingly, the transformation of a country’s legal regime over time can be said to be a reflection of the socio-political evolution of its society.

Take the Constitution of the United States of America. To date, there have been 27 amendments since its promulgation in 1789. The first ten amendments are collectively known as the Bill of Rights, and spells out the aspirations and desires of a fledgling nation in the form of a solemn promise of fundamental rights in relation to religion, speech, press, assembly, the right to bear arms and protections in the criminal justice system.

 

Tunku Abdul Rahman hailed the “Merdeka” cries during the country’s Independence Proclamation Ceremony on August 31, 1957.

 

Following the end of the Civil War in 1865, amendments were made to abolish slavery and further define the rights of its citizens. As the Twentieth century got underway, the Constitution was further amended to reflect the changing times – voting rights for women, tax concerns and that peculiar period in modern American history known as Prohibition.

In 1963 the assassination of President John F. Kennedy paved the way for the 25th amendment, which establishes clear procedures for filling the post in the case of an abrupt vacancy. In 1971, following nationwide student activism in protest of the Vietnam War, the Constitution was amended for the 26th time to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

The Malaysian Story

In similar vein, the evolution of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia since Merdeka in 1957 also provides a picture of how our nation has progressed – or regressed, depending on perspective – throughout the 60 years of its existence.

Unlike the US, the Malaysian Parliament is not shy when it comes to tinkering with the supreme law of the land. To date, there have been 57 constitutional amendment acts, which correspond to an average of almost one a year. However, it would be disingenuous to compare the two charters like for like, as the US Constitution, which comprises only seven articles, is meant to provide a “frame of government”1 that sets out the broad scope and functions of the main branches of the Federal Government, viz. the Legislative (Congress), the Judiciary and the Executive (the office of the president).

On the other hand, the Malaysian document is 12 times longer comprising 15 parts, 230 articles and 13 schedules – all of which detail very specific provisions on numerous issues including revenue from toddy shops to capitation grants from the Federal government to the states. For practical purposes, many of these provisions naturally require updating every once in a while.

That said, a number of scholars have noted that the actual number of amendments that have been made to the Federal Constitution is closer to 700, if each individual change is counted.2 Be that as it may, it is the substance more than the quantity of the amendments that really matters, and on this score constitutional expert Shad Saleem Faruqi has opined that fundamental alterations to critical areas have resulted in the dilution of the spirit of the original Merdeka Constitution.3 In addition, legal scholar HP Lee even describes the changes as amounting to “a truncation of safeguards which had been considered by the Reid Commission as vital for the growth of a viable democratic nation”.4

Malayan delegates met with British officials in London in 1956 to discuss their country’s future relationship with Britain.1960: Ending the Emergency without Losing Emergency Powers

 

The first major amendment to the Constitution took place in 1960, three years after Merdeka. In tabling the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1960, the government moved to amend 33 articles and insert two new ones, besides amending the second schedule. While it is not unusual for a fledgling country to amend its constitution after a few years of finding its feet, some of the changes that were undertaken had serious and far-reaching consequences.

It is perhaps important to first understand the context of the times. Malaya, as the country was called then, had gained independence in 1957 in the midst of a communist insurgency that began in 1948. By 1960, the war had begun to wind down as the communist objective of seeking independence by force from the British had, by virtue of Merdeka, been rendered moot.

However, instead of capitalising on the end of the war to usher in a new era of peace and greater freedom, it was a case of the government wanting to end the Emergency without losing emergency powers. This can be clearly seen from amendments made to Part XI of the Constitution, encompassing Articles 149 to 151, which deals with legislation against subversion and action prejudicial to public order.

Article 149 provides for the creation of Acts of Parliament that would, in the face of subversive threats to the Federation,5 cause the suspension of fundamental liberties enshrined in Articles 5, 9, 10 and 13 with regards to freedom of speech, association, movement and property, and freedom from unlawful detention. This is of course an understandable provision given the tumultuous security situation of the time. However, the same article also provided a sunset clause that stipulated that all such legislation would cease to have effect after one year. In other words, laws allowing preventive detention were meant to be temporary features.

Men of the Malay Police Field Force wade through a river during a jungle patrol in the Temenggor area of northern Malaya.

 

Unfortunately, this critical safeguard was repealed in the amendment, thus paving the way for the creation of the notorious Internal Security Act 1960, which remained in force until its repeal 52 years later, only to be succeeded by similarly powerful incarnations such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 and the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015.

Meanwhile, Article 150, which governs the declaration of states of emergency, used to contain in its original version a clause that would necessitate, in the event of an emergency proclamation, its tabling in both Houses of Parliament at the soonest convenience. Once convened, Parliament must approve the resolution for the emergency, failing which it would automatically expire after two months from its date of issue. In the case that Parliament is not sitting at the time, then the Yang Di- Pertuan Agong6 could issue emergency ordinances that would expire 15 days after the reconvening of Parliament.

However, the provisions were amended to remove the need for parliamentary approval. Instead, any emergency proclamation or ordinance would now continue to be in force until such time that Parliament annuls it. The corollary had been reversed – where parliamentary approval was previously required to maintain a state of emergency, it was now only required to end one. These amendments were to set the scene for many long-term emergencies and ultimately the suspension of Parliament in 1969.

While most of the other constitutional amendments made in 1960 were mainly administrative in nature, there were still a few more that carried questionable overtones. Take, for example, the amendments to Articles 122, 125 and 138, which resulted in the repeal of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission ( JLSC), hitherto responsible for making all recommendations with regards to judicial appointments.

Following that, the power to initiate disciplinary proceedings against judges was transferred from the defunct JLSC to the Agong on the advice of the prime minister, thus severely curtailing the independence of the judiciary. Repercussions from this move did not become apparent until 28 years later (1988) when the provisions facilitated the sacking of the Lord President (now known as Chief Justice)Tun Salleh Abbas and two other judges of the Supreme Court, precipitating a judicial crisis from which the nation has never fully recovered.7

In addition to the Judiciary, an amendment to Article 145 also had the effect of changing the position of the attorney-general from a tenured one, much like a Supreme Court judge, to one that is held at the pleasure of the Agong. The intentions here were probably less sinister as it made the position a political appointment, which meant that the attorney-general could be a member of the government and therefore directly answerable to Parliament, as was the case from the 1960s to the early 1980s when the post was typically filled by members of parliament. However, it also meant that they could be unceremoniously sacked at any time, as Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail was to discover in 2016 after running afoul of the Prime Minister Najib Razak.

1962: Consolidation of Power

The second major amendment to the Constitution took place just two years after the first. In 1962 a bill was moved to amend 29 articles, adding three more articles while repealing three others. Changes were also made to a number of schedules, including the introduction of the 13th schedule, which governs electoral rules.

By and large, the 1962 amendments saw the tightening up of laws and other minor administrative matters involving executive authority, legislative powers and financial matters including the assignment of revenue from minerals to states. Nonetheless, major changes were also made, particularly to Parts III and VIII concerning rules of citizenship and the electoral system respectively, both tied to the long-term survivability of the ruling Alliance government.

Citizenship had been one of the most contentious political issues leading to independence, and continued to dominate public discourse in the years following. The Reid Commission, drafters of the Constitution, had liberalised citizenship requirements so that many ethnically non-Malay residents could become citizens and, accordingly, gain electoral franchise.

The consequences of the more liberal citizenship policy would not be seen until 1959 when the first General Election of independent Malaya was held. The Alliance government saw its control over 99% of seats in the Federal Legislative Council reduced to only 71% in the newly constituted Parliament of Malaya. Besides losing control over Kelantan and Terengganu, two states in the Malay heartland, much of the Alliance’s losses were also due to low levels of support from the newly qualified non-Malay voters in urban areas.

Thus, faced with diminished influence, the Alliance moved to appease Malay voters through a massive rural development programme while they sought to contain the non-Malays by two means: firstly, citizenship was made more difficult to acquire, easier to lose and greater discretionary power in citizenship matters was placed in the hands of the executive.8 Secondly – and more effectively – fundamental changes were made to the electoral system in order to mitigate the potential threat of non-Malay electoral strength.9

However, tinkering with election rules was not an easy task, thanks to the Reid Commission’s foresight in embedding provisions to ensure that the Election Commission (EC) was not only independent but also accorded total authority over the delineation of constituencies without the need for parliamentary oversight. This meant that political parties, even if they were in power at federal or state level, would have little influence over the review and delimitation of constituencies.

In 1960 an electoral re-delimitation exercise was conducted by the EC in strict conformity with the letter of the Constitution. As constituencies became more fairly apportioned and voter disparity was reduced to a maximum deviation of 15% of the average constituency size within a state, it became apparent that urban non-Malay voters would gain an increased share of electoral influence at the expense of the Alliance’s traditional rural Malay vote base, which would lose its rural weightage advantage.

Alarmed by the outcome of the redelimitation exercise, the Alliance government passed a raft of changes to the Constitution in 1962 that effectively annulled the revised constituencies, added new rules for constituency delineation, increased the 15% deviation limit to 33%, and even more significantly, stripped the EC of its independence and role as final arbiter of constituency changes. As a result, the EC is now mandated only to conduct re-delimitation reviews before presenting its recommendations to the prime minister, who in turn will then table them “with or without modifications” to Parliament for approval by simple majority.

In the grand scheme of things, the constitutional amendments made in 1962, particularly with regards to election rules that provided Parliament with even greater control over the creation and boundaries of constituencies, can be seen to have been the greatest contributor to the longevity of the ruling regime’s hold on power, unbroken to this day.

1963-1969: A Nation in Transition

Just a year after the 1962 amendments, the Constitution underwent another major overhaul. The Malaysia Act 1963 was introduced to accommodate structural changes to the country with the addition of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore into the expanded and renamed Federation of Malaysia.

KL in the 1960s.

 

As can be expected, minor changes had to be made to more than a hundred articles in order to include the new states. For the most part, the amendments were procedural in nature with a few exceptions such as the reinstatement of a watered-down version of the JLSC.10 In 1964 and 1965 the Constitution was amended twice for minor administrative matters involving the legislative, executive and judiciary, as well as further tidying up of laws following the expansion of the Federation.

Unfortunately, the new union was not to last. In protest of what Indonesian president Sukarno labelled the “neo-imperialist” creation of Malaysia,11 Indonesia declared a “confrontation” against the Federation, proceeding to wage violent conflict for the next three years.12 Besides military skirmishes in Borneo, a spate of bombings were also carried out in Singapore, the most famous of which was the bombing of Macdonald House on March 10, 1965, which killed three people and injured 33 others.

Adding to the pressure were racial tensions stirred up by various parties including Indonesian saboteurs, nationalist Malays as well as pro-communist leftist elements. During Singapore’s two-year period in Malaysia, numerous racial riots occurred, including the notorious July 21, 1964 riot that broke out during a procession to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, resulting in the deaths of 22 people. Further smaller scale riots took place later in the year, contributing to an immensely tense environment. These events had also taken place against the backdrop of a racially charged 1964 General Election, which served to strain the relationship between the Alliance and the People’s Action Party, which ruled Singapore.

With disagreements coming to a head over social, political and even economic and financial issues, the relationship became untenable. On August 9, 1965, Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman; Putra moved to enact the Constitution and Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Act 1965 in order to legally separate Singapore from the Federation. With the removal of Singapore, the Constitution had to be amended again. This was conducted in 1966, affecting 45 articles and four schedules.

1966 saw further constitutional issues as it was Sarawak’s turn to face a crisis. In June 1966, following dissatisfaction over a native land reform law advocated by Sarawak Chief Minister Stephen Kalong Ningkan, 21 out of 42 members of the state legislature petitioned the Governor of Sarawak to remove Ningkan. With the backing of the Prime Minister, the Governor demanded Ningkan’s resignation, but the latter refused as he insisted that due process had not been followed as there had not been a motion of no confidence in the legislature.

Ningkan was sacked anyway, leading him to file a suit at the High Court, which ruled in September that the governor did not have the power to dismiss a Chief Minister. Ningkan was then reinstated but before he could dissolve the legislature to seek a fresh mandate, the Federal government moved the Emergency (Federal Constitution and Constitution of Sarawak) Bill 1966 in order to declare a state of emergency in Sarawak, thus suspending elections in the state. Further to that, the state constitution of Sarawak was also amended by Parliament to authorise the Governor to convene the state legislature without going through the Chief Minister, leading to Ningkan’s ultimate dismissal.

The high-handed removal of the Sarawak Chief Minister in 1966 marked the first time that a power grab was facilitated by the Federal Government, though it would not be the last. In 1977 a coup by members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) against the Kelantan Chief Minister was foiled when an emergency was declared by the federal government, thus keeping the incumbent chief minister in place until elections were held the following year. In the event, Barisan Nasional (the renamed Alliance coalition) managed to gain power for the first time in the state.

More recently in 2009, the Perak Chief Minister from PAS, leading the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition government, was removed by the Sultan of the state following defections of PR assemblymen who declared support for BN. Following an audience between the Prime Minister and the Sultan, the latter refused the Chief Minister’s request for dissolution of the state legislature, and instead appointed a new Chief Minister from BN. Although a successful challenge was made at the High Court, the verdict was later overturned by the Court of Appeal and Federal Court, which held that  the takeover was legal.

1969-1973: Aftermath of a Tragedy

Topping off what is probably the most eventful decade in Malaysian history is the infamous May 13, 1969 racial riots. Tensions had mounted in the years leading up to the 1969 general election, resulting in outbreaks of sectarian violence. In November 1967 a hartal organised by Maoist sympathisers in Penang turned bloody, although it was contained from spreading beyond the state. In June 1968 protests against death sentences meted out to 11 Chinese members of the Malayan Communist Party took a racial slant until their sentences were commuted.

Eventually, the official General Election campaign period, from nomination day on April 5 to polling day on May 10, saw sentiments coming to a boil as racial and religious politics were played up to the hilt. A fortnight before polling day, a Malay political worker was killed in Penang. But while this incident managed to be quelled, another incident in Selangor occurred 10 days later, in which a young Chinese man was shot, reportedly in self-defence, by Police officers.

Sensing political opportunity, leaders of the Labour Party, which had by then fallen under the control of far-left elements and had also boycotted the general election, somehow ended up hijacking the organisation of the funeral procession. Held just a day before polling, the procession turned out to be one of the largest ever seen in KL, and was by most accounts less a funeral than a mass political demonstration complete with banners carrying revolutionary Maoist slogans and the depiction of the deceased as a political martyr.

A day later, Malaysia went to the polls. By May 11, it became obvious that the Alliance would retain power with a drastically reduced majority. Not only did the coalition fail to attain 50% of the popular vote share, they also lost their two-thirds majority in Parliament for the first time. On top of that, they also lost their majorities in the Penang, Kelantan, Perak and Selangor state assemblies, the latter two ending up in a hung situation with no party having an absolute majority.

The bombing of Macdonald House on March 10, 1965. Pic.1

 

Elated by the unprecedented results, opposition parties in the capital celebrated their success by holding large processions. Naturally, sentiments were highly racialised and provocative. In response, the Malay daily Utusan Melayu’s editorial suggested that Malay political power was under threat, prompting members of UMNO Youth13 to respond by organising a victory parade in the capital.

What followed on May 13 will forever be etched in history as Malaysia’s day of disgrace, described by Tunku as a “social and political eruption of the first magnitude”,14 a dark moment when Malaysia was betrayed by Malaysians. Blood flowed through the streets of KL as hundreds were killed in sectarian rioting.

A state of emergency was soon declared and on May 16, Parliament was suspended – a sequence of events that would not have been possible were it not for the constitutional amendments of 1960. In the absence of parliamentary rule, a National Operations Council (NOC) was established to play the role of a caretaker government under the directorship of Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Razak Hussein. State and district operations councils were formed to govern the country at the different levels.

The level of premeditation and actual motivations behind the decisions and events precipitating the riots will forever be the subject of conspiracy theories. But what cannot be denied is the fact that the May 13 incident marked the end of the first epoch of Malaysian history, and the beginning of a new era under Razak, who ruled as head of the NOC and eventually as prime minister upon the retirement of Tunku on September 22, 1970.

The bombing of Macdonald House on March 10, 1965. Pic 2

 

From the ashes of the bloody riots, a new social compact was forged in the form of the New Economic Policy (NEP)15 which laid the ground for an assertion of Malay nationalism in various sectors including education and the economy through social re-engineering and affirmative action programmes. The national political landscape was also transformed with the creation of the BN grand coalition in 1973, which absorbed opposition parties including PAS, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) and the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) in West Malaysia. This had the effect of restoring the two-thirds majority in Parliament and consolidating control over every state government in the country.

Armed with total control, Razak moved to enshrine the new social compromises through the controversial Constitution (Amendment) Act 1971. Dubbed the “sensitive matters amendment”,16 seven articles were changed including those governing freedom of speech, assembly and association, parliamentary privileges, the national language, and the expansion of the scope of Article 153 that deals with the protection of the “special position” of the Malays.

As a result of the amendments, fundamental liberties were proscribed so that “sensitive matters” – defined to include issues such as citizenship, language, the special position of the Malays and the natives of Borneo, and the rulers’ sovereignty – could not be discussed openly, even in Parliament. The Sedition Act, previously inapplicable within the confines of the august House and state legislatures, now applies throughout.

These amendments were further augmented by other proscriptive legislation, such as the University and University College Act 1971, which forbade university students from participating in political activities, and the Official Secrets Act 1972, which cast a wide net for deeming what is confidential and hence unlawful to disseminate.

Further to that, Article 159 was altered so that the consent of the Conference of Rulers’, previously required only for amendments to provisions affecting the special position of the Malays and the Rulers themselves, was now also required for those affecting the national language, parliamentary privilege and certain fundamental liberties. Meanwhile, Article 153 was modified to allow the creation of quotas for Malays and natives in institutions of higher education, in addition to existing quotas for public service, education and commercial permits and licenses.

In 1973 another major constitutional amendment bill was moved that carried major electoral impact. Constitutional limits to rural weightage, which had been loosened in 1962 when the maximum deviation was increased from 15% to 33%, were abolished altogether. In the absence of the safeguards that were put in place by the Reid Commission, seats could now be created that are up to four or five times the size of other seats within the same state, as is the case today.17

In addition, the power of the EC to apportion constituencies was abrogated and instead specified in the constitution, hence amendable only by a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament. With deviation limits removed, the government of the day had practically awarded themselves carte blanche powers to delineate and apportion constituencies in any manner that was convenient to them.

Finally, the amendments also saw the carving out of KL as a federal territory, thereby removing it from the state of Selangor. As the majority Chinese population of KL was seen to have played a key part in the defeat of the Alliance in Selangor in 1969, excising the city also meant ridding the state of most of its opposition-leaning voters.18 Not only did it secure Selangor for BN, it also essentially robbed the voters of KL of their right to representation at the local level, as the federal territory has no elected legislature.

1973-1994: The Mahathir Era

Between 1973 and 1985, the Constitution was amended 11 more times, including numerous modifications to the capitation grants to the states, the creation of the federal territory of Labuan, further tightening up of election laws which gave the government even more discretionary powers, and the introduction of the ringgit as the national currency.

Of particular note were amendments made in 1983 and 1984 with regards to the legislative role of the rulers. In 1981 Mahathir Mohamad took over the job that he would go on to hold for the next 22 years. Never shy to challenge the orthodoxy, having been responsible for an infamous open letter to then-Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra in 1969 that blamed the latter for the May 13 riots, Mahathir began the first of numerous confrontations with the Malay Royalty in 1983.

Prior to this, the Rulers enjoyed legal immunity, a provision that had been abused on more than one occasion.19 By the early 1980s, the behaviour of the rulers was increasingly questioned in public discourse, particularly with regards to their perceived extravagance, financial misdeeds, wastage of public funds, involvement in business and active interference in political matters.20 Naturally disinclined towards feudalism and fueled by the prospect of an incoming activist Agong, Mahathir decided to pre-empt the situation by introducing the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 1983.21

Among the 43 articles amended were provisions that essentially made royal assent to a bill passed by Parliament a rubber-stamp procedure that could not be denied by the Agong. This applied to state laws as well. In addition, Mahathir also proposed to transfer the power to declare a state of emergency from the Agong to the hands of the prime minister. Although the amendments were passed by both Houses of Parliament, an impasse occurred when the sitting Agong, having consulted his fellow rulers, objected to the Bill.

A stand-off ensued as Mahathir went all guns blazing, rallying his party machinery in demonstrations up and down the country while the press played along to his tune, explaining the necessity for the amendments. Not to be outdone, the rulers also held counter-rallies with the support of veteran UMNO leaders.

Finally, a compromise was achieved. The right to declare emergencies remained with the Agong and the rulers retained their right to withhold assent to state laws. For federal laws passed by Parliament, the Agong could now reject a bill by sending it back to the legislature. If the said bill was passed again, then it would automatically become law after 30 days, with or without royal assent. The only exception to this was in the case of money bills, which could not be rejected in the first instance.22

Mahathir Mohamad.

 

The next major constitutional amendment would occur in 1988 amid portentous circumstances. A year earlier, Mahathir barely survived a leadership challenge from within his party, the result of which left Umno divided down the line. The losing faction undertook legal proceedings and in February 1988, the courts ruled Umno to be an unlawful society due to irregularities with some of its branches. In the wake of the deregistration of UMNO and other court decisions that the government found unfavourable, Mahathir moved to curtail the judiciary.

Article 121 was a specific target of the constitutional amendments of 1988. Previously ascribing plenary authority over the judicial power of the Federation to the courts, the article was amended to bind the courts to “such jurisdiction and powers as might be conferred by or under federal law”,23 thus subordinating the judiciary to the legislative. Other amendments included the removal of the general power of the High Court to conduct judicial reviews,the empowerment of the attorney-general to determine the courts for cases to be heard, and, significantly, the insertion of Article 121(1A), which not only drew a line of separation between the civil and syariah courts, also elevated the status of the syariah courts to be on par with the civil courts, thus creating a parallel legal system that has seen many complications arise, especially in cross-jurisdictional cases involving Muslims and non-Muslims.

In response to the government’s hastily introduced changes, the Lord President of the Supreme Court, Salleh Abas convened a meeting of judges which unanimously approved a letter to be sent to the Agong to convey their disappointment at the actions of the prime minister to undermine the judiciary.

However, thanks to amendments made in 1960, Mahathir was able to initiate disciplinary proceedings against the Lord President, resulting in his eventual removal along with two other Supreme Court judges. This dark episode remains a blight in the history of the Malaysian Judiciary, and it was not until 2008 that the government made reparations to the sacked judges. In 2017 the Federal Court (previously Supreme Court) ruled that the 1988 amendments that subordinated the judiciary to Parliament were unconstitutional, although it fell short of striking down the Act in question.24

Mahathir’s second bout with Royalty took place in 1993. Despite the previous standoff, a number of rulers continued to behave with impunity, regularly interfering in state politics, flouting tax laws and even indulging in criminal activity. Following a motion of censure by Parliament against the Sultan of Johor who had physically abused a hockey coach, the Constitution was amended to strip the Rulers of their immunity from prosecution, although they would be subjected to a special court of their peers rather than the normal civil courts.

Malaysia Day celebrations.

 

In 1994 Mahathir made further amendments to the Constitution to tie up loose ends, including abolishing the power of the Agong to delay a bill by returning it to Parliament. This time, the same provision was extended for state legislatures as well, hence all but eliminating the role of the Malay royalty as a checks and balances mechanism.

At the same time, the downgrading of the Judiciary was completed through symbolic changes such as the renaming of the Lord President as Chief Justice and the Supreme Court as the Federal Court, as well as the introduction of a code of ethics for judges.

The Constitution would be amended 16 more times, with the last being in 2009. Most of the changes during this period were minor and administrative in nature, with the exception of the creation of a third federal territory in 2001, viz. the new federal administrative capital of Putrajaya.

Whither Do We Go?

Unlike the US, whose 27 constitutional amendments, from the Bill of Rights to the abolition of slavery to universal adult suffrage, paint a narrative of a nation’s journey towards building a more inclusive, progressive and emancipated society, the story of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia reveals a nation that is heading the other way – towards more exclusivism, regression and repression.

Critical amendments made over 60 years have altered the fundamental nature and spirit of the original Reid Constitution of 1957 by concentrating power in the hands of the executive, dismantling various constitutional safeguards with regards to fundamental liberties and the use of emergency powers, overhauling the electoral system in order to ensure the longevity of the incumbent government, and suppressing rival centres of power, including institutions such as the Malay royalty and the judiciary.

As a result, the Constitution today no longer embodies the spirit and intentions of the founders of the country. This is perhaps an appropriate reflection of the Malaysian polity today. Although the same party that ruled at independence continues to rule, there are few who would agree that the current leadership even remotely adheres to the same ideals and principles as its pioneers.

Ultimately, fixing Malaysia requires fixing its laws. If our country is to find its place in the sun as an inclusive and progressive nation of the twenty-first century, then the political will to rewrite our laws to make for a more inclusive, open and fair society has to be found.

1 In its draft form, the US Constitution was given the working title, ‘A frame of Government’.

2 Cindy Tham, “Major Changes to the Constitution,” The Malaysian Bar, 17 July 2007, http://www.malaysianbar.org.my/echoes_of_the_past/major_changes_to_the_constitution.html.

3 The Sun Daily,“The All-Powerful Executive,” The Sun Daily, 1 October 2005, http://www.thesundaily.my/node/176393.

4 Cindy Tham, ibid.

5 These ‘threats’ were originally confined to conditions of organised violence, but were in the same amendment expanded to include attempts to incite communal hostility and acts ‘prejudicial to the security of the Federation’.

6 The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, usually shortened to Agong, is the paramount ruler and head of state of Malaysia. The position is elected by rotation from among nine hereditary Malay rulers every five years.

7 The Malay Mail Online, “Ex-Judge: Judiciary Never Fully Recovered from 1988 Crisis,” The Malay Mail Online, 20 September 2015, http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/ex-judge-judiciarynever- fully-recovered-from-1988-crisis.

8 LA Sheridan and Harry E Groves quoted in Lim Hong Hai, “Electoral Politics in Malaysia: ‘Managing’ Elections in a Plural Society” in Aurel Croissant (ed.), Electoral Politics in Southeast & East Asia (Singapore: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, 2002), p. 108.

9 Lim Hong Hai, ibid., p. 107.

10 In 1963, the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) was reinstated albeit in a watered down form. No longer chaired by the Lord President, the reincarnated JLSC’s remit also does not extend beyond the subordinate courts.

11 Marshall Clark and Juliet Pietsch, Indonesia- Malaysia Relations: Cultural Heritage, Politics and Labour Migration, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014),p. 25.

12 The confrontation with Indonesia also provided the pretext for the Alliance federal government to suspend local government elections in 1965. The third vote has since been abolished.

13 Umno Youth is the youth wing of the United Malays National Organisation (Umno), the leading component party of the Barisan Nasional and the Alliance before it.

14 Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra, May 13: Before and After (Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Melayu Press), p. 7.

15 Formulated by the NOC, the NEP was conceived to achieve the two-pronged objectives of eradicating poverty as well as reducing and subsequently eliminating the identification of race by economic function and geographical location.

16 The Sun Daily, ibid.

17 See, for example, Wong Chin Huat, Yeong Pey Jung, Nidhal Mujahid and Ooi Kok Hin, “The Effects of the 2016 Delimitation Exercise on the State of Penang”, 13 October 2016, http:// penanginstitute.org/v3/files/malapportionment/ Penang-Report_20161013_Final.pdf, Susan Loone, “Penang study shows ‘hard evidence’ on EC’s malapportionment of seats,” Malaysiakini, 18 January 2017, http://www. malaysiakini.com/news/369671 and Free Malaysia Today, “Pua Claims EC Conducting Single-Biggest Gerrymandering Exercise,” Free Malaysia Today, 15 September 2016, http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/ nation/2016/09/15/pua-claims-ec-conductingsingle- biggest-gerrymandering-exercise/.

18 Lim Hong Hai, ibid., pp. 111–112.

19 Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), p. 175.

20 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 179–180.

21 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 181.

22 Barry Wain, ibid., pp. 185.

23 See Article 121 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia.

24 Free Malaysia Today, “MP: Parliament Must Now Restore Judicial Power to the Judiciary,” Free Malaysia Today, 4 May 2017, http:// http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/ nation/2017/05/04/mp-parliament-must-nowrestore- judicial-power-to-the-judiciary/.

Zairil Khir Johari is MP for Bukit Bendera, Penang.