Is Anwar Ibrahim really our great white hope


January 18, 2019

Is Anwar Ibrahim really our great white hope?

Opinion  | by Mariam Mokhtar

 

  “Anwar seems to have one face for speaking in Malaysia and another for speaking when he is abroad. So, who is the real Anwar Ibrahim, and can we trust him’?”–Mariam Mokhtar

COMMENT by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Their leader, Anwar Ibrahim, told England’s newspaper The Guardian that he would “…root out corruption and end a system of affirmative action for ethnic Malays…” if he were toform the next government.

Remember this word, “end”.

Soon after the GE-14 win, on May 10, 2018, Anwar was pardoned and released from prison.

On May 17, he told Associated Press (AP) that affirmative action policies for Malays must be discarded in favour of a new programme to help the poor, regardless of race.

Anwar said, “I have said that the NEP should be dismantled, but the affirmative action must be more effective. I believe that poor, underprivileged Malays will benefit more through a transparent, effective affirmative action policy than the New Economic Policy which has been hijacked to enrich a few cronies.”

What happened to the word “end”, which he mentioned in 2008?

Politicians make all sorts of promises, many of which they know they cannot keep. Why should Anwar be any different? What a pity that in Malaysia Baru politicians continue to pander to the ultra-sensitive Malays.

So, how does one unite a nation, when one section of the community is treated like ‘Little Emperors’, while the rest of the population is told to get on with the limited resources available?

On January 13, at a dinner to celebrate his win as president of PKR, Anwar urged the non-Malays to understand the concerns of the Malays and bumiputeras, who feared that their rights and position would be threatened.

Instead, Anwar should have highlighted the betrayal and exploitation of some Malays by other Malays. He should have mentioned Tabung Haji, Felda, Mara, the silence of the previous Malay-majority cabinet about the scandal involving 1MDB, and embezzlement in the various ministries by senior civil servants. Malays were at the helm of these institutions.

Another Pandora’s Box

For decades, PAS and UMNO Baru made the outrageous claim that the non-Malays, specifically the Chinese, wanted to destroy the nation, make it Christian and get rid of Islam and Muslims. The real enemy is within the Malay fold. We have yet to investigate the alleged corruption of the money donated to mosques, or tahfiz schools, which will open another Pandora’s Box.

Affirmative action policies make Malays weak, arrogant and dependent upon handouts. If the selection criteria for army recruits were to be lowered, we would have snowflakes defending the nation. A lowering of the examination pass mark, for the Malays, is self-defeating. The Malays cannot thrive in an environment which stifles competition and creativity. In the law of the jungle, only the fittest and those who are willing to adapt will survive.

In his monthly assembly speech at the Prime Minister’s Department, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Malaysia had not achieved true unity ‘despite six decades of independence, because each race wanted to maintain their own culture and heritage’. He said, “We accept the fact that we cannot be a country where the people identify themselves as one race.”

Mahathir is confused by the definition of “race”. How can the rakyat identify themselves as Malaysians when they are discriminated against with race-based policies for housing, schools, universities, business loans and more. Get rid of affirmative action policies and help all Malaysians, irrespective of skin colour or religion. Get rid of the bangsa and agama (race and religion) on our identity card.

So, is Anwar the great white hope?

The taxi drivers seem to think so. Najib could not help them, nor Mahathir. Taxi drivers fail to comprehend that they need to change their attitudes, to improve customer service. They think Anwar is their last bastion of hope.

During his five-day working visit to India, Anwar told the Indian newspaper, The Hindu, that Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail would vacate her position when he became PM.

He said, “Yes, she has said she wants to step down when I assume office, because she feels it will not be proper. She will continue to play her role, especially for health and culture and welfare.”

Did she really say that she will step down? Or was Anwar speaking for her?

The threat of nepotism means that many very good people will not want to work for the party. They know they will not progress far. Few people are prepared to criticise the boss’s wife, or daughter. Already, PKR is known as “Party Keluarga & Rakan-rakan”.

After eight months, the new Pakatan Harapan administration should have addressed serious issues concerning welfare and women and children’s rights. They seem to have avoided those issues, especially in matters pertaining to child marriages, treatment of single mothers who have been wronged by the system, lesbians who have been whipped and transgenders who have been murdered. Can a dutiful Malay wife go against her husband’s wishes?

In 2008, Anwar said he wanted to end affirmative action policies. A few days ago, he urged non-Malays to understand the concerns of the Malays. Can he make up his mind?

Anwar seems to have one face for speaking in Malaysia and another for speaking when he is abroad. So, who is the real Anwar Ibrahim, and can we trust him?


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

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

 

Nudging Mahathir into consensus mode


January 17,2019

Nudging  Mahathir into consensus mode

Opinion  |  P Gunasegaram

Published:  |  Modified:

 

QUESTION TIME | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s current beef is wealth inequality, and so he wants to restart the redistribution of wealth – to Malays (and bumiputeras). This is something which I commented on here. But that’s not even a stopgap measure, because acquired wealth can be sold off. It also reflects the policies of old, which have been discredited.

The only way that wealth can be increased and retained within a community is to increase incomes, rather than to distribute existing wealth, even if it is held by the government. And the only way incomes can be increased is to put in place plans to raise incomes for all Malaysians, since 67 percent of the population is bumiputera, with Malays forming 50.5 percent of the population.

The issue of wealth and income equality comes back eventually to the effectiveness of the government and how successful it has been in narrowing opportunity gaps between rich and poor through well thought out and carefully implemented programmes.

For that to happen, it is necessary for some steps to be taken. I agree that for this to happen, it is not just the duty of Mahathir, but also the partners in the Harapan coalition government, to exert force, for at the end of the day, Mahathir only commands a small minority of MPs in the coalition.

Considering that he is advanced in age and may be lacking in vitality, it is necessary for change to start from his other partners – the leaders in PKR, DAP and Amanah – who had envisioned a different plan and programme than that of Mahathir’s Bersatu, a racial reconstruction of UMNO, where the membership is exclusively restricted to Malays and bumiputeras, with many of its members having come from UMNO.

Exerting influence

Thus, it is incumbent upon other leaders to push Mahathir into change and consensus mode. There are at least two ways this can be done – through the Harapan presidential council and the cabinet. First, Harapan’s presidential council rightly should be the place from which all broad policies for the government should emanate.

 

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Here is where Harapan’s de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim and his wife and Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail should exert their influence after discussions with DAP leaders such as Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng, and Amanah leaders such as Mohamad Sabu, Khalid Abdul Samad and Dzulkefly Ahmad.

Since the other parties are in the vast majority in terms of their number of MPs, their combined weight should hold a lot of sway, and Mahathir can be persuaded that the policies taken should reflect that of the majority view.

If the other Harapan leaders do not take such measures and wait patiently for Mahathir to exit the scene in a year and four months from now, they must also take joint responsibility for any wrong, improper move which delay things towards an open, freer country which moves forward based on government transparency, accountability, good governance and competence.

Pushing for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet

 

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The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become Deputy Prime minister like in 1998 soonest.

The other thing that the presidential council should do is to push for Anwar’s inclusion in the cabinet and for him to become deputy prime minister soonest. That is the natural thing to do if Anwar is to become prime minister 16 months from now, as agreed by all the coalition partners.

That may pave the way for Wan Azizah to step down from politics, as she has said many times beforehand that she wants to do after Anwar is in the picture.

It would ensure that Anwar has enough time to have a good grasp of everything that happens in the cabinet in the lead-up to him taking over as Prime Minister. It is necessary that Harapan leaders have the gumption, courage and conviction to push for this to take place.

With the presidential council becoming a greater force in making national policy with the input of all leaders, instead of being dominated by a minority leader, even if it is Mahathir, then decision-making is likely to better reflect the true aspirations of the overall Harapan coalition instead of that of Bersatu and Mahathir – as it is now. That would reflect, too, the aspirations of voters.

Get the necessary work done

Next, the cabinet. Cabinet members seem to be waiting for Mahathir’s approval before they do anything, even though it is impossible for Mahathir – or anyone else who is Prime Minister – to understand the full implications of all measures to be undertaken by the ministries.

Thus ministers should seek to take their ministries forward in terms of increased competence, work and efficiency, with full regard at all times to such key issues as integrity, honesty and doing away with patronage in decision-making and implementation. Surely no one, not even Mahathir, would fault them for coming up with good strategies and programmes for implementation that would work.

In other words, ministers should move their butts to get the necessary work done and not wait for orders and instructions from the top, who in this case is Mahathir. If they don’t take the initiative to get things done much better than before, they can’t turn around and blame Mahathir.

It’s their job to get action plans done and present them to the cabinet for approval. If their plans are found to be good and workable, it is unlikely that Mahathir or the other members of the cabinet are going to turn them down.

These are tough times and Mahathir may well need some help to initiate changes. If he is straying from the path the coalition agreed on, who better to tell him than his coalition partners and to steer him back to the right one?

That needs courage, conviction and the willingness to face confrontation, which could eventually lead to a conciliatory path that is more beneficial to the country. After all, is that not the way of consensus, which is how the election was won by Harapan?

Next: 10 ways to increase incomes and raise living standards.


P GUNASEGARAM believes consensus comes out of genuine desire to find the right path. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

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

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on


January 1, 2019

The thinkers M’sian politics have come to rely on

Opinion  Phar Kim Beng

COMMENT | If one has had the benefit of following Malaysian politics since 1970 – a lifetime to many – several thinkers who have influenced the course of Malaysian history have become household names.

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Dr. Rais Saniman

The New Economic Policy (NEP), for example, was the handiwork of Rais Saniman and Just Faarland. Both believed in affirmative action, though critics who panned NEP have often pointed out that affirmative action is meant for the “minority” – not the majority.

Come what may, Malaysia would have been a racial havoc if NEP, despite all its imperfections, have not been working. Take some of the latest statistics on household income, for example.

Research by Khazanah Research Institute has shown that four out of five Malaysians would retire without sufficient pensions when they turn 55 or 60. Indeed, 15 percent of Malaysia’s population would exceed 60 years of age by 2023, according to Muhammad Khalid, the economic advisor of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad. At this rate, Malaysia will begin to age sooner than expected.

The works of the late professor Syed Hussein Alatas has also been wonderfully powerful, as he referred to corruption as a “cancer” that can eat away the health – and wealth – of the country. Events between 2009-2018, through 1MDB, have proven that and more. Our national debt is now at USD 280.7 billion, while our GDP is merely USD 320 billion.

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The scholarship of professors Terence Gomez and KS Jomo have proved to be just as monumental, if not powerful. Since 1990, both scholars have warned of the insidious effects of “privatisation,” which if done incorrectly, can lead to “piratisation,” where the wealth nest of the government and the people are held captive by the vested interest of the narrow band of elites.

While little has been said, or, revealed about the scholarship of Salleh Yappar, a professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, his papers have identified various forms or varieties of “Islamism”.

They range from the sort one sees in Sufism, such as the order of Nashbandi, to the reformist movement of Angkatan Belia Islam Semalaysia. In fact, Salleh listed close to nine forms of Islamism in Malaysia between 1957-1990. Some of them involves cult like movements like Al Arqam, which has since been banned by Mahathir during his first tenure as Prime Minister.

Though, not strictly Malaysian, the works of William Case at University of Nottingham in Malaysia, have revealed the potentiality of a “pseudo democracy,” that is still “semi authoritarian,” in nature as Australian National University professor Harold Crouch called it.

Other commentators like Patricia Martinez, Noraini Othman, even Dina Zaman, indeed, Marina Mahathir, have warned about the danger of ignoring the gender bias that is embedded in most interpretations of religions.

Instead of “lowering one’s gaze,” as a man is urged by some religious scriptures to do, over domineering male preachers have insisted that women should cover themselves from head to toe.

Come what may, some of the Malaysian scholars in Borneo deserve greater mention too. Professor Jayum Jawan who has an interesting take that Sarawak was never colonised by the British government, let alone James Brooke, is interesting to say the least.

It calls into question the very fabric that makes the Federation of Malaysia: should the rights of the federal government always be greater than the states at hand, including Sarawak, even though it has a history that is unique compared to Peninsular Malaysia?

Elsewhere, professors Chandra Muzaffar,   Dr. Lim Teck Ghee, Francis Loh Kok Wai and Khoo Kay Jin have always highlighted the importance of liberating Malaysia from the iron rule of the bureaucratic or single-party state, especially the feudalism of UMNO.

Indeed, commentators like P. Gunasegaran and Ho Kay Tat have been invaluable to understanding 1MDB, backed by foreign scholarship by Tom Wright and Hope Bradley at Wall Street Journal.

The works of Nanyang Technology University professors Farish Noor and Joseph Liow Chin Yong in Singapore, as was the superb commentary of Dr Ooi Kee Beng, even politicians like Liew Chin Tong and Ong Kian Ming over the years, have made a “New Malaysia” more and more plausible.

That being said, two of the most tenacious thinkers are without a doubt Mahathir and Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim. Both are determined in their ideals to make Malaysia stronger and better, though with some nuance too.

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Mahathir seems sold on the idea that Look East can redeem Malaysia. Anwar, on the hand, believes that the rise and fall of Malaysia depends on the extent to which it can engineer its own “Asian Renaissance.”

Come what may, 2019 and 2020, are not going to be about transition from one reigning to another incoming Prime Minister only, but the extent to which both can master the art of promoting their ideas and ideals. These ideas and ideals must work too, without which Malaysia is back to the square one of 1970 if not earlier.


PHAR KIM BENG is a multiple award-winning head teaching fellow on China and the Cultural Revolution at Harvard University.

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

Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018


January 1, 2019

Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018

Opinion  |by Bridget Welsh

Published:  |  Modified:

Hopes and heroes: Malaysia in 2018

Opinion  |by Bridget Welsh

COMMENT | Malaysia’s year of embracing change has been both euphoric and disquieting. After the victory of Pakatan Harapan in May and the rapid formation of a new government, high expectations have been met by hard realities.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s return has brought to the fore many of the problems of his earlier tenure and simultaneously showcased the burdensome financial mismanagement of the Najib Abdul Razak era.

Not only is the new government facing serious domestic political challenges and a growing public perception that it is not delivering, but Mahathir has also returned to power in unfavourable global conditions, of which the uncertainty and slowdown of the world economy are arguably the most serious and foreshadowing a difficult year ahead.

As the year ends, it is fitting to reflect on both positive and negative developments and to recognise that, despite disappointments and persistent divisions, 2018 was indeed a year of hope and heroes.

Citizen empowerment and freedom

Foremost in this list are the ordinary Malaysians. From across the political spectrum, citizens went to the polls and took to the streets to express their aspirations.

Malaysia had a peaceful transition of government and despite real anxieties over increased race-based mobilisation, rallies and protests have largely remained peaceful.

A grave exception to this was the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple riot in late November, which led to the tragic loss of life of firefighter Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim. He was an extraordinary hero; his bravery in service to fellow Malaysians is a reminder of the sacrifices that many on the frontline of safety make for others, irrespective of race, and the need for responsible responses to honour his memory.

In the sadness and outrage over the loss, one cannot ignore the calls for outreach to maintain the richness of Malaysia’s diverse social fabric. In fact, Malaysians have taken on more responsibility and are no longer as afraid to speak out.

This is palpable in everyday conversations, and in both social and mainstream media. Despite the constant political gossiping and obsession with who and why a person is with whom in photos, another important feature of the year has been the welcoming of the widening of political space.

The challenge has been that many of the discussions have been shallow, mono-dimensional and highly personalistic, effectively minimising meaningful debate of the real problems Malaysians are facing. Yet, even within this constant political storytelling, there is greater attention to policy problems, from drug use to unemployment.

It takes time to change patterns of behaviour, but more Malaysians are showing comfort with more political freedom and greater political sophistication in how they process information.

Messaging and macro successes

The Harapan government has encouraged dialogue. It has opened itself for criticism in an unprecedented way compared to BN governments, but at the same time, its public engagement is episodic and reactive. Too many times over the year, it has appeared unprepared and defensive – aka old opposition mode.

The Harapan government faces a challenge of communication, as inconsistencies and conflicts in messages have not reinforced confidence and clarity in its direction of governance. A more effective media strategy and greater collaboration on messaging can go a long way to actualise the hopes all Malaysians have for their country.

While the year ends with intensive discussion of race in the wake of the December Icerd rally (photo) and the Harapan government’s U-turn on promised greater equal representation (at least symbolically in an international agreement), this year has been one in which substantive hopes have been actualised.

Among the most important successes to date of the Harapan government are greater inclusiveness (for youth, women and minorities); a strengthening of the checks and balances (with greater independence for the judiciary; a stronger Parliament, a reduction in powers of the prime minister and freer media); tougher (although uneven) enforcement for corruption to include not only perceived abuses by former elected officials but also that alleged of bureaucrats; increased professionalisation of appointments in the civil service (notably in the Election Commission and the Attorney-General’s Chambers); an extensive forensic internal government review of contracts; spending and institutional arrangements; and a return of pride for Malaysia on the international stage.

These accomplishments in less than eight months should not be underestimated and from a global perspective are indeed heroic. They reinforce the fact that hopes can yield results.

If Malaysia had followed the path of increased debt and mismanagement, the negative effects would be even more far-reaching for future generations.

However, it is important to note that many of these successes are not concrete for ordinary Malaysians, who are increasingly dissatisfied with the government’s performance. Take heed that the critical memes on shoes speak to growing discontent, not just among opposition supporters but even within the Harapan political base.

Plans needed for the economy

Importantly, the economy has slowed in public perceptions.

While shaped by adverse international conditions and heavy inherited financial burdens, the choking of the domestic sector through the ending of the contracts to previously BN-favoured business allies and contraction of pump-priming has been a painful process and contributed to a slowdown.

International investors face unnecessary obstacles and uncertainty in the business climate, exacerbated by conflicted messaging and uneven competencies in different ministries.

Consumers have not seen a meaningful change in the cost of living and economic opportunities and this has split over into a cacophony of complaints.

There is no real sense of what are the plans for the economy and the steps that will move Malaysia towards greater and fairer prosperity. There is an urgent need for perceived achievements.

Cynicism is setting in, especially in how the government-linked-companies (GLCs) are being (mis)managed.

Old faces at the core have not offered new ideas and new arrangements to conform to the new conditions.

Elite-oriented patronage is not a solution for domestic growth and opens up the new government to the temptations of corruption.

The need for meaningful economic reform, outcomes and direction is pressing – as this poses a real threat to Malaysia’s future and democratic opening, post-May 9.

Destructive power struggle

Along with economic woes, the perceived move from cooperation to competition among political elites, most notably between Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim, over national leadership has been destabilising.

PKR’s election – and both pre- and post-wrangling and petty positioning – has not instilled confidence that this party can govern effectively and carry out an election that respects fair processes.

Red-wearing Bersatu’s apparent embrace of tainted leaders from UMNOhas additionally upset an already delicate balance of relationships.

Harapan leaders have not learnt the lesson that conflicts should be kept inside the tent, nor fully appreciate that in this age of social media news (and conspiracies about that news) are the norm. The choice appears to be to position against each other, rather than to position for the people.

The dynamic provides considerable news fodder but does not appear properly functional. Before May, Harapan faced serious reservations about its ability to govern together and to date, these concerns have been heightened rather than dissipated.

The ongoing power struggle(s) are destructive as they have brought to the fore old “divide and rule” tactics and distracted leaders from doing the jobs they were elected to do – to govern.

In the contestation, there is little realisation that all the leaders are getting hurt. Making Mahathir into a “lame duck” undercuts the leader of a current prime minister and spreading rumours (with photos) serves to discredit future leaders – all leading to a spiral of fragmentation and distrust.

In the pattern of old Malaysia, today’s Malaysian leaders seem to be still caught up in taking each other down and too focused on themselves (and positions).

Narrow new opposition

This pattern is evident in the opposition as well. The last six months have witnessed the collapse of UMNO, with criminal charges levied against the former prime minister Najib and his close ally Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (photo), who recently stepped aside from the Umno presidency after being elected in a competitive fight in June.

The largely self-inflicted decimation of UMNO reflects the selfish search for safe landings by its elites and a failure to engage in party reform. In less than a year, UMNOo has essentially passed the baton of national opposition leadership to the Islamic party PAS, which sings a low-pitched song focused on a narrow religious conservative agenda.

Its governance at state levels to date has been lacklustre. Both UMNO and PAS have taken on a more confrontational racialised approach, one in which will essentially mean that they might dominate the national narrative but will not be able to assume the mantle of truly national leadership for Malaysia as a whole.

It is as short-sighted and corrosive as Harapan’s infighting. It has empowered resistance within the system and contributed to a worrying worsening of ethnic relations.

What then of hopes in this context? Are there heroes willing to buck the evolving negative patterns, to return to engage the sweet blossoms and promises of May?

The hard reality is that transitions are not easy, and given decades of decay of institutions, social trust and narrow-taught mindsets, expectations need to be recalibrated.

At the same time, politicians need to be reminded that they were elected to serve the people and the country, not themselves, and more that are expected of them, not least of which is a clear plan from the new government for succession and policy priorities.

If anything, however, 2018 has shown the capacity of elites to learn, regroup and re-engage. The year also has illustrated that breaks with the past are possible and given social pressures for better governance and deliverables from an increasingly sophisticated citizen electorate, the power of ordinary Malaysians – who want and deserve more than they have been given – is real.

Though dented, hope remains alive as the pressures of continued heroism extend into the new year.


BRIDGET WELSH is an associate professor of political science at John Cabot University in Rome. She also continues to be a senior associate research fellow at the National Taiwan University’s Center for East Asia Democratic Studies and The Habibie Center, as well as a university fellow of Charles Darwin University. Her latest book is the post-election edition of The end of Umno? Essays on Malaysia’s former dominant party. She can be reached at bridgetwelsh1@gmail.com.

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

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’


December 31, 2019

by Dr.Kua Kia Soong 

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’

COMMENT | We will be starting the New Year with our hopes for a New Malaysia dashed by the announcement of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mahathir that the bumiputera agenda (expiry date 1990) will continue.

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The NEP stays for as long as The Malays have political power. Let us not kid ourselves. It is non-negotiable, although I believe it is a major obstacle to Malay economic advancement. Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.–Din Merican. 

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As in 1970 when the New Economic Policy started, and again in 1990 when the New Economic Policy was replaced by the National Development Policy which then morphed into the New Economic Model in 2010, we are treated to the same ludicrous doublespeak.

Doublespeak has been defined by some as “the ability to accept two conflicting beliefs, opinions, or facts as valid and correct, simultaneously. Doublespeak may happen because of someone being willfully perverse or as a result of faulty logic.” It is of course a word coined by George Orwell in the novel 1984.

Consider this. In the process of announcing the continuation of this Never-ending Bumiputera Policy, the Prime Minister tells Malays to stand without the ‘tongkat’ that the government is going to continue to provide them.

Even more doublespeak was the Bersatu President Muhyiddin Yassin’s pious wish that the implementation of the new bumiputera agenda as part of the Pakatan Harapan government’s core policy “must contribute towards economic growth with benefits enjoyed by all Malaysians”.

Why is it not possible to have an Affirmative Action Policy for the B40?

I find it remarkable that after more than 60 years of affirmative action for the bumiputera, we still cannot find intellectuals who can devise a race-free affirmative action policy! Our scholars and intellectuals have been schooled in the best universities overseas but they still cannot come up with a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of race.

An exception is economist Dr. Mohamed Ariff, who spoke out against such racially discriminatory policies in 2013:

“The NEP had outlived its usefulness and the government must move affirmative action policies from race-based to needs-based. This policy shift will ultimately benefit the Malays as they form the bulk of 40 percent of households in the lower-income bracket… The government’s policies seem to be populist in nature and not focused… hand-outs should only be given in crises, such as famine, as they remove the incentive to work hard. The Malays would not be able to compete in a globalised environment if they continued to depend on hand-outs.”

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Prof Terence Gomez has often questioned the race-based criteria for wealth distribution:

“Why the continuing fixation with numbers when many Malaysians, among them even members of BN component parties, have questioned the veracity of these government-released ownership figures? Even if bumiputera equity ownership is increased to 30 percent, would this mean that wealth has been more equitably distributed among members of this community or between them and other Malaysians? And, most importantly, should we continue to perpetuate a discourse on equitable wealth distribution among Malaysians along racial lines?”

At the Bersatu general assembly, the Prime Minister has justified the continuation of this racially discriminatory policy on the grounds that more than 70 percent of the B40 are bumiputera. If that is so, why not have an affirmative action policy for the B40, which would be race-free and would be agreeable with our Icerd obligations? Why practise racial discrimination and be noted as one of the few pariah nations in the world community that do not ratify Icerd?

What happened to the slogans for ‘New Malaysia’, ‘Asian Renaissance’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’? Have these all been empty slogans? The other leaders of Pakatan Harapan – Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, P Waythmoorthy, who have condemned racial discrimination in the past – have not said a word about the continuation of the bumiputera agenda announced by the prime minister. Does silence signify consent or indifference?

Litany of crony capitalists

Given the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was shocking, though sadly not surprising, to hear Bersatu vice-president Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman (photo above) supporting delegates at its general assembly by calling for government resources to help the party. The former Election Commission chief said Bersatu must do all it could to win elections “by hook or by crook”. He said, “Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out of contracts.” Right, so contracts for the boys!

And was it surprising that throughout the years of the bumiputera agenda, Malaysia has featured high on The Economist’s crony capitalism index. Uncontrolled rent-seeking has allowed politically well-connected billionaires to double their wealth, thereby posing a threat to the free market, The Economist said. These rent-seeking industries include those easily monopolised, and that involve licensing or heavy state involvement, which it said was “prone to graft”.

This skewed bumiputera agenda is at the heart of the kleptocracy problem the Harapan government claims it wants to fix after the GE14.

From the 80s on, Mahathir’s privatisation of state assets ensured the divestment of state capital into the hands of favoured Malay crony capitalists. The success of the NEP in restructuring capital has, in the process, increased class differentiation within the Malay community. Thus, instead of targeting and providing strategic aid to the poor of all ethnic communities, the Umno ruling elite has continued to use the tried and trusted strategies of race-based cash aid and uplift plans aimed at bumiputeras.

Authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state

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The truth is, as Anne Munro-Kua has analysed in her book, the Malay ruling elite in Malaysia has relied on an authoritarian populist style of rule to stem the possibility of the peoples from different ethnic communities uniting into a class-based political force and to simultaneously ensure the continued political domination of the Malay-led coalition.

  • A communal populist approach continues to be used to deflect the economic grievances of the Malay labouring classes against capitalist exploitation into a race-based ideological allegiance to the Malay ruling elite. The results from the GE14 will further ensure Harapan rely on such populist policies to try to capture the Malay rural votes.

While bumiputera policies are intended to benefit all bumiputera, the reality is that these policies have been usurped by the privileged Malay elite whose weak enterprise culture and expertise has had damaging consequences for the economic health of the nation. The bureaucracy has grown in tandem with the populist measures by the state capitalist class to carve out bigger and bigger slices of the rural and urban economic pie.

Institutional obstacles to attaining high-income status

According to an IMF working paper, Malaysia, as compared to other Asian countries, faces a larger risk of slowdown stemming from institutional and macroeconomic factors. A recent Asia Foundation Report also points to a compelling need for Malaysia to shift from a race-based to a needs-based policy in order to address imbalances in society and improve the democratic process to ensure good governance and that the rule of law prevails. It points out that poor institutions could deter innovation, hamper the efficiency of resource allocation and reduce the returns to entrepreneurship.

The report goes on to reason that despite the numerous bold policy measures and long-term plans introduced by the government over the years, Malaysia’s economic progress continues to be plagued by a lack of innovation and skills, a low level of investments in technology, declining standards in education, relatively high labour cost and sluggish growth in productivity. These lagging factors can be traced to the continuation of a backward racial discriminatory policy.

Thus far, Malaysia’s education system has failed to produce the skills and talent required to take the country’s economy to the next level. A key obstacle lies in the government’s failure to promote a fair and open economy. The bumiputera policy and insufficient checks and balances continue to hamper the country’s economy, leading to poor practices in governance. Reforms, especially the replacement of racial discriminatory policies with race-free inclusive policies are critically needed to rally the nation to achieve its economic objectives.

Affirmative action based on need, not race

In Malaysia, since the passing of the deadline for the NEP in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. Thus, if Malays are predominantly in the rural agricultural sector, the poor Malay farmers would be eligible to benefit from such a needs-based policy while the rich Malay land-owning class would not. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic.

The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

While the Chinese middle and working classes in Malaysia have largely adapted to this public sector discrimination by finding ways to make a living in the private sector, this has not been so easy for working class Indians.

Many Malaysian Indians have found themselves marginalised, much like the African Americans in the US were, especially after the destruction of the traditional plantation economy. The cost of preferential treatment has also seen greater intra-community inequality, with higher class members creaming off the benefits and opportunities.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through an affirmative action policy based on need, sector or class, never on race.


KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)..

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

Full term for Dr M? Talk to our partners first, say Bersatu leaders


December 29, 2018

Full term for Dr M? Talk to our partners first, say Bersatu leaders

by Malaysiakini Team  |  Published:  |  Modified:
Image result for anwar ibrahim

 

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/458226

BERSATU AGM | Suggestions by Bersatu grassroots for Dr Mahathir Mohamad to serve a full term as Prime Minister should be discussed at the Pakatan Harapan presidential council, say senior party leaders.

Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said such proposals were not new and this was what the grassroots wanted.

However, he said Mahathir’s opinions on the matter should also be taken into consideration.

“Bersatu Youth will fully support Mahathir and his wishes. We will listen to him and support him,” he said when met at the sidelines of the Bersatu annual general assembly in Putrajaya today.

Mahathir has repeatedly stated that he will honour the agreement to hand over reins of the country and the Harapan coalition to PKR president Anwar Ibrahim mid-term.

‘Ask Harapan partners’

Negeri Sembilan Bersatu leader Rais Yatim, meanwhile, said that while there is merit in the proposal for Mahathir to serve as prime minister until the 15th general election, the party has to consider the feelings of its Harapan partners.

“Accepting Mahathir (as prime minister) has basis… But what was said (by the delegates) may not go down well with other component parties.

“How Anwar, his wife and their supporters feel about this should be assessed as well,” he said.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Bersatu deputy president Mukhriz Mahathir, who said that the decision would be up to the Harapan presidential council, despite personally supporting the proposal.

“Personally, I think it is a good proposal because we have inherited a government that is in bad condition.

“Trying to revive it is not easy,” he said.

When asked if any of the Bersatu delegates tabled motions during the debates to prevent Anwar from being Prime Minister, Mukhriz replied in the negative.